One of the most renowned poets from Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868), Matsuo Bashō is known for his travelogue Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), a collection of the haiku he read on his half-year, 1,500-mile-long journey from Tokyo to the north and back.
As such, there are many historic sites related to Bashō across Japan, and although not the among the most famous of these, the Site of Yatate Hajime in the Senju area cannot go unmentioned. The phrase yatate hajime originates from the haiku Bashō read at the start of his travels. It can be roughly translated as “the beginning of writing,” yatate being a historical writing set shaped like a smoking pipe. On March 27, 1689, Bashō sold off his house and set off on his journey, leaving on a boat at dawn. Arriving near Senju-ōhashi Bridge, he read a poem that goes:
Yuku haru ya
tori naki uo no
me wa namida
(“Spring passing; the birds cry out and the eyes of the fish are filled with tears”)
Today, the haiku is commemorated by a mural under Senju-ōhashi Bridge, as well as statues of Bashō on both sides of the river—because it is uncertain on which side he got off the boat, and is still a matter of heated debate.
Senju-ōhashi Bridge itself is of historic significance. Built in 1594, it stood for nearly 300 years until it was destroyed by a typhoon in 1885, a rare example of a wooden bridge surviving throughout the Edo period. It was restored the next year, and after an earthquake damaged it, it was rebuilt again in iron in 1927.
Legend has it that the original piles of Senju-ōhashi Bridge were made from the Japanese umbrella-pine wood brought by samurai lord Date Masamune. Even after the typhoon destroyed the bridge, one of the piles remained in the waters under it, and its location is marked by a buoy today. There is also a smaller bridge under Senju-ōhashi Bridge, designed to resemble an Edo period wooden bridge.
Know Before You Go
The bridge is within a five-minute walk from Senju-ōhashi Station. The north side statue can be found across the road from the bridge, while the south side one is located in front of Minami-Senju Station, about 10 minutes away from the bridge.