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

 

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

Saddle my horse, uma ni kura

The Dutch too are coming,
To see the flowers blossom,
Saddle my horse

阿蘭陀も 花に来にけり 馬に鞍

Oranda mo/ hana ni ki ni keri/ uma ni kura

A Close Encounter of a Dutch Kind

In a closed society (sakoku, 鎖国), as Japan was, strangers would elicit a curious look.

The Dutch with their bearded faces and yellow hair would have been doubly strange to the Japanese. Not quite a close encounter of a third kind, but alien no less.

Since 1633, the Shogun in Edo had banned foreigners from entering Japan and Japanese from traveling abroad. Only the Dutch were permitted a trading post in Nagasaki harbor on the small island of Deshima (Dejima). The island was ” 82 ordinary steps in width and 236 in length through the middle,” according to Engelbert Kaempfer who spent two years there with the Dutch East India Company.  The Japanese were still curious about western ways and each spring, the Dutch brought tribute to the Shōgun in Edo, bringing news of the world and bearing gifts: weapons, clocks, telescopes, medicines and rare animals.

It must have been quite a spectacle.

Dutch_tribute_embassy_to_Edo

[From Engelbert Kaempfer: The History of Japan (1727), based on observations made between 1690 and 1692 with the Dutch East India Company. Image Wikipedia.]

Hanami

The Dutch trip to Edo occurred in April when Japan was in the midst of its Hanami festival  (花見, flower viewing festival). We associate this festival with the well-known cherry  blossoms (桜 sakura), but they would have also included flowering plum.

Notes on translation

阿蘭陀 Oranda, Holland, The Dutch
mo, too, also
hana, flower
馬に鞍, uma ni kura, saddle my horse, literally put the saddle on my horse

Important Sources

Matsuo Basho – WKD Archives
Cherry Blossom Epiphany, page 145
Dutch Encounters, excerpt from Kaempfer’s observations

 

Sora Speaks

This child Kasane, if she were a flower, would be a pink carnation

かさねとは八重撫子の名なるべし
Kasane towa yae-nadeshiko no nanarubeshi

 

Sora Tabi Nikki (曾良旅日記, “Travel Diary of Sora”) was Kawai Sora’s (曾良) memories of the journey 1689 and 1691 that he and Matsuo Bashō took to the north. The diary was lost and rediscovered in 1943.

pink carnation

Basho explains the setting:

“I have an acquaintance in a place called Kurobane in Nasu, and I decided to take a short cut from Nikko straight across the broad plain. The rain began to fall, the sun was setting and in the distance we happened to notice a village. Lodging for a night at a farmer’s house, at daybreak we headed off again over the plain. We came across a horse grazing in a field. We sought assistance from a man cutting grass and though he was a peasant, he was not without compassion.

‘Hmm, let’s see. The plain is criss-crossed with trails and someone unfamiliar with the way is bound to get lost — that’s a real problem — say, why don’t you take this horse as far as he’ll go and just send him back,” and he lent us the horse.’

Two children came running along behind the horse. One was a little girl named Kasane, a truly elegant name I’d never heard before.”

Notes

Nade-shi-ko meaning a frilly pink flower in Japanese is homophonous for “the child who is lovingly caressed / patted” and it is considered a charming name. The similar term Yamato nadeshiko (やまとなでしこ or 大和撫子) means the “personification of an idealized Japanese woman”, or “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”.

Kasane means layered or double.

The Chrysanthemum – 菊の花

mass of white chrysanthemums

Drinking his morning tea calms the monk – Chrysanthemum

朝茶飲む 僧静かなり 菊の花

Asa cha nomu / sō shizukanari / kiku no hana

mass of white chrysanthemums

The Chrysanthemum

Matsuo Bashō (松尾 金作), Japan’s most famous poet of the Edo period, made the chrysanthemum the subject of several haiku. In Japanese the flower is called Kiku-no-hana, literally blossom of the chrysanthemum, or Kiku for short.

As early as the 5th century, it was imported from China into Japan by Buddhist monks, originally as medicine then becoming an object of beauty and admiration. Japanese royalty came to love the flower because they believed it had the power to prolong life. In 1183, the sixteen petal chrysanthemum became the imperial symbol. In November Chrysanthemum Festivals across Japan celebrate the many varieties of the late blooming flower.

As medicine, chrysanthemums are used to treat chest pains and high blood pressure, as well as fevers, colds, headaches, and dizziness.

The delicate petals are brewed into tea, which in our case calms the nervous monk in the morning.

a charming wild violet

wild violet

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/  naniyara yukashi/   sumire kusa

 

wild-violet

Basho’s Journey of 1684

In 1683, Matsuo Basho’s mother died.

The following year he made a journey from Edo (Tokyo) to Ueno in Iga Province to visit her grave. The trip lasted well into the following year, and as trips go, he made many stops, visited many friends. And his thoughts were kept in a journal he called Kasshi Ginko.

The above haiku was recorded in the spring of 1685.

After visiting Kyoto where he had studied as a youth, Bahso proceeded east, on the way to Otsu, on Lake Biwa. Coming along a mountain path, yamaji kite 山路来て, he was surprised by a tiny wild violet, sumire すみれ , in the grass, kusa .

Basho’s Journal of 1684, translated by Donald Keene (page 142)

Kansas Wildflowers

These violets grow all over the world and here in Kansas where in April and early May, one sees the tiny purple and blue flowers peaking out from a log or a clump of wet leaves, and sometimes hidden in the grass.

It is now 2020. A year has passed since I originally made this post. The violets are back again. Much has happened in a year. A pandemic rages over the world. The delicate violet is a sign of hope.

Notes on translation

山路 yamaji, mountain path
来て kite, to come
何やら naniyari, somehow, for some reason
ゆかし yukashi, charming, admirable, enchanting
すみれ草 sumi regusa, wild violet; literally a violet in the grass

Further note

Enya wrote a song Sumiregusa about the wild violet, and performed it in Japanese – Sumiregusa: wild violet monono aware: attune to the pathos of things haruno hana to fuyu mo yuki: spring flowers and winter snow hara hara: the sound of falling snow.