Basho’s cherry blossoms

Since the April flowers have come and gone, the May flowers have been coming out and blooming one after another here in Akita.  The other day Thorfinn Tait from the UK happened to see some Enkianthus flowers, called 満天星 (dodantsutsuji) in Japanese.  He took a picture of the flower, deeply moved by its beauty.

Enkianthus (dodan tsutsuji)

Just as its Kanji characters show,  Enkianthus has innumerable flowers like the innumerable stars in the sky.  The following haiku is about this flower:


Kirameki ya  dodantsustsuji  hoshi no goto


Enkianthus has blossoms

as if they were stars

Thorfinn loves Wordsworth’s Ode, in which intimations of immortality are taken up.

The first stanza of the Ode is this:

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;-

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

And the last four lines are this:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

At the end of March I visited Ueno Park and Asakusa in Tokyo.

The cherry trees at Ueno Park were filled with cherry buds, which would turn into blossoms so soon, but a cherry tree at the Senso-ji was in fresh bloom.

桜花見(H21) 142


Hatsuzakura  kao mo hokorobu  sensoji


Fresh cherry blossoms

delighting the visitors

the Senso-ji

In this haiku the key word is 綻ぶ (hokorobu), a Japanese verb, which means ‘to turn buds into blossoms’ as well as ‘to make us smile.’

Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park and Asakusa reminded me of two haikus by Matsuo Basho.

One haiku is this:


Hana no kumo  kane wa ueno ka  asakusa ka


A cloud of cherry blossoms;

The temple bell,-

Is it Uneno, is it Asakusa?

In ‘HAIKU Vol.2’ , R. H. Blyth translated Basho’s haiku into English and noted:

It is early afternoon.  The air is warm and hazy.  As Basho sits in his hut at Fukagawa, he can see, when he wishes, the cloud-like masses of cherry-blossoms in the direction of Ueno and Asakusa.  The boom of a great temple bell comes sounding across the fields; it must be from one of these two places.

The other haiku is this:


Samazama no  koto omoidasu  sakura kana

How many, many things

They call to mind

These cherry-blossoms!

R. H. Blyth also translated Basho’s haiku into English and noted:

Basho renounced the world on the death of Sengin, 蝉吟, that is , Todo Yoshitada, son of Todo Shinshiro, who was in charge of Ueno Castle.  Twenty years later, in 1687, he was invited by his former master Todo Shinshiro, and the above verse was the result.  Looking at the same flowers in the same garden when he had spent his youth with his friend, Basho felt what Wordsworth says in the mouth of the Wanderer:

I see around me here

Things which you cannot see; we die, my Friend,

Nor we alone, but that which each man loved

And prized in his peculiar nook of earth

Dies with him, or is changed.

– Hidenori Hiruta

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