According to『おくのほそ道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku’ ‘  translated by Donald Keene, 松尾芭蕉( Matsuo Basho )(1644-1694) arrived at Kisakata on the evening of August 1, 1689, when a misty rain started to fall, obscuring Chokai Mountain.

The next morning the weather cleared beautifully. When the morning sun rose in all its splendor, Basho and his party took a boat out on the lagoon on Kisakata. They put in first 能因島 (Nohin jima), Nohin Island, where they called at the remains of the hut in which 能因(Nohin)(988-?), a waka poet, lived in seclusion for three years.

After that, Basho and his party left for the opposite shore, where they landed from their boat, and they saw the cherry tree that stands as a memento of 西行法師(Saigyo hoshi)(1118-1190), Saigyo .

Then they called at the temple standing nearby. In those days it was called the Ebb-and-Flow-Pearls Temple(干満珠寺)(Kanman ju ji), which is now called 虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 012

 

Seated within the priests’ quarters of the temple, Basho rolled up the bamboo blinds and took in all at once the whole spectacle of Kisakata. To the south loomed Mount Chokai, supporting the heavens; its image was reflected in the water. To the west, one can see as far as Muyamuya Barrier; to the east, the road over the embankment leads to Akita in the distance. The sea is to the north. The place where the waves of the sea breaks into the lagoon is called Tide-Crossing(汐越)(Shio-goshi). Kisakata is about two miles in either direction.  

 

 What did Basho and his companion Sora(曾良) enjoy?

 

 Judging from some haiku written in『おくのほそ道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku’ ‘ I suppose they enjoyed going by boat on the lagoon around there after visiting the temple that afternoon.

First of all they went to the place called ‘Tide-Crossing’ (汐越)(Shio-goshi) and enjoyed soaking their legs into the waters.

Basho’s haiku is this:

 

汐越や鶴はぎぬれて海涼し 

Shiogoshi ya  tsuru hagi nurete  umi suzushi

 

Tide-Crossing 

The crane’s long legs are wetted

How cool the sea is!

 

Translated by Donald Keene

 

I’d like to add my note here:

‘鶴はぎ’ (tsuruhagi) means that ‘衣の丈が短くて、脛が長くあらわれていること’

, which is that ‘the length of a robe is short, and the long legs of a person who wears it is seen’ .  Basho’s legs appeared as if they were the legs of a crane. That is because the Kanji characters ‘鶴‘ means ‘crane’ and ‘脛(はぎ)‘ means ‘shin or leg’.              

The following notice in the picture is posted now at the place called ‘Tide-Crossing’ (汐越)(Shio-goshi) .  It says that Basho used the name of  ‘越長’ (Koshi-naga), not ‘汐越’ (Shio-goshi)  in his first version of his haiku.

 

ユネスコスピ-チコンテスト(H20) 013

 

Basho and Sora also enjoyed boat-riding on the lagoon from island to island, having a nice view.of each island.

Sora wrote his haiku:

 

波こえぬ契ありてやみさごの巣 

nami koenu  chigiri arite ya  misago no su

 

Did they vow never

To part till waves topped their rock?

The nest of the ospreys.

 

In memory of Basho’s stay

A basho tree was planted and is now growing in the garden of 虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple in memory of Basho’s visit to Kisakata.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 014

 

Donald Keene referred to a basho tree in the preface of 『おくのほそ道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku’ ‘  as follows:

Like most other writers, artists, and even philosophers of the time, Basho was known by various names during the course of his life. The one by which he is best known, Basho, was derived from a tree in his garden: in 1681, when he moved to a bleak area of the city Edo, he planted a basho tree in order to improve the appearance of the garden. The basho, a variety of banana tree that bears no fruit, had a special meaning for poets: its broad green leaves are easily torn by the wind, a ready symbol for the sensitivity of the poet. Visitors began to refer to the place as the Basho-an (Cottage of the Basho tree), and before long Basho was using the name by himself.

  Last of all I wrote my haiku for a basho tree in the garden of the temple.

 

芭蕉の木永遠にありしやねぶの花

Basho no ki  towa ni ari si ya  nebu no hana

 

The basho tree

staying for good

the mimosa blossoms

 

This is the end of  the title ‘Basho’s stay in Kisakata, Akita’.

 

                                               ― Hidenori Hiruta

 

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On September 4, we received a comment on “Basho’s stay in Kisakata, Akita ( Part 1) from Dr. Gabi Greve. She said in her comment, “lately I enjoy Basho and the Sake no Hosomichi in the following site

: http://washokufood.blogspot.com/2009/08/sake-no-hosomichi.html. I wonder what Basho might have eaten at Kisakata.” 

Dr. Gabi Greve is German and lives in Okayama, Japan since 1977 and works on a kind of DARUMAPEDIA about Japanese culture in its many respects.

She is also an expert on Kigo in haiku. She is of great help when it comes to Kigo questions. We can look into her homepage: World Kigo Database.

This time we’d like to answer her question, taking the situations at Kisakata now and in those days into consideration.

On August 2, 1689, Basho’s companion, Sora, asked the same question as Dr. Gabi Greve in his haiku in 『奥の細道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku

 

                                                 象潟や料理何くふ神祭 

Kisakata ya  ryori nani kuu  kami maturi

 

Kisakata-

What special food do they eat

At the festival?

Translated by Donald Keene 

 

Special food at Kisakata

 

According to what I imagine, special food was 赤貝(akagai),ark shell, which tastes very delicious. That is because of the name of虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple. “The first Kanji character ‘虫甘’ means ‘赤貝(akagai),ark shells”, says the dictionary of Kanji characters. ‘’ means ‘filled’ or ‘full’. So the area was filled with delicious ark shells. It is also said that there were various kinds of shell eaten in those days.

At first the temple was called the Ebb-and-Flow-Pearls Temple(干満珠寺)(Kanman ju ji), which means that there was something living, associated with ‘‘ (ju), ‘pearls’.

I wonder if it is associated with ‘牡蠣‘ (kaki), ‘oyster’.

According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, ‘oyster’ is a large flat shellfish. Some types of oyster can be eaten and others produce shiny white jewels called ‘pearls’.

 Maybe Basho and his party might have eaten ‘oyster’, too.

 

ユネスコスピ-チコンテスト(H20) 019

 

Special food nowadays at Kisakata

 

From the middle of July to August many oysters can be gotten from the rocky shore of Kisakata port. We call such oyster ‘岩牡蠣‘ (iwagaki), ‘oyster from rocky shore’, which tastes very delicious. We eat it raw and it is very juicy.

 Why do shells taste good at Kisakata?    

  I’ve written my haiku and tanka in order to tell you about some reasons why shells taste delicious at Kisakata.

 

                                                生牡蠣や伏流水の洗ひかな 

Nama gaki ya  fukuryusui no  arai kana

Fresh oyster

being washed by

undercurrent water

 

雨水はブナの根に伏し流れ出す海辺に着きて牡蠣を洗えり

Amamizu wa  buna no ne ni fushi  nagaredasu  umibe ni tsuki te  kaki wo

 araeri

                                           

                              Rainwater collects under the roots of beech trees,

and then streams,

reaching the shore and washing oyster 

 

 Scots haiku・象潟(芭蕉) 009

 

Basho and his party visited the temple at Kisakata. In those days it was called the Ebb-and-Flow-Pearls Temple(干満珠寺)(Kanman ju ji), which is now called 虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple.

Seated within the priests’ quarters of the temple, Basho rolled up the bamboo blinds and took in all at once the whole spectacle of Kisakata. To the south loomed Mount Chokai, supporting the heavens; its image was reflected in the water.

Kanji characters, ‘鳥(tori), bird ‘, ‘ 海(umi), sea ‘, and’ 山(yama), mountain‘ are used in Japanese. This means that Mt. Chokai is filled with birds and has a wonderful view of the sea. It also means that it is made up of huge forests, which have mainly myriads of beech trees keeping much rainwater under their roots.

 

― Hidenori Hiruta

 

 

On August 26, I visited 象潟(Kisakata), 秋田(Akita) and took some pictures of the spots referred to in『奥の細道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku’ .

I also wrote some haiku there. I’d like to post some pictures and haiku.

松尾芭蕉( Matsuo Basho )(1644-1694) arrived at Kisakata on the evening of August 1, 1689, when a misty rain started to fall, obscuring Chokai Mountain.

The next morning the weather cleared beautifully. When the morning sun rose in all its splendor, Basho and his party took a boat out on the lagoon on Kisakata. They put in first 能因島 (Nohin jima), Nohin Island, where they called at the remains of the hut in which 能因(Nohin)(988-?), a waka poet, lived in seclusion for three years.

 

Here is a photo of Nohin Island.

 

能因島・鳥海・象潟(H21) 047

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My haiku is this:

 

 能因島ねぶの花行き老松樹 

(Nohin jima  nebu no hana yuki  roh shoh ju)

Nohin Island 

mimosa blossoms gone

old pine trees

 

After that, Basho and his party left for the opposite shore, where they landed from their boat, and they saw the cherry tree that stands as a memento of 西行法師(Saigyo hoshi)(1118-1190), Saigyo, who wrote of it in 1174:

 

虫甘方の桜は波に埋もれて花の上漕ぐ海士の釣り舟 

Kisakata no sakura wa nami ni uzumorete hana no ue kogu ama no tsuribune

At Kisakata

A cherry tree is covered

At times by the waves;

Fishermen must row their boats

Above the cherry blossoms.

  

                                                                                    Translated by Donald Keene

 

 Then they called at the temple standing nearby. In those days it was called the Ebb-and-Flow-Pearls Temple(干満珠寺)(Kanman ju ji), which is now called 虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple.

Seated within the priests’ quarters of the temple, Basho rolled up the bamboo blinds and took in all at once the whole spectacle of Kisakata. To the south loomed Mount Chokai, supporting the heavens; its image was reflected in the water.

Now there is the stone for tying the boat with a rope (舟つなぎの石)(fune tsunagi no ishi) found behind the temple, where Basho and his party landed, tying their boat.

And we can see Mt. Chokai from there.

 

Here is a photo of the boat-tying stone and Mt. Chokai.

 

能因島・鳥海・象潟(H21) 039

 

By the way, I’d like to show you a photo of Mt. Chokai, taken at the countryside of Kisakata.

 

能因島・鳥海・象潟(H21) 011

 

There I wrote the following haiku:

 

白雲の鳥海山に蜻蛉飛ぶ 

(haku un no  Chokaisan ni  tonbo tobu)

Mt. Chokai 

rising in white clouds

dragonflies below

 

Here I’d like to tell you about the origin of the name ‘Mt. Chokai’.

Kanji characters, 鳥(tori), bird ,  海(umi), sea , and 山(yama), mountain, are used for that name in Japanese. This means that the mountain was filled with birds and had a wonderful view of the sea.

 

 Here  is a photo of the sea taken from the slope in Kisakata, which leads to the foot of Mt. Chokai.

 

能因島・鳥海・象潟(H21) 022

 

There I also wrote the following haiku:

 

 初尾花海の彼方に島一つ

(hatsu obana  umi no kanata ni  shima hitotsu)

 

Fresh pampas grasses

facing the horizon

lonely island

                                                                                        

                                  ― Hidenori Hiruta

 

 

On August 3, we received an e-mail from Mr. Roy Lindquist in Norway, saying “ I just wonder if I could have any future in your Akita International Haiku Network.”

We at once answered his e-mail, saying “ It’s our great pleasure to share haiku with each other on the website.”

Since then we’ve been sharing haiku or comments through the linking websites.

 

RoyIdress_pp(Roy Lindquist)

According to his self-introduction, he just recently began writing haiku and he is only a new writer of haiku. We post his two haiku first of all.

                     

                    

 

 

 

Man reflects from heart

burned charcoal still warm

distant song

 

distant melody from mother’s heart

gray hair

still listening

 

These two haiku of his were written for 徳川元子(Tokugawa Motoko), who was a writer of 『遠いうた徳川伯爵夫人の七十五年』(Tooi uta- Tokugawa hakushaku fujin no nana juugo nen), ‘Distant Song : 75 years as Countess of Tokugawa’ .

 

 

Mr. Roy Lindquist met Mrs. Motoko Tokugawa, the late Countess Tokugawa, in 1968, when he was a student, and showed her around in Oslo as a guide.

During her stay in Oslo, he was given a Japanese name, 藤枝輝雄 (Fujieda Teruo), so he thinks of her as his mother. He was presented with her book in 1982. 

Mr. Roy Lindquist visited Japan twice in 1969 and 1972, and he met Mrs. Motoko Tokugawa in Tokyo. They had been corresponding with each other for more than 20 years until she passed away in Tokyo in 1989.

Remembering his stays in Japan, he wrote some haiku.

 

deep bow

lady not forgotten

respect of the past

 

last iris bloom

the woman strikes a match

in the Meiji garden pavilion

 

melancholy Koto tunes

face disappears

chrysanthemum embroidery on old wedding dress

 

Motok_Roy_6904(ロイと徳川元子さん)

 

Now Mr. Roy Lindquist has his own site: http://haikuroy.blogspot.com, where he publishes his own haiku almost every day. He is such an energetic haiku poet.

Here we post some of his haiku written recently.

 

 Persimmon tree

autumns joy

speechless

 

innocent child

play with words

so easy that even an adult smile

 

shining pearl

most beautiful

its secret is pain

 

click click click

concentration

keyboard

 

On August 21, his haiku appeared on ‘the Asahi Haikuist Network by David McMurray’. 

 

tiny blue flower

morning glory

dew under my bare feet

 

This site address is: http://www.asahi.com/english/haiku/.

Last of all we hope that his haiku will be enjoyed by more and more readers in the world.

 

― Hidenori Hiruta

 

Here is a picture of a lotus flower bud.

 

弘前城・五所川原ねぶた(H21) 008

 

In 2003 I got a haiku book written by Sylvia Forges-Ryan and Edward Ryan.

Its title is “Take a Deep Breath’” ‘The Haiku Way to Inner Peace’.

Its jacket photo by Jana Leon has a flower of white and red or scarlet.  Even now I wonder whether the flower is a lotus flower or a water lily. It might be a water lily, because Sylvia Forges-Ryan wrote haiku about water lilies.

Among these lilies

in Monet’s pond

Basho’s watersound

And they noted:

Here’s that splash again, only now it brings together the spontaneity of Nature―Basho’s “watersound” ―and the art of a painted garden. Even in a pond as beautiful as Monet’s, filled with a mass of lovely water lilies, the frog still goes “pop!” The splash breaks through the stillness of the art.

In ‘HAIKU MEDITATION’ of their book, the classic haiku poem written by Basho, from which Basho’s watersound comes, is shown with their translation.

Old pond

a frog leaps in

water’s sound

They also noted:

It is about a moment―just the experience of this moment―”splash!” Every haiku is an attempt to reveal, in poetic form, such a moment, no more or less. Often the first two lines set the scene, giving the reader a context. Then in the next line the poem opens to offer a moment of insight. True haiku are carefully created so as to lead to a “splash” that sets off ripples of thought in the reader.

  Here I proceed with the main topic ‘Basho’s lotus flowers.

In 1688 Basho visited one of his disciples, 下里知足(Shimosato Chisoku) in 鳴海(Narumi), 名古屋市(Nagoya-shi). There he wrote the following haiku:

蓮池や折らでそのまま玉祭 

(hasu ike ya  ora de sono mama  tama matsuri) 

 

Lotus pond!

not – pick this as

festival – of – spirits

On the day of Basho’s visit, they held 玉祭(魂祭)(tama matsuri), festival – of – spirits, which is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one’s ancestors. Cut lotus flowers were among the offerings placed on the “spirit shelf” (tama dana) for this festival.

  Basho’s haiku implies that lotus flowers blooming in a small pond of his disciple’s are the very offerings as they are, even if they aren’t cut and offered on the “spirit shelf”.

 

弘前城・五所川原ねぶた(H21) 010

 

By the way, why do lotus flowers have anything to do with Buddhism?

That is because of Buddhist iconography, in which Buddha is often represented on a pink lotus. In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of the body, speech, and mind as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. It is also to be noted that most Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, Japanese, amongst other Asian deities are often are depicted as seated on a lotus flower. According to legend, Gautama Buddha was born with the ability to walk and everywhere he stepped, lotus flowers bloomed.   

 

弘前城・五所川原ねぶた(H21) 006

 

This summer I am reading again the haiku book, whose title is “Take a Deep Breath”, ‘The Haiku Way to Inner Peace’.

And I wrote my haiku:

合掌に息深まれり蓮の花 

(gasshou ni  iki fukamare ri  hasu no hana)

Palms joined

taking a deep breath

lotus flowers

  

弘前城・五所川原ねぶた(H21) 067

 

Last of all I’d like to refer to the viewpoint on haiku, about which Sylvia Forges-Ryan and Edward Ryan told us in their haiku book.

They noted:

Haiku are the perfect form for their exercises because they are the shortest of poems, with the longest echoes. A good haiku distills a great deal of experience into a few phrases, and sets off a chain of thoughts that expand like the ripples in a pond.

                                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                    ― Hidenori  Hiruta

 

On July 31, I visited 虫甘満寺(Kanman ji), the Kanman-Temple in 象潟(Kisakata), 秋田(Akita) and I discovered many things. This temple is famous for the last spot which 松尾芭蕉( Matsuo Basho )(1644-1694) visited during his stay in Kisakata from August 1 – 3, 1689.

According to 『奥の細道』(Oku no Hosomichi), ‘The Narrow Road to Oku’ translated by Donald Keene, Basho and his party took a boat out on the lagoon on Kisakata. They put in first 能因島 (Noin jima), Noin Island, where they visited the remains of the hut in which 能因(Noin)(988-?), a waka poet, lived in seclusion for three years.

On the opposite shore, when they landed from their boat, they saw the cherry tree that stands as a memento of 西行法師(Saigyo hosi)(1118-1190), Saigyo, who wrote of it in  1174: 

虫甘方の桜は波に埋もれて花の上漕ぐ海士の釣り舟

 Kisakata no sakura wa nami ni uzumorete hana no ue kogu ama no tsuribune 

 

At Kisakata

A cherry tree is covered

At times by the waves;

Fishermen must row their boats

Above the cherry blossoms.  

                                                                                                                      

    Translated by Donald Keene

 

Basho wrote on:

  “Near the water is a tomb they say is the Empress Jingu’s, and the temple standing nearby is called the Ebb-and-Flow-Pearls Temple(干満珠寺)(Kanman ju ji). I had never heard that the Empress had come this way. I wonder if it is true.” 

It is said that in those days there were 99 small islands and 88 lagoons there and the people enjoyed beautiful sceneries or fishing by boat around there.

However, on July 10, 1804 a big earthquake hit this area, by which the earth there upheaved by 2.4 meters and the lagoons were changed into dry land.

Now, most of those lagoons have turned into rice fields or residential areas, but there are the remains of those days left there.

Firstly, the stone for tying the boat with a rope (舟つなぎの石)(fune tsunagi no ishi) is found behind the temple.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 017

 

Secondly, the cherry tree(西行法師の歌桜)(Saigyo hoshi no uta zakura), where Saigyo is said to have written his waka poem, is also found near the boat-tying stone.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 018

 

Thirdly, the stone tablet inscribed with Basho’s haiku is found inside the temple garden. It is said to have been built in 1763 on the seventieth anniversary of Basho’s death.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 015

 

Basho wrote his haiku during his stay in Kisakata. One of them is this:

 象潟や雨に西施がねぶの花

Kisakata ya  ame ni Seishi ga  nebu no hana

 

Kisakata

Seishi sleeping in the rain,

Wet mimosa blossoms.

                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                         Translated by Donald Keene

 

Now there are two statues built in front of the temple. One of them is Basho’s statue and the other is Seishi’s, who is said to have been one of the four beauties in China.

 

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 001

象潟干満珠寺(H21) 004

 

On my way home, I hit upon the following haiku:

 西施立つ芭蕉とともに咲く花火

Seishi tatsu  Basho to tomoni  saku hanabi

 

Seishi standing

accompanies Basho

fireworks in bloom

 

                                                                                             ― Hidenori Hiruta

 

Basho’s hydrangea

2009/07/18

 

紫陽花 (ajisai), hydrangea, is the deciduous shrub up to five feet high with ball-shaped clusters of bluish flowers in June and July. It has become a common ornamental throughout the world.

  In Japan both 額紫陽花(gaku ajisai), H. macrophylla and 沢紫陽花(sawa ajisai), H. serrata in particular have been cultivated for so many centuries that they have become part of the culture. 

 

AIUハイク・紫陽花スロープ(21) 030

 

References to 紫陽花 (ajisai) can be found in 万葉集 (the Manyoshu), an 8th century anthology of poetry, and 紅額紫陽花(beni gaku ajisai) is identifiable in an ikebana flower arranging document from 室町時代 (the Muromachi period) (1333-1568).

However, during this period under the rule of the Samurai 紫陽花 (ajisai) became unpopular, because its changeable flowers were looked upon as a symbol of moral infidelity, while あやめ.(ayame), ‘sweet flag’, or ‘calami’, was very popular because it was regarded as a symbol of the Samurai’s bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves.

  As a result, in the former part of 江戸時代 (the Edo period)(1600-1868), few haiku poets took up 紫陽花 (ajisai) in their haiku.

 Matsuo Basho(1644-1694) wrote only two haiku in which 紫陽花 (ajisai) was taken up.

He wrote one of them at 深川(Fukagawa) in 1694:

 

紫陽花や藪を小庭の別座敷

ajisai ya  yabu wo koniwa no  betsu zashiki

Hydrangea!

in grove, being little garden,

the detached room

 

Basho was invited to a farewell linked verse party for him before he returned to his hometown of 伊賀上野(Iga Ueno) before he left for his last journey. His host and disciple 子珊(Shisan) held this party at the detached room of his house, where a thicket with hydrangea was used as a rustic garden for the hut.

Basho offered this verse above mentioned as 発句(hokku), an opening and greeting poem, for his host when asked about the style of 軽み(karumi), lightness.

  The other haiku of Basho’s is this, but nobody knows when it was written.:

 

紫陽花や帷子時の薄浅黄

ajisai ya  katabira doki no  usu asagi

Hydrangea 

light blue

in hemp kimono

 

 帷子(katabira) in this haiku is a hemp kimono for summer wear, whose color is pale blue like that of hydrangea.

 

AIUハイク・紫陽花スロープ(21) 023

 

 In the latter part of 江戸時代 (the Edo period)(1600-1868), the popularity of hydrangea gradually revived, and they were planted in the gardens of the temples that use 甘茶 (ama cha) ,hydrangea tea, to celebrate the birthday of Buddha on April 8th.

During the ceremony a small statue of the Buddha is anointed with sweet-tasting甘茶(ama-cha) ,hydrangea tea, to celebrate the sweet rain that fell on the day that the Buddha was born.

 

AIUハイク・紫陽花スロープ(21) 044

 

Now 紫陽花 (ajisai) has become such a common ornamental in gardens or parks as well as in temple gardens or yards. In addition, in literary works of Japanese short poetry it has also come to be taken up as one of the most popular flowers in Japan.

  In July, 2004, my haiku appeared in the Asahi Haikuist Network by David McMurray, who has been teaching me how to compose haiku through “Haiku in English” , “International Haiku Correspondence with David McMurray” by the Asahi Culture Center.

Hydrangea

bloom and Buddha

calm in the rain

 

David McMurray noted in his column as follows:

Green and the color blue, whose hue is that of the clear sky, shade most of the haiku submitted during this cloudy season of monsoon rains. Green is a pleasantly alluring color that poets use to symbolize growth. And even more artistically, some poets blend the blues of fireflies and hydrangea with the blues of melancholy. Fireflies evoke feelings of loneliness while the image of hydrangea in the rain is a symbol of sadness.

  Another haiku of mine appeared in that column.

Misty rain

in a field of life

fireflies glow

                                                                                              

                                                                                      Hidenori Hiruta

Basho’s Irises

2009/07/04

 

   Iris is a genus of between 200-300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers.  It takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, referring to the wide variety of flower colors found among the many species.  As well as being the scientific name, iris is also very widely used as a common name; for one thing, it refers to all Iris species, though some plants called thus belong to other closely related genera.

In Japan, there are three varieties of irises which the term “Japanese iris” encompasses : Hanashobu, Kakitsubata, and Ayame. They are cultivated in gardens or growing wild in Japan. Besides, there is another kind of plant which has been called ‘Shobu’, or ‘Ayame’ , or ‘Ayamegusa’  since the ancient days of Japan. This is because it is similar to iris in the form of its leaves.

Would you please look at the picture below and guess which flowers of the four types above mentioned were taken?

 

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As you guess, they are Hanashobu. This picture was taken at Koizumigata Park (小泉潟公園) in Akita.

By the way, let me tell you about those three kinds of Japanese iris and another kind of plant called “iris” in the ancient times of Japan.

The 1st kind of iris is the Hanashobuハナショウブ, 花菖蒲, Iris ensata var), growing in the wet land. It is the most extensively cultivated variety in Japanese gardens.

The 2nd kind of iris is the Kakitsubata (カキツバタ, 杜若, Iris laevigata), growing in the semi-wet land.  It is less popular, but is also cultivated extensively.

The 3rd kind of iris is the Ayame.(アヤメ, 菖蒲, 文目, Iris sanguinea) typically growing wild on the dry land in Japan.

The 4th  plant doesn’t belong to the kind of iris but is called ‘Shobu’ (ショウブ、菖蒲)  in Japanese, or ‘Ayame’ ( あやめ), or ‘Ayamegusa’ ( あやめ草)  in the old Japanese terms. This is a plant called ‘Sweet flag’ belonging to the Acoraceae family, Calamus, and known for its fragrant roots, rather than its flowers.

The 1st kind of iris, Hanashobu are wonderful garden plants.  As the word Iris means rainbow, irises come in so many colors: blues and purples, whites and yellows, pinks and oranges, browns and reds, and even blacks.  The genus Iris has about 200 species and is native of North Temperate regions of the world.

Around the middle of June, I visited such Iris Garden and took some pictures.

 

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Taking a stroll around the Iris garden,  I hit upon the following haiku:

雨上がり七色深し花あやめ 

Ama agari nanairo fukashi  hanaayame

                                                               Irises

more rainbow-colored

after the rain

   

In 1803 Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶)(1763-1827), one of the most popular haiku poets in Japan, wrote the following haiku:

    垣津旗よりあの虹は起りけん

Kakitsubata yori ano niji wa okoriken

Irises

  from which that rainbow

rises

 In this haiku of Issa’s, he used another Kanji characters ‘ 垣津旗‘ instead of

 ‘杜若‘ (Kakitsubata).

David G. Lanoue interpreted about this haiku as follows:

Issa imagines that the rainbow has arisen from blooming irises—the intense, showy colors of the flowers continuing in bold streaks upward, into the sky, forming the rainbow.  It is interesting that “iris” derives from the Greek word for “rainbow.”  Issa could not have known this, but he intuits the same connection that exists in many Western languages.  The rainbow is in the sky; irises are rainbows on earth.

In 1689 Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉) crossed the Natori River and entered Sendai, Miyagi on ‘ The Narrow Road to Oku.’  It was the day they celebrate by converting their roofs with ‘Sweet flags’, or Calami’ (あやめ). He visited there around the time of the Sweet Flags Festival (あやめの節句)(5th day of Fifth Month, also called the Boy’s Festival), when sweet flags were displayed on the eaves of houses to drive away evil spirits, or they took “Shobuyu, or 菖蒲湯 (bath with floating sweet flag leaves)” baths. The leaves keep mosquitoes and snakes away with strong fragrance.  As the strong fragrance was believed to drive away bad air, people began to take baths with sweet flag leaves. Furthermore, the plant ‘Sweet Flag’ was believed to be a symbol of the samurai’s bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves. Even now many families with young boys enjoy “Sweet Flag Bath(shobu yu)” in the Boy’s Festival on May 5.

At that time Basho’s host, the painter Kaemon(加右衛門), had given him sandals with blue cords. So in ‘The Narrow Road to Oku.’ Basho praises Kaemon for being an exceptional follower of ‘Furyu(風流)’, writing his following haiku:

 

あやめ草足に結ばん草鞋の緒

Ayamegusa asi ni musuban waraji no o

 

Donald Keene translated this haiku into English:

 

                                                    I will bind iris

Blossoms round my feet

Cords for my sandals!

Kaemon presented Basho with such sandals, praying for safety on the road. That was because sandals with blue cords like sweet flag kept Basho from being in dangerous conditions.  But Basho highly appreciated Kaemon’s   spirits of poetry.  And Donald Keene used the words ‘Iris blossoms’,  not the words ‘Sweet flag stems’ in his translation.  Certainly this makes Basho’s haiku more poetic and literary.

   Last of all, let me refer to  another haiku of Basho’s.

 

    花あやめ一夜に枯れし求馬かな

      Hanaayame ichiya ni karesi motome kana

Motome

Iris withered

                                                          only in one night

 

In 1688, on the fourth day of May, Basho enjoyed the Kabuki drama by Motome, one of the most beautiful, young Kabuki players at the Osaka Kabuki theater.  Just on the following day Motome suddenly passed away.  Basho grieved over the unexpected death of his favorite Kabuki player, and he composed haiku for him. He compared Motome’s sudden death to the iris’ withering which usually happens only in one night. Strangely enough, Motome passed away just on the day before the Ayame Festival was held. Maybe Motome faded away just as a rainbow disappears so suddenly.

Let me show you such a sudden withering ‘Ayame’ faces  in the following picture.   

 

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― Hidenori Hiruta

 

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.

 

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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?

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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:

煌めきや満天星星のごと

Kirameki ya  dodantsustsuji  hoshi no goto

Twinkling-

Enkianthus has blossoms

as if they were stars

Read the rest of this entry »