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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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)

Twittering
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)