Seven “Go To” Haiku

Over autumn and winter, my partner and I made full use of the government’s short-lived Go To Travel campaign. Our trips took us as far north and south as Hokkaido and Okinawa. Here are a few haiku from those journeys.

The following three were written on a trip to Matsushima. Unfortunately, Matsushima itself (we did a bay cruise) didn’t inspire me to the extent that it did the great Basho. Rather, my main inspiration was on the train getting there.

Not for frail eyes
these persimmon stark on
an azure sky

From this train seat—
a yard fire, but without
the smell of smoke

Another haiku from on the train was of an exchange between a child and his parents.

Oysters on trees?
Laughing, they answer him,
Persimmon, son!

(N.B. In Japanese, both persimmons and oysters are pronounced the same: “kaki.”)

Then, from a visually confusing moment experienced on a beach (because poor eyesight can also be poetic!):

Sand-scuttling crabs
flock and take to the air,
yes, as sparrows!

And one from the commercial center—called Makishi—of Naha City, Okinawa:

Sitting in threes
Makishi’s old women
sort bean sprouts

Finally, from Yamagata (post-Go To, actually):

From snowy ground
a blackbird beats its way
up to the eaves

No lovelier
winter thatch than your black
snow-capped hair

Blinded by Leaves

Since 2002, we in the Hailstone Haiku Circle have walked an annual haike (haiku hike). Each autumn we throw ourselves into the rich colours of the Japanese countryside and let the poetry flow.

This year, nine of us gathered for a scaled-back hike in the remote village of Hanase, far to the north of Kyoto city.

We had hoped to begin the day with a visit to the dramatic, stilted temple of Bujoji. Unfortunately, the combined effects of corona virus and typhoon damage had closed the temple. But with autumn in full blaze we set off on a gentle riverside walk.

Autumn shade — / a spider pretending to be / a leaf  (Kumiko)

Beneath a slate gray sky / trees flaunt their colors, / as if in defiance (Ted)

Wandering along a forest path, slowly ascending, our senses were captured by the fruits of autumn.

Crab* zigzags / up her small hand, she says / like soft needles (Branko)

hundred-year-old maple tree, / still so young / above the clean river (Tomiko)

Bridge of trees, / a typhoon offering / to foxes and bears (Minori)

At the end of the climb we lifted our eyes to three enormous cryptomeria* that seemed to rise from a single trunk. These are the tallest trees in Japan, sheltered from storms amid a cleft in the mountains.

The fifteen storeys / of Sanbonsugi: / homes of flying squirrels, / homes of owls (Tito)  

We slowly descended to our starting point, from where we visited a forest park for a fine lunch, including wild mushrooms.

after the autumn amble, / kissing my wooden staff / farewell (Ursula)

Round a chestnut table / our masks slip off / one by one (Branko)  

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Fully refreshed we returned from deep countryside to the charming village of Hanase … to be greeted by blue skies and ever richer colours.

Man up a ladder / proofing tiles on his roof … / masked poets file by (Tito)

Rows of pampas grass, / catch light and sway — / the autumn wind (Kyoko)

Reaching the middle of the village we ascended a long, grass staircase to pay our respects at the rustic sanctuary of Miwa Jinja.

from dark forest / behind the mountain shrine — / echoing laughter (David)

Sudden sunbeam / spills through the gate, / ferns bow (Ted)

The day concluded with a safe return to Kyoto City. At Cafe Dorf in Iwakura we shared our compositions round the hearth.

Notes: crab* – land crabs are encountered in the mountains here in Japan; cryptomeria* – sugi in Japanese.

Imashirozuka Hisashi Memorial

Ancient tumulus – / clay figures on parade / as memories return   (Akito Mori)

17 October, 2020, Settsu-Tonda, Osaka. 14 poets gathered for a haiku stroll and memorial event for Hisashi Miyazaki. It rained all day long. The ginko itself had originally been planned by Hisashi and Akito Mori, but with Hisashi’s sudden passing (from pneumonia), I (Akira) offered to help Akito, and we decided to go ahead, feeling that H. would have wanted that. We planned to stroll around the famous tumulus and later to commemorate our dear friend in his own neighborhood on the very day when his ashes were being interred by his family in a temple nearby (四十九日).

Haniwa carry his soul / into the celestial age – / a rainy autumn day   (Ayako Kurokawa)

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We began our stroll by visiting the Imashirozuka Ancient History Museum to orientate ourselves. The tumulus itself was constructed in the early Sixth Century and is believed to be the grave of Japan’s 26th emperor, Keitai*. It is a fine example of the large, keyhole-shaped moated tombs from the Kofun Period and is famous for its ceramic haniwa sculptures of soldiers, dancing women, wrestlers, animals, birds, houses and so forth.  The Museum has a fine collection of artifacts from the site.

black hole eyes / stare straight in front – / timeless haniwa   (Reiko Kuwahata)

Sacred maiden / praying with arms stretched out: / after fifteen centuries / headless   (Kyoko Nozaki)

the clay pot’s trumpet lip – / the ancients, too, adored / the morning glory!   (Richard Donovan)

Later that morning, we walked around the moat and some climbed through the autumnal woods onto the top of the colossal gravemound itself. Unusually, here it is permitted to do so. Lunch was taken nearby in a couple of local restaurants.

Haniwa ducks / stoic in the rain: / just arrived on the moat / their whistling cousins*   (Tito)

the bosky mound – / running down / its animal trails / autumn rainwater   (Mizuho Shibuya)

standing atop / an ancient emperor’s tomb / soft autumn rain   (Duro Jaiye)

We held our afternoon memorial meeting for Hisashi at the Community Centre, where we had reserved a room. The autumn rain continued to fall outside as we began with a minute’s silence, refreshing our memory of him. We then went round the table, with all participants managing to share a precious memory of H or to read aloud one of his haiku or haibun works. He was a multi-faceted person – poet, translator, editor, pharmacologist, climber, fisherman. We found in many of his haiku the scientist’s mind, aware both of minute details and of the larger processes at work in the history of the Earth and stars. One attendee affectionately mentioned H’s traits – both as a person and as a haiku poet – with the words ‘slowly, vaguely, smilingly’. With artful ambiguity (bokashi), he always managed to leave room for the reader’s imagination, so that we could better feel his poems and appreciate the meaning behind them. Other participants mentioned the ‘boyish twinkle in his eye’, his humour, and his enthusiasm for exploring new fields.

haniwa festival – / some are praying / that your next world / will also be amusing   (Teruko Yamamoto)

Towards the end of the meet, we were invited to share verses created during the morning’s ginko. Everyone struggled to spin the thread of time that has passed since the days of haniwa and kofun 1,500 years ago … and to weave that into the present moment through our haiku poems.

requiescat in pacem / beloved poet, Hisashi-san / Mr. Turtle   (Ursula Maierl)

Notes: *E. Keitai 継体天皇 (r. 507-531), whistling ducks = wigeon 緋鳥鴨

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

The Last of My Wandering Journeys – Part IX Ashikaga Girls

.. On my way home, I took another deluxe train, this time to Tochigi. There, I found I had to change to an ordinary commuter train to get to Takasaki, where I live. The latter was practically empty, so I occupied two whole seats reserved for elderly people, and fell asleep.

.. Somewhere near Ashikaga, however, I was awakened by the noise of high school girls getting on the train. They all sat down and pulled out their smartphones. I had no way of knowing what they were doing with their phones, but they were so intent on their operations that no one talked or laughed. The whole train was as silent as a prison, and I was rather perturbed by this. When I was young, trains were full of noise.

.. Before long, the girls began to leave the train, in threes or fours, disembarking without even saying goodbye. Some girls, though, stayed on board for a long time. After more than an hour, when the train reached Takasaki, I still had a few of them around me. I wondered why they had to travel so far every day and what they would expect to learn at school. But both of these questions were beyond my own capacity to answer.

A fine autumn day—
My highland river journey
Full circle, achieved.

The tour is over,
Yet my heart, still a-dancing
With the autumn leaves.

The Last of My Wandering Journeys – Part VIII Kinu River Descent

.. Next morning, I rose early and went to the station, for I wished to descend the Kinu River in a boat. I had taken boat trips down rivers at many places and had always enjoyed myself immensely. Basho, too, had gone down the Mogami River in a boat.

.. There was a boat leaving at nine, so I thought I’d best go to the boathouse by taxi to catch it. But the woman taxi driver said to me, in heavily accented Japanese, “The boathouse is only five minutes’ walk from here. Look, you can see it around the corner! Why don’t you walk and save your money?” I was not sure if she was saying this out of kindness or if she preferred not to do short distances, but she was so firm in her attitude that I decided to follow her advice! Although I had to go down an awkward flight of steps, I did reach the boathouse in time, and walked down the final steep slope to the river. Some passengers were already in the boat, but there was plenty of space, so I stretched out my legs and leaned back comfortably against the side of the boat.

.. Soon we started to move, passing a couple of shallow rapids where the boat scraped the sands and stones of the river bed. A little later, we had showers of spray coming down on us! This was indeed an exciting way of starting a boat trip.

The foaming rapids —
A young boatman braced himself
Before going down.

.. We soon reached a pool, where the boat slowed. The older boatman told us to look ahead. Our eyes lighted upon a soaring pillar of white granite, sharply pointed at the top. This is known as Shield Rock. At this point, though, it looked more like a rocket waiting for lift-off. When the boat moved farther downstream and came alongside the Rock, its middle part did indeed look very much like a square shield. As we passed it by, the older boatman muttered jokingly that our journey had now come to an end! At the time, I did not really understand what he had meant. But later I realized that he was implying that the whole journey had no other scenery as fine as that of the awesome Rock.

.. At one point, the boat passed beneath a suspension bridge. We noticed some people on this bridge, but it was so high up that they appeared only as dots. The older boatman said, “Wave back”. And so we all did.

.. The last part of the voyage was moving through a reservoir behind a dam. Here, the boat had to be towed by another one equipped with an engine. At the end of our journey, everyone got up and left the boat. I too tried to stand up, but found my legs were numb! A young tourist saw me struggling and offered me his hand. He pulled me up with some difficulty. Another tourist helped me onto the pier. I gave both men my heart-felt thanks.

A great granite cliff —
I gaze up at it, laid back
In a river boat.

A bridge, high above —
Though the tourists looked like dots,
They were all waving.

To be continued …

The Last of my Wandering Journeys – Part VII Dragon King Gorge in Autumn Dusk

.. My next stop was Ryuou-kyo (Dragon King Gorge) in Tochigi Prefecture. I got off the luxury train at a small station perched between two tunnels. Fortunately, I spotted a row of lockers on the platform, and placing all my belongings in one of them, climbed to the exit. There were two or three souvenir shops, but no sign to show me the way to the Gorge. I spied a stone torii (shrine gateway) beyond the shops, and believing it to be the entrance to the Dragon King Shrine, I began to descend a steep, tricky trail. My original intention had been to hike all the way down to the river, but I found it dangerous to walk on the trail in half-light. Although still only about four o’clock, the foliage above my head was so thick that everything was dimmed. At a certain point, from where I could see the shadow of the shrine and a cascade coming down from a rock nearby, I decided to turn back.

.. Before I did so though, for a few moments, I stood there thinking about the fate of the Dragon King. The story is that his shrine had originally been at Lake Benten, high on Mt. Keicho, but leaving that place, that he had then wandered for some years … before he came to be enshrined at the present location. It is said that a rainbow can be seen at the waterfall on fine days, but there was no sunshine when I saw it.

Standing in darkness —
The roar of the waterfall
Sinks into my guts.

“Show me a rainbow,”
I howl to the Dragon King —
There is no reply.

.. Returning to the station, I took a local train to Kinugawa Onsen. This was another comfortable one, with large red seats, which enabled me to stretch out my tired legs. When I reached my hotel, I had another surprise. Although I had booked a single room, I was given a ten-mat room with two beds placed in an anteroom attached to it. It seemed to me that a group of ten people would have easily been able to sleep there! Perhaps this says something about the changing styles of travel in Japan? Formerly, people used to travel in groups on company excursions, but nowadays they tend to travel as small family units. The number of solitary travellers like me has also been increasing.

.. After enjoying a pleasant dip in the hot spring, and a buffet dinner (known as a ‘Viking’ dinner in Japan, perhaps originating from smorgasbord), I selected my bed and fell soundly asleep. In my dream, though, the Dragon King appeared, and spoke to me:

“As a river god
I love blue, but in anger
Become reddish brown!”

.. I prayed to him, “Kindly pacify your anger by tomorrow and show me a beautiful contrast between your true blue and the flamboyancy of the autumn leaves.”


To be continued …

Hailstone’s 18th Annual Autumn Haike: Mitarai Gorge and Mt. Inamura

A chilly November morning (23rd), and the first three Hailstone haikers arrived at the rendezvous site – cosy cafe Coccolo in 明日香 Asuka. Our haiku hike had had to be postponed for a month due to the intervention of Typhoon Hagibis, but summer was slow to surrender this year. Cracking the spines of our notebooks, we penned the weekend’s first haiku in a nearby park.

rustle rustle rustle … …………………… tree’s stalwart green heart
falling leaves hitting ……………………. battling the grip of autumn…
the colored branches below ……….. losing
.. Akira Kibi ……………………………………… William Russell

After lunch, now with the other seven poets, it was into the Kii Mountains for a trek through みたらい渓谷 Mitarai Gorge, where the Yamagami River has carved a breathtaking ravine, now crisscrossed with footbridges.

between two roads ………………………. Water gushing though
a field of pampas grass – ……………. Tapestry of autumn leaves –
colours I’ve never seen ……………….. The remains of the day
.. David McCullough ………………………….. Kyoko Nozaki

With the fading of the sound of the rapids and waterfalls behind and of the daylight above, we reached our stop for the night at 洞川 Dorogawa, a hot-spring village lined with traditional Japanese ryokan inns and bathhouses, many of them frequented in season by yamabushi, mountain ascetics.*

rising into the sky
the sound of my wooden clogs –
lured by orange lanterns
.. Shigeko Kibi

Dinner, drinks, baths and poetry were enjoyed before an early night, as we had a long day to come.

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The next morning, we rose to take on 稲村ケ岳 Mt. Inamura (1,726m), with the mist still clinging to its sides. 6 poets ascended the peak, slightly higher than neighbouring Mt. Ōmine, and open for both men and women to climb.** Meanwhile, 4 poets stayed in the valley, visiting caves, 天河大弁財天社 Tenkawa Daibenzaiten Shrine, springs and temples.

It was curious that the trailhead we sought that morning began at a temple called 母公堂 Hahakōdō (“Holy Mother’s Hall”). Ozunu’s mother, Shiratōme, had once come here from Katsuragi to try to find her son, and a vision of Amidha Buddha had appeared, assuring her of his safety but also warning her not to disturb him in his austerities on the mountain. Yet it is on the path leading up from behind this temple that women are presently allowed into the mountain to practice their own austerities.

On the climb, we walked through hushed ranks of cedar trees, clung to chains on rocky ledges, found rhododendrons amid the wintry deciduous woods higher up. At one point, we froze at the piercing call of an unseen deer. Everyone pushed themselves for four or five hours … and, thankfully, made it to the peak. From there, by drone, we were able to view the sea of clouds around us from an aerial vantage point (see video below). What would En no Ozunu have made of that? 

Acorns … …………………………………………. my walking stick
celebrating their birthdays ………………….. all the way
all over the place ……………………………………… to the summit
.. Tomiko Nakayama …………………………………… Duro Jaiye

This color ………………………………………… No breeze
Squeezed from sky and earth, ………. no water
A colored leaf falling ………………………. no sound,
.. Miki Kotera ………………………………….. only withering
…………………………………………………………….. Tito
the cedar forest dims –
moss, electric green
.. Kazue Gill

Eventually, tired and silent, we made our way back down into the autumn colours again, past the spring Gorogoromizu, to rejoin the valley walkers for a final sharing of the day’s experiences and reading of our haiku: hot coffee and fresh persimmons in a small cafe in Dorogawa. We parted ways in afterglow as dew began to fall.

* 山伏 yamabushi are the white-robed followers of the 7th century mountain priest, En no Ozunu, founder of the 修験道 Shugendō religion. They descend on Dorogawa every year during the late spring and summer to take part in rituals and mountain training.
** 大峰山 Mt. Ōmine has the Ōminesanji Temple on its summit. It is situated on a training route for the yamabushi and is one of the very few World Heritage sites where women are not allowed, an ancient taboo unbroken to this day. Women can climb Inamuragatake instead.

The Last of my Wandering Journeys Part VI – Oze Miike

My boat soon arrived at its destination, Oze Guchi (Entrance to Oze). Oze is a famous national park. There is a popular song about it which lives in the hearts of many young people. I am very fond of it, too. But not many people know the origin of its name. It derives from a courtier named Oze Saburo Toshifusa. His father was the Minister of the Left, but after Emperor Nijo’s death, he and Taira no Kiyomori became rivals in courting the young widow. Toshifusa lost and was banished to Echigo. He eventually came to this remote mountain area, giving his name to the place. I do not know how true this story is, but the people believed it and erected two statues of him, one at Ginzan Daira and another at Hinoemata. After his death, it is said that he became a Buddha of the Empty Sky.

…………………… Oze Saburo,
…………………… He was the ruler, no doubt,
…………………… Of a marshy moor.

A bus was waiting for me at the pier. When the driver called me by name, I was rather embarrassed for it seemed I was his only passenger. He had driven his bus for more than an hour in order to pick me up, and now he had to go back the same way. The road was paved but very narrow. For about twenty minutes, we followed the Tadami River, so I could enjoy its beauty. Here the river was still in its original state—rapids and pools followed each other, and rocks in different shapes and colours. Now and then I saw small streams coming down from the mountains and joining the river. If I had followed the river all the way, I would have reached the Oze National Park, but the road diverged.

Soon the bus crossed a bridge and started to climb a pass. This part of the road was very dangerous, but the driver seemed completely at home. He drove the bus calmly and skillfully round sharp bends and up steep slopes. The whole area was so thickly forested that I was quite unable to get a glimpse of Mt. Hiuchi. Instead, I enjoyed a cascade of red and yellow leaves. In this upper part, the trees were already in their autumn glory. When the bus reached its final stop, Numayama Pass, the driver told me that there was a shuttle service that would take me on to Oze Miike. I had a good lunch there, and looked at the museum. I also chatted to some people who were dressed for mountain-climbing and had heavy knapsacks on their shoulders—retired people enjoying their freedom!

…………………… A tall mountain ash —
…………………… Its leaves and berries, scarlet
…………………… From top to bottom.

…………………… For my souvenir
…………………… A brown bag of buckwheat tea —
…………………… Its rustic flavour.

…………………… Good to hear again
…………………… Hikers’ bear-alerting bells —
…………………… They sound refreshing.

I had wanted to see Sanjo no Taki (Three Streaks Waterfall), but it was six hours’ walk from here, so I decided to get on a local bus to a station from where I could catch a train to Kinugawa Hot Spring. This bus ride was longer than I had expected though, and again I was the only passenger! The bus soon went through Hinoemata, a small hot spring on the Ina River; then, turning left, began to follow the Tateiwa River, whose colour was blue-green in contrast to the Ina River which had been a muddy white after the typhoon. I knew from my past experience that this kind of river was good for trout fishing. We soon came to a place where magariya (L-shaped farmhouses) still stood. Although I could not stop to see them, their very presence told me that I had entered the Tohoku region. I recalled once having seen some fine magariya at Tono in Iwate Prefecture. I was also pleased to see, here and there, groves of healthy red pine. In Southern Japan, blight has decimated their numbers.

…………………… In the whirlpools of
…………………… The Tateiwa River,
…………………… Fallen leaves spin round.

…………………… Seeing red pine groves,
…………………… I now indulge in a dream …
…………………… Pine-mushroom growing!

At last, the bus arrived at Aizu Kogen Noze Guchi, a small station on the Yagan Line, perched high on a mountainside. There was a long flight of steps from the bus stop, so I reached the station out of breath. I got on an express going all the way to Tokyo—one of those luxury trains advertised in travel magazines. I sat in a comfortable seat, enjoying the ever-changing views from a large window. At one point, I was able to look down upon a big arched bridge. Now I knew we were in the Kinu River Valley.

…………………… Back to modern life
…………………… Traversing iron bridges —
…………………… This autumnal day.

To be continued …

Arima: a letter to Michael

Dear Michael,
It was very good to spend some time together. How vivacious is Miu!
Kaz and I enjoyed our night at Gekkouen Inn (we imagine it must be the original part that we stayed in, as smaller and slightly rusty and rickety, but nice). Meals were Viking Style (at long tables with knives drawn), thus the reasonable price. The riverside bathing pool, though shallow, was iron-stained and wonderfully relaxing, safe behind a screen from prying eyes. The forest trees, long-limbed, a canopy above.

…….. From the window
…….. of the covered bridge,
…….. an autumn-scented stream

…….. Black clouds swirl
…….. before the high full moon:
…….. who stays
…….. in the turret room tonight?

This morning, before the bus back to Kyo, we visited Kameno-o Shrine:

…….. A turtle’s tail
…….. of red trickling water …
…….. I frame it for a friend

Best regards, ….
Tito …..