Archive for the Autumn Category

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…)

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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…)

Persimmons – part 4

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic, Tanka with tags , on April 25, 2018 by sosui

. At this point I should like to turn to the subject of how persimmon was treated in literature. Persimmon seeds have been dug up from some archaeological sites of the Jomon period. So I believe that persimmon trees must have existed in Japan long before the Man’yo period, yet the Man’yoshu has no poems about persimmons. Judging from his name, the poet Kakinomoto Hitomaro (柿本人麻呂, fl. ca. 680 during the reign of Emperor Tenmu), lived in a house standing beneath a persimmon tree. But he is silent about his persimmon tree. In the Kamakura period, Fujiwara no Tame’ie (藤原為家, 1198~1275) wrote the following poem:
……………………………… Autumn has arrived.
……………………………… I wonder about the leaves
……………………………… On higher mountains.
……………………………… Our garden persimmon trees
……………………………… Display deeply coloured leaves
. I like this poem because the poet expresses his concern for the leaves in the high mountains. He is wondering whether they have taken on their autumn hues like the persimmon trees in his garden, or whether they have already been scattered by the wind. Probably the latter was the case, and if so, he may have been equally concerned about the persimmon trees in his garden. In the Edo period, Ozawa Roan (1723~1801), who stood for tadagoto-uta (honest poetry), wrote the following poem about persimmons:
……………………………… Chestnuts are smiling.
……………………………… Persimmons are getting red.
……………………………… It is indeed time
……………………………… For short-haired children to be
……………………………… Proud, and enjoy the season.
. This poem is so cheerful that I cannot help laughing with the poet.

(To be continued…)

Persimmons – part 2

Posted in Autumn, Haibun with tags on February 3, 2018 by sosui

. Nowadays I feel persimmons may be losing their popularity among consumers. Shops sell only a few varieties — two kinds of sweet persimmons called Fuyugaki (Prosperity Persimmons) and Jirogaki (Jiro Persimmons), and one kind of dried persimmon called Ichidagaki (Ichida Persimmons). Prosperity Persimmons are produced mainly in Gifu Prefecture, but they were originally developed from the Goshogaki (Imperial Palace Persimmons) very popular in Nara Prefecture. An enterprising Gifu farmer took a seedling back from Nara, planted it in his orchard and made further improvements. Mizuho City in Gifu Prefecture commemorates this with a stone monument, which reads “The birthplace of Prosperity Persimmons”. I am very fond of Prosperity Persimmons, and, whenever I see them in shops, I cannot resist the temptation to buy them. They are especially tasty just before they begin to mature. When they feel slightly soft, they are ready to eat, for it is then that they are at their sweetest and juiciest. Jiro Persimmons were originally developed in Mori Town in Shizuoka Prefecture. A farmer named Matsumoto Jirokichi found a young seedling on the bank of the Ota River and planted it in his back yard. It grew into a tree and bore fruits, but they tasted so awful that no one cared for them. When his neighbour’s house had a fire, the tree was burned down. But fresh buds appeared the following spring, and within a few years the tree began to bear fruit again. When Jirokichi tasted one of them, he was surprised how good it was. Thus a new variety was born, named ‘Jiro Persimmon’ after its owner, but strictly speaking, it was the product of an accident! Now they are widely produced aound Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture. I think Jiro Persimmon is as good as its rival, Prosperity Persimmon, in size, colour and taste.
………………  Prosperity Persimmon —
………………  My mother is peeling it
………………  With her supple hands.
. Ichida Persimmons are produced in the village of Ichida in Nagano Prefecture (now a part of Takamori Town). They are relatively small dried persimmons, but very good in taste and colour. We have another kind of dried persimmon called Anpogaki, which look more like jelly because so much moisture is retained. They were originally made in Date City in Fukushima Prefecture, but now they are produced in other places as well, such as Wakayama and Toyama. What is common to the two types is that they are exposed to sulphur fumes in the manufacturing process. Perhaps because of this, they retain their beautiful orange colour. I live at the foot of Mt. Haruna, an area famous for plums, peaches and pears, but we also produce persimmons as a side line. In late autumn each year I buy big sour persimmons from a local grower and dry them. First I peel them, then hang them on strings to expose them to the sun. In several weeks, they will have a white powder on their surface and will be ready for eating. In sweetness, they are as good as Ichida and Anpo Persimmons, but, alas, they are black in colour and are rather difficult to make. If dried too long, they become hard, and if exposed to rain, they become mouldy. When they are well-made, however, I take special pleasure in eating them.
………………  The sunny orange
………………  Lines of drying persimmons —
………………  How they cheer the eaves!

(to be continued)

Persimmons – part 1

Posted in Autumn, Haibun with tags on December 16, 2017 by sosui

. I have a persimmon tree in front of my room. This year, it has produced a rich harvest. In fact, like many other fruit trees, it bears a lot of fruit every other year. However, the persimmons this tree produces are very small, less than the size of ping-pong balls. I believe this tree was here long before the garden was made, and that it belongs to the species called Yamagaki (Mountain Persimmon). Its fruits are probably very sour and nobody cares for them, but as autumn deepens, their colour also deepens, till birds come and peck at them. This is the tree’s only use, but when I see it growing in the shadow of a big cherry, doing its best to survive, I cannot help cheering it on.
………………  Time for persimmons
………………  To mature and redden —
………………  The sky is so blue.
. I have been close to persimmons since my childhood. We had a persimmon tree in our garden when I was at primary school. My father fastened sturdy ropes around one of its branches and made a swing for me. I was very proud of it and happily swung back and forth on it, but one day the branch broke off without warning and threw both the swing and me to the ground. Fortunately, I landed on a soft lawn, so I escaped with only scratches to my knees. This experience taught me, though, that persimmon trees were easily broken, and since then I have made it a rule not to climb them.
. During our wartime evacuation, I enjoyed sweet persimmons. The earliest kind we had was called Bongineri (Bon-Festival Sweet Persimmon). Its fruits were small and had lots of stones, but their flesh, strewn with black flecks resembling sesame seeds, was delicious. Later in autumn I would enjoy large persimmons that had been sweetened in rice chests — so big and sweet that I found them satisfying in every sense. Occasionally I enjoyed the special variety called Saijogaki (Saijo Persimmons), which I thought to be a real treasure.
………………  The sweet persimmons
………………  With dots like sesame seeds —
………………  Everyone eats laughing.

………………  Sweetened persimmons
………………  Melt on our tongues, so slow to
………………  Reach our stomachs.

(to be continued)

Hailstone’s 16th Autumn Haike: Mt. Aoba

Posted in Autumn, Event report, Walking with tags on December 7, 2017 by Ursula Maierl

Takahama-Ōi 高浜町ー大飯郡 district of Wakasa Bay, Fukui Pref. We travelled there and back in three cars.
Nov. 11 (Sat.) – a clutch of nine poets congregated on a day of autumn showers: the six men scaling the heights of Aobayama (693m) for five rigorous hours, while the three women enjoyed the more sedate pleasures of the mountain-foot herb garden. The evening culminated, at Loghouse Akioya, in a rollicking poetry reading of the day’s experiences, that some haijin of earlier centuries might surely have related to.
Nov. 12 (Sun.) – the following morning, as the sun came out, we composed further haiku near the site of Takahama Castle and the eroded arch of Meikyodo beside the Japan Sea’s pounding surf. Two cars then drove over to Ōshima on the leeward side of the Ōi Peninsular, where a harbour stroll was had.
Here follows a selection of our poems, in rough sequential order, with each poet represented.

greeting five hundred
invisible bears
between Kyoto and the sea
……………………….. Ursula

empty forest —
one bird sings
to the steady rain
……………………….. David McC.

here
at the edge of the world
all things are covered in gold —
the sound of bamboo grass
rustling
……………………….. David

tangle of grasping roots —
frozen struggle
of a mountain-top tree
……………………….. William

a friendly hand
wet from rain
pulls me over
the abyss
……………………….. David

at our first proud summit,
the faded clipping:
“Old Man Climbs A Thousand Times”
……………………….. Richard D.

somewhere through
this mountain’s heart —
the sea, crashing
……………………….. Tito

slippery path:
our feet swallowed
by coloured leaves
……………………….. Branko

long legs
short legs
three legs
arse slide
……………………….. Tito

descending Mt Aoba,
light rain turns to hail:
a whispered goodbye
……………………….. Richard

two claps, two bows:
imparting to the god
my full name
and postal code
……………………….. Branko

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between this world and the next —
a gateway framing sky and sea
……………………….. Tomiko

by the slack silver harbour
a fisherman offers me his rod —
I catch his smile
……………………….. Tito

a globefish
dances around my float:
its tantalising orbit
……………………….. Tomo

acorns scattered
all over the herb garden —
immune from the nuclear plant?
……………………….. Kyoko

raucous poets —
hold the pickled mackerel,
pass the persimmon liqueur!
……………………….. Ursula

autumn mountain jaunt —
honouring my ursine name
with bear-like sleep
……………………….. Ursula

*slideshow photos by Tito, Branko, William, Richard & David

Autumn Haze

Posted in Autumn, Haiga on November 14, 2017 by Gerald

click on the picture to read the poem