End of the Year Haiku: Political Comment and Body Parts

by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

首相の眼虚ろになって神無月

October has come—
Now our prime minister’s eyes
Look blank and vacant.

 

支持率が三十パーを切る寒さ

Just thirty percent
Support rate for this cabinet—
How bitter the cold!

 

信無くて議長の席は氷室なり

Without people’s trust
The Speaker’s seat, now colder
Than an ice cellar.

 

山柿の当たり年なり枝垂れる

A very good year
For our wild persimmon tree—
Loaded with small fruit.

 

熟し柿食えばまず鳴る太鼓腹

A ripe persimmon—
My tummy gives a rumble
As I gobble it.

 

浅間嶺や初冠雪の眩しさよ

Mt. Asama had
Its first snowfall of the year—
Too bright for my eyes.

 

皆既食かすかに見える月の臍

Totally eclipsed,
And now barely visible—
A navel of a moon.

 

冬至まえ腸赤き日が昇る

Solstice approaches—
With its red belly rising,
The reluctant sun

 

黙食を強いられ悲し第八波

In the dining hall
Silent eating is enforced—
Eighth corona surge.

 

蜜入りの林檎頬張る頬赤し

Nectarous apple—
A bite into its red skin
Made my cheeks red, too.

Encountering Basho at Arashiyama

(Hailstone Exhibition Visit and Ginko, Dec. 3, 2022: report by Jun Tsutsumi & Stephen Gill)

野ざらし紀行図巻 The Nozarashi Kikō Zukan, “Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton,” Basho’s scroll of the first of his great haibun journeys made in 1684-5, is the only one known with both paintings and calligraphy from the master poet’s brush. A year or so ago the rare scroll had come to light for the first time in more than half a century. It is a startling piece of work.

Click respective photos to enlarge. 上 Narutaki in Kyoto (pagoda of Ninnaji vis. top lt.), 下 Potato-washing woman at Yoshino (Yoshimizu Jinja vis. on lt.)

Bright autumn leaves
through the train window –
getting drunk on them! (Harumi)

On a crisp December morning, fifteen Hailstone poets gathered to view the scroll at the Fukuda Museum of Art. Even as the streets near Arashiyama station were already dense with late-autumn crowds, the 14-meter scroll was mostly ours to enjoy alone in the quiet of the exhibition room.

After fifty years wandering,
‘The Weather-exposed Skeleton’
at home in autumn hills (Ayako)

Basho’s beautiful calligraphy and paintings took us with him on his journey from Edo to his hometown of Iga Ueno; and, thereafter, around the area of Japan that we know best, Kansai. The sensibility of his paintings of some of the places he visited added a new dimension to his well-known haibun itself and the poems it contains.

明けぼのやしら魚しろきこと一寸Akebono ya / shirauo shiroki / koto issun

Before sunrise…
young icefish flashing white,
each but one inch long (Basho, trans. SHG)

The exhibition also featured works by Yosa Buson and Ito Jakuchu, which made for an abundant morning of art.

Inviting me to view
Basho’s ‘Bleached Bones’ travelogue,
‘Two Skulls’ by Jakuchu (Akishige)

We walked out into gentle sunlight just after noon. Some of us enjoyed lunch together at the nearby Nakagawa restaurant, while others departed on errands or for home.

Hot rod cars
rev at the bridge –
a tinted Mt. Atago (Tito)

a stretch of tourists
along the riverbank
autumn colors (Duro*)

We reunited at the southern end of Togetsu Bridge for a haiku composition stroll (ginko) along the winding riverside path leading past Tonase Cascade all the way up to 大悲閣千光寺Daihikaku Senkōji Temple. The clear skies and gentle light cast the hills in rich hues, with views of Mt. Atago, Mt. Ogura, the Saga Hills, and even distant Mt. Hiei beyond the still waters of the Ōi River, dotted with rowboats.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

tracing in my mind
the lines of Basho’s brush:
our riverside stroll (Jun)

Winter calm –
on this water they know so well
here and there, wild ducks (Masahiro*)

Our Basho Day feeling
more like a year:
floating into a trench
coloured leaves (Tomiko)

The crowds receded further and further into the distance as we approached the steps leading up to the Temple, which Basho had once visited.

花の山 二町ぼれば 大悲閣 Hana no yama / nichō noboreba / Daihikaku
Two hundred yards
up a mountainside of blooming cherry…
Great Mercy Temple (Basho, trans. SHG)

There is a kuhi (poem monument) near the beginning of the climb.

Basho’s stele –
red maple seekers, beckoned
to worn stone steps (Akihiko)

Those who made it up to the temple itself, were able to pray before the ancient Kannon statue, then view another (much wilder!) one of 角倉了以 Suminokura Ryoi, the ‘Renaissance man’ who had set up a trading network in Southeast Asia for Toyotomi Hideyoshi as well as creating navigable waterways in and around Kyoto, and who had spent his last days here as a recluse.

A monk with a broom …
trying hard not to sweep up too
the late afternoon moon (Tito)

The view back over the city was spectacular, as were the fading late autumn colours. Someone rang the temple bell.

Arashiyama –
your perfect autumn tints
now, as long ago (Hiroko)

the wharf at dusk –
autumn pleasure-seekers’ backs
file away (Akihiko)

Basho’s journey
continues into dream –
my warm futon (Yaeno)

N.B. The Exhibition finishes at the Fukuda Museum on 9 Jan. 2023; the painting of Basho below is in the Exhibition and is by Yosa Buson; Duro & Masahiro sent their haiku in later and were not actually present at the event.

Silver Ears, Crimson Clouds

(Hailstone Autumn Haike 2022, Day 1 – Oct.8)

Gose* is today a small, rural town in Nara Prefecture, but it was once one of the most developed areas in Japan. It used to be the home of the Katsuragi clan, which disappeared from the foreground of Japanese history at the end of fifth century, in spite of intermarriage with the imperial family. Mt. Katsuragi (959m) and Mt. Kongo (1125m) rise up steeply behind Gose.

Cloud-mountain -
harried by winds
yet holding fast ……. (David)

Under cloudy skies, seven Hailstone poets start climbing Mt. Katsuragi from a hamlet called Kujira. At first, the trail is a steep, zigzag climb, but before long we find a good vantage point and have lunch. Below us, we can see the landscape of Gose with its golden rice fields ready for harvest, scenery that has been sung about since Manyo* times.

The slope of the ridge trail then slackens a bit, and we join the Diamond Trail, which runs for about 45km from Nara to Wakayama and Osaka through Mt. Katsuragi and Mt. Kongo.

Katsuragi’s ridge -
one giant red pine
reaches for the sky ……. (Akishige)

Repeated ups and downs lead to the summit of Mt. Katsuragi. Unlike other mountains in Japan, it is covered with silvergrass (miscanthus), and one can see Nara, Wakayama, Osaka, and even Awaji Island and Kobe across Osaka Bay. To the north, the ridge extends all the way to the border with Kyoto. For most of its history the capital of Japan was located in the basin east of this ridge, moving northward (6th-19th centuries) from Asuka (just east of Gose), through Fujiwara, Nara, and finally to Kyoto. Originally, this would have been in consideration of protecting the capital from raids from the west (Asian continent).

Behind the silvergrass
shades of distant mountains
my mind goes quiet ……. (Margarite)

When we check in at the lodge just below the summit, we are joined by two friends who have come up by ropeway, but we part ways then and there with another friend who must return by the ropeway before nightfall.

the public bath to myself . . .
gushing from the stone lion’s mouth
steaming hot water ……. (Duro)

Harvest has come -
hastily a crow flies home
persimmon in beak ……. (Akishige, now down in Gose)

About a thousand years ago, Sei Shonagon, the female author of the Makura-no-Soshi*, asserted that autumn is best appreciated at sunset. Things have not changed! The sky is clearing, with the sun now dropping out of the clouds. Someone starts singing the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Others join in. This evening, over the silvergrass moor, the lodgers will have to themselves the ever-changing sky and Osaka cityscape during sunset, dusk, and night.

Susuki grass
waving goodbye
to the purple mountains ……. (Kazue)

mountain view . . .
colors of the autumn sunset
sink into the sea ……. (Duro)

Tonight’s dinner is the lodge’s specialty, duck hot pot in citron-flavored soup stock. We soon realize why it had previously won the grand prix in the National Local Hot Pot Contest! In ancient times, the people of Yamato (Nara), as a show of gratitude, had offered to the gods some of the ducks and pheasants they had caught in the marshlands and along the irrigation channels. This custom is still preserved in the “Kaketori-no-Gi” ceremony of the On-matsuri festival at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

After dinner, we gather in Tito & Kazue’s room and share some of our own haiku from the first day, while sipping Nara’s famous “Kaze-no-Mori” sake, made with local rice grown on the lower slopes of the mountain.*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Day 2 – Oct.9)

Sun worshippers at dawn —
through trailing clouds
with an indigo halo
she shows her face ……. (Kyoko)

The early birds amongst us enjoy the changing colors of elongated clouds. Looking south, Mt. Kongo can be seen in the distance, a little stratus tethered to its summit. Just visible nestling in the hills to the east is the Gills’ new home, the ancient village of Asuka.

Trailing clouds,
lakes of cloud,
a cloud that’s going
nowhere ……. (Tito)

After breakfast, waving goodbye to those descending by ropeway, five of us leave the lodge to descend Mt. Katsuragi to a col and, from there, climb Mt. Kongo. Rainclouds are approaching from the south. How long will the weather hold?

Bidding farewell to friends:
one miscanthus swaying
in the autumn breeze ……. (Tomiko)

We descend Mt. Katsuragi by continuing on the Diamond Trail, looking out over the silvergrass ears at distant mountains in multiple layers, and head for Mizukoshi Pass 450m below. This pass was once the site of a water rights struggle between Yamato (Nara) and Kawachi (Osaka).

wanting to stay
in this green hollow
so I can listen
to the invisible waterfall ……. (David)

After the pass, the track gradually increases in gradient and a murmuring in the distance becomes clearer. The spring water in this area is called “Kongo-no-Mizu” (water of Kongo) and is famous for its good quality. It is used to produce delicious sake and tofu in the towns below. Passing through a forest of cedar and cypress trees, we take a break at a panoramic spot looking back at Mt. Katsuragi. Although the feet and legs of some are beginning to scream, it surprises us to see just how far we have already come!

Mt. Kongo is a mountain of Shugendo practitioners (mountain ascetics in white livery who often carry a conch-shell on a rope around their necks). It is the mountain where En no Ozunu (En-no-Gyoja), the founder of Shugendo, practiced asceticism. Emerging from a beech forest, we visit Katsuragi Shrine, said to be headed by a descendant of the Katsuragi clan. Then, on the far side of the summit, we are greeted by the blowing of a conch and reach Temporinji Temple and assorted hiking shelters, where we must say goodbye to David, who as part of his race training is to run ahead of us down the mount!

As predicted, it begins to rain. We have lunch under an old lean-to, put on our rain gear, and leave the summit for our destination, Takamahiko Shrine, abode of the Katsuragi clan’s guardian deity, far below. We take the so-called “Postal Road,” where mail carriers used to shuttle between Gose town and the temple and shrine at the summit. The path has in recent years been severely damaged by typhoons, but is now passable once again, though in one landslip area, we are obliged to use a long, fixed ladder.

It is said Shugendo practitioners abandon their attachments by toughening themselves in the mountains. This is a time to confront themselves and try to appreciate that their own mind is gradually being sharpened as they walk. Far from their ascetic state, however, two of the party are now beginning to feel plain exhausted and to learn how very hard it is to descend such a mountain in the sombre rain, every step an ordeal!

The scar of landslide -
mountain rain trickles
down the madder* ……. (Akihiko)

Takamahiko Jinja is an ancient shrine with a rustic but sublime tree-lined approach. The deity is Takamimusubi, who resides on Mt. Haku’un, a spur of Mt. Kongo located behind the shrine. This area is said to be close to Takama-ga-Hara (Takamahara), the original realm of the Shinto gods, as described in the Kojiki*. The view from this hillside may truly be thought of as the original landscape of Japan, “Toyo-Ashi-Hara Mizuho-no-Kuni” (the country of rich marshy rice fields).

After crossing a rushing stream by a cascade, the mountain trail finally flattens out. Passing a watermill we see the sacred arch of the Shrine and learn that our long trail has come to an end.

Beyond a sea of tumuli
a peninsula of cloud:
our Takamahara view ……. (Tito)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* Notes:
1 Gose – lit. ‘August Palace’. This placename is pronounced “goss-eh.”
2 Manyoshu – the oldest collection of poetry in Japan, which features verse mainly from the 7th and 8th centuries.
3 Makura-no-Soshi – Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, the earliest extant Japanese essay, thought to have been completed ca. 1001.
4 Nara is considered to be the ‘birthplace’ of sake.
5 madder – akane in Japanese, a local plant whose roots are used to make a crimson dye; akane-sasu is a pillow-word for dawn.
6 Kojiki – ‘Records of Ancient Matters’, compiled in 712, an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, and semi-historical accounts down to 641, concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (deities), and the Japanese Imperial House.

Cambridge, England Haiku

Spending a fortnight in the university city of Cambridge, finding nothing much has changed in a quarter of a century.

tail whisking
an urban squirrel
finds a chestnut

autumn comes early this year
among the crisped leaves
polished conkers

school’s out!
boys’ coat pockets
bulging

bus stop
under the horse chestnut tree
now and then a thwack

stock-still heron
ever watchful by the Cam
so easy to miss

young swans
how clean they keep
their dusk-grey feathers

September

音もなく濃霧の中を嵐行く

Dense fog all over—
Somewhere behind its dark veil
A storm is moving.
.

赤ん坊の頭ほどある梨求む

A pear as large as
The head of a new-born babe—
I carry it home.
.

白赤の曼殊沙華咲く畔の道

Along the footpath
Red and white amaryllis
Between the rice fields.

Arrival

Half moon, insect song —-
one small, lustrous cricket
joins our dinner table

Travel-weary is how I felt as we began to unpack boxes in our new house. Yet from the veranda, where we were soon hanging out our washing, there’s a glad prospect out across to distant Mt. Katsuragi, birthplace of En no Ozunu (1), with the gracefully curving gables of Tachibana Temple (2) rising out of the foreground green-gold rice terraces just across the Asuka Stream. I recall the taste of ‘arrival’ savoured on so many rough journeys in India and the Middle East; how one would check into a backpackers’ lodge after thirty-six or forty-eight hours on the move and ask for a room with a view. The effects of moving house after so many years feels strangely similar to the aftermath of long, sleepless, jolting rides on Afghan trucks or Laotian buses. Asuka (3), where I now live, is right up with all those nicely underdeveloped Asian travel destinations of yore.

The occasional couple appears pushing their rented bikes up the slope towards our house, and then past it, on their way enjoying the shadows cast on the lane by the unkempt grove of Okamoto-tei, a deserted, ramshackle property once apparently famed for its literary parties and its waterwheel.

I place a glass of water on an improvised stool and gaze out sighing, acknowledging to myself that all the ancient lithic sites (4) are now arrayed nearby, that the charming rolling scenery of Manyō (5) hills already encircles us with its greens and blues, and that tonight will be immaculately silent apart from the gurgle of irrigation water and the field crickets’ tintinnabulations. So, why not rest here for a few days, then? A new place before journeying on.

One red flower on the hibiscus. The afternoon is hot. Butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies visit—a magic seems to well.

Just then, a sharp wind comes down from the peak of Tōnomine (6) and I notice the black clouds behind me and sense a heavy rain. Potsu-potsu fall the first drops onto the veranda roof …

September lightning—
the compass-points
around our house,
each receives a bolt!

(Oka, Asuka, completed 12.9.22)

Notes:
1. En no Ozunu, the seventh century mountain ascetic and founder of Shugendō religion; Mt. Katsuragi itself will be climbed by Hailstone haiku hikers on Oct. 8 this year.
2. Birthplace of Shōtoku Taishi, the late sixth century imperial regent-statesman, who ensured that Buddhism took root in Japan.
3. Ancient capital of Japan ca. 538-710.
4. Sakafune-ishi, Ishibutai, Mara-ishi, Kame-ishi, Nimenseki, and so on; Asuka is famed for its mysterious ancient stones.
5. Manyōshū, the first great anthology of Japanese poetry, compiled early in the eighth century, mentions a number of such mountains—Miwa, Otowa, Amanokagu, Amakashi, Unebi, Miminashi, Katsuragi, Nijō, etc., all of which can be seen from Asuka.
6. Site of Danzan Jinja, shrine and spiritual resting place of Fujiwara Kamatari, the seventh century statesman and founder of the Fujiwara clan.

Water Haiku: falling, swallowing, rising

梅雨出水渓を転がる石の音
Flooded by the rain,
Stones rolling down the valley
With muffled voices.

猛暑来て水腹苦し食は枯れ
A heatwave arrives—
By drinking too much water
My appetite is lost.

猛暑来て浴びてみたしや滝飛沫
A waterfall spray—
How I yearn to bathe in it
In this hot season!

ナイヤガラ奈落に落ちて空に舞う
Niagara Falls—
Falling into an abyss,
Rising to heaven.

Sosui = Nobuyuki Yuasa. Haiku composed in June 2022 at Nakamurada, Gunma

Of Mangoes and the Sea Breeze

Here are a few haiku from the long summer in the seaside city of Chennai, South India. ……. (Geethanjali Rajan)
.

summer dawn
many songs
from the Asian Koel

left-overs
from the squirrel’s feast
scent of ripe mangoes

sultry noon
the fan’s groans
punctuate snores

the jasmine leaf
is a baby praying mantis
evening stillness

orange dusk
the gentle swish
of coconut fronds

end of summer –
the sound of the waves
in my conch

Friends on the Nakasendō

As Tito has posted, our friend Simon Piggott passed away on 8th June. By chance, on the day I heard of his passing I had started reading Before the Dawn, a translation of Shimazaki Tōson’s (島崎藤村) 1929 novel Yoake-mae『夜明け前』. Following Simon’s example, I was trying to read more literature on paper — one of his great loves, in multiple languages. When I returned to it a week later, I found the following passage about two old friends in Magome, which seemed remarkably apt in a number of ways, the most obvious being that it is set in the Kiso valley of the Nakasendō 中山道, the Nagano post-town route that was the setting for the Hailstone Autumn Haike in October 2004, and on which Tito first introduced me to Simon.

A mound topped by a stone inscribed with a verse by Basho was set up beside the road in Shinjaya hamlet at the western edge of Magome.

Few things had ever given Kichizaemon such a strong sense of his life in a mountain village. Saying that the stonecutter was almost finished, Kimbei invited Kichizaemon to inspect the work on the mound. The two of them set out, dressed in the baggy trousers of mountain men.

“My father was fond of haikai. He always used to say that he intended to set up a Basho memorial during his lifetime. So I got the idea of doing it myself in remembrance of my father,” said Kimbei as he took Kichizaemon up to the memorial. Kichizaemon looked closely at the finished stone. There was an inscription on it.

送られつ送りつ果ては木曽の穐
Okuraretsu / okuritsu hate wa / Kiso no aki

After being seen
Off, and seeing off:
The Kiso autumn.

                                                                        芭蕉 Basho

“It’s beautifully written.”

“I’m not altogether pleased with the character for ‘autumn [穐],’” Kimbei remarked. “The left side is a cursive form of the grain radical and the right side is ‘tortoise.’ Right?”

“Well, some people do write it that way.”

“But in cursive, the grain radical looks much like the insect radical [虫] and now everyone will read it as ‘The Kiso houseflies [hae 蝿].’”

[…]

The Basho memorial was dedicated at the beginning of the fourth month of the year. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day and rain fell from mid-afternoon on. The invited guests were for the most part members of the haikai circle from Mino and they brought rustic gifts. Some brought fans and bean candy, others brought fresh oak mushrooms, and one even brought a box of the tiny rice crackers known as “hailstones [arare あられ、霰],” of which he said Kimbei’s father had been particularly fond. When they had all gathered at Kimbei’s place, the people and the accents of two provinces blended together. In the company was the haikai master and priest Susa, who came from Ochiai, the next post station down from the pass. Thanks to him, the Mino group was able to carry on linked-verse sessions in a setting appropriate to the school of Kagami Shiko, with actual samples of Shiko’s calligraphy hung on the walls.

Since Kimbei was acting as host and could not participate directly in the composition of fifty or hundred line linked verse, he passed around lavish refreshments and plied his guests with sake.

Everyone had planned to gather at the foot of the newly constructed mound to conduct a memorial service and to chant verses. But since it took until dusk to complete the day’s linked verse, the chanting was done at Kimbei’s house. Only the memorial service was held at Shinjaya.

Kimbei, who scrupulously followed the old customs, later went all the way down to Ochiai to present a brown-striped, cotton-filled winter jacket to the haikai master Susa, to thank him for presiding over the day’s poetry composition. Kimbei told Susa that it had once belonged to his father.

“You really are my best friend,” Kichizaemon told Kimbei that day.

Before the Dawn is William E. Naff’s English translation of Yoake-mae (University of Hawai’i Press, 1987). The excerpts are from pp. 12-14.

Songs for Spirits 魂のうた

.
A selection of 59 tanka, 11 haiku and 3 English haibun by Kiyoko Ogawa (Taibowsha Corp., 2022). The haiku and tanka are given in both Japanese and English.
.
From the Preface: “There are some Japanese poets… not in favour of the idea that one poet writes both haiku and tanka… I myself would like to feel free… Sometimes I intend to compose a tanka, ending up by writing a haiku, and vice versa. I won’t mind if my flexibility is criticized.”
.
The five sections of the book are focussed, respectively, on the death of Kiyoko’s mother, journeys to Leipzig and Australia, rural scenes around Lake Biwa, and the transience of our ‘Floating World’. Highly recommended!
.
In Japan, ¥1,000 + p&p.  From abroad, US$ 10 incl. p&p. Enquiries/orders to: kiyoko66ogawa”at”gmail.com