Sunday, April 6, 2014

Meeting Bashō

Zenshoji Temple
For two days I've been exploring an area the writer Matsuo Bashō visited in 1689 while traveling his "Narrow Road to the Deep North."

Today it worked out more practical to explore Bashō's journey in reverse. While he headed south, I walked north, in the rain, looking for little connections with his journey. I wondered if we would meet.

I walked past small communities surrounded by rice paddies ready for spring planting. Across the broad plain I could see snow-topped mountains.

The rain would not let up, but I was dressed for the weather, and was glad to be outside, moving. I thought of Bashō walking in the rain in his straw sandals, his backpack soaked and heavy.

A car stopped about 100 feet ahead. A woman got out, and rearranged bags on her back seat. I didn't know how to refuse without causing offense, so I accepted her offer of a ride.

There was a passenger in the front seat, maybe the driver's mother. Neither she nor the driver spoke any English, so communication was limited but cordial.

The two women chatted together as we drove north alongside Lake Kitagata. I looked out the window, imagining Bashō on his ride, a boat heading south on that lake.
All night long
waves were heaved across
by the storm,
moonlight dripping down
among the Tide Cross Pines
My thoughts then turned to bringing my ride to an end. I consulted a map on my phone and spotted a temple, Yoshizaki-Gobo, a couple miles ahead, close to the point Bashō would have boarded his boat.  I handed my phone to the passenger, who showed it to the driver.

A temple on a map did not seem specific enough for the passenger. I couldn't understand what she was asking, but it seemed to be down to the detail of which entrance I wanted to be dropped at.

Eventually, a dropoff point was determined, and a bunch of arigatos later, I was sheltering from the rain in the entrance to the temple grounds.

As I was standing there, learning from The Google that the temple had been founded in 1471, the passenger suddenly appeared. She was carrying a bottle of water that had fallen out of a side pouch of my pack. She showed lingering concern that I was indeed at the right place

I find kindness like this is commonplace in Japan.

The rain persisted. I decided to ditch a visit to the pine trees Bashō had opined about, and headed directly to the final stop, Zenshoji Temple, four miles on.

Basho wrote about Zenshoji when he stayed there in the Fall of 1689.

For a time, I was the only person wandering the temple grounds. Using photographs I had collected, I identified otherwise unidentifiable artifacts. It was lovely to be alone in this place.

When Bashō stayed at Zenshoji, the willow trees were dropping their leaves. He wrote a piece on a scroll for his hosts to thank them for their kindness:
I would sweep the garden
before departing: in the temple,
falling willow leaves
Satisfied with my day, I left the temple, and made my way to the nearby train station.

Area of today's walk

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