Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868). He is revered by many people, both in Japan and the West, including former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy (also the first council president of the European Union) that made him as a Haiku enthusiast rather famous in Japan.
There are many places in Japan to go to when you are a fan of Bashō. His travels brought him all over Japan, in particular many places in the Tōhoku region as he is most well-known for his poetic travelogue titled The Narrow Road to the Deep North (in Japanese: Oku no Hosomichi).
There are a couple of places with particular significance during his lifetime that lead to the construction of a couple of Bashō museums (I counted three). He was born in Iga Ueno (Kansai region) where you can visit the Basho Memorial Museum and his Birth House. However, he wrote his most important work while living in Edo (old name for Tokyo), where he moved in the spring of 1672 (aged 28) to further his study of poetry. After he lived in Edo for nine years, he made the surprising decision to move to Fukagawa in 1680 to get out of the public eye, where he lived until his death in 1694. At that time, Fukagawa was more countryside than city and he lived there in a rustic hut built by his disciples. It was a time when there were no bridges crossing the Sumida river, so he was quite isolated there. Fukagawa became the place where he wrote many of his masterpieces and was the starting point for his many travels through Japan.
The following 5 spots in Fukagawa are worth your time:
1. Saito-an Remains
This is an appropriate place to start as this was the location Bashō started this travels to the north in 1689 that lead to the book The Narrow Road to the Deep North (in Japanese: Oku no Hosomichi). Saito-an was the villa of one of his disciples called Sugiyama Sanpuu. What is left is a small facade (newly built) and a statue of Bashō sitting on a porch. It is actually not certain this was the right spot, but apparently it is bound to be very close.
Bashō ready to go on a trip.
Name in Japanese: 採荼庵跡
2. Haiku path
From Saito-an Remains, you can take the small road along the river which is the Haiku path (you will see the wooden arrows that point to this road on the right hand side of Saito-an Remains), if you follow this dirt-path towards the next bridge, you will come across many haiku written on wooden panels. Please note that they are all in Japanese. But do not worry, Japanese themselves have some difficulty understanding them. No shame in popping out your phone’s dictionary to try to better understand them.
The Haiku path along the canal.
Name in Japanese: 芭蕉俳句の散歩道
3. Bashō Inari Shrine
It is not known anymore where exactly Bashō lived in Fukagawa. However, a clue was found when in 1917 a large tsunami hit the area and unearthed a stone frog. As it is known that Bashō liked these creatures (look no further than his most famous haiku about the leaping frog). To commemorate the discovery, this shrine was built here and you can find indeed a stone frog in this extremely little shrine (not the real one).
Entrance of the Bashō Inari Shrine.
Name in Japanese: 芭蕉稲荷神社
4. Basho Memorial Outlook Garden
This garden is actually just a very small rooftop garden, where aside from a bronze Bashō statue, you have spectacular views of the Sumida river and Kiyosubashi bridge. It is built at the connection of the small Onagi river and the Sumida river and is an official part of the Basho museum. The location of this small garden is thought to be one of the places where Bashō used to live in Fukagawa. Inside the garden, you have many information panels about Bashō (all in Japanese). You enter the garden through a withered wooden gate and a stone staircase.
Bashō statue and info panels at the outlook garden.
Opening hours: 9:15-16:30
Entrance fee: free
Name in Japanese: 芭蕉庵史跡展望庭園
5. Bashō Memorial Museum
This museum is also built at a possible location of one of Bashō’s huts. The exact location of these huts, with the famous banana tree next to it that gave rise to his pen name (Bashō literally translates as Banana tree). The museum itself has actually not that much on offer, some memorabilia related to Bashō on the first floor with as highlight the stone frog that was unearthed in 1917 after a large tsunami hit the area. On the second floor there is a special exhibition (usually something related to Haiku). I think the museum is most interesting in terms of their activities and courses. For example, around the time of my visit they were organising an introduction course to Haiku in 5 consecutive weeks. Please note everything is in Japanese.
The Bashō Memorial Museum building, opened in 2002.
Entrance fee: JPY 200 (groups above 20 have a discount, as well as elementary school students)
Opening hours: 9:30-17:00 (last entry 16:30). Closed every 2nd and 4th Monday each month. On Tuesday of the previous day is a national holiday. Also closed during the end of year, start of year holiday period.
Website: https://www.kcf.or.jp/basho/ (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 芭蕉記念館
Please note that none of the places in the above list have English information. Some Japanese skills are required to fully enjoy them.