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Haiku poetry, autumn foliage Otsu & Ogaki

The Pine Tree of Karasaki

Chrysanthemum flowers

Autumn foliage

Haiku is the world's shortest form of poetry. It originated in Japan. One of the most famous haiku poets was Matsuo Basho, who lived in the 17th century. Basho made numerous journeys to various parts of Japan, composing haiku poems as he traveled. Kit Pancoast Nagamura has lived in Japan for over 20 years. Haiku are part of her life, and she likes to write them daily. On this edition of Journeys in Japan, Kit travels to Otsu (Shiga Prefecture) and Ogaki (Gifu Prefecture), two places that Basho visited several times.
Writing haiku is a wonderful way to crystallize your impressions and feelings as you travel, so the journey remains vivid and alive in your memory.

Karasaki Shrine, Otsu
Karasaki Shrine is famous for its large pine tree. When Basho visited the city he described the pine in one of his haiku: "Dimmer than the cherries, The Pine Tree of Karasaki, Hazed in the distance."
The present pine is about 100 years old, and replaces the one that inspired Basho.
1-7-1 Karasaki, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture Admission: Free

Genju-an, Otsu
In 1690, Matsuo Basho stayed in a small hut in the hills of Otsu, working intensively on his poetry. There is a pool close to the hut, fed by a spring, which Basho used for drinking and cooking. The narrow trail leading to the hut runs through trees adorned with haiku poems written by local children.
2 Kokubu, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture
Open: 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; closed Monday (or the following day if a holiday falls on Monday); also closed over the New Year. Admission: Free

Gichu-ji temple, Otsu
Matsuo Basho died in 1694 in Osaka. According to his wishes, his grave was erected at Gichu-ji, a Buddhist temple in Otsu. For a time, Basho stayed in a hut called Mumyo-an in the temple grounds.
1-5-12 Baba, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture Open: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (March through October); 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (November through February); closed Monday (except if a holiday falls on Monday)
Admission: 200 yen (junior high school students 150 yen; elementary school children 100 yen)

Autumn foliage viewing spots in Otsu
In the Sakamoto District, the trees are illuminated in the evenings in and around Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
Open: 5:30-9 p.m. (mid-November to early December) Admission: Free

Saikyo-ji temple (edible chrysanthemum petal dishes)
There is a long tradition of eating chrysanthemum petals in the Sakamoto district, to mark the arrival of autumn. During the autumn season, special meals featuring the petals are served at Saikyo-ji, a Buddhist temple in the area.
5-16-1 Sakamoto, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture
Meals: 2,500 yen (reservations required)  

Basho's Oku no Hosomichi Haiku Journeys Museum
This museum in Ogaki is devoted to the life, travels and works of Matsuo Basho. It also provides a commentary on Basho's famous travel diary, "Oku no Hosomichi" ("The Narrow Road to the Deep North"). Explanations are available in Japanese, English, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean
2-26-1 Funamachi, Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture Open: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission: 300 yen (18 or under free of charge)

To reach Otsu from Tokyo, you take the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto, and then change onto a local train. It takes about three hours.

Travel Log - Traveler:

Travel Log

Traveler:Kit Pancoast Nagamura,
writer & photographer (USA)
Date :Nov. 8 - Nov. 13, 2012

I'm a huge fan of haiku poet Matsuo Basho, but for years I've feared that the places Basho traveled to or loved would no longer resonate with the beauty he observed. At best, I thought that I'd just find some stone marker or metal plaque commemorating Basho's poems in the midst of urban sprawl.

It was exciting and deeply moving, therefore, to discover that the words of Basho, even 350 years later, have inspired many to preserve the sights and areas that he immortalized in his haiku.

When I journeyed to Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture, the last stop on Basho's famous Narrow Road to the Deep North, I recalled Basho's haiku that likens parting with a traveling companion to the separation of a clam's two shells in autumn. Standing by the lighthouse by the grass-bottomed Suimon River, I contemplated the pain of saying goodbye to someone so close that they resemble one's own mirror image. Next, I spent a quiet couple of hours wandering the charming new Basho Museum.

Later, in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, it was easy to see why Basho chose to stay there four months. Mountains close in protectively around Biwako, a lake known as the "freshwater sea", which shimmers from nearly every vantage point. Even if one choses to live as a hermit, as Basho did, high in the hills, one could gaze down on the lake or across the mountain ranges, and not feel too lonely.

Finally, the sweetness of people in both Ogaki and Otsu lingers with me. From the oarsmen of taraibune (small boats made of half barrels), to neighbors who harvest and then eat flowers together each fall, to the men who sweep and tend to Genju-an (Basho's hermitage late in his life), people showed me great kindness. Their smiles and gentle manners were for me as poetic as the landscape. I'm now eager to explore more of Basho's world!