Almost nothing is known about Akinobo, an 18th-century Japanese monk, except the curiosity of his death. He is counted one of those prescient Japanese masters who foretold his death and marked it with a death poem — except that Akinobo borrowed the poem, although it came to describe his own death nevertheless.
Akinobo was born of the samurai class but became a monk and lived in a hut on the temple grounds of a city with which he had no other connection. He lived as a hermit in thoroughgoing simplicity and poverty, begging a little charcoal in winter to keep himself warm. He was known to have no kin.
It is said that Akinobo met the famous haiku master Basho on two occasions. During their first encounter, the two exchanged not a word. After their second meeting, probably similar, Basho wrote a poem about the song of the cicada revealing nothing of its impending death.
Indeed, Akinobo said little up to that fateful moment. The poem he quoted referred to the distinction in Japanese culture (really, what exists everywhere) between auspicious days and unfavorable days. The first three days of the New Year are considered fortunate; the succeeding days are not. Akinobo recited his (borrowed) poem to his friend Rito, who was visiting on the fourth day of the first month.
The fourth day
of the new year
What better day
to leave the world?
With that, Rito reports, Akinobo fell dead.
The point of the story is not to celebrate prescience or miracles or even intuitions about oneself. The content of the poem reveals the point, namely, that no day should be considered more auspicious than another.
Out of politeness we can defer to the foibles of culture and let others celebrate their “good” days, like their “good” fortune. We can watch them chase after the days of the ephemeral calendar. Later, we can stifle smugness at their fear of “bad” days, like their avoidance of “bad” fortune. We can watch them flee after the bad days of the same ephemeral calendar.
Like good and bad weather, good or bad days are projections of our moods, habits, and acculturation. They are the demands of our weakness for a cycle of meaning outside of ourselves and nature. Perhaps, like Akinobo, I am borrowing a poem that already exists unread by me or just vaguely forgotten but the point can be made succinctly: