Bashō monuments in the Tsuru area

From Tahara Waterfalls down towards Tsuru Station
Adapted from Mount Fuji Guide from Tsuru University (2020) with original Japanese article by Professor Katō Kōji.

 

Tsuru University
Surrounded by mountains, it is not easy to view Mount Fuji from the immediate area around the university Nagoya Mizuho / Public domain

1. Tsuru and Bashō

Basho consulting with two farmers
Matsuo Bashō, consulting with farmers: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892) / Public domain

In the second year of Tenna (1682), at the age of 39, Matsuo Bashō, who was later to become sacred to Japan as its greatest haiku genius, lost his house in Fukagawa, Edo (present-day Tokyo), in one of the frequent great fires of that period.

 

One of the frequent great fires of Edo
 One of the frequent great fires of the Edo Period田代幸春 / Public domain

One of his students, who lived in this area and wrote under the haiku pseudonym “Biji,” was a prominent figure in the ruling Akimoto family’s organization. Biji invited the master Bashō to stay on his property in the old Yamura domain (part of present-day Tsuru, with which you will soon be familiar). Bashō actually remained there for five months. Two years later, in the first year of Jōkyō (1684), Bashō once again visited Biji in Yamura, on his way home from the epic journey that formed the basis for his haiku masterpiece we know as “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” These historical facts go some way to explaining the importance of the great poet to the people of this area and the presence of Bashō-related artifacts in the vicinity.

Various lines of Bashō’s haiku, including those he exchanged with Biji, can be seen engraved on a number of monuments in the Tsuru area, particularly around Yamura. Here we offer a gentle downhill guide to those monuments that can be comfortably followed without too much exertion, either physical or mental. The tour involves a short train journey but may be accomplished entirely on foot with a little extra effort.

2. From Tōka Ichiba Eki (literally “Tenth Day Market Station”) to Tsuru University

Not many tourists get off the train at Tōka Ichiba station! But you will be stepping onto the historic Fuji Road. Cassiopeia sweet / Public domain

First of all, get off the Fujikyu Express train and exit Tōka Ichiba Station down National Road, Route 139. You will be following this road for pretty much the whole of this tour so bear it in mind.

It will cross the Katsura River after a leisurely downhill stroll of less than five minutes. However, just before that, turn right onto the small bridge across the river. From the bridge, look back upstream and you will see Tahara Falls laid out before you.

The falls here were a lot wilder in bygone years. Technology has got things under control. Perhaps somewhat less than optimal inspiration for haiku now.

Across the bridge on the left you will see a small shrine called Tahara Shrine. In front of that, there is a monument and a rather charming bronze statue of a seated Matsuo Bashō. You can say hello to him.

Hello, I’m Matsuo Bashō!

The script on the monument reads:

勢ひあり氷消えては瀧津魚 芭蕉

the force of the fall
exodus of ice pillars
fish are now climbing

Bashō

(Interpretation: waterfalls have mysterious power. When spring comes, the ice disappears and now the fish are climbing the falls.)

The monument was erected in the twenty sixth year of Showa (1951). By the way, an attempt has been made here and elsewhere to capture the spirit of the haiku in the English language. It will be left to the reader to decide how successful this attempt has been! A more straightforward attempt at interpretation has also been offered. In any case, the reader is encouraged to come up with much better haiku formulations (essentially three lines consisting of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables) than the clumsy efforts offered here.

Go back on to Route 139, keep walking down the hill, and turn right at the Tsuru University Entrance crossroads (a large T-intersection with traffic lights) and walk towards the university.

Route 139, or the historic Fuji Road, whichever you prefer. Take the right branch to go towards Tsuru University.

You are now on the Tsuru Bypass. Go across the railway line, walk 150 meters or so, and turn right again at the next intersection in front of Tsuru University (this also has traffic lights) and go up the hill.

Turn right here to go up the hill past the university. The station is to your left.

You will see red-brick buildings belonging to the university on your right. Instead of entering the university, go a little further up the road to the left going towards Uguisu Hall. Very shortly you will come to the entrance to Rakuyama Park, which is signposted in Japanese and English.

Walk up the path to the left and take the second little path, (with rough steps) lined by bushes, to the right. You will shortly emerge to an area of open ground and you will see a black granite monument, although it is a little difficult to locate, as it is somewhat shrouded by trees.

馬ぼくぼく吾を繪に見る夏野かな

the horses clip clop
we picture how we must look
in this summer field

(The horse moves along slowly. In our mind’s eye one sees oneself on top of a horse in a field in summer.)

It will be seen later that this image remained with the poet, who made numerous efforts at reworking the lines, over some considerable period of time.

After contemplating these lines, if you start to feel the need for refreshment, go back down the way you came and grab a drink at the coffee shop Buncham, opposite the entrance to the university car park. Keep going down the hill and you should be able to find your way back to the intersection in front of the university.

If you go straight ahead at the traffic lights, you will be on the road to Tsuru University Station. If it is time for lunch, you might prefer to turn right at the intersection, walk fifty meters or so down the Tsuru bypass road and try some genuine Yoshida Udon noodles at the renowned Ishii udon restaurant. You will find this among a cluster of drinking establishments frequented by the local students. You may be tempted to drop by for evening refreshments later. By the way, Buncham and Ishii are both closed on Sundays.

In any case, when you are ready, head towards Tsuru University Station, or Tsurubunkadaigakumaeeki (which, in spite of being one of the longest words in the world, simply means the station in front of Tsuru University!), get on a train going towards Ōtsuki station and get off at Yamuramachieki (Yamura Station). Alternatively, you can go back on to Route 139 and walk to Yamura Station in about twenty minutes as it is only one stop away. Just be warned that the roads are not particularly pedestrian-friendly at this point, being extremely narrow yet used by heavy vehicles. However, do not be put off because we will be finding some rather lovely walking routes later.

Tsurubunkadaigakumaeeki is a very long word!

3. From Yamura Station to Tsuru Station

Splendid old Yamura Station
Most of the activities mentioned here (past and present) center around the Yamura area. Here’s Yamura Station

Exit Yamura Station and stand with the station right behind you. A small children’s park Jōnan Kōen (Jōnan Park) lies immediately in front of you, behind some buildings and between two narrow roads. Take the one running directly away from the station on the right side and you will immediately (after about thirty seconds) find this park on your left. In the park, the following lines can be found inscribed on a monument:

行く駒の麦に慰むやどりかな

the horse has a break
the comfort of eating wheat
inn experience

(The horse takes a break eating wheat at the inn today. I do the same and feel gratitude.)

An explanation of the origin of the haiku is also provided on a signboard. It is speculated that these lines were written on the occasion of meeting up with Biji once again.

On the other side of the road opposite Jōnan Park, you will find the Tsuru Museum, where you can get a sense of Tsuru’s history for an entrance fee of two hundred yen. Sketches attributed to the great artist Katsushika Hokusai are on permanent display.

Hokusai’s most famous and influential work

If you come out of the museum and walk a little further away from the station you will very soon find yourself on Route 139 again, which you will remember as the road you started on after coming out of Tōka Ichiba Station. Take some time to get your bearings. You are standing about 80 meters away from Yamura Station. Route 139 is also known as Fujimichi or the Fuji Road. As mentioned earlier, although it is extremely narrow with little space for pedestrians, it remains a National Road with considerable traffic so please be very careful.

We are going to find a much nicer parallel path to walk along but, if you wish, turn left on to Route 139 and walk a little, around one hundred meters. You will find the Hassaku Festival Exhibition Hall on your left and the Tsuru Merchant Museum on your right. Three stalls that appear around the town during the Hassaku Festival held every year on September 1st are on display. If you are lucky enough to find the Merchant Museum open, the staff will kindly tell you about the history of textiles in the area. Both of these places are free of charge.

Instead of, or in addition to visiting the Merchant Museum, you may prefer to backtrack to the place where you just got on to the Fuji Road from Yamura Station, turn left again but this time take the immediate right, after 30 to 40 meters. You will now find yourself on an extremely pleasant and atmospheric little path running parallel to the Fuji Road. Turn left on to this path and walk a little way with the mountains on your right. Very soon, you will come to Chōanji, or the Chōan Temple. The Merchant Museum is now about one hundred meters ahead of you to the left. The main hall of the Chōan temple, built in the tenth year of Kyōhō (1725), is rather fine. There may even be lucky enough to find some rather wonderful flowers on display on the day of your visit.

After wandering around a little, and soaking up the atmosphere, walk a little further along the road in front of Chōan Temple, with the mountains on your right of course, and you will see the Tsuru Community Development Center Building in front of them on your right. This is situated within the municipal library. As you turn right towards the Center, you will come to a little lane on your left that will take you to the vicinity of the Tsuru City Furusato Kaikan (hometown hall). You will also see a number of two-tone green-colored signs in Japanese that read 芭蕉翁寓居桃林軒 which translates roughly as Bashō’s residence in the peach forest. You will not be surprised to learn that these two-toned green signs will point you to another Bashō monument. This is actually the area that the poet is believed to have stayed on Biji’s property. The charming one-storey structure that you will find there is a recent reconstruction of this. There are actually two monuments in these gardens. First:

夏(か)馬(ば)の遅(ち)行(かう)我を繪に看る心哉  芭蕉

horses of summer
slowly making some progress
is how I see us

Bashō

(This is, of course, a reworking of the earlier verses at Rakuyama Park.)

The answer of the disciple Biji, who seems to feel he is failing in his responsibility as a host, is thus:

変手ぬるゝ瀧凋ム瀧  糜塒

we each take our turn
the falls recede tepidly
and cannot cool us

Biji

(On this hot summer day, the level of the waterfall is dropping and is not cool enough.)

Behind this, we see Bashō’s response:

深川の松も泣くらむ雪の梅

fukagawa’s pines
are also weeping for me
like the plums in snow

(Back in Bashō’s home, Fukagawa, the poet is being missed by his disciples and others.)

Nearby, you will find the Pure Fuji building. To the left of the main entrance, you will see another splendid monument with the following inscription:

山賤のおとがい閉るむぐらかな

even mountain men
keep their mouths closed to greetings
like the sullen weeds

(Even in the mountains where you are unlikely to meet many people, habitual workers are not quick to greet strangers.)

Go a little further along the mountain road and you will see Entsūin Temple on your right. The temple is famous for the Edo period stone bridge restored on its garden’s pond. Behind this pond, in front of the bell tower with its also famous temple bell, there is a small box-like structure with a roof, bearing the name 芭蕉堂, Bashō Dō, literally “Bashō Shrine.” If you peer inside the latticed door, you will see a small engraved monument. On it, you will read:

旅人と我(わが)名よばれん初時雨(しぐれ)

call me Traveler
I want a suitable name
now the first rain comes

If you keep going along this mountain road, you will come to a dead end. Go sharp left, walk on a little, and you will see Tōzenji Temple immediately on your right. This temple belongs to the Nichiren sect and was built with the purpose of offering prayers for peasants who died in the uprisings that took place towards the end of the Edo period. Fascinating though that may be, after entering the gate, head directly to the monument nestled in trees on the left.

松風の落葉か水の音涼し

wind in the pine trees
perhaps the falling leaves or
cooling water sounds

Bashō

(It is not clear what is having a cooling effect. It may be the leaves falling from the pine trees. It may be the sound of water.)

人は寝て心ぞ夜は秋の昏

people fall asleep
but Autumn nights stir my heart
I will not drop off

Biji

(Other people may sleep but I intend to stay awake and fully experience the Autumn evening.)

You will notice the gravestones on the hill slope at the back of this temple. Climbing these into the mountain and looking straight back up the Fuji Road, the red brick buildings of Tsuru University become visible. If the weather is good, you are likely to see Mount Fuji peeping over the hills that stand between it and the university. In fact, you do not really have to make this effort because you can see Mount Fuji from the slope as you look back after passing by Entsūin Temple.

Actually, it is not always easy to see Mount Fuji from the Tsuru area because the Tsuru hills get in the way. At this proximity to Mount Fuji, you often have to move away from it in order to see it, which may be fun. In fact, Bashō claimed in some of his most famous lines, that it is sometimes interesting not to be able to see Mount Fuji:

雰しぐれ富士をみぬ日ぞ面白き

hidden in the mist
invisible Fuji days
are really quite fun

In any case, our tour ends here with this partial vision of the sacred mountain. A short walk back up Fuji Road will take you to the Naraya home-made sweets shop (right on the corner where you made your sharp left a little earlier) for some chou-cream or the Sugaya confectionary shop (a little further back up the road) for Karintō steamed buns, perhaps. Alternatively, you can keep walking north from Tōzenji Temple and you will be at Tsuru City Station on the Fujikyūkō line in about five minutes.