.. Marshes and ponds are found almost everywhere in Japan. At the foot of volcanic mountains, we have large areas of marshes dotted with little pools, which are called ‘chito’ to distinguish them from other ponds. I saw such areas at the foot of Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Gassan. Sometimes these marshy areas are referred to as ‘gakida’ (starving ghosts’ rice-fields). Poor starving ghosts! They would surely not be able to satisfy their stomachs with the harvests of these tiny ponds! Their beauty, however, can fill our hearts, especially at night when the stars are reflected in them. Spiritually, many of us are starving ghosts, and we are healed when we stroll among these ponds admiring their beauty.
.. At the foot of Mt. Hiuchi in Oze stretches mile after mile of marshy land dotted with ponds, where in early spring, mizubasho (skunk cabbages) bear their pure white flowers, and in summer, kisuge (yellow day-lilies) spread their golden flowers. These marshy areas are isolated worlds and very difficult to get to, for cars are not allowed. At Oze, an attempt was made to build a road to improve access, but this was abandoned in 1971. Visitors are requested to walk on wooden planks and not to step on the ground. These marshy areas are extremely vulnerable, so these precautions are necessary to save the natural environment. I visited Oze in late May, but there was still some snow even on the planks. I fell over a couple times. The tour guide, who had told us to be careful, even had a fall! However, I was able to enjoy some early flowers of skunk cabbage. Their beauty, I thought, comes from their strength. It is a wonder to me how they can grow and bloom in the ice-cold water of the mountain marshes.
.. Quite different kinds of ponds are found in rice-growing villages – small reservoirs built to feed water into the rice-fields. Some are made by damming up little streams coming out of the hills, and others, in low-lying places, by building an enclosing bank. These ponds usually abound with small fish, frogs, salamanders, and reptiles. I used to fear these ponds, especially when they were hidden in dark corners. One time, I saw a snake aiming for a frog which was paralysed in fear. Another time, I saw a huge dragonfly called ‘oni-yanma’ claiming the pond as its territory. When it alighted on a bamboo twig, the branch bowed reverently as if to pay the insect homage. In the village where I was evacuated during World War II, big salamanders known as ‘hanzaki’ used to live in the ponds and streams. Hanzaki means ‘half torn’, a strange name for an animal. Nobody knew exactly what the name meant, but it certainly created fear in my mind. It is an ugly animal with a big head and tiny eyes set wide apart. Its movement is very slow, as if it were very lazy, but when it opens its big mouth and swallows a fish, it moves faster than lightning. Another animal that I often saw in these ponds were the frogs called ‘mori-aogaeru’. Just as the name suggests, they are green frogs living in deep forests. In early summer, they make foamy nests on twigs hanging over ponds and lay eggs in them. When baby frogs are born, they automatically slip down into the pond below.
.. This reminds me of the following poem by Basho:
…….. At an ancient pond,
…….. A frog leaps into water —
…….. A deep resonance.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui), to be continued)