Chrysanthemum Tea

朝茶飲む 僧静かなり 菊の花

Asa cha nomu / sō shizukanari / kiku no hana

Matsuo Basho

Three variations on Matsuo Basho’s Morning Tea:

One cup of morning tea
Calms a monk
Chrysanthemums are blooming

A monk sipping his morning tea,
Calmly
— Chrysanthemums are flowering

Drinking morning tea
Calms a monk
– Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum Tea, three times a day, Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
Three time a day
Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
My friends and I
Happy life

Bashō no yono

Chrysanthemum Tea

Chrysanthemum tea (菊茶, kiku-cha) is considered an elixir of life in Japan and much of Asia, enjoyed for the beauty of the flower’s blossoms, their earthy smell, and the taste of the tea. Each mum variety having its own special flavor. The recipe is simple, steep the flower petals (the leaves are too bitter) in hot water. Drink as a morning tea (朝茶, asa cha). Drink while hot. Morning tea and Green tea in general are soothing. Chrysanthemum tea, in particular, is used to calm chest pain, reduce high blood pressure, soften headaches, eliminate dizziness, and treat a host of other conditions.

In a word, Chrysanthemum tea is calming.

Basho suffered from various ailments throughout his life, including stomach ailments. So, it is not hard to imagine that he drank quite a lot of tea. And, after a hard days journey on the Oku No Hosomichi, one pictures Sora, Basho’s traveling companion, brewing tea while Basho is busy writing in his journal. One can also picture their visit to a temple, where a Buddhist monk (僧, Sō) might welcome his guests with tea.

Post Script

Xin chào (“hello”) was the greeting we received in a friendly neighborhood cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Corona Tea!” was the drink we got when we asked for a pot of green tea and two cups.

My wife and I were there visiting our son in Hanoi in early 2020, at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. The fear of Coronavirus was only beginning. At that time, it was only a general concern for good health, green tea being a good start.

The cafe’s setting, beside a small lake, was quiet. Lofty apartment buildings, like tall mountains, surrounded the lake, separating us from the din of a thousand motorcycles on the main streets. This made this tiny spot feel like a personal Shangri-La. That and the woman, the owner of the cafe, who smiled as she served us a steaming pot of green tea.

The tea kept us healthy, I like to think.

Madame,
How do you say, Hello?
— Xin chào
, and green tea

Bashō no yono

I previously translated this haiku.

White Chrysanthemums


Climbing Long’s Peak

Once on a trip to Estes Park, a friend and I camped below Longs Peak (a “fourteener” located in the Rocky Mountain National Park), having decided on the spur of the moment to make the long climb to the top. It was summer, the evening was cool. It is hard to ignore, he snores. He slept in a one man tent, I crosswise and bent in the car. The stars filled the night sky, and the Milky Way rose behind the peak we hoped to climb the next day.

Unprepared, ill-equipped, we didn’t make it all the way, but had a great time. P.S. a better climber started us out, illuminating the pathway with a headlamp that he wisely brought.

a mountain path

Some thoughts:

Nightfall
Too Dark to Read,
To Bed

A fool
Climbs Mt. Long
Not at all

In Darkness,
With trust in the Buddha,
I start, I stumble, I fall

One can ride horses along the trails on the mountainside. When the sun rose, we saw a few horses roaming freely on the range. One horse had only three legs.

A three legged horse
On the mountainside

Climbs better than most

In the Summer Sun
Snow melts, water gathers
A cold stream

There is still snow at the highest elevations, even in July. The summer sun melts the snow forming narrow streams. One often stops to wash the face and hands with the cold water. Then one moves on, admiring a wildflower that grows nearby.

mountain crocus

1685 (year of Jōkyō, 貞享)

The following haiku is from Basho’s Journal of Bleached Bones (Nozarashi Kiko, 野ざらし紀行). This travelogue covered a trip that began in the fall of 1684 and ended the next spring. Basho traveled from Edo to Iga Ueno, his birthplace. After paying respects to his mother who had died the year before, he traveled to Kamigata (an are encompassing Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka). Coming along a mountain path, Matsuo Basho spied a mountain violet (sumiregusa). This dainty purple flower with its heart shaped leaves has no smell, but it is charming nevertheless, being one of the earliest flowers to blossom in spring.

coming along a mountain path,
somehow so charming
– a wild violet

山路来て    何やらゆかし   すみれ草
yamaji kite/  namiyara yukashi/   sumiregusa

[ゆかし, yukashi meaning charming, endearing, or moving. This haiku inspired Enya to compose a charming song in Japanese called Sumiregusa.]

My thoughts is this:

A tiny mountain flower
Don’t pick this jewel
Just admire

Having reached the peak of Mt. Long, many climbers quickly descend, either because the peak has become crowded with other climbers, or the time of day is late and the weather uncertain. I think Basho would agree, there is joy in the summit, but the greater joy is in the journey.

It is not the summit
But the Path
I seek

Stage 25, July 1689

By July, 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora had reached Obanazawa, three months into their Journey to the Northern Interior, and ready to rest.

[By Matsuo Basho’s reckoning, according to the Japanese lunar calendar, it was the 5th lunar month (五日, itsuka), from the 17th to the 27th, 1689.]

Basho writes:

In Obanazawa, I met a man called Seifu (清風, a Chinese phrase meaning cool breeze).”


“He is wealthy, yet a man of a samurai mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of the wandering journey, for he himself had traveled often to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished and made me comfortable in every way he could.”

Making coolness
My lodging,
I rest

Yes (Hai), crawl out!
Croaking toad
Under the silk moth hut

The mental image of
Mayahuki (an eye brush)
And Benihana (Safflower, red powder flower)

Safflower, 紅粉の花

Notes on Translation

Obanazawa (尾花沢), literally means the valley of the yellow iris (尾花). The city is located along the Mogami River in central Japan, halfway between Sendai and Sakata (Stages 18 and 31).

In Obanazawa, Matsuo Basho’s host was Seifu (清風), a wealthy merchant and poet of the Danrin school, founded by Nishiyama Sōin (1605 to 1682). Seifu had previously exchanged haiku with Basho and Sora in Edo. Seifu is the Haiku name of Michisuke Suzuki, a safflower wholesaler, thus the third haiku.


Who knows,

Seifu’s kaiku
Not me, not you

Seifu’s haiku
Faded
Like Safflower powder

Bashō no yōna

I have not been able to find any haiku by Michisuke Suzuki, or Seifu. But, there is a Seifu Museum in Obamazawa.

Safflower (紅粉の花, benibana or beni no hana), has been used in Japan as a source for red tint in cosmetics and dye for clothing. The yellow flower contains a concentrated tinge of red.

Watch a short Japanese film on Benihana.

With the July heating up, and the long walk, Basho and Sora were ready for a rest. The WKD Archive site indicates that Basho stayed at a nearby temple and not with Seifu. Perhaps, Seifu was not as “cool” as his name suggests.

From the second haiku, one infers that Basho’s host also maintained a nursery for Silkworm moths. Basho addresses a toad hidden in a Moth hut. It is hot and humid, Basho kindly commands him to crawl out, enjoy the cool, fresh air.

Mayahaki in the third haiku refers to the brush that sweeps the eye with red powder from the Safflower. It is the signature look of the Geisha.

Original Japanese

涼しさを我宿にしてねまる也

suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari

這出よかひやが下のひきの声

hai ideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe

まゆはきを俤にして紅粉の花

mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana

What’s on my feet?

May 4th, 1689

After crossing the barrier-gate of Shirakawa on their journey north, Basho and Sora entered the Tōhoku region (東北地方) of northern Japan. They were headed to the scenic pine covered Matsushima islands. But first they would arrive in Tōhoku’s largest city, Sendai. They reached Sendai on May the fourth. This was seasonally significant as May the fifth marked the first day of summer on the Japanese lunar calendar.

Basho had so far covered over 200 miles by foot and his sandals were well worn.

In Sendai, Basho attempted to make the acquaintance of a fellow poet, Michikaze Oyodo, who like Basho traveled a lot and was, at the time living in Sendai. Michikaze was gone. Fortune smiled and Basho was taken on a sightseeing tour of the area by a wood block artist Basho identifies as Kaemon.

Basho explains:

“Crossing the Natori River, I entered Sendai on May the fourth, the day when the Japanese customarily throw iris leaves on the roof and pray for good health. Finding an inn, I decided to stay in Sendai for several days. In this city there was a painter by the name of Kaemon, and I made special efforts to meet him for he was reputed to be truly artistic. He took me to various places which I might have missed but for his help. First we went to the plain of Miyagino, where new fields of bush-clover would blossom in autumn. The hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka were covered in blooming white rhododendrons. Then we went into the dark pine woods called Konoshita where sunbeams could not penetrate. This, the darkest spot on the earth, has been the subject of many poems because of its dewiness – for example, one poet says that his lord when entering needs an umbrella to protect him from dew drops.”

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

Eventually, the time came for us to say good-bye. And Kaemon gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama, as well as two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed the deep blue of the iris. This last gift clearly testifies to the true artistic nature of this man.

Ah, are they Iris that blossom

On my feet, or —

Sandals laced in blue.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

あやめ 艸足に結ん 草鞋の緒

Iris blossoms

May, 2021

Ah, the glorious iris —

Now withered and brown,

Nature reclaims

The lunar calendar of 1689 does not match today’s Gregorian calendar of 2021, but it does not seem to be off by much. The iris flowers that graced my yard in early May has fallen, reclaimed by the compost pile.

Ah, the cycle of life. 生命の循環, Seimei no junkan.

Notes on Translation

This is a second look at Basho’s iris haiku, previously posted June 2, 2020.

An in depth look at Basho’s haiku can be found at WKD.

Basho begins his haiku with the Japanese character , A which means Hey! or Ah! (getting someone’s attention or expressing surprise.) But the surprise is that あやめ, Ayame becomes the Iris. Again Basho uses another interjection, , (“nn” sound) before the final question, which is too convey the English idea of “hmmm”.

Kaemon’s identity is revealed in Sora’s Diary. English theories about Kaemon’s name and profession are inconsistent. Terebess, Notes on station 18. Reliable Japanese authorities identify him as Kitanoya Kaemon, a wood block printer and owner of a bookstore. He was a student of the haiku poet Michikaze Oyodo who was then living in Sendai. 仙台, Japanese source. Oyodo Michikaze (大淀 三千風), like Basho, was a prolific haiku writer. In 1682, he published a book called, Matsushima Viewbook, extolling the beauty of the islands.

Kakitsubata

kakitsubata – an iris
brings to mind
a hokku


kakitsubata ware ni hokku no omoi ari

杜若われに発句のおもひあり

Japan's most renowned iris painting is Kakitsubata-zu by Ogata Korin (1658-1716), in the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.

Kakitsubata

It is the fall and the iris blossoms though long gone, still bring to mind the memory of my grandmother, for it too was her favorite flower. For Matsuo Basho, flowers were an inspiration and he wrote of the kakitsubata, the blue water iris, at least three times. This one in 1685, following the death of his mother in 1683.

Basho’s haiku is based on the eighth century hokku and Noh play of Ariwara no Narihira.

In the play, a traveling monk seeing iris blossoms on the bank of a stream approaches to admire their beauty. It is strange to him how the flowers are incapable of knowing their own beauty. A young woman watching him studying the flowers approaches him. This place is called Yatsuhashi, she says, and it is famous for its irises. When he asks if they have been the subject of a poem, she tells him of the poet Ariwara no Narihira of the Heien Period who composed the poem, “Just as a karakoromo robe comfortably fits my body after wearing it a long time, I comfortably fit my wife. Alas, I came east, leaving her behind in Kyoto. It is heartbreaking to be so far apart.”

By 1685, Basho has become a tabi no kokoro 旅の心 literally “traveling heart”. His mother died in 1683 and the following year he left Edo on one of his first wanderings. In 1685, the year of this haiku, he presumably visited the famous Yatsuhashi Kakitsubata Gardens, which reminded him of the poet Ariwara no Narihira, who wrote a hokku (an introductory poem) and a Noh play based on the flower. The play is set in early summer, near Yatsuhashi (Eight bridges) in Mikawa Province, present Aichi Prefecture.

Kakitsubata, the hokku

Kakitsubata is a hidden word (the first two characters in the five lines) in the acrostic hokku (poem) by Ariwara no Narihira from Tales of Ise.

から
きつゝなれにし
つましあれ
ばはるばるきぬる
たびをしぞ思

Ka-ragoromo
kit-sutsu narenishi
tsu-ma shi areba
ha (ba)-rubaru kinuru
ta-bi o shi zo omou

Notes on translation

Kakitsubata (Chinese, 杜若, Japanese, かきつばた) – one of three Japanese species of iris, is found along waterways and is usually purple or blue in color. In English it is sometimes translated as “rabbit-eared iris”. The kakitsubata is cultivate in the Yatsuhashi Kakitsubata Garden (八橋かきつばた園) at the Muryojuji Temple. It is also the place where Japanese poet Ariwara no Narihira was inspired to write his verse.

Hokku, 発句 – the opening stanza of a series of collaborative linked poems, renga.

Morning Glories

Chiyo-ni

He and she, she and he. Many haiku artists took up where Matsuo Basho left off with his death in 1694. One such artist was the Lady Kaga no Chiyo (Chiyo-ni, 1703 – 1775). She had taken up writing at the age of seven and was well-known by the time she was a teenager. Basho’s influence comes from the fact that she studied under two of Basho’s apprentices, but as seen in the following haiku, she spoke in her own unique voice.

Morning Glories
Entwined in the bucket at the well
So, I beg for water

Matsuo Basho, cooking his morning breakfast, observes:

Morning Glories,
While cooking rice
Am I a man, (I wonder)?

morning-glory

A moment in time

In a world of things, we strive to express our joy and wonderment in Nature’s beauty. Making his breakfast, Matsuo Basho watching the morning glory unfurl to catch the morning sun. Similarly, Chiyo-ni going to fetch water, finds that overnight the morning glory has wrapped its tendrils into the handle.

A word, a couplet, a line, a thought, nothing can compare with the actual moment in time for Nature’s beauty remains supreme.

Western translators have tried to fill out the meaning of the haiku adding words that were perhaps implied but not written. Dr. Gabi Greve, of the Daruma Museum, Japan, has given us many variations of Chiyo-ni’s haiku, adding neighbor to explain her solution to Chiyo-ni’s dilemma. While the English poet Edwin Arnold has expanded the original thought greatly:

The morning-glory
Her leaves and bells has bound
My bucket handle round.
I could not break the bands
Of these soft hands.
The bucket and the well to her left,
‘Let me some water, for I come bereft.

This, I believe, has changed the game, for haiku was and is a game. The only rule being that the poet must express his or her thought in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, features an image, or a pair of images, expressing the essence of a moment in time.

Morning Glories, Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858)
Morning Glories, Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858)

Notes on Translation

Both poets use the flower name 朝顔, asagao, literally morning face.

It is a flower of the fields and and hedge rows, often entwined with briars and along a fence or gate. The flower was brought to Japan with the advent of Buddhism. The tiny blue or purple flower that bloomed each morning represented enlightenment.

“The Asagao blossoms and fades quickly to prepare for tomorrow’s glory” is another well-known phrase.

Sen no Rikyū, the 16th century tea master, is said to have grown gorgeous morning glories in the garden by his teahouse. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 – 1598), Japan’s “Great Unifier,” sought an invitation to tea so that he could see the flowers.

釣瓶, tsurube, a bucket for drawing water at a well.

貰い水, morai mizu, literally, received I water – 貰 morai, can also suggest a tip or beneficence . 水 mizu, water. This leaves us with the impression that Chiyo must go and beg for water, i.e. “receiving water as a gift”.

Chiyo-no’s original Japanese and Romaji

朝顔に  釣瓶とられて   貰い水

asagao ni     tsurube torarete     morai mizu

Basho’s original Japanese and Romaji

朝顔に   我は飯食ふ   男かな

asagao ni     ware wa meshi kû    otoko kana

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, 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

*Fuku Hi, ふく日

The thatched roof of a Japanese cottage often contained a crown of irises. In May we can picture these flowers gently waving in the wind. Little boys, being boys, pretending that the leaves were swords, engaging in mock sword play. In his journal, Basho refers to あやめふく日也, Ayame Fuku Hiya, that is Irises on Good Fortune Day.

iris-blue-2

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