Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, also known as Kobayashi Yataro and Kobayashi Nobuyuki, was born in Kashiwabara, Shinanao province. He eventually took the pen name Issa, which means “cup of tea” or, according to poet Robert Hass, “a single bubble in steeping tea.”
Issa’s father was a farmer. His mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his grandmother. His father remarried, and Issa did not get along well with his stepmother or stepbrother, eventually becoming involved in disputes over his father’s property. When Issa was 14, he left home to study haiku in Edo. He spent years traveling and working until returning to Kashiwabara in the early 1810s. In Kashiwabara, his life was marked by sorrow— the death of his first wife and three children, an unsuccessful second marriage, the burning down of his house, and a third marriage.
Issa’s haiku are as attentive to the small creatures of the world—mosquitoes, bats, cats—as they are tinged with sorrow and an awareness of the nuances of human behavior. In addition to haiku, Issa wrote pieces that intertwined prose and poetry, including Journal of My Father’s Last Days and The Year of My Life.