Silver Ears, Crimson Clouds

(Hailstone Autumn Haike 2022, Day 1 – Oct.8)

Gose* is today a small, rural town in Nara Prefecture, but it was once one of the most developed areas in Japan. It used to be the home of the Katsuragi clan, which disappeared from the foreground of Japanese history at the end of fifth century, in spite of intermarriage with the imperial family. Mt. Katsuragi (959m) and Mt. Kongo (1125m) rise up steeply behind Gose.

Cloud-mountain -
harried by winds
yet holding fast ……. (David)

Under cloudy skies, seven Hailstone poets start climbing Mt. Katsuragi from a hamlet called Kujira. At first, the trail is a steep, zigzag climb, but before long we find a good vantage point and have lunch. Below us, we can see the landscape of Gose with its golden rice fields ready for harvest, scenery that has been sung about since Manyo* times.

The slope of the ridge trail then slackens a bit, and we join the Diamond Trail, which runs for about 45km from Nara to Wakayama and Osaka through Mt. Katsuragi and Mt. Kongo.

Katsuragi’s ridge -
one giant red pine
reaches for the sky ……. (Akishige)

Repeated ups and downs lead to the summit of Mt. Katsuragi. Unlike other mountains in Japan, it is covered with silvergrass (miscanthus), and one can see Nara, Wakayama, Osaka, and even Awaji Island and Kobe across Osaka Bay. To the north, the ridge extends all the way to the border with Kyoto. For most of its history the capital of Japan was located in the basin east of this ridge, moving northward (6th-19th centuries) from Asuka (just east of Gose), through Fujiwara, Nara, and finally to Kyoto. Originally, this would have been in consideration of protecting the capital from raids from the west (Asian continent).

Behind the silvergrass
shades of distant mountains
my mind goes quiet ……. (Margarite)

When we check in at the lodge just below the summit, we are joined by two friends who have come up by ropeway, but we part ways then and there with another friend who must return by the ropeway before nightfall.

the public bath to myself . . .
gushing from the stone lion’s mouth
steaming hot water ……. (Duro)

Harvest has come -
hastily a crow flies home
persimmon in beak ……. (Akishige, now down in Gose)

About a thousand years ago, Sei Shonagon, the female author of the Makura-no-Soshi*, asserted that autumn is best appreciated at sunset. Things have not changed! The sky is clearing, with the sun now dropping out of the clouds. Someone starts singing the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Others join in. This evening, over the silvergrass moor, the lodgers will have to themselves the ever-changing sky and Osaka cityscape during sunset, dusk, and night.

Susuki grass
waving goodbye
to the purple mountains ……. (Kazue)

mountain view . . .
colors of the autumn sunset
sink into the sea ……. (Duro)

Tonight’s dinner is the lodge’s specialty, duck hot pot in citron-flavored soup stock. We soon realize why it had previously won the grand prix in the National Local Hot Pot Contest! In ancient times, the people of Yamato (Nara), as a show of gratitude, had offered to the gods some of the ducks and pheasants they had caught in the marshlands and along the irrigation channels. This custom is still preserved in the “Kaketori-no-Gi” ceremony of the On-matsuri festival at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

After dinner, we gather in Tito & Kazue’s room and share some of our own haiku from the first day, while sipping Nara’s famous “Kaze-no-Mori” sake, made with local rice grown on the lower slopes of the mountain.*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Day 2 – Oct.9)

Sun worshippers at dawn —
through trailing clouds
with an indigo halo
she shows her face ……. (Kyoko)

The early birds amongst us enjoy the changing colors of elongated clouds. Looking south, Mt. Kongo can be seen in the distance, a little stratus tethered to its summit. Just visible nestling in the hills to the east is the Gills’ new home, the ancient village of Asuka.

Trailing clouds,
lakes of cloud,
a cloud that’s going
nowhere ……. (Tito)

After breakfast, waving goodbye to those descending by ropeway, five of us leave the lodge to descend Mt. Katsuragi to a col and, from there, climb Mt. Kongo. Rainclouds are approaching from the south. How long will the weather hold?

Bidding farewell to friends:
one miscanthus swaying
in the autumn breeze ……. (Tomiko)

We descend Mt. Katsuragi by continuing on the Diamond Trail, looking out over the silvergrass ears at distant mountains in multiple layers, and head for Mizukoshi Pass 450m below. This pass was once the site of a water rights struggle between Yamato (Nara) and Kawachi (Osaka).

wanting to stay
in this green hollow
so I can listen
to the invisible waterfall ……. (David)

After the pass, the track gradually increases in gradient and a murmuring in the distance becomes clearer. The spring water in this area is called “Kongo-no-Mizu” (water of Kongo) and is famous for its good quality. It is used to produce delicious sake and tofu in the towns below. Passing through a forest of cedar and cypress trees, we take a break at a panoramic spot looking back at Mt. Katsuragi. Although the feet and legs of some are beginning to scream, it surprises us to see just how far we have already come!

Mt. Kongo is a mountain of Shugendo practitioners (mountain ascetics in white livery who often carry a conch-shell on a rope around their necks). It is the mountain where En no Ozunu (En-no-Gyoja), the founder of Shugendo, practiced asceticism. Emerging from a beech forest, we visit Katsuragi Shrine, said to be headed by a descendant of the Katsuragi clan. Then, on the far side of the summit, we are greeted by the blowing of a conch and reach Temporinji Temple and assorted hiking shelters, where we must say goodbye to David, who as part of his race training is to run ahead of us down the mount!

As predicted, it begins to rain. We have lunch under an old lean-to, put on our rain gear, and leave the summit for our destination, Takamahiko Shrine, abode of the Katsuragi clan’s guardian deity, far below. We take the so-called “Postal Road,” where mail carriers used to shuttle between Gose town and the temple and shrine at the summit. The path has in recent years been severely damaged by typhoons, but is now passable once again, though in one landslip area, we are obliged to use a long, fixed ladder.

It is said Shugendo practitioners abandon their attachments by toughening themselves in the mountains. This is a time to confront themselves and try to appreciate that their own mind is gradually being sharpened as they walk. Far from their ascetic state, however, two of the party are now beginning to feel plain exhausted and to learn how very hard it is to descend such a mountain in the sombre rain, every step an ordeal!

The scar of landslide -
mountain rain trickles
down the madder* ……. (Akihiko)

Takamahiko Jinja is an ancient shrine with a rustic but sublime tree-lined approach. The deity is Takamimusubi, who resides on Mt. Haku’un, a spur of Mt. Kongo located behind the shrine. This area is said to be close to Takama-ga-Hara (Takamahara), the original realm of the Shinto gods, as described in the Kojiki*. The view from this hillside may truly be thought of as the original landscape of Japan, “Toyo-Ashi-Hara Mizuho-no-Kuni” (the country of rich marshy rice fields).

After crossing a rushing stream by a cascade, the mountain trail finally flattens out. Passing a watermill we see the sacred arch of the Shrine and learn that our long trail has come to an end.

Beyond a sea of tumuli
a peninsula of cloud:
our Takamahara view ……. (Tito)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* Notes:
1 Gose – lit. ‘August Palace’. This placename is pronounced “goss-eh.”
2 Manyoshu – the oldest collection of poetry in Japan, which features verse mainly from the 7th and 8th centuries.
3 Makura-no-Soshi – Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, the earliest extant Japanese essay, thought to have been completed ca. 1001.
4 Nara is considered to be the ‘birthplace’ of sake.
5 madder – akane in Japanese, a local plant whose roots are used to make a crimson dye; akane-sasu is a pillow-word for dawn.
6 Kojiki – ‘Records of Ancient Matters’, compiled in 712, an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, and semi-historical accounts down to 641, concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (deities), and the Japanese Imperial House.

Cambridge, England Haiku

Spending a fortnight in the university city of Cambridge, finding nothing much has changed in a quarter of a century.

tail whisking
an urban squirrel
finds a chestnut

autumn comes early this year
among the crisped leaves
polished conkers

school’s out!
boys’ coat pockets
bulging

bus stop
under the horse chestnut tree
now and then a thwack

stock-still heron
ever watchful by the Cam
so easy to miss

young swans
how clean they keep
their dusk-grey feathers

September

音もなく濃霧の中を嵐行く

Dense fog all over—
Somewhere behind its dark veil
A storm is moving.
.

赤ん坊の頭ほどある梨求む

A pear as large as
The head of a new-born babe—
I carry it home.
.

白赤の曼殊沙華咲く畔の道

Along the footpath
Red and white amaryllis
Between the rice fields.

Arrival

Half moon, insect song —-
one small, lustrous cricket
joins our dinner table

Travel-weary is how I felt as we began to unpack boxes in our new house. Yet from the veranda, where we were soon hanging out our washing, there’s a glad prospect out across to distant Mt. Katsuragi, birthplace of En no Ozunu (1), with the gracefully curving gables of Tachibana Temple (2) rising out of the foreground green-gold rice terraces just across the Asuka Stream. I recall the taste of ‘arrival’ savoured on so many rough journeys in India and the Middle East; how one would check into a backpackers’ lodge after thirty-six or forty-eight hours on the move and ask for a room with a view. The effects of moving house after so many years feels strangely similar to the aftermath of long, sleepless, jolting rides on Afghan trucks or Laotian buses. Asuka (3), where I now live, is right up with all those nicely underdeveloped Asian travel destinations of yore.

The occasional couple appears pushing their rented bikes up the slope towards our house, and then past it, on their way enjoying the shadows cast on the lane by the unkempt grove of Okamoto-tei, a deserted, ramshackle property once apparently famed for its literary parties and its waterwheel.

I place a glass of water on an improvised stool and gaze out sighing, acknowledging to myself that all the ancient lithic sites (4) are now arrayed nearby, that the charming rolling scenery of Manyō (5) hills already encircles us with its greens and blues, and that tonight will be immaculately silent apart from the gurgle of irrigation water and the field crickets’ tintinnabulations. So, why not rest here for a few days, then? A new place before journeying on.

One red flower on the hibiscus. The afternoon is hot. Butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies visit—a magic seems to well.

Just then, a sharp wind comes down from the peak of Tōnomine (6) and I notice the black clouds behind me and sense a heavy rain. Potsu-potsu fall the first drops onto the veranda roof …

September lightning—
the compass-points
around our house,
each receives a bolt!

(Oka, Asuka, completed 12.9.22)

Notes:
1. En no Ozunu, the seventh century mountain ascetic and founder of Shugendō religion; Mt. Katsuragi itself will be climbed by Hailstone haiku hikers on Oct. 8 this year.
2. Birthplace of Shōtoku Taishi, the late sixth century imperial regent-statesman, who ensured that Buddhism took root in Japan.
3. Ancient capital of Japan ca. 538-710.
4. Sakafune-ishi, Ishibutai, Mara-ishi, Kame-ishi, Nimenseki, and so on; Asuka is famed for its mysterious ancient stones.
5. Manyōshū, the first great anthology of Japanese poetry, compiled early in the eighth century, mentions a number of such mountains—Miwa, Otowa, Amanokagu, Amakashi, Unebi, Miminashi, Katsuragi, Nijō, etc., all of which can be seen from Asuka.
6. Site of Danzan Jinja, shrine and spiritual resting place of Fujiwara Kamatari, the seventh century statesman and founder of the Fujiwara clan.

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.

送られつ送りつ果ては木曽の穐
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.

from the Icebox inbox – 51

Happy 2022, dear readers!

It’s about time to gather some of the more resonant offerings posted as comments at our current Submissions page. Thank you for sending them in.

summer noon —
the sound of cowbells
outside my home

.. Mira, India

purple loosestrife
stillness of a heron
in autumn sun

.. John Parsons, UK

a grey heron
walks magnificently …
flies off
with a metallic sound

.. Yoshiharu Kondo, Japan

twilight in Salamanca —
a cacophony of birds
all the way home

.

between mossed trees
white turn arrow on asphalt
points to the moon

.. Sydney Solis, Spain

Colorful silk thread
Thrown across the vast sky —
Dusk’s weaving wheel

.. Sowmya Hiremat, India

Asuka-in-Kyoto Ginko

21 Nov. ’21. Katabiranotsuji Tram Station. In autumn sunshine, off we went in search of the largest remaining Hata tomb, Hebizuka Kofun, a rival of Ishibutai in Asuka. A short stroll along Daiei St. brought us to a colossal statue of an ancient warrior. Someone had recently climbed up to the face and fixed a large white corona mask, on which had been written, in two emphatic characters: “Crush the Plague.”

Thanks to Kazue, we eventually found the elusive tomb. Only its enormous central stone chamber remains, dwarfing the semi-detached houses cropping up like a mushroom circle all around. Here and there, yukimushi (snow midges) drifted in the morning rays.

Toward sunlight               …… A snow midge                      ……….. Ancient tomb
a tree grows                   ……. slips through the wire—      ……….. cicada shell
out of tomb rock            …….. warm day at Hebizuka                    . stuck to rock
.. (Branko)                        ……. (Richard)                              ……….. (Kumiko)

Arriving at Kyoto’s oldest temple, Kōryūji (formerly, Hachiokadera), we found the peace and autumn colour we had been hoping for. The only crowd was us (15 contemplative poets). This was one of the seven great temples founded in the late sixth and early seventh centuries by Shotoku Taishi, Asuka statesman and promoter of Buddhism. His righthand man in Kyoto Valley (largely then in the province of Kaduno) was Kawakatsu Hata, whose immigrant clan held most of the land, founded its grand shrines, and had been responsible for the introduction of sericulture. At one time during the Asuka Period, Kawakatsu Hata had even held the purse strings of the nation.

Stout wooden scaffolding          In Kōryūji’s precincts
for a temple building:                .two pigeons’ tree feast—
autumn renovation                   .shiny black berries
.. (Kyoko)                                   ..(Richard)

– click on any circle to enlarge and thence use arrows to see all the pics –

Inside the Treasure Hall, once our eyes had adjusted to its twilight conditions, we found devotional wooden statues of both the Prince and the Minister. We also noted a great number of weapon-bearing, armour-clad guardians of the directions, as well as Lakshmi (Kishōten) and other Indian divinities.

Protected by                                      ..Miroku Bosatsu
heavenly guards with weapons,          arises from the darkness—
the ancient Bodhisattva!                    ..mantra overhead
.. (Shigeko K)                                        .(Yaeno)

The real treasure here is the Korean-style sculpture of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya Boddhisatva) carved from red pine and seated in the hanka posture (with one leg propped restfully on the other). Its blissful head appears to be supported in a ‘thinker’ style by the fingers of the right hand. It is thought to be the very image presented by Shotoku to Kawakatsu at the foundation of the temple back in 603. Before it, in ones and twos, the poets all prayed for an end to the pandemic … and no doubt much besides.

Down the years
hoping to meet the Maitreya:
here,
like a pink-tinged apple
.. (Teruko)

Outside, the autumn blazed.

Holy place—                             Staying with me
wherever I go                           .by a dark pool under maples:
persimmon leaves fall              .that archaic smile
.. (Tomiko)                                 ..(Tito)

Rumour had it that at the local tram-stop, Uzumasa-Kōryūji, there was a curious machine. A few poets then went off to see.

Vending machine
by the temple gate:
not tobacco
but gods for sale!
.. (Kazue)

We took lunch in a lively neighbourhood restaurant, Arara. The upbeat chef was friendly and persuaded many of us to order his burger-and-prawn dish of the day by parading the ingredients around on a metal tray.

After coffee and a short haiku sharing, those with more time were offered an additional stroll to see two ancient Hata shrines nearby. We walked part of the way on Taishi-michi (Prince’s Way, named after Shotoku). The tiny Osake Jinja enshrines the spirits of the legendary ancestors of the Hata clan, including Yunzu no Kimi, Sake no Kimi, and even the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, famed for the Terracotta Army buried along with him near Xi’an. This day had steadily revealed to us an incredible ancient pantheon of gods and worthies.

There is a poem by Shiki:

山茶花や鳥居小き胞衣の神
sazanka ya / torii chiisaki / ena no kami
Sasanqua flowers—
through the tiny torii, a shrine
to the Placenta God

Tito related that ena no kami derived from a legend about Kawakatsu, in which he first appears as an embryo in a terracotta pot someone finds by the gateway of Miwa Shrine in Yamato. Eighty years or so later, after his exile and subsequent death, Kawakatsu himself had become a wrathful deity who needed to be propitiated. This tiny Kyoto shrine did not seem to be the one about which Shiki had versified, however, for we noted that Kawakatsu was not enshrined here. More likely, Shiki had written his haiku at (or about) the eponymous Osake Jinja in Ako, Hyogo, from where one can spy Kawakatsu’s resting place, the tiny wooded isle of Ikishima.

Pondering over
the glory of the Hata Clan—
winter sunlight
.. (Yaeno)

Several hundred metres further down the road, in the ancient grove of Kaiko no Yashiro (the Silkworm Shrine), we noticed a pile of rocks in a small dried-up pond. Above this omphalos, fencing it in, is a triangular construction made of three conjoined torii (sacred Shinto archways) aligned, we were told, with the three grand shrines of ancient Kyoto (Matsuo, Kamigamo and Inari). This shrine’s full name is Konoshima-nimasu-amaterumitama Jinja, an old Yamato name if ever there was one!

Sasanqua flowers—
now, just three directions
in a numinous wood
.. (Tito)

Autumn’s here

As autumn progresses, allow me to offer a few observations from my part of the world (over 9,000 kms. away, in Macedonia), yet not so very different, one imagines, regarding Mother Nature’s universal brilliant show of colour and latent scent of gradual decay.

warm winds of autumn
busy sweeping leaves
into tidy corners

….. tree roots
….. along the woodland path
….. an old man doffs his cap

………………………… edge of the lake
………………………… poplars on tiptoe
………………………… admiring their reflections

autumnal breath
golden aspens
shivering

breezy stroll
prattling on
a brittle leaf keeps pace

approaching storm
lake swans busking
next to shriveled reeds

A Matter of Ownership

It was a muggy day when I first noticed something unusual at my house. I glimpsed it in a nook of the porch, but lazily dismissed it thinking it was nothing serious. There were some spotted stains on the tiles, too.

Several weeks later, I was startled to see that the spots had spread. I lifted my eyes along the drainpipe towards a dark corner.

Something in a row
something in a huddle:
strangely silent
nest of bees

Carefully opening the door, I slipped into the house, regretting my laziness. I googled how to get rid of bees. Then, I conferred with my wife and concluded the best way would be to call in an exterminator.

The next day, I searched to find a suitable professional, but before I called, remembered that the bees had never actually attacked us nor done any harm. It was in part sympathy for the bees and in part my laziness again that made me change my mind. So we opted to leave the nest as it was and see how things went.

A weary bee
basking on the porch -
an autumn field

It’s been one month now, but, so far, living together with the bees, sharing the space on both sides of the wall, is going well. Although their numbers have seemed to dwindle as the days get colder, I am happy with our decision.

We live in a new residential area, which once used to be grasses, bushes, and bamboo groves. Now it’s all houses, apartments, hospitals, malls, and roadways. It makes me sad to realize that we’ve been changing the rules and destroying the environment for our own benefit. Humans move and buy ownership of a house. Bees move and make their houses where they please. Mankind is just 1 of 1.75 million species cohabiting the Earth. Sometimes, I have to remind myself of this.

Square silhouettes
before an autumn sunset -
concrete field

 

Tengus, Ninjas, Yogis, Strongmen, Dutchmen, Bodhisattvas

Granite sometimes weathers into marvellous rounded boulders perched atop hills. In Britain, we call them ‘tors’, and Konzeyama in southern Shiga prefecture has many. Such places often prove a source of inspiration. This year’s annual Autumn Haike (haiku hike) was Hailstone’s 20th and, since the 1st had also been in Shiga on the opposite side of Lake Biwa, it seemed somehow right to celebrate here. On 23 October, nine poets and would-be poets showed up at the main rendezvous in Kusatsu.

One autumn day
this Dutch dame, excited
about a Dutch dam (Margarite)

Before the stone structure, our organizer, Margarite Westra, told us the story of how C19th Dutch engineer, Johannis de Rijke, had built this dam in the river to help prevent floods.

Autumnal skies –
an elusive mountain runner
like a ninja (Akihiko)

Our tenth haiker, David, had just appeared wearing black. He told us he had run all the way from our destination at Konshouji and that the trail was rough. Much later in the day, he sped away from us again!

Two stone Buddhas
doing headstands –
and I do, too (Tito)

Sakasa Kannon was the first of a number of Buddhist monuments scattered across the mountain and dating from as far back as the Nara Period (C8th). The boulder into which the figures had been incised must have rolled and come to rest centuries ago with the enlightened ones now unfortunately displayed upside down.

October breeze –
from solid stone
a spray of red berries (David)

Silver grass swaying
gently pushing my back …
life proceeds (Miki)

From this point, we began climbing through tinted-tip trees along the upper reaches of a tributary stream… until we came to a huge boulder with much finer carvings: Komasaka Magaibutsu, an Amitabha trinity showing Korean influence.

Cliff-carved Buddha –
his one lichen eye (Richard)

Ascending further through the forest, we emerged at a tor and met the autumn wind.

Along the autumn ridge
awaiting a flying nimbus
holding your ashes tight (Moto, written for Rainier)

The view from Kunimi’iwa was splendid, so we ate our bento boxes and sandwiches there. From our granite perch, we could look out over Shiga and Lake Biwa. To the south, across into Iga, Basho’s homeland; to the north, past Mt. Mikami towards the Umibe no Michi along the lake’s north-eastern shore; and to the west, we could make out Mt. Hiei, and further away Mt. Hira, where we had begun our autumn haikes all those years before.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Presently, we moved on to Kasane’iwa.

Two huge rocks
balancing on a cliff:
they hold the warmth
of Indian summer (Akihiko)

The party then split into two, then three, then four, as some of us attempted to reach the massive white promontory tor of Tengu’iwa, the metaphysical highpoint of our journey. It was rock climbing in part and only six made it there.

Mt. Konze –
on the strange rocks
a tengu dancing (Mitsuko)

Tengus are prancing long-nosed, red-faced wildmen, and by this time, believe me, a few of us had become quite goblin-like in our movements and expressions! This heavenly rocky spot is one of the hidden wonders of Kansai.

The summiteers shimmied back, picking up the stragglers, until all reached the Pavilion of the Horse-headed Kannon (Batokannon-do). But there was nobody there and nothing to see through the slats.

A kilometre or so further on, we found the entrance to the Nara Period temple Konshouji, whose cedar-lined, stone-stepped approach ends in a gateway, on either side of which were illuminated Nio, wooden ripple-muscled Buddhist guardian strongmen. An assortment of fine sculptures of gods and saints greeted us from wooden halls scattered through the temple’s numinous grounds.

When the talking stopped
in the sea of moss
silence spoke (Margarite)

The priest had told us that he would hold up the last bus to ensure most of us could visit his temple. As we left the precinct, sure enough, a Meguri-chan coach was waiting. Buying tickets on board was not an easy matter, however, for the conductor had purloined four of the precious passenger seats as his ticket booth and was making quite a meal of it! Subsequent passengers boarding after us had to stand, but the goofy conductor maintained his four-seat ‘office’ to the bitter end. Lurching as it went, the little bus plunged away down the mountain and into the gathering dusk.

Late mosquito –
it lingers on the man
doing a simple sum (Tomiko)

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.

How swift the seasons!

It was winter when I last posted on Icebox, and in what seems the blink of an eye it’s October already! Let me share three haiku spanning this summer and autumn.

Cicadas’
cacophony—a song of
blistering skin

Sweet-smelling grass,
a tiny brown frog leaps
among it all

Paddies at dusk,
crows flee a rising
gibbous moon

And finally, a light-hearted non-seasonal haiku inspired by a statue in a park. (A “tribute” to what birds do best!)

Brave man in bronze
white-lipped, mute to
the birds’ disrespect