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Hugh Bygott, UK
 

 

 

 

Journey to Mattô

From the beginning of my study of Japanese haiku, I had wanted to do thisthe journey to Mattô, Chiyo-ni’s birthplace. As an admirer of her philosophical insight indeed, I place her second only to Bashô as a poet of philosophical haikuand as a student of her art, I was indeed privileged to visit Mattô and the Chiyo Jo Museum. The occasion arose when I recently visited Japan to see my youngest son who is studying Japanese language at a Japanese university. I am pleased to see how successful he has become, particularly with his study of kanji.

I was able to see first hand some of Chiyo-ni’s manuscripts, scrolls and letters as well as to understand some of her life in XVIII century Japan. The museum is a beautiful building and has an associated Japanese garden. Apart from the beautiful atmosphere of the museum, there were two discoveries which deeply impressed me. The first was the reconstruction of the room in which Chiyo-ni is believed to have composed many of her hokku. It was a small room with only a single, low writing table at the end of which were her brushes and ink. I imagined that she spent many hours there composing, refining her work, and waiting for inspiration. The second was the orientation of her vertical lines on the scrolls. These were not three vertical lines of hiragana and kanji as might have been expected, but were split lines integrated into her painting. I brought back reproductions of many of these scrolls. It will take some time to research my idea, but it seems that splitting the lines into four or five fragments might be a form of spatial punctuation and might well influence the meaning.

Chiyo-ni was greatly admired during her lifetime and Kihaku, Bashô’s disciple, first published a collection of her hokku, Chiyo-ni Kushu. A further volume was published during her lifetime. Even though she was frail and ill at that time, Buson asked her to write the foreword to his collection of XVII and XVIII century women poets, Tamamoshu, 1774. I do not know of any English translation of this work nor of the modern definitive edition of her work, Kaga no chiyo zenshû. Tamamoshu included hokku by Sono-jo, Sute-jo, Shushiki-jo and Chigetsu-ni. Fortunately there is a French text of Chiyo-ni’s poetry and contemporary women poets with French translations of the romaji. This is Kaga no Tchiyo -Jo: Une poetesse Japonaise au XVIII siecle. Gilberte Hla-Dorge, G.P.Maisonneuve, Paris, 1936. Of course, English language readers have the Donegan/Ishibashi translations.

The museum leads to a beautiful Japanese garden. Walking there was a spiritual experience. I spent many hours in that garden.

The city also has a fine hotel, the Grand Matto Hotel. My room faced south looking over the city. It was wonderful to watch the lights come on over the city at night, then later to watch the sunrise over the mountains. Adjacent to the hotel was a small park where an ancient pine, Chiyo matsu, was supported by steel pipes. Perhaps Chiyo Jo had walked here as a girl when the pine was a sapling. Indeed it is said that Chiyo Jo’s father had named her from the pines.

This visit to Japan has indeed been satisfying. From Nagoya to Mattô and return I did not meet a single Westerner so that I relied solely on the Japanese language. As always, Tokyo is the dramatic and vibrant city.

Now I return invigorated with new ideas and plans for further sequences, including spiritual and philosophical haiku, and translations of XVII and XVIII century Japanese women poets.

Hugh Bygott Cambridge England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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