Basho and Fukagawa

Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉, 1644–1694), born 松尾 金作, then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa (松尾 忠右衛門 宗房), was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (then called hokku). Matsuo Bashō’s poetry is internationally renowned; and, in Japan, many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites. Although Bashō is justifiably famous in the West for his hokku, he himself believed his best work lay in leading and participating in renku. He is quoted as saying, “Many of my followers can write hokku as well as I can. Where I show who I really am is in linking haikai verses.”

One of the places where the poet’s memory is strongly preserved today is in Fukagawa, a shitamachi area on the eastern banks of the Sumida River. The presence of Matsuo Bashō is so strongly marked in Fukagawa, that you may be inclined to believe that the poet lived here his entire life.

Actually, Bashō lived here only 9 years, between 1680 and 1689, but this period marks several important moments in his life. The statue from this photo, near the Umibe-bashi Bridge, marks the place from where Matsuo Bashō started in 1689 his journey to the Northern Honshū, a journey to “renew his own art” by visiting the places described by the old poets. His travels are described in his work Oku no Hosomichi, “The Narrow Road to the Interior”.


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