Sarashinayama, Kamurikiyama


Sarashinayama, Kamurikiyama

***** Location: Japan, Nagano
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Earth


Sarashinayama さらしなやま【更科山】 is the old name of a mountain in Nagano prefecture, now called Kamurikiyama 冠着山. It is 547 meters high.

Ubasuteyama (姨捨山) is the common name of Kamurikiyama (冠着山), a mountain in Chikuma, Nagano, Japan.

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Ubasute (姥捨, abandoning an old woman)
(also called "obasute" and sometimes "oyasute") refers to the custom allegedly performed in Japan in the distant past, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die, either by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. It "is the subject of legend, but [...] does not seem ever to have been a common custom".The practice was most common during times of drought and famine, and was sometimes mandated by feudal officials.

Ubasute has left its mark on Japanese folklore, where it forms the basis of many legends, poems, and koans. In one Buddhist allegory, a son carries his mother up a mountain on his back. During the journey, she stretches out her arms, catching the twigs and scattering them in their wake, so that her son will be able to find the way home.

A poem commemorates the story:

In the depths of the mountains,
Who was it for the aged mother snapped
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so
For the sake of her son

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Sarashinayama is associated with the moon of autumn.


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Worldwide use

Things found on the way

The practice of "abandoning old women" is known as ubasute, the custom that is thoughtfully discussed and visually poignantly portrayed in a 1983 Japanese film,
The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考 Narayama Bushiko),
by director Shohei Imamura.

Chen-ou Liu

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When the elderly started loosing their teeth, it was time for praparations to carry them to Obasuteyama.
I remember a scene from the movie, when grandmother, who was still very healthy and had all her teeth, felt she was a burden on her son and his bride.
So she knocked off her own teeth and asked the son to bring her to the mountain.

Gabi Greve


ichido mitaki Sarashina yama ya kaeru kari

all eager to see
Mount Sarashina...
departing geese

waga koi wa sarashina yama zo kaeru kari

"My lover
is at Mount Sarashina!"
the goose flies north

Kobayashi Issa
3 haiku about Mount Sarashina / Tr. by David Lanoue


jifubuki ya saki no saki made Ubasute-no

snowstorm blowing from the earth -
as far as the eye reaches
fields where old people are abandoned

Obara Takuyo 小原啄葉
Tr. Gabi Greve


Compiled by Larry Bole
. Happy Haiku Forum, June 2011 .

An excerpt from Matsuo Basho's haibun,
"An Account of the Moon at Mount Obasute in Sarshina"
(translated by David Landis Barnhill):

... The mountain runs southwesterly, about one league south of the village of Yawata. It is not particularly high, the rocks are not rugged, yet the whole mountain is permeated with the deep sadness of things. It is said that here "it is so difficult to be consoled."* and now I see why. I couldn't help grieving as I wondered how people could have abandoned elderly women, and the tears that fell compounded my melancholoy.

俤や 姨 ひとりなく月の友
於毛可けや 姥ひとりなく 月の友
omokage ya oba hitori naku tsuki no tomo

her face--
an old woman weeping alone
moon as companion

Barnhill's footnote:
*From an account of the legend in 'Tales of Yamato', the waka later included in the 'Kokinshuu':

waga kokoro
sarashina ya
obasuteyama ni
teru tsuki o mite

My heart
cannot be consoled,
here at Sarashina:
gazing upon the moon
on Mount Obasute

At another place, Barnhill has this comment about the haiku:
... The poem refers to a famous legend of a village with a custom of abandoning its old women. The custom was broken when one man returned to rescue his aunt the morning after he abandoned her on a moonlit night. The last line has been interpreted as the moon being the woman's companion, or the image of the woman being Basho's companion, as he views the moon.

'Omokage' means face, but also shadow, trace, image.
In 'Sarashina Journal' and the haibun
"The Moon on Mt. Obasute in Sarashina."

Chris Drake has this comment :

The hokku is from his short haibun Trip to Sarashina (更級紀行 Sarashina kikō). You can find a translation of the haibun in the Penguin collection by Nobuyuki Yuasa. Sarashina is the name of the village near Mt. Obasute, although the "original" Mt. Obasute is now believed to be one nearby the mountain believed to be Mt. Obasute in Basho's time. (There are different theories.) The haibun describes a trip Basho made specifically to see Mt. Obasute, since the September full moon above the mountain was one of the most famous sights in Japan. The hokku is perhaps the climax of the haibun as a whole, and it occurs near the end:

omokage ya oba hitori naku tsuki no tomo

her face!
an old woman weeping
moon her companion

The word omokage can mean both a visionary shape, visage, or appearance or an actual shape, features, face, or image depending on the context. In this case the context is supremely indefinite, so the hokku hovers on the edge of a moonlit scene that is both vision and reality. This hokku is one of many semi-shamanic poems and plays (including nō plays) in traditional Japanese literature, so Basho's readers wouldn't be surprised at his evocation of a vision.

Basho certainly does sees something, since he knows the nō play Obasute, in which the woman's spirit appears to a man from Kyoto who visits Mt. Obasute to view the harvest moon from the mountain's slope at a site near the abandoned woman's grave. The play doesn't include weeping, so Basho is probably referring to folk legends according to which the abandoned woman became a rock after her death -- a rock that weeps at night. Perhaps Basho is imagining that he is a kind of traveling monk figure in a nō play (called a waki or accompanying actor), that is, a haikai nō play taking place in real life. The moon is the only companion for the abandoned woman, and early in the nō play, before moonrise, she says the completely clear sky makes her very lonely, since even the clouds have abandoned her. At the same time, Basho also seems to be offering to be the woman's moon-viewing companion for a while as he transcends time and watches the same moon the woman watches in a timeless zone. Basho later told Kikaku he viewed the moon very late that night when there were few people around, so he no doubt did see a vision of himself alone together with the old woman's soul, and perhaps he prayed for her peace of mind and for her eventual entry into the Pure Land.

In the nō play the woman confesses that her soul is still attached to her former life and that she is unable to move on, so Basho may also be overlapping himself with Zeami, the author of the play, and regarding himself as Zeami's partner in their joint effort to help the woman's soul overcome her sorrow and her attachment and achieve liberation. Since there are no personal pronouns in the hokku, this overlapping wouldn't be unnatural. The woman's apparition/spirit, Basho, and Zeami may all be companions in viewing the full moon, a moon which is not only beautiful but which reflects Amida's shining compassion. Moonlight itself may suggest that Amida is also their companion, as the woman's spirit suggests in the play. Perhaps Basho wants to say that at one level we are all alone with the always moving moon in the transient, ever-changing world, and yet we should all be aware we are kindred companions and pray for each other.

Chris Drake


田毎の月 姥捨山 長楽寺
tamai no tsuki
source : katurada kaizan

tamai no tsuki "moon on the rice paddies"
is a famous wording about the moon, together with the autumn moon at Katsurahama 桂浜 in Tosa (Kochi) and at Ishiyamadera 石山寺 .

This haiku by Basho was written at temple Choraku-Ji in Nagano.
There are many stone memorials in this temple, closely related to the obasute custom of the region.

tamai no tsuki
obasute tanada 姨捨棚田 Obasute rice paddies in Nagano
The 48 paddies at the temple are especially famous.
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obasute no tamai ni tsuki o kubarikeri

source : naji

Related words

***** WKD : Japanese place names and Haiku

Sarashina Kikoo 更科紀行 - 更級紀行 Sarashina Journal
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .



Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Temples named
Choorakuji, Chōraku-ji 長楽寺 Choraku-Ji

Anonymous said...

Kobayashi Issa

ubasuteshi kata yama-zakura saki ni keri

on half of mount Ubasute
the wild cherry trees
are blossoming . . .