This is a picture of peach blossoms I took in Akita in the middle of May.
Peach blossoms have been loved and taken up in haiku, waka, folklore, legends, and cultural events since the ancient days in Japan. Peach trees originated in China, where they loved peaches as well as peach blossoms, so they were often used in their legends or poetry.
Chinese writer Tao Yuanming of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) once described in his work of a legendary fairyland “Peach Blossom Valley” （桃源郷）as a place completely isolated from the rest of the world. People there lived a simple, pastoral life. They planted peach trees around their houses, loved peach blossoms, and tasted beverages made from peaches, which kept them healthy and young throughout their lives. For centuries, Chinese people regarded this valley as “Utopia”, an imaginary place.
But does such a fairyland really exist in the real world?
In the middle of May I visited such a fairyland which is said to have been the one some hundred years ago in Akita, Japan. And there I took some pictures of the land of peach blossoms.
There I wrote the following haiku:
Sennin no yume azayakani momo no hana
Its English translation is this:
The recluses’ dream
coming true vividly
the peach blossoms
In 1807 Sugae Masumi (菅江真澄) (1754-1829), one of the most popular writers in the middle to late Edo period, visited this fairyland called 手這坂 (Tehaizaka) in Akita. In his Travelogue, Sugae Masumi noted that he heard peach blossoms were in full bloom, and came here to Tehaizaka, where a few houses were seen like shelters in the peach blossom valley beyond the river. Seen from the top of the steep slope, they looked like the “Peach Blossom Valley” up the river top in China. As night fell, he came down to the valley to ask them for water and then was treated to some cups of Nigorizake (an alcoholic beverage made from Akita rice). The old men and women looked like recluses in appearance.
Masumi also wrote a waka:
Kokoni dare yoyo saku momo ni kakuroite
okuyukasige ni sumeru hitomura
Who are hiding here
behind the peach blossoms
blooming for ages
does one village lie
in an elegant way
Now here in this village there are no men living, but peach trees bloom in such elegance every spring.
Today’s main topic is Basho’s peach blossoms, and I have spoken about “Peach Blossom Valley” too much. So now let’s proceed with the main topic.
In 1685 Matsuo Basho visited 伏見 (Fushimi), which was famous for its abundant peach trees. In his 野ざらし紀行 (nozarashi kiko), ‘Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field’, he went there to meet 仁口上人 (Priest Ninko) at 西岸寺 (Saiganji Temple).
Then Basho wrote the following haiku:
Waga kinu ni fushimi no momo no shizuku seyo
This haiku was translated into English in 2005 (State University of New York Press, Albany):
onto my robe
sprinkle dewdrops from
Fushimi’s peach blossoms
Basho used two metaphoric expressions in this haiku. One of them is ‘onto my robe’, which implies ‘into my mouth’. The other is ‘sprinkle dewdrops from Fushimi’s peach blossoms’, which implies ‘let me drink beverages from peaches.’
Now Fushimi is famous for its good sake, one of which is named 桃の滴 (momo no shizuku) after ふしみの桃の雫せよ (fushimi no mono no shizuku seyo) in this haiku of Basho’s.
― Hidenori Hiruta.