Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

April 4, 2012

Haiku Stones: Cloud of blossoms (Basho, Asakusa)

In the Edo-period, temple bells such as the one on the Benten Hill of Sensoji in Asakusa, played an important role in informing the townspeople of the time of day. Those bells were therefore called 'toki no kane,' or Bells of Time. The present bell dates from 1692, when it was cast at the orders of the shogun Tsunayoshi. The bell is more than 2 meters high and measures one and half meter in diameter.

Basho lived in Fukagawa, on the other bank of the River Sumida. In those times, when Fukagawa was in the rural outskirts of the city, he could probably see the roof of the great Kannon temple from his home. Not far from Asakusa was another temple complex, Kaneiji, in what is now Ueno Park. Kaneiji also possessed a Bell of Time, now standing in a forlorn corner of the park.

Basho could hear both temple bells. Sitting on the verandah of his house, among the blossoms of spring, he heard the boom of a bell... and wondered: was it the one of Kaneiji in Ueno or of the Kannon temple in Asakusa?

Basho was so visually drunk with the rioting blossoms that even his sense of direction became confused...

[Temple Bell of Sensoji Temple, Asakusa] 

cloud of blossoms
is that the bell 
from Ueno or Asakusa?
hana no kumo | kane wa Ueno ka | Asakusa ka

Location: The haiku has been reproduced on a wooden board near the bell tower on Benten-yama, in the grounds of Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Sensoji can be reached by either the Ginza or Asakusa subway line; the temple grounds start at the famous Onarimon, only a few minutes from the exits of both subway stations. When approaching the temple, after walking through the shop-lined Nakamise-dori Street leading from the Onarimon to the temple, one reaches the huge Hozo-mon, or Treasury Gate. Benten-yama is a small hill at the back of grounds to the right of this gate and is crowned by a temple hall dedicated to Benten, the Goddess of Music. Admission free.