Study Guide: Matsuo Bashō’s “Genjūan no ki” (1690)
Original: Genjūan no ki (1690), in volume 6 of Kōhon Bashōzenshū (Kadokawa shoten, 1962)
Translation: “The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling,” translated by Burton Watson, in From the Country of Eight Islands (1981)
Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 (1644-1694): The most famous poet of the Edo period. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form. Today, he is recognized as a master of brief and clear haiku. His poetry is internationally renowned, and within Japan many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites. He is also celebrated for his poetic prose: the fifth of his travel diaries, Oku no hosomichi (The Narrow Road to Oku), is probably the most widely read work of Japanese classical literature, although all five diaries rank as masterpieces of “diary literature,” a peculiarly Japanese genre. (Adapted from Columbia U Press webpage, others)
1. The Shinto shrine near the narrator’s hut incorporates Buddhist elements as well. Describe this fusion. Explain its significance in the context of the essay.
2. Describe the narrator (e.g. his age, occupation, background, current activities/interests/residence, possessions, philosophy of life, etc.). Why has he gone into reclusion? Is he simply a lover of solitude? Explain.
3. How long has the narrator been living in this remote hut? Why do you think has he chosen this particular area—“beyond Ishiyama,” on the southern shore of Lake Biwa, east of Kyoto?
4. The narrator states that he moved to this hut in the “fourth month, the first month of summer.” To what month of the Western (i.e. Gregorian) calendar does the fourth month of the lunar calendar (kyūreki) correspond?
5. What season is it now? How long has the narrator been living in this hut?
6. Make a list of all the natural elements (both plant and animal) that appear in the text. Explain their significance.
7. Make a list of all cultural and literary allusions—both implicit and explicit—that appear in the text. (Note: there are many!) Explain their function/significance.
8. Discuss the name he gives to the hut. Is this name a metaphor for something?
9. Who (if anyone) visits the narrator while he is living in this remote hut? Explain these interactions.
10. Judging from the narrator’s account, how do you think he has changed over the years? Explain.
11. Discuss the hokku at the end:
mazu tanomu / shiinoki mo ari / natsu kodachi
12. To what genre of writing does this work belong? What similar works from the past can you think of? How does this work relate to those? Explain.
“The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling”
Beyond Ishiyama, with its back to Mount Iwama, is a hill called Kokubuyama—the name I think derives from a kokubunji or government temple of long ago. If you cross the narrow stream that runs at the foot and climb the slope for three turnings of the road, some two hundred paces each, you come to a shrine of the god Hachiman. The object of worship is a statue of the Buddha Amida. This is the sort of thing that is greatly abhorred by the Yuiitsu school, though I regard it as admirable that, as the Ryobu assert, the Buddhas should dim their light and mingle with the dust in order to benefit the world. Ordinarily, few worshippers visit the shrine and it's very solemn and still. Beside it is an abandoned hut with a rush door. Brambles and bamboo grass overgrow the eaves, the roof leaks, the plaster has fallen from the walls, and foxes and badgers make their den there. It is called the Genjūan or Hut of the Phantom Dwelling. The owner was a monk, an uncle of the warrior Suganuma Kyokusui. It has been eight years since he lived there—nothing remains of him now but his name, Elder of the Phantom Dwelling.
I too gave up city life some ten years ago, and now I'm approaching fifty. I'm like a bagworm that's lost its bag, a snail without its shell. I've tanned my face in the hot sun of Kisakata in Ou, and bruised my heels on the rough beaches of the northern sea, where tall dunes make walking so hard. And now this year here I am drifting by the waves of Lake Biwa. The grebe attaches its floating nest to a single strand of reed, counting on the reed to keep it from washing away in the current. With a similar thought, I mended the thatch on the eaves of the hut, patched up the gaps in the fence, and at the beginning of the fourth month, the first month of summer, moved in for what I thought would be no more than a brief stay. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever want to leave.
Spring is over, but I can tell it hasn't been gone for long. Azaleas continue in bloom, wild wisteria hangs from the pine trees, and a cuckoo now and then passes by. I even have greetings from the jays, and woodpeckers that peck at things, though I don't really mind—in fact, I rather enjoy them. I feel as though my spirit had raced off to China to view the scenery in Wu or Ch’u, or as though I were standing beside the lovely Xiao and Xiang rivers or Lake Dongting. The mountain rises behind me to the southwest and the nearest houses are a good distance away. Fragrant southern breezes blow down from the mountain tops, and north winds, dampened by the lake, are cool. I have Mount Hie and the tall peak of Hira, and this side of them the pines of Karasaki veiled in mist, as well as a castle, a bridge, and boats fishing on the lake. I hear the voice of the woodsman making his way to Mount Kasatori, and the songs of the seedling planters in the little rice paddies at the foot of the hill. Fireflies weave through the air in the dusk of evening, clapper rails tap out their notes—there's surely no lack of beautiful scenes. Among them is Mikamiyama, which is shaped rather like Mount Fuji and reminds me of my old house in Musashino, while Mount Tanakami sets me to counting all the poets of ancient times who are associated with it. Other mountains include Bamboo Grass Crest, Thousand Yard Summit, and Skirt Waist. There's Black Ford village, where the foliage is so dense and dark, and the men who tend their fish weirs, looking exactly as they're described in the Man'yōshū. In order to get a better view all around, I've climbed up on the height behind my hut, rigged a platform among the pines, and furnished it with a round straw mat. I call it the Monkey's Perch. I'm not in a class with those Chinese eccentrics Xu Quan, who made himself a nest up in a cherry-apple tree where he could do his drinking, or Old Man Wang, who built his retreat on Secretary Peak. I'm just a mountain dweller, sleepy by nature, who has turned his footsteps to the steep slopes and sits here in the empty hills catching lice and smashing them.
Sometimes, when I'm in an energetic mood, I draw clear water from the valley and cook myself a meal. I have only the drip drip of the spring to relieve my loneliness, but with my one little stove, things are anything but cluttered. The man who lived here before was truly lofty in mind and did not bother with any elaborate construction. Outside of the one room where the Buddha image is kept, there is only a little place designed to store bedding.
An eminent monk of Mount Kora in Tsukushi, the son of a certain Kai of the Kamo Shrine, recently journeyed to Kyoto, and I got someone to ask him if he would write a plaque for me. He readily agreed, dipped his brush, and wrote the three characters Gen-ju-an. He sent me the plaque, and I keep it as a memorial of my grass hut. Mountain home, traveler's rest—call it what you will, it's hardly the kind of place where you need any great store of belongings. A cypress bark hat from Kiso, a sedge rain cape from Koshi—that's all that hang on the post above my pillow. In the daytime, I'm once in a while diverted by people who stop to visit. The old man who takes care of the shrine or the men from the village come and tell me about the wild boar who's been eating the rice plants, the rabbits that are getting at the bean patches, tales of farm matters that are all quite new to me. And when the sun has begun to sink behind the rim of the hills, I sit quietly in the evening waiting for the moon so I may have my shadow for company, or light a lamp and discuss right and wrong with my silhouette.
But when all has been said, I'm not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds. It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary of dealing with people, I've come to dislike society. Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years. There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching rooms of the patriarchs. Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are as aimless as the winds and clouds, and expended my feelings on flowers and birds. But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am, I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Bo Juyi worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Du Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it. As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men. And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? But enough of that—I'm off to bed.
Among these summer trees,
something to count on
something to count on
Translated by Burton Watson
2. そのかみ国分寺の名を伝ふなるべし：その昔、国分寺が置かれたというので 国分山にはこの名が残っているという。なお、国分寺とは、天平13年（741）聖武天皇の勅願により、国分尼寺とともに国ごとに建立された官寺。正式には金光明四天王護国之寺という。国内の僧尼の監督に当たり、また朝廷の特別の保護があった。奈良の東大寺を総国分寺とする（『大字林』より転載）。
36. 昔住みけん人：菅沼修理のこと 。
38. 持仏一間を隔てて、夜の物納むべき所など、いささかしつらへり：＜じぶつひとまをへだてて、・・＞ 仏間は一室特別に隔離されて作ってあって、あとは夜具などを入れる部屋をつくりつけてある。
39. 筑紫高良山の僧正： ＜つくしこうらさんのそうじょう＞と読む。高良山三井寺第50代座主寂源僧正のことで、賀茂社の神官藤木甲斐守敦直の次男であった。なお、筑紫高良山は、福岡県久留米市にある山。中腹に高良大社、西斜面に神籠石(こうごいし)がある（『大字林』から）。
45. わが聞き知らぬ農談：イノシシの被害があり、また、うさぎに落花生畠を荒らされたのであろう。農民たちの話を聞くともなく聞いている芭蕉の姿が髣髴としてくる情景。 芭蕉は、若くして宮仕えをしているので農業を知らないようである。