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Kyorai Mukai, part 2

WHR August 2011





Kyorai Mukai (16511704):


How, then, in his eyes did the hometown Nagasaki change after thirty-one years’ absence? He must have had something like a dual vision in the sense that on the one hand Nagasaki itself had inevitably changed during that time and there had been changes within Kyorai as a human being on the other. Kyorai was born in Keian 4 (1651) which was half a century after the famous Battle of Sekigahara, ten odd years after the completion of the isolationist policy called “Sakoku”, exactly ten years after the Dutch factory at Hirado was destroyed by the order of the Tokugawa Shogunate and moved to Dejima of Nagasaki, and the third Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa died of illness in this year and his son Ietsuna became the fourth Shogun. Just eight years after that year, i.e. when he was eight, he and his family left Nagasaki for Kyoto, led by his father.

Thirty years on, Kyorai was living in the Japan which was enjoying an unprecedented prosperity and peace under the fifth Shogun Tsunayoshi and was in the midst of the Genroku Period whenEdo culture was at its peak.

It was five or six before Matsuo Basho died at Osaka while on a journey to the West. His life had reached its last ten years during which he was most productive in composing and teaching haikai and also being engaged in writing about it. There emerged many important works by him, not least “Oku no Hosomichi” (The narrow road to the north). It was also the decade when Shofu (theBasho School) was explored and established. Especially important was his effort to construct a new haikai prosody called “Karumi”, or lightness, which would have been the culmination of his contribution to haikai had he lived a little bit longer. It is well known that the one who made greater contribution to the dissemination and handing to future generations of that “Shofu” was no other person than Kyorai. In addition to his efforts regarding “Sarumino” which we saw above, Kyorai wrote in his late years “Kyorai-sho” (Writing of Kyorai), which is one of the most important literature for the study of Basho as it sums up very clearly and succinctly the principle points of the Shofu. He also wrote “Tabine-ron”, which we shall see in some detail, while he made the second visit to his hometown Nagasaki. This book is also an important source for the study of Shofu. (There has been controversy about whether or not Kyorai actually wrote these two important books simply because neither of them was published while he was alive. There are still some academics who maintain that this question is still to be resolved. However, this point will not detain us here.)

It is well known that Kyorai thus occupied a high and influential position among many of Basho’s disciples as an important theorist and that he was especially highly regarded in Kamigata area (Kyoto, Osaka and their environ). Kyorai is said to have been “... head and shoulders above among [haikai] teachers in Kyoto...” Clearly, not only Kyorai is now an important figure for us to study Basho but was then important for Basho himself. Basho called Sugiyama Sanpu the Haikai Judge of the 33 Eastern Domains and Kyorai the Haikai Judge of the 33 Western Domains. It is said that Basho made this remark as a joke at a haikai meeting but it still indicates eloquently how high Kyorai was in his esteem and also his affection for and trust in Kyorai.

Thus Kyorai enjoyed the respect that his fellow disciples of Basho paid for him in his lifetime. His reputation became increasingly higher after his death. He was loved by so many not only because of his achievement but also because of his sincere and gentle personality. The list of what has been called “Shomon Juttetsu” (The ten great disciples of Basho) differs slightly depending on who compiled it. However, Kyorai’s name appears in anyone’s list and at high end at that.

One such list is as follows. Their age in the year Genroku 4 (1691) is shown in bracket. Basho was 48 years old.


Sugiyama Sanpu (45)

Mukai Kyorai (41)

Hattori Ransetsu (38)

Morikawa Kyoriku (36)

Ochi Etsujin (36)

Takarai Kikaku (31)

Naito Joso (30)

Shida Yaba (31)

Mutsukuri Shiko (27)

Tachibana Hokushi (Not known)


(To be continued)


 Part 1