Continuing with my A-Z of Japan series, today it’s time for B. I thought for a while about what should represent B – should it perhaps be baseball (a very popular sport in Japan), Buddhism (one of Japan’s two main religions) or bento (弁当) (Japanese lunch boxes made with precision and care)? All are worthy topics, but in the end, there is only one B that I, Haikugirl, could choose… B is for… Basho!
Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉) is probably one of the most famous haiku poets ever. He lived from 1644 to 1694, and he was a teacher and traveller as well as a poet. I won’t go into all the details of his life here – you can get that from Wikipedia. I’ll just say that Basho is someone I admire greatly, for his work and his spirit.
Probably the most famous of Basho’s haiku is this one:
furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water 
It holds the true essence of haiku – that captured moment, like a photograph. You can almost picture the droplets of water splashing up as the frog descends, you can almost smell the ancient pond, and hear the breeze in the trees. That’s haiku.
But it’s not my favourite. In fact, I don’t know if I have a favourite. But there is one haiku that I especially like. It’s one that I discovered when I was on a trip in Kanazawa.
あかあかと 日はつれなくも 秋 の風
Aka aka to / Hiwa tsure naku mo / Aki no kaze 
My best translation for this is:
How brightly the sun shines / turning its back to the autumn wind
I think it’s beautiful. One of my dreams in life is actually to be able to read enough Japanese that I can read Basho’s poems in the original text and understand the true meaning through the Japanese. I have a lot of studying to do before that will happen though! 😉
When I am finally able to read Basho’s works in Japanese, I want to go back to the Basho Museum, which is in Tokyo. Last time I went there, I just enjoyed the calm atmosphere in the garden…
But next time I want to actually go inside the museum and read some of Basho’s poems.
Near the museum, along the Sumida River, there is a statue of Basho:
He sits, looking out onto the Sumida River, as though he might be eternally composing haiku.
Well, as I said, I don’t want to regurgitate the facts of Basho’s life which can be found on Wikipedia or elsewhere. This post is more of a shout-out to Basho for being one of the greatest poets that ever lived. If you haven’t checked out his work, I recommend that you do. For those of you reading in English, I can recommend a book called “A Haiku Journey: Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province” as a good place to start.
This post is an entry for this week’s Show Me Japan. Don’t forget to check out all of the other entries.