Monday, December 7, 2015

Carpe Diem #875 the journey continues: iris leaves; summer grass

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Our journey into the deep north continues ... it's an adventure ... and I enjoy it very much and of course I hope you all enjoy it too.

As you have read or have seen Georgia's E-book "old bamboo wind chimes" is now available at our Haiku Kai, you can find the link at the right of our Kai. It has become a real beauty and it was really a joy to create it together with Georgia.

Crossing the River Natori, I entered the city of Sendai on May the fourth, the day we customarily throw fresh leaves of iris on the roof and pray for good health. I found an inn, and decided to stay there for several days. There was in this city a painter named Kaemon. I made special efforts to meet him, for he was reputed to be a man with a truly artistic mind. One day he took me to various places of interest which I might have missed but for his assistance. We first went to the plain of Miyagino, where fields of bush-clover were waiting to blossom in autumn. The hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka were covered with white rhododendrons in bloom. Then we went into the dark pine woods called Konoshita where even the beams of the sun could not penetrate. This darkest spot on the earth had often been the subject of poetry because of its dewiness - for example, one poet says that his lord needs an umbrella to protect him from the drops of dew when he enters it.
We also stopped at the shrines of Yakushido and Tenjin on our way home.

When the time came for us to say good-bye, this painter gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama and two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed in the deep blue of the iris. In this last appears most clearly perhaps the true artistic nature of this man.
Iris leaves
I tie them to my feet
as sandal cords

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Relying solely on the drawings of Kaemon which served as a guide, pushed along the Narrow Road to the Deep North, and came to the place where tall sedges were growing in clusters. This was the home of the famous sedge mats of Tofu. Even now it is the custom of the people of this area to send carefully woven mats as tribute to the governor each year.
Stopping briefly at the River Noda no Tamagawa and the so-called Rock in the Offing, I came to the pine woods called Sue no Matsuyama, where I found a temple called Masshozan and a great number of tombstones scattered among the trees. It was a depressing sight indeed, for young or old, loved or loving, we must all go to such a place at the end of our lives. I entered the town of Shiogama hearing the ding-dong of the curfew. Above was the darkening sky, unusually empty for May, and beyond was the silhouette of Migaki ga Shima Island not far from the shore in the moonlight.
The voices of the fishermen dividing the catch of the day made me even more lonely, for I was immediately reminded of an old poem which pitied them for their precarious lives on the sea. Later in the evening, I had a chance to hear a blind minstrel singing to his lute. His songs were different from either the narrative songs of the Heike or the traditional songs of dancing, and were called Okujoruri (Dramatic Narratives of the Far North). I must confess that the songs were a bit too boisterous, when chanted so near my ears, but I found them not altogether unpleasing, for they still retained the rustic flavor of the past.
The following morning, I rose early and did homage to the great god of the Myojin Shrine of Shiogama. This shrine had been rebuilt by the former governor of the province with stately columns, painted beams, and an impressive stone approach, and the morning sun shining directly on the vermillion fencing was almost dazzlingly bright. I was deeply impressed by the fact that the divine power of the gods had penetrated even to the extreme north of our country, and I bowed in humble reverence before the altar.
Credits: Matsushima Island (Woodblock Print)
It was already close to noon when I left the shrine. I hired a boat and started for the islands of Matsushima. After two miles or so on the sea, I landed on the sandy beach of Ojima Island.
Much praise has already been lavished on the wonders of the islands of Matsushima. Yet if further praise is possible, I would like to say that here is the most beautiful spot in the whole country of Japan, and that the beauty of these islands is not in the least inferior to the beauty of Lake Dotei or Lake Seiko in China. The islands are situated in a bay about three miles wide in every direction and open to the sea through a narrow mouth on the south-east side. Just as the River Sekko in China is made full at each swell of the tide, so is this bay filled with the brimming water of the ocean and the innumerable islands are scattered over it from one end to the other. Tall islands point to the sky and level ones prostrate themselves before the surges of water. Islands are piled above islands, and islands are joined to islands, so that they look exactly like parents caressing their children or walking with them arm in arm. The pines are of the freshest green and their branches are curved in exquisite lines, bent by the wind constantly blowing through them. Indeed, the beauty of the entire scene can only be compared to the most divinely endowed of feminine countenances, for who else could have created such beauty but the great god of nature himself? My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice.
Ojima Island where I landed was in reality a peninsula projecting far out into the sea. This was the place where the priest Ungo had once retired, and the rock on which he used to sit for meditation was still there. I noticed a number of tiny cottages scattered among the pine trees and pale blue threads of smoke rising from them. I wondered what kind of people were living in those isolated houses, and was approaching one of them with a strange sense of yearning, when, as if to interrupt me, the moon rose glittering over the darkened sea, completing the full transformation to a night-time scene. I lodged in an inn overlooking the bay, and went to bed in my upstairs room with all the windows open. As I lay there in the midst of the roaring wind and driving clouds, I felt myself to be in a world totally different from the one I was accustomed to. My companion Sora wrote:
at Matsushima
borrow your plumes from the crane
O nightingales!
© Sora (Tr. Donald Keene)

I myself tried to fall asleep, suppressing the surge of emotion from within, but my excitement was simply too great. I finally took out my notebook from my bag and read the poems given me by my friends at the time of my departure - Chinese poem by Sodo, a waka by Hara Anteki, haiku by Sampu and Dakushi, all about the islands of Matsushima.
I left for Hiraizumi on the twelfth and arrived at there after wandering some twenty miles in two days.
It was here that the glory of three generations of the Fujiwara family passed away like a snatch of empty dream. The ruins of the main gate greeted my eyes a mile before I came upon Lord Hidehira's mansion, which had been utterly reduced to rice-paddies. Mount Kinkei alone retained its original shape. As I climbed one of the foothills called Takadate, where Lord Yoshitsune met his death, I saw the River Kitakami running through the plains of Nambu in its full force, and its tributary, Koromogawa, winding along the site of the Izumigashiro castle and pouring into the big river directly below my eyes. The ruined house of Lord Yasuhira was located to the north of the barrier-gate of Koromogaseki, thus blocking the entrance from the Nambu area and forming a protection against barbarous intruders from the north. Indeed, many a feat of chivalrous valor was repeated here during the short span of the three generations, but both the actors and the deeds have long been dead and passed into oblivion. When a country is defeated, there remain only mountains and rivers, and on a ruined castle in spring only grasses thrive. I sat down on my hat and wept bitterly till I almost forgot time.

summer grass
the only remains of soldiers’

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Credits: Haiga "summer grass"

in deutzia flowers
Kanefusa* seems to me -
oh, such white, white hair

© Sora (Tr. Tim Chilcott)

* Sora compares Basho with a noble warrior called Kanefusa

The interiors of the two sacred buildings of whose wonders I had often heard with astonishment were at last revealed to me. In the library of sutras were placed the statues of the three nobles who governed this area, and enshrined in the so called Gold Chapel were the coffins containing their bodies, and under the all-devouring grass, their treasures scattered, their jeweled doors broken and their gold pillars crushed, but thanks to the outer frame and a covering of tiles added for protection, they had survived to be a monument of at least a thousand years.


The "summer grass" haiku is a very well known haiku by Basho and it once inspired me to write the following haiku:

ancient warriors ghosts
mists over the foreign highlands -
waiting for the full moon

© Chèvrefeuille

Well ... I hope you did like this episode and that it will inspire you to write an all new haiku, tanka or other Japanese poetry form.

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until December 10th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our new episode, an all new CD HWT episode, later on.


  1. Absolutely brilliant!
    Thank you again for acquainting us with this journey in such an agreeable fashion.

  2. Enjoying this journey immensely...thanks very much Chèvrefeuille...

  3. Wow...the journey took forever....sorry, missed the submission due :( ~ just in the case it's here: ~ thanks for challenges, Chèvrefeuille.