A Hundred Gourds 5:3 June 2016

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In the Footsteps of Bashō: small group travel in Japan
with a focus on Japanese Literature

by Beverley George

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 |page 4

In the Footsteps of Bashō – the first journey (continued)

At the Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum, we were welcomed by Professors Oba and Aihara who specialise in the poet’s work. The collection is modestly-sized but expertly presented to give an intimate glimpse of the great poet’s life and writings. A guided tour in Japanese, ably translated by our guide, provided added insight and immediacy, making it possibly the most memorable for me of any gallery tours I have experienced.


Australian travellers on the steps of the Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum
with Professor Aihara (left) and Professor Oba.

Since this visit, many overseas poets, including Australians, have entered work in the annual Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum English Haiku Contest. In fact in the 7th Collection more Australians entered work in the Division 4, non-Japanese, section than did writers from any of the other twenty-three countries represented. Details of the 8th Contest are currently on the Australian Haiku Society web-site.

Memorable for all of us, was a visit to a border guardhouse, Ho-jin no Ie, where Bashō lodged three days. Smoke was rising through the thatch as we approached. This is a place, the curator told us, seldom visited especially by foreigners. There was a square fire-place sunk into the floor, over which a blackened kettle was suspended. We sat around it as had Bashō over 300 years before and listened to a translated account of his stay there in the poets’ own words. It is difficult to convey the feelings of awe and privilege this bestowed upon us all.


Travellers at Bashō’s fire at the border guard’s cottage Ho-jin no Ie

Postscript: A tragic postscript to this wonderful journey was the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster which devastated the Tohoku Region we had recently visited as part of our tour. Our concern and sympathy continues to be extended to the victims and their families. Members of the Japan-Australia Society in Canberra host a visit each year of children affected by the disaster.

Seeking Bashō, Shiki and Soseki – the second journey

In April 2012, on a tour with the focus on Matsuo Bashō, Masaoki Shiki and Natsume Soseki a second group of travellers visited Arashiyama and the bamboo forest where at Nonomiya Shrine episodes of The Tale of Genji are set. We were fortunate to have the expert guidance of Stephen Gill (Tito) in a haiku meeting at Rakushisha, The House of the Fallen Persimmons, where Basho was hosted by Kyorai and wrote his Saga Diary. And after a guided stroll through the bamboo forest, including a visit to Saigyo’s well, we had the pleasure of mingling, and dining, with the Hailstone Poets. (On this and a subsequent tour Australian travellers were joined by New Zealand poet and Kokako joint-editor, Margaret Beverland.)


Discussion at Rakushisha led by Stephen Gill (head of table)

Another highlight was a visit with the SGG (Systemised Goodwill Guide) group of bilingual haiku poets, as organised by retired school principal, Mr Shigeo Tomita, and hosted in a private home and garden. The meeting was attended by a city council official and a formal tea ceremony was included. It was an opportunity to rekindle old friendships or forge ongoing new ones.


The SGG haiku meeting at Imabari

In Matsuyama, a castle city, we visited the Shiki kinen (Memorial Museum to Masaoka Shiki).

matsuyama ya aki yori takaki tenshukaku

Matsuyama –
higher than the autumn sky
the castle tower

– Masaoka Shiki

The Shiki-kinen was the venue the 3rd Haiku Pacific Rim Conference 2007 convened by Minako Noma, and I was delighted to present a paper on ‘Haiku in Australia’ there. When Minako Noma attended the four day 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference 2009, which I convened at Terrigal, NSW, the Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum generously donated a copy of a book they had published, If someone
asks . . .Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku
2 to each of the fifty-seven full-time delegates.

ka ni kuware seitōron o sōshikeri

bitten by mosquitos
I have written a draft
analysing political parties

–Masaoka Shiki

We visited Shiki’s home, and it was a touching sight to see his low wooden desk beside which the great poet lay down to write and paint in the final stages of his life. Also touching was the sight of his small baseball cap in one corner of a glass case in the museum and to remember that it was Shiki who brought baseball to Japan.

Taneda Santōka’s final home was in Matsuyama, where aspects of the itinerant poet’s sad life are on display. When he was only eleven years old, his mother threw herself in the family well, heartbroken by his father’s philandering.

Natsume Soseki, the author of Botchan lived for a considerable time in Matsuyama. A plaque on the Dogo Patio, the four hundred year old onsen; an intriguing clock, and a train are all reminders of this.

A pavilion in Dogo Park, houses a representation of the renga parties enjoyed by Japanese poets over centuries.


a servant prepares sake


the poets ponder their next link

Another of the highlights of visiting Matsuyama is to see the haiku posting boxes which are dotted around the city, even at the castle or on the trams. Write a haiku! Pop it in!

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