I didn’t design my trip to Japan to revolve around haiku, although considering the content of this blog, it would have been fitting! I went to Japan to hike on the Nakasendo Way (the old Edo era highway between Kyoto and Tokyo, now the equivalent of a national historic trail), be immersed in a totally new place and culture, and unplug. People do, in fact, plan whole trips around Bashō and his poetry (the tour company I used – and would highly recommend – even offers a “Bashō Tour”). I am not so organized a traveler, however; it turned out that I would walk in the footsteps of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) on at least two occasions during my trip.
Matsuo Bashō is one of the four Japanese haiku masters – together with Yosa no Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Bashō moved around quite a bit during his life, living in a number of cities, as well as traveling extensively, including on parts of the Nakasendo Way.
Our second night on the trail, we stayed at a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, called Sinchaya – or New Tea House. I learned “new” is a relative term in Japan, and seems to mean that the inn is merely several hundred years old. Across the road from the B&B was a beautiful pond and garden. I could see the garden from my room and was drawn to wander around and take photographs of it (like the photo above) while I waited for dinner to be ready. There was a brass plaque in the garden, but as it was entirely in Japanese and I was entirely out of reach of Google translate, its meaning remained a mystery to me.
The next morning, our guide informed us that it was tradition for the innkeepers to see us off as we lumbered back onto the Nakasendo Way. Our two lovely hosts did just that, enthusiastically waving and watching until we turned the corner and were out of sight. As the trail glided up between terraced rice paddies, our guide causally mentioned that Sinchaya – in particular, its pond and garden – was the source of a famous haiku written by Bashō. I looked it up later and discovered I had been part of a ritual going back 350 years.
Kiso no aki
Seeing friends off
being seen off, and now —
autumn in Kiso
Later in the week, back in Tokyo in a torrential downpour, we darted from high-rise portico to high-rise portico with another guide. Sheltering under a non-descript overhang in the Nihonbashi district, our guide pointed to a beautiful stone with a brass plaque on the sidewalk. “Matsuo Bashō lived here,” she proudly proclaimed before asking, “Has anyone heard of haiku?” I raised my rain-slickered arm high. The plaque commemorated a haiku he wrote in about 1677:
Yado no Haru
This is a hokku
Matsuo Tosei’s (“Green Peach”)
home on New Year.
Tr. Gabi Greve
Several websites remarked that this haiku was Bashō’s official “grand opening” as a professional poet and teacher. Nihonbashi is now a maze of high rise office buildings – the bashi (bridge) spans the river in the permanent shade of an elevated highway. But tucked in every corner was history and in at least one case, poetry.
It is good to be back and I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone’s blogs. Don’t worry, you’ll be subjected to more pictures from Japan for many Silent Sundays to come!
I knew that Hay-on-Wye, Wales, was known as the “Town of Books,” and that I, naturally, had to visit such a place. What I didn’t know that it was also the home of another dedicated poetry bookshop – some of you may remember I made a stop at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge during my Poetry Scavenger Hunt late last year.
So, map in hand, I went in search of The Poetry Bookshop. I meant to take a photograph inside to show you all the wonder of floor to ceiling books of poetry (mostly second hand with a smattering of new), but I was so excited upon entering and seeing the potential poetry treasures that awaited me that I completely forgot. This is a representative photograph taken in another nearby bookshop.
Due to budgetary and luggage weight concerns, I had to be very discerning about the number of books I bought. After much deliberation, I decide to buy an anthology of WWII poets for £5. I have always loved Wilfred Owen’s poems and from that interest, I’ve learned a fair bit about WWI poets over the years. Standing in the shop deliberating over my armful of candidate books, I realized that I knew very little about WWII poets and poetry and this fact made the decision for me.
I’m looking forward to filling this gap in my poetry knowledge and discovering some new poets! I had picked out another anthology from the bargain cellar (an actual converted stone cellar, complete with dankness and arch-shaped niches, now filled with books) that was marked for 50p – but when I didn’t have exact change, the shopkeeper threw it in for free. Made the deal even sweeter! If you are ever in Hay-on-Wye, I do recommend stopping by The Poetry Bookshop and foraging for your own poetry treasure!
This is another haiku I wrote while on the Offa’s Dyke National Trail in Wales (see here for last week’s offering). Our first day on the trail was a nearly relentless rainstorm. This bull didn’t move a muscle except to watch as these two dripping wet Americans sloshed by him. After that day we reasoned there was nowhere to go but up weather-wise. We were sort-of right…Happy Friday! Photograph, composition, and haiku by me.