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Bashō Matsuo

(1644-94) Poet, essayist, and writer of travel sketches in the early Edo period (1600-1868) who helped perfect the art of haiku and haibun in the formative years of these genres. He was called Kinsaku in childhood, Matsuo Munefusa after coming of age. The name Bashō (banana plant) is a sobriquet he adopted around 1681 after moving into a hut with a banana plant alongside. In the 20th century Bashō's influence reached outside haiku circles; some consider Bashō a Wordsworthian figure who sought a mystic union with nature; to others Bashō seems almost a precursor of French symbolism; to modern novelists such as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Bashō appeared to be a humanist for whom the highest good was poetry. With the increasing interest in haiku outside Japan, his reputation has become international. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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