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.*

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(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)

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* 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.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike X – the Final Stretch

Happy with the soft rainy day we were forecast, eight Hailstone haiku hikers assemble by the first giant red torii gateway at Fushimi Inari 伏見稲荷. Morning, April 24th. We pray for safe completion of the final leg of our two-year Isshu Trail circuit of the Old Capital, then watch a ceremony taking place accompanied by gagaku music.

Three businessmen
blessed by the golden bells
of a shrine maiden—
hissing rain                   David McCullough

A fake but beautiful white sacred horse; a tunnel of vermilion torii arches; ignoring crowd etiquette; an obscure signpost at which we must step away onto a slippery mountain track, reinforced in sections where bamboo forest is being farmed.

Life force—
through the cemented path
a bamboo shoot!          Margarite Westra

A bend where o-misogi waterfall ablution (to massed chanting, some way below us on the right) fuses with the soft, insistent vibrato of hidden frogs (above us on the left): an amazing soundscape! No one’s haiku quite does it justice.

spring rain
on this muddy trail
how refreshingly exciting      Duro Jaiye

The pussy willow
unveils itself:
the path,
a three-pronged fork    Tomiko Nakayama

Identifying new green leaves through smartphone photo searches; coming down into allotments; onions, gone to seed; then backstreets, the most impressive being the old Oiwa Kaido 大岩街道 with its wooden eaves; receiving a call from Kazue in Osaka, wishing us a rainless lunch.

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As witnessed in our haiku, the Trail itself and its comely puddles, has so far been the star… but now we enter the numinous precincts of Oiwa Jinja 大岩神社, with its silent cloud-wrapped forest, its clear black pool, its Aztec-feeling stone torii (designed by Domoto Insho 土本印象), its shy boulders.

After the kingfisher,
Across the pond
The flash of raindrops           Richard Donovan

Below the dripping
rock shrine
cloud loosens its moorings—
the redolent earth!                 Tito

Kazue’s prayer for us works, and as we emerge out of the forest onto the ridge, the rain lets up, and we can luncheon on benches looking over the southern part of Kyoto towards a gently revealed distant Osaka. Sharing of goodies; camaraderie; ascending cloud base; spring flowers. We descend into the landscape… all the way to Momoyama Castle 桃山城.

Distant mountains
wrapped in spring haze—
the last trail sign                     Akihiko Hayashi

Duro’s shoe gives way and has to be tied together with a plastic bag and cord. He squelches on towards our goal, Saiganji Temple 西岸寺, where Basho had once, in spring 1685, sought the blessing of its well-reputed, octogenarian monk, Ninko 任口, and had written:

わが衣に伏見の桃の雫せよ
Peach blossoms of Fushimi,
onto my robe please drop
some of your dew…

Eventually, at the end of many alleys, we find the little temple and, just outside the pavilion of Aburakake Jizo 油かけ地蔵, share our haiku musings before heading off to sample a local sake called ‘Momo no Shizuku’ (Peach Dew) in the Fushimi rice-wine merchants, Aburacho 油長. “Kampai to our completion of the Kyoto Isshu Trail!”

A red fire bucket
At the temple Basho visited—
Last cherry petals float          Mayumi Kawaharada

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Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike IX

Fine as rice bran
the hillside rain:
tram station
in the woods
…. (Tito)

6 March, a day of lively weather. Three women, three men start out from Ninose heading upstream along the Kurama River. Two of the women have been ‘awarded’ martenitsa* brooches, sent to Tito a few days earlier by haiku poet-artist Venelina Petkova. On spying her first flowering tree of spring, the recipient must take it off and make a wish. But, on a day in which snow is in the forecast, will the two women get to see any blossom?

below the graveyard —
a fisherman casts
one shining line
…. (David)

After less than a mile, walking towards us come two more men – a father and son. The party of eight, now complete, soon passes another white paper-trimmed ritual wheel* as we enter the village of Kurama.

a flurry of snow
disappears in deep forest —
stippled sunshine
…. (Akihiko)

Sakuramochi* are bought and eaten at the foot of the broad steps leading up to Yuki Shrine, famed for its October Fire Festival. Eighth century priest, Saicho, had had a vision of Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, near here, so the pass over which we must now trudge goes by the name of Yakkozaka-toge 薬王坂峠, Medicine King Pass.

a tit’s chirp
opens the blue sky —
that spring blue!
…. (Akihiko)

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Descending steeply to the northwest, we come upon the village of Shizuhara.

One after the other
Snow and sunlight —
A white plum blooms
…. (Mayumi K.)

the high village
gusted by March wind —
peach blossom
…. (David)

Martenitsas have now been taken off and wishes made! The sky gods seem to be sparring – Rain, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Sun and Wind. Having first dutifully prayed at the village shrine, we seek shelter from another shower at a pavilion housing, amongst other things, New Year’s rice-straw cast-offs. We eat the lunches we have brought and enjoy the meteorological show. There is even a hint of a sleet-bow.

From blue skies
the Milky Way’s descended …
as a river of snow
…. (Margarite)

Three old cedars
reaching for the sky:
their heaven,
their earth
…. (Margarite)

We cross Shizuhara River on a bridge, the rounded granite outcrops of Mt. Kompira looming up ahead. The valley along which we are now walking soon closes down again, and the Isshu Trail begins a second climb – Ebumi Pass 江文峠.

Cresting the pass …
feeling the windblown snowflakes
smart on my face
…. (Tito)

After a wild descent, the Vale of Ohara now opens out before us. David takes us to Ebumi Shrine, to see the giant cryptomeria*, which wears a long sacred rope around its massive bole.

The moss-covered steps
To an ancient shrine —
Early spring snow
…. (Mayumi K.)

Giving thanks for the safe completion of this leg of our Kyoto mountain circuit, we head off along drystone walls and peer through the village gates of Ohara, our destination, catching glimpses of corners of gardens. Ahead of us rise the ramparts of Mt. Hiei; behind us, away to the north, the distant snowy ghost of Mt. Hira. The Takano River accompanies us with its merriment.

At the bus-stop, all perhaps now feel the glow of having lived with the Elements for a day in early March.

* Notes:
ritual wheel – (featured in the slideshow) indicating a prayer station for the Fire Festival
martenitsa – see here
sakuramochi – rice-cake stuffed with sweet azuki-bean paste and wrapped in a fragrant cherry-leaf
cryptomeria – sugi, a type of giant conifer

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII

Heavy snow had fallen all over Kyoto in the days before six intrepid haiku hikers gathered at Ninose, a tiny village next to Kurama. We found the northern hills still draped in sheets of white.

The local railway
gently winding to snow —
silent mountains
………. (Akihiko)

Our aim was to reach Himuro, an ancient centre of ice production for the imperial court. We had certainly chosen the right time of year. Paying brief respects to a kamakura (Japanese igloo) we began the long, steady climb of Mount Mukai. Throughout our hike we were treading on snow, grateful to follow the footsteps of the few hardy souls who had broken the trail on previous days.

The buck bolts
up the snowy riverbank
before my shutter clicks
………. (Richard)

Higher up, we reached Yonaki Toge (夜泣き峠) or Night-Wailing Pass. Here, the infant Prince Koretaka was pacified when his nurse prayed for relief to local gods, who advised her to place a piece of pine bark under his pillow.

Frozen under the snow
on a Kyoto hill —
ancient tears
………. (Margarite)

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Crossing the peak of Mount Mukai, we stopped for a chilly lunch at one of the few spots on the northern trail that offers a view across the city. Too cold to linger, we descended to the headwaters of the Kamo River. Gazing south along the river valley, it was hard to imagine the large city that lay hidden beyond the ridge. Climbing again, we entered Nusuttodani(盗人谷)or Thieves’ Canyon. This is one of the wildest spots on the Round Kyoto Trail, a dark and claustrophobic place where we were forced to stoop under innumerable fallen trees and hop over streams. But the deep snow added light to the valley, and lightened our mood.

Middle-aged folk
hurl snowballs back and forth,
sniggling
………. (Kazue)

Splattered over snow,
a blue mystery —
winterberries
………. (David)

All the way up
the Gorge of Thieves
tall trees
throw down ice
………. (Tito)

At the head of the valley we emerged into a blindingly white world. The tiny hamlet of Himuro, hidden away among the northern mountains, felt completely deserted, save for one barking dog and a rising line of smoke.

Blanketed in snow,
wreathed in wood smoke —
the icemakers’ village
………. (Tito)

We clambered through deep snowdrifts to the spot where, from ancient times, villagers stored ice in shallow pits. In June they uncovered the precious commodity and carried it over mountains, bringing a touch of summer cool to fortunate aristocrats in the capital.

Finally, we paid a visit to the snow-bound Himuro Shrine, dedicated to the God of Ice.

Flat and square
under the shrine roof,
a snow blanket
………. (Akihiko)

One adventure remained, as we were obliged to return by car over the high, and deeply frozen pass at Kyomi Toge (京見峠). Slithering and slipping on the treacherous road, we descended to a downpour of snow-melting rain.

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)

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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.

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.

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.