Back from abroad

Was out of Kyoto avoiding the street fighting and burning flares, went over to Matsumoto to thrash around the castle at the carp, so innocent looking in the moat yet at heart, as mean as megalithic whales, and was attracted to a Young Thing in her late 20s, at the latest, whom luck favored to draw us together for a nonce, until I noticed her undercovering colors, which make me flee for my life to the safety of the zoo.

her face, so pretty
her hands, nicely soft.
her legs, just right,
her tattoo…

Hopping the nearest Jin-riki-sha, I returned to the country we all love and know best, Kyoto, and discovered that Mt Ogura needed some revision in our thinking. We all know and love Mt Ogura, and some of us (but not me) have spent time cleaning up the trash there. I found out in my investigation that Old Ogura has always been a collector of castaway and useless objects, now as back then.

Ogura, hill of abandonment;
before, minds and hearts,
now, just garbage

Long ago, the rejected priests, poets and princes made their abodes there, huts, hideaways, hermitages all over the place. The poems they wrote make one weep just as they wept.

“Hearing a stag calling, I look into my heart, living alone at the foot of Mr Ogura.” Priest Saigyo

“Even living in a hermitage on Mr Ogura, not a single day passes without my crying about this world along with the deer.” Takakura

On Mt Ogura, morning after morning a drizzling rain; yesterday maple leaves all around were tinged in faint colors.” Teika

“So desolate is this wintry mountain village, autumn remains only in the sound of a stag.” Prince Kakusho

cleaning up Mt Ogura,
first, junk and garbage,
but next, minds and hearts?

10 Responses to “Back from abroad”

  1. Well, you certainly have the ability to reconcile opposites! First, we have the latter-day foray to Matsumoto and its endearing perspectives of a poet on holiday; then, with an effortless flip, a philosophical observation on the sadness of the ‘utamakura’ that is Mt. Ogura in Kyoto! Loved those mean carp in the castle moat: we feed them crumbs and they don’t even bother to say thanks. Not so sure about the castaway and useless objects line, though. It is true that Mt. O. used to be a favoured hideaway, but not necessarily for those who had been rejected. Far from it, as our new book (coming out shortly) will point out, it has been a magnet for the highly-gifted. What a pity we couldn’t get a Steiner poem in there. I hope that through the poetry in that new book (all written on or beside Mt. O.), we will indeed begin to ‘clean up minds and hearts’. Thanks for this trail…

  2. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    I enjoyed reading this piece tremendously, althugh it hops from Kyoto to Matsumoto and back again to Kyoto, dumping so much on Ogurayama. What is nice about this piece is its liveliness. It made me feel a bit dizzy, but feeling dizzy with liveliness is much better than getting sleepy with disappointments. Your own haiku about Ogurayama sounds more interesting than the traditional waka poems by famous poets. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to read this piece. Let me dump three more haiku poems by Basho, Kikaku and Issa:

    Cedars and pine trees,
    A fragrant wind seems to blow
    In praise of them.

    In the South Heaven
    Mt. Ogura spreads autumn
    As if in display.

    A lonely scarecrow
    Waiting for the emperor
    On Mt. Ogura.

  3. And so lovely, too, are your kind words, Mr Yuasa. Thanks for the lift. Especially the last of the trio of haiku, Issa’s, touched me. As regular readers know, I have a thing for crows. So, no surprise that I like this one. (But then, who on earth or elsewhere could dislike an Issa?)
    One comment, however: the principal temple on Mt Ogura, Jojakko-ji, is the temple of the West, in the divisions of the Buddhist heaven.
    I will do a bit more research on this and continue later. Very interesting temple.

  4. Like Richard, I love the scarecrow waiting for the the emperor. It alludes to the famous poem (#26 Ogura Hyakunin Isshu) by Fujiwara Tadahira which goes something like…
    Mt. Ogura, have a heart and wait for the emperor’s visit before shedding your reddened leaves, so very beautiful
    As to the Southern Heaven vs. the Eastern Mountain, I would like a word of illumination from Nobuyuki, if poss., about the meaning of Kikaku’s verse. Rather than Jojakkoji, where Basho is said to have composed ‘Cedars and pine trees’ (which I understand alludes to a verse of Fujiwara Teika’s, nokiba no matsu), the temple of the West would have been Nison’in, a foundation of greater antiquity. Anyway, why does Kikaku say Mt. O. spreads its autumn splendour in the South Heaven?

  5. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    Dear Richard and Tito,
    I am so glad that you both liked Issa’s haiku. As Tito points out, it refers to No 26 of “the One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets”, but Issa is somewhat sarcastic as usual. He is saying the emperor will never visit the scarecrow, but the scarecrow is waiting. If we take the scarecrow to be none other than Issa himself, the poem becomes pathetic, too. Maybe, Issa had Teika in mind, in which case Issa is trying to express his sympathy with this famous poet. Personally, I am inclined to identify the scarecrow with Issa himself.
    I took Kikaku’s poem from Shueisha’s Dai-Saijiki, and failed to look it up in the annotated collection of Kikaku’s poems that I have. Now I have done so, and I must admit my interpretation of the poem was wrong. The poem runs in Japanese as follows:
    南天や秋をかまゆる小倉山
    ‘Nanten’ usually refers to the nandia which bears red berries in early winter. But Kikaku has ‘autumn’ in the poem. So I thought ‘nanten’ meant ‘the south sky’. But looking at the annotated collection of Kikaku’s poems, I discovered that Kikaku wrote three nanten poems as one set. Two others obviously refer to the nandia. So I must correct my translation as follows:
    Red nandin berries,
    Mt. Ogura spreads autumn
    As if in display.
    The word ‘kamaeru’ is also difficult to translate. It means different things in different contexts, but the core of the meaning is, I think, ‘to establish, to set up, to pose’. My translation is a poetic version of this core meaning. In any case, Kikaku’s poems are difficult to understand, and we have no modern editions with detailed commentaries.
    Commentators generally seem to agree that Basho’s poem was written at Jojakkoji, althugh some side with Nison’in. I know nothing about these temples. I should appreciate it very much if either of you should enlighten me one of these days. Teika’s poem Basho had in mind when he wrote his haiku is generally taken to be the following poem:
    頼むかなその名も知らぬ深山木にしる人得たる松と杉とを
    which means something like this:
    Deep in the moutain
    There are trees unknown to me,
    So many indeed,
    But cedar and pine trees are
    Like my familiar friends.
    Well, I hope you will pardon my slip on Kikaku’s poem. Anyway, my comment was only meant to be like the litter dumped on Mt. Ogura.
    N.Y.

  6. According to my own researches on Mt. O., the haiku by Basho which you quoted was definitely written on a visit to Jojakkoji. Nison’in is associated more with Saigyo, if only because Saigyo’s Well, which I shall show both of you someday (if you haven’t already gazed into it), is nearer to that temple. Jojakkoji wasn’t founded until the Edo period, but in Basho’s day was already rather popular. One of its attractions was the ancient Nokiba no Matsu, believed to have been descended from the one which had comforted Teika so much. Alas, this great tree is no longer there. The head priest of Jojakkoji has been highly supportive of conservation on the mountain.

  7. Have done some more research myself, and here’s what I’ve found. Jojakko-ji was founded in 1598 by Priest Nisshin, who had some difficulty honoring Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who died two years later anyway). So, in rebellion, Nisshin opted out of the party and escaped to Mt Ogura.
    I wrote to Yuasa that Jojakko-ji was the temple of the west, not the south as he had mentioned. I was partly wrong here. Not Jojakko-ji but one of its sub temples, Myoken-ji, is the temple of the west. That is, in Kyoto, there are 12 temples which honor Myoken Bodhisattva. These 12 are in the 12 directions from the central Imperial palace, Gosho. The statue in this temple was found floating in the flooded Katsura River around the beginning of the 1600s. It was transferred to Jojakko-ji at the beginning of the 19th C.

    the lord floated with
    flotsam and jetsam
    to Ogura’s holy dump

  8. ‘holy dump’ – a modern makura-kotoba (pillow word) for Mt. O.? Nice phrase, Ric.

  9. Sounds like the tattoo on the cutie might have been as startling as the gorgeous carps’ mean streak! I loved the “mean as megalithic whales” comparison. And a treat to read the Mt Ogura haiku gathered here! (I too was drawn to the lonely scarecrow.)

  10. I failed to mention, when writing about my adventures in Matsumoto and the tattoo-girl, that the reason for my fleeing after viewing her colors was that the first person in Japan to die from AIDS was a prostitute in Matsumoto. The tattoo sent shivers up my spine as i imagined this lovely thing playing hostess to a million virus (virui?) in her tears-of-parting alone.
    I will leave this topic now to make a submission on the main page, about pilot fish.

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