Encountering Basho at Arashiyama

(Hailstone Exhibition Visit and Ginko, Dec. 3, 2022: report by Jun Tsutsumi & Stephen Gill)

野ざらし紀行図巻 The Nozarashi Kikō Zukan, “Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton,” Basho’s scroll of the first of his great haibun journeys made in 1684-5, is the only one known with both paintings and calligraphy from the master poet’s brush. A year or so ago the rare scroll had come to light for the first time in more than half a century. It is a startling piece of work.

Click respective photos to enlarge. 上 Narutaki in Kyoto (pagoda of Ninnaji vis. top lt.), 下 Potato-washing woman at Yoshino (Yoshimizu Jinja vis. on lt.)

Bright autumn leaves
through the train window –
getting drunk on them! (Harumi)

On a crisp December morning, fifteen Hailstone poets gathered to view the scroll at the Fukuda Museum of Art. Even as the streets near Arashiyama station were already dense with late-autumn crowds, the 14-meter scroll was mostly ours to enjoy alone in the quiet of the exhibition room.

After fifty years wandering,
‘The Weather-exposed Skeleton’
at home in autumn hills (Ayako)

Basho’s beautiful calligraphy and paintings took us with him on his journey from Edo to his hometown of Iga Ueno; and, thereafter, around the area of Japan that we know best, Kansai. The sensibility of his paintings of some of the places he visited added a new dimension to his well-known haibun itself and the poems it contains.

明けぼのやしら魚しろきこと一寸Akebono ya / shirauo shiroki / koto issun

Before sunrise…
young icefish flashing white,
each but one inch long (Basho, trans. SHG)

The exhibition also featured works by Yosa Buson and Ito Jakuchu, which made for an abundant morning of art.

Inviting me to view
Basho’s ‘Bleached Bones’ travelogue,
‘Two Skulls’ by Jakuchu (Akishige)

We walked out into gentle sunlight just after noon. Some of us enjoyed lunch together at the nearby Nakagawa restaurant, while others departed on errands or for home.

Hot rod cars
rev at the bridge –
a tinted Mt. Atago (Tito)

a stretch of tourists
along the riverbank
autumn colors (Duro*)

We reunited at the southern end of Togetsu Bridge for a haiku composition stroll (ginko) along the winding riverside path leading past Tonase Cascade all the way up to 大悲閣千光寺Daihikaku Senkōji Temple. The clear skies and gentle light cast the hills in rich hues, with views of Mt. Atago, Mt. Ogura, the Saga Hills, and even distant Mt. Hiei beyond the still waters of the Ōi River, dotted with rowboats.

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tracing in my mind
the lines of Basho’s brush:
our riverside stroll (Jun)

Winter calm –
on this water they know so well
here and there, wild ducks (Masahiro*)

Our Basho Day feeling
more like a year:
floating into a trench
coloured leaves (Tomiko)

The crowds receded further and further into the distance as we approached the steps leading up to the Temple, which Basho had once visited.

花の山 二町ぼれば 大悲閣 Hana no yama / nichō noboreba / Daihikaku
Two hundred yards
up a mountainside of blooming cherry…
Great Mercy Temple (Basho, trans. SHG)

There is a kuhi (poem monument) near the beginning of the climb.

Basho’s stele –
red maple seekers, beckoned
to worn stone steps (Akihiko)

Those who made it up to the temple itself, were able to pray before the ancient Kannon statue, then view another (much wilder!) one of 角倉了以 Suminokura Ryoi, the ‘Renaissance man’ who had set up a trading network in Southeast Asia for Toyotomi Hideyoshi as well as creating navigable waterways in and around Kyoto, and who had spent his last days here as a recluse.

A monk with a broom …
trying hard not to sweep up too
the late afternoon moon (Tito)

The view back over the city was spectacular, as were the fading late autumn colours. Someone rang the temple bell.

Arashiyama –
your perfect autumn tints
now, as long ago (Hiroko)

the wharf at dusk –
autumn pleasure-seekers’ backs
file away (Akihiko)

Basho’s journey
continues into dream –
my warm futon (Yaeno)

N.B. The Exhibition finishes at the Fukuda Museum on 9 Jan. 2023; the painting of Basho below is in the Exhibition and is by Yosa Buson; Duro & Masahiro sent their haiku in later and were not actually present at the event.

Otsu Ginko: Basho & Fenollosa on the Shores of Lake Biwa

The forty-meter Basho-o Ekotobaden 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 scroll exhibition at the Otsu Museum of History turned out to be an absorbing experience for the 8 Hailstone poets who visited it on 14 March. At least 2 more went on their own on separate occasions. It finishes on 11 April, so there is still time. The scroll was commissioned of painter Kano Shoei 狩野正栄 as part of the 100th anniversary of Basho’s death (prior to 1794) and depicts the Master as a young man in Iga-Ueno, on his literary pilgrimages (Matsushima, Ise, Yoshino, etc.), in his retreats (Basho-an, Genjuan, Rakushisha, etc.), as well as his death in Osaka, and his grave at Gichuji Temple 義沖寺, not far from the Museum itself. This was the Life of Basho in meticulous style painting and beautiful calligraphy. Basho’s camellia-wood staff, Yayu’s desk with a crescent moon inset, and many other interesting exhibits augment this landmark exhibition, which shows how Basho became so revered and how his school of haiku 蕉門 was re-envigorated by poets such as Chomu 蝶夢, Kyotai 暁台, and Buson as 100 years were chalked up.

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Afterwards, somewhat exhausted, for a while we rested on benches at the Museum, looking out across Lake Biwa. It was such a beautiful spring day that we decided to go for a stroll towards the northwest, where Tito had found out that there is a tiny dilapidated temple, Homyoin 法明院, in the grounds of which the American orientalist, Ernest Fenollosa, has his grave (Basho’s is at the other end of Otsu). The mountain temple is reached by an overgrown grassy path and a lot of wonky stone steps. When we arrived at the main hall there was no one around. We noticed a can hanging on the gatepost asking for donations upon entry and we duly put in some coins and walked around the unkempt garden, ravaged by wild boars, but with some trees putting out blossom and unfurling new leaves… up a further flight of steps to Fenollosa’s grave. He had done translation work with Ezra Pound more than a century ago, helping us to a better understanding of the beauty of Chinese poetry, and, with Okakura Kenshin, had helped to preserve the artistic heritage of Japan at the precarious time of the Shinbutsu Bunri movement. He saved many Buddhas from destruction, finally becoming a Buddhist himself.

Collecting scraps
of conversation on Basho,
Lake Biwa’s
spring breeze
………. (Akihiko Hayashi)

for us to pass
beneath its wire perch -–
the first swallow!
………. (Tito)

The lake is calm,
with distant yachts —
bursting cherry blossoms
………. (Kyoko Nozaki)

Offering a camellia
to Fenollosa’s tomb ―
bush warblers call
………. (Yaeno Azuchi)

Sosui at Setsubun & 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho Scroll Exhibition

I first met Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) in London in 1994 during the Basho 300th celebrations I’d organized for London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies and the British Haiku Society. During that year, BHS held a series of events including a conference,  a long-distance haiku hike, an international renga, and a haiku reading-cum-balloon launch. Together with London U. Prof. of Japanese Lit., Andrew Gerstle, I edited and published the fruits of our celebrations (conference papers, including one by Nobuyuki, renga, haibun, etc.) as Rediscovering Basho a few years later. For the cover, we obtained permission from Gichuji Temple in Otsu to reproduce a portrait of Basho on horseback taken from their amazing scroll painting, 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho-okina Ekotobaden, executed by Kano Shoei towards the end of the Eighteenth Century to celebrate Basho’s 100th.

It just so happens that today (Feb. 11), when I visited Rakushisha (the House of Fallen Persimmons, where Basho had written his Saga Diary back in 1691), I picked up a flyer advertising an exhibition at Otsu Historical Museum 大津市歴史博物館 opening later this month at which for the first time the scroll will be shown in its entirety, all 40 meters of it. It shows Basho on his Oku no Hosomichi (Deep North) and other travels at various locations accompanied by Sora, so Hailstone will certainly hold an event to go and see it soon. One illustration shows B at Ukimido, the Floating Pavilion on Lake Biwa, location for Hailstone’s first ever event (Nov. 2000). Get in touch with me if interested. Museum site link 

Serendipitously, also today, Nobuyuki has just sent me a few of his latest haiku celebrating the season of Setsubun (early February, trad. beginning of spring), which also includes his own birthday (Feb. 10, just turned 89 years old!). He confesses to me that recently he has been feeling lazy and, although still composing, cannot face posting directly onto the Icebox at present, so I shall do so for him. Some of you may remember his nice haibun on the subject of ‘Bean-throwing at Setsubun’ a few years ago (published in our collection, Persimmon). Belatedly… many happy returns of the day, Sosui-sensei!

Spring is expected
To come tomorrow, and yet
No change in the field.

The last day of winter —
A tinge of red now visible
On the plum branches.

Haipho for Kaze-no-Ryokosha

On Feb. 11, Tito and I attended a travellers’ luncheon party in Osaka held by 風の旅行社, at which there was a traveller’s fashion contest and a travel photo contest. There were about 35 attendees at the Silk Road restaurant in Juso, each allowed to enter just one ‘work’. Both of us entered a haipho to display in the impromptu exhibition. Tito’s (apparently using a photo taken by Kazue Gill in Nepal on 1 May 2019, the first day of Japan’s new imperial period) won 4th place. Here they are. Click on each one to enlarge.

Summer, in the shade

Summer exhibition —
the folks assemble
dressed in blue-and-white ….. (Tito)

On 18th August, a scorching day, a few Hailstones got together for an art exhibition 真夏の芸術祭 held at Galerie Aube inside Kyoto University of Art & Design, where one of our members, Yoshiharu Kondo, was showing his creations. There were about 100 pieces on display; the majority, paintings. We walked around, each person choosing one or two favourites:

A school of ceramic salmon —
an Ainu Upopo, now sung
at the art festival ….. (Yoshiharu)

Dandelion seeds
enlarged in the painting …
he fears they might assault him
at night! ….. (Keiko)

A big brown pot —
written right across its body
in replicated characters,
“Seven Gods of Good Luck” ….. (Yoshiharu)

Cinnamon  background;
the dark-amber skeletons of
Chinese lantern pods ….. (Ursula)

Pleasingly, we all fell in love with Yoshiharu‘s two pieces, a ceramic tsubo-daiko and a handmade storybook featuring his own haiku and tanka.

Summer, in the shade —
A bisque-fired drum
Resounds through the hall ….. (Mayumi K)

Clear Moon —
in his poem,
a villa for his students
who’ve passed away ….. (Keiko)


Glad to report that the subsequent mishap that befell one of our number has now resolved itself!

Calling and calling
my lost cell phone —
no reply ….. (Ursula)