Station 18 – Sendai 仙台

sandals-oil

From Matsuo Basho’s journal, Oku no Hosomichi奥の細道

Station 18 – Sendai 仙台, Miyagi Prefecture, May 4th, 1689

Crossing the River Natori, I entered Sendai, on a day when traditionally irises bring us good luck.* There I found an inn, and decided to stay for four or five days. In this city, there was a painter named Kaemon (a disciple of the haiku poet, hajin, Michikaze Oyodo). I wanted to hear and know him, for he was said to be a spiritual man. One day he took me to several place which I might have missed without his help. First, we went to the plain of Miyagino, where fields of bush-clover were waiting to blossom in autumn. Then, to the hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka, covered with white rhododendrons in full bloom. In the dark pine woods called Konoshita, the sun beams could not penetrate. This, the darkest spot on the earth, has been the subject of poetry for its dewiness.  As an example, one poet says that his lord needs an umbrella to protect him from the drops of dew.

We also stopped at the shrines of Yakushido and Tenjin on our way home.

Saying good-bye, this refined painter then gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama, and two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed in the deep blue of the iris, representing most clearly the meaning of this man.

Irises blooming
On my feet,
Straw sandals laced in blue.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

あやめ艸足に結ん草鞋の緒

*The thatched roof of a Japanese cottage often contained a crown of irises that in May gently waved in the wind.

iris-blue-2

Saru o Kiku Hito

You who hears the monkey cry…

kids-glasses

 

From “Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field” –  Matsuo Basho left Edo with man named Chiri as a companion and aide, on a trip in the eighth month of 1684. He had barely begun his journey, when, crossing the Fuji River, he heard the wail of a small child.

“I was walking along the Fuji River when I saw an abandoned child (捨子, sutego, foundling), barely two, pitifully weeping. Had his parents been unable to endure this floating world, wave-tossed as these rapids, and so left him here to wait out a life, brief as the dew? He seemed like a bush clover in autumn’s wind (秋の風, aki no kase, autumn wind)that might scatter in the evening or wither in the morning.

I tossed him some food from my sleeve and said in passing:

Hearing the monkey’s howl,
Or an abandoned child’s crying in the autumn wind
– Which is worse?

You, who listens to the monkey’s cry,
What of the abandoned child
Weeping in the Autumn Wind?

Basho consoles himself we these words:

Why did this happen? Were you hated by your father, neglected by your mother? Your father did not hate you, your mother did not neglect you. This simply is from heaven, and you can only grieve over your fate.

Not a flattering picture.

To me, Basho comes across as uncaring, but what is a poet to do? Especially one who follows the tenets of Buddhism. But then, did not Buddha say, “However many holy words you read or speak, what good do they do if you do not act on upon them?” (A paraphrase of verses 19 and 20 from the Dhammapada.)

Pinyin and Japanese

saru o kiku hito sutego ni aki no kaze ika ni

猿を聞く人 捨子に秋の風いかに

 

Matsuo Basho at Kasajima

The First of May, 1689

Going to Kasajima –
How much of this fifth month
On this muddy road?

Kasajima wa izuko satsuki no nukari michi

green-plant

In the footsteps of Matsuo Basho

For no particular reason other than, now in the year 2020, it is the fifth month, May (五月 satsuki). It has been raining steadily here. The park where I walk the dogs is full of muddy paths (ぬかり nukari). The going is difficult. Mud cakes my shoes, making the walk arduous and slow.

So, let us join Matsuo Basho on his Journey North.

Basho had hoped to visit the burial site of Lord Sanekata of the Fujiwara family in Medeshima-Shiote. From Okido, and its Barrier-gate, to Medeshima-Shiote was about 30 miles and one could reasonably cover that distance in a little more than ten hours. It was not to happen, for the rain made the path impossible, and he would only make it to Iwanuma, about 20 miles short of his goal.

In the words of Matsuo Basho:

“The first day of the fifth month passed. I stopped at Iizuka and took shelter at an inn, a filthy place with rough straw mats spread out on the earth. I could not get a wink of sleep for the storm that came upon us at midnight.
The next day I rode on horse back towards Kori, and arrived at the barrier-gate of Okido in Date

Passing through the castle towns of Abumizuri and Shiroishi, I arrived in Kasajima Province, where I asked the way to the mound of Lord Sanekata of the Fujiwara family. I was told that I must turn right in the direction of the villages of Minowa and Kasajima visible at the foot of the mountains in the distance, and that the mound was still there by the side of a shrine, buried in deep grass. I wanted to go that way, of course, but the muddy road after the early rain of the wet season and my own weakness stopped me. The names of the two villages were so befitting to the wet season with their echoes of raincoat and umbrella that I wrote:”

笠島はいづこ五月のぬかり道

 

Mushroom – Matsudake

forest moss mushroom

A mushroom, ha!
or, some unknown tree,
with a clinging leaf

A mushroom, or
an unknown tree
with a clinging leaf

matsudake ya / shiranu konoha no / hebaritsuku

松茸や    知らぬ  木の葉の    へばり付く

matsudake
matsudake or matsutake

Matsudake (Matsutake)

A new species of mushroom with a leaf for a cap or an unknown tree?

The beauty of all poetry and haiku in particular lies in the fact that simple words are capable of multiple interpretations. Poetry is sensation and emotion, and emotions are felt, differently according to our gender, age, culture, and experience.

The mycophagist (one who studies mushrooms) looks at the mushroom with a scientific eye. The cook eyes the mushroom for its texture and aroma. The child loves the mushroom for its mysterious appearance among the decaying leaves in the forest floor.

Mushrooms grow throughout the year but are most plentiful in fall. Shiitake are common, but the matsutake are prized. Has Matsuo Basho come across one? Is it the marvelous matsudake, with its intense aroma and pine-like flavor? He doesn’t know.

Surprise, this mushroom has a leaf on its cap.

Notes on translation

Matsudake ya, a mushroom, hmmm; ah, a mushroom! or, a mushroom?

Shirano, don’t know. Konoha no, the leaf of  tree.

Hebaritsuku, to cling to.

 

forest moss mushroom

 

I love the plum blossom – Ume koite

Spring 1685

In Shiga province, Basho met up with a priest from Hiru in Izu who traveled with him all the way to Owari province. Along the way, the priest told Basho of the death of Abbot Daiten of Enkaku Temple at Kamakura.

I love the plum blossom
But the deutzia flower
Brings me to tears

Longing for plum blossoms,
Bowing before the deutzia –
Eyes full of tears

One loves the plum
But worships the deutzia –
With tears

ume koite / unohana ogamu / namida kana

梅恋 ひて卯の花拝む 涙哉

plum tree flowers
plum tree flowers

Enkaku Temple at Kamakura

Enkaku, Engaku-ji (円覚寺), a Zen Buddhist temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Edo (Tokyo). The name translates to “perfect enlightenment”. Daiten, Daitō, meaning long sword, appears to be the honorary title given to the abbot, possibly to the chief monk of temples practicing Zen Buddhism.

Notes on translation

There are multiple translation of Basho’s homage to Abbot Daiten of Enkaku Temple. The blog, WKD, Matsuo Basho Archives provides several. Like the hydrangeas one sees blooming along the northwestern coast of the United States, the deutzia is a bushy plant with multiple flowering heads. When the deutzia blossoms in Japan, generally, after the plum and cherry trees blossoms, the skies turn gray, not really rain, but not sunny and bright.

Misty days are abundant.

Unohana – the white snowbell-like flower of the Deutzia, part of the hydrangea family

Ogamu – to worship, to assume the posture of praying, to press the palms and fingers of both hands together, to do reverence.

hydrangea

Our two lives – inochi ni

Cherry blossoms on a branch

Lake Biwa, Shiga Province, Spring 1685

For millions of Japanese, the annual cherry blossom viewing is a time of surprise and delight. After an absence of 20 years, Matsuo Basho came across his friend and disciple, Hattori Dohō (服部土芳), and composed this haiku.

Our two lives coming together at Cherry Blossom time!

Inochi Futatsu no Naka ni Ikitaru Sakura kana

命二つの中に生きたる桜かな

Hattori Dohō

Hattori Dohō (服部土芳) was younger than Basho by a dozen years. After Basho’s death, Dohō composed Sanzōshi, Three Books, ca. 1702, a poetic treatise on Bashō’s haikai. Haikai meaning the linked verse, commentary, and poetry that Basho popularized.

Haiku came to mean standalone poems. Haibun came to mean multiple verses.

In one of his haibun, Bashō states, “Only when one identifies with the feelings of the things in nature and can express them in words, only then is he a master of poetry.”

Our two lives, inochi ni, is a wistful recollection of a friend.

In this haiku, Basho combines the two lives, his and Dohō’s, from inochi 命 life, to be alive, plus futatsu 二 two. These lives separated by time and place come together at Lake Biwa during sakura cherry blossom festival . Basho adds the kireji, the cutting word in the double kana, かな, expressing the joy of meeting such a friend.

 

On the subject of separate lives

Our two separate lives, as Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin put it bluntly in a song from 1985, is a sadder version about the separation of former lovers. Cher gave us a similar sentiment in 1988, “… sooner or later we all sleep alone.”

Until then, enjoy the cherry blossoms. Sakura kana! 

Cherry blossoms on a branch

Read about the entire journey in Donald Keene’s translation of Journey of 1684.

An azalea, dried cod and a woman

On Lake Biwa, sitting down at an inn for lunch:

Azaleas arranged in a pot,
Chopping cod in the shade –
A woman

tsutsuji ikete sono kage ni hidara saku onna

躑躅 生けてその陰に干 鱈 割く女

azalea-pink

Thusness

Was she young, was she pretty, or dried up and old? Did she blossom like a flower? Or merely exist?

One should be careful of reading too much into a haiku.

Matsuo Basho himself observed that a haiku may be neither objective or subjective. It merely is what it is. This quality of “thusness” or “suchness” is a principle of Buddhism called Tathātā. It represents the base reality. Thus, there in the corner of the inn, Basho spies an azalea, and a woman tearing up dried cod.

Imagery, Kigo, Kireji, and a Twist

The essence of a haiku is its imagery. The image conveys a message, the characters and words are merely the conveyance of the image.

Most haiku will contain a kigo word. This helps to set the season and so the setting of the poem. Kigo words do not need to be the actual season – spring, summer, fall or winter. Instead, as in this case, the azalea that blooms in spring becomes the kigo word.

Having created the image, the poet must carve his or her haiku up into a sequence of images to create the synthesis of images forming one idea. Kireji are called “cutting words” and act like punctuation, a comma, a dash, a question, and exclamation, and so forth. But kireji may also make their appearance in the verb form, for instance, in change the present to the past

In this haiku, the verb that appears after azalea is ikete, past tense of ikeru. By itself, the “Te Form” links the two thoughts of the azalea and the woman chopping cod together.

A good haiku should also try to create a twist in thought, where sound may suggest a shift in thought. Hidara saku, the cod is split by the woman, but shifting the phrase to saku onna, gives the listener impression of a woman blooming.

azalea-forest

 

The Karasaki pine tree – Karasaki no matsu

Lake Biwa, Pine tree of Karasaki

The Karasaki pine tree is mistier than the cherry blossoms

Karasaki no matsu/ wa hana yori/ oboro nite

辛崎の松 は花より朧にて

Karasaki Pine Tree

“The Karasaki Pine Tree (Karasaki no matsu) stands on a walled esplanade in Karasaki village, 5 MN of Otsu near the steamer landing. Its 300 or more immense horizontal boughs, upheld by wood crutches or stone pillars, curve awkwardly, and at the top – 25 ft or more from the ground – tin and wood copings have been placed as a protection against the weather. These arms, some of which measure 200 odd ft. from point to point, reach out like those of a gigantic and repulsive spider, and are almost bare of foliage.”
Terry’s Japanese Empire, T. Philip Terry, 1914

In the eighth moon of 1684, Matsuo Basho left Edo to visit his birthplace in Ueno. The occasion was the death of his mother in 1683. As journeys go, this one involved many stops and visits along the way. Previously, we left Basho on the path from Kyoto to Otsu, on Lake Biwa. On the mountain path, Basho discovered a violet growing in the grass, and took the occasion to write a haiku.

Now he was nearing Lake Biwa.

Lake Biwa, Pine tree of Karasaki
Lake Biwa, Pine tree of Karasaki

Descending from his mountain path to the lake, he views Otsu and its well-known pine tree in the distant mist. The ancient horizontal limbs are supported by pillars. Otsu also offers many sublime cherry blossom trees for viewing. For practical reasons, Basho found the pine tree more to his liking. Or maybe he just found it a bit hazier or mistier, oboro , if he arrived in the early foggy April morning.

Meaning of the poem

The meaning of the haiku is itself obscure on its face.

Likely, Basho is making a reference to the poem by Prince Konoe Masaie (1444-1505).

In the night rain its green fades
Serene in the evening breeze
Stands the pine tree
Of Karasaki.
— Prince Konoe Masaie (1444-1505)

That however does not explain the mention of the cherry blossoms.

There is a well-known idiom, hana yori dango, which translates as preferring dumplings over flowers. This also means to prefer the practical over the beautiful. A secondary meaning is that viewers of the cherry blossoms prefer the wine and food over the blossoms themselves. A pine tree, it seems to me is more practical than a cherry blossom. It provides protection from the elements and material for building.

 

Like California’s Sequoia’s the Karasaki pine tree is ancient. Even in Basho’s day, it was believed to be one thousand years old. A new pine tree has since been planted from a cutting of the old Karasaki pine tree.

For reference, see: Basho’s Journal of 1684, translated by Donald Keene (page 143)

old pine of karasaki
old pine of Karasaki

A cloud of cherry blossoms – Hana no kumo

A cloud of cherry blossoms
The chime of a temple bell
Is it Asakusa, is it Ueno?

Hana no kumo   Kane ha   Ueno ka Asakusa ka

花の雲    鐘は上野か   浅草か

Cherry blossoms on a branch

1680

In 1680, Basho moved from Edo across the Sumida River to Fukagawa to escape the noise of Nihonbashi, near the city center, where he had lived for nine years.

Hana no Kumo

Spring, cherry trees in full blossom, the sound of a temple bell, is it the Temple at Asakusa or Ueno? Hana means flowers in the general sense, but also the cherry blossom in this haiku. Kumo means cloud. Matsuo Basho has gone for a walk in Fukagawa in April, and in the midst of the blossoms of the cherry trees he experiences what it feel like to walk among the clouds. Perhaps a gentle breeze comes along and petals are scattered about, heightening the ethereal experience.

Suddenly, he hears the chime (kane), the sound of a temple bell. It comes from across the Sumida River that separates Basho’s neighborhood of Fukagawa from Edo (Tokyo).

Is the sound Asakusa or Ueno, two well-known temples?

senso-ji temple
Senso-ji temple, Asakusa

An Early Summer Rain – Samidare no

An early summer rain
Falling on this and that
And the Temple of Light

An early summer rain
Does not dim
The Temple of Light 

Samidare no/ Furinokosite ya/ Hikari-do

五月雨の 降のこしてや 光堂

rain-lights

May, 1689

It is an early summer rain in Kansas, some three hundred thirty one years since Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku. At the time, Basho and his traveling companion Sora were on the famous Journey to the North. Visiting Hiraizumi, Basho would have taken the pathway on Tsukimi-zaka slope to Chuson-ji Temple and its golden hall of Hikare-do (Konjiki-do).

[Note on translation. Furinokosite ya, 降のこしてや. The second line of the haiku is a turn of a phrase. The first character in the line indicates a fall, as in the rain falling, but also to subdue, to lessen or decrease in stature, hence the verb “dim”.]

Prior translation

Yoshitsune

Basho had come not only to see Hikare-do, the Temple of Light dedicated to the Buddha, but also to reflect on the the rise and fall of the northern Fujiwara clan, and the tragic end of the samurai Yoshitsune, an event that took place some five hundred years previously.

Of Yoshitsune, Basho wrote another well-known haiku; one that seems to express a contrasting emotion.

The summer grass is all that remains of  a warlord’s dreams.

Natsukusa ya / tsuwamono domo ga / yume no ato.