nobody picks them up
so splendid, so big
hirowarenu / kuri no migoto yo / okisa yo
[Kuri no komichi in Obuse. Photo from Wikipedia]
Obuse is a delightful small town in northern Nagano prefecture, just to the east of Nagano City. Thanks to rows of old warehouses, it preserves a classical atmosphere and is nice to wander around in - everything can be seen on foot from the station and there are also bikes for hire. There is enough to see here to warrant a day excursion from Nagano (or even Tokyo...).
[Chestnuts from Obuse. Photo from Wikipedia]
The other thing Obuse is famous for is rather sweet: its production of chestnuts, as well as chestnut confectioneries (when you only know the roasted variety, it will blow your mind to see how many types of sweets can be devised from just chestnuts!). You will find factories in old storehouses and shops and restaurants throughout the town. Two famous names are Chikufudo and Obusedo.
Chestnuts are intimately linked to Obuse's history, as it was the Muromachi-period warlord Ogino Jorin who 600 years ago brought chestnut tress from Tanba and planted them in the Mabukawa Delta, a place with acid soil and therefore perfectly suited for this purpose. Chestnut trees flower in June and the chestnuts are harvested from mid-September to mid-October. Obuse chestnuts are famous for their large size and great flavor. In fact, these chestnuts are so good that in the past they were sent as presents to the shogun.
And that is where Issa's haiku comes in. In the Edo period Obuse was administered by the nearby Matsushiro daimyo and this Lord had to take his pick first before anyone else in Obuse was allowed to touch the chestnut harvest. He apparently wanted to be sure that only the very best specimens would be sent to the shogun in Edo. This meant that in the meantime the inhabitants of Obuse were not allowed to eat chestnuts (a custom called "ban on chestnuts" or "otome kuri"). Large, splendid chestnuts are lying right in front of them, but the people of Obuse are not allowed to touch them until the ban is lifted - Issa clearly wrote this haiku with a satirizing intent!
Haiku poet Issa (1763-1827) was born in a farming family in Kashiwabara, not far from Obuse. At the young age of 14 he went to Edo where he studied haiku, before starting the life of a poet-priest. Issa traveled all over Japan, and especially visited places in the Kansai area. In 1801, after the death if his father, he decided to settle in Kashiwabara. Issa's haiku style is characterized by down-to-earth language, the introduction of images of small and insignificant animals, and an obsession with poverty - but also a stance of humility and togetherness with all creation inspired by his Buddhist belief. In Japan, he is the most popular haiku poet after Basho, coming even before Buson.
Obuse lies 15 km north of Nagano and can be reached in about 35 minutes from Nagano Station via the Nagano Dentetsu Railway. The delightful day I spent there several years ago is still a fond memory. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost the digital photos I took that day, so I had to borrow a few from Wikipedia...The present haiku has been carved on a stone which stands in front of Obuse Station,
Haiku of Kobayashi Issa: http://haikuguy.com/issa/
Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (2004, Brill's Japanese Studies Library)