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)

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.

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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.

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We met at the intersection of Imadegawa and Kitashirakawa Sts at Kyoto Trail marker 52-1, just to the west of the Philosopher’s Path and Ginkakuji. This section of the trail follows the Shirakawa River upstream towards its mountain source, passing Kitashirakawa-tenjingu Shrine 北白川天神宮. The locals were preparing its mikoshi portable shrines for the harvest festival held on the first Sunday of October.

now free of the Emergency / fragrant olive’s / fresh greeting (Akira)

Saying good-bye to the Kibis, we entered the trailhead, pausing soon again at a pair of shrines, Oyamatsumi-jinja 大山祇神社 and Chiryudaimyojin 地龍大明神, quiet and shaded by the treetops. The trail rose steeply from here, guiding us to the Hakuyushi Ruins 白幽子旧跡, where the eponymous hermit, who taught naikanhou 内観法 introspection, lived out his final years in the Edo period.

The mystery / at the hermit’s cave — / who placed the tangerine? (Tito)

After another climb past tilting bodhisattva statues, we came out on the peak of Mt. Uryu (瓜生山, 301m). ‘Cucumber Peak’ is so named because cucumber-favouring Gozu Tennoh 牛頭天王 (guardian god Susano-o スサノオ) apparently manifests in bull form on the mountain. A shrine (光龍大権現) associated with Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu 足利義春 sits on the summit. Here is his death poem:

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.

Autumn breeze — / Dancing leaves, running leaves / On the top of Mt. Uryu (Mayumi K)

Rather than descending to the famous Tanukidanifudoin Temple 狸谷不動院, we continued northeast on the Isshu Trail ridgeline for some time, almost having the beautiful path to ourselves.

Mt. Hiei trail / following monks’ footprints — / an autumn ridge breeze (Akihiko)

One clearing was bedecked with tangy green perilla (shiso). And there were other culinary delights waiting on a fallen log:

Red fungi and acorns / Spotlit in the sun — / Forest banquet (Mayumi K)

At marker 69, by the Mizunomi taijin-no-ato 水飲対陣跡 monument, we turned off the Trail and descended steeply into Shugakuin. It was the hottest time of the day.

Wiping sweat from my eyes — / the path scattered with acorns (David)

We made three crossings of a limpid stream. Tito was taken with a certain item, which passed among us for the rest of the descent.

Our rucksacks, / straining with the big grey rock / eased from a mountain streambed (Richard)

In a charming little park on the banks of the Otowa River 音羽川 near the Imperial Villa, we settled onto the benches and shared our trail haiku as the hot afternoon began to wind down.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VI

Typhoon weather forced postponement of our Kyoto Circuit Mountain Trail haiku hike from Aug. 9 to 10. Until that typhoon, we had had daily highs of 37-38C and the day after the haike we entered a period of unrelenting rains, so the 10th turned out to be a blissful window of fair weather, cooler and drier than anything on either side. Postponement, however, meant that we lost a couple of haikers (haiku hikers) to other commitments. Sorry for that.

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On the day, 5 haikers headed out from Keage Station in Higashiyama via Himukai Jinja, said to be one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines, a kind of mini-Ise for those who cannot get there. Near the entrance, we came across a friendly jewel beetle, tamamushi, who seemed to want to come along with us. We all walked through the slender Amano’iwatoya Cave and thence on and up through mountain woods towards a still-hidden skyline. The soundtrack to our walk was most beguiling. There was even a horagai-blower.

In a tall cypress forest,
pine twigs scattered
by yesterday’s storm
………. Tito

somewhere
among these hot hills
the sound of a conch
………. David McCullough

Like dewdrops below
Kyoto streets are glittering —
summer realization
………. Akihiko Hayashi

Cicadas and birds —
on a cool mountain breeze
their music melds
………. Margarite Westra

from the top of Mount Daimonji
my primal scream
over Kyoto
………. Duro Jaiye

The panorama from the summit of Daimonjiyama (466m) was superb – much of Kyoto, most of Osaka, a suspicion of the Inland Sea, Mts. Atago, Ikoma, Kongo, and even the cloud-capped Omine Range beyond Yoshino.

On the steep descent, we came upon a refreshing cascade at the head of Shishigatani Valley. After a brief stop there, we walked down into the vale as the sun began to set.

An impromptu haiku sharing was later held in a cafe near Ginkakuji. Deep red shiso (perilla) soda was its long, cool accompaniment. We look forward to seeing some of you on the Trail again for Part VII this autumn.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Part V

Fourteen Hailstones gathered at Yase in early May for the fifth in a series of poetic encounters with the Round Kyoto Trail. Speedily we rose to the heights of Mount Hiei.

from the cable car
we spot a deer in the trees —
it spots us back

Peter

Transported to a new perspective we gazed out over the Kyoto hills.

Bamboo grasses of Mount Hiei
bowing low
to their Arashiyama cousins

Kenji

Before long we could look over the great inland sea that lies on the far side of the mountain.

From the fresh green hills
young maple leaves
frame lake Biwa

Margarite

Intensity of green
piercing
this vaccination crisis

Kyoko

Traversing the western temple precincts we were captured by the solemn atmosphere of the holy mountain.

My prayer stone —
I leave it on a fence post
along this mountain trail

Duro

Offering a cherry flower
to Saicho —
the wind blows it away

Tito

Tranquil silence
in the thousand year old temple —
late camellia

Mayumi

Ashes in the sky
settling on the new spring leaves,
eternal peace found

Paul

Sunning on the perfumed mountain
by the peace bell —
sonorous resonance

Ursula

Along the trail, rich with the colours and scents of late spring, we discovered insectivorous flowers.

sucked in
by a pitcher plant –
a swarm of excited hikers

Richard

Striding over the mountain ridge we reached a high viewpoint where, for a thousand years, pilgrims have paused to pray for the well-being of the Emperor.

chestnuts presented
to the holy cedar tree —
wind shaken leaves

Minori

Descending toward Ohara the youngest member of our party, seven-year-old Noah, raced ahead with impish glee.

Running down the trails
falling so many times —
what a great day!

Noah

We had struggled over the highest and most difficult section of the Round Kyoto Trail. On the long descent our legs grew weary and our hearts heavy as we spoke of the travails friends and family have faced over the past year.

Recovering people,
ailing people,
stricken people …
and then the mountain ends

Tito

We came to rest at a riverside, taking time to enjoy shared friendship and the prospect of further adventures.

green leaves pushed apart —
those distant mountains
are so blue

Minori

Uji ‘I Wish’ Kukai – Hanami – Ginko

At last, after coronavirus cancellations and a rain postponement the previous week, a real opportunity to celebrate our new book! 3 April 2021 – Hailstone held a hanami kukai (haiku evaluation meet) in Uji, on a large groundsheet on Nakanoshima Island under some of its still-blossoming cherry trees. Participants read aloud and commented on their favourite 3 haiku from the ‘I Wish‘ anthology (published last December). Afterwards, a ginko (composition stroll) was held on the north bank of the river, visiting Uji Shrine, the Heian Period Ujikami Shrine, and the rocky approach to Koshoji Temple.

Kukai Winning Haiku (3 votes):

…… Like a Kabuki actor
…… an old persimmon tree
…… posing alone
……………. Hitomi Suzuki

Runner-up (2 votes):

…… This colour
…… squeezed from sky and earth,
…… a tinted leaf falls
……………. Miki Kotera

Congratulations to both poets. Your haiku were selected as favourites from a field of 218 in the book!

That very week, Masahiro Nakagawa had sent in this haiku:

…… ‘I Wish’ —
…… I finish reading it
…… as cherry petals fall

The cover of the book, by Richard Steiner, also portrays streaming cherry petals. Now, here we were celebrating its publication and enjoyment on the last possible day for a hanami this year.

…… Lips get eloquent
…… at the outdoor haiku gathering …
…… wandering cherry petals
……………. Akihiko Hayashi

………………………….. Mistletoe
………………………….. on a blooming cherry —
………………………….. a wish to be transformed?
………………………………………… Kyoko Norma Nozaki

…… Through cherry blossoms
…… blushes of sunlight visit
…… our picnic lunch
……………. Akira Kibi

………………………….. “One more night”
………………………….. whispered to the station cherry –-
………………………….. rainclouds in the west
………………………………………… Tito

Otsu Ginko: Basho & Fenollosa on the Shores of Lake Biwa

The forty-meter Basho-o Ekotobaden 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 scroll exhibition at the Otsu Museum of History turned out to be an absorbing experience for the 8 Hailstone poets who visited it on 14 March. At least 2 more went on their own on separate occasions. It finishes on 11 April, so there is still time. The scroll was commissioned of painter Kano Shoei 狩野正栄 as part of the 100th anniversary of Basho’s death (prior to 1794) and depicts the Master as a young man in Iga-Ueno, on his literary pilgrimages (Matsushima, Ise, Yoshino, etc.), in his retreats (Basho-an, Genjuan, Rakushisha, etc.), as well as his death in Osaka, and his grave at Gichuji Temple 義沖寺, not far from the Museum itself. This was the Life of Basho in meticulous style painting and beautiful calligraphy. Basho’s camellia-wood staff, Yayu’s desk with a crescent moon inset, and many other interesting exhibits augment this landmark exhibition, which shows how Basho became so revered and how his school of haiku 蕉門 was re-envigorated by poets such as Chomu 蝶夢, Kyotai 暁台, and Buson as 100 years were chalked up.

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Afterwards, somewhat exhausted, for a while we rested on benches at the Museum, looking out across Lake Biwa. It was such a beautiful spring day that we decided to go for a stroll towards the northwest, where Tito had found out that there is a tiny dilapidated temple, Homyoin 法明院, in the grounds of which the American orientalist, Ernest Fenollosa, has his grave (Basho’s is at the other end of Otsu). The mountain temple is reached by an overgrown grassy path and a lot of wonky stone steps. When we arrived at the main hall there was no one around. We noticed a can hanging on the gatepost asking for donations upon entry and we duly put in some coins and walked around the unkempt garden, ravaged by wild boars, but with some trees putting out blossom and unfurling new leaves… up a further flight of steps to Fenollosa’s grave. He had done translation work with Ezra Pound more than a century ago, helping us to a better understanding of the beauty of Chinese poetry, and, with Okakura Kenshin, had helped to preserve the artistic heritage of Japan at the precarious time of the Shinbutsu Bunri movement. He saved many Buddhas from destruction, finally becoming a Buddhist himself.

Collecting scraps
of conversation on Basho,
Lake Biwa’s
spring breeze
………. (Akihiko Hayashi)

Twittering
for us to pass
beneath its wire perch -–
the first swallow!
………. (Tito)

The lake is calm,
with distant yachts —
bursting cherry blossoms
………. (Kyoko Nozaki)

Offering a camellia
to Fenollosa’s tomb ―
bush warblers call
………. (Yaeno Azuchi)

‘Endings & Beginnings’ Hailstone Online Reading Meet – some highlights

Sun. 7 March 16:00 (JST). 14 Hailstones and special guest, Michael D. Welch, came together to read haiku, senryu, cirku, tanka, haibun and haipho. Each poet was given up to 5 mins. The share-screen function proved useful in allowing us to see the words that were being read. Host, David McCullough, had collected most things in advance and made a pdf file to use. It was also good to be able to appraise visual material like photo haiku or illustrations explaining haiku (e.g. seasonal flowers). The theme was introduced by chair-for-the-day, Tito, who first read us an excerpted translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa of Kikaku’s account of Basho’s Final Days, Basho-o Shuenki, including his death and funeral and the beginnings of the Basho School 蕉門 — for endings invariably lead to beginnings, and vice versa.

なきがらを笠に隠すや枯尾花 (其角)

A hat to cover
the body of our master,
withered pampas leaves      (Kikaku)

Sean O’Connor, editor of The Haibun Journal and judge of the Genjuan Contest, joining us from Ireland, next read a short sequence of haiku.

from my father’s bed
familiar mountains
wrapped in snow

Hitomi Suzuki followed with two beautiful haipho. Here is one (click on photo to enlarge):

David McCullough then read four short poems, one of which was on the theme of the first mile of running a marathon:

Panting —
hundreds
of
feet
pattering

It was interesting that two more poets – Noriko Kan and Akihiko Hayashi – also shared running or jogging haiku later on! Genjuan judge, Akiko Takazawa, also still runs marathons, but unfortunately she could not be present at the meet.

Ursula Maierl next entertained us with her heartfelt haibun, ‘The Final Baguette’, about two customers splitting the last loaf in a bread shop at the end of day!

one small baguette
stands upright —
lone sentinel
half-wrapped in brown paper

Mayumi Kawaharada then read a sequence of haiku, ‘Freeze – Under Covid-19’:

Tourist-less road —
Frozen shutters
Left in the silence

Reiko Kuwataka’s poem provoked some discussion – haiku in form, but tanka in sentiment:

A long time
since I last saw her —
high cloud, overcast

Tito then showed us some cirku made into haipho. (Mistletoe is ヤドリギ in Japanese; click on photo to enlarge.)

Kyoko Nozaki made us hungry with her haiku and photo of newly harvested radishes. David Stormer Chigusa (in Tokyo) told us he usually tries to compose haiku using a 4-6-4 consonant template and gave us some recent examples. Akihiko Hayashi reminded us of the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Great Tsunami and Fukushima Meltdown disaster by sharing with us a psychological haiku:

Over unruffled waters
it’s threatening to snow —
‘Emergency!’, the caption unscrolls

Noriko Kan (in Matsuyama) gave us one haiku containing the very contemporary image of masked meditators. Michael Dylan Welch (Washington State, co-founder of Haiku N. America and former ed. of Woodnotes, the journal which had organized in 1996 what was perhaps the world’s first English haibun contest), gave us another memorable coronavirus image:

Covid Christmas —
so few presents
under the tree

We also read aloud poetic offerings sent in by Fred Schofield (Leeds), Catherine Urquhart (Edinburgh) and Akishige Ida (Nara), who were all unable to attend. Sydney Solis (Florida) joined to listen only. Richard Donovan, delayed by another online event, at which he received his recent translation Grand Prix, performed for us a cameo role near the end of the meet.

From England, Lawrence Jiko Barrow joined us at his 7am. His haiku on the theme of ‘beginning’ was:

Arrival of spring —
the banana tree reveals
a bright green shoot

Jiko has recently planted a banana palm in his garden in England. He told us that he hopes it will prompt him to remember Basho (whose name means ‘banana palm’) and to compose haiku a little more frequently! The appearance of the shoot gives us all hope the palm will survive.

Today, the Basho School continues in spirit in many parts of Japan and the world, including through Hailstone, which is based in Kansai, celebrating life in and around Basho’s Shuenchi (Final Territory). We all try to do our best for the Okina 翁 (Master) and what he taught.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike IV – Southwestern Hills

13 Feb. ’21 turned out to be a very warm winter day. Spring came early, just for us. (Now we’ve reverted back to winter, with snow this morning on the hills!) Seven Hailstones had gathered to hike the Nishiyama stretch of Kyoto’s Isshu Trail. Outside Kamikatsura Station, as some were new to our events, we went round introducing ourselves and, out of interest, adding our ‘provenance’ – Northern Ireland, Japan, Holland, England, Japan, New Zealand, … oh, and America, too, when that poet had finally arrived! Up the slope past a hollow, knobbly, 400-year-old muku tree; the bamboo grove pathway to Jizo-in Temple; and on towards the dark, wooden gates of Kokedera, whose moss-swathed garden, hidden behind a long wall, was laid out by the Zen monk-gardener, Muso Soseki.

Seeking ume blossom;
like hanging up a bell
in the blue sky
.
Tomiko

Spring morning -
the woman with a watering can
waves and walks away
.
Tito

Ume is Japanese apricot (conventionally misnamed ‘plum’). A little way up the brook beside the temple, we entered a zone of bamboo forest in which there are numerous tumuli from the Kofun period, likely connected with the ancient Hata family, who moved from the Asian continent three centuries or more before Kyoto (Heian-kyo) itself was founded. We also came upon a standing stone inscribed with the characters 山の神さん (the Mountain God), before which all those who enter the hills are supposed to offer up a prayer.

By the old capital
a mountain god sits still -
murmuring water of spring
.
Akihiko

We climbed steeply up the shoulder of the ridge behind Tsukiyomi Jinja (ancient Hata shrine to the Moon God), finding out what sweat feels like in February. We decided to take a break and eat our packed lunches high on the hill at a place with a view out through the harugasumi (kigo – spring haze) to the Kizu River gap, halfway down to Nara. Talk of Ikkyu, who as a child had spent time at Jizo-in below, and Taketori Monogatari, the story of Princess Kaguyahime, who had come down to Earth from the Moon and later been found by an old couple in a bamboo grove many say was modelled on those here in Nishiyama. The fact that bears are sometimes sighted in the wilderness area between here and Sasayama was also thoroughly discussed! Just then, a white-masked man dangling a bear-warning bell from his backpack ran past …

Awakened from slumber
By the chatter of poets -
Nesting bears
.
Ted

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Stephen then forewarned the party of a choice they would soon have to make up ahead: to descend, or not, risking life and limb, to the sacred Rock Sanctuary (磐座) in the forest high above Matsuo Taisha! I may exaggerate slightly, but it was no easy task – very steep and with few sturdy tree roots to hold onto. Most made it down.

Eyes on our footing
Sliding down the hill too far …
Then up to the Rock!
.
Margarite

There, after duly paying our respects to the massive rock outcrop, some lithic poems were read out by Stephen, including one by Kathleen Raine beginning “There is stone in me that knows stone,/ Substance of rock that remembers the unending unending / Simplicity of rest …”

Beneath the holy crag
even songbirds lose voice
and still, the mountain waits
.
David

Furrowed brow -
The ancient rock
Asks us who we are
.
Richard

After coming to a standstill for what seemed like forever in that pristine place, we clambered back up the cliff to the trail and proceeded to the high point of the haike, a col just short of the summit of Arashiyama, looking out over Sagano. We could make out, directly below us, Togetsukyo, Moon-crossing Bridge, the rooves of Tenryuji and Seiryoji Temples beyond, and the green backdrop of Mt. Atago and the continuation of the Isshu Trail up to Takao and thence eastwards through the undulating Northern Hills past Sawanoike Pond, ways some of us had hiked (or run!) last year. Mt. Hiei was visible far-off in the east: it seemed to be beckoning us over for some future poetic event.

We descended sharply past Iwatayama, with its vociferous monkeys, going in and out of bamboo forest once more, until we came to the Oi River at Arashiyama. There, over tea and coffee, at an outside table between pines, we shared our haiku scribblings with much laughter and in due celebration of Richard Donovan’s winning of this year’s JLPP Translation Grand Prize. Later, possibly feeling rich, he graciously picked up the tab! Cafe Emu is run by Kenji Yoshida, a local friend of Stephen’s, and he sent us all away with postcards of Arashiyama in our pockets. “My pleasure (Saabisu),” Kenji said, hoping we’d understand his one English line.

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