This year, our sixth as Genjuan (and ninth if we include its predecessor, the Kikakuza Contest), we welcome one new judge, Ellis Avery. The addition of an American female poet/writer to the existing panel of two Japanese and one British resident of Japan is sure to give our judging new impetus. Judge Emeritus is Nenten Tsubo’uchi, one of Japan’s most prominent and well-respected haijin. If you haven’t already done so, we urge you to send something off soon to our officer, Eiko Mori, as the deadline is January 31st. Usually she waits for a few extra days in case there are stragglers. The Contest is free, but there are real prizes and certificates. In due course, we aim to compile a book of the best works from 2015-2017. There are still some copies of our 2012-14 anthology available (see the ‘Publications’ page link at top right). Non-native writers, please note: perfect English is not a prerequisite for a piece to be considered for a prize or subsequently published. Full Contest details are given under the ‘Genjuan Guidelines‘ page link. We look forward to reading your work next month. Good luck!
Kigo (season words) generally contain a sense of time passing, and this is particularly so when a change of year is concerned. The season word, kozo-kotoshi 去年今年 (last year/this year), when used in a haiku, will conjure deep emotion for the changing of one year into the next on New Year’s Day. In a single night, yesterday will become part of the old year and today, the new. The New Year (kotoshi, or shin-nen) physically stands on the base of the Old Year (kozo, kyonen, or furutoshi).
The existence of time in this world is said to be the most perplexing enigma for the physicists to theorize over. How is it, for example, that two years can share a time border? And should such a boundary be accurate to the nearest second? Or can it be further refined to the nearest milli-, micro-, nano-, or even pico-second? Perhaps not, … although 1/∞ (infinity) second surely exists!
New Year hike –
my hot lunch at the summit,
cup noodles as usual
Old Year/New Year:
as the bullet train
Kompukuji (金福寺), near Keizan Ichijōji Station in Higashiyama, Kyoto, was founded in 864, and is the site of the Bashō-an (芭蕉庵), a hut that the poet visited in 1670 and that was afterwards dedicated to him. Yosa Buson (与謝蕪村) and his disciples helped restore the hut in 1760. On Buson’s death in 1783, his disciples erected a tomb on the hill overlooking Bashō-an and its adjacent well. Thus this little-known temple is something of a mecca for poets!
We were fortunate, then, that it was quiet on the Saturday afternoon (3 December) when we 15 Hailstones visited, led by Tito. We were able to take our time, even sitting on the engawa (perching boards) of the hut to compose our responses. The guest of honour was Maeve O’Sullivan of Haiku Ireland.
… Thatched with water reeds
… topped with maple leaves –
… Basho-an, the poet’s hut Maeve
… Peeling shōji –
… a corner thumbtack
… holds sway Albie
Perhaps it was the fact that the autumnal leaves were a little past their prime that staved off the crowds, but we were still surrounded by rich golden and scarlet hues, the light-blue sky above and the soft greens of the moss at our feet forming a poignant contrast.
… Maple leaves
… dying beautifully Branko
… Lantern of Kompukuji’s
… soft stillness –
… lichen dresses you Christine
… Footpaths through shadows
… leave the bright colors behind –
… Buson’s resting place Peter
… Framed by the temple gate
… Deer and mountain silhouette –
… The sinking sun
… shika nagara / saneimon ni / iru hi kana
This was Buson’s original, alluded to above in Tito’s haiku.
After our extended visit to the temple, we repaired to Café Anone, near the train station, joined by co-organiser Ursula for coffee and cake and the recital of haiku and haibun.
[Notes: ginkō – composition stroll; shōji – paper window screens]
Asuka (or Tōtsu ‘Distant’ Asuka, in Nara prefecture), Japan’s first state capital, is a name to conjure with, though few perhaps will have heard of Chikatsu Asuka (‘Nearby’ Asuka, in Osaka prefecture), through which the Takenouchi Kaidō passes on its way from Naniwa. This was Japan’s first state road, plied by emperors and emissaries as they travelled between Yamato and the kingdoms of Korea and empires of China further to the west. Naniwa (Osaka) was the entry/exit port.
sailing in the shape of
an ancient mission boat ……………. Miki
Day 1. November 12th , Bashō’s death anniversary and the first day of this year’s Hailstone Autumn Haike, had us passing through a landscape dominated by huge, moated imperial tumuli and early Buddhist temples that had seen better days. At the first of these, Fujiidera, a prayer for our journey in clouds of incense smoke. At another,
the Yachūji bell:
by my feet, a few
rustling leaves ……………. Branko
One tumulus we rested beside was Shiratori no Misasagi (the White Bird Tumulus) made in the fifth century for Prince Yamatotakeru, perhaps the greatest of the Yamato heroes, whose exploits are recorded in the Kojiki. When he died, his spirit became a swan, and we were amazed to see some large swan haniwa (terracotta statues) in an archaeological display nearby. We paid our respects to him at nearby Shiratori Shrine.
The Takenouchi Kaidō proved somewhat difficult to follow in places, and we had to use a combination of maps, GPS and talking to the locals to navigate through the surprisingly urban first few hours. Richard’s hard work and a measure of good fortune allowed us to eat our packed lunches in a pleasant autumn-tinted park neatly sandwiched between a sewage works and a rubbish incineration plant!
We had just crossed the Ishikawa River on Garyū Bridge, from where we had spied the twin peaks of Mt. Futagami (Nijō) and a more rural, hilly landscape up ahead. Blessed with an idyllic ‘Indian summer’ day.
In the time it took him
to count the three clouds …
there were only two ……………. Tito
Found the rather creepy Morimoto Jinja, but overlooked, alas, its mysterious rat-headed courtier stone, Hayato-ishi.
Bare lightbulbs hanging
where lanterns used to be —
neglected shrine ……………. Candace
As the afternoon wore on and our feet began to get weary, golden vine leaves appeared beside the road. Although the harvest was already in, we did not need the signboards for ‘Asuka Wine’ to know that we were entering a land of grapes. The vines scrolling around their metal frames reminded some of us of the seventh century budō karakusa patterns on the black bronze Buddha’s pedestal in Nara’s Yakushiji. Around 3, we picked up Kyoko at Kaminotaishi Station.
The man perhaps most responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan was Prince Shōtoku, and it was to his final resting place at Eifukuji Temple that we were now headed – uphill. The spacious temple precincts command a fine view out across the Valley of Kings and its imperial mausolea.
So still at Eifukuji:
only the huge sun sinking
behind the pagoda ……………. Branko
Down some steep steps … and up another flight beyond, brought us to the little nunnery of Saihōin, our last port of call for the day. The bus from the hotel soon came to collect us.
The nuns have left
the gate open wide –
November moon ……………. Tito
Taishi Onsen was where we bedded down for the night, now joined by David, who had walked up from the railway station through late afternoon fields. The hot-spring waters and the local food and wine set us up for an open-mic haiku sharing.
Reciting the day’s poems
with a karaoke echo:
last of the autumn wine ……………. Richard
Day 2. The 13th dawned, crisp and clear.
in the open air,
a yellow leaf falling
as I close my eyes ……………. Miki
At Kaminotaishi Station we waited for the arrival of the Osaka train and found Akira and Shigeko almost immediately. Somehow, though, Hisashi slipped through the radar and had a quiet smoke just behind us while others continued to hunt for him! The ten of us proceeded eastwards along the Kaidō, paralleling the glittering Asuka Stream.
Now I am alone
but the snowflies
have found their sunbeam ……………. David
Passing the thatched roof of the Yamamoto House, we climbed a lane to the humble but commendable Historical Museum of the Takenouchi Road. Inside, many were entranced by a holographic presentation of local history, which even introduced Bashō ghosting his way through the area!
In clearing the loose rock
he trips on another –
a path through autumn hills ……………. Tito
Arrival at the busy fishing pond of Dainichi. A short rest, and then a stiff climb over Mt. Futagami, decked in its November best. Lunch was taken on a rocky peak with marvellous views back towards Fujiidera, from where the walk had begun.
Bending in the wind
tall pampas grass:
we vote for a left turn ……………. Branko
Somewhere between the 13-tiered solid stone pagoda of Rokutanji and Iwaya Pass on this, the 13th of the month, u n f o r t u n a t e l y we got lost. To reconnoitre, both Richard and David hared off up different rocky paths. The former came back to tell us that he’d met an old man who had warned him, “You’ll never get through before dark!” We descended the mountain as far as Route 166 and slogged along it to Takenouchi Pass.
on the Nara side
smoother asphalt ……………. Branko
A pleasant descent past a large pond with a kingfisher … to the outskirts of Takenouchi village. There, we debated the merits of making a detour to take in the Hakuhō period temple of Taimadera, along the so-called “Bashō Path”. David voted with his feet, and we were soon all off behind him!
about the highway shortcut –
Indian summer ……………. Hisashi
At the temple, we prayed before its main image, the huge tapestry-weave Taima Mandala of Amitabha’s Pure Land. Hisashi writes, “The precincts were packed, as that day local agricultural cooperatives were holding an autumn fair. Caught in the crowd, I was attracted by a dry, leafless plant a metre long, carried by a young girl and bearing on its tips fluffy white cotton seeds. I recalled that Taimadera was adjacent to the district of traditional cotton production in Osaka. I imagined the girl would go home with the plant and arrange it carefully in her tatami-mat room.”
Leaves of foreign words
In the autumn breeze ……………. Miki
We hurried back to Takenouchi and there, altering our pace, began to amble down, backs to the sunset, through the hometown of Bashō’s early travel companion, Naemura Chiri. It seems not to have greatly changed since the visits of the haiku master: an evocative place. In 1684, accompanied by Chiri on his journey of the ‘Weather-exposed Skeleton’, Bashō had stayed at the house of the village headman, Aburaya Ki’emon, and complimented him with the hokku
Watayumi ya / biwa ni nagusamu / take no oku
The cotton-beating bow –
as pleasing as the plucking of a lute
deep in the bamboo
A cotton-growing area indeed.
our full array of grins,
a line of drying onions ……………. Tito
After a group photo (see the slideshow), and a short reading by Stephen of Bashō’s haibun and verse related to the area, we meandered along our final stretch of the Kaidō towards its junction with the Katsuragi Road at Nagao Shrine. Looking back, we could see the range we had come over – Kongo, Katsuragi, Futagami – a rearing mountain wave against the afterglow. Prayers of thanks for safe completion of our journey. From Iwashiro Station, the train-ride home.
Nara Basin –
stubble smoke rising
from the end of
the Silk Road ……………. Akira
.. After enjoying a bowl of rice topped with tuna for my lunch, I went to Osorezan via the city of Mutsu. This was a roundabout course, but the shortcut along the Ohata River was too narrow for sightseeing buses. The road from Mutsu up to Osorezan was an ancient highway with stone pillars marking distances from the shrine. It was also dotted with stone images of Jizo, the traveller’s guardian. I found the Fountain of Hiyamizu was still alive. Its icy water was coming straight down from the mountains. Here and there I saw pink flowers of valley deutzia, but was told that they were never used as decorations for the house. I wondered why.
.. Crossing the so-called River Styx, we entered the precincts of Osorezan, a Zen temple belonging to the Soto Sect. Soon, the smell of sulphur hit my nose. Watched by six huge statues of Jizo, representing the six phases of existence, I passed through the first gate. On the second gate was displayed a large square plaque of beautiful blue colour, inscribed “Osorezan” in silver characters. The building at the end of the path housed the main Jizo image and a statue of Ennin, the founder of the temple.
.. Up to this point, we had been walking on flat ground, but as we turned to the left, we entered the rocky region of the ”Hells”. Many infernal pools now came into view, with such horrible names as ‘the Pool of Blood’ and ‘the Pool of Grave Sinners’. Each was somewhat different in shape and colour, but they were all pools of sulphurous water that had issued out of the volcanic strata. Huge piles of rocks were seen in places, but what arrested my attention was the piles of smaller stones that had obviously been fashioned by human hands. I was told that they had been made supernaturally by children who had passed away before their parents as an expression of their regret at doing so. I was not persuaded, presuming, rather, that these piles of stones may have been made by the parents to express their own sorrow at the untimely death of their children. My conviction was strengthened by the red stick-windmills often placed on top of the piles. Was it not the parents who had placed them there out of a desire to buy them for the deceased children? The place where I saw the greatest number of windmills was around the statue of the guardian of aborted and miscarried children.
……. An endless rattle…
……. Little windmills spinning round,
……. Calling to the dead.
Today, I heard the sad news that one of Hailstone’s founding members, Yoshihiko Suzuki, had passed away of cancer last month in Nishinomiya, aged 90. He graduated in 1951 from Tokyo Univ. as a mechanical engineer, later working for Sakae Kogyo KK. Because of his excellent English, he was often posted abroad. The trilingual haiku here is reproduced from his book, Signpost (pub. 1999). In it, we find Yoshihiko out in Thailand, from where he sent us many wonderful poems. The haiga of a Thai elephant is by his daughter, Ritsuko, whom, together with his wife Michiko, he leaves behind. There are grandsons, too (viz. another fine haiku, for which there is an extant kuhi (poem stone) in Hikami-cho in eastern Hyogo (btm. lt.). Our thoughts are with them all. [Click on any pic to see more detail.]Why? Why not? / Little grandson asking endlessly – / Spring evening
Summer shower – / Encountering a beauty, / Saying, “After you!”
Waiting in a long line / To cradle for a minute / The tiny koala …………. (Sydney, pub. The Meridian, 1998)
Floodwaters besieging / An old temple – / It grows dark …………. (Thailand, pub. Enhaiklopedia, 2005)