Attending Hailstone Haiku Circle’s online Kukai in horizontal position at 2 a.m. here from my bed in Florida last Sunday, I enjoyed seeing and hearing via Zoom some dear old friends and new faces from my haiku circle in Japan. The theme of the haiku reading and sharing was endings and beginnings, and founder Stephen Gill opened with a reminder that with the great Haiku Poet Matsuo Bashō’s death was the beginning of the Bashō school of poetry.
Bashō died in Osaka on November 28, 1694 after having contracted a fever. The exact spot of his death was not far from our Shinmachi apartment, and I walked past it often. The paper Osaka city map I regularly consulted read, “place of Bashō’s end.” But the X on the map marking the exact spot was always a giant, noisy construction site just next to the Namba Betsuin (Minamimido) Buddhist Temple. I couldn’t find anything related to the poet, only a giant rise of scaffolding covered in plastic.
At the time I hadn’t realized that the Zen temple’s garden I strolled through and took others to contained a memorial garden to Bashō with a stone inscribed with his final poem, his death poem, that he had dictated, unable to brush the poem himself because he was so ill. The spot under construction seemed to be the site of a flower shop that existed back then where he died in a rented room on its second floor, which this website in Japanese describes.
Sick on a journey–
in my dream staggering
over withered fields.
I find it amazing to realize all this from Florida, way beyond the end of my time in Osaka, and here my husband and I are making new plans to become digital nomads, sort of wandering poets like Bashō, once Covid settles and we can travel freely again. Looking at the photo of the stone memorial, it almost appears human. And the Japanese believe rocks are inhabited by the kami. So. Maybe Bashō himself is in there. Only now do I see it. I look forward to visiting it again soon with fresh eyes. I’m writing a new haibun about it. The end is always the beginning.
More About Haiku
I submitted a haibun I wrote about Kyoto to the Writers in Kyoto annual writing competition. The deadline is March 31, so you still have time to submit something of your own. Write On!
I wrote an article for Writers in Kyoto about my experiences in Japan with haiku. Read about it here.