Fleas and lice


Fleas (nomi) / Lice (shirami) / Tick (dani)

***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: All summer, others below
***** Category: Animal


fleas, nomi 蚤 (のみ)
bite of a flea, red spot after a bite蚤の跡 (のみのあと)

There are many types of fleas, some suck on people, some on cats or dogs or other big animals. Together with the lice (shirami) they are the oldest pests who dine on the human blood. During the times of war it was difficult to get rid of them, but in our modern times they are not such a threat any more.

At the temple Toshodaiji (Tooshoodai-Ji 唐招提寺) there is a special scripture for the salvation of fleas in the afterlife, since all creatures are to be revered equally.

Since the male is slightly smaller than the female, a Japanese proverb talks about a "flea couple" nomi no fuufu 蚤の夫婦, when the husband is a bit smaller than his wife.


louse, lice, shirami 虱 しらみ
..... hanpuushi 半風子(はんぷうし)
kigo for late summer

Nankin louse 南京虫 (なんきんむし) Nanking mushi
..... tokojirami 床蝨(とこじらみ) bed louse
Cimex lectularius
kigo for all summer


tick 壁蝨 (だに) dani
iedani 家蜱(いえだに)house tick
ushidani 牛蜱(うしだに) cow tick
Fam. Acari. Zecke
kigo for all summer


fuyu no nomi 冬の蚤 (ふゆののみ) flea in winter
kigo for all winter


Flea is the common name for any of the small wingless insects of the order Siphonaptera (some authorities use the name Aphaniptera because it is older, but names above family rank do not follow the rules of priority, so most taxonomists use the more familiar name).

Fleas are external parasites, living by hematophagy off the blood of mammals and birds, and genetic and morphological evidence indicates that they are descendants of the Scorpionfly family Boreidae, which are also flightless; accordingly it is possible that they will eventually be reclassified as a suborder within the Mecoptera. In the past, however, it was most commonly supposed that fleas had evolved from the flies (Diptera), based on similarities of the larvae.

© More in the WIKIPEDIA

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Lice (singular: louse), also known as fly babies, (order Phthiraptera) are an order of over 3,000 species of wingless phthiraptra. They are obligate ectoparasites of every mammalian and avian order, with the notable exceptions of Monotremata (the duck-billed platypus and the echidna or spiny anteater) and Chiroptera (bats).

A louse egg is commonly called a nit. Lice attach their eggs to their host's hair with specialized saliva which results in a bond that is very difficult to separate without specialized products. A nit comb is a comb with very fine close teeth that is used to scrape nits off the hair.

© More in the WIKIPEDIA

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

A play with words

nomisugi wa karada ni warui be

Drinking too much (nomi sugi) is bad for your health.


蚤虱 ( のみしらみ ) 馬の 尿 ( ばり ) する枕もと
nomi shirami uma no bari suru makuramoto

fleas and lice
and a horse pissing
next to my pillow

Matsuo Basho
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Here Basho was on his best-known pilgrimage ..recorded in 'The Narrow Way Within' .. at the northern turn of his travels. In a mountainous region, about to pass the barrier between two provinces, he was obliged by bad weather to spend three days at the home of a barrier guard. He counted himself lucky to have any accommodation at all in such a remote place, but the comforts were meager.

Most translators of this haiku interpolate some feeling of disgust. Donald Keene, who usually can be trusted to translate dispassionately, renders the verse:

Plagued by fleas and lice
I hear a horse stalling
what a place to sleep!

That is not what Basho said or meant at all, for he was using that suffering; he was not used by it. Not a single syllable in his original words reflects self-pity. It was just Nip! Ouch! Pshhh!

How does one understand suffering?
Our practice in the Diamond Sutra is not easy. But if there are the tears of sincere pain, they carry precious virtue. Self-pity sullies this virtue, and when self-pity is projected, we have needless dissension in the sangha, the community. The virtue itself shines forth with incisive spirit that drives through the darkness. The pain itself is just that pain.

© Henro Tracks, a Basho Bash
Henro Tracks discusses pain in the haiku of Basho.

fleas lice
horse pishing
by the pillow

Tr. Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu

This haiku was written at Shitomae Barrier. "Shitomae" literally means, according to David Barnhill, "before the urine."

MORE details and discussion :
. WKD : Pissing (shooben小便) .


夏衣 いまだ虱を とりつくさず
natsugoromo imada shirami o tori tsukusazu

my summer robe
there are still some lice
I have not caught

Tr. Ueda

. WKD : Summer Robes - natsu goromo .


. . . . . . . . . . . . . Kobayashi Issa and his fleas and lice

oogawa e hara-hara nomi o misogi kana

to the great river
fleas go flitting...
rite of purification

This haiku refers to a Shinto purification ritual that takes place in Sixth Month in the traditional Japanese calendar. One of the observances is to launch special shrine boats in water; see Kiyose (Tokyo: Kakugawa Shoten, 1984) 162. Shinji Ogawa adds that the most popular forms of the ritual involve (1) entering a shrine through the chinowa (a large ring made of woven reeds) or (2) going to a river and releasing a paper boat containing a paper doll (katashiro). As the doll drifts away it is thought to take "all unclean things with it."
Summer Purification Ceremony (nagoshi, harae, misogi and haiku)

yokochoo ni nomi no goza utsu tsuki yo kana

in an alley
beating fleas off a mat...
a bright moon

yoi tsuki ya uchi e haireba nomi jigoku

good moon--
but going inside
a hell of fleas

kageroo ya shikii de tsubusu kami-jirami

heat shimmers --
in the threshold crushing
hair lice

Kobayashi Issa
(Tr. David Lanoue) .. More flea haiku !

yase-jirami hana no miyo ni zo ai ni keri

a skinny louse
born into the realm
of blossoms

Literally, the louse is born under the "reign" (miyo) of the blossoms.
"Blossom-viewing lice" is a season word denoting the lice that infest one's warm weather clothing during the spring blossom season.
Tr. and comment David Lanoue

- yasejirami - alternative translation by
- source : Robin D. Gill -

onorera mo hanami-jirami ni sooroo yo

hey, lice
even you guys are here
to view the blossoms

Tr. Chris Drake

. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .
more flea and lice hokku with comments by Chris Drake


uku (flea) lele (flying)

a spotted dog
plays the ukulele
scratch scratch

shanna moore, hawaii

Photo from Shanna Moore, Hawaii

Related words

***** . nomi no fusuma 蚤の衾 "pillow for fleas" .
bog chickweed
Stellaria alsine


***** Pissing (shooben) Basho and others ...






Gabi Greve said...

Basho loved to play with place names in his haiku. This haiku was written at Shitomae Barrier. "Shitomae" literally means, according to David Barnhill, "before the urine."

Basho had to stay there for two nights because of heavy rain (a horse pissing?). According to Ueda, " 'Shitosuru' is a verb referring to a child's urination." Ueda quotes a commentator, Imoto, as saying this gives humor to the poem.

Although in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," Basho says he stayed at a "barrier-keeper's house," he actually stayed at the house of a village headman, according to Ueda.

Shirane points out that the haiku is split into three parts even though it doesn't have a cutting word.

Larry Bole



Anonymous said...

Jiggers in Kenya

the insect called jigger in Africa is called chigger in Latin America, from where it apparently originally comes.
Tunga penetrans is its scientific name.


The jiggers burrow under people's toenails and cause great pain, as our haiku showed. On the whole, jiggers affect rural Kenya much more than urban Kenya. Wearing shoes is a great help in preventing an attack.

In the USA, there is a further painful insect also called chigger, which is different and is written up here :



Anonymous said...

From the SHIKI KUKAI in July 2007

Fifteenth Place -- 3 points

under the granary --
the dog scratches its body
to remove fleas

~ Samson Onyango

Sixteenth Place -- 2 points

an old dog
scratching its body --
dead fleas fall

~ Bilher Wanjiku
** Comment : Images of age. Nice word balance.

fleas crawling
up his dirty face --
mad man scratches his head

~ Caren Cheptoo

a dog brushing
itself against the wall --
flea bites

~ Anne Wairimu

Seventeenth Place -- 1 point

cool evening --
shaking the mattress
to remove fleas

~ Elkana Mogaka

dead dog
on the roadside --
fleas crawl on its body

~ Moses Makila


Anonymous said...

don't chase, don't chase
that flea has kids

ouna ouna ouna kodomo yo ko mochi nomi


by Issa, 1814

In the original Issa repeats "don't chase" three times.

Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Fuji no yama nomi ga chausu no ooi kana / cha-usu

Mount Fuji
like the tea-grinding mill
carried by the lice . . .

Matsuo Basho age 33
To compare Mount Fuji to a cha-usu, a mill for grinding tea leaves, has been done since olden times.


Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

yoi tsuki ya uchi e haireba nomi-jigoku

the moon superb --
I go inside to
flea hell

This hokku is from the 6th month (July) of 1825, probably from 6/15, the night of the full moon, since it is placed in Issa's diary soon before a poem obviously written on 6/16. This was the summer after Issa's divorce and his temporary speech loss the previous autumn, and in July he was staying with various students who lived not far from his hometown. There may have been a moon-viewing ceremony and small party outside, but afterwards Issa returns to earth and then to the nether regions.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

hito no yo ya koishihara yori nomi utsuru

MORE about Issa and the fleas -

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson

shirami toru kojiki no tsuma ya ume ga moto

the beggar's wife
picks off the lice -
under the plum blossoms

MORE about beggars