Snow flakes flutter –
only the huddled seagulls
Archive for January, 2012
When a river gains enough power, it wages a battle against rocks and mountains, thus creating waterfalls and gorges. The teeth of water are soft, but they cut deep into the rocks, and their battle songs are sharp and loud. Japanese gorges are small in scale compared with the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley, but nonetheless they are superb in their beauty. Besides, no other country in the world has so many gorges, and each of them has a different physical shape and structure.
Sandankyo is a granite gorge in the north of Hiroshima prefecture. Granite is hard, so it puts up brave resistance against water. You enter this gorge via a suspension bridge hanging over a foaming river, which raises not only a frightening noise but also a wind that rocks you from below. This wind is most welcome in summer and makes you realize that you are entering a very different world from that of your daily life. A sharp ascent soon begins and every time you stop to breathe, you enjoy a different view. At one point, the river runs through a channel that looks like a narrow gutter, angry because it is confined. In spring thaw, this is where the river shouts as loudly as a full-blown jet engine before it plunges into a deep pool. A short walk from here takes you to a granite precipice where two small waterfalls come down side by side, making very soft music. That is probably why these waterfalls are called the ‘Two Sisters’. Thirty minutes’ walk on a relatively easy slope takes you to another cascade called ‘Akadaki’. This name derives from the unusual colour of its rocks – subdued red. One time, I was so thirsty that I had a sip from this waterfall. The clear water was very tasty, but I detected some mineral, which I could not identify.
Another thirty minutes’ walk takes you to a most scenic spot called ‘Kurobuchi’ — a huge dark pool, surrounded by walls of granite. If you want to walk further up the gorge, you will have to climb up one of these walls and then down to the river on the other side. But there is a boat service for those who do not fancy this. If you tug a rope at your end, a boatman will emerge from a hut at the other and row you up the river. The pool is so deep and dark that you cannot see the bottom. It must be the lair of giant fishes, or a hideout, perhaps, for a kappa or a dragon. This is the only spot in the whole gorge where silence prevails. I can never forget the gentle tapping of the oars when the boatman rowed me up the river.
An hour’s walk from here takes you to a point where two branches of the river meet. There used to be an inn at this point, and once when I stayed there, I could not sleep at all because the noise of the river kept me awake all night. If you walk up one of the branch rivers, you will soon come to ‘Nidandaki’, a waterfall that used to leap down in two steps. Now it has only one step for a typhoon destroyed its upper level. Again, you have to use a boat to reach this spot, but this time, you must ascend the river by pulling yourself along on a fixed rope. Just before you get to the waterfall, you pass through a crevice in the granite with a narrow opening at the top. This spot is called ‘Sarutobi’ for the opening above is so narrow that monkeys can easily jump across. The dramatic change of light as you leave this crevice and come into sight of the waterfall is something I can never forget. If you go up the other branch of the river, you will eventually arrive at the waterfall that gave the whole gorge its name, since this waterfall leaps down in ‘sandan’, three steps. The first step is a single leap of water, but the second step consists of two small, short cascades. The final step is a waterfall of amazing width and height. You can hear different things in its sound, as complex and varied as an orchestra. Alas, they built a dam above this waterfall, and ever since then, it has sounded as if it were weeping, and its rocks are now covered with ugly moss. The deep pool I mentioned earlier has been affected, too. When I last saw it, its colour was no longer so black. I suppose that the river must have lost its power and the pool now filled with stones. And this is not the only loss: the train service to the gorge was abolished about ten years ago. The bus may be faster, but we no longer have the luxury of enjoying river scenes from windows in a train.
The waterfall says,
‘Hop, step and jump’, leaping down
From the granite rock.
From a dark crevice
To the sun-lit waterfall —
My eyes blinded out.
This reddish cascade,
Does it gush out from the womb
Of the heated earth?
The smell of brook trout
Cooking on the charcoal fire,
Too hard to resist.
On the old platform,
I wait for the local train
That never arrives.
The deadline (January 31st) for entries in this year’s Genjuan (formerly Kikakuza) International Haibun Contest 2012 is approaching fast! This is still Japan’s only international haibun opportunity. Please submit up to three pieces, as per guidelines on the dedicated page (link under ‘Pages’ at top right). Free entry. Good luck!
LAST MINUTE! (See Comments below)
WordPress.com prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.