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)
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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

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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.
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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.”
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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!
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In Japan, ¥1,000 + p&p.  From abroad, US$ 10 incl. p&p. Enquiries/orders to: kiyoko66ogawa”at”gmail.com

Green Pigeon Man

the old pond
a freedom fighter drops his pants
and plunges in

Simon Piggott wrote this haiku one hot summer’s day in Oshika-mura, Nagano, at 1,000m in Japan’s Southern Alps. He lived there for decades in an old wooden house he had named Saimon-tei 祭文亭, occasionally opening it up as a theatre and concert venue. He worked primarily as a translator, acted for a time as Kamasawa Village deputy headman, and led the organization supporting the local Shinto shrine, while also tending the nearby cairn to Prince Munenaga 宗良親王 (son of Emp. Godaigo and 14th century resistance leader for the Southern Court against the North), who had fled there. Simon had once presented on Munenaga and Oshika-mura to our Hibikiai Forum seminar in Kyoto.

Born in Northamptonshire, England on 7 April 1950, he passed away after a bout with skin cancer on 8th June, aged 72. He had studied Japanese Language & Literature in the 1970s at SOAS, London University, ahead of me, and much later, David Stormer, too. After graduation Simon returned to Japan and never left. We had played in the same football team in Tokyo in the early 1980s: the Hachiko Boys! Simon was a gifted, independent soul and taught those of us who visited him much about the art of country living. A breath of fresh air! He leaves behind a wife, three daughters, and seven grandchildren. We will sorely miss this unsung freedom-fighting Englishman here in Japan. Thank you, Saimon.
+ RIP +

いづかたも山の端ちかき柴の戸は月見る空やすくなかるらむ
on every side mountains
tower up around
my brushwood cottage
so narrow is the sky
in which i view the moon

(by Munenaga, trans. SP)

look past the garden
snow mountains are welcoming
stars, the confetti

(by SP)

Finally, and movingly, a short excerpt from a piece he wrote on his blogsite,  back in April:

… It was a beautiful spot, looking out to the high mountains across the valley. It was also adjacent to the place where he had cut down trees for firewood all those years ago.

He walked very slowly, still not confident whether his body wouldn’t be damaged by the exertion. But, so far, it seemed to be holding up.

As he neared his destination he saw an uncommon bird flying horizontally through the trees. Jays and rooks were common here, but it wasn’t one of those. By the flash of colour that he had caught sight of he identified it as an aobato, a green pigeon, a bird whose distinctive call he occasionally heard, but which he had only actually seen a few times. To see it today of all days seemed auspicious.

Immediately he decided that, in accordance with the Buddhist custom of taking a new name after death, he would call himself aobato-koji — Green Pigeon Man.

It was a joke. But he was also serious. Green Pigeon Man.

Presently he arrived at the clearing where the small statue for the dead farm animals stood. He searched for a suitable place to put the stone that would commemorate him, the Green Pigeon Man. About ten metres away he found four closely grouped pines. He would put his stone here between the trees.

Thus he would become the Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines.

Then, satisfied with what he had accomplished, he set off back down the mountain.

He didn’t see the green pigeon again, but, in the forest just above his house, did faintly hear its call.

my gravestone is up:
unknown, unvisited, this
virgin rock perhaps
one day will kisses cover
like oscar’s in père lachaise*

Notes – *alluding to Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The old pond haiku was later published in our 2005 anthology Enhaiklopedia.
The full piece, Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines, is available at Simon’s blogsite, here.
Richard Donovan and Tito hope to go to Oshika sometime to pay our respects at Green Pigeon Man’s gravestone.

Fair Weather in May

The rainy season came early this year to Haruna (Gunma-ken), but we did have some fair weather in May. I wrote the following poems on such days. (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

五月晴れ野から薫風窓に入る
Fair weather in May—
A scented wind, blowing in
From the fields around.

五月晴れ瀬も堰も越え鮎上る
Fair weather in May—
Fighting the rapids and weirs
Ayu leap upstream.

柿若葉揺れて反射が目に染みる
Fresh persimmon leaves
Dancing, now dazzle my eyes
With their reflections.

一夜明け五月の浅間雪もなし
One morning in May,
Overnight the snow has gone
From Mt. Asama!

夏雲を背に飛び回る燕ろめ
Swallows have returned—
They draw circles and spirals
Against summer clouds.

Notes: ayu – sweetfish; Mt. Asama – active 2,568m volcano on Gunma-Nagano border.

Richard Steiner 50 Years Publication

A superb new full colour book has just come out from SAT Publications featuring 50 years of mokuhanga (woodprint) works by Icebox contributor and Hailstone book cover artist, Richard Steiner, also known as 刀斎 Tosai. The price of the book is 2,750 yen (including 10% tax). For Hailstone participants within Japan, the publishers will not charge postage (サービスです!) It is full of great design, lettering, humour and philosophy. Please consider supporting the artist? You will not regret it. Email order address is: sat-steiner”at”nifty.com

Here is a slideshow of some of the works in the book, mixed in with some of the book covers he has helped produce for Hailstone over the past two decades. For our own poetry book purchases, see our Publications page. Richard features as a poet in most of those, too!

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Making a Zen Garden in the Cotswolds

This year, after wintering in Andalusia, I returned to the U.K. to start creating a dry landscape Zen garden, or karesansui. Gravel would represent water; raking marks, waves; and rocks might suggest islands or mountains. Areas of white gravel emptiness, to provide serenity. 

The site chosen was next to my pottery studio and anagama kiln in the middle of a field. It offers a beautiful vista into a neighboring meadow, which would soon become the shakkei, borrowed scenery forming the garden’s backdrop. I wanted to create a meandering flow of gravel with rocks, landscaped on either side with mounds of top-soil and a boundary of clumping bamboo. A crescent-shaped path of Scottish cobblestones would lead out into the field towards Japanese cherry trees. In the garden itself the planting scheme was going to be mostly evergreen – dwarf pines, miscanthus and other grasses. A stone lantern ishitoro and a stone washbasin tsukubai would provide focal points and lend Japanese atmosphere.  

The sound of water — . / . how miraculous . / . in the dry gravel garden! 

As the Zen garden project developed, we encountered problems in design — should there be tobi-ishi, stepping stones, going into the garden? Should there be hanashōbu, Japanese ensata irises, or momiji, acer palmatum? As it turned out, all three were omitted, in an acknowledgement that less is more.

The final piece in the creation of the garden was a conical pile of gravel, symbolic of Mount Fuji, placed where the garden merges into the English countryside.

A day of quiet gladness — . / . a cone of gravel rises . / . in the Cotswolds

Basho’s Painted Scroll ‘Nozarashi Kikō’ Comes to Light in Kansai

The Fukuda Museum in Arashiyama, Kyoto has just announced that it has acquired a scroll painted by Basho himself of his 野ざらし紀行 Nozarashi Kikō journey centred on Kansai in 1684-5. They will exhibit the 14-metre scroll for the first time 10/22-1/9, and Hailstone will no doubt plan an event to go and see the work. My fellow editor, Nobuyuki Yuasa, translated the piece for Penguin Classic as ‘The Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton’. It was the first of Basho’s great haibun journeys, but the only one he illustrated completely himself. The scroll was known to exist, but its whereabouts had not been confirmed for half a century or more. The Museum had been contacted by an Osaka dealer who had suspected that the scroll could be the missing one.

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The close-up shots of the scroll (each can be enlarged by clicking), clockwise from top centre show, respectively, Hakone, Yoshino, Kuwana, Tōdaiji’s Nigatsudō (in Nara), and Narutaki (in Kyoto). To give a flavour of the written account itself, here are some of Basho’s haiku inscribed adjacent to each of these illustrations:

(HAKONE: Kirishigure / fuji o minu hi zo / omoshiroki) . Misty rain / hides the view of Mt. Fuji… / yet still I’m spellbound!

(YOSHINO: Kinuta uchite / ware ni kikase yo / bō ga tsuma) . Beat your fulling-block / so I may enjoy its sound, please / wife of the temple priest

(KUWANA: Akebono ya / shirauo shiroki / koto issun) . Before sunrise… / young icefish flashing white / just one inch long

(NARA: Mizutori ya / kōri no sō no / kutsu no oto) . Water-drawing Ceremony – / cold sound of monks’ clogs / pounding the wooden floor

(NARUTAKI: Ume shiroshi / kinō wa tsuru o / nusumareshi) . Plums in white blossom, / but the crane’s absence might tell of / its kidnap yesterday!

It is also worth noting that a newly found scroll by Buson of Basho’s 奥の細道 Oku no Hosomichi travel sketch will be shown for the very first time at the Kyoto National Museum from June 14 to July 18 this year. Of the existing Buson scrolls on this subject, this is apparently the oldest.

‘Unbecome’ publication announcement by Branko

Hello everyone,

This is to let you know I have just published a poem in four acts in collaboration with a US poet, Jerry Gordon. The chapbook is called ‘Unbecome’.

We have privately made a total of 20 copies (10 apiece). Each book has a unique cover, hand painted using a special technique, and is hand-sewn.  I thought you or someone from haiku class might be interested in purchasing one? If anyone is interested, please let me know through the reply (comments) box below or email me (cacti”at”live.co.uk), as there are only 5 copies left (1000 yen per copy).  A sample of this book will be available to inspect at the next few Hailstone seminars in Osaka and Kyoto. 

Click on either photo to enlarge. Here’s an excerpt from a review by Stephen Gill:

“A renga-like dialogue for two (ryougin 両吟 in Jap.), I like the way it links and moves on. We have to uncover a hidden story/character development dictated by arbitrary means imposed by structure (pre-determined rules) while letting imagination have full play […] The work is a success in as much as I think it does actually exert a pull on the reader to find out what’s going on, where we’re heading, what conclusions to draw. Building a future with two pens. Tonally, it’s very good, too. On the downside, it’s very cryptic and varies in tone from ultimate philosophical sincerity to virtual insincerity (or at least bravura, having a good time with words). This left me wondering what a ‘roller coaster’ is beyond simply a hell of a ride and an adrenaline rush. The answer perhaps is that it occasionally gives you good views (insights). Your work does this, too.”

Cheers,

Branko