Archive for the Autumn Category

The Last of My Wandering Journeys: Part I – The Toné River

Posted in Autumn, Haibun, Travel on April 13, 2019 by sosui

.. We had a lot of rain this summer. When autumn came, I was seized with a burning desire to go on a wandering journey. Already eighty-six, with weakening legs, I knew it was going to be the last of my journeys. From the very outset, however, I fully enjoyed this journey, for I had to plan it rather carefully. Wanting to go to remote places I had not seen before, I chose Lake Okutadami in Niigata Prefecture, Ozemiike Pond in Fukushima Prefecture, and Ryuoukyo Gorge and Kinugawa Spa in Tochigi Prefecture. I found out that it would be possible to visit all these places in three days by using local trains and country buses. Timing would be a bit tricky, though, as two typhoons were in the offing! Once the first one had passed, I decided to leave immediately, for there would surely be at least two fine days, perhaps three, before the next typhoon arrived. I had to hurry, though, because one of the buses I wanted to use would stop its service in less than ten days.
………. The typhoon gone by,
………. I watched my dreams revolving
………. Round my little room.
.. So, at Takasaki Station, I got on a local train on the Joetsu Line. Unfortunately, it was one of those rather uncomfortable commuter trains. The main attraction of this line was a long tunnel that lies on the border of Gunma and Niigata Prefectures and I had been wanting to travel through this for the first time in my life. With Takasaki soon behind me, I enjoyed the changing views of Mt. Haruna from the train window. I live at the foot of this mountain, but what I saw from the train window was an entirely different shape. Mt. Haruna has multiple peaks, so that as we move in relation to it, we never see the same mountain form.
.. Soon after the train left Shibukawa Station, I had a spectacular view of the River Toné. As its nickname Bando Taro (First Son of the East Country) indicates, it is one of the largest rivers in Japan. When it came into view, it was near flood level after the typhoon and was collecting the water of a major branch, too, thus almost doubling its size. T. S. Eliot once called the Mississippi “a brown god”. The River Toné was an angry brown god that day.
………. Trees and grasses bow
………. As an angry god cavorts
………. Headlong through the vale.
.. I continued to feel anxious, as I knew the train service could well be suspended before I had finished my journey. My experience told me, though, that the headwaters of the river might already be abating in this fine weather. And, sure enough, the River Toné became less and less brown as I travelled north.

To be continued …

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Finding Sekitei

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Modern, Winter with tags , on December 28, 2018 by Tito

Late November. I climbed Mt. Takamiyama (1,248m, ‘Kansai’s Matterhorn’) on the border between Nara and Mie. Found a little snow at the top, where there’s a shrine to Yatagarasu, the giant three-legged crow, guide of the first emperor, emblem of Kumano Jinja (and of Japan’s national football team). The scene was almost biblical: a mountain ark.
.

The Messenger Crow’s Mount —
there below, autumn ranges
north, south, east and west ……………. Tito
.

After the descent, took a dip at Takasumi Hot Spring. Of this, another time. The bathhouse receptionist gave me a map, however, on which was marked “Sekitei-an”, a haiku poet’s hermitage elsewhere in the village of Higashi Yoshino. I remembered the name from Blyth’s History of Haiku. Although Blyth has him in Meiji, he is actually one of the best of the Taisho period haiku poets. I began to envisage a Hailstone event there next year. In the meantime, here are two of his beautifully alliterative/assonant verses for the winter season. Happy New Year!
.

koshiyuki no / yama mite shouji / shime ni keri
Gazing across
to the snowed-up mountains …
then shutting up
my paper window-screens ……………. Sekitei, 1913

.
getsumen ni / samukari no ei / kakari keri
The face of the moon:
in silhouette
flying on through it,
a flock of winter geese …………….. Sekitei, 1951

from the Icebox inbox – 43

Posted in Autumn, Haibun, Poem, Submissions with tags , on December 9, 2018 by Tito

Haibun: Offerings

Nicole Hague-Andrews

.. The trolls at Fowlmere live under the bridges, and sometimes under the boardwalks that meander through the marshy reed beds. They live in the damp, shady places, loathing the sunlight and will eat you if you don’t answer their questions correctly or give them the gifts that they ask for. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to appease them in order to cross their bridges to safety. They ask us what our favourite colours are (which we have rehearsed well beforehand); sometimes they ask for leaves or berries, sticks, songs, poems or numbers. They are as fickle as the wind and the rain.

dragonflies
circling the gunnera*
two feet wide

.. At the old watercress beds, the pump galoops water… and our dresses are wet to the knees. The trolls won’t eat the spicy, bitter watercress, but we like it with our apples and crackers. The chalk-bed stream water is so clear that Ophelia floats by on luminous weeds, as we throw blackberries on her and the silky, seed-expanded heads of reeds.

dried-up reed beds:
from the hide
Florence blows shut
the windows

.. We are becoming familiar with the different families of trolls: some are nicer than others, can even be experienced as kind. We try to understand their natures. Still, we are left alone to climb trees and make dens.

from the bridge
half a yellow leaf
… floats by

* gunnera – giant rhubarb

Poem: Voici

Serge Saunière

Voici ces quelques photos des deux jours passés prés de vous.
Ciel bleu et soleil pour nous accompagner.
Souvenirs escarpés et quelques pierres de plus sur mes étagères.
Un bonsaî genévrier qui respire à nouveau.
Basho au cours de l’eau.
Le désir de vous revoir.

Here are some pictures of the two days spent with you.
Blue sky and sun to accompany us.
Steep memories and some more stones now on my shelves.
A juniper bonsai that breathes once more.
Basho over the water.
The desire to see you again.

Beneath Northern Hills

Posted in Autumn, Ginko-no-renga with tags on November 21, 2018 by david mccullough

.

Beneath northern hills
a green, shining lake
dappled with fallen leaves
………………………….. David

Speckles of fungus,
dead tree still standing
………………………….. Branko

Stalked by a grey heron —
the floating isle
of Midorogaike
………………………….. Richard

Sleepy, at this water’s edge,
where wild boars roam
………………………….. Hitomi

By the roadside,
alone with his ghost,
a taxi driver dozing
………………………….. Ursula

Goddess of the pond,
her silent face
………………………….. Tomiko

Feels like
a reed pipe
playing in the distance
………………………….. Teruko

A lunatic scream
pierces the air
………………………….. Branko

Uprooted trees
shelter their young —
echoes of the Ice Age
………………………….. Akira

Feeding the marsh,
a handful of sprinkled acorns
………………………….. Hitomi

Green brooch
on a red sports-car:
the praying mantis
………………………….. Mayumi

The mood of these trees
in all their colours
………………………….. Gerald

Poets wandering
beside the lake —
cold hunter’s moon
………………………….. Ayako

At last, one bubble
makes it to the surface
………………………….. Tito

.
Editor’s footnote: this ginko-no-renga was composed after a memorable composition stroll around Midorogaike (Midoro Pond) in Kitayama, Kyoto on 4 Nov. 2018. It was compiled by David McCullough with assistance from host, Branko Manojlovic. Most but not all of the 13 participants got a verse in. We hope to do another by a pond in Osaka next spring!

Hailstone’s 17th Autumn Haike: Mt Miwa and Tanzan Shrine

Posted in Autumn, Event report, Walking with tags on November 11, 2018 by William

Oct. 13, 2018 – Mt. Miwa 三輪山

After a box lunch taken in the harvest rice-fields near Omiwa Shrine 大神神社 and a visit to Omononushi’s ancient cryptomeria in the main compound, the five poets intending to scale Mount Miwa (467m, to the north of Sakurai) have first to obtain permission at Sai Jinja 狭井神社. They are issued with a route map and pilgrims’ garlands to wear around their necks, each supporting a small bell that jingles all the way up to the summit. All pledge to remain silent throughout the climb. Tito decides to climb barefoot. Here are a few of the haiku from this first day.

Snake God Tree:*
searching through my pockets
for raw egg offering
………………………… Branko

“Komorebi!”*
pointing and whispering
to his wife —
his tree enlightenment!
………………………… Richard

To my sweating forehead
a splash of waterfall —
just halfway to the top
………………………… Kyoko 

My vow of silence,
severely tested on the climb
by an English-speaking man!
………………………… Tito

The rock sanctuary:
one family clapping hands in unison,
a lone woman staring faraway
………………………… Kyoko

Pilgrim’s bare feet
imprinting the mud …
unspoken words
………………………… Branko

Miwa —
blue light
shining from a black leaf
on the forest floor
………………………… Tito

After the descent, talk resumes at Hibara Jinja* 檜原神社 a little way along the Yamanobe Old Path. Later that evening, at Wakaba Minshuku*, haiku are shared, appreciated, rejected, and occasionally reworked, until the wine is drunk and midnight has long passed.

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Oct. 14, 2018 – Mt. Goharetsu 御破裂山

Two poets return home, but another joined the haike last night. It’s a cool, early autumn morning and four poets are searching for a path over Mount Goharetsu* (610m). Their destination is Tanzan Shrine 談山神社 and its annual “Kakitsusai” 嘉吉祭 harvest festival, which is due to start in a few hours.

Cloud shrouds the peaks
above the plains of Asuka —
a lone kite circling
………………………… Richard

Fields of golden rice
ready for harvesting —
ancient village, unchanged
………………………… Kyoko

The autumn butterfly —
how prim and proper
its ribbon ties!
………………………… Tomiko

The persimmon farmer talks
of a typhoon-damaged slope:
Mt. Katsuragi*
wreathed in mist
………………………… Tito

Their route takes them through the streets of Asuka 明日香 into its eastern foothills, past locals tending their crops, and up into the tall, straight trunks of cypress and cedars growing on the mountainside.

Another step
on rising earth,
interrupted —
span of silver thread
………………………… William

The entomologist —
showing us his bagged live specimens
in a dreary wood
………………………… Tito

The trees close in and
catch our voices — their reply
a soft mockery
………………………… William

They reach Tanzan Shrine, a burst of Japanese architecture, and find the festival’s main ritual is already underway. Removing their shoes, they shuffle quietly into one wide room—open at the back to a sunlit veranda hung with iron lanterns—and join the worshippers. To the shrill accompaniment of gagaku*, many elaborate displays of fruits and vegetables are brought out from deep within the shrine, carefully passed from priest to priest. A glimpse is had of a statue of the enshrined deity, Fujiwara no Kamatari*, whom the festival honours.

The Shinto priest:
a single green pepper
atop his chestnut offering
………………………… Richard

For another year
priest pulls the curtain down
on the clan divinity —
his long, plaintive wail
………………………… Tito

The festival complete, our pilgrims head back into the sun, retrieving lunch boxes from their backpacks.

tier upon tier,
the surrounding trees are touched
by new scarlet
………………………… William

The summit of Goharetsu is attained after a further short climb. To where next year?

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* Notes
Haike – haiku hike
Snake God Tree – an ancient sugi (cryptomeria) thought to be a yorishiro (conductor) for Okuninushi, who comes in the form of a snake
komorebi – sunshine filtered through branches
Hibara Jinja – a Shinto compound lacking any hall for its divinity, Amaterasu, and thought to be the first Ise Shrine
Wakaba Minshuku – a rustic inn beside Okadera Temple in Asuka
Mt. Goharetsu – to the southeast of Asuka, part of which is commonly referred to as “Tonomine”
Mt. Katsuragi – a peak (959m) to the west of Asuka famed as the haunt of the C7th mystic, En no Gyoja
gagaku – ancient court music, featuring reeds and pipes
Fujiwara no Kamatari – instigator of the Taika Reforms in C7th and founder of the Fujiwara clan

Persimmons – part 6

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on July 14, 2018 by sosui

. Among haiku poets, both ancient and modern, I think it was Shiki who loved persimmons the most. Let me quote the following passage to prove this point. It is from his work entitled “Two Persimmons”. Shiki calls it a novel and uses the third person singular for the main character, but to me, it is a piece of haibun, in which the author describes his own experiences:

Soon his sister stood up, shaking threads from her knees. She wanted to take a tray of the remaining persimmons to her sick brother, the master of the house.
“Is that all that remains,” her brother asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the persimmons.
“Yes, this is all. You ate so many of them yesterday,” she answered. There were only two persimmons on the tray.
He was a great lover of food, and especially liked all kinds of fruit. But, above all, he loved persimmons.

. He must have decided to save the two remaining persimmons till he had finished his work as reviewer of haiku. When he had done so, he wrote the following poem:

Three thousand haiku to read —
Finishing them all, I eat
The two persimmons.

. I think Shiki is implying how hard his reviewer’s work was, and also how quickly the persimmons disappeared eating them at such a pace.

. Shiki indeed has many poems about persimmons, but the following is perhaps the most famous:

A bell rings out while
I’m eating a persimmon —
Horyuji Temple.

. Personally, I find it a bit difficult to understand. If the haiku simply describes a time sequence, then perhaps it is not such a great poem. Among scholarly commentators, there is one who says that it should be taken as a poem of greeting to Soseki, who had written a similar poem. Another points out that Shiki was so ill during his visit to Nara that he probably never actually went to the Horyuji Temple. I do not find these comments very helpful for the interpretation of the poem. For me, there must be some meaningful relationship between Shiki’s eating the persimmon and the ringing of the temple bell: otherwise, the poem falls apart. The only connection between them that I can think of is the sense of satisfaction. Shiki adored persimmons, and whenever he ate one he found pleasure; while the temple bell brought him pleasure of a different sort. I think we could say that one was a physical pleasure and the other spiritual. So I take this haiku to be an expression of both physical and spiritual satisfaction. Incidentally, the poem has a short preface saying, “I rested at a tea shop near Horyuji Temple”. In an essay elsewhere, he also comments:

For a long time persimmons have been neglected by poets. I had never thought of combining persimmons and Nara, but was overjoyed when I found this possible. It was a new combination.

I believe that this combination was in fact an old one, for Imperial Palace Persimmons have traditionally been grown in Nara.

. To the end of his life Shiki remained an admirer of persimmons, and the following poem should be used as his epitaph. It is indeed prefaced “After my death”.

Let it thus be known:
A great persimmon eater
And haiku lover.

(To be continued…)

Persimmons – part 5

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on May 19, 2018 by sosui

. There are also many paintings and decorated lacquer boxes in which persimmons are depicted, most dating from the Edo period. One, for example, is a painting by Sakai Hoitsu (1761~1828), included in the series called “Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months” (owned by the Imperial Household Agency), and which relates to the month of September. It shows red persimmons hanging from the branches and a pair of pale green white-eyes on the trunk. The contrast of colours in this painting is superb, and there is a touch of playfulness in the attitude of the little birds.

. Haiku poets of the Edo period have also left some poems about persimmons:

…………… In this old village,
…………… There is not a house without
…………… Some persimmon trees. ………… Basho

……………………………… Lord of Persimmons,
……………………………… But his tree tops are too close
……………………………… To Mt. Arashi. ………… Kyorai

………………………………………………………. A ripe persimmon —
………………………………………………………. I felt autumn sinking deep
………………………………………………………. Into my stomach. ………… Shiko

…………… Entrusted with the
…………… Imperial persimmons,
…………… A scarecrow looks proud. ………… Buson

……………………………… The top branch still has
……………………………… One sour persimmon hanging —
……………………………… I feel so attached. ………… Issa

. Basho’s poem is a beautiful description of a happy village which has enjoyed peace for many years. Considering the fact that he spent most of his life in wandering, I think Basho must have had a rather complex reaction to the scene, which we might say is mixed with envy. Kyorai’s poem concludes “The Story of Rakushisha” (House of Fallen Persimmons), which he wrote to explain why he had chosen this rather unusual name for his cottage. Apparently, his cottage had forty or fifty persimmon trees standing around it, but the keeper whom he had hired to look after it had never sent him any persimmons. So, one year, he went to see for himself, and found the trees loaded with fruit. Soon a merchant came and offered a large sum of money for the persimmons. But a night storm knocked all the persimmons down. Next morning, the merchant came and complained that in his long career as a merchant he had never had such an experience, and asked Kyorai if he would return the money. Rather unwillingly Kyorai consented. So, the above haiku is not a simple description of his cottage. The present Rakushisha Cottage is a later reconstruction. We do not know the original site, but judging from the haiku quoted above, it may have been closer to Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”). Anyway, Kyorai expresses his fear of the storm that comes from the mountain straight down to his persimmon trees. Shiko was the leader of the group of haiku poets called Mino-ha, but his poems are said to lack depth and complexity. The poem I quoted above is, I believe, derived from a poem by Basho, but it has neither the depth nor the complexity of the model. That is why I used the word “stomach” to translate harawata. This Japanese word is normally translated as “intestines” or “guts”. I felt that Shiko is simply referring to a physical, rather than a metaphysical, phenomenon. The Imperial Palace Persimmons mentioned in Buson’s poem are the sweet persimmons I referred to in an earlier instalment. I believe birds liked them very much. So a scarecrow was entrusted with watching over them. I wonder what kind of expression the scarecrow had on his face? He must surely have looked proud, but at the same time he would have known the limit of his power. So, I take Buson’s poem to be rather humorous. I only wish Buson had left a painting of this scene, too. Issa’s poem expresses not only his sympathy for the last persimmon hanging on the top branch, but also sympathy for himself. Issa says the persimmon is sour, yet sour persimmons usually become sweet in late autumn. The sour-sweet persimmon hanging from the top branch is a symbol of his own life. Issa has many poems about persimmons, and I am tempted to quote two more.

…………… In response to a call
…………… A small boy answers “yes” from
…………… The persimmon tree.

……………………………… The mentor priest goes
……………………………… To a hill; his pupil climbs
……………………………… A persimmon tree.

. These two poems recall Issa’s childhood experiences. How skilfully he describes a child’s point of view!

(To be continued…)