Ghosts, tombs and spring shoots

When Nobuyuki Yuasa recently sent me a clutch of March haiku from Gunma-ken, I found amongst them a couple that seemed to resonate with two of my own early April ones from Nara-ken. Mt. Asama 浅間山 is a 2,568m volcano on the Nagano-Gunma border; a stepped keyhole tomb is known as 前方後円墳 zenpoukouenfun in Japanese; little grebes are カイツブリ kaitsuburi; butterbur is フキノトウ fukinotou; bracken shoots are 蕨 warabi; the tomb in the second haiku is 西山塚古墳 Nishiyamazuka Kofun at 萱生町 Kayou on the Yamanobe Way; the tumulus in the fourth (and in the photo) is the very ancient 西山古墳 Nishiyama Kofun in Tenri, which is an hourglass tomb, a 前方後方墳 zenpoukouhoufun in Japanese.

Behind plum orchards
Mt. Asama shows itself –
A pale ghost in mist


Spring sky in the moat
of a stepped keyhole tomb –
little grebes dive


Good fortune indeed –
On the river bank, three or four
Butterbur shoots to take!


Two women in bonnets
picking bracken shoots
high on the tumulus –
April showers


– click on the picture to enlarge –

Ouda Fawn Lily Ginko

Mar. 25, 2023. The day of the Ouda Fawn Lily (katakuri) Ginko has come.

By early morning the rain has stopped. The curtain of mist begins to roll up slowly from the mountain ridges surrounding Nara Basin. Fourteen haiku poets from Kyoto, Osaka and Nara come together in knots at Haibara Station. On the way, all must have enjoyed the spring scenery of rural Nara through car or train windows.

Cherry blossoms
under misty mountains —
rice planting nigh               (Kiyoko)

A man on stilts?
No, only a heron walking
in the green field               (Kyoko)

Three cars now travel along the cherry-blossomed bank of the Uda River. We notice groups of people walking with purpose on the far side of the river.

Among empty fields
a long line of men
heading to the brewery           (David)

Yes, as it happens, today there is a sake brewery tour. Ouda is a town of kuzu (arrowroot), medicinal herbs and sake.

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Soon we arrive at Kagirohi no Oka (Manyo Park) on the western outskirts of Ouda town, and are joined there by a fourth car containing three other poets and our “Little Prince” from Kyoto. We climb the hill in twos and threes. Someone remarks, kobushi magnolia is  blooming!” On the hilltop there is an azumaya, or rustic arbor.

morning dew
dripping from the thatched roof —
a hazy Manyo hill (1)                (Yaeno)

The grassy hilltop looks out over the rooves of Ouda and the vague outline of mountains near and far.

the sun
behind the clouds ―
a town of pink blossoms         (Duro)

spring flowers trembling
in the wind of ancient times      (Ayako)

Long, long ago, Ouda, then known as ‘Akino’, was a hunting and herb-collecting preserve for the Imperial Family. In the 14th century, the local warlords, the Akiyama clan, built their mountain castle, and at its foot a castle town grew up called ‘Aki-machi’. Several powerful warlords then came and went, one after another, each constructing a robust mountain castle on the previous one. The name was changed to ‘Matsuyama Castle’, and the town itself became known as ‘Matsuyama’. At the end of the 17th century, Matsuyama became a ‘tenryo’, a domain of the Tokugawa shogunate, and it began to thrive. Basho never actually went there, as far as we know, but he would surely have known of it.

On the hilltop there is a monument commemorating a verse by Kakinomono no Hitomaro, a great Manyo poet:

ひんがしの野にかぎろひの 立つみえて  かえりみすれば 月かたむきぬ
Hingashi no / no ni kagirohi no / tatsu miete / kaerimi sureba / tsuki katamukinu

On the eastern plain
The purple dawn is glowing,
While looking back I see
The moon declining to the west. (2)

Hitomaro composed this tanka before dawn on Nov. 17 (lunar calendar), 694 AD, when he visited Akino accompanying young Prince Karu, who later became Emperor Monmu.

We take lunch at Hirutoko Café right beside the hill. In his welcome remarks, Tito mentions some of the haiku that Basho had written in spring 1688 in the valleys bordering Ouda on his Oi no Kobumi trip. One, composed at nearby Hoso Pass:

Hibari yori / sora ni yasurau / touge kana

Resting at a pass:
as high in the sky
as the trilling lark

During lunch time our Little Prince Glyeb (Anna’s boy) forgets to eat and enjoys playing with Uncle A. His joyful voice is charming.  Presently, we stroll down to Aki Jinja, an old shrine beside a stream.

The baby car
rolling down the hill …
petals on its wheels          (Tito)

The shrine precincts are graced by tall trees.

Aki Shrine
standing quietly ―
spring dignity               (Harumi)

Aki Jinja is said to be one of oldest Moto (original) Ise Shrines, in all of which the goddess Amaterasu, tutelary deity of the Imperial Clan, had been enshrined.  All had been founded in advance of the present Ise Shrine (in Mie-ken).

Aki Jinja:
away from the Noh stage
the ashen gate       (Branko

Then, we walk up the slope to Tenyakuji Temple, founded in the early 14th century. Unfortunately its Hondo, the main hall, was burnt down in 1999.

mist rising …
the clutter of abandoned headstones
in the temple yard                  (Duro)

A 300-year-old weeping cherry tree spreads its branches towards the cloudy sky. This tree, today one-third in bloom, must have witnessed so many human events – of joy as well as of grief.

She prays for peace
at a desolate temple …
old weeping cherry          (Akishige)

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Eventually, we arrive at Morino Medicinal Herb Garden, the oldest private herb garden in Japan. Climbing up the steep stone steps of the garden hill, we encounter fawn lilies (3) in full bloom carpeting the hillside. But the flowers had apparently not enjoyed last night’s heavy rain, so most of them were still half-closed.

Dogtooth violets;
bowing to us
with their faces down        (Tomiko)

a gloomy day —
yet still some purple lilies
stay open, whispering        (Anna)

Fawn lily flowers ―
a cloudy day for a nap,
how lovely!                  (Harumi)

They bring to mind
Utopia —
fawn lilies                  (Yaeno)

lilac fawn lily
unfurls into
a star                      (Ursula)

We meet Harao-san, a local botanist and one of the caretakers of this herb garden. He says, ”Once sunbeams strike them, the fawn lilies will open their flowers again.” He also tells us that a fawn lily will generally take seven years to bloom after planting.

the old farmer
with broken teeth
smiling at daffodils          (David)

Scent of daphne …
a man of few words
suddenly sneezes           (Branko)

As the old gardener talks
… yesterday’s raindrops
on white fritillary           (Tito)

Morino Tousuke (Saikaku), the founder of this garden, was born to a kuzu (arrowroot)-producing family in 1690, a few years before Basho died. From 1729, he began to collect medicinal herbs around the Kansai region as an assistant to Uemura Saheiji, who was appointed as an official medicinal herb collector by the Tokugawa shogunate. Tousuke established his own herb garden and, especially after retirement from his family business, he devoted his life to studying the medicinal herbs around Ouda based at his retreat on the hillside in this herb garden. He seems particularly to have loved katakuri, the fawn lily. Today, the Morino family grows two hundred and fifty different types of medicinal herb in the garden.

his life’s work
a garden of herbs
on the mountainside    (Duro

colors of spring
lodged in my eyes …
Ouda herb garden     (Akihiko

The Morino Garden has brought us all wonder and leaves us with some deep impressions. When finally we exit, we turn and walk down the old main street. Beautiful machiya, traditional merchants’ stores and residences, stand side by side. On both sides of the street, clean water flows down rapidly in irrigation channels known as ‘maekawa’.

Stately old streetscape
in a village of pharmacies —
spring haze                 (Mayumi)

along the old street
a water flow braids diamonds …
murmuring echoes        (Akihiko)

We take a rest at Café A b c (a bé cé), and redraft haiku over tea. The proprietress, Ayumi, had once worked at a café in Paris and met her husband, Tazaki Muramatsu, there.

Outside on the street, our Little Prince Glyeb shows us his bravery.

A little boy plays alone
with outsize bike —
his first spring abroad   (Mayumi

Dusk closes in around Ouda town. Our journey home begins.

(1) Manyo – of the Manyoshu, an Imperial poetry anthology, Japan’s first, compiled in the early 8th century.
(2) source: The Manyoshu, Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation of One Thousand Poems“ (Columbia University Press, New York, 1965)
(3) fawn lily, Erythronium japonicum, カタクリ, a small, pale magenta, lily-like flower growing wild in Japan; also called ‘dog-toothed violet’, but actually much closer to a wild tulip.

The Holy Path

Early March found me on the Nakahechi 中辺路 section of the ancient Kumano Kodo 熊野古道 Pilgrimage trail that runs across Wakayama from west to east. One of only two religious walks that are World Heritage recognised, the Kumano Kodo has been revived as a modern day adventure for thousands of hikers from all over the world. English is the standard language of discourse, and the young pilgrims like to share.

mixed feelings —
they saw a bear
and I didn’t

The mountains were still draped in winter greys and browns, but warm skies caused spring to burst helplessly forth in showers of plum blossom and daffodil. The network of teahouses and rest stations that once supported hordes of pilgrims has largely disappeared, but their memory is preserved in fascinating detail by bilingual noticeboards that outline the rich, and often moving, history of the trail.

My first day took me over three high passes, through cloud-topping villages and along river banks. I stopped at the point where pilgrims would purify themselves in a river before commencing the final climb to the pass that opens the way to Hongu.

splashing my face
I hear the music
of Otonashi River*

Crossing the pass I entered the Gate of Enlightenment (Hosshinmon 発心門) before reaching Fushiogami 伏拝. The name indicates the spot where pilgrims would kneel in grateful prayer at first glimpse of their holy destination at the bottom of the valley. Izumi Shikibu, one of Japan’s greatest poets, came to this spot in Heian times, only to find that the arrival of her menstrual period meant she might be unable to descend to Hongu. In a dream that night a god appeared to let her know that no obstruction would prevent her journey. Kumano, unlike some other sacred sites in Japan, has always welcomed female travellers.

A few kilometres before Hongu I was blessed with a heart-stopping view of the great Shinto gate at Oyunohara 大斎原. The largest torii in the world is dramatically set amongst open fields. The small town of Hongu surrounds Kumano Hongu Taisha 熊野本宮大社, the historic destination for centuries of pilgrims. The symbol of the distinguished shrine is Yatagarasu 八咫烏, the mythical three-legged crow that played a crucial role in the birth of Japan and has been adopted as the emblem of the Japanese soccer team.

In the morning I ploughed through thick mist along the riverside path out of Hongu. The route literally rises into Great Clouds (Ogumotori-goe 大雲取越) before reaching Dogirizaka 胴切り坂 (Body-breaking Slope), a steady and punishing ascent of four kilometres. From there the path descends for miles toward the glorious sight of Nachi Falls 那智の滝, Japan’s highest waterfall.

a gift from the ocean —
this cool mountain air
and the great cascade
blown sideways


Note * Otonashigawa 音無川 = Silent River

For Kazue

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

This haiku was written for my wife Kazue in Oka, Asuka on 12th March this year. The lilac mountain is Mt. Katsuragi, climbed by 10 Hailstone poets last October on our annual autumn haike. The spot where I took this photo is the site of the stable in which Prince Umayado (厩戸皇子) was born in 574. As “Shotoku Taishi” he later helped to create the first Buddhist temples in Japan, one of which, Tachibanadera (橘寺), was founded nearby. Our home is 5 minutes walk from here.

Many people ask how we are faring, so far now from the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. The answer, I think, is held in the last word of this haiku, ‘glows’. We both feel a new joy deep inside, bolstered by making lots of new Nara friends. I strolled around the rock sites of Amanokaguyama (天香具山) with one the other day. Densely mysterious! A bush warbler sings outside our window. A stream gurgles, too. Spring rains are almost here.

Hailstone’s next event, on the 25th, is to be held in nearby Ouda (大宇陀), but later in the year we hope to invite haiku poets to visit the old capital of Asuka, too.

Ukrainian Haiku

9 Feb. 2023 – Hailstone’s Hibikiai Forum English Haiku Poems seminar in Kyoto had a special focus on Ukraine. After the month’s Tensaku (Haiku Correction) Corner was over, a few of those present at the round table helped Tito read his compilation of Ukrainian War-themed haiku by members of the Circle. Evacuee Anna Shershnova from Kyiv, currently researching haiku at Kyoto Univ. of Advanced Science, then presented on both pre- and post-Invasion Ukrainian Haiku. It was very heartening to see Anna so animated in analysis of her countrymen’s verse, which she read in their original Ukrainian or Russian with her own translations into English, and to find how much good karma she has generated after only a few months in Japan. Both before and after our meet she was able to meet with a number of other Japanese or Japan-based poets and to swap enthusiasm for the wonderful short-form verse that is haiku. We hope to continue to welcome Anna whenever she can find a baby-sitter! She also showed us two haiku-style short videos made by her husband, whom she is hoping will be able to join her in Japan when circumstances allow. Presents were given and for the occasion Keiko Yurugi had even arranged a bouquet of yellow and blue flowers, Ukraine’s national colours.

There follows a short selection of the haiku featured in the reading (R) and in the presentation (P) on Ukraine.


Spring sunset —
they’ve left Ukraine
but their shadows
stay behind           (Mizuho Shibuya)

Sleet is falling
in a devastated land —
mangled teddy bear        (Ayako Kurokawa)

An uprush of hope:
a tractor towing a tank!

Its front wall blasted —
the bright yellow kitchen offers
a bowl of apples

Imagining peace —
singing in the candle-lit dark     (Ursula Maierl)


Sounds of shots
riddling the spaces
between words

Crossing an empty street
hiding from the sky

Baptised by darkness —
childhood town’s lights
hit by missiles                 (Sergiy Kurbatov)

Leaving for a bomb shelter
habitually in the corridor
I try to kill a moth!

Missile strikes expected
on Independence Day:
anxious as a schoolboy
before a final test

New Year’s air raid siren —
locomotive on the bridge
roaring in fear                 (Stanislav Belsky)

from the Icebox inbox – 54

Christmas rush
tree branches on the ground
broken by the wind

new year
the fountain of the square
flows, flows

(both by Marie Derley, France?)

Freezing wind —
a crouching witch
points at what?

(Ayako Kurokawa, Kyoto)

Dental hygienist:
The warmth of her ample bust
Against my temple.

Busy shopping mall —
A chocolate-coated peanut
Rolls ahead of us.

(both by Kamome, Eastbourne, England)

empty platforms
at Paddington Station —
shelves all bare, too

(Bandit, St. Paul, Minnesota)

january morning
hawk’s nest &
tree trimmers

8 a.m. bus
heavy mist glazes
december fields

(both by Sydney Solis, Zamora, Spain)

Wintry desolation —
only flowering kale
adds color

(Mayumi Kawaharada, Kyoto)

End of the Year Haiku: Political Comment and Body Parts

by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)


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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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.

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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.*

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(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)

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* 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

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