Who Was Kurita Chodō?
Kurita Chodō was born in 1749 as the son of a sake brewer. At the age of seventeen, he was adopted by another sake brewer, from whom he learned the family business and also haiku poetry.
In 1771 Chodō succeeded to the brewery and was appointed as an ōdoshiyori, an important position of leadership in the town. For thirty years he rendered service to Matsuyama Fief, but he longed to devote himself to poetry. He requested many times to be allowed to quit his post, but his request was not soon accepted.
Finally, in 1802 he was allowed to resign, and in later years he moved to Mitarai-jima, an island near Hiroshima. He passed away in 1814, when he was sixty-five years old.
Haikai and Renga
Chodō enjoyed composing haikai, verse written in 5-7-5 syllables. (Today the word “haiku” is used instead of haikai.) Chodō especially admired Matsuo Bashō, who played an active role in the world of haikai fifty years before he was born. Here is one of Bashō’s best-known haiku.
natsukusa ya tsuwamonodomo ga yume no ato
summer grass ―
of the dreams of warriors
all that remains
Chodō was influenced by Bashō’s haiku, especially in regard to karumi, or “lightness,” in which one looks closely at nature and then composes haiku that are plain and easy to understand. Here are three examples of Chodō’s haiku.
kusa no to no furuki tomo nari ume no hana
of this thatched hut ―
hito no kite hi tomosu tsuki no iori kana
hut in the moonlight ―
lighting the lamp
after friends come to call
hanazakari chiru yori hoka wa nakarikeri
in full bloom
nothing left but to fall
Chodō became famous as one of the leading haikai poets of his time. The haikai poet Kobayashi Issa came to visit Chodō, who, although fourteen years older than Issa, treated him like an equal. Chodō had a strong influence on Issa’s haiku, which are often about children and small animals.
ware to kite asobe ya oya no nai suzume
and play with me
Haikai is descended from renga (linked verse). Renga, which is based on the 31-syllable waka, is composed by linking 5-7-5 syllable and 7-7 syllable verses. Each verse is composed by a different person and should contain an image associated with the previous verse. Chodō spent many hours composing renga, and, in particular, enjoyed “playing catch” with words with his young friend Issa. (Today, the word “renku” is used more commonly than renga.)
The pen name “Chodō” comes from the name of the chinaberry tree, which is said to be useless. Another of Chodō’s names was “Sokuin,” which means a person taking rest in the shade of a big tree. Chodō wanted to become such a quiet person and to lead such a peaceful life.