In the footsteps of the dancing girl

When I was a tourist in Japan in October last year, I visited Izu Peninsula and followed late novelist Kawabata’s path from Shuzenji 修善寺 down to Kawazu 河津, the centre of his Dancing Girl (「伊豆の踊子」) lore.

I attempted to capture some of the serendipity (偶然) of the trip in a haibun. Now my travelogue has gone up on the website JapanVisitor, and I would cheekily like to mark the ‘event’ by posting my haibun and a link to the site. I hope these are of interest.

Rain comes on soon after I walk into the spa town Shuzenji in central Izu. I have the modest Fukui Minshuku to myself.
early into the outside bath –
meet me,
to only
rising raindrops
The welcoming shower subsides just in time for me to visit the eponymous temple before nightfall. But I slip on one of the slick stone steps on the way out, and come down hard on one hand.
1201 years ago the Shingon monk Kōbō Daishi struck his iron staff into the riverbed in Shuzenji and up welled a curative hot spring. Tokko-no-yu is now used as a footbath. I have other ideas….
plunging my stinging wrist
thrice into Iron-Staff Spring:
Kūkai answers my prayer
After a stroll among bamboo thickets glistening in lamplight, I reach the steps that lead up to my inn. To the right is a small torii in the gloom. Something else smoulders orange at my feet.
rusty toad on the step
someone croaks from the shrine:
“what’s there?”
An old woman, obscure in the interior, watches me as I climb up.
Richard Donovan
Shuzenji, 23 October 2008

Rain comes on soon after I walk into the spa town Shuzenji in central Izu. I have the modest Fukui Minshuku to myself.

….early to the outside bath —

….rising to meet me, only

….raindrops

The welcoming shower subsides just in time for me to visit the eponymous temple before nightfall. But I slip on one of the slick stone steps on the way out, and come down hard on one hand.

1201 years ago the Shingon monk Kobo Daishi struck his iron staff into the riverbed in Shuzenji and up welled a curative hot spring. Tokko-no-yu is now used as a footbath. I have other ideas….

….plunging my stinging wrist

….thrice into Iron-Staff Spring:

….Kukai answers my prayer.

After a stroll among bamboo thickets glistening in lamplight, I reach the steps that lead up to my inn. To the right is a small torii in the gloom. Something else smoulders orange at my feet.

….rusty toad on the step

….someone croaks from the shrine:

….“what’s there?”

An old woman, obscure in the interior, watches me as I climb up.

— Shuzenji, 23 October 2008

http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=357&pID=2048

4 Responses to “In the footsteps of the dancing girl”

  1. marksrichardson Says:

    This is fine writing, Richard. I particularly like the following:

    Something else smoulders orange at my feet.

    rusty toad on the step
    someone croaks from the shrine:
    “what’s there?”

    The “smouldering orange,” the “rust,” the “croaking”: it all come together, the aural and visual alike.

  2. What were you hoping would ‘rise to meet you’ from the outside bath?

  3. Reading this again, I am struck by the concision of the piece and its nice pace, as well as by the natural dovetailing of layers of story – RD’s hard fall and KD’s striking of the riverbed, the glistening of the bamboo with the smouldering of the toad. Although short, the piece consequently packs a punch. Things reinforce each other. It lingers in the mind. For this reader at least, you have captured the essence of the moment well. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Richard Donovan Says:

    Thanks Tito and Mark for your encouraging observations.

    The reason the piece is so short is that I was fitting the word limit for last year’s haibun contest. It was quite a challenge to pare it down.

    By the way, Kawazu should be written 河津 rather than 川津. I would edit it, but I’m afraid of mucking up the layout.

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