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Exotic Dishes - Basho

1907 - 1982

A Remarkable Man who Created
a "Restful Universe" for Daily Life

Exotic Dishes - Basho on Itoya-dori
芭蕉の外観 If you stroll along Itoya-dori, the narrow street that runs on the west side of Honcho-dori, you can't help but notice the corner of a building covered with the thick foliage of trees and vines.

The arrival of spring is announced by the red blooms of a camellia, while in summer, the building is graced by a profusion of althea blossoms. Young branches of a zelkova tree drape over the roof of the building, reflecting the seasons as they come and go.

The entrance of the building can be found along a narrow footpath. As night falls, a lamp lights the way. A roof-covered sign announcing "Exotic Dishes - Basho" in quaint letters meets the eye of passers-by.
I think it will start raining flowers
give me one of the flowers, please
to amuse myself

hana ga futtekuru to omou
hitotsu hana wo kudasai
motte asobundesu
This poem, written by Jukichi Yagi, is inscribed on the noren which greets patrons at the entrance. When the noren is hanging over the door, the restaurant is open for business.

The restaurant's sliding door, which only opens part-way, admits one into a different world - the world of Basho. It has been referred to by some as "the creation of an insanely innocent space."

The meaning of this expression may at first escape comprehension, however, if you open yourself to the world of this "shop", little by little you will come to grasp its meaning. (A shop in Japanese is "mise," but the characters Gyoshin used form a play on words. The characters he used literally mean "to see the world," but as pronounced also mean "shop.")
The establishment named "Exotic Dishes - Basho" is a restaurant. It's most well-known dish is curry. When ordering this course, the first dish to be served is a well-chilled salad followed by piping hot soup. The handmade pottery is unassuming yet warm. The large, oval salad plates are hand-formed and the rims are trimmed in a delightful cobalt blue.

The wide soup bowls, turned on a potter's wheel, are served on a wooden tray. They have small handles or ears and their thick pottery construction serves well to maintain the heat of the soup.

A shiitake mushroom dish can be ordered as an hors d'oeuvre. Here, three varieties of mushrooms are served on a well-adapted plate. And it goes without saying that the restaurant's renowned curry is quite delicious.

Basho's coffee has an intense flavor. The coffee cups were designed by Gyoshin himself. Desserts change with the seasons and are arranged nonchalantly on a plate. You may be tempted to think this is nothing out of the ordinary... and you would be right. Unassuming hospitality is Basho's hallmark.
The dishes are seasoned expertly and those dishes which have become favorites are cherished by the management. This reflects the loving consideration which has been carefully bestowed on each item on the menu.

The ambiance of Basho cannot be appreciated from just one glance. No two tables are alike... the lighting varies as do the chimes which hang at each table and are used to call for service. This building, with its many nooks and crannies, somehow achieves the feeling of "unbounded space." Even in the narrowest enclosure, one can sense the spirit of Gyoshin Koike.
"kokoro hana ni... "

Gyoshin's calligraphic works are all of a practical nature. The signboard at the lighted entrance, the calligraphy found at the tables, various and sundry signs and notices... these handwritten texts are rarely written on paper. For the most part, they are inscribed on small "ema" (wooden votive pictures of a horse, usually found at temples or shrines.)

In the beginning, Gyoshin wrote out each day's menu by hand. The envelopes in which chopsticks are placed change every two months and always bear a poem of Basho along with a Haiku illustration. The menu and chopstick envelopes were designed by Gyoshin himself. To appreciate the illustrated poem as originally drawn, Gyoshin selected the paper quality and printing colors himself. They are truly worth seeing.

Gyoshin's calligraphy forms the nucleus of his collection which he referred to as "commercial art," His resist-dyed (chusen) calligraphy is also unforgettable. Gyoshin has left a sizable collection of tenugui (hand towels), furoshiki (wrapping cloths), noren (shop door curtains), posters and yukata (cotton kimonos).

The archeologist who discovered the Iwajuku Prehistoric Site in Kasakake, Tadahiro Aizawa, decorated a wall in his room with a tenugui (cotton hand towel) on which Gyoshin's calligraphy was resist-dyed. Aizawa found the sentiment on the towel to be a source of encouragement.

Gyoshin's final calligraphy, an adaptation of a Basho haiku, was written in crayon:
the heart
is not human

hana ni
hito ni arazu

The Haiku poet, Basho, originally wrote:

the heart without flowers
is bestial

kokoro hana ni arazareba
choju ni ruisu
At the end of 1981, an exhibition was held at the Kiryu City Bunka Center entitled, "Under the Day - Over the Day" in which several of Gyoshin's resist-dyed calligraphy appeared. Various exhibitors were asked to submit a representative motto. These mottos were displayed next to their works of art. Gyoshin selected the above crayon-written poem as his motto. The word "heart" is written in hiragana, and Basho's wording, "arazareba" has been changed to "arazunba." "Choju ni ruisu" (is bestial) is emphatically amended to "hito ni arazu" (is not human).
Gyoshin coined many concise and accurate expressions, all of them having emerged from the inner reaches of his heart where he ruminated on them, turning them over in his mind until he arrived at just the right form of expression.
Ideas which captivated him he rewrote in his own words, and recorded them in the form of calligraphy. These he would allow to "cool" until they had become well-tempered, and then, at just the right moment, he would bring them to light.
a mind which has bitten down on a pear tree
fells even the mightiest tree
a sword driven in up to the hilt

nashi ni kaburitsuku kokoro
taiboku wo kiritaosu kokoro
tsubamoto he kirikome
These are stern words. Gyoshin chose these four lines, and made a woodcut engraving of the poem expressed in his own calligraphy. The original source is "Sanzoshi," a three volume collection of Basho's poetry published by Doho Hattori, a disciple of Basho, tens years after his death. For those who aspire to learning haiku, there is much to be gained from this collection.
"Ki saki" figuratively refers to the point of a sword, indicating a heart bursting with enthusiasm. The next line refers to grappling a rather easy task, that being the cutting down of a pear tree. The poem states in the next line, however, that with such enthusiasm and determination, the mind can potentially fell even the mightiest tree. Finally, it figuratively compares such a keen mind to running full tilt while aiming at the heart of one's opponent. Basho, called the patron saint of Haiku, passing on his wisdom to his disciples in a this collection of his poetry, sums his philosophy up in these four lines.
Some of Gyoshin's Charming Woodcuts
本Gyoshin created many woodcuts of his calligraphy. Drawing from the works of Jean Cocteau, Kotaro Takamura (poet and sculptor), Jukichi Yagi (poet), Korean poets and others, he has left behind a wealth of woodcuts. Some of his calligraphy can be found on paper; some he dyed in fabric. Tenugui (cotton hand towels), which have been stencil and resist-dyed (chusen), yukata (cotton kimonos), noren (cotton shop door curtains), furoshiki (wrapping cloths) - there are enough of these items alone to form an exhibition.
One unforgettable item is a gown from the singer, David Bowie, the back of which had been embroidered with Gyoshin's calligraphy, dancing across the fabric. Another memorable item is a red "chanchanko" or sleeveless kimono jacket which was beautifully embroidered in silver thread with Gyoshin's calligraphy, and made to celebrate the career of Monjiro Kiritake, a doll-maker and Living National Treasure. These things are recorded in a novel by Chijakucho Seto.
Posters, bookbinding, illustrations, wrapping paper, matchbook covers, mounting boards - Gyoshin's calligraphy has been used in every form imaginable. Depending on how it was to be used, he sometimes wrote in romanization, while other times he tried combining different characters together, which he recommended to others. All of Gyoshin's calligraphy was created to be useful. He was often heard to say, "Calligraphy becomes human." None of his calligraphy was ever made to be framed as a wall-hanging.
"Ki-Shin-An" (A Private Dining Room)
芭蕉の中の茶室"READING TEA"

Gyoshin Koike believed each day was precious and never spent an ordinary day in his life. To him, daily life included the usual, the commonplace and the unimportant. And, like one's daily nourishment, discussing the issues of the day while drinking tea or eating meals was indispensable. To Gyoshin, these ordinary days were very important, and were etched into the hours of his irreplaceable life.
Gyoshin loved tea more than anything else. "Exotic Dishes - Basho" was created by Gyoshin and in this unique space, there is a tiny room that serves as its center. A small ema hangs above the sliding door of the room's miniature entrance, reminiscent of tea houses. The characters "shasendo" are written on it in black ink and to the right is written, "A place to read tea." (cha wo yomu tokoro). To the left, "shasendo" is written in furigana, and in the corner, in small letters is written, "Gyoshin's private room."
In the expression "read tea" (cha wo yomu) the character "yomu" has deep significance. Ordinarily, we would only associate this word with reading text, however, in the true Japanese spirit of the word (yamato kotoba), "yomu" assumes many meanings. It can refer to writing poetry or songs, to grasp the meaning or content of something, to seek and find something hidden, to take measure of something, to dream something, or to foster the imagination... all of these ideas are implied.
The Shasendo is a very special tea room and served as well as a visitor&-43s room. Everything related to Gyoshin, the master, is enclosed in this room. Those who were fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit Gyoshin, spent a memorable time in the Shasendo, drinking tea and engaged in conversation with him. No one failed to come away impressed. Each one left with his/her own special memories, and not a one would ever forget the spirit of Gyoshin in the Shasendo, and the experience of "reading tea" with him.
Both young and old visited him along with guests from overseas. They came to the Shasendo and there often experienced the Japanese spirit for the first time, according to reports from many North Americans and Europeans to whom Gyoshin opened his heart.
Visitors to the narrow enclosure, "Shasendo," never ran out of topics for discussion and they were steeped in the pleasure of his tea. When drinking tea with Gyoshin, he sometimes said, "Most people perceive tea as simply something to drink, but in this they are mistaken. The tea we are drinking now has not been brewed - it has been steeped. To call it brewed is not correct. Japanese refined tea, or any high grade tea leaves should more appropriately be called 'Seicha' (pure tea).
Seicha leaves used in the Shasendo were selected from many different tea growing areas, including the well-known Uji, Ureshino, Yame and even tea leaves from the Umeda district of Kiryu which were also very popular.
Second Floor: A Private Group Dining Room
グループルーム In the springtime, Gyoshin was concerned with the weather because it influenced the quality of the tea harvest which always takes place in spring. In addition to seicha, Gyoshin was also fond of kocha (black tea) and Chinese tea as well. "Though I am not ill, I drink bancha (coarse roasted tea) and I cannot understand why anyone would think I am using tea of inferior quality." He was often heard to say, "To truly savor the flavor of tea is possible only if one deeply loves it." Other tea-related pronouncements include, "Both tea and coffee should be considered artistic forms for human comfort and solace."
Gyoshin also truly loved coffee. "The flavor of coffee is difficult to master." "As for seicha and kocha, if the highest grades are selected and prepared with the heart, that is all that is required to achieve a good result. But with coffee, no matter how good a quality of beans is selected, if they are not properly roasted, it all comes to nothing." "Good coffee is clear. Even if left for a week, it won't grow cloudy, and the flavor won't change." "Whenever I go on a trip, I always take seicha and a thermos with me. I never drink coffee or black tea prepared in other places." "Seicha is a neat and beautiful woman. Coffee is an enchanting beauty. Fine coffee and tea are the highest artistic forms of human comfort."
On most days, Gyoshin devoted his heart and soul to the creation of a unique ambiance for Basho, sitting in the Shasendo, drinking tea. This was the extraordinary life of Gyoshin.
The "Ema-Do" Private Dining Room

From his youth, Gyoshin was interested in flowers and he considered them his best friends. It could not be said, however, that he loved any and all flowers. According to Gyoshin, having no likes or dislikes was to lack the power of discernment. In such a condition, the world of beauty would never have come into existence.
Gyoshin never used the term "ikebana" (flower arranging), but rather referred to "rikka" (a standing arrangement of flowers) or "kagei" (flower arts). He considered dignity and space to be of great importance, which he is said to have learned from the Soami Seiryu School of flower arranging. According to this school of thought, "The art of flower arranging is not an occupation. If it becomes an occupation, then vulgarity will be introduced into it."
Gyoshin's dream was to build a flower enclosure. He constructed a 30 cm earthen bank in which he planted Japanese bush clover (hagi) and Japanese roses (yamabuki). In the spring, he loved to see yamabuki blooming in the mountains where he walked and in the fall, he loved the bush clover and the harvest moon. He said, "Nature without flowers is like a beautiful woman without eyes. In this world, flowers are most precious and nothing can take their place. I could not exist without loving flowers very, very deeply.
Even now, seasonal wild flowers continue to thrive at Basho.

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