Okouchi Sanso Composition Strolls

On September 14 & 28 吟行 ginko were held in the beautiful West Kyoto garden of 大河内山荘 Okouchi Mountain Villa. Paradoxically, the 14th was cooler than the 28th, but both days stayed fine and at least half a dozen Hailstone poets came along.

In the morning they had kindly helped the nature conservation NPO, People Together for Mt. Ogura, with their brushwood fence repairs in the bamboo groves on the hill’s lower slopes – right outside the Villa’s front gate. Its traditional Japanese-style garden was laid out in the Shōwa era by the film star, Ōkouchi Denjiro. Thank you to all the volunteers who came, even if perhaps not everyone managed to write poems afterwards.

Putting up a ladder
to an autumn cloud —
clasping it ………. (Tomiko Nakayama)

Tourist’s scribble*
on the bamboo cut down:
“I love you” ………. (Mayumi Kawaharada)

Collaboration eases
our bamboo forest work —
cool autumn breeze ………. (Akito Mori)

The conversation lulls —
a mantis
and a lizard
come out to talk ………. (Tito)

Retirement
for a samurai actor:
contemplating persimmons ……… (Sydney Solis)

Silent welcome
at the bamboo gate —
weather-beaten Buddha ………. (Ayako Kurokawa)

A big blue heart
cut out from the mackerel sky …
birds singing ………. (Mayumi Kawaharada)

One red maple leaf
in the chōzubachi* —
Mt. Ogura ………. (Sydney Solis)

From the moon-viewing platform:
over northern Ōmi*
a band of cloud, lit-up ………. (Tito)

Notes:
scribble 落書き – graffiti incised into the skin of a bamboo that had been growing near the path.
chōzubachi 手水鉢 – hand-washing basin, usually made of stone; this haiku may also be taken to allude to waka no. 26 小倉山峰のもみぢ葉 in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshū collection compiled in the early C13th by Fujiwara Teika in his villa at Mt. Ogura.
Ōmi 近江 – old name of Shiga prefecture, including all of Lake Biwa, at its closest 30 miles away; Bashō’s grave is located there.

The Last of My Wandering Journeys Part V – Lake Okutadami and the Submerged Mine

I was a bit put off when I saw the long flight of steps in front of me, but a man was howling at me from the entrance of what seemed to be a museum. When I went up to him, he told me that there was a small cable car that could take me to the boathouse on the lake side in just ten minutes, and that the fare was only one hundred yen. I would not have hesitated to take the cable car even if the fare had been ten thousand yen! It enabled me to see the Okutadami Dam from different angles. I was impressed by its height and breadth and by the beauty of the surrounding mountains. In terms of the amount of water stored behind it, this dam is the second largest in Japan. Of course, it was a pity that they had to build a dam in the heart of the mountains, but without this dam, I would never have been able to glimpse their beauty.

…………………… A concrete giant…
…………………… Holding back deep lake water,
…………………… Soundless in autumn.

Arriving at the boathouse, I told the woman in the ticket office that I had booked a boat trip to Oze Guchi and, from there, a bus ride to Oze Miike. The woman said, “Yes, you are Mr. Yuasa, aren’t you? The boat will leave soon. Please walk down to the pier, but take care on the steps.” A boat that could probably have taken fifty people was waiting, but that morning I was the only passenger. I saw an even larger boat in the offing, looking rather like an ocean-going steamboat, and it was moving slowly towards Ginzan Daira, the pier named after the once-flourishing centre of the silver mining. My boat, although smaller, was comfortable enough. It even had a guiding machine, from which I learned a lot about the area and its history.

The scenery was spectacular. The trees were just beginning to change their colours. The lake water was silvery blue and very calm. Overall, I found it somewhat haunting, though. This might have had something to do with the tragic history of the silver mine that now lay at the bottom of the lake. They had had frequent disasters in the mine, and it had finally been closed in 1862. That year, they had accidentally bored into the bed of the Tadami River, and more than three hundred miners had died in the resultant flood.

The mountains changed their shapes and colours as we moved. They became higher and higher; the ridge lines, sharper and sharper. The best view I had from the boat was where the lake divided into two forks and the silhouette of Mt. Arasawa and its range soared above the morning mist. On the promontory that divided the lake were a few white flags. The guiding machine informed me that a shrine was situated there. It had once belonged to a village nearby, which was now at the bottom of the lake. The villagers had moved the shrine to this promontory to save it before they had evacuated.

……………… The water so clear;
……………… Mountainsides, now slightly tinged
……………… With autumn colours.

…………………………………….. The melancholy lake —
…………………………………….. I think I hear the voices
…………………………………….. Of miners below.

……………… White flags still flutter,
……………… Though the villagers are gone
……………… And no house in sight.

…………………………………….. Mt. Arasawa!
…………………………………….. It has a white spot on top,
…………………………………….. Snow or silver ore?

.
To be continued …

The Last of My Wandering Journeys Part IV – The Silver Line

.. My train arrived at Urasa Station twenty minutes behind schedule. Shinkansen trains also stop here, so I was expecting modern amenity, but when I tried to pass through the wicket, I could not find a touchpad for my Suica travel card. The ticket officer told me that travelcards had not yet been introduced. I had to pay the fare in cash and ask the officer to erase my card’s embarkation memory, which he did at once. My hotel was on the east side of the station. I walked through a long corridor and went down some steps to get to the ground level. The hotel was visible two blocks away, but there was nothing in between except grass-covered land. Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so I walked to the hotel, and found it comfortably equipped.
.. Next morning, waking early, I looked out at the Uono River that ran close to the hotel. It was indeed a beautiful sight, though smaller than the Toné River. A friend of mine had told me that in winter, they set a weir to catch salmon, but it was not the season for that. I went to the station fifteen minutes earlier than the departure time of my bus, for if I had missed this bus for some reason, I would have spoiled my whole journey.
………. More like an hour
………. Every minute seems, waiting
………. For a country bus.
.. To my great relief, the bus came exactly on time. It followed the River Uono for twenty minutes or so, and then turned right and started to move along a country road. After about an hour, the bus arrived at a hot spring resort called Oyu Onsen. I saw a beautiful river coursing along the deep valley and classy hotels standing here and there on the cliffs overlooking the river. The bus made a roundtrip of this resort, but no one got off or on. In fact, I was the sole passenger on the bus.
………. A hot spring resort,
………. Too quiet in the morning
………. To prompt cheer in me.
.. I wondered why and when they had built so many hotels here, but before I could find an answer, the bus went through what seemed to be a former toll gate and began to ascend sharply. This road was called The Silver Line, but contrary to its name it was dark and rough. It covered a stretch of some twenty-two kilometres and had nineteen tunnels. More than two-thirds of the way would be in darkness. It was bumpy and dangerous with many sharp turns. Big red warning arrows appeared one after another like ghosts. Originally made to assist construction of the Okutadami Dam, it was completed in 1957 after three years of hard work and with a heavy toll of forty-four lives. The dam was finished in 1961, but it was not until 1977 that The Silver Line was opened to the public. The bus driver steered calmly through the tunnels and took me to the dam site. I thanked him sincerely when I got off.
………. Between two tunnels,
………. A glimpse of silver pampas
………. Shining in the sun.
………………………… The autumn wind blows
………………………… Sheets of fog into its mouth–
………………………… A long, dark tunnel.

 

To be continued …

The Last of My Wandering Journeys Part III – Shimizu Tunnel

.. When I got back to the station, I found my train already standing at the platform with some people on board. So I touched my Suica card against the checking machine and got on the train myself. The departure time came and went, but the train did not budge. Ten minutes later, a female conductor announced that the route had been under inspection and that they were now awaiting a green light from the central office. Five more minutes, and the train started to move, but soon the conductor announced that there might be more delays along the way. Fortunately, though, the train soon reached the southern end of the Shimizu Tunnel.
.. Actually, there are two tunnels. The first one was completed in 1931 after ten years of hard work. It is equipped with a loop bridge. The second one was completed in 1967 after four years of construction. This tunnel has some stations in it, and is now used exclusively by down trains, while the first tunnel is used only by up trains. I was on a down train, so we went through the second tunnel. Although the train was moving rapidly, it seemed to take a very long time before the darkness lifted.
.. What surprised me most, though, was that it was raining on the other side of the tunnel! Kawabata Yasunari writes, in a famous novel, “Once out of the long tunnel, I found myself in a snow country.” What lay before me, though, were misty mountains standing in the rain. For a while I doubted my eyes, but then remembered the difference in weather between the Pacific and the Japan Sea coasts. I should have realized this when I saw a cap of clouds over Mt. Tanigawa.
………. An old woman comes
………. Into the train, her bent waist
………. And wet umbrella!
.. The train soon stopped at Yuzawa Station, where a group of primary schoolchildren boarded. The atmosphere of the train was transformed. Two girls now sat in front of me. I was struck by the difference in their characters. One appeared sanguine; the other rather nervous. One was laughing all the time, but the other looked into my face as if she were worried about me. They left the train at Muikamachi Station, but when we said goodbye, they told me to put out my hands and they hit them with their hands exactly as baseball players do.
………. Noise and laughter sent
………. Autumn gloominess away,
………. Schoolchildren boarding.
.. When the train stopped at Ishiuchi Station, I was reminded of the bronze statue of Okamura Mitsugi that I had seen before standing near the station. He was a political leader and had spent all his money trying to build a tunnel at the place where the present Shimizu Tunnel stands. He died brokenhearted, but is still respected as a great man by the people of Niigata Prefecture. Tanaka Kakuei, the former prime minister from Niigata, once vowed that he would dynamite the mountains blocking the free passage between the coasts, thereby reducing the economic disparity of the two sides. Tanaka also died brokenhearted, yet he too is held in great esteem in Niigata.
………. Those two men live on,
………. Kakuei and Mitsugi,
………. Warm in local hearts.

To be continued …

The Last of My Wandering Journeys: Part II – Minakami

.. My train arrived at Minakami Station on time. I had two hours before the next train left, so I decided to look at the town. Minakami is a hot spring resort, and I saw many hotels around the station, but no people. I wanted to look at the River Toné, but there was no sign directing me to the riverside trail. So, I decided to walk to the bridge situated to the north of the station. The Toné, now the size of an ordinary river, was rushing past with sparkling waters.
.. When I got back to the station, I found a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the suspension bridge known for its Yosano Akiko poem monuments. On arrival there, I was surprised by the beauty of this place. Here, the River Toné makes a sudden bend, forming rapids as it flows on through a little gorge. From the suspension bridge, I was able to see Mt. Tanigawa and other mountains forming a range. For a moment, I thought I spied snow at the top, but soon realized it was white clouds covering the summits like a cap. I was disappointed by the monuments, though, disliking their childish designs, but one monument, standing below the bridge on a rock right by the river, did impress me. The poem inscribed on the black marble slab was so fine that I am tempted to quote it here.
………. Craggy rocks rear up,
………. Trying to block the river:
………. How useless they are!
………. The stream runs like an arrow,
………. The youthful Toné!
The poem proved a very accurate description of the scene before me.
.. I found one huge granite boulder beside the bridge and a single pine tree growing from it.
………. High, the autumn sky
………. Above a pine, whose trunk stands
………. Unshaken in the wind.

To be continued …

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

.. 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 …

Finding Sekitei

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

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

.

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

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

. 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

. 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…)