as if / Asia / Eccentrics / Recommended books


I really like eccentric people. Those who go their own ways and don’t care so much about what the others are thinking. This does not mean that they don’t care about the others, but they have their own opinions and views, their own style, and their own way of life. While most people live inside shared as-if-constructions, eccentrics live outside of those (and sometimes inside their own personal ones).

I just read in the book “Baisao, The Old Tea Seller” by Norman Waddell, a biography of Baisao, an 18th century Zen monk who became a layman again and lived by selling tea in Kyoto (One of my favorite books, recommended). Baisao wrote Zen poems in Chinese and Japanese (translations are in Waddell’s book). He really was an eccentric, and so where some of his friends. Waddell cites from a contemporary book from 18th century Kyoto called “Eccentric figures of recent times” from an author called Ban Kokei about one of Baisao’s friends called Kameda Kyuraku, who was a calligrapher and a drunkard. Waddell translated one section of that book:

Kameda Kyuraku, “Enjoyer of Poverty”, was a great eccentric, not caring a pin for the trifling matters most people worry over. For a time, he lived on the same small lane as Baisao, and despite the fact that one of them was a tea drinker and the other a sake drinker, the two men formed a close friendship. Baisao, who was a teetotaler, was once seen for several days in succession carrying a flask to the sake shop to get a refill for his friend, who had become too drunk to go himself.

And in another section of Waddell’s book, he cites again from the “Eccentric figures of recent times” about Kyuraku:

I [author Ban Kokei] once saw a piece of calligraphy owned by the haiku poet Gengen Tsukada, a close friend of Kyuraku’s from Omi province on which Kyuraku had written a list titled “Things Kyuraku likes: Tobacco, Sumo, Horse Racing, Money. Sake is a staple, so I can’t count that.” Another heading read: “Things Kyuraku dislikes: Theoretical arguments is one of them. I can’t remember the others.”

It looks like Ban Kokei’s book has not yet been translated into English. Unfortunately, my own Japanese is very rudimentary.

Please, can somebody translate that whole book! I would love to read it!

2 thoughts on “Eccentrics

    • Thank you for asking, no these are two different people

      Basho or Bashoo (Matsuo Basho) was a Japanese poet who mostly wrote Haiku (see my post, that is short poems with 5, 7 and 5 syllables, but also some longer books (like the “oku no hosomichi”).

      Baisao was another poet (see He wrote poems in a totally different style, some of them in Chinese. He was a Zen monk. Zen had been introduced into Japan from China several times independently. He was a monk of a monastery that belonged to the Obaku school of Zen that still used some Chinese texts and Chinese language (unlike the more well known Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen). So here you have the unusual case of a Japanese poet writing in Chinese.

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