Buson Haiku: Komabune (The Korean Ships)

Mōko_Shūrai_Ekotoba_e19

高麗舟のよらで過ぎゆく霞かな            蕪村


Komabune no yorade sugiyuku kasumi kana


Koma Ship/’s/without stopping/go pass/mist/(exclamation)


The ship from Koma doesn’t stop and passes…… the mist!


Koma is the Japanese shortened reading of the Chinese character for Goryeo, which was the name for the country of Korea from 936 to 1392. After a long 25 year war against the Mongolians the country signed a treaty in 1256 which made Goryeo a tributary ally of the Mongols for 80 years. After the power of the Mongolian empire waned in the 1350s, the country returned to being free of foreign influence and the name of it was changed in 1392 to Joseon by the general who had been the shadow leader of the country since 1388.


Most modern Japanese commentators on this haiku will back off from the reference to Korea and state that it just means any big continental sailing ship from another country that was different from the types of boats the Japanese used. The reason why the reference to Goryeo gets whitewashed out is because having it in the haiku gets in the way of the Shiki idea that everything must be a sketch of life around you. That the change in the country’s name predates Buson’s birth by about 320 years is the antithesis of this.


The commentators who read the reference to Goryeo as being relevant to the haiku tend to see the ship in terms of the country before the Mongols took power of. As Haruo Shirane explains:

“Komabune were the large Korean ships that sailed to Japan during the ancient period, bringing cargo and precious goods from the continent, a practice that had long since been discontinued by Buson’s time.”


So, to write a translation that follows this reading:

The merchant ship 
from Koma 
passes without stoping……
the mist!


Although the countries enjoyed good relationships in,the beginning of the Goryeo era, the political situation between the two countries was warlike for quite a long time after the Mongol lead invasions in the late 13th century. Their relationship wasn’t repaired until the regime change in 1392 to Joeson when the new Korean leaders began to make overtures towards the Japanese Shogunate. This led to the Koreans sending official emissaries for a wide variety of differing reasons into Japan until the late 1800s.


This blog (written in Japanese) has an impressive wood block print of visiting Korean ships in port at Murotsu in Hyogo and looks at this haiku in terms of the emissaries that Joseon occasionally sent into the Japan.

 

suigun01


For certain, as shown by the wood block print, the coming of the emissaries was a memorable event. They came to Japan three times during Buson’s life, in 1719, 1748 and 1764, and since this is a Buson haiku from 1670s you have to wonder if this was something that he actually saw first hand. Especially in light of how the official government ships were the only ones he could have seen since for most of his adult life the Japanese foreign policy had closed its borders on the point of death, and trade between the two nations was confined to the island of Tsushima that lay in the strait between them.


To do a translation that looks at the ship being an official government vessel:


The elegant Koma
emissary ships
pass
without stopping…..
the mist! 


The problem most Japanese people now have with this haiku is that they don’t understand what “yorade” mean because it is archaic. The commentators above took it to be an ancient verb construction of the verb “yoru” (to stop in, to drop by) being conjugated by “de” (which is the negative) to make the phrase “yorade” (without stopping).


However, if you check in a Classical Japanese dictionary, there is an entry for the word “yora” (夜ら) which is defined as meaning “yo” (night) plus “ra” (the suffix for the plural) which would translate into “nights.” “De” is an article that indicates space and time the way we do with “of,” “at,” or “in.”  So, since “yora” is written in hiragana, and the Chinese character isn’t used, then the phrase can also be read as “yora de,” which translates as “the nights of,” meaning that the haiku is employing a “kakekotoba” (pivot word)  word play that allows the reader to read this haiku with a double meaning.


A “kakekotoba is:

“A kakekotoba (掛詞?) or pivot word is a rhetorical device used in the Japanese poetic form waka. This trope uses the phonetic reading of a grouping of kanji (Chinese characters) to suggest several interpretations: first on the literal level (e.g. 松, matsu, meaning “pine tree”), then on subsidiary homophonic levels (e.g. 待つ, matsu, meaning “to wait”). Thus it is that many waka have pine trees waiting around for something. The presentation of multiple meanings inherent in a single word allows the poet a fuller range of artistic expression with an economical syllable-count. Such brevity is highly valued in Japanese aesthetics, where maximal meaning and reference are sought in a minimal number of syllables. Kakekotoba are generally written in the Japanese phonetic syllabary, hiragana, so that the ambiguous senses of the word are more immediately apparent.”


Although the wiki entry only states that it was used in “waka,” it was widely used in haikai as well. The reason why it has disappeared in haiku is mainly because of Basho who first studied this style to later abandon it. (Well, not completely, Donald Keene has written about Basho’s development in “World Within Walls” and states that the “Kisagata ya” haiku in “Oku no Hosomichi” (Narrow Road of Oku) is a “kakekotoba” that plays on the word “nebu” to have two readings.(pg.74))


To fill in this second reading of “the nights of,” we must turn towards the time when relationships between Japan and Goryeo were not as cordial. Specifically, when under the control of the Mongols the Koreans tried to invade Japan and there were many nights of many Korean ships In the waters around Japan. The first invasion in 1274 was with mainly Goryeo ships that were built for this purpose, since Mongolia is a land locked country and had no navy. The invasion failed because for some reason the forces that had gained a foothold in Japan were ordered back on the fleet ships that then sailed into a typhoon.


The second invasion was in the spring of 1281. By this time, the Mongolians had also taken control of Southern China and now had two navies to attack Japan from. The plan was for the Korea invasion force and the Chinese invasion force to meet and attack together. However, the fleet from Goryeo reached Japan first and decided to attack without waiting for the Chinese to arrive, but found that the Japanese had fortified their coastline so their attempts to breach it were futile. With the Chinese attacking by day and getting nowhere, the Japanese took to guerrilla warfare on the seas by night:


“In July 1281, the eastern army which carried 25,000 soldiers and 15,000 sailors aboard 900 ships attacked Tsushima and Iki before attempting to land at Hakata Bay without reinforcements. The Mongols launched attacks along the bay for about a week. The Japanese would respond to each attack with night raids. The Japanese ships would carry between 10 – 15 samurai and would close on the Mongol ships under the cover of darkness. When the ships were close enough the ship’s mast would be lowered to act as a bridge and the samurai would close in on the Mongol crew. The samurai excelled in close-quarter fighting and the Korean, Mongol and Chinese were no match for them in such tight quarters. On one occasion 30 samurai swam out to a Mongol vessel, decapitated the entire crew and swam back. Kusano Jiro led an attack in broad daylight and set a ship on fire even though he had his left arm cut off in the process. Kono Michiari also led a daylight raid in which the Mongols were led to believe they were coming to surrender. Instead of surrender Kono and his samurai boarded the vessel and captured a high-ranking general. These raids began unsettling the Mongols.”


It’s easy to imagine that the samurai in their boats were using the mists on the sea to cover their movements against the Goryeo fleet. Reading the phrase as “yoru de” also changes the position of the break in the haiku because it now makes a phrase out of “sugiyuku kasumi” which makes “de” as the point where the cut is:


The nights of 
        the warships from Koma……
the mists that
        go passing by!

 

Bowdoin University has a great site that digitalized the “Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba” which is a picture scroll that illustrates the two Mongol invasions of Japan. There are plenty of boats in the mist in it.

 

EPSON MFP image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s