Search This Blog

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Matsuo Bashō, the literary wanderer 😊, and Nihonbashi


I've been meaning to write about Bashō, the haiku poet, and Nihonbashi, the area where I hanged out after my visit, but never got around to it. So here it is. I hope that you will enjoy it.

On a rare occasion, I dab at poetry, but I’m definitely not a poet. I just do it for me, and oftentimes, I end up shredding it. But that doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate a good poem. And when I travel, I like to do something that deals with the writers’ world. Sometimes, I drop by a library or a bookstore. This time, I visited the sites where Matsuo Bashō, a famous Haiku poet, aka the literary wanderer spent time. My guide was surprised that I knew of him. I found out about Bashō by accident when I was doing research on some interesting things to do in Tokyo.

We acessed the area from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa subway station. Kiyosumi is a neighborhood in Tokyo's eastern Koto Word. There is also Kiyosumi garden which I did not get to see, but do recommend. We walked for a bit and found the Basho Inari Jinja Shrine.




This a Kitsune fox shrine as there are foxes at the gate, one with an open mouth, the other with closed. The open mouth fox guards the shrine and wards off evil spirits. The closed mouth fox keeps in the good spirits. You will see more of these creatures with open and closed mouths throughout Japan, and when I talk about the Nihonbashi bridge. Part of the Japanese culture, Kitsune are intelligent foxes with special abilities, and they get wiser with time.

Also here, there are stone representation of Bashō’s frogs. Matsuo Bashō was the master of Haiku, lived a simple life, and was a recluse. I have no problem living a simple life, but to be a recluse is not that appealing to me. I need my space, but I also need to connect with other human beings. His most famous haiku translated: An ancient (old) pond! 

An ancient pond!

With a sound from the water

Of the frog as it plunges in.

The above pictures are samples of Bashō’s Haiku. There are 12 of them on sticks, spread along a long walking path by the water. Even if you’re like me, and not good at poetry, you can still see the image Bashō has created. In a 5-7-5 syllable, he creates a vision of a weathered pond, existing in silence until a frog jumps in and disturbs it. You can almost hear the noise the frog created when it jumped in, and see the ripples in the water. Perhaps, when Basho wrote this, he was referring to himself as old. And maybe he was deep in thought when some noise, or someone broke his focus, and inspired him to write this. There has been various contradictory analysis regarding the meaning behind this Haiku which I will not get into. Sometimes when I read a poem or a good piece of writing, or admire a painting, I just want to enjoy it and not analyze it to death. As William Forrester tells Jamal in the film, Saving Forrester, one of the reasons he stopped writing was that he got tired of critics trying to interpret his words all the time.
The Basho Museum, situated near the Sumida River, display some of his writings, maps of his travels, and the type of clothes he wore. The explanations are in Japanese. So, you would need to go with someone who speaks Japanese or do some research before you go.
He lived in a cottage near this area where he wrote in his travel journal. As I followed Bashō’s path in Tokyo, I ran into many calm and serene areas that I would have never discovered otherwise. You can take a stroll by the Sendai-bori river, and get lost in your thoughts. I was told that this area is beautiful during the cherry blossom season.
There is a lot more to be said about this neighborhood. But then this blog would become way too long. You can easily take your time and spend half a day here. Sumida river is nearby with a nice quiet outdoor area, and more dedication to Bashō. You can bring a Bento Box and a drink, and picnic here.
After our Bashō excursion, we went to Nihonbashi, which means the bridge to Japan. It is named after the Nihonbashi Bridge which spans over the Nihonbashi river. This bridge was once a wooden bridge, and today, it’s made up of stones, supported by steel. There is an expressway that runs above it which detracts from the its historical beauty. There are plans underway to move the expressway underground. This area, save for the bridge, was burned to the ground after the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945.
Nihonbashi means the center of Tokyo—the point from which all distances in Japan are calculated. In the middle of the bridge, there is a zero kilometer marker, a metal plate from where everything is measured. To stop people from running into traffic, there is one like it placed to the side of the road. As for me, I just had to take a picture of the one in the middle of the road while dodging cars, and being reprimanded by my tour guide.
At the corners of the bridge, there are two pairs of Shisha, the guardian lion statues, and in the center, a pair of Kirin, mythical beasts. You will notice here again, the opened mouth male wards off evil spirits and the closed mouth female keeps in the good spirits.
We ended up with having lunch at Mitsukoshi, Japan’s first department store. The purple tea is lavender tea with a mild flavor. I bought a few packages for my friends and  family.






No comments: