Even in Kyoto

Even in Kyoto

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry

I long for Kyoto

— Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), Japanese Edo period poet of nature and emotion


My creative writing teacher mentioned this quote when trying to explain the atmosphere he perceived in a student’s workshop piece – the feeling of wishing and mourning and longing for something even at the moment when it is concretely yours.

This feeling, I think, is more prominent in modern, urban, capitalist cultures than it was/is in such philosophies as Buddhism, which Bashō appreciated towards the end of his life, and the Shinto philosophy of respect for a timeless world. We hear a lot in the vein of “you should be present,” but it’s a difficult task. Many of us have spent our whole lives planning for the next big project, retroactively critiquing the last one, and expecting the sky to cave in on us at any moment.

It’s easier to tell others to be present than it is to actually be present, at least for me. For example, once I urged a friend not to worry about some specific disaster that might occur, because she could never inventory all possible disasters; even if she did, she wouldn’t really be prepared for them when the age-accelerating worry came to painful reality. Instead, she would wish she had enjoyed the pre-disaster period, uninhibited by anxiety about its ending. As an example of a disaster that would be impossible to prepare for, I cited the statistical likelihood that an orca whale would crash through the ceiling and plop right into the music hall where she was to perform a piano solo.

If anyone knows of a good quote to help soothe the mind when orca whales are crashing through the ceiling, please let me know in the comments below.


Biographical Information Sources:



Image Sources: (in order of appearance)

Matsuo Bashō’s grave in Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=502134

By Kumamushi – took by the author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8935376


3 responses

  1. I don’t know of any such words of wisdom, but I will be laughing about the idea all day long. Which brings up the question: what about memories (or plans) that make us happy in thinking about the past or future?

    1. Good point. I think it is good to appreciate the past and to have hopes for the future; our past is what makes us who we are today in terms of a lens to see our present. However, we should realize that every second going by right now is part of our future – and then part of our past – and so we need to limit the number of seconds we spend thinking about other seconds. In other words, I think we can let our experiences and aspirations inform each second, while not comparing each second to dead or unborn ones and wish that it was a different moment than it is. Because this moment can be amazing in its own way.

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