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Haibun is one of the most rewarding of the haiku arts, both for writer and reader. The deadline for entries to this year’s Genjuan Haibun Contest is coming up fast – January 31st. The Office is apparently lenient with entries received a few days after that date, but only a few days! Entry is free. This is still Japan’s only English language haibun contest and we welcome your participation, whatever country you may live in. Two of the three judges are Japanese haijin. The Contest Guidelines (incl. Office address) are to be viewed through the page link at top right of our top page. (Click the Icebox header photo of hailstones to return to the top page.) Examples of previous years’ decorated pieces are accessed via further page links at top right. Please enjoy them! Your entries will certainly be carefully read.
Charity shopfront –
Woodworm holes in the handle
Of an old man’s cane.
on the kitchen garden –
citrons sparkle through
devoid of knick-knacks
but a Christmas rose
Bald eagle soaring
high in a blue blue sky
as we dance
on the ground below
the new beauty
of a lifeless rose
Joyce Joslin Lorenson
a slight hesitation
in the nun’s prayers
‘citron’ – yuzu, a fragrant orange used to flavour Japanese winter dishes
‘Christmas rose’ – the rhizome helleborus (and not a thorny rosaceae)
‘dance’ – a Serbian folk-dance, we are told
The news on Christmas Eve that a local court had authorized the restart next month of atomic reactors at the Takahama plant owned by Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) was not the hoped-for Christmas present! Accordingly, 100-200 local residents took to the streets on Christmas night outside the power company’s Kyoto HQ. I was feeling a little sick, a little angry, as this haiku came on …
December 11th, a torrential downpour. The following morning, however, a bright sunny start to the day. Six haiku poets set out with fresh hearts ready to pen their thoughts on a walk that would traverse the course of centuries: the route from Tambabashi to Fushimi Momoyama took in the burial mounds of the first and last emperors to be associated with Kyoto, and two shrines with imperial connections. It normally takes an hour and a half; the Hailstones managing to spin it out to five hours, with two participants even staying on a while longer in a saké bar.
There are few visitors to Kammu’s grave, yet the founder of Kyoto surely deserves recognition for the extent of his historical legacy. For lovers of the city this is an awe-inspiring spot, and by the side we found a persimmon tree laden with fruit, as if in honour. Nearby, the tower of the rebuilt castle of Hideyoshi’s time could be seen through the trees. Kammu’s grave, like other imperial mounds, typifies the blending of ancestral worship and animism that form the twin pillars of Shinto. Through placing the corpse in the earth, the deceased evolves into the landscape, and the imperial spirit is transformed into a true ‘spirit of place’.
The sound of birdsong
On the green moss path
Autumn leaves spotlighted
By morning sunshine
From Kammu’s grave it’s a short walk through pleasant woods to the burial mound of Emperor Meiji. Here is evident the pomp and glory of State Shinto, as the Restored Emperor at the centre of the Meiji regime was given a full-scale burial designed to impress. You only have to stand at the bottom of the huge stairway leading up to the shrine to appreciate the grandeur. As Mutsuhito, he was the last emperor to be born in the city, and the last who could be considered a Kyoto man. His father died when he was 14, making him emperor; he was ‘restored to power’ at the age of 15; he shifted the capital to Tokyo and married at 16. Quite a start to life! Meiji was something of a poet, and after paying respects at the grave of his father, Emperor Komei, he penned the following:
Visiting the family tombs
On my baggy sleeves
Old pine needles, cast off,
Out of view, and discretely located to one side, is the burial mound of Meiji’s chief wife, Empress Shoken, who died two years later. She had no children of her own, whereas her husband had fifteen by his concubines, or official mistresses. So she adopted the son of one of the other ‘wives’ and brought him up as heir apparent (later to become Emperor Taisho).
Not far away from the imperial mounds is the shrine of Meiji’s devoted servant, General Nogi, who served as governor of Taiwan. He was the last person (together with his wife) to commit junshi, ritual suicide to follow one’s master into death. After distinguished service against the Chinese in 1894, he was made commander of the forces who took Port Arthur from the Russians a decade later, thus helping cement victory against the Europeans in the 1904-5 war. He was appalled, however, at the loss of life of those under him and sent a letter to the Emperor requesting permission to commit suicide. Though the request was refused, he and his wife felt obliged to take their lives in 1912 immediately following the funeral of Emperor Meiji. Some praised him highly for loyalty and devotion; others saw it as a retrograde act of feudalism.
…. After stories of war
…. At the General’s shrine,
…. Free tangerines.
…. – Tito
Gokonomiya is not one of the better-known shrines of Kyoto, though in any other town it would certainly be a focus of attention. Said to have been built on the site of an imperial villa, the connection is further reflected in its enshrined deities, the Empress Jingu and her son, Emperor Ojin (also known as Hachiman). Spring water with a particularly fresh aroma gushed out of the earth here in 863 – hence the name ‘Shrine of Fragrance’. The water is treasured by parishioners, who bottle it for home consumption.
The haiku poets were able to find a condusive corner of the shrine in which to compare their writings for the day, perched on large rocks taken from the remains of Hideyoshi’s castle. As the sun went down on what had been a fine outing blessed with good weather, we were able to pick over what we had gathered from the day.
Late autumn –
Into the vermilion torii
At Gokonomiya, we happened on a haiku monument bearing poems by both Basho and Kyorai. Though none of us could decipher the cursive writing, a check on the Internet later revealed what was inscribed.
Scent of apricot blossom –
Suddenly the sun comes up
On the mountain road.
This was written by Basho in Fushimi in 1694, the year of his death. The second haiku on the Gokonomiya stone was by Kyorai (both Eng. trans. by SHG).
‘Alright, alright!’ I shout,
But the knocking goes on
At the snow-cloaked gate.
Report by John D. and Mayumi K.
………….. The autumn air resounds
………….. With girls’ cheerful voices –
………….. An old professor joins in Toshi
Commemorating our much-loved haijin, Toshi Ida, on November 22, 2015, a quartet of poets accepted a gracious invitation by Toshi’s life-partner, Michiko-san, to visit her home at Chitose-cho, Kameoka. We shared an autumnal afternoon tea, with November-only ‘inoshishi mochi’ and home-grown persimmons. Michiko made Toshi’s ‘Hibikiai Forum English Haiku Poems’ class archives available to explore. Yoshiharu presented a gift of a hand-made book featuring his calligraphy of many of Toshi’s haiku, while Keiko offered a hand-made wall hanging, in which to display individual card pages from the book. A white-and-purple bouquet was also presented on behalf of the Hailstone Circle.
In the early evening, rounding off our visit, we visited the local Daiizumo Jingu shrine, which was holding a festival under the rising moon. The leaves were flaunting themselves, the weather was perfect: Toshi’s commemoration proved to be a delight.
A copse of maple trees –
the first anniversary
of Toshi’s passing ……………………………….. Yoshiharu
………….. carefully opening
………….. his cupped hands –
………….. a snow-midge
………….. floats aloft Ursula
shrine festival –
the man who got lost in the village
now tasting wine Keiko
…………………………. The dozy red
…………………………. Of distant lit-up maples –
…………………………. Drums pound to the moon. Tito
Nenten Tsubo’uchi’s haiku group, Sendan, held a Japanese language haibun contest to run parallel with the Genjuan one earlier this year (Judges were NT, SHG, HM and two others). The winning piece, by Haruaki Kato, has now been translated into English by the author himself with help from SHG. We hope you will find reading this recent Japanese haibun both interesting and enjoyable.
…. “People say that tuna have to keep on swimming because they’d die if they stopped. I wonder what exactly happens, though, when a tuna dies of old age?” If my wife had not said this to me one day in a low, tired voice, I suppose I wouldn’t have thought about this issue so seriously.
…. We had just heard the news about the ‘mass death’ of tuna in a gigantic tank, the main feature of a famous aquarium. They were saying that the cause of death was still under investigation, and that a wide variety of hypotheses— including virus, stress, and even radioactivity— were flying about. For me, to be honest, the cause of the death didn’t really matter: I was shocked by the event itself. It was the simple realization that tuna die, just as we do, that had made me upset. I suppose the word ‘tuna’ had always conjured up to me either the image of a great shoal of them swimming freely across the ocean, or the vision of something being taken out of the freezer ready to be served as delicious sashimi. I had really never thought seriously about how fish passed away. And it was not only fish, but with any kind of wild animal, I’d always supposed they must die in a dramatic incident—being preyed on, perhaps, by a ferocious natural enemy or caught by a brave hunter or fisherman—just like I’d seen in art-house films.
…. Yet it is not like that at all. They might actually die, say, of liver disease, or of unfortunate food poisoning, or perhaps by bumping into a rock in an accident. It is simply the ego of humans, who desperately desire a peaceful ending of their own lives, to imagine other animals die in dramatic fashion. And it’s also true that most of us aren’t particularly concerned about the deaths of ordinary, inconspicuous creatures, for whom a dramatic end might seem rather out of place.
…. Death is all around us, and countless are the lives being lost at this very moment. The only way for us to survive in this world is to ignore such deaths, just as we do not consider the air as we breathe it in. Only occasionally might we bring to mind a highly dramatic or a deeply peaceful death and be moved thereby. This is rather like whales, still surfacing for air time and again, although their ancestors chose to give up the land for the ocean long ago. We need to think of death sometimes so as not to drown in life’s breathless waters.
…. Anyway, that is what I thought to myself as I stood there in a supermarket at the corner of the seafood counter, holding packed shelled oysters which were floating inside their sealed bag filled with water. The oysters appeared to me as if they might be enjoying zero gravity while refusing to ‘belong’ to either life or death. They seemed so calm in the airless tension.
…. When I looked up from my reverie, my wife was already in front of the meat counter far ahead. I put the packed spacewalking oysters back onto the counter, and weaved my way over to her through the crowds.
The oysters, too—
their spirits prepared
for whatever may come