Basho in Leiden

Doing some research to finish an article about the Dutch in Japan during that nation’s closed era (about 1641 to about 1853), I came across a photo of a Basho haiku painted on a wall in the delightful city of Leiden in The Netherlands – and now can’t remember whether I walked past it 2 years ago or am now just thinking I did!

The Basho wall haiku in Leiden. Image: Tunbantia, via Wikipedia

ara yumi ya sado ni yokotau ama no gawa

a wild sea, 
and stretching out towards the Island of Sado,
the Milky Way

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), tr RH Blyth See more translations here.

This website about the Wall Poems Project has a page dedicated to Basho’s 1689 poem, which was painted by Jan Willem Bruins in 1994 using a paper version in Japanese characters as his guide. “While he was painting, he was spotted by a group of Japanese passers-by. Filled with adoration, they stopped to watch Bruins apply the characters in a slapdash fashion. They asked if he had ever done a calligraphy course. When he said that this was his first try, they paid their respects to the painter with a deep bow.”

The Wall Poems Project ran from 1992 to 2005, and includes this very graphic 1966 poem by another Japanese poet, Seiichi Niikuni (1925-1977).

Kawa mata wa Shū by Seiichi Niikuni. Image: David Eppstein, via Wikipedia

The two characters translate as ‘river sandbank’ with the left line being ‘river’. Niikuni was a longtime creator of concrete poetry.