My Trip to the North: 3. The Hells of Osorezan

.. After enjoying a bowl of rice topped with tuna for my lunch, I went to Osorezan via the city of Mutsu. This was a roundabout course, but the shortcut along the Ohata River was too narrow for sightseeing buses. The road from Mutsu up to Osorezan was an ancient highway with stone pillars marking distances from the shrine. It was also dotted with stone images of Jizo, the traveller’s guardian. I found the Fountain of Hiyamizu was still alive. Its icy water was coming straight down from the mountains. Here and there I saw pink flowers of valley deutzia, but was told that they were never used as decorations for the house. I wondered why.
.. Crossing the so-called River Styx, we entered the precincts of Osorezan, a Zen temple belonging to the Soto Sect. Soon, the smell of sulphur hit my nose. Watched by six huge statues of Jizo, representing the six phases of existence, I passed through the first gate. On the second gate was displayed a large square plaque of beautiful blue colour, inscribed “Osorezan” in silver characters. The building at the end of the path housed the main Jizo image and a statue of Ennin, the founder of the temple.
.. Up to this point, we had been walking on flat ground, but as we turned to the left, we entered the rocky region of the ”Hells”. Many infernal pools now came into view, with such horrible names as ‘the Pool of Blood’ and ‘the Pool of Grave Sinners’. Each was somewhat different in shape and colour, but they were all pools of sulphurous water that had issued out of the volcanic strata. Huge piles of rocks were seen in places, but what arrested my attention was the piles of smaller stones that had obviously been fashioned by human hands. I was told that they had been made supernaturally by children who had passed away before their parents as an expression of their regret at doing so. I was not persuaded, presuming, rather, that these piles of stones may have been made by the parents to express their own sorrow at the untimely death of their children. My conviction was strengthened by the red stick-windmills often placed on top of the piles. Was it not the parents who had placed them there out of a desire to buy them for the deceased children? The place where I saw the greatest number of windmills was around the statue of the guardian of aborted and miscarried children.

……. An endless rattle…
……. Little windmills spinning round,
……. Calling to the dead.

4 Responses to “My Trip to the North: 3. The Hells of Osorezan”

  1. Margaret mahony Says:

    Beautiful and poignant I really enjoyed this haibun

  2. The Celts always believed in an Otherworld in parallel to our own, but the Japanese have actually made one at Osorezan, it seems! I find the description of the geological setting – the piles of rocks, the underlying strata, sulphurous pools and springs – particularly vivid. Altogether, out of this world! I can’t wait to visit myself, but it is so remote. Like Margaret above, I too enjoyed reading your vision-led experience. Good to end with a haiku evoking sound.

  3. Richard Donovan Says:

    What makes this haibun compelling to me is the many mysteries that are evoked and left unresolved — Why are the deutzia flowers never displayed in the house? What are the six phases of existence in Buddhism (and what is their connection to Hell)? Who, in fact, fashioned the poignant piles of stones, and how long ago? The questions show how 間 ‘ma’ can work not just in haiku but in the haibun prose itself: the reader either is challenged to seek out answers, within themselves or elsewhere, or allows the questions to remain signposts to mysteries. In either case, the haibun not only recounts a singular experience but stimulates our imaginations. It is a reminder that, while the haiku in a haibun are the epitome of economy and suggestion, neither should the prose be fulsome in its explanations.

  4. david mccullough Says:

    Have always wanted to visit Osorezan so thanks for this vivid series. Thought the final haiku was suitably chilling.
    Recently I have been reading the author’s splendid book on Ryokan – highly recommended.

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