In this most unhurried, most forsaken of villages where not a single shop seems worthy of the term, where a ferry timetable hangs redundant, we are trying to locate a Basho kuhi. When at long last we bump into a local fisherman, and ask about Matsuo Basho, he looks dismayed: ‘There’s nobody by that name around here.’ Must rely on instinct. An hour later you spy a flight of stairs leading up a verdant hill. To reach the shrine on top one must tiptoe through a minefield of dozing cats in front of a grey torii.
Under summer’s moon
The octopus is said to be one of the most intelligent creatures of the sea, able to figure its way out of all kinds of mazes, puzzles and traps. Long ago, however, the Japanese figured out the invertebrate’s love of hiding in small spaces and devised a deceptively simple contraption for catching them: a baited cylindrical clay pot lined with a mesh net and a trap door. These takotsubo (蛸壺, octopus pots) can be found piled and stacked up against seawalls in towns and villages along the Seto Inland Sea, where octopus is part of the daily diet.
Looking for one thing
finding another —
Late Summer, 2015
kuhi – a haiku stone on which a poem is engraved
Fourteen Hailstones gathered at Yase in early May for the fifth in a series of poetic encounters with the Round Kyoto Trail. Speedily we rose to the heights of Mount Hiei.
from the cable car
we spot a deer in the trees —
it spots us back
Transported to a new perspective we gazed out over the Kyoto hills.
Bamboo grasses of Mount Hiei
to their Arashiyama cousins
Before long we could look over the great inland sea that lies on the far side of the mountain.
From the fresh green hills
young maple leaves
frame lake Biwa
Intensity of green
this vaccination crisis
Traversing the western temple precincts we were captured by the solemn atmosphere of the holy mountain.
My prayer stone —
I leave it on a fence post
along this mountain trail
Offering a cherry flower
to Saicho —
the wind blows it away
in the thousand year old temple —
Ashes in the sky
settling on the new spring leaves,
eternal peace found
Sunning on the perfumed mountain
by the peace bell —
Along the trail, rich with the colours and scents of late spring, we discovered insectivorous flowers.
by a pitcher plant –
a swarm of excited hikers
Striding over the mountain ridge we reached a high viewpoint where, for a thousand years, pilgrims have paused to pray for the well-being of the Emperor.
to the holy cedar tree —
wind shaken leaves
Descending toward Ohara the youngest member of our party, seven-year-old Noah, raced ahead with impish glee.
Running down the trails
falling so many times —
what a great day!
We had struggled over the highest and most difficult section of the Round Kyoto Trail. On the long descent our legs grew weary and our hearts heavy as we spoke of the travails friends and family have faced over the past year.
stricken people …
and then the mountain ends
We came to rest at a riverside, taking time to enjoy shared friendship and the prospect of further adventures.
green leaves pushed apart —
those distant mountains
are so blue
with comments by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)
From a lot of new haiku submitted these past few months, I have selected the following eight and will comment on each of them. But first, I should like to tell you briefly what kind of haiku I prefer. Ezra Pound’s famous words “direct treatment of the ‘thing’” are often used to explain haiku, but I have always thought that this shows only one side of haiku. I much prefer William Blake’s famous lines “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower”. They describe haiku much better. I believe that haiku must show infinity in an image of a moment. Of the many submitted, there are only a few that come close to my conviction.
two varied tits
came from the coppice
fused into cherry blossom
Yoshiharu Kondo, Shiga
I like this poem because it successfully conveys the joy we all have when cherry blossoms come to bloom. It would be better to put a dash at the end of the second line to separate the third line. In Japanese haiku we use kireji (cutting word), but I think you can get the same effect by using a dash. It shows the last line belongs to a different level of experience.
my new Jawa bike –
the dragonfly comes back
for a second look
Kanchan Chatterjee, India
I have always liked dragonflies since boyhood. There is something humorous about the dragonfly in this poem. Dragonflies have big compound eyes and they can see certain things very well – for example, another dragonfly far away. I wonder what this dragonfly saw in the poet’s bicycle.
hot sunny day …
ants changing their
course of action
Lakshmi Iyer, India
I chose this poem because a line of ants is a favourite topic in Japanese haiku. I feel, though, that this poem needs to be more precise in its presentation of ants’ action. “Changing course” fails to show us what the ants are doing. I suppose ants changed their course because of the heat. If so, you could say, “ants changed their course / going through the leaves.” You must think once more about Ezra Pound’s words I quoted above.
one pink Japanese
magnolia petal on
the black, wet road –
Sydney Solis, Florida
I have chosen this poem for two reasons: first, because it has four lines and second, because magnolia is used as a midwinter seasonal word. I have no objection to four-line haiku. I sometimes feel three-line haiku too short and truncated, especially if each line contains only one word or just a few words. But the one-word line in this haiku, however, can be justified. My second point is about magnolia. In Japan it blooms in spring. Does it really bloom in midwinter in Florida? If the last line had been “midwinter weather”, it would have been easier for me to have understood the poem.
the sun’s rays light up
the lone gecko
This is an impressive poem. During World War II, I used to live in a farmhouse with a few geckos. In Japanese, a gecko is called yamori, which means “a keeper of the house”. Geckos used to frighten me, suddenly dropping down from ceilings and walls. A gecko is truly a symbol of an empty house. I am glad to see this poem.
arriving at a tea shop
after a long trek …
a puppy greets me
K. Ramesh, Tamil Nadu
This is a heart-warming poem. It is nice to have a welcome of this kind when you are tired. It would be even nicer if the author had given us a more detailed description of the puppy. I live in a home for aged people where no animals are allowed, but there is one cat that lives with us. Here is my poem about it:
On a balmy day
I whistle to the white cat —
My greeting ignored.
Sleepless night in spring
My love’s gentle breath is a
Melody of peace
This is an impressive poem, soothing and heart-warming. The only thing I am worried about is the way the second line ends. It is better, I think, to close it as a complete line and use a dash to emphasize the last line; for example, “My love’s gentle breath is heard — / A melody of peace”.
wind picking up –
suddenly from glassy lake
Ingrid Baluchi, North Macedonia
In this poem, “Hokusai waves” are used very effectively, and the speed with which they rise from the glassy lake is impressive. The only thing I am slightly worried about is the lack of season word. Of course I am aware of the legitimacy of non-season haiku, but in describing a scene like this, the use of a seasonal word is desirable.
At last, after coronavirus cancellations and a rain postponement the previous week, a real opportunity to celebrate our new book! 3 April 2021 – Hailstone held a hanami kukai (haiku evaluation meet) in Uji, on a large groundsheet on Nakanoshima Island under some of its still-blossoming cherry trees. Participants read aloud and commented on their favourite 3 haiku from the ‘I Wish‘ anthology (published last December). Afterwards, a ginko (composition stroll) was held on the north bank of the river, visiting Uji Shrine, the Heian Period Ujikami Shrine, and the rocky approach to Koshoji Temple.
Kukai Winning Haiku (3 votes):
…… Like a Kabuki actor
…… an old persimmon tree
…… posing alone
……………. Hitomi Suzuki
Runner-up (2 votes):
…… This colour
…… squeezed from sky and earth,
…… a tinted leaf falls
……………. Miki Kotera
Congratulations to both poets. Your haiku were selected as favourites from a field of 218 in the book!
That very week, Masahiro Nakagawa had sent in this haiku:
…… ‘I Wish’ —
…… I finish reading it
…… as cherry petals fall
The cover of the book, by Richard Steiner, also portrays streaming cherry petals. Now, here we were celebrating its publication and enjoyment on the last possible day for a hanami this year.
…… Lips get eloquent
…… at the outdoor haiku gathering …
…… wandering cherry petals
……………. Akihiko Hayashi
………………………….. on a blooming cherry —
………………………….. a wish to be transformed?
………………………………………… Kyoko Norma Nozaki
…… Through cherry blossoms
…… blushes of sunlight visit
…… our picnic lunch
……………. Akira Kibi
………………………….. “One more night”
………………………….. whispered to the station cherry –-
………………………….. rainclouds in the west
A Mead-Hall of the Mind by J Hahn Doleman (USA)
An (Cottage) Prizes
Wintering Grounds by Marietta McGregor (Australia)
The Departing by Manoj Nair (India)
Call to Prayer by Matthew Caretti (USA)
Donnybrook Graveyard by Glenda Cimino (Ireland)
Bells on New Year’s Eve by Akihiko Hayashi (Japan)
Afternoon Memories by Margherita Petriccione (Italy)
Morning Zoo by Jennifer Hambrick (USA)
Great Horned Owl by Margaret Chula (USA)
Village Clean Up by Diarmuid Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Judges: Akiko Takazawa, Stephen Henry Gill, Sean O’Connor
Officer: Junko Oda
This year we had a record field of 139 entries from approx. 20 countries. For the first time, our entries came in by email, and not everyone stated where they live. Warm congratulations to all awardees, who will in due course receive certificates, judges’ comments and (the top four only) prizes. The 2021 prize-winning pieces are now available to read on a dedicated page here at the Icebox. A little later on, they will also be published in The Haibun Journal.
The forty-meter Basho-o Ekotobaden 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 scroll exhibition at the Otsu Museum of History turned out to be an absorbing experience for the 8 Hailstone poets who visited it on 14 March. At least 2 more went on their own on separate occasions. It finishes on 11 April, so there is still time. The scroll was commissioned of painter Kano Shoei 狩野正栄 as part of the 100th anniversary of Basho’s death (prior to 1794) and depicts the Master as a young man in Iga-Ueno, on his literary pilgrimages (Matsushima, Ise, Yoshino, etc.), in his retreats (Basho-an, Genjuan, Rakushisha, etc.), as well as his death in Osaka, and his grave at Gichuji Temple 義沖寺, not far from the Museum itself. This was the Life of Basho in meticulous style painting and beautiful calligraphy. Basho’s camellia-wood staff, Yayu’s desk with a crescent moon inset, and many other interesting exhibits augment this landmark exhibition, which shows how Basho became so revered and how his school of haiku 蕉門 was re-envigorated by poets such as Chomu 蝶夢, Kyotai 暁台, and Buson as 100 years were chalked up.
Afterwards, somewhat exhausted, for a while we rested on benches at the Museum, looking out across Lake Biwa. It was such a beautiful spring day that we decided to go for a stroll towards the northwest, where Tito had found out that there is a tiny dilapidated temple, Homyoin 法明院, in the grounds of which the American orientalist, Ernest Fenollosa, has his grave (Basho’s is at the other end of Otsu). The mountain temple is reached by an overgrown grassy path and a lot of wonky stone steps. When we arrived at the main hall there was no one around. We noticed a can hanging on the gatepost asking for donations upon entry and we duly put in some coins and walked around the unkempt garden, ravaged by wild boars, but with some trees putting out blossom and unfurling new leaves… up a further flight of steps to Fenollosa’s grave. He had done translation work with Ezra Pound more than a century ago, helping us to a better understanding of the beauty of Chinese poetry, and, with Okakura Kenshin, had helped to preserve the artistic heritage of Japan at the precarious time of the Shinbutsu Bunri movement. He saved many Buddhas from destruction, finally becoming a Buddhist himself.
of conversation on Basho,
………. (Akihiko Hayashi)
for us to pass
beneath its wire perch -–
the first swallow!
The lake is calm,
with distant yachts —
bursting cherry blossoms
………. (Kyoko Nozaki)
Offering a camellia
to Fenollosa’s tomb ―
bush warblers call
………. (Yaeno Azuchi)
Sun. 7 March 16:00 (JST). 14 Hailstones and special guest, Michael D. Welch, came together to read haiku, senryu, cirku, tanka, haibun and haipho. Each poet was given up to 5 mins. The share-screen function proved useful in allowing us to see the words that were being read. Host, David McCullough, had collected most things in advance and made a pdf file to use. It was also good to be able to appraise visual material like photo haiku or illustrations explaining haiku (e.g. seasonal flowers). The theme was introduced by chair-for-the-day, Tito, who first read us an excerpted translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa of Kikaku’s account of Basho’s Final Days, Basho-o Shuenki, including his death and funeral and the beginnings of the Basho School 蕉門 — for endings invariably lead to beginnings, and vice versa.
A hat to cover
the body of our master,
withered pampas leaves (Kikaku)
Sean O’Connor, editor of The Haibun Journal and judge of the Genjuan Contest, joining us from Ireland, next read a short sequence of haiku.
from my father’s bed
wrapped in snow
Hitomi Suzuki followed with two beautiful haipho. Here is one (click on photo to enlarge):
David McCullough then read four short poems, one of which was on the theme of the first mile of running a marathon:
It was interesting that two more poets – Noriko Kan and Akihiko Hayashi – also shared running or jogging haiku later on! Genjuan judge, Akiko Takazawa, also still runs marathons, but unfortunately she could not be present at the meet.
Ursula Maierl next entertained us with her heartfelt haibun, ‘The Final Baguette’, about two customers splitting the last loaf in a bread shop at the end of day!
one small baguette
stands upright —
half-wrapped in brown paper
Mayumi Kawaharada then read a sequence of haiku, ‘Freeze – Under Covid-19’:
Tourist-less road —
Left in the silence
Reiko Kuwataka’s poem provoked some discussion – haiku in form, but tanka in sentiment:
A long time
since I last saw her —
high cloud, overcast
Tito then showed us some cirku made into haipho. (Mistletoe is ヤドリギ in Japanese; click on photo to enlarge.)
Kyoko Nozaki made us hungry with her haiku and photo of newly harvested radishes. David Stormer Chigusa (in Tokyo) told us he usually tries to compose haiku using a 4-6-4 consonant template and gave us some recent examples. Akihiko Hayashi reminded us of the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Great Tsunami and Fukushima Meltdown disaster by sharing with us a psychological haiku:
Over unruffled waters
it’s threatening to snow —
‘Emergency!’, the caption unscrolls
Noriko Kan (in Matsuyama) gave us one haiku containing the very contemporary image of masked meditators. Michael Dylan Welch (Washington State, co-founder of Haiku N. America and former ed. of Woodnotes, the journal which had organized in 1996 what was perhaps the world’s first English haibun contest), gave us another memorable coronavirus image:
Covid Christmas —
so few presents
under the tree
We also read aloud poetic offerings sent in by Fred Schofield (Leeds), Catherine Urquhart (Edinburgh) and Akishige Ida (Nara), who were all unable to attend. Sydney Solis (Florida) joined to listen only. Richard Donovan, delayed by another online event, at which he received his recent translation Grand Prix, performed for us a cameo role near the end of the meet.
From England, Lawrence Jiko Barrow joined us at his 7am. His haiku on the theme of ‘beginning’ was:
Arrival of spring —
the banana tree reveals
a bright green shoot
Jiko has recently planted a banana palm in his garden in England. He told us that he hopes it will prompt him to remember Basho (whose name means ‘banana palm’) and to compose haiku a little more frequently! The appearance of the shoot gives us all hope the palm will survive.
Today, the Basho School continues in spirit in many parts of Japan and the world, including through Hailstone, which is based in Kansai, celebrating life in and around Basho’s Shuenchi (Final Territory). We all try to do our best for the Okina 翁 (Master) and what he taught.
13 Feb. ’21 turned out to be a very warm winter day. Spring came early, just for us. (Now we’ve reverted back to winter, with snow this morning on the hills!) Seven Hailstones had gathered to hike the Nishiyama stretch of Kyoto’s Isshu Trail. Outside Kamikatsura Station, as some were new to our events, we went round introducing ourselves and, out of interest, adding our ‘provenance’ – Northern Ireland, Japan, Holland, England, Japan, New Zealand, … oh, and America, too, when that poet had finally arrived! Up the slope past a hollow, knobbly, 400-year-old muku tree; the bamboo grove pathway to Jizo-in Temple; and on towards the dark, wooden gates of Kokedera, whose moss-swathed garden, hidden behind a long wall, was laid out by the Zen monk-gardener, Muso Soseki.
Seeking ume blossom;
like hanging up a bell
in the blue sky
Spring morning －
the woman with a watering can
waves and walks away
Ume is Japanese apricot (conventionally misnamed ‘plum’). A little way up the brook beside the temple, we entered a zone of bamboo forest in which there are numerous tumuli from the Kofun period, likely connected with the ancient Hata family, who moved from the Asian continent three centuries or more before Kyoto (Heian-kyo) itself was founded. We also came upon a standing stone inscribed with the characters 山の神さん (the Mountain God), before which all those who enter the hills are supposed to offer up a prayer.
By the old capital
a mountain god sits still －
murmuring water of spring
We climbed steeply up the shoulder of the ridge behind Tsukiyomi Jinja (ancient Hata shrine to the Moon God), finding out what sweat feels like in February. We decided to take a break and eat our packed lunches high on the hill at a place with a view out through the harugasumi (kigo – spring haze) to the Kizu River gap, halfway down to Nara. Talk of Ikkyu, who as a child had spent time at Jizo-in below, and Taketori Monogatari, the story of Princess Kaguyahime, who had come down to Earth from the Moon and later been found by an old couple in a bamboo grove many say was modelled on those here in Nishiyama. The fact that bears are sometimes sighted in the wilderness area between here and Sasayama was also thoroughly discussed! Just then, a white-masked man dangling a bear-warning bell from his backpack ran past …
Awakened from slumber
By the chatter of poets －
Stephen then forewarned the party of a choice they would soon have to make up ahead: to descend, or not, risking life and limb, to the sacred Rock Sanctuary (磐座) in the forest high above Matsuo Taisha! I may exaggerate slightly, but it was no easy task – very steep and with few sturdy tree roots to hold onto. Most made it down.
Eyes on our footing
Sliding down the hill too far …
Then up to the Rock!
There, after duly paying our respects to the massive rock outcrop, some lithic poems were read out by Stephen, including one by Kathleen Raine beginning “There is stone in me that knows stone,/ Substance of rock that remembers the unending unending / Simplicity of rest …”
Beneath the holy crag
even songbirds lose voice
and still, the mountain waits
Furrowed brow －
The ancient rock
Asks us who we are
After coming to a standstill for what seemed like forever in that pristine place, we clambered back up the cliff to the trail and proceeded to the high point of the haike, a col just short of the summit of Arashiyama, looking out over Sagano. We could make out, directly below us, Togetsukyo, Moon-crossing Bridge, the rooves of Tenryuji and Seiryoji Temples beyond, and the green backdrop of Mt. Atago and the continuation of the Isshu Trail up to Takao and thence eastwards through the undulating Northern Hills past Sawanoike Pond, ways some of us had hiked (or run!) last year. Mt. Hiei was visible far-off in the east: it seemed to be beckoning us over for some future poetic event.
We descended sharply past Iwatayama, with its vociferous monkeys, going in and out of bamboo forest once more, until we came to the Oi River at Arashiyama. There, over tea and coffee, at an outside table between pines, we shared our haiku scribblings with much laughter and in due celebration of Richard Donovan’s winning of this year’s JLPP Translation Grand Prize. Later, possibly feeling rich, he graciously picked up the tab! Cafe Emu is run by Kenji Yoshida, a local friend of Stephen’s, and he sent us all away with postcards of Arashiyama in our pockets. “My pleasure (Saabisu),” Kenji said, hoping we’d understand his one English line.
I first met Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) in London in 1994 during the Basho 300th celebrations I’d organized for London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies and the British Haiku Society. During that year, BHS held a series of events including a conference, a long-distance haiku hike, an international renga, and a haiku reading-cum-balloon launch. Together with London U. Prof. of Japanese Lit., Andrew Gerstle, I edited and published the fruits of our celebrations (conference papers, including one by Nobuyuki, renga, haibun, etc.) as Rediscovering Basho a few years later. For the cover, we obtained permission from Gichuji Temple in Otsu to reproduce a portrait of Basho on horseback taken from their amazing scroll painting, 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho-okina Ekotobaden, executed by Kano Shoei towards the end of the Eighteenth Century to celebrate Basho’s 100th.
It just so happens that today (Feb. 11), when I visited Rakushisha (the House of Fallen Persimmons, where Basho had written his Saga Diary back in 1691), I picked up a flyer advertising an exhibition at Otsu Historical Museum 大津市歴史博物館 opening later this month at which for the first time the scroll will be shown in its entirety, all 40 meters of it. It shows Basho on his Oku no Hosomichi (Deep North) and other travels at various locations accompanied by Sora, so Hailstone will certainly hold an event to go and see it soon. One illustration shows B at Ukimido, the Floating Pavilion on Lake Biwa, location for Hailstone’s first ever event (Nov. 2000). Get in touch with me if interested. Museum site link
Serendipitously, also today, Nobuyuki has just sent me a few of his latest haiku celebrating the season of Setsubun (early February, trad. beginning of spring), which also includes his own birthday (Feb. 10, just turned 89 years old!). He confesses to me that recently he has been feeling lazy and, although still composing, cannot face posting directly onto the Icebox at present, so I shall do so for him. Some of you may remember his nice haibun on the subject of ‘Bean-throwing at Setsubun’ a few years ago (published in our collection, Persimmon). Belatedly… many happy returns of the day, Sosui-sensei!
Spring is expected
To come tomorrow, and yet
No change in the field.
The last day of winter —
A tinge of red now visible
On the plum branches.
Over autumn and winter, my partner and I made full use of the government’s short-lived Go To Travel campaign. Our trips took us as far north and south as Hokkaido and Okinawa. Here are a few haiku from those journeys.
The following three were written on a trip to Matsushima. Unfortunately, Matsushima itself (we did a bay cruise) didn’t inspire me to the extent that it did the great Basho. Rather, my main inspiration was on the train getting there.
Not for frail eyes
these persimmon stark on
an azure sky
From this train seat—
a yard fire, but without
the smell of smoke
Another haiku from on the train was of an exchange between a child and his parents.
Oysters on trees?
Laughing, they answer him,
(N.B. In Japanese, both persimmons and oysters are pronounced the same: “kaki.”)
Then, from a visually confusing moment experienced on a beach (because poor eyesight can also be poetic!):
flock and take to the air,
yes, as sparrows!
And one from the commercial center—called Makishi—of Naha City, Okinawa:
Sitting in threes
Makishi’s old women
sort bean sprouts
Finally, from Yamagata (post-Go To, actually):
From snowy ground
a blackbird beats its way
up to the eaves
winter thatch than your black
Last Sunday in January: the dead of winter. Japanese Government toying with extending the latest Covid Emergency Order. Almost the end of the university year. Still one online lecture, three classes to grade and eleven grad theses to go. At home, almost at the end of our tether: getting on each other’s nerves.
Looks sunny. We strip off all our sheets and put them in the washing-machine; futons, out to the terrace to dry. Sunday, right? So, where to go for a kibun-tenkan (change of surroundings)? I ask my wife.
“The Botanical Gardens.”
“There’ll be nothing out,” I say.
Rounding the first corner… and a freak shower is racing towards us from the north! We rush back home, unlock the front door. Sprint upstairs to the terrace, as icy rain comes blasting through; hurl those futons and sheets back inside… then drape them all over the furniture in our living room.
We set off once more.
Entering the Gardens. Nothing out at all. Just a few bobbly white buds on the mitsumata (paper-making bush).
As a last resort, we head for the glasshouse.
The orchid exhibition —
each one a fashion statement
with its own devotees
There is a small voting-box, at one end of the hall, and a stack of cards and pencils. All are urged to vote for their favourite bloom. I find myself tending towards no. 37.
Taking off my mask
to smell the orchid —
nothing at all!