Basho, Biwa, and marching band

Posted on: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 09:14 By: Tom Swiss

Basho walked
this road, I realize
and slow at the thought

tokaido road
monk on a motorbike
i love the universe

The gravesite of Basho, a small temple in Otsu. Next door a kindergarten, Japanese kids singing "happy birthday".

Turtles and some sort of ferret/cat keep him company.

At the grave of Basho
bees buzz in the flowers -
what can I say?

Walked down to the shore of Lake Biwa. Beautiful. Tried to lie in the sun, wind tugged my hair over my face too much, I sat, looked over the water, chanted quietly, the "paragate" mantra, then the Kanzeon 10-line sutra...thought of when I chanted it for my grandfather. Said Kerouac's prayer for him, for his widow who spurned us, for my family, my friends, my lovers, my teachers, George W. Bush, the whole world. Tears came.

The wind blew (as it does now, as I sit outside a nearby Starbuck's) and it felt that it blew for me, through me. A cloud above was Ikkyu, Crazy Cloud, Zen lunatic master who got his enlightenment in a boat on this lake when he heard a crow's call. A seabird shrieked. That was all; all was that.

I write about it. A sparrow alights on the empty chair to my left, flies off, comes back to the empty chair on my right. That is all; all is that.

When I arose from my meditation, I saw that at the foot of the rock upon which I'd been sitting, was a large dead fish, flies on it. That is all; all is that.

The staff of Lonely Planet must not have any poets, or at least none work on their Japan guidebook. Else they would have mentioned the grave of Basho, haiku master (indeed, one of the pioneer inventors of the form), at Gichu-ji in Otsu, just west of Kyoto, on Lake Biwa.

Fortunately I happened upon this information in some "random" Googling, and set my course out there today. That's the above.

Came down to Gion for dinner (Taj Mahal, disappointing Indian fare - I've never had anyone put cheese in a vegetable biryani before, and many of the vegetables were clearly frozen fare; plus the place seems to attract a smoking clientele). Coming up out of the restaurant I saw a bunch of people holding red paper lanterns, in some sort of march up the street.

Well, I had to figure out what the deal was. Some procession to a shrine? A protest or commemoration of some kind? I did notice that the lanterns were all the same. Some kanji on them that I couldn't decipher (no surprise there), and the group seemed to be all young adults.

I walked up the Sanjo-dori, getting ahead of the group only to see another one ahead. As I crossed the Kamo-gawa river, I saw a film crew on it's banks; first I thought perhaps TV news, related to whatever this procession/parade was, but it seemed unrelated.

Outpaced the silent marchers, turning up Kawaramachi-dori, walking quickly now to try to get to the bottom of this. And...what's that I hear? A marching band?! Are those...pom-pom girls?

Yes. A parade for the local university. As silent as the main body of students was, the band rocked, the pom-pom girls were peppy.

So that was an unexpected and cool thing to see.

Then, the coup de grace, the thing that set me laughing until I had to lean against a wall for support, the thing that reminded me why I love the universe in all it's unpredictable unbelievable absurdity: they broke into Copacabana. The Barry Manilow song.

My mother would have loved it.

Unfortunately my camera has been acting up and I wasn't able to record it. I'm hoping someone else did and posts to YouTube or something - not impossible, I'll give it a search in a few days.

Only in the universe. I've said it before, I'll say it again: the world is so small yet there's so much in it.