Persimmons – part 6

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on July 14, 2018 by sosui

. Among haiku poets, both ancient and modern, I think it was Shiki who loved persimmons the most. Let me quote the following passage to prove this point. It is from his work entitled “Two Persimmons”. Shiki calls it a novel and uses the third person singular for the main character, but to me, it is a piece of haibun, in which the author describes his own experiences:

Soon his sister stood up, shaking threads from her knees. She wanted to take a tray of the remaining persimmons to her sick brother, the master of the house.
“Is that all that remains,” her brother asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the persimmons.
“Yes, this is all. You ate so many of them yesterday,” she answered. There were only two persimmons on the tray.
He was a great lover of food, and especially liked all kinds of fruit. But, above all, he loved persimmons.

. He must have decided to save the two remaining persimmons till he had finished his work as reviewer of haiku. When he had done so, he wrote the following poem:

Three thousand haiku to read —
Finishing them all, I eat
The two persimmons.

. I think Shiki is implying how hard his reviewer’s work was, and also how quickly the persimmons disappeared eating them at such a pace.

. Shiki indeed has many poems about persimmons, but the following is perhaps the most famous:

A bell rings out while
I’m eating a persimmon —
Horyuji Temple.

. Personally, I find it a bit difficult to understand. If the haiku simply describes a time sequence, then perhaps it is not such a great poem. Among scholarly commentators, there is one who says that it should be taken as a poem of greeting to Soseki, who had written a similar poem. Another points out that Shiki was so ill during his visit to Nara that he probably never actually went to the Horyuji Temple. I do not find these comments very helpful for the interpretation of the poem. For me, there must be some meaningful relationship between Shiki’s eating the persimmon and the ringing of the temple bell: otherwise, the poem falls apart. The only connection between them that I can think of is the sense of satisfaction. Shiki adored persimmons, and whenever he ate one he found pleasure; while the temple bell brought him pleasure of a different sort. I think we could say that one was a physical pleasure and the other spiritual. So I take this haiku to be an expression of both physical and spiritual satisfaction. Incidentally, the poem has a short preface saying, “I rested at a tea shop near Horyuji Temple”. In an essay elsewhere, he also comments:

For a long time persimmons have been neglected by poets. I had never thought of combining persimmons and Nara, but was overjoyed when I found this possible. It was a new combination.

I believe that this combination was in fact an old one, for Imperial Palace Persimmons have traditionally been grown in Nara.

. To the end of his life Shiki remained an admirer of persimmons, and the following poem should be used as his epitaph. It is indeed prefaced “After my death”.

Let it thus be known:
A great persimmon eater
And haiku lover.

(To be continued…)

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Thinking of Angelee

Posted in News, Tribute with tags , on July 1, 2018 by Tito

For those planning to take part in next year’s Genjuan International Haibun Contest, we are very sorry to have to announce that our colleague Angelee Deodhar, one of India’s foremost haiku poets, passed away quite suddenly on June 28 in Chandigarh. She had been in recent correspondence with us, not only about the Contest and publications, but also about a planned visit to Japan next spring. Those of us who have worked with her at the Cottage of Visions are greatly saddened. She made a splendid contribution to English haibun, by editing the epic ‘Journeys’ anthology series and helping to judge the Genjuan, yet she herself always remained modest, tactful and warm. She signed off her letters, to me at least, with the phrase, ‘Love and light’ …

This graciousness will surely continue to be felt and cherished. Our thoughts are with her family and close friends at this time.

It is appropriate to share what she had apparently once referred to as her 辞世 jisei, or death verse:

water-worn boulder
so smooth now
against callused feet

RIP

Spring ending . . .

Posted in Haiga on June 28, 2018 by Gerald

click on the picture to read the poem

Haipho works for NHK Haiku Masters in Kyoto 3. ‘Maiko-haan’ team

Posted in Haipho, Spring with tags , , on June 16, 2018 by Tito

Photo by Peter MacIntosh, haiku by Tito

For the Icebox event report Click here
For the NHK report, here

New Genjuan anthology, “From the Cottage of Visions” is out!

Posted in Book, News with tags on June 3, 2018 by Tito

.. From the Cottage of Visions, a compilation of the awarded works from the Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2015-17, was published at the end of May. 112pp, A5 size, 37 haibun from around the world, some written by Japanese, judges’ comments, a potted history of Japanese haibun, 4 illus. by Buson & Taiga, ¥1,300 (U.S.$13 incl. p&p).
.. This week, we will honour our commitment to all entrants of the Contest during those three years and airmail more than 100 free copies worldwide (photo shows Officer, Eiko Mori, and assistant, Teruko Yamamoto, doing the addressing!). Entry to our Contest remains free, but we have no wealthy sponsors. So, how have we managed to do this charitable act for all these years? The answer is threefold: some judges have made occasional donations, all labour is done in a spirit of volunteerism, and we have diverted some of the profits made through sales of other Hailstone publications (including Meltdown, Persimmon and our previous Genjuan anthology 2012-14) into covering some of our printing costs. We would certainly like you to buy a copy if you can! The book can be ordered through the channels outlined near the bottom of our Publications page. 

Persimmons – part 5

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on May 19, 2018 by sosui

. There are also many paintings and decorated lacquer boxes in which persimmons are depicted, most dating from the Edo period. One, for example, is a painting by Sakai Hoitsu (1761~1828), included in the series called “Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months” (owned by the Imperial Household Agency), and which relates to the month of September. It shows red persimmons hanging from the branches and a pair of pale green white-eyes on the trunk. The contrast of colours in this painting is superb, and there is a touch of playfulness in the attitude of the little birds.

. Haiku poets of the Edo period have also left some poems about persimmons:

…………… In this old village,
…………… There is not a house without
…………… Some persimmon trees. ………… Basho

……………………………… Lord of Persimmons,
……………………………… But his tree tops are too close
……………………………… To Mt. Arashi. ………… Kyorai

………………………………………………………. A ripe persimmon —
………………………………………………………. I felt autumn sinking deep
………………………………………………………. Into my stomach. ………… Shiko

…………… Entrusted with the
…………… Imperial persimmons,
…………… A scarecrow looks proud. ………… Buson

……………………………… The top branch still has
……………………………… One sour persimmon hanging —
……………………………… I feel so attached. ………… Issa

. Basho’s poem is a beautiful description of a happy village which has enjoyed peace for many years. Considering the fact that he spent most of his life in wandering, I think Basho must have had a rather complex reaction to the scene, which we might say is mixed with envy. Kyorai’s poem concludes “The Story of Rakushisha” (House of Fallen Persimmons), which he wrote to explain why he had chosen this rather unusual name for his cottage. Apparently, his cottage had forty or fifty persimmon trees standing around it, but the keeper whom he had hired to look after it had never sent him any persimmons. So, one year, he went to see for himself, and found the trees loaded with fruit. Soon a merchant came and offered a large sum of money for the persimmons. But a night storm knocked all the persimmons down. Next morning, the merchant came and complained that in his long career as a merchant he had never had such an experience, and asked Kyorai if he would return the money. Rather unwillingly Kyorai consented. So, the above haiku is not a simple description of his cottage. The present Rakushisha Cottage is a later reconstruction. We do not know the original site, but judging from the haiku quoted above, it may have been closer to Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”). Anyway, Kyorai expresses his fear of the storm that comes from the mountain straight down to his persimmon trees. Shiko was the leader of the group of haiku poets called Mino-ha, but his poems are said to lack depth and complexity. The poem I quoted above is, I believe, derived from a poem by Basho, but it has neither the depth nor the complexity of the model. That is why I used the word “stomach” to translate harawata. This Japanese word is normally translated as “intestines” or “guts”. I felt that Shiko is simply referring to a physical, rather than a metaphysical, phenomenon. The Imperial Palace Persimmons mentioned in Buson’s poem are the sweet persimmons I referred to in an earlier instalment. I believe birds liked them very much. So a scarecrow was entrusted with watching over them. I wonder what kind of expression the scarecrow had on his face? He must surely have looked proud, but at the same time he would have known the limit of his power. So, I take Buson’s poem to be rather humorous. I only wish Buson had left a painting of this scene, too. Issa’s poem expresses not only his sympathy for the last persimmon hanging on the top branch, but also sympathy for himself. Issa says the persimmon is sour, yet sour persimmons usually become sweet in late autumn. The sour-sweet persimmon hanging from the top branch is a symbol of his own life. Issa has many poems about persimmons, and I am tempted to quote two more.

…………… In response to a call
…………… A small boy answers “yes” from
…………… The persimmon tree.

……………………………… The mentor priest goes
……………………………… To a hill; his pupil climbs
……………………………… A persimmon tree.

. These two poems recall Issa’s childhood experiences. How skilfully he describes a child’s point of view!

(To be continued…)

April Fools’ Day Tea Party

Posted in Event report, Radio, Spring with tags , on April 30, 2018 by kibiakira

Proclaiming the dawn
of April Fools’ Day
a bluebird* on the roof! ……………….. Tito

Lured by a spring breeze and white cotton clouds in the blue sky above, we gathered at Oyamazaki Station and set off on a composition stroll.

The old brown teahouse wall—
blossom in the wet stone basin ……………….. Richard

We started by visiting Myōki-an, a Zen temple said to have been built on the site of the hermitage of Yamazaki Sōkan, a great haiku poet of the Muromachi Period, and one of the founders of haikai-no-renga. Kneeling in the tatami-mat room, the priest welcomed us and briefed us about the temple itself and the tea room named ‘Taian’, designed by the fountainhead of the Japanese tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū. Bashō admired both Sōkan and Rikyū. Oyamazaki is also well-known as the site of a famous battle between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide. The victor, Hideyoshi, who soon had himself installed as a virtual King of Japan, had been invited more than once to Taian, where Rikyū himself had served tea for him and his subordinate samurais. There, he must have looked upon its slanting ceilings, walls hiding pillars, shitaji-mado (skeleton window), and eaves without gutters allowing rain to fall from the roof as a curtain: tea master Rikyū’s small universe. Each time the master invited guests, it was meant to be for all a fresh, once-in-a-lifetime encounter (ichigo-ichie), never to be staged again. This, we understood, was the essence of Rikyu’s chakai (tea meet).

Spring shade:
a two-tatami tea-room became
a work by Mondrian ……………….. Tomiko

We had lunch in a cozy local restaurant, “Tabitabi,” enjoying the reunion of haiku friends and their families, which included Lawrence (Jiko) and Isabel’s 6-month-old son, Taiyo.

The Easter hare …
see how she leaps
over cherry clouds ……………….. Jiko

Rubbing cheeks,
her grandson looking up …
a cherry-petal blizzard! ……………….. Shigeko

Afterwards, we strolled up the early spring lane to the Asahi Oyamazaki Sansō, where we enjoyed composing haiku in its cherry-blossom water garden and in the mock Tudor main house museum with its exhibition of ceramics by Shōji Hamada.

“Good morrow!”
the greeting came from the ground—
sun-lit periwinkle ……………….. Akira

Red passion
tulip growing—
a mother’s love ……………….. Isabel

Floating petals—
the carp, too
are cherry blossom viewing ……………….. Jiko

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The museum has a third floor terrace with panoramic view northeastwards toward Kyoto. In the middle distance, we perceived a veil of cherry blossoms extending along the river, “Sewari-no-sakura,” which some of us subsequently visited for an evening stroll.

From Sewari’s cherry-trees
petals fall as a blizzard—
our April Fools’ Day stroll  ……………….. Kyoko

Petal waves
blowing down
from mountain to river—
a transient delight  ……………….. Mayumi

There, on the terrace, over cups of English tea and cakes, occasionally visited by a spring zephyr, the fourteen of us shared and discussed the haikus we had made. One of these (given below) was subsequently broadcast (April 18) on B.B.C. Radio Four’s arts magazine show, Front Row. Listen here:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09z1d9t (below the photo, click “Chapter: Japanese Cherry Blossom” to go straight to the haiku section)

Wishing the cherry petals
to fall to rest …
on the baby’s eyes ……………….. Tito