Archive for November 16, 2009


Posted in Autumn, Haiku with tags on November 16, 2009 by david mccullough


to giggling children –

the priest’s eyebrows


Waterside Birds, Part II: the Cormorant

Posted in Haibun with tags , on November 16, 2009 by sosui

..That island in the River Ota was also used as a resting place by cormorants. Unlike herons, cormorants are ferocious birds and dive into water to catch fish. They can stay underwater for a long time. It is always interesting to predict where they will appear again, for our guesses are seldom right. When they are tired of diving, cormorants perch on the rocks and spread their wings to dry. On these occasions, there is something comical about their appearance.

09-10-18 多摩川・鵜 1by NY-x

..Cormorants are also tamed and used for cormorant fishing. I first saw a cormorant show at Miyoshi, where three rivers merge to form the Gonokawa, a big river that runs into the Sea of Japan. Here, even today, we can catch one-foot-long ayu fish. What is so good about the cormorant fishing in this river is that we can get very close to the master fisherman’s boat to watch the show from there. I have seen cormorant fishing at other places, for example, at Gifu and Iwakuni – but I could never get close enough to enjoy the show. Basho wrote the following poem about his experience.
….Enjoyable at first,
….But eventually saddening–
….Cormorant fishing.
..I am not quite sure what was the cause of Basho’s sadness. Is he referring to the end of this magnificent show when torches are extinguished and everything is swallowed up in darkness, or is he thinking about the sad fate of the ayu fish caught by the cormorants, or the plight of the birds kept on a leash? Whatever, cormorants come up to the water’s surface with an ayu caught horizontally in their beaks, and then throw it up into the air before swallowing it down with their neck held vertically. This is nothing short of an acrobatic feat, and gave rise to our expression unomi ni suru, which means to ‘gulp something down like a cormorant without chewing’. The special delicacy of Miyoshi is ayu zushi, strained lees of bean-curd stuffed into the cleaned bellies of ayu fish. I have not had the pleasure of tasting this delicacy for a long time now.
When I travelled to Guilin several years ago, I saw Chinese cormorant-fishing masters. One of them was enjoying a nap with his cormorants perched on his raft. I thought it was very brave of him to entrust himself to the fast-flowing River Li. Compared with elegant herons, cormorants look very fierce, probably because of their pitch-dark feathers.
….Black as a monk’s robe,
….The cormorant has red eyes
….Burning with hell fire.