Friends on the Nakasendō

As Tito has posted, our friend Simon Piggott passed away on 8th June. By chance, on the day I heard of his passing I had started reading Before the Dawn, a translation of Shimazaki Tōson’s (島崎藤村) 1929 novel Yoake-mae『夜明け前』. Following Simon’s example, I was trying to read more literature on paper — one of his great loves, in multiple languages. When I returned to it a week later, I found the following passage about two old friends in Magome, which seemed remarkably apt in a number of ways, the most obvious being that it is set in the Kiso valley of the Nakasendō 中山道, the Nagano post-town route that was the setting for the Hailstone Autumn Haike in October 2004, and on which Tito first introduced me to Simon.

A mound topped by a stone inscribed with a verse by Basho was set up beside the road in Shinjaya hamlet at the western edge of Magome.

Few things had ever given Kichizaemon such a strong sense of his life in a mountain village. Saying that the stonecutter was almost finished, Kimbei invited Kichizaemon to inspect the work on the mound. The two of them set out, dressed in the baggy trousers of mountain men.

“My father was fond of haikai. He always used to say that he intended to set up a Basho memorial during his lifetime. So I got the idea of doing it myself in remembrance of my father,” said Kimbei as he took Kichizaemon up to the memorial. Kichizaemon looked closely at the finished stone. There was an inscription on it.

Okuraretsu / okuritsu hate wa / Kiso no aki

After being seen
Off, and seeing off:
The Kiso autumn.

                                                                        芭蕉 Basho

“It’s beautifully written.”

“I’m not altogether pleased with the character for ‘autumn [穐],’” Kimbei remarked. “The left side is a cursive form of the grain radical and the right side is ‘tortoise.’ Right?”

“Well, some people do write it that way.”

“But in cursive, the grain radical looks much like the insect radical [虫] and now everyone will read it as ‘The Kiso houseflies [hae 蝿].’”


The Basho memorial was dedicated at the beginning of the fourth month of the year. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day and rain fell from mid-afternoon on. The invited guests were for the most part members of the haikai circle from Mino and they brought rustic gifts. Some brought fans and bean candy, others brought fresh oak mushrooms, and one even brought a box of the tiny rice crackers known as “hailstones [arare あられ、霰],” of which he said Kimbei’s father had been particularly fond. When they had all gathered at Kimbei’s place, the people and the accents of two provinces blended together. In the company was the haikai master and priest Susa, who came from Ochiai, the next post station down from the pass. Thanks to him, the Mino group was able to carry on linked-verse sessions in a setting appropriate to the school of Kagami Shiko, with actual samples of Shiko’s calligraphy hung on the walls.

Since Kimbei was acting as host and could not participate directly in the composition of fifty or hundred line linked verse, he passed around lavish refreshments and plied his guests with sake.

Everyone had planned to gather at the foot of the newly constructed mound to conduct a memorial service and to chant verses. But since it took until dusk to complete the day’s linked verse, the chanting was done at Kimbei’s house. Only the memorial service was held at Shinjaya.

Kimbei, who scrupulously followed the old customs, later went all the way down to Ochiai to present a brown-striped, cotton-filled winter jacket to the haikai master Susa, to thank him for presiding over the day’s poetry composition. Kimbei told Susa that it had once belonged to his father.

“You really are my best friend,” Kichizaemon told Kimbei that day.

Before the Dawn is William E. Naff’s English translation of Yoake-mae (University of Hawai’i Press, 1987). The excerpts are from pp. 12-14.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VII

Having dodged another typhoon, we had fine if unseasonably muggy weather for our haike on Sunday 3 October. I led Tito, Mayumi, David, and Akihiko Hayashi on a hike through the northern Higashiyama hills, with Akira and Shigeko Kibi joining us at the beginning.

五月雨は 露か涙か 不如帰 我が名をあげよ 雲の上まで

An early-summer rain: but is it dewdrops or my tears? Little cuckoo, take my name up with you, high above the clouds!

The first signs of autumn tinged the foliage, and we were rewarded with a refreshing breeze as we took our lunch under a tree, with good views south to Mt. Daimonji, site of the previous Isshu Trail haike.

Kyoto Isshu Trail — Part III

Wed. 16 Sep. (a day earlier than planned because of weather concerns): I led Tito, Kazue and David on the third Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike of the year, meeting outside Kinkakuji and concluding at Togano-o near Takao. We walked up the road past Hidari Daimonji (the 大 character near Kinkakuji that features in the annual fires lit on the hills of Kyoto for Obon) and paid a quick visit to my new home before heading on upstream along the Kamiya River to the trailhead on the Tokaishizen-hodo (東海自然歩道), which soon links up with the Isshu Trail. There are many carpenters and joiners along this road, and also a jizo shrine with a delicious spring.

…. Cypress shavings smoulder
…. by the stream-side rowan —
…. berries, small this year
…………………………… Tito

Soon after beginning our trail ascent, we observed the remnants of devastation from the typhoon of two years ago, tree trunks lying like tossed ‘pickup sticks’ across the valley, and some still encroaching on the trail. Further evidence could be found at the marker, where the main route to Sawanoike Pond (沢ノ池) was closed due to a large landslide. However, we stepped over the warning tape and scrambled up an alternative route that David had found, coming across a beautiful yamamayuga (山繭蛾), a Japanese silk moth, slumbering on the far side of the yawning cavity left by the landslide. Close by, Tito tended to a near-forgotten shrine.

…. Dead end on the Kyoto Trail:
…. he brushes the cobwebs
…. from the bodhisattva
…………………………… Richard

– click on any photo to enlarge –

We approached the pond from the north along a forestry road, heading along its east bank, past the odd tent, until we reached the far end of the gourd-shaped body of water, a reservoir fashioned in the Edo Period to provide for Kyoto. No obvious evidence of the construction remains; it is a charming place, reflecting the sky and the slowly turning foliage, though its waters are murky. We all braved them for a refreshing swim, some emerging more scathed than others.

…. Mountain afternoon —
…. his toes now nibbled
…. by fish in the lake
…………………………… Tito (after/for David*)

Over lunch we sat in admiration of such a tranquil, enigmatic spot mere kilometres from downtown Kyoto. Tito told us there had been a village here in Jomon times.

…. The wide green lake
…. skimmed by red dragonflies:
…. who will see this
…. when I have gone?
…………………………… David

The sun came out, as if urging us onward, etching the trees luminously on the water’s surface and raising temperatures to the low-30s. It made for a hot walk along the ridgeline to the south of the lake, with fine views of Kyoto and the rolling hills of Saga as we headed west towards Takao. As we emerged onto the Fukugatani-rindo (福ヶ谷林道), David zoomed off ahead of us to attend a university Zoom meeting. We three remaining haikers sauntered down to Togano-o (栂ノ尾), where we took another dip, this time in the pristine Kiyotaki River.

…. on the hook on the end of the line by the rock on the river
…. someone’s sweetfish** dinner
…………………………… Richard

We spent a silent moment thinking of our recently departed haiker friend Hisashi, then had a leisurely drink and a snack at one of the pretty restaurants looking out across the river, brushing up our poems and pondering the day’s refreshing excursion. A JR bus took us back into Kyoto.

* David’s earlier haiku, to which this is a complement, was Mountain morning — / my face tickled / by spiderwebs
** ayu

Considering Sōseki’s「京に着ける夕」”Kyō ni tsukeru yūbe” as a haibun

In the first part of Natsume Sōseki’s account of a visit to Kyoto in the spring of 1907, the author and his hosts run their rickshaws ever further north. At the same time, Sōseki and his thoughts rush onwards across the psychological terrain of memory and conjecture, a palimpsest of his summer visit many years before with his poet friend and mentor Masaoka Shiki, of his current early-spring visit without him, and of the cultural and literary associations of Kyoto he has accrued over a lifetime. Even when he is at last in bed at his host’s residence in the woods of Tadasu no Mori, near Shimogamo Shrine, his mind is still in motion:

In the middle of the night, the eighteenth-century clock on one of the staggered shelves in the alcove above my pillow chimes in its square rosewood case, resonating like ivory chopsticks striking a silver bowl. The sound penetrates my dreams, waking me with a start; the clock’s chime has ended, but in my head it rings on. And then this ringing gradually thins out, grows more distant, more refined, passing from my ear to my inner ear, and from there into my brain, and on into my heart, then from the depths of my heart into some further realm connected with it—until at last it seems to reach some distant land beyond the limits of my own heart. This chilly bell-ring perfuses my whole body; and the ringing having laid bare my heart and passed into a realm of boundless seclusion, it is inevitable that body and soul become as pure as an ice floe, as cold as a snowdrift. Even with the silk futons around me, in the end I am cold.

A crow cawing atop a tall zelkova tree at daybreak shatters my dreams for the second time. But this is no ordinary crow. It doesn’t caw in the usual mundane way—its call is twisted into a grotesque cackle. Twisted too its beak, into a downward grimace, and its body hunched over. Myōjin, the resident deity of Kamo, may well have imposed his divine will to have it caw like that, so as to make me all the colder.

Shedding the futons, shivering still, I open the window. A nebulous drizzle thickly shrouds Tadasu no Mori; Tadasu no Mori envelops the house; I am sealed in the lonely twelve-mat room within it, absorbed within these many layers of cold.

Spring cold—

Before the shrine,

The crane from my dreams

[Original haiku: 春寒(はるさむ)の社頭に鶴を夢みけり]

The fact that this piece consists of prose narrative concluding with a single haiku, and hence is technically a haibun, means we can see it as a tribute to Sōseki’s haiku mentor, who had died four years before. One of the work’s strongest themes, loneliness, is perhaps counterbalanced by a note of optimism in the 季語 kigo of the concluding haiku, the crane, which is associated with winter. The crane is a migratory bird that comes south to Japan to overwinter but then heads north again in spring. Sōseki’s Kyoto remains inescapably cold during his visit, but it is the cold of early spring. Here, at the end, the crane has roused itself, as if from the author’s dream, and stands before the shrine ready to be on its way. Winter is coming to an end, and taking its place is the promise of regeneration. Even as he complains bitterly of the cold, and of the parallel loss of his warm friendship with Shiki, Sōseki is perhaps also acknowledging the healing power of time. If the crane represents Shiki’s spirit, Sōseki is acknowledging that it once spent time with him as the corporeal Shiki, but will now move on, as too must Sōseki.

(The above commentary and translation are adapted from my book Translating Modern Japanese Literature, which was published in 2019 and is available from the publisher, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, or on sites such as Amazon. If you are interested in obtaining a copy at a discount, please contact me directly at donovanrichardn [at]

Tennozan Clouds

On June 22nd, Tito and I joined William Russell and his New Zealand friend Matt at Suntory Kyoto Brewery for a tour, concluding with a welcome sampling of three of their wares.

My friend,
first one into
the beer-tasting room:
summer clouds
………….. Tito

Though it was a hot, sunny day, Tito and I, thus fortified, proceeded to walk west to Ogura Shrine and from there up to the peak of Mount Tennōzan (270 m). Clouds rolled in as we climbed, and for a while threatened rain, though in the end only a few drops fell. The air was dense with humidity and mosquitoes.

A black haze
circling my legs,
but never landing —
our Aussie mozzie lotion!
………….. Richard

The woods were fecund, sustaining us with red bayberries and orange raspberries. We paused at Ryūjin Pond, embroidered with duckweed. Our descent into Sakatoke Shrine brought us more of nature’s bounty:

Pulling drips
from out of the stormy sky,
purple hydrangea
………….. Tito

Kompukuji Ginkō

Kompukuji (金福寺), near Keizan Ichijōji Station in Higashiyama, Kyoto, was founded in 864, and is the site of the Bashō-an (芭蕉庵), a hut that the poet visited in 1670 and that was afterwards dedicated to him. Yosa Buson (与謝蕪村) and his disciples helped restore the hut in 1760. On Buson’s death in 1783, his disciples erected a tomb on the hill overlooking Bashō-an and its adjacent well. Thus this little-known temple is something of a mecca for poets!

We were fortunate, then, that it was quiet on the Saturday afternoon (3 December) when we 15 Hailstones visited, led by Tito. We were able to take our time, even sitting on the engawa (perching boards) of the hut to compose our responses. The guest of honour was Maeve O’Sullivan of Haiku Ireland.

Thatched with water reeds
topped with maple leaves –
Basho-an, the poet’s hut                       Maeve

Peeling shōji
a corner thumbtack
holds sway                                   Albie

Perhaps it was the fact that the autumnal leaves were a little past their prime that staved off the crowds, but we were still surrounded by rich golden and scarlet hues, the light-blue sky above and the soft greens of the moss at our feet forming a poignant contrast.

Maple leaves
dying beautifully                              Branko

Lantern of Kompukuji’s
soft stillness –
lichen dresses you                             Christine

Footpaths through shadows
leave the bright colors behind –
Buson’s resting place                          Peter

A high wire fence
Through burning maple leaves –
No deer by the gate                            Tito

Framed by the temple gate
Deer and mountain silhouette –
The sinking sun
shika nagara / saneimon ni / iru hi kana
This was Buson’s original, alluded to above in Tito’s haiku.

After our extended visit to the temple, we repaired to Café Anone, near the train station, joined by co-organiser Ursula for coffee and cake and the recital of haiku and haibun.

[Notes: ginkō – composition stroll; shōji – paper window screens]

Hailstone Autumn Haike 2013: Uminobe no Michi (湖の辺の道)

The tranquil beauty of the Uminobe no Michi belies its blood-spattered past. Following the ridgeline of a range of small mountains along the northeastern edge of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, the trail runs south from the foot of storied Shizugatake Peak at the southern end of tiny Lake Yogo to Mt. Yamamoto, a distance of some 10 kilometres. While a canopy of trees shields Lake Biwa from constant inspection, there are a number of lookout spots. The nine Hailstones who walked Uminobe no Michi for the annual Autumn Haike were rewarded with fabulous views of the lakes and Chikubushima, and little, if any, blood was added to the trail in the process, though plenty of sweat.

October 12th. We arrive at JR Yogo Station around 10:45 am and skirt the northern edge of Lake Yogo, passing a gnarled willow tree that features in one version of the ancient legend about an angelic maiden and her heavenly robe (天女の羽衣 Tennyo no Hagoromo).


When the woman, attracted by the lake’s beauty, came to bathe in it, a local widower found her robe, transparent as a dragonfly’s wing, hung on the willow. Meanwhile, back in our modern world, an equally pellucid shower freshens the unseasonably warm October morning.

diaphanous the drops
rain blown bent across tall trees
sowing summer snow

– John McAteer


Fruit trees, persimmon and kiwi, line the western edge of Lake Yogo. But the pretty fruit proves hard or otherwise inedible.

渋柿を 笑ひて渡す 湖畔哉

With a grin,
passing him
a bastard persimmon –
edge of the lake

– Okiharu Maeda

Nearing the southern end of the lake, before the Shizugatake trailhead and the start of the hike proper, we are further inveigled by a sign at the bottom of a mysterious trail, tersely labelled「俳句の道」haiku no michi. But

the road of haiku
is muddy & steep
we do not walk it


– Jiko

While fishing is banned at many places around the lake (also known as 鏡湖 Mirror Lake), there is a designated spot at the southern end, and it is being made use of.

Fisherman’s line
pulls the reflection
to the lake shore

– Haruka Hasaba


While we have dawdled a little circling one half of the lake, we make up time on the rather steep 300-metre ascent of Shizugatake, arriving before 1:00 pm. At the summit (421m) we are rewarded with spectacular prospects of Lake Biwa, Lake Yogo, and, indeed, the ridgeline of the entire hike ahead of us, all the way to Mt. Yamamoto.

We do not remain unchallenged for long, however. A sudden, gusty shower hits more heavily than the spritzing around Lake Yogo, and sends us running for cover.

賤ヶ岳 余呉から秋が 攻めてきた

Shizugatake –
from Lake Yogo, autumn
has mounted its attack

– Kazue Gill


In May 1583, Shizugatake was the site of a fierce battle (賤ヶ岳の戦い Shizugatake no Tatakai) between the forces of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Shibata Katsuie, resulting in many casualties on the strategically important summit. One memorial depicts the spears of the seven generals of Hideyoshi who successfully routed the challengers.


Despite the grim history, there is an almost miraculous ‘silver lining’ to be found in the changeable weather:


change the seven spears
for seven rainbow colors
and bind them in a bridge

– Miu Takahashi


When we have had our fill of lunch and the panoramic views, we return to the trail. As most visitors ascend and descend Shizugatake via the ropeway near the summit, we soon have the path to ourselves. Or do we?

for fear of bears
and lacking bells
I ring the stones with a stick

– Michael Lambe

Soft underfoot and tree-shaded, the chestnut- and acorn-strewn path occasionally debouches into a clearing with expansive views.

Flat wind
pushing off the lake
and through an oakwood …
became a silver comb

– Tito

The main evidence of the trail’s historical past is frequent tumuli, tenebrous bulges on the treeline. The trail itself is mostly level, albeit with occasional undulations.

on Biwa’s ancient battlefields,
the scattered armour
of chestnuts

– Richard Donovan

In the middle of the afternoon, Maeda-san decides to explore a secret trail that descends steeply to the west, coming out near lonely Uro Shrine 有漏神社 on a seldom-trodden shore of Oku-Biwa. I accompany him on the foolhardy scramble up and down the crumbling, rock-strewn path, while the other members rest before forging ahead on the main trail, Tito kindly staying behind to mind our packs. We gain some grand, uncommon views of the lake, but not much else.


About an hour later, the party reunites, and commits to the final push up Mt. Yamamoto, which proves to be almost as steep as the Shizugatake ascent, though the summit, at 324m, is considerably lower.

The hard climb separates the party into small groups strung out along the trail. I am first to join Jiko on the windy summit for the day’s last great vista.

Biwa fruit
across the lake
ripe sunset

– Jiko


There are two possible descents, and we choose the lesser-used one to the west allowing us a last glance of the effulgent lake. This proves costly, as the path is slippery with dry, sandy gravel, and must be taken painstakingly slowly in the advancing twilight. We reach the bottom by 5:40 pm, but after a mad dash along the road there is no sign of the promised bus to Kawake Station, so eventually we hire two taxis to Nagahama Station. After a lot of hunting, we chance on a decent izakaya with a private room, perfect for a postprandial haiku-sharing session. It has been a demanding one-day autumn haike, but a memorable one.

The path will take us there:
all we have to do is walk
towards this autumn’s
mesh of light

– Tito


Participants: Tito, Kazue Gill, John McAteer, Michael Lambe, Miu Takahashi, Jiko, Haruka Hasaba, Okiharu Maeda and Richard Donovan (organiser). Thanks to Michael, Tito and Maeda-san for the photos.

Waikiki Bound

This anecdote is hardly on the same scale as Tito’s, but my ‘hair-raising’ travel experience on my recent round-the-world trip was a taxi ride from the base of Diamond Head to Waikiki beach. The touting driver offered to take a bunch of us tourists (three Japanese and me) for 3 dollars each, only slightly more than the $2.50 the bus cost, and a lot quicker off the mark. Then two more tourists joined our group, and he put the price down to $2 a head. We piled into his minivan, all smiles. When the latter couple got out first and handed over their money, the driver yelled that they needed to pay more — it was three dollars a head. I pointed out that he’d said two, and he laughed, saying “How could I charge you less than the bus?”, and claimed it must have been his accent that had caused the ‘misunderstanding’. In the immortal words of Basho: “Yeah, right”. We all heard two dollars. Three dollars was still a good deal, but for some reason he felt the need to scam us….

It is true, of course, that such dubious characters ensure that they do not simply blend into the background of a journey: their dodgy-ness grants them a certain immortality.

taxi ride
to Waikiki —
the revised fare
drops like a coconut

(Other images from my trip can be viewed at

Tito, whatever the state of their vehicle, your driver and his companion at least seemed sincere in their attempts to convey you. I trust your destination did not prove mythical in the end, and will feature in the next instalment!

Wakanoura Ginkō 和歌浦吟行 & Annular Eclipse 金環日食観察

20th May 2012. A bus from JR Wakayama Station takes 12 Hailstone poets to 不老橋 Furō Bridge opposite 塩竈神社 Shiogama Shrine, whose ancient sanctum is carved out of the striated cliffs and topped with a gnarled pine tree that seems an extension of the rock itself. 

Low spring tide
at Shiogama Shrine –
still the schist flows
…………………..Kittredge Stephenson

There, we watch the priest bless first an infant; then, a dog.

In a cave decorated by past waves,
all wish happiness for the newborn.
………………………………………Hiroko Okamoto 

We visit 玉津島神社 Tamatsushima Shrine, one of the three patron shrines of 和歌 waka and repository of a designated natural monument – an ancient tree (another pine?) writhing in fantastic tortured shapes. Here, we observe a wedding; the bride in traditional white bonnet, white gown.  One hundred steps above the shrine, the view from 奠供山 Mt. Tengu, which Emperor Shōmu climbed with the poet, 山辺赤人 Yamabe no Akahito, early in the eighth century, unscrolls Wakanoura Bay before us.

若の浦に潮満ち来れば潟(かた)を無(な)み 葦辺(あしべ)をさして鶴(たづ)鳴き渡る (山辺赤人 CE. 724)
As the tide flows in / To Wakanoura Bay, / Sandbars are lost beneath the waves … / Cranes fly crying / Towards the reedy shore. (trans. SG)

We then cross 三断橋 Sandankyō Bridge to the tiered pagoda 海禅院 Kaizen’in on 妹背山 Imoseyama islet … 

…. the mudflat
…. all to herself –
…. clamdigger
……………………. – Gerald 

A convivial lunch is washed down with drinks of fresh ginger; and we are soon walking again, along あしべ通り Ashibe St. beside a tidal canal (punctuated by derelict wooden fishing boats) towards Wakanoura port, where we turn off through 御手洗池公園 Mitarai-ike Park. Beyond are the steep, nobly weathered green stone steps leading up to 和歌浦天満宮 Wakaura-Tenmangū, one of the nation’s three chief Tenmangū shrines, each dedicated to 菅原道真 Sugawara no Michizane, a Heian scholar and diplomat later deified as 天神 Tenjin, God of Learning. Wakanoura is the port from where he left on exile.
老(ろう)を積む身は浮き船に誘(さそ)はれて 遠ざかり行く和歌の浦波 (菅原道真 CE. 901)
My weary old body has been bidden / To depart aboard this bobbing ship: / I can now but watch the waves / Beating against the Waka’ura shore / As it recedes into the distance. (trans. SG) 

………………..  plum blossoms long gone,
………………..  but two black butterflies
………………… vie above Tenmangū –
………………… Michizane’s spirit soaring?
…………………………………………..Richard Donovan 

We head west, following the coastline,  past near-deserted docks, around a pristine cove of clear water, through a booming tunnel, past a beach crowded with locals enjoying their Sunday barbecues … all the time, haunted by the district’s strange green stone.

toward the sand bar
kissing rocks form an arch –
…………………………..Akira Kibi

…………………………………. Deserted hotels
…………………………………. In green vines –
…………………………………. The sound of waves
……………………………………………………Mayumi Kawaharada

All too soon it is time for the daytrippers amongst us to catch their return bus. Those who remain press on for 番所庭園 Bandoko Gardens, a ‘nose’ (番所の鼻) of lush green sticking out into the Pacific Ocean. 

………………………………………………….. Finding the open quiet
………………………………………………….. At the end of today’s trail –
………………………………………………….. My friend’s deep sigh.

Flanked by four islets, the tiny peninsula is an oasis of calm, a world apart from the busy industrial portland coming into view away to the north.

…. Across the Bay of Saika
…. candy-striped towers
…. belching smoggy floss
…………………….Michael Lambe

………………………………………………….. fishing-boat rumble fades …
………………………………………………….. again, the softly breaking waves
………………………………………………….. at Bandoko Cliffs
…………………………………………………………………………………Richard Donovan

Checking in at Manpa Hotel, the first rain begins to fall. What weather will the day of the eclipse bring us, we wonder. Haiku written during the day are later shared, grinned and beared.

The 21st dawns fine, with but a few small veils of light cloud, soon melting off. We move to our various stations, sun-viewing sheets in hand. Two of the remaining party climb a nearby hill;  others mount a giant rock at the seashore.

By 7:30 am, the moon is upon us, the light on the sea now an amber early evening cast. 

………………………………………………….. Eclipse
………………………………………………….. Through new cherry leaves …
………………………………………………….. My scimitared shirt.

a golden carp leaps out
just to see it …
eclipse of the sun

10th-anniversary Annual Autumn Haike

near Kukai’s spring

a wild boar in the darkness –

eve of pilgrimage


Kukai’s spring is on the north side of Daikakuji Temple in Kitasaga, 100m from where Stephen used to live. The Hailstone Autumn Haike 2010 was to be at Koyasan, the site of one of Japan’s greatest monasteries, which Saint Kukai had founded in the mountains of Wakayama almost twelve hundred years ago. And so, on the way back from a haiku workshop and meditation for Hailstone in central Kyoto the previous evening,  Stephen took his guest from England, Kim Richardson, to the spring. (They later told us that they had done their first haiku hike together along the Pilgrims’ Way in southern England in 1979!)

First Day, October 15

The following morning, Kim and Stephen made their way across Kansai to Kii-Hosokawa station to walk the last part of the old Choishimichi 町石道 trail up to Koyasan.

…. pilgrim path

…. the man coming the other way

…. has cleared the spiders’ webs

…. (Kim)

That old chestnut

In a grove of conifers –

How it takes the breeze!


…. A Koya bee

…. On a Koya thistle

…. On a Koya road.

…. (Tito)

That evening, the two were joined in Koyasan by Hailstones, Richard Donovan and Ursula Maierl. We ate shōjin-ryōri at Eko-in Temple, where, after haiku-sharing and, in Ursula’s case, a lantern-lit ramble through the medieval cemetery, we bedded down for the night.

kohl-pencilled moon

over Eko-in temple –

seeking erasure


…. the incense-lady rests

…. a Buddha-engraved stone

…. on the 10,000 yen note

…. (Ursula)

Second Day, October 16

Friendly young monks came to collect us for the 6:30 am Shingon service in the main temple hall of Eko-in, followed by the 7:00 fire ceremony in another hall. The many foreign visitors huddled, hushed amid the clashing of cymbals, banging of drums, intoning of sutras, and latter tossing of votive wood into the rising flames.

mudra-making monk’s

precise, polite


flares into passion


After a simple vegan breakfast we made our way through Okunoin 奥之院 Temple’s vast cemetery towards Kukai’s Mausoleum, a helpful local directing us back to Basho’s haiku monument along the way.

…. this moss-encircled stump –

…. bibbed Jizo-sama

…. nestle,

…. cradled within

…. (Ursula)

At Gobyōbashi 御廟橋 Bridge, we parted ways, Ursula and Kim contemplating the holy waters, while Stephen and Richard visited the mausoleum and then attempted to walk part of the encircling pilgrimage trails, with their tantalising glimpses of neighbouring wooded peaks and incipient autumnal tints.

…. in the sacred river

…. stepping stones

…. and the names of the unborn

…. (Kim)

Many the paths,

Few the signs

To Mount Mani:

Crows confused.







We regrouped at a Tibetan vegetarian restaurant for lunch, then toured Kongōbuji 金剛峯寺, the head temple of the Shingon sect. Soon it was time for us to descend Koyasan and make our circuitous journeys home – in Kim’s case, a next-day flight back to England.

Although the first Autumn Haike was not held until 2002, Stephen and Richard were among those who walked the very first Haiku Hike in spring 2000, coincidentally also in Wakayama, along the Nakahechi portion of the Kumanokodō 熊野古道 pilgrimage trail, so it was a privilege for us to celebrate Hailstone’s 10th anniversary in Koyasan. Where will the next Autumn Haike take us?

…. the sesame tofu

…. quivering on chopstick-tips:

…. i n d e c i s i o n

…. (Richard)

In the footsteps of the dancing girl

When I was a tourist in Japan in October last year, I visited Izu Peninsula and followed late novelist Kawabata’s path from Shuzenji 修善寺 down to Kawazu 河津, the centre of his Dancing Girl (「伊豆の踊子」) lore.

I attempted to capture some of the serendipity (偶然) of the trip in a haibun. Now my travelogue has gone up on the website JapanVisitor, and I would cheekily like to mark the ‘event’ by posting my haibun and a link to the site. I hope these are of interest.

Rain comes on soon after I walk into the spa town Shuzenji in central Izu. I have the modest Fukui Minshuku to myself.
early into the outside bath –
meet me,
to only
rising raindrops
The welcoming shower subsides just in time for me to visit the eponymous temple before nightfall. But I slip on one of the slick stone steps on the way out, and come down hard on one hand.
1201 years ago the Shingon monk Kōbō Daishi struck his iron staff into the riverbed in Shuzenji and up welled a curative hot spring. Tokko-no-yu is now used as a footbath. I have other ideas….
plunging my stinging wrist
thrice into Iron-Staff Spring:
Kūkai answers my prayer
After a stroll among bamboo thickets glistening in lamplight, I reach the steps that lead up to my inn. To the right is a small torii in the gloom. Something else smoulders orange at my feet.
rusty toad on the step
someone croaks from the shrine:
“what’s there?”
An old woman, obscure in the interior, watches me as I climb up.
Richard Donovan
Shuzenji, 23 October 2008

Rain comes on soon after I walk into the spa town Shuzenji in central Izu. I have the modest Fukui Minshuku to myself.

….early to the outside bath —

….rising to meet me, only


The welcoming shower subsides just in time for me to visit the eponymous temple before nightfall. But I slip on one of the slick stone steps on the way out, and come down hard on one hand.

1201 years ago the Shingon monk Kobo Daishi struck his iron staff into the riverbed in Shuzenji and up welled a curative hot spring. Tokko-no-yu is now used as a footbath. I have other ideas….

….plunging my stinging wrist

….thrice into Iron-Staff Spring:

….Kukai answers my prayer.

After a stroll among bamboo thickets glistening in lamplight, I reach the steps that lead up to my inn. To the right is a small torii in the gloom. Something else smoulders orange at my feet.

….rusty toad on the step

….someone croaks from the shrine:

….“what’s there?”

An old woman, obscure in the interior, watches me as I climb up.

— Shuzenji, 23 October 2008

Autumn Haike — Kumano Kodo 熊野古道


On the morning of 31 October Tito and Richard ventured back into Wakayama, taking a Super Kuroshio express train to Kii-Tanabe and then a bus through Yunomine to Hongu, the end-point of the two-day first leg of our journey along the Kumano Ancient Road from Takijiri-oji back in 2001. After paying our respects in leaden weather at the Hongu Taisha, we visited the site of the original shrine on a river island. All the pilgrim trails of Kii used to lead here.

bereft brothers of the branch

….on the blank grass bank

….where once stood shrines of Kumano

….a wagtail bows   (Oyunohara, Hongu, day 1, Richard)

We walked along the bank of the Kumano River for a few kilometres, then up a tributary from Ukegawa, reaching Kawayu by dark, and enjoyed river hotspring bathing that evening and the next morning, along with warm hospitality at the otherwise-empty minshuku Sumiya. John Dougill joined us for breakfast; then the three of us set out in perfect conditions on a six-hour stretch of the Ancient Path over to Koguchi.

John and Richard

….Ah, Kumano!
….The waists of slender cypress
….Sashed with morning light.   (nr. Matsubata Chaya-ato, day 2, Tito)


….Backing up the slope
….Towards the gentians,
….A frog …
….In the mouth of a snake.   (Kogumotori Pass, day 2, Tito)

Whoever was in front at the time had disturbed one of three snakes we saw that day. John evidently preferred encounters with the pilgrim sentinels on the Path.

mountain-top jizo

….Jizo stands aloof
….Above the piled rocks –

….Rotting persimmon   (Hyakkengura, day 2, John)

We spent the night in lonely luxury – each a large tatami-mat room to himself – at the Koguchi Shizen-no-Ie; then, the morning of day 3 John left us, and we set out on the toughest section of the Path over Ogumotori (Big Cloud-taking) Pass.

….sunning our backs

….above Gut-Busting Slope –

….my leg says “bee!”   (Dougirizaka, day 3, Richard)

Tito on the ancient trail

The stones of the ancient trail were beautifully worn, looking much as they must have done when in regular use hundreds of years ago. But the terrain was dry until we had cleared all the mountain passes.

….Nearing Nachi
….Water runs …
….Rocks wear moss
….Like green hair.   (Nachikougen, day 3, Tito)

Nachi Falls

Tito’s travel friend Naoya Nakano joined us at Nachi Taisha. The 133-metre falls were spectacular, the sub-shrine near the base a place for quiet reflection on the arduous day’s walk. After a night at the bizarre but cave-bath-equipped Urashima Hotel, we attempted the final leg of the Path from Katsuura to Shingu.

….古道の時の流れを 苔と共に王子塚
.The days of the Old Road
continue to roll: a prayer station covered with moss.  (Sano-oji, day 4, Naoya)

Naoya and Tito in Katsuura Bay

If only there had been more of the Old Road left, for apart from the short forested stretch of Takanozaka and some beautiful beaches accented by jumping mullet, much of the trail has been converted to highway. Eventually, we dragged our weary legs into Shingu, but Richard had to return to Kyoto without paying respects at the final destination of Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine. There, Tito and Naoya offered up a prayer on behalf of all ten pilgrims who had participated in the two halves – 2001 and 2008 – of our Kumano pilgrimage, now complete.

….Leaving his shears
….On the doorstep stone
….The priest fetches us …
….A small surprise!   (Asuga Jinja, Shingu, day 4, Tito)