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

July 25, 2013

Basho’s haiku on Horaizan: Wintry blasts (Basho, haiku)

Horaizan or Paradise Mountain lies here on earth, close to Hon-Nagashino on the Iida line out of Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture. It is an an old temple mountain of the shugendo cult. Although there is not much of the temples left, the mountain is steep, craggy and still immersed in a mystic atmosphere. An endless array of stone staircases leads to the top and, hopefully, some better insight.

Basho visited Horaizan in 1691, after his long trek to northern Japan and his subsequent stay in Shiga Prefecture to recuperate. As usual, he was accompanied by a group of local haiku enthusiasts, led by one Hakusetsu. At noon they reached the hamlet of Kadoya at the foot of the mountain, so that after lunch the climb started in earnest. Just under the Niomon Gate, Basho took a rest and observed the split rock face visible there between the giant cedars. The winter storm blowing strongly against the rocks seemed to make their corners even sharper. The haiku Basho composed about this scene, has been cut in stone on the very spot where it was written.

Horaizan, Aichi
[The path on Mt. Horai]

by wintry blasts
the rocks are sharpened
through the cedars

kogarashi ni | iwa fukitogaru | sugima kana

Due to the blasts of the north wind, it was a cold day. Basho was troubled by his usual illness, stomach ache, and was not able to climb all the way to the top. He may already have turned back after composing his haiku at the Niomon Gate. On top of that, it happened to be the day of the temple's festival and Basho found that all inns at the foot of the mountain were occupied. With difficulty, he managed to secure a small room in a dingy place. There was no proper bedding, and Basho felt cold and miserable. Hakusetsu ran up the mountain again to one of the subtemples to borrow a padded kimono for the haiku master to keep warm during the night. This inspired Basho to the second haiku of that day:
a padded kimono
received by prayer
sleeping on my journey

yogi hitotsu | inori-idashite | tabine kana

Haiku Stone: The haiku stones (an old one and a modern one) stand near the Niomon Gate, about 10 min. and 222 steps from the start of the staircase.
Access: 15 min. by bus from Hon-Nagashino Station on the Iida Line (Hon-Nagashino is a 50 min. ride from Toyohashi) and then a walk of about 1 hour over a 1,400 steps high staircase ascending through the forest. The bus station lies a few minutes from the station, in the direction of the main road.