The Golden Hall

The summer rain has spared the Golden Hall

五月雨の 降のこしてや 光堂

Samidare no/ Furinokosite ya/ Hikari-do

Matsuo Basho visited Hiraizumi on June 29, 1689 in the midst of Japan’s rainy season (五月雨の, samidare no, literally the rainy season of the fifth month). There he composed his famous haiku on the Fukiwara clan. “The summer’s grass / Is all that’s left / Of ancient warrior’s dreams.” After which he visited the Golden Hall where the four Fujiwara leaders are entombed.

golden hall hiraizumi

Chusonji Temple in the town of Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture sits atop Mount Kanzan. It is the oldest of the Hiraizumi sites, base of the northern branch of the Fujiwara clan. Its Konjikido (Hikari-do) or “Golden Hall” is a mausoleum containing the remains of all four leaders of the Fujiwara clan, which fell at the end of the 12th century. Kiyohira, the founder, Motohira, Hidehira, and Yasuhira, the last leader, are enshrined.

The first in a line of Fujiwara lords, Kiyohira lost his wife, father and one child to war. The inhumanity he witnessed drove him to create a domain resembling the pure land, a world driven by the higher principals of Buddhism. His vision flourished for a century.

The Golden Hall is encased in a protective glass enclosure. Its ornate structure is decorated with gold leaf and mother-of-pearl. Unbelievably, the Konjiki-dō used to sit outdoors in the open air, but by Basho’s time it was enclosed.

Sora later recounts in his diary that he and Basho could not find anyone to open the doors to the Golden Hall and left without seeing the Golden Hall.

Summer Grass 夏草 natsuka

summer grass
all that remains
of a Samurai’s dream

夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡

Natsukusa ya/ Tsuwamonodomo ga/ Yume no ato

battle

June 29, 1689

Having left Edo in late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora travel north, arriving at Hiraizumi on June 29th.  Once the seat of the Northern branch of the Fujiwara family, it was destroyed in 1189. As the poet gazes down at the old battlefield, he hears in his head the words of the ancient Chinese poet Du Fu and explains:

“In the space of a dream, three glorious generations of Fujiwara vanished; two miles in the distance are the remains of the Great Gate. Hidehira’s headquarters have turned into rice paddies and wild fields. Only Kinkeizan, the Golden Fowl Hill, remains as it once was.

First, we climbed Takadachi, Castle-on-the-Heights, from where we could see the Kitakami, a broad river that flows from the south. Nearby, Koromo River rounds Izumi Castle and at a point beneath Castle-on-the-Heights, it drops into Kitakami. The ancient ruins of Yasuhira and others, lying behind Koromo Barrier, appear to close off the southern entrance and guard against the Ainu barbarians.

With his most loyal retainers, Yoshitsune fortified himself in the castle, but his dreams of glory quickly turned to grass.

“The state is destroyed, / rivers and hills remain. / The city walls return to spring, / grasses and trees are green. “

With Du Fu’s lines in my head, I lay down my bamboo hat and let time and tears flow.”

Notes on translation

夏草 natsuka, summer grass

兵 tsuwamono, warrior, soldier, more specifically a brave and strong soldier, a Samurai 侍 which Basho once was. Basho’s use of the older term 兵 tsuwamono, is suggestive of a lowly soldier or pawn, someone utilized by others

夢の跡 yume no ato, the trace, mark of a dream. Compare Basho’s idea with William Shakespeare’s “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.” (The Tempest, 1610/1611)

More thoughts on Basho’s Summer Grass

The grass of summer
And warriors’ dreams
Are all that’s left.

The grass of summer, the only trace of a Samurai’s dreams

Summer grass! All that left of a Samurai’s dream.

samurai helmet