Poet Biographies

Yosa Buson: Master of Haiku and Artistic Expression

Yosa Buson was a Japanese painter and poet of the Edo period. He was born in the Tango Province and later moved to Edo (present-day Tokyo) to study poetry and painting.

Yosa Buson

Buson is known for his haiku poetry, which often features natural and seasonal themes. He was particularly skilled at painting landscapes, and his works often combine elements of both poetry and painting. He took inspiration from the natural world and from the poetry of Matsuo Bashō, the most famous Japanese haiku writer in history.

Life Facts  

  • Buson was born in 1716 in the Settsu Province. 
  • He is also recognized as one of the three great haiku masters of the Edo period.
  • He is known for his haiga, or paintings that include haiku. 
  • He took the name Buson as his pen name.
  • He married at 45 years old and had one daughter. 
  • He passed away in 1784. 

Interesting Facts

  • He was intensely inspired by Matsuo Bashō.
  • Buson is regarded as one of the world’s great haiku poets. 
  • Buson’s fame comes from both his writing and his visual art. 
  • Six years after marrying, he traveled to the Sanuki Province to work. 
  • He was particularly skilled at painting landscapes’ scenic beauty.

Famous Poems 

Here are a few famous poems by Yosa Buson that are considered Japanese classics:

  • In the moonlight– this is certainly one of the poet’s best-known poems. It depicts a night scene filled with the smells of wisteria. The poet intended the poem to evoke an appreciation of beauty and the impermanence of life. 
  • ‘Listening to the moon’ – this is another haiku that asks readers to pause and appreciate the natural world, something that this style of poetry is very well-known for. It mentions the moon, croaking frogs, and a field of rice. 
  • ‘Calligraphy of geese’ – this is a unique poem that uses slightly more challenging imagery to describe a natural scene. In this case, a “calligraphy of geese” and the “moon” sealing their image against the sky. 
  • ‘The behavior of the pigeon’ – this poem, translated by Robert Hass, describes the behavior of a pigeon and asks readers to contrast it with that of the “mountain cuckoo.” 
  • ‘The end of spring’ – is a traditional haiku that combines images of writing with those of nature. It mentions poets, editors, and the end of spring. 
Many of Buson's haiku were inspired by the Japanese landscape
Many of Buson’s haiku were inspired by the Japanese landscape

Early Life 

Japanese poet Yosa Buson was born in 1716 in the Settsu Province, now part of the Miyakojima Ward. His birth name was Taniguchi Buson, and he was the son of a farmer.

At the age of 20, Buson moved to Tokyo to study haiku poetry and painting. He studied under the very well-known haiku writer Hayano Hajin. After several years of study, Buson became known for his skill in both poetry and painting.

Over the next years, Buson traveled around Japan, inspired by the works of Matsuo Bashō. Specifically, he sought out the same places that Bashō visited in his Oku no Hosomuchi. 

Matsuo Bashō statue
Matsuo Bashō is known as the greatest haiku poet in Japanese history

Literary Career 

In 1744, he published notes that he had taken during his trip. This was the first time that he published under the surname “Buson.” He later settled down in the Kyoto area when he was 42 years old. It was around this time that he decided to add the name “Yosa” to his pen name, honoring his mother’s birthplace. 

Buson’s haiku poetry often features natural and seasonal themes, and he was particularly skilled at using imagery to evoke a sense of the natural world. His poetry is noted for its simplicity and elegance, as well as its ability to capture the essence of a moment.

Buson settled down in the Kyoto area when he was 42 years old
Buson settled down in the Kyoto area when he was 42 years old

During his career, he became known for writing something known as “haibun” prose. This is a style of prose-writing that originated in the pan and utilized elements of the haiku along with prose-style literature. Often, this style of writing was used to create short stories, travel journals, essays, autobiographies, and more. 

Buson’s “melon monster of Yamashiro”
Buson’s “melon monster of Yamashiro”

Matsuo Bashō is known as the first writer to coin the term and share it with his disciples. Oku no Hosomuchi, which so inspired Buson early in his career, was written in this form.  

In the mid-1750s, Buson spent time working on his Buson yōkai emaki, a collection of picture scrolls in the haiga style. These famous works are painted in a style that was incredibly unusual for the time. They evoked far less realism than other painters were interested in. In fact, they’re said, in many ways, to resemble elements of contemporary Japanese manga.

Death and Legacy 

Buson died at the age of 68 from what was likely a myocardial infarction.

Today, Yosa Buson is known for his exceptional talents as both a poet and a painter. He is recognized as one of the three great haiku masters of the Edo period, along with Matsuo Basho and Kobayashi Issa. 

As a painter, Buson was known for his skill in creating landscapes that captured the beauty and serenity of nature. His works often combined elements of both poetry and painting and his use of color and composition was highly influential in the development of Japanese art. 

Buson’s paintings were widely admired during his lifetime, and today they are regarded as some of the most important works of art from the Edo period. The original editions of his famous Buson yōkai emaki are lost to the world, but copies are distributed in museums around the world.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x
Share to...