VISITING BASHO by Janet Howie

During the month of April I felt quite close to Basho. I visited Japan in cherry blossomtime with haiku on my mind, experiencing first hand the environment that inspired hiswriting. I also discovered some evidence of Basho in central Honshu.

The highlight of my quest was visiting the Basho Museum near the Sumida River
in Koto City, Central Tokyo, close to Fukugawa where Basho once lived. Although the
explanatory texts in the museum were in Japanese, there was a handout in English that was
helpful.

On display, I saw the old stone frog that Basho was said to be fond of; a
painting, among several, of Basho in straw hat, sandals and satchel, on the road with his
nephew, Toin; a small wooden figurine of Basho; a selection of haiku by Basho and other
poets, set out on small hangings; and a replica of robe, hat, sandals, brush and ink used
in Basho’s time.

Outside in the peaceful garden there was a small Basho shrine, and nearby, at
the junction of the Sumida and Onigigawa Rivers, up a flight of steps, a serene statue of
Basho meditating gazed out across rippling water. Close to the statue was a set of
decorated poles depicting a journey, several etchings, and a small pool in which tiny
goldfish swam. The day was mild and peaceful, and I gave the smooth statue an
affectionate, respectful rub.
Basho’s statue
feeling his calm presence
in spring sunshine
In the Kenrokuen garden in Kanazawa – one of Japan’s top three- I stood next to a poem
monument inscribed in Japanese with Basho’s haiku composed there in 1689. The haiku
stone, and there are many of these around Japan, was set among moss and pine, at the base
of a mound leading to a thatched rest house. Idyllic.

I also spotted a haiku in English in the Friday edition of Herald Tribune
International- Asahi Shimbin, reviewed by David Murray in a small column called Asahi
Haikuist, complete with artwork by Mitsuaki Kojima. A website was provided:
http://www.asahi.com/english/haiku

Added to this was finding a curiously interesting book in the Isseido
bookshop, Tokyo, with the title: Rediscovering Basho – a 300th anniversary celebration, a
collection of articles edited by Stephen Henry Gill & C. Andrew Gerstle of the British
Haiku Society, and published in 1999. As I read these articles, I felt Basho and his
devotees accompanying me, while I travelled from place to place, confirming that the
haiku way is alive, and encouraging me to be part of it.