Saiygo looks back

ひさに経て 我が後の世を 問へよ松 跡しのぶべき 人も無き身ぞ
Hisa ni tate
waga ato no yo o
toieyo Matsu ato shinobubeki
hito mo naki mi zo

After a long time,
everlasting pine,
will the world ask after me?

Saiygo, on looking at an ancient pine tree at the site of Kobo Daishi’s birth

Will You Remember Me

A literal translation of Saiygo’s poem goes like this: Long living pine, covering my corpse, mourning for me, I ask, are we everlasting, is there one to remember me when I am gone? Translations may vary, but the essence of the poem is the universal question —
Will you remember me?


Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), 9th century Buddhist monk, calligrapher, and poet. The Grand Master who helped to spread Buddhism throughout Japan. Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師), was a 12th century poet and author, a Samurai warrior who became a Buddhist monk, took to wandering, and writing travelogues to accompany his poetry. Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), 17th century haiku master on which this blog is based.

Kobo Daishi was to Saiygo, what Saiygo was to Basho, what Basho is to us. A voice from the distant past. A hope, I think, that our voice lives on. That we will be remembered?


Eastern Colorado

Mid July, 2022. US 50

In July

Can I help to find a cantaloupe

Rocky Ford, Colorado

The local cops

Love to stop and chat at the Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop in downtown Rocky Ford, Colorado, hot coffee, friendly chatter, cute jewelry.

The Coffee Shop

There are piles of cantaloupe and watermelon and peaches on stands in Rocky Ford Calla Colorado. But it is too early in the season for these to be grown here.

Swink, Colorado

Swing, I think they need

A catchier name


Don’t blink

You missed it

La Junta, Colorado


They’ve got

A Walmart

Three towns in quick succession. Rocky Ford, Swink, and La Junta. The last is close to Bent’s Old Fort, an early settlement on the Santa Fe Trail. A way’s further to Las Animas.

Hurry, she said, let’s hurry

Why, I said,

You’ll miss this moment


Can’t miss it in

Las Animas

From Las Animas, it’s on to Hasty and La Mar. Beneath the ground is a giant aquifer quickly shrinking from the irrigation needed to water the crops.

The Age of 50

Young or old, it is not a question of years — one is young or old from birth to death, it all depends on how and what one feels and thinks.

Bashō no yōna, 2022

Yoshida Kenko

Yoshida Kenko, 兼好, early 14th century Buddhist monk, poet and essayist, remarked, quoting someone else, that if you have not learned an art by the time you are 50 you should give it up. There is not time enough left in one’s life to make the pursuit worthwhile.

Kenko himself retired from public life and became a hermit. His attitude was that it was painful to see men over 50 mixing with society. Rather, one should retire to a leisure life. For those who are still young, ask if you wish to know. But once having grasped the facts clearly enough to understand, pursue the question no further. The ideal in the first place is not to desire to know.

Matsuo Basho, 松尾 芭蕉, 17th century poet, born in 1644, died in November of 1694, having lived 49 full years. Basho had begun to withdraw from society. First, moving from the bustling city center of Edo, the capital, to the more remote Fukagawa district, and his simple cottage. Then, to begin his various wanderings over the Japanese landscape. Basho was poet and artist, and he continued to write and draw up until the time of his death.

On the subject of Yoshida Kenko, Basho wrote this:

aki no iro/ nukamiso tsubo mo/ nakari keri

not even a bowl
in autumn colors
for fermented miso

Matsuo Basho, Autumn, 1691

Notes on Translation

Nukamiso, Nukazuke. Fermented miso. Boiled or steamed vegetables, pickles, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, etc., placed in a miso sauce, then fermented in vinegar and sake. Aki no iro, autumn colors of the vegetables. Tsubo, a simple wooden bowl. As a devout Buddhist monk, Kenko had few possessions, typically only one bowl in which to beg for his daily meal. Nakari keri, saying something does not exist. Thus, the overall meaning of the haiku is that in autumn colors, his wooden bowl does not match the colorful pickled vegetables.

Basho, who suffered from stomach ailments throughout his life, ate pickled vegetables for relief.

The begging bowl used by Buddhist monks has a long association with the Buddha himself. According to one legend, when he began meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree, a young woman presented him a golden bowl filled with rice, believing he was the divinity of the tree. The rice he divided into 49 portions, one for each day until he would be enlightened. The precious bowl he threw into the river.

The author, Bashō no yōna, does not agree with Kenko on the subject of aging, as for some, life begins at retirement.

aki no iro, autumn colors of ripened vegetables

Obanazawa, #25

Summer, 1689. The Mogami River tumbles into a mountain valley in northern Yamagata Prefecture. There one finds peaceful Obanazawa, 尾花沢, meaning Marsh of Irises. Matsuo Basho, and his companion Sora, are staying with Seifu, a well-to-do safflower merchant and haiku poet.

suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari

making coolness
my lodging
for a while, I may rest

Haideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe

Crawl and creep
From under this shed
You loud mouth frog

Note. Hai, the first character in this haiku has several meanings. Creep and crawl is the intended meaning, but as homophone, it means to bow reverentially. Another meaning is “to give up.” Kaiya, the shed where the silkworms are kept. Kiki. A Bullfrog. Frogs and toads eat caterpillars. Kaiya, also a Japanese feminine name meaning “Forgiveness.”

mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana

recalling to mind
an eyebrow brush
benihana (Safflower blossoms)

Oku no Hosomichi, Obanazawa, Summer 1684, Matsuo Basho

Note. Mayu, まゆ the first two characters, means eyebrow. Its homophone, 繭 a silkworm cocoon. Beni no hana, 紅粉の花, literally red powder flower. Safflowers produce yellow and red dyes which range from light yellow through pink, rose and crimson. For this reason, they are popular in cosmetics.

Basho’s annotation from the travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi:

“I visited Seifu in Obanazawa. He is a rich merchant of a truly poetic turn of mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of being on the road, for he himself had often traveled to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished, trying to make me comfortable in every way he could.”


Basho added this haiku by Sora:

kogai suru hito wa kodai no sugata kana

those tending silkworms keep their ancient appearances


Note. Kogai, 蠶飼. Silkworms are the larval form of the silk moth. The caterpillar spins a cocoon out of silk fibers for its metamorphosis into a moth. Silkworms have been domesticated since at least 3500 BC.

benihana, Safflower blossom

Yamadera 細道

July 13, 1689

Station 26, Risshakuji Temple

In the stillness of summer, deep within the rocks of Yamadera, comes the cry of a cicada.

In the quiet, penetrating the rock, the cry of a cicada
shizukasa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho, July 1689

Note. Of course, various translations exist. Many of them can be found on Haiku Topics by Dr. Gabi Greve. 閑, Kan means ‘quiet’ but conveys the idea of ‘Emptiness’ in Taoism and Buddhism. 岩, Yán, rock signifies the idea of permanence, and 蝉, Chán, the cicada, a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, all combined in one memorable haiku.

蝉の声, 蝉の声, the voice of the cicada

Risshakuji, 立石寺

After visiting Seifu in Obanazawa, Basho detoured south to Yamadera, 山寺, the popular name for the Buddhist temple Risshakuji, 立石寺. It is located on the steep slopes of Mt. Hoju, in northern Yamagata Prefecture.

It was there, that Basho composed his well known haiku on the cicada.

In Chinese and Japanese lore, cicadas are high status creatures one seeks to emulate. They are considered pure because they subsist on dew and sap. Lofty because of they perch in trees. In summer, their call is loud and long.

By crawling around, Basho showed respect and emulated the cicada. Perhaps, he hoped, his words could penetrate even the stone itself.

As they have.

Basho’s Notes

From Oku no Hosomichi:
Risshakuji Temple

In Yamagata province is Ryushakuji Temple. Founded by the great teacher Jikaku Daishi, this temple is known for the quiet tranquility of its grounds. Told by everyone to see it, I left Obanazawa. Reaching it in the late afternoon, the sun still lingering. I arranged to stay at the foot of the mountain with the temple priests. I then climbed to the temple itself near the summit.

The mountain consists of boulder upon boulder covered with ancient pines and oaks. The stony ground in the color of eternity, covered in velvety moss. The shrine’s doors were barred and no sound could be heard.

I crawled on all fours from rock to rock, bowing at each shrine, feeling the purifying power of this holy place filling my being.


山形領に立石寺と云山寺あり。 慈覚大師の開基にて、殊清閑の地也。一見すべきよし、人々のすゝむるに依て、尾花沢よりとつて返し、其間七里ばかり也。日いまだ暮ず。梺の坊に宿かり置て、山上の堂にのぼる。岩に巖を重て山とし、松柏年旧土石老て苔滑に、岩上の院々扉を閉て物の音きこえず。岸をめぐり、岩を這て仏閣を拝し、佳景寂寞として心すみ行のみおぼゆ。

Echigo 越後

July, 7, 1689

Departing Sakata, on Japan’s northwestern coast, clouds gathered along the Hokuriku Road. My heart was heavy when I heard it was a 130 li (Japanese miles, two and one half miles to the li, making it a distance of 325 US miles) to the capital of Kaga province.

Traveling south along the coast, I arrived at Echigo province (north-central coast) through the barrier-gate of Nezu, and then on to Etchu province through the barrier-gate of Ichiburi. During the nine days of this journey, I wrote little, what with the heat and humidity. My old complaint bothering me immeasurably.

Fuzuki (July) the 6th is not an ordinary night
Tomorrow —
The Weaver meets her lover

fumizuki ya muika mo tsune no yo ni wa nizu

The stormy sea and Sado Island
Swelling before
The Heavenly River

araumi ya sado ni yokotau amanogawa

Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho, July 1689

Note. Tanabata, the Star Festival, on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, based upon an older Chinese celebration. In the Japanese version, the two stars Altair and Vega, representing a cowherd and a weaver girl, though separated by the vast distance of the Milky Way, are allowed to meet once a year. From Ichiburi, Basho was looking out across the Sea of Japan to distant Sado Island. The rough waves and the reflection of the Milky Way (天河, Chinese for Tianhe, Heavenly River) making a path for the two lovers to return to earth for one night.

Basho’s notes.



Hiroshige’s Echigo, Famous Places of Japan’s Provinces, 1853, source Wikipedia


July 1689

Matsushima, Matsuo Basho says, is the most beautiful place in all of Japan. It means “pine island,” so named because the many islands, tall and small, are covered with pine trees. Its name also has an obvious connection to Matsuo. It lies in a bay in northern Miyagi Prefecture.

Poets, authors, and painters, all come to Matsushima to take in its loveliness, to try and capture the feeling. The site they come to see are the hundreds of islands, like shattered shards of a mirror in the sparkling summer water. Each island covered in pine trees.

Matsushima’s Islands by Hiroshige, 1859

A true artist recognizes that his or her artistry can never replace Nature’s beauty. Basho says so, “Each single pine, flourishing, so pretty, gorgeous, beyond words.” This sentiment explains the following haiku:

Matsushima ya, aa Matsushima ya, Matsushima ya
Matsushima, Ah! Matsushima! Matsushima!

We, who are skeptics, must pause. For some say the haiku is apocryphal, Basho is not the author, and that may be true, but the sentiment is apropos, making it nevertheless delightful.

[“Words, words, words.” Basho’s purported haiku reminds me of Shakespeare’s Hamlet responding to Polonius asking him what he is reading, “Words, words, words,” suggesting that words are meaningless, a medium for thought. Repetition can have the opposite effect as in this ditty I remember from childhood. “By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea, You and I, oh, how happy we’ll be.“]*

It is also said, Basho wrote another haiku about Matsushima. It goes like this:

Shimajima, chiji ni kudakete, natsu no omi
island upon island, shattered in a thousand pieces, on a summer sea

This haiku too, we must be skeptical of.

Basho in his journal did write this, “The moon rose, glittering over the dark sea. The wind roared and the clouds flew by. In this strange world, Sora wrote a haiku,

Matsushima ya, tsuru ni mi o kare , hotogisu
Matsushima, oh!
borrow the wings of a crane to fly to
little cuckoo

Matsushima, Sora, Summer, 1689

The English sense of Sora’s haiku may be:

“That I may fly to Matsushima,” the little cuckoo cried to the lovely crane, “Oh, may I borrow your elegant wings.”

Wordless in Matsushima

Basho himself, gave up trying to write of such beauty and went to bed, but couldn’t sleep.

Instead, he took from his backpack Soda’s poem on Matsushima and waka on Matsu ga
Urashima by Hara Anteki, along with haiku by Sanpu and Jokushi.

Wordless, speechless, aghast and tongue-tied, nevertheless Basho managed to write the following. From Oku no Hosomichi:


抑ことふりにたれど、松嶋は扶桑第一の好風にして、凡洞庭西湖を恥ず。東南より海を入て、江の中三里、浙江の 湖をたゝふ。嶋/\の数を尽して、欹ものは天を指、ふすものは波に 葡蔔。あるは二重にかさなり三重に畳みて、左にわかれ右につらなる。負るあり抱るあり、児孫愛すがごとし。松の緑こまやかに、枝葉汐風に吹たはめて、屈曲をのづからためたるがごとし。其景色えう然として美人の顔を粧ふ。ちはや振神のむかし、大山ずみのなせるわざにや。造化の天工、いづれの人か筆をふるひ詞を尽さむ。


松嶋や鶴に身をかれほとゝぎす [曾良]



See the translation at another site, Teresbess

Matsushima, 松島
  • The song By the Beautiful Sea, 1914, music by Harry Carroll and lyrics by Harold R. Atteridge.