Edo, Autumn, 1678, Matsuo Basho, then called Tosei, age 35.
雨の日 や世間の秋を 堺町
ame no hi / ya seken no aki o / sakai-chō
A rainy day, in Autumn the world awakens in Sakai-cho
He has not yet become Bashō, 芭蕉, the poet who compares himself to the fragile and useless Banana plant. That is yet to come when, two autumns later, Matsuo Basho would take the somewhat surprising step of leaving Edo and crossing the Sumida River to Fukagawa to live in a cottage beside a Banana plant, 芭蕉.
For now, Basho enjoys Kabuki Theater. Rain doesn’t matter. Perhaps it heightens the surreal quality of the plays.
Kechi, Kansas, Autumn, 2021
More than three centuries have gone by since Matsuo Basho wrote his haiku.
Today, in 2021, pubs and micro-breweries have become the gathering place for friends and couples who want to talk about the day’s events, about the World.
It is another rainy day in Middle America. It is early September; the summer’s heat has given way to cooler days and nights. The author of this blog takes a trip to Kechi, a small Kansas town outside Wichita. He is accompanied by his wife and dog, Lucy, a small dog, a mix, mostly Blue Heeler. The three of us sit on the patio under trees strung with lights, sample the beers, listen to music, and forget our worrries.
Suddenly, it starts to storm. Lucy runs inside and shakes off the rain. Bashō no yōna, the author of this blog, and modern day Basho disciple, says this:
A dog knows
To Stay out of the Rain
Beer stops Pouring
When it starts Raining
At the Old School House in Kechi
Notes on Translation
Before becoming Basho, Matsuo Basho took the pen name Tosei, 桃青, meaning “green peach” inferring that he was not quite ripe.
世間, Seken, literally the World, Society, as opposed to the individual. According to the Buddha, there are two worlds, the internal world and external world. Through meditation, one understands one’s thoughts and feelings, and finds one’s ‘inner world’.
境町, Sakai-chō, literally border town. It is somewhat unclear whether 境町, Sakai-chō is a place within Tokyo’s Nihonbashi District, or it merely borders it, a special district where Kabuki Theaters were allowed. Often these theaters began in Tokyo where prostitutes plied their trade. Other worldly in this sense takes on a sexual connotation. Though frowned upon by the ruling authorities, such districts were allowed. William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men similarly had to obtain a royal license to perform.
Gabi Greve has given us a thorough discussion of Nihonbashi in her thoroughly wonderfully blog.
England 1678, John Bunyan published The Pilgrim’s Progress, an other worldly allegory of man’s journey through life. Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and culturally isolated from Western societies.