A haiku poet Shirao Kaya was born in 1738 (Genbun 3) as the second son of Yoshiaki Kaya at the Ueda Clan's residence in Fukagawa, Edo (now Tokyo). Shirao's real name was Yoshiharu.His mother died when he was young. He tried to be a Buddhist monk at the age of 20.

In 1765 (Meiwa 2) Shirao joined the school of Umei Shoro-an.But he was influenced more by Umei's teacher Chosui Shirai. It is said his pen name Shirao was given by Chosui (though one of the two Chinese characters used then changed later).

Shirao modeled himself after a pioneering haiku poet, Basho Matsuo and his works, propagting Basho's style among the haiku circles in the early modern ages. In 1780 (Anei 9) when Shirao was 42, he established Shunju-an at Nihonbashi in Edo. With this residence as his literary base Shirao became such a man of influence that he had 3000 pupils in Kanto and Chubu districts. During that successful time Shirao often visited Ueda, where he could meet many of his relatives. Shirao called this place his special home.

Shirao remained unmarried for life and led a modest and isolated life. He composed a lot of natural and yet delicate haiku poems.

And this is known as his maseterpiece.

Hito koishi hitoboshi koro wo sakura chiru

"Yearning fills my heart / When the candles are lit; / Cherry blossoms fall."

Shirao was also known as an excellent calligrapher. His works are still loved by many people. Shirao died of illness in September 13, 1791 (Kansei 3) at the age of 54.

In and around Ueda there lived many of Shirao's pupils such as Bakuni Kojima, Jomo Okazaki, Untai Narusawa, Saki Arai, Gyokuba Kojima, Kojo Miyamoto and Katusan Kurata, whose names were known widely over Japan. These men familiarized haiku poems to the local people and contributed a great deal toword enriching the public culture.

In the Edo period as terakoya(temple schools for basic education) spread, people learned to read and write well. Many of them baceme familiar with literature, especially composing haiku poems while they had lots of chores to do. It bacame the traditional core of the public culture and has been followed up to the present time. Shirao and his pupils can be evaluated as one of the most important originators in improving the public culture.


Year Age Event
1738(Genbun 3) 1 Born at the Ueda Clan's residence in Fukagawa, Edo, with given name Yshiharu.
1742(Kanpo 3) 5 His mother died.
1750(Kanen 3) 13 His stepmother died.
1753(Horeki 3) 16 His father died.
1756(Horeki 6) 19 His elder brother Yoshishige moved from Edo to Ueda.This is when Kayas began to be connected directly with Ueda.
1757(Horeki 7) 20 Spent the days in a temple.
1759(Horeki 9) 22 His sister married to one of the Ueda clans, which all the more deepend Shirao's connection to Ueda.
1765(Meiwa 2) 28 Joined the school of Umei Shoro-an.Used at first Sakuu as his pen name.Influenced much by Umei's teacher Chosui, who gave him the pen name Shirao.
1767(Meiwa 4) 30 Visited Ueda for the first time.Met his brother and composed the haiku poem "Hometown."
1769(Meiwa 6) 32 Chosui died of illness at the age of 69 in Shinagawa, Edo.
1770(Meiwa 7) 33 Published the first book of poems titled "Omokage-shu."
1771(Meiwa 8) 34 Published an anthology "Tagoto-no-haru" in Ueda. Bacame independent as a haiku poet.
1772(Anei 1) 35 Went on a cherry blossom-viewing picnic to Mt. Yoshino and made the original plan of his masterpiece "Yearning."
1774(Anei 3) 37

Built a stone tablet inscribed with a Basho's haiku poem at Bessho Kitamuki Kannon Temple in Ueda. Composed another masterpiece "Calamus Bath Water" while staying in Ueda.

Built his own stone tablet inscribed with the poem "Slightly Cloudy" at the Usui Pass."

1776(Annei 5) 39

At variance with Shoro-an school.

Expelled from the school by his teacher Uemi.Traveled far and wide.

1780(Anei 9) 43 His brother Yoshishige moved from Ueda to Edo. Shirao went back to Edo and opened Shunju-an as his literary base. Published the first volume of "Shunju-hen."
1783(Tenmei 3) 46 His brother Yoshishige again moved to Ueda.
1784(Tenmei 4) 47 Yoshishige died.Shirao visited his brother's grave at Dairinji Temple in Ueda.
1788(Tenmei 8) 51 Held a haiku festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Basho's passing at Kaienji Temple in Shinagawa, Edo.
1791(Kansei 3) 54

Died of illenss at Shunju-an. Buried at the graveyard of Kaienji Temple in Shinagawa.

His last poem was inscribed at the back of his gravestone.

[back to Home]