shizukasa ya iwa ni shimiiru semi no koe
the cicadas’ voices
芭蕉 (Basho, 1644–94)
Step into this haiku wonderland and you’ll be welcomed by this famous haiku. This work was birthed here at Yamagata’s Risshaku-ji (also known as Yama-dera).
Located in Japan’s Tohoku region, Yamagata is a prefecture full of natural beauty, running along the Sea of Japan and full of majestic mountain ranges. The pristine water of Mogami river has also helped Yamagata become famous as a major producer of cherries and other fruit, vegetables, and delicious rice. In the winter, snow covers the prefecture in a purifying white while the summer brings refreshing mountain views. The natural beauty of Yamagata has been making an impression on humans for hundreds of years.
Basho visited this place 330 years ago. While traveling Japan for his legendary Oku no Hosomichi haiku collection, it is said that he spent nearly 1/4 th of the 150-day long journey here in Yamagata. He arrived at Yama-dera on July 13th. Numerous people he met during his travels recommended he visit this temple, eventually leading to Basho taking a 30km detour to Yama-dera, a trip he recorded in Oku no Hosomichi. If Basho hadn’t gone on this detour, this famous haiku would most likely never have existed.
While climbing the more than 1000 steps up towards Yama-dera, the sounds of nature welcome you, including the chirping of cicadas. Yet, as you get lost in the world of Basho, the harsh climb up will keep your heartrate up while sweat rolls down your neck and you struggle to catch your breath. No matter where you look, the trees and nature around hide the goal from your sight, leaving you with no other choice than to stop and admire the various statues and rock formations while you give your body a well-needed rest. At the end of the 40-minute climb, breathtaking vistas await....
Basho visited Yama-dera when he was 46 years old. It is told that with each step you gradually free yourself from worldly desires, and it’s not hard to imagine that Basho had just as much trouble climbing up as people do today, feeling the sweat roll down his face, getting lost in the sound of the cicadas, with his own heavy breath eventually overpowering the natural sounds around him. Even 300 years later, Basho’s haiku still has the power to invigorate our imaginations and sometimes even propel us into passionate debates about the true intentions of his words. Why did he use the phrase “such stillness”? This abstract line may seem confusing at first, but after visiting Yama-dera and quietly listening to the sounds of the mountains, something inside you reacts in a way that helps make sense of what Basho was trying to say. You may not be able to prove what it means, but you’ll most likely have a deeper understanding of Basho’s mentality. One visit to Yamagata and Yama-dera can bring you closer to the legendary haiku poet. What are you waiting for?
This episode of HAIKU MASTERS was filmed in July around the same time Basho visited Yama-dera 330 years ago. Our guest is Issey Ogata, one of Japan’s leading actors known for his unique and powerful acting ability. He is also a pioneer of Japanese solo stage performances.
The day before the filming, Issey showed the staff something he had brought with him for the shoot. It was none other than a Basho puppet. Apparently he spent the previous night working on the puppet with the intentions to feature him in the show directly. Needless to say, the staff and crew of HAIKU MASTERS couldn’t hide their excitement of being able to work with the ultimate haiku master, Matsuo Basho. You definitely do not want to miss Basho and Issey Ogata’s “Yamagata Talk” segment in this upcoming episode.
Out of all the entries we’ve received from the over 100 different countries and territories around the world and after much deliberation, our 3 haiku masters decided on the following work as the top entry from our HAIKU MASTERS in Yamagata special.
- HAIKU MASTERS in Yamagata
【JST】July 31st(Mon) 13:30/17:30, August 1st(Tue) 1:30/7:30
【UTC】July 31st(Mon) 5:30/9:30/17:30/23:30
Yama-dera Temple (Risshaku-ji Temple)
4456-1 Yamadera, Yamagata City, Yamagata