In Obuse Town, there is a temple called Ganshoin that is famous for a ceiling painting by ukiyo-e master Hokusai as well as being the setting for one of Issa’s most well-known haiku poems.
I had heard and read so much about the temple, so I was looking forward to seeing it in person. Do you really lie down on the tatami to look at Hokusai’s painting? From where did Issa watch the frog mating that inspired his poem?
I had so many questions!
And luckily, the lady behind the counter was full of answers. Not only did she cure my curiosity, but she shared a number of fascinating facets about the temple.
The thing that amazed me the most was regarding the pigments in Hokusai’s painting of a pheonix on the ceiling. I inquired if the colors were fading at all after being on display constantly for so many years. The lady told me when Hokusai picked the pigments, he calculated their natural evolution over time in such a way that the painting’s colors would be at their most brilliant 200 years after he finished. It’s been on display for 160 years, so that means in another 40 years from now, the painting will be at its peak coloration.
I’m 40 now, so that means I have to come back to see it again when I’m 80 years old!
There are so many stories in that one painting — hidden Mt. Fuji’s, depictions of age-old leaves and branches that had grown attached to the ‘ancient’ phoenix, the gruesome fact as to why no spiders ever make webs on the painting (some of the pigments were made from poisons), etc. etc.
And besides the fascinating painting, there was the garden and the pond that was the home to the frog mating ritual that inspired Issa to write his famous poem:
Makeru na! Issa,
Kore ni ari.”
Roughly translated, it means
Don’t give up! Issa
He apparently had taken pity on a smaller frog that was getting muscled out of the way competing with larger frogs for mating. The poem is said to have been dedicated to Issa’s son who was battling an illness. Unfortunately, the son died not long after Issa wrote the haiku.
I took a quiet moment absorbing the scene of the wood decked balcony overlooking the pond, home to the frolics of the battle frogs as well as to a poignant story of human drama from long, long ago.