Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII

Heavy snow had fallen all over Kyoto in the days before six intrepid haiku hikers gathered at Ninose, a tiny village next to Kurama. We found the northern hills still draped in sheets of white.

The local railway
gently winding to snow —
silent mountains
………. (Akihiko)

Our aim was to reach Himuro, an ancient centre of ice production for the imperial court. We had certainly chosen the right time of year. Paying brief respects to a kamakura (Japanese igloo) we began the long, steady climb of Mount Mukai. Throughout our hike we were treading on snow, grateful to follow the footsteps of the few hardy souls who had broken the trail on previous days.

The buck bolts
up the snowy riverbank
before my shutter clicks
………. (Richard)

Higher up, we reached Yonaki Toge (夜泣き峠) or Night-Wailing Pass. Here, the infant Prince Koretaka was pacified when his nurse prayed for relief to local gods, who advised her to place a piece of pine bark under his pillow.

Frozen under the snow
on a Kyoto hill —
ancient tears
………. (Margarite)

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Crossing the peak of Mount Mukai, we stopped for a chilly lunch at one of the few spots on the northern trail that offers a view across the city. Too cold to linger, we descended to the headwaters of the Kamo River. Gazing south along the river valley, it was hard to imagine the large city that lay hidden beyond the ridge. Climbing again, we entered Nusuttodani(盗人谷)or Thieves’ Canyon. This is one of the wildest spots on the Round Kyoto Trail, a dark and claustrophobic place where we were forced to stoop under innumerable fallen trees and hop over streams. But the deep snow added light to the valley, and lightened our mood.

Middle-aged folk
hurl snowballs back and forth,
………. (Kazue)

Splattered over snow,
a blue mystery —
………. (David)

All the way up
the Gorge of Thieves
tall trees
throw down ice
………. (Tito)

At the head of the valley we emerged into a blindingly white world. The tiny hamlet of Himuro, hidden away among the northern mountains, felt completely deserted, save for one barking dog and a rising line of smoke.

Blanketed in snow,
wreathed in wood smoke —
the icemakers’ village
………. (Tito)

We clambered through deep snowdrifts to the spot where, from ancient times, villagers stored ice in shallow pits. In June they uncovered the precious commodity and carried it over mountains, bringing a touch of summer cool to fortunate aristocrats in the capital.

Finally, we paid a visit to the snow-bound Himuro Shrine, dedicated to the God of Ice.

Flat and square
under the shrine roof,
a snow blanket
………. (Akihiko)

One adventure remained, as we were obliged to return by car over the high, and deeply frozen pass at Kyomi Toge (京見峠). Slithering and slipping on the treacherous road, we descended to a downpour of snow-melting rain.

15 responses to “Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII

  1. Fujiwara no Teika wrote
    夏ながら 秋風たちぬ 氷室山 ここにぞ冬を 残すと思へば 
    It’s summer now
    but autumn wind already blows.
    Here, among the mountains of Himuro
    I think I will leave winter.

  2. Respond to this post by replying above this line

    Thank you for this, David and poets. Opening a clear visual link to this trail, I could imagine I was there with you all for this exhilarating experience. Winter brings such wonders.
    Keep safe,
    Ingrid Baluchi

    • Reading your walk, thru history as well as the sound of jets sometimes, it occurs to me that, in freezing winters of ancient days, the workers walking thru their truly cold paths and forests, some must have died. But, knowing the circumstances then, but not now, there might have been knowing no differences between alive and dead walking to do the required job. This made me think that some of those men are still walking in the freezing cold, knowing that’s their task to serve the esteemed city folk regardless of the weather. Did you hear any breaths in the areas?

  3. Pingback: Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII | Icebox | word pond

  4. Hi David, Thank you so much for organizing this walk! You were a hero running back from where you parked your car to meet us in the morning! I really enjoyed it!

  5. This is so vivid and beautiful!
    From a 30 deg C South India, thank you for this piece of history, nature and brrrr!

  6. I was stunned to read this account of your walk from Ninose to Himuro. I once enjoyed trail walking from Kurama to Kifune, but it was nothing comparable. I was not even able to follow the trail you walked on any of the maps I looked at. Congratulations on your success of waling up and down on mountainous trails on such a snowy day. But as you say, it was a perfect day to visit an ancient storage of ice. The haiku poems you have written are all gems. I especially enjoyed reading Tito’s poem describing the village of Himuro in snow. Incidentally, NHK has been showing some films of Hanase, another tiny village to the north of Kurama. From what I have seen, I think the village is worth visiting. I will love to read your account of your visit. Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

      • Dear David, Thank you very much for this reminder. Somehow I missed reading your report on your visit to Hanase. I have read it now and enjoyed it very much. I am glad you were able to visit the village in autumn glories. NHK has shown the village in four seasons. Another visit in the time of cherry blossoms would be nice. I want you to walk along the beautiful river and make a stop at Miyamaso. The hotel might be too exclusive, but you can probably meet the okami and learn from her how they prepare the food for the guests from natural ingredients they gather. Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

  7. Wow! Thank you for taking me along with you— I was hypnotized into the scene and right there with you all! Beautiful work. It brought back great memories of the Kamigamo River and Kurama where I have been and sparked some ideas for a Haibun I’ve been working on for 3 years! Bravo! Arigato!