Residence of New Plum
Born to a modest samurai family in Edo, Ota Nampo received a Confucian education, and by his middle teens he had not only succeeded to his hereditary position as castle guard but also published a study of Ming-dynasty poetic terms. He continued his studies in Chinese literature all his life but became more famous for gesaku (writing for fun) under the name Shokusanjin. He especially enjoyed the humorous five-section kyoka (mad poem), which has the same 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure as waka but is satiric in content. Although Nampo gave up this form for a time when the government forbade samurai to attend kyoka parties, he remained the quintessential master of this genre, which required both with and erudition.
Have hearts like flowers –
In the residence of new plum,
And in the residence of old plum.
This poem obviously refers to the “New Plum Residence” (Shin Ume Yashiki). This was (and still is) a garden also known as the “Garden of One Hundred Flowers of Mukojima” (Mukojima Hakka-en). The garden was laid out in 1804 by Sawara Kikuu (1762-1831), a wealthy antique shop owner with a serious interest in literature. Sawara moved in literary circles and was well acquainted with the painters and poets of the day, numbering among his friends the Confucian scholar Kameda Bosai (1752-1826), the artist Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) and the writer Ota Nampo.
Sawara set out to design a retreat in the manner of a Chinese literary garden. Friends contributed stones, engraving them with poems. The plum trees, flowers and plants they selected were all closely associated with the pages of Chinese and Japanese classic literature.
The garden was an ironic comment on, or rebuttal of, the culture of the ruling military class and their fondness for sprawling gardens replete with complex rock settings, clipped hedges and the recreation of famous scenery. A simple pond, grasses and trees growing in the most natural of ways are the extent of this modest garden of little more than two acres.
In 1784 (twenty years before Sawara planted his garden) in an attempt to visit the Seven Spirits of Good Fortune on a pilgrimage in Edo, Ota Nampo visited places to worship Ebisu, Hotei, Jurojin, Benzai-ten, Daikoku-ten, and Bishamonten. But he failed to find a shrine of Fukurokuju. And you will guess which Deity is worshiped in Kikuu’s garden: Fukurokuju. Sawara Kikuu and his friends established the “Sumidagawa Seven Deities Pilgrimage”, which still exists today.
The second poem written in smaller characters is about the three spirits of poetry, Sumiyoshi-gami, Tamatsushima-gami, Tenman-tenjin.
Over and over
The three spirits of poetry
Appear in the twilight –
On Akashi Bay,
On Waka Bay.