Sponge Gourd (hechima)


Sponge gourd, loofah, luffa (hechima)

***** Location: Japan, other areas
***** Season: Late Autumn
***** Category: Plant


Sponge gourd, hechima, ito-uri 糸瓜, 蛮瓜,布瓜
long gourd, naga-uri, naga uri 長瓜
Luffa aegyptiaca

The translation of "snake gourd" often found in haiku is problematic. Snake gourd is another plant, see below.

There are many other types of gourds in Japan. Most of them are kigo.
Check them out here :

. Hyootan and Fukube ... Gourds and calabash  

. Melons and watermelons (uri, suika)  


Other Autumn kigo with the Sponge gourd

Shiki's (Death) Anniversary / Shiki's Memorial Day, Shiki-ki 子規忌
September 19, in honor of the famous haiku poet 正岡子規 Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

Sponge-gourd Anniversary, hechima-ki 糸瓜忌 へちまき
This naming stems from the sponge-gourd plant (hechima), used as medicine against phlegm for tuberculosis. He used this word in many of his haiku.


taking water from the sponge gourd,
hechima no mizu toru 糸瓜の水取る
..... hechima hiku 糸瓜引く

water of the sponge gourd, hechima no mizu 糸瓜の水

This liquid is used as medicine or in cosmetics. It is said to be most powerful when collected after the 15th of August (lunar calnedar) on the night of the full moon.
The vines are cut about 30 cm above the ground and the liquid taken from there. There is about one liter coming out in one day and night.


HECHIMA kigo for summer

seedlings of the sponge gourd, hechima nae 糸瓜苗
sowing sponge gourds, hechima maku 糸瓜蒔く

flower of the sponge gourd, hechima no hana 糸瓜の花
Click HERE to see the yellow flowers


In Japanese, the name of HE CHI MA is a play of sounds with the IROHA alphabet. For the advanced reader of Japanese, here is the reason:

「へ」と「ち」の間にある ことから、
”「へ」と「ち」の間” →”「へ」「ち」間”→ へちま



Luffa (Luffa aegyptica Mill syn. L. cylindrica),
or Loofah or vegetable sponge,

is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. Luffa is closely related to and has similar cultural requirements as the cucumber. It is an annual climbing vine, which produces a fruit containing a fibrous vascular system. When separated from the skin, flesh and seeds, the fiber network can be used as a bathroom sponge.

Luffa can also be used as packing material, for making crafts, and as filters. Used as a bath sponge it produces a mild glow on the skin. The blood circulation the sponge induces on the skin has been credited as a relief for rheumatic and arthritic sufferers. The versatility of the luffa goes beyond producing sponges. The young fruit, when small, (around 6 inches) are delicious used in soup or stew. They can also be cooked like summer squash. Older fruit have been reported to develop purgative chemicals.

Because luffa has a compact network of close fibers, its resiliency makes it useful for many products like filters, slipper soles, baskets. Small pieces of luffa sponge are good for scraping vegetables like carrots without having to remove the valuable nutrients by peeling them. You can also wash dishes, scrub your tub, etc. with luffa. When they become soiled throw them in the washer! Luffa is environmentally safe, biodegradable and a renewable resource.

Read more facts about the luffa plant !

Click HERE to see more photos of this plant and its blossoms.

Worldwide use

Names of this plant in various languages

ENGLISH : Loofah, Smooth loofah, Rag gourd, Vegetable-sponge, Sponge gourd, Dishrag gourd, Dish-cloth gourd, Rag gourd
HINDI : Mozhuku peerkankai, Jhinga, Dhundal, Turai, Meethi torai.
ITALIAN : Luffa, Luffa d'Egitto, Petola, Spugna vegetale.
SPANISH : Lufa, Esponja vegetal, Pepino para paste (El Salvador, Guatemala).

Copyright © 1997 - 2000 The University of Melbourne.
Maintained by: Michel H. Porcher


Things found on the way

Masaoka SHIKI

I define a philosophical haiku as a haiku which contains either explicitly or implicitly, a universal abstract proposition which is a statement of a philosophy. In my view, philosophical haiku are the superior type.

Read this essay by Hugh Bygott


doomori no ue-wasuretaru hechima kana

the temple warden
forgot to plant this
sponge gourd . . .

. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .


- - - - - Masaoka Shiki - - - - -

hechima saite tan no tsumarishi hotoke kana

Masaoka Shiki

The snake gourds are blooming:
here, choked with phlegm, lies a Buddha.

Tr. Hugh Bygott
Read the discussion about translating HOTOKE and HECHIMA

sponge gourds in bloom -
choked with phlegm,
this dead body

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

... ... ...

The loofah blooms and
I, full of phlegm,
become a Buddha.

Tr. Hoffmann : Japanese Death Poems

our loofah is blooming
here's a dead man
totally clogged with phlegm

Tr. Eiko Yachimoto

Quoted from the WHR

Susumu Takiguchi. Quoted from the WHR


More translated versions of this haiku, quoted from here.

A snake-gourd is blooming;
Clogged with phlegm,
A dying man.

Tr. Blyth

While sponge-gourd was in flower,
through too much phlegm
a Buddha kana

Tr. Harold J. Isaacson

the gourd flowers bloom,
but look--here lies
a phlegm-stuffed Buddha!

Tr. Beichman

The loofah blooms and
I, stuffed with phlegm,
become a Buddha.

Tr. Yoel Hoffman

snake gourd has flowered
choked up with phlegm
ah, Buddha!

Tr. Takiguchi


Here are what some commentators have written about this haiku:

"Just at this time, the 19th of September, 1902, a snake-gourd was in bloom. The juice of this plant is used for stopping the formation of phlegm, and this is the painful relation between him and the flowers. The last line is literally 'a Buddha,' which means 'soon to become a Buddha,' that is, a dead man."

"Here, the poet is no longer characterized as a sick man but as a dead man, and the separation between himself and the world has become complete and final. ...

"The juice of the gourd, gathered from the plant before it bloomed, was used to relieve coughing such as Shiki's. However, as his condition became past remedy, the juice had become useless and the flowers allowed to come into bloom. The blooming of the flowers, lovely in itself, has a sinister meaning, for it signifies the hopelessness of Shiki's condition, implies his death. Living flowers mean a dying Shiki -- again two opposites, held at one in the mind."

"As the Japanese politely speak of one newly departed as a Buddha (implying that his attainments must have enabled him to get free of the six realms of existence and enter the Buddha realm), the last line-- 'a Buddha kana'-- is a droll way of saying: 'I died.' The larger joke is in the way the haiku burlesques statements found in Buddhist biographies, that while lotuses were in flower some person dying
obtained birth in the Amida Paradise, Sukhavati."


From a translation project of the World Haiku Review

ototoi no hechima no mizu mo torazariki
Masaoka Shiki, 18/09/1902

since the day
before yesterday, not even gourd water
has been collected

(Version by Sususmu Takiguchi) (1)

Read more translations here:

the snake gourd sap..from two days back
.. .. .. .. .. is also left..ungathered

へちまとは 糸瓜のやうな物ならん
hechima to wa hechima no yoo na mono naran

the sponge gourd is
nothing more than a sponge gourd
I guess

source : Tr. Shiki Museum Volunteers

. WKD - Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 .


Gabi Greve about the use of HOTOKE in Japanese

Any deceased person or dead body is referred to as HOTOKE 仏, but that does not carry the strong implication of BUDDHA, rather what it is, a deceased; dead body shitai 死体 is not used in colloquial language. Shisha 死者 is another word for a dead person in the news or legal proceedures.

Let me tell you a story.

Once I was called deep inside our woods to inspect a suicide, a farmer dead in his car. He had put a hose from the gas exhaust to the front room and choked ... (I am a specialist of legal medicine, so I know what I am doing in this case ..)

We wanted to make sure it was not murder, so here comes Gabi san and gives instructions to the Japanese local policeman (he had only seen two dead bodies (hotoke) in his whole career ..) and checks it all out, all the time talking about the HOTOKE SAN in his car.

We were just talking about the dead body, die Leiche, believe me, not about the BUDDHA.
It would never have occured to me to translate our conversation of this day as :

Look, the buddha took his shoes off before entering his car. See how the buddha was spitting slime in his last minutes? What shall we say to the wife of the buddha when we have to tell her? (the poor local policeman had never have to do this duty before ...)
and so on, just to show you that the translation of HOTOKE has its problems when it comes to a dead body in a real life situation.

Shiki seems not to have lost his humor, even in the last minute. Talking about himself as already dead !
Just a few weeks ago, in the NHK Haiku program, the sensei talked about this haiku in connection with examples for HUMOUR in haiku !

June 2006


Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo

hechima-zuru kitte shimaeba tanin kana

after cutting
the snake gourd vine...

uta kaku ya kaji no kawari ni hechima no ha

writing the poem
on the mulberry substitute...
leaf of a gourd

yo no naka wa hechima no kawa zo minna tsuyu

in this world
are snake gourds
on each one, dewdrops

Issa, Tr. David Lanoue

Related words

Kawanabe Gyosui (1831-1889)

***** Snake Gourd, karasu-uri 烏瓜
..... karasuuri, karasu uri 玉瓜(からすうり)
kigo for late autumn
Trichosanthes cucumeroides

. . . CLICK here for Photos !
Sometimes the name Snake Gourd is used as a translation for HECHIMA, but that is wrong.

玉章 たまずさ Tamazusa is another name of this plant.
The striking little red fruit makes this a kigo for autumn.

In Japanese, the word means a gourd for the crows, since they come to eat these fruit in autumn.

Sometimes the name Snake Gourd is used as a translation for HECHIMA 糸瓜.
The plant grows like grapewine in other plants. The flowers can be seen in summer, they look almost as delicate as a lace.
When the leaves are dried off, the red fruit hangs in the tree and is a delicious treat for the animals, hence the Japanese naming: Crow’s Gourd.
The vine hangs in the trees and bushes like a snake, therefore the naming. The flowers open in the evening and look pretty like a lace. The seeds have a special form like a lucky mallet and if you keep one in your purse, you will become a rich man! (or so they say!)

Ki-Karasu-Uri 黄烏瓜 The Yellow Snake GourdThe fruit has a yellow-orange color. Trichosanthes kirilowii
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

yamasato no hibi fukamareba karasu-uri

in the mountain village
days get more intense -
snake gourds

With winter coming, there is a lot to prepare and the days are almost too
short for all the work to be done.
Gabi Greve, 2004


Snake gourds
In the evening sun
They are glowing

Oota Midori


kigo for late summer

karasuuri no hana 烏瓜の花 flower of the snake gourd

They look almost like a lace when they open in the evening, but they close in the morning.


***** Dead body, deceased person, hotoke 仏
Non-seasonal topic for haiku.

***** Melons and Gourds
hyootan, fukube 瓢箪 gourd, calabash



Unknown said...

Issa no hetima no haiga wo
okuri masita.


Anonymous said...

Gabi san,

I found this page fascinating --
I was not familiar with this gourd at all, although I've used a loofah.
I enjoyed reading about the translation problems --
I guess this is what keeps translators busy!

Your personal story about checking out that suicide was interesting...
thanks again for sharing your abundance of information!



Gabi Greve said...

- KAPPA - 河童 / かっぱ / カッパ -
河童之図(ひょうたん)Kappa painting : the Gourd
Kappa Muko-Iri 河童婿入り Kappa as son in law, The Kappa Bridegroom
hyootan and hechima 瓢箪やへちま
kappa to hyootan かっぱとひょうたん Kappa and the Gourd
and more legends in my blog

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayash Issa - doomori

dômori ga hito ni yoitaru sakura kana

the temple guard
sick from the crowds...
cherry blossoms

Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve said...

Yooro no Taki 養老の滝 Yoro no Taki Waterfall
and the legend of filial piety and the gourd.
The gourd, a most common water container for travelers in the Edo period, has become the symbol of Yoro town and there is a Gourd Festival.