Asuka-in-Kyoto Ginko

21 Nov. ’21. Katabiranotsuji Tram Station. In autumn sunshine, off we went in search of the largest remaining Hata tomb, Hebizuka Kofun, a rival of Ishibutai in Asuka. A short stroll along Daiei St. brought us to a colossal statue of an ancient warrior. Someone had recently climbed up to the face and fixed a large white corona mask, on which had been written, in two emphatic characters: “Crush the Plague.”

Thanks to Kazue, we eventually found the elusive tomb. Only its enormous central stone chamber remains, dwarfing the semi-detached houses cropping up like a mushroom circle all around. Here and there, yukimushi (snow midges) drifted in the morning rays.

Toward sunlight               …… A snow midge                      ……….. Ancient tomb
a tree grows                   ……. slips through the wire—      ……….. cicada shell
out of tomb rock            …….. warm day at Hebizuka                    . stuck to rock
.. (Branko)                        ……. (Richard)                              ……….. (Kumiko)

Arriving at Kyoto’s oldest temple, Kōryūji (formerly, Hachiokadera), we found the peace and autumn colour we had been hoping for. The only crowd was us (15 contemplative poets). This was one of the seven great temples founded in the late sixth and early seventh centuries by Shotoku Taishi, Asuka statesman and promoter of Buddhism. His righthand man in Kyoto Valley (largely then in the province of Kaduno) was Kawakatsu Hata, whose immigrant clan held most of the land, founded its grand shrines, and had been responsible for the introduction of sericulture. At one time during the Asuka Period, Kawakatsu Hata had even held the purse strings of the nation.

Stout wooden scaffolding          In Kōryūji’s precincts
for a temple building:                .two pigeons’ tree feast—
autumn renovation                   .shiny black berries
.. (Kyoko)                                   ..(Richard)

– click on any circle to enlarge and thence use arrows to see all the pics –

Inside the Treasure Hall, once our eyes had adjusted to its twilight conditions, we found devotional wooden statues of both the Prince and the Minister. We also noted a great number of weapon-bearing, armour-clad guardians of the directions, as well as Lakshmi (Kishōten) and other Indian divinities.

Protected by                                      ..Miroku Bosatsu
heavenly guards with weapons,          arises from the darkness—
the ancient Bodhisattva!                    ..mantra overhead
.. (Shigeko K)                                        .(Yaeno)

The real treasure here is the Korean-style sculpture of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya Boddhisatva) carved from red pine and seated in the hanka posture (with one leg propped restfully on the other). Its blissful head appears to be supported in a ‘thinker’ style by the fingers of the right hand. It is thought to be the very image presented by Shotoku to Kawakatsu at the foundation of the temple back in 603. Before it, in ones and twos, the poets all prayed for an end to the pandemic … and no doubt much besides.

Down the years
hoping to meet the Maitreya:
here,
like a pink-tinged apple
.. (Teruko)

Outside, the autumn blazed.

Holy place—                             Staying with me
wherever I go                           .by a dark pool under maples:
persimmon leaves fall              .that archaic smile
.. (Tomiko)                                 ..(Tito)

Rumour had it that at the local tram-stop, Uzumasa-Kōryūji, there was a curious machine. A few poets then went off to see.

Vending machine
by the temple gate:
not tobacco
but gods for sale!
.. (Kazue)

We took lunch in a lively neighbourhood restaurant, Arara. The upbeat chef was friendly and persuaded many of us to order his burger-and-prawn dish of the day by parading the ingredients around on a metal tray.

After coffee and a short haiku sharing, those with more time were offered an additional stroll to see two ancient Hata shrines nearby. We walked part of the way on Taishi-michi (Prince’s Way, named after Shotoku). The tiny Osake Jinja enshrines the spirits of the legendary ancestors of the Hata clan, including Yunzu no Kimi, Sake no Kimi, and even the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, famed for the Terracotta Army buried along with him near Xi’an. This day had steadily revealed to us an incredible ancient pantheon of gods and worthies.

There is a poem by Shiki:

山茶花や鳥居小き胞衣の神
sazanka ya / torii chiisaki / ena no kami
Sasanqua flowers—
through the tiny torii, a shrine
to the Placenta God

Tito related that ena no kami derived from a legend about Kawakatsu, in which he first appears as an embryo in a terracotta pot someone finds by the gateway of Miwa Shrine in Yamato. Eighty years or so later, after his exile and subsequent death, Kawakatsu himself had become a wrathful deity who needed to be propitiated. This tiny Kyoto shrine did not seem to be the one about which Shiki had versified, however, for we noted that Kawakatsu was not enshrined here. More likely, Shiki had written his haiku at (or about) the eponymous Osake Jinja in Ako, Hyogo, from where one can spy Kawakatsu’s resting place, the tiny wooded isle of Ikishima.

Pondering over
the glory of the Hata Clan—
winter sunlight
.. (Yaeno)

Several hundred metres further down the road, in the ancient grove of Kaiko no Yashiro (the Silkworm Shrine), we noticed a pile of rocks in a small dried-up pond. Above this omphalos, fencing it in, is a triangular construction made of three conjoined torii (sacred Shinto archways) aligned, we were told, with the three grand shrines of ancient Kyoto (Matsuo, Kamigamo and Inari). This shrine’s full name is Konoshima-nimasu-amaterumitama Jinja, an old Yamato name if ever there was one!

Sasanqua flowers—
now, just three directions
in a numinous wood
.. (Tito)

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6 responses to “Asuka-in-Kyoto Ginko

    • Very good to hear from you, Bandit, and relieved you liked the haiku we made. Event co-organizers this time were Tomiko Nakayama and me, and we both first thought that the work created on this composition stroll was not quite up to our usual standard, due perhaps to the difficulty we had marrying the distant past with the present moment. It’s encouraging to know much of it works for you. Thanks.

  1. Sorry about the layout of the groups of 2 and 3 haiku, which seems to have slipped in smartphone format! Looks perfect on a desktop, though.