Green Pigeon Man

the old pond
a freedom fighter drops his pants
and plunges in

Simon Piggott wrote this haiku one hot summer’s day in Oshika-mura, Nagano, at 1,000m in Japan’s Southern Alps. He lived there for decades in an old wooden house he had named Saimon-tei 祭文亭, occasionally opening it up as a theatre and concert venue. He worked primarily as a translator, acted for a time as Kamasawa Village deputy headman, and led the organization supporting the local Shinto shrine, while also tending the nearby cairn to Prince Munenaga 宗良親王 (son of Emp. Godaigo and 14th century resistance leader for the Southern Court against the North), who had fled there. Simon had once presented on Munenaga and Oshika-mura to our Hibikiai Forum seminar in Kyoto.

Born in Northamptonshire, England on 7 April 1950, he passed away after a bout with skin cancer on 8th June, aged 72. He had studied Japanese Language & Literature in the 1970s at SOAS, London University, ahead of me, and much later, David Stormer, too. After graduation Simon returned to Japan and never left. We had played in the same football team in Tokyo in the early 1980s: the Hachiko Boys! Simon was a gifted, independent soul and taught those of us who visited him much about the art of country living. A breath of fresh air! He leaves behind a wife, three daughters, and seven grandchildren. We will sorely miss this unsung freedom-fighting Englishman here in Japan. Thank you, Saimon.
+ RIP +

いづかたも山の端ちかき柴の戸は月見る空やすくなかるらむ
on every side mountains
tower up around
my brushwood cottage
so narrow is the sky
in which i view the moon

(by Munenaga, trans. SP)

look past the garden
snow mountains are welcoming
stars, the confetti

(by SP)

Finally, and movingly, a short excerpt from a piece he wrote on his blogsite,  back in April:

… It was a beautiful spot, looking out to the high mountains across the valley. It was also adjacent to the place where he had cut down trees for firewood all those years ago.

He walked very slowly, still not confident whether his body wouldn’t be damaged by the exertion. But, so far, it seemed to be holding up.

As he neared his destination he saw an uncommon bird flying horizontally through the trees. Jays and rooks were common here, but it wasn’t one of those. By the flash of colour that he had caught sight of he identified it as an aobato, a green pigeon, a bird whose distinctive call he occasionally heard, but which he had only actually seen a few times. To see it today of all days seemed auspicious.

Immediately he decided that, in accordance with the Buddhist custom of taking a new name after death, he would call himself aobato-koji — Green Pigeon Man.

It was a joke. But he was also serious. Green Pigeon Man.

Presently he arrived at the clearing where the small statue for the dead farm animals stood. He searched for a suitable place to put the stone that would commemorate him, the Green Pigeon Man. About ten metres away he found four closely grouped pines. He would put his stone here between the trees.

Thus he would become the Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines.

Then, satisfied with what he had accomplished, he set off back down the mountain.

He didn’t see the green pigeon again, but, in the forest just above his house, did faintly hear its call.

my gravestone is up:
unknown, unvisited, this
virgin rock perhaps
one day will kisses cover
like oscar’s in père lachaise*

Notes – *alluding to Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The old pond haiku was later published in our 2005 anthology Enhaiklopedia.
The full piece, Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines, is available at Simon’s blogsite, here.
Richard Donovan and Tito hope to go to Oshika sometime to pay our respects at Green Pigeon Man’s gravestone.

5 responses to “Green Pigeon Man

  1. Rest well, The Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines.

    My condolences to his family and friends. I hope you are able to go to Oshika sometime.

    Geethanjali

  2. I feel the prose piece Simon wrote at the end of his life, Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines, with its concluding tanka, could be considered a very beautiful, moving example of the ‘tanbun’ genre (tanka prose), which seems to be growing up alongside the haibun genre in the West. I should own up, though, to having ‘spliced in’ the final tanka from a neighbouring post on his blog, so we cannot say that Simon himself was actually aiming for a tanbun. With its mention of ‘gravestone’, the tanka, however, is clearly part of the creative account Simon made of that memorable day. Great alpine soul, I miss you already.

  3. What a lovely and deeply touching tribute. What a gift it is to grow older and realize how precious each moment is with friends, as we never know when they may past. Simon is gone all too soon at such a young age of 72, as was another friend of mine I met in Japan. The Japanese term Ichi-go Ichi-e (いちごいちえ) has so much meaning. I think it’s good to contemplate death; it helps us appreciate the moment. I love that the Japanese write death haiku too. Life is so beautiful because death is always in waiting. Rest in peace, Simon.

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