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Iga Ueno: Basho's birthplace (oh, and ninjas)

in the garden of
Basho's ancestral home -
a buttefly

Today, out to Iga Ueno. Kind of out in the sticks, you have to ride the Kansai/Yamatoji line way out past Nara to the Yamatoji line's end at Kamo, the pick up a tiny backcountry train to Iga Ueno. Then I switched to a Kintetsu train to go downtown.

To paraphrase Lou Gosset Jr.'s drill sergeant from An Officer and a Gentleman: "Only two things come out of Iga Ueno, boy: ninjas and haiku masters. And I don't see no sword on your back."

This is the home town, the birthplace, of Basho. And it's also known for it's ninjas, apparently they were allies of Ieyasu Tokagawa. Guess which one the lady at the tourist office assumed I was here to see? But she seemed pleasantly surprised when I inquired after the Basho museum instead of the Ninja one.

The museum is not much to see if you can't read Japanese, but I could enjoy some paintings on the scrolls, and it's closest to the station.

But Basho's birthplace and childhood home, preserved or restored, is something to see. The lady who worked there was so nice; only a bit of English but tried to explain as much to me as possbile. Took my photo outside the place for me. Looking into the courtyard garden - bam! butterfly, so the above haiku.

She gave me an English map of the local Basho sites. At her suggestion I visited the nearby Shinto shrine to which he dedicated his first collection of poems. The shrine is not a spectacular sight, but interesting that a fellow so associated with Zen would make such a gesture.

Again, poets, paganism, Zen. Why this connection? I think of Emerson's observation of how a poet holds us fast to the truth until we can grip it ourselves; of how every word of ritual and prayer came from the lips or pen of a poet - and how also we continually need new poems for new people in new circumstances, not enough to simply recite the old...I know of great Buddhist and Pagan (British Romantic, American Transcendentalist) and Sufi poets; perhaps if mainstream Christianity had more poets it wouldn't be so moribund? (Of course there's gospel music, but that comes mostly out of the black churches, not what I would call mainstream; and much of it is just repeating old songs, little creation of new ones it seems to me.)

So, anyway, went to Ueno Tenjungu shrine, paid my respects, even bought a wooden prayer card (ema) and wrote on it a wish for poetic inspiration for everyone, tied it up to the rack. I noticed that their vending machine fortunes were bi-lingual, bought one; my mechanically-determined fourtune is "excellent" - "Everything you want to o can be done well. No problem in your family" Well, let's hope.

On my way there, trying to get directions, met up with a Japanese guy whose hobby in English. Turns out he also was a budding haikujin as a kid (don't know if he's kept it , but he mentioned winning a prize for a haiku back in middle school.) He also collects postcards, so I promised him one from Baltimore when I get back home.

Then down to Minomushian, Basho's hermitage (one of several, but the only one still extant. Lovely garden with a little cottage. Came all the way back uptown to see the Haiku Master's pavilion (not much to see, and it's just a monument sort of thing, doesn't close, so I wanted to see the other things first.) Also got a glimpse of the outside of the castle.

Don't like my poems?
I've earned the right to write them
So screw you, buddy.
Just two weeks left!

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