Thursday, October 3, 2013

Carpe Diem's Oku no Hosomichi stations 3, 4 & 5a "sunbeams"

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

I am little bit late with this episode of "Oku no Hosomichi", a column-like feature about Basho's "Narrow Road to the Deep North". In our last episode we started with our journey to the "Deep North" leaving our friends and family behind with tears in our eyes. They followed us with their eyes 'til they couldn't see us anymore. Today we leave Senju.

The day is still young and only the stars, sprinkled all over the sky in patterns which look like the stones on a Go-game board. Thoughts about life are dwelling around in my head and I realise that this is a long journey (on foot). My hair will turn grey during this journey or maybe ... this journey will be the last thing I do in my life. As the day rises and the sun follows his path along the heavens I am looking around me, sometimes in awe as I see a great landscape. After every turn in the road new landscapes unfold in front of me. It's a joy to walk through this country in which haiku is rooted. As the days comes to it's end I am looking for a place to sleep, but there is nothing which looks like a place to sleep. Finally I find an old barn, it's not much, but I have a place to sleep together with my travel companions Basho and Sora.

After a good nights sleep in that old barn we are on our journey again. I enjoy the landscape, I see the colors of spring starting to come, I hear the rippling sound of a bourn and I smell the soft perfume of the cherry trees coming to bloom. The day runs by and as the evening falls we arrive in Soka. We find us a place to sleep, in a little inn and after a nice warm bath and a good meal we went to sleep. I feel every bone in my body, I still feel the pressure of my back-pack. I couldn't sleep this night and somewhere in the middle of the night I went outside and saw the full moon of spring appear from behind the clouds. Ah what a sight.

couldn't sleep
bad dreams tortured my mind -
the full moon of spring

(c) Chèvrefeuille, your host
Spring Moon

(The now): Earlier this week we started a new month of Carpe Diem with two wonderful prompts "eclipse" and "Stonehenge", both prompts surrounded with Myths and Legends. Myths and Legends are also part of Oku no Hosomichi. Basho describes several Myths and Legends in his haibun. For example this one which Sora told as we stayed in Soka. It's about a shrine near Muro-no-Yashima)

 [...] "The god Ko-no-hana Sakuya Hime is the goddess of the blossoming trees. She has also a shrine on Mount Fuyi. Ko-no-hana Sakuya locked herself in a fire to claim that her son was a god. The name of her son is Hohodemi which means "born from fire". All poets here write about smoke". [...]
During our journey into the Deep North we met several people. One of them is the owner of a inn at the foot of Mount Nikko. His name was Hoteke Gozaemon-Jef Boeddha. He says that he is given that name in honor of his honesty and uprightness. It's a nice man who always helps pilgrims like us. We could sleep in his inn without payment and he 'pampered' us like gods.
After a good night's rest we are up early, because we love to see the shrines on Mount Nikko, which means Sunbeams. These shrines gave house to several sects and blessings were send to all the corners of the world. These shrines are a "stronghold" of the Buddhistic Shingon-sect which was founded in the 8th century by a priest called Kukai.

Nikko ... Shrine

After a steep climb we are granted a wonderful sight ... the shrines are wonderful and you really can see the whole world from that place. We are in awe and speechless ... we couldn't write haiku there. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of Mother Nature.

(The now): Basho, just like many of us, hadn't always inspiration to write haiku, the stations (3 - 5) we have passed in this episode didn't inspire him enough or were that overwhelming that he had think them over and cherish them in his heart.)

As we have arrived at the inn at the foot of Mount Nikko we are still in awe of what we saw above, but as we are drinking warm sake, to become warm again, the inspiration starts to flow like a raging river. Basho wrote a wonderful haiku.

sprouting green leaves
in the sunlight

(Tr. Chèvrefeuille, your host)

After a good meal we used it for a Rengay (a modern way of Renga by Garry Gay):

sprouting green leaves
in the sunlight

sunbeams in the mirror
her smile even brighter

in the mirror
a man in the autumn of his life
his hair turned grey

grey misty morning
cows legs in the meadow
crowing of a cock

colorful field of flowers
finally exposed to the sun

colors sparkling in dewdrops
just one heartbeat

(c) Chèvrefeuille, your host

Awesome to write a Rengay with the master himself and what a joy to prepare this new Oku no Hosomichi episode for you all. I will, for closure of this episode just as I did in the other episodes, reproduce the text of Oku-no-Hosomichi of the stations we passed. So here they are:

Station 3 - Soka

I walked all through that day, ever wishing to return after seeing the strange sights of the far north, but not really believing in the possibility, for I knew that departing like this on a long journey in the second year of Genroku I should only accumulate more frosty hairs on my head as I approached the colder regions. When I reached the village of Soka in the evening, my bony shoulders were sore because of the load I had carried, which consisted of a paper coat to keep me warm at night, a light cotton gown to wear after the bath, scanty protection against the rain, writing equipment, and gifts from certain friends of mine. I wanted to travel light, of course, but there were always certain things I could not throw away either for practical or sentimental reasons.

Station 4 - Muronoyashima

I went to see the shrine of Muronoyashima. According to Sora, my companion, this shrine is dedicated to the goddess called the Lady of the Flower-Bearing Trees, who has another shrine at the foot of Mt.Fuji. This goddess is said to have locked herself up in a burning cell to prove the divine nature of her newly-conceived son when her husband doubted it. As a result, her son was named the Lord Born Out of the Fire, and her shrine, Muro-no-yashima, which means a burning cell. It was the custom of this place for poets to sing of the rising smoke, and for ordinary people not to eat konoshiro, a speckled fish, which has a vile smell when burnt

Station 5 - Nikko

I lodged in an inn at the foot of Mount Nikko on the night of March the thirtieth. The host of my inn introduced himself as Honest Gozaemon, and told me to sleep in perfect peace on his grass pillow, for his sole ambition was to be worthy of his name. I watched him rather carefully but found him almost stubbornly honest, utterly devoid of worldly cleverness. It was as if the merciful Buddha himself had taken the shape of a man to help me in my wandering pilgrimage. Indeed, such saintly honesty and purity as his must not be scorned, for it verges closely on the perfection preached by Confucius.
On the first day of April l3, I climbed Mt. Nikko to do homage to the holiest of the shrines upon it. This mountain used to be called Niko. When the high priest Kukai built a temple upon it, however, he changed the name to Nikko, which means the bright beams of the sun. Kukai must have had the power to see a thousand years into the future, for the mountain is now the seat of the most sacred of all shrines, and its benevolent power prevails throughout the land, embracing the entire people, like the bright beams of the sun. To say more about the shrine would be to violate its holiness.

It is with awe
That I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sun.

Well ... I hope you liked the read and we will go on our journey further in the next episode of Carpe Diem's Oku no Hosomichi.


  1. I am enjoying this tale immensely...

  2. Enjoyed this information which inspired three tanka at: .... Thanks, opie