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

Sarashina Kiko and the Chiyo-jo Museum – the third journey

On the third journey in November 2013 we visited places of relevance to Basho’s haibun, Sarashina Kiko, including Chorakuji Temple, Obasute Rice Fields and Zenkoji Temple.

“Part of Basho’s prolonged stay in Nagoya, was his desire to pass through Sarashina at the time of the harvest moon... January 5, 1688 Basho was a guest at a snow viewing party hosted by a bookseller in Nagoya.” writes Makoto Ueda.3

It is always interesting to compare translations of the same poem. We thought both of these appealing and in accord.

iza saraba yukimi ni korobu tokoro made

now then, let’s go out
to enjoy the snow . . . until
I slip and fall

    – Bashō, tr. Makoto Ueda

well! let’s go
snow-viewing till
we tumble!

    – Bashō, tr. William J Higginson4

In his haibun Sarashina Kiko, Bashō wrote of the legend which appears in the imperial anthology, Kokinshū and tells of villagers in the remote past abandoning their ageing mothers on rugged Mt Obasute. Again it was interesting to compare two translations.

omokage ya oba hitori naku tsuki no tono

In imagination
An old woman and I
Sat together in tears
Admiring the moon

    – Bashō, tr. Nobuyuki Yuasa

her face –
an old woman weeping alone
moon as companion

    – Bashō, tr. David Barnhill

The following haiku was composed by Bashō at Zenkōji Temple:

tsuki kage ya shimon shishū mo tada hitotsu

the moon's light –
      four gates, four sects
           yet only one

    – Bashō, tr. David Barnhill5

We were also delighted to then travel to Kaga to spend reflective time at the Chiyo-jo Haiku Museum (Chiyo-jo is also referred to as Chiyo-ni.)


hyakunari ya\tsuru hitosuji no\kokoro yori

a hundred gourds
from the heart
of one vine

    – Chiyo-ni
    (tr. Yoshie Ishibashi and Patricia Donegan6)

hirō mono\ mina ugoku nari\ shio-higata

everything I pick up
is alive –

    – Chiyo-ni
    (tr. Yoshie Ishibashi and Patricia Donegan)

Statue outside the Chiyo-jo Haiku Museum at Kaga

Kumano Kodo and Shikoku – the fourth journey

On our fourth journey in May 2014 to Kumano Kodo, a UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Route, we stood by Nonaka-no-Shimizu spring, for which Bashō’s disciple Hattori Ransetsu, composed a famous haiku.

crystalline clear
innundating the trail
mountain spring water

On the following day we passed through Hoshimonji-Oji where Fujiwara Teika (1161-1241) composed poetry on his way to Kumano, and through Fushigami-Oji where Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) offered a waka poem to the gods while on her pilgrimage to these sacred mountains.

Travellers were inspired to write their own poetry as we travelled. A tanka sequence I wrote was translated by Aya Yuhki and published bilingually in The Tanka Journal [Japan] no. 45, 2014.

We crossed by ferry to the island of Shikoku where we dyed indigo cloth, took part in traditional dancing, made paper and visited a local pottery where we painted our own design onto mugs.



                        painting on pottery                                             indigo dyeing

Kyushu – the fifth journey

Our fifth and most recent journey in November 2015 was to Kyushu, where literary highlights included a visit to the shrine for free-verse haiku poet, Taneda Santōka. This was an ideal prompt to recall his diary note, with which many of us would concur:

July 6, 1933. ‘I’m turning into a kind of haiku factory. Watch out! Careful here! One good poem is worth more than a thousand junky ones!’7

During the short climb to the poet’s memorial statue this haiku came to mind:

aruiwa kou koto o yame yama o mite iru

at times
I stop begging
looking at mountains

     – Taneda Santōka, tr. Burton Watson

After making pottery by wheel at Arita, and by hand at Satsuma; visiting a 300 BC archaeological dig at Yoshinagari and Portuguese and Dutch historical sites nearby; observing where 10,000 cranes fly home from Siberia to roost each year; braiding cords in a traditional way; visiting private and public art museums, we were ready for more poetry.

We walked around impressive Kumamoto Castle, a few days late for the presentation to winners of the Kusamakura International Haiku Competition, held in Kumamoto every year. My haiku:

tsunami dreams
grass pillows for the homeless
on Bashō’s narrow road

     – Beverley George8

had been awarded 2nd Prize in the Foreign Language Category of this competition in 2011.

It was almost time to leave but not before a visit to the Kagoshima International University where Dr David McMurray introduced us to students of his international haiku class. Several travellers had already set off early that morning on personal extensions to the main tour but among those able to attend were two younger people about to enter universities in Australia They have each said that the visit opened their eyes to future possibilities for study abroad.

To quote Dr McMurray:

“The aims I have for the international haiku class are 3-fold: (1) to introduce students to the fascinating paths in which haiku has spread around the world, (2) to encourage them to compose their own haiku in English at Asahi Haikuist Network and (3) enlist their support for putting haiku on the UNESCO list of intangible world heritage.”


a warm welcome


international students share haiku

Dr McMurray addressed his class of international haiku students; then invited me, as past president of the Australian Haiku Society to do the same. Ms Yoriko Tashiro read some of my tanka in translation. Then Mr. Yuta Kawamura, Master's candidate International University of Kagoshima, made an interesting presentation to the group, one of his haiku being:

ghost stories
roast pig on a stick grins
ear to ear

    –Yuta Kawamura

Then it was informal time; an opportunity for travellers and students to chat before a guided stroll around the campus. It was a splendid finish to our time on Kyushu before flying to Tokyo for several days. A haiku by Dr David McMurray lingers.

the spotted fawn's
outstretched ears—
whispering water lily

    – David McMurray (Kagoshima, Japan)

Each of the five journeys described here has been so different, one from another. As anyone who has travelled in Japan knows, there is always so much to learn, and memories of time spent in this remarkable country become indelible. Japanese literary genres, especially haiku, haibun, tanka and renga continue to be shared internationally. They add a significant dimension to travel in Japan. To sit at Bashō’s fire, to walk in summer grasses where he wrote of soldiers’ dreams, to see his cloak and pilgrim hat feels a great privilege. His words as he set off on his journey Oku no Hosomichi continue to inspire our Mitsui journeys, especially through rural Japan:

“I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind – filled with a strong desire to wander.” – Matsuo Bashō

book cover Beverley George is the past editor of Yellow Moon; and current editor of Windfall: Australian haiku and of Eucalypt: a tanka journal. During her term [2006-10] as president of the Australian Haiku Society, Beverley presented a paper at the 3rd Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Matsuyama, Japan, and at the 6th International Tanka Festival in Tokyo, Japan and attended Haiku Aotearoa 2 in New Zealand. In September 2009 she convened the four-day 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Terrigal, NSW for 57 full-time delegates from six countries with day delegates increasing the number to 90 for some events. She was a Red Moon Press A New Resonance 4 poet; a featured poet in the UHTS inaugural issue; and a Focus #39 poet in Presence #54. Her first book of haiku, Spinifex, was published by Pardalote Press.


1. Matsuo Bashō, The Narrow Road To The Deep North and other travel sketches, translated from the Japanese with an introduction by Nobuyuki Yuasa London Penguin Books 1966

2. If someone asks . . .Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku .Translations by The Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers. Published by Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum 2001

3. Basho And His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary, Makoto Uedo, Stanford University Press, 1992

4. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, William J. Higginson with Penny Harter. Kodansha International, 1995

5. Bashō’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Bashō, translated and with an introduction by David Landis Barnhill. Albany, State University of New York Press, 2005

6. Chiyo-Jo’s Haiku Seasons, translated by Yoshie Ishibashi and Patricia Donegan. City Hall of Matto City, 1996.

7. For All My Walking: Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santōka with Excerpts from His Diary, translated by Burton Watson. New York, Columbia University Press, 2003

8. ‘tsunami dreams’ – 2nd Prize Foreign Language Category 16th Kusamakura International Haiku Competition 2011


1. A brief version of this article Part One, ‘In the Footsteps of Bashō’, including the haiku quoted on page 2 , first appeared in FreeXpresSion volume XVIII Issue 2, 2011.

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