Archive for the Event report Category

The Snow Quest

Posted in Event report, Walking, Winter with tags on February 19, 2017 by Branko

Bright snowy mountains
came into my eyes –
silent morning
……………………. Mayumi K.

Prior to Sunday February 12th, Kyoto had seen intermittent snow for two days and nights, much of the city having been shrouded in white. A poetic adventure invariably on his mind, it didn’t take long for Tito to come up with an idea for a snow-viewing meet at two famous ponds in Saga. In spite of very short notice, six haiku wanderers showed up on what turned out to be a mostly dry and breezy Sunday. The snowfall, alas, had petered out by the early morning hours. All we were left with was white mountain-tops and an occasional patch of unmelted snow to marvel at along the way.

The shrine grove
still holding snow –
the wicked sun
……………………. Titoosawa-pond-snow

Four of us started our walk at Daikaku-ji in Ukyo ward, where a small shrine dedicated to Sugawara Michizane (Tenjin-san), the Japanese God of Poetry, sits on an island in Osawa Pond.

Praying for snow
before a toneless bell
of Tenjin-san
……………………. Branko

Nearby, a plum orchard, barely in bloom, was a welcome sight.

a day of teasing snow –
the small white buds
on this plum tree
……………………. Duro

b-w-tomiko-mayumi-ume-orchardYears ago, Tito used to live just around the corner from Daikaku-ji and, needless to say, knows the surrounding area like the back of his hand. He was kind enough to provide us with lots of information on local history, both ancient and recent. One such point of interest was a group of burial mounds (‘Kitasaga Shichi Kofun’) dotting the rural landscape of vegetable plots and rice-fields. After clawing our way to the top of one such tumulus, we were astonished to find a great number of badger burrows, some of them freshly dug. From each emanated a strong animal scent, and it was safe to say the nocturnal creatures were better off inside the mound than we were, standing frozen on its windy top.

Below the frost line
the ancient tomb
reclaimed by badgers
……………………. Branko


Without restraint
beating its own drum:
a speedwell
……………………. Tomiko

More plodding through the  fields, soggy with snow-melt, and the four who began at Daikaku-ji eventually reached Hirosawa Pond … for a perfectly timed rendezvous with Hitomi and Duro (Gerald). This pond is emptied every December and was that day still partly water-less, a landscape dotted with wading birds foraging across the shallows and mudflats.

Hirosawa Pond –
left and right
high over fish shadows
an osprey hovering
…………………….. Hitomi

a famous pond
drained for the winter –
such hollow dreams
…………………….. Duro

Our final stop was a rather stylish Japanese restaurant, a 15-minute walk from Hirosawa Pond. Have you ever dined at a place frequented by members of royal families? Well, apparently this was such a place! On the walls, large photos recorded visits from the Cambodian and Burmese Royal Families, those of Mongolian dignitaries, and even one from a Ugandan chieftain.

Looking at
framed pictures of royalty …
my oyster curry arrives
……………………. Tito

After a lengthy meal and a productive and fun haiku sharing, we had a group photo taken in the garden outside. No sooner had we said goodbye, than snow began to fall again!

* click on any photo to see it enlarged *p_20170212_154858_vhdr_the-dirty-half-dozen-abchirosawa-osprey-feb-12-2017b

Kompukuji Ginkō

Posted in Autumn, Event report with tags , on December 17, 2016 by Richard Donovan

Kompukuji (金福寺), near Keizan Ichijōji Station in Higashiyama, Kyoto, was founded in 864, and is the site of the Bashō-an (芭蕉庵), a hut that the poet visited in 1670 and that was afterwards dedicated to him. Yosa Buson (与謝蕪村) and his disciples helped restore the hut in 1760. On Buson’s death in 1783, his disciples erected a tomb on the hill overlooking Bashō-an and its adjacent well. Thus this little-known temple is something of a mecca for poets!

We were fortunate, then, that it was quiet on the Saturday afternoon (3 December) when we 15 Hailstones visited, led by Tito. We were able to take our time, even sitting on the engawa (perching boards) of the hut to compose our responses. The guest of honour was Maeve O’Sullivan of Haiku Ireland.

Thatched with water reeds
topped with maple leaves –
Basho-an, the poet’s hut                       Maeve

Peeling shōji
a corner thumbtack
holds sway                                   Albie

Perhaps it was the fact that the autumnal leaves were a little past their prime that staved off the crowds, but we were still surrounded by rich golden and scarlet hues, the light-blue sky above and the soft greens of the moss at our feet forming a poignant contrast.

Maple leaves
dying beautifully                              Branko

Lantern of Kompukuji’s
soft stillness –
lichen dresses you                             Christine

Footpaths through shadows
leave the bright colors behind –
Buson’s resting place                          Peter

A high wire fence
Through burning maple leaves –
No deer by the gate                            Tito

Framed by the temple gate
Deer and mountain silhouette –
The sinking sun
shika nagara / saneimon ni / iru hi kana
This was Buson’s original, alluded to above in Tito’s haiku.

After our extended visit to the temple, we repaired to Café Anone, near the train station, joined by co-organiser Ursula for coffee and cake and the recital of haiku and haibun.

[Notes: ginkō – composition stroll; shōji – paper window screens]

A Path Through Autumn Hills

Posted in Autumn, Event report, Walking with tags , on November 29, 2016 by Tito

Asuka (or Tōtsu ‘Distant’ Asuka, in Nara prefecture), Japan’s first state capital, is a name to conjure with, though few perhaps will have heard of Chikatsu Asuka (‘Nearby’ Asuka, in Osaka prefecture), through which the Takenouchi Kaidō passes on its way from Naniwa. This was Japan’s first state road, plied by emperors and emissaries as they travelled between Yamato and the kingdoms of Korea and empires of China further to the west. Naniwa (Osaka) was the entry/exit port.

Autumn clouds
sailing in the shape of
an ancient mission boat ……………. Miki

Day 1. November 12th , Bashō’s death anniversary and the first day of this year’s Hailstone Autumn Haike, had us passing through a landscape dominated by huge, moated imperial tumuli and early Buddhist temples that had seen better days. At the first of these, Fujiidera, a prayer for our journey in clouds of incense smoke. At another,

Someone tolling
the Yachūji bell:
by my feet, a few
rustling leaves ……………. Branko

One tumulus we rested beside was Shiratori no Misasagi (the White Bird Tumulus) made in the fifth century for Prince Yamatotakeru, perhaps the greatest of the Yamato heroes, whose exploits are recorded in the Kojiki. When he died, his spirit became a swan, and we were amazed to see some large swan haniwa (terracotta statues) in an archaeological display nearby. We paid our respects to him at nearby Shiratori Shrine.

The Takenouchi Kaidō proved somewhat difficult to follow in places, and we had to use a combination of maps, GPS and talking to the locals to navigate through the surprisingly urban first few hours. Richard’s hard work and a measure of good fortune allowed us to eat our packed lunches in a pleasant autumn-tinted park neatly sandwiched between a sewage works and a rubbish incineration plant!

We had just crossed the Ishikawa River on Garyū Bridge, from where we had spied the twin peaks of Mt. Futagami (Nijō) and a more rural, hilly landscape up ahead. Blessed with an idyllic ‘Indian summer’ day.

In the time it took him
to count the three clouds …
there were only two ……………. Tito

Found the rather creepy Morimoto Jinja, but overlooked, alas, its mysterious rat-headed courtier stone, Hayato-ishi.

Bare lightbulbs hanging
where lanterns used to be —
neglected shrine ……………. Candace

As the afternoon wore on and our feet began to get weary, golden vine leaves appeared beside the road. Although the harvest was already in, we did not need the signboards for ‘Asuka Wine’ to know that we were entering a land of grapes. The vines scrolling around their metal frames reminded some of us of the seventh century budō karakusa patterns on the black bronze Buddha’s pedestal in Nara’s Yakushiji. Around 3, we picked up Kyoko at Kaminotaishi Station.

The man perhaps most responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan was Prince Shōtoku, and it was to his final resting place at Eifukuji Temple that we were now headed – uphill. The spacious temple precincts command a fine view out across the Valley of Kings and its imperial mausolea.

So still at Eifukuji:
only the huge sun sinking
behind the pagoda ……………. Branko

Down some steep steps … and up another flight beyond, brought us to the little nunnery of Saihōin, our last port of call for the day. The bus from the hotel soon came to collect us.

The nuns have left
the gate open wide –
November moon ……………. Tito

Taishi Onsen was where we bedded down for the night, now joined by David, who had walked up  from the railway station through late afternoon fields. The hot-spring waters and the local food and wine set us up for an open-mic haiku sharing.

Reciting the day’s poems
with a karaoke echo:
last of the autumn wine ……………. Richard

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Day 2. The 13th dawned, crisp and clear.

Morning bath
in the open air,
a yellow leaf falling
as I close my eyes ……………. Miki

At Kaminotaishi Station we waited for the arrival of the Osaka train and found Akira and Shigeko almost immediately. Somehow, though, Hisashi slipped through the radar and had a quiet smoke just behind us while others continued to hunt for him! The ten of us proceeded eastwards along the Kaidō, paralleling the glittering Asuka Stream.

Now I am alone
but the snowflies
have found their sunbeam ……………. David

Passing the thatched roof of the Yamamoto House, we climbed a lane to the humble but commendable Historical Museum of the Takenouchi Road. Inside, many were entranced by a holographic presentation of local history, which even introduced Bashō ghosting his way through the area!

In clearing the loose rock
he trips on another –
a path through autumn hills ……………. Tito

Arrival at the busy fishing pond of Dainichi. A short rest, and then a stiff climb over Mt. Futagami, decked in its November best. Lunch was taken on a rocky peak with marvellous views back towards Fujiidera, from where the walk had begun.

Bending in the wind
tall pampas grass:
we vote for a left turn ……………. Branko

Somewhere between the 13-tiered solid stone pagoda of Rokutanji and Iwaya Pass on this, the 13th of the month, u n f o r t u n a t e l y we got lost. To reconnoitre, both Richard and David hared off up different rocky paths. The former came back to tell us that he’d met an old man who had warned him, “You’ll never get through before dark!” We descended the mountain as far as Route 166 and slogged along it to Takenouchi Pass.

Bashō’s checkpoint:
on the Nara side
smoother asphalt ……………. Branko

A pleasant descent past a large pond with a kingfisher … to the outskirts of Takenouchi village. There, we debated the merits of making a detour to take in the Hakuhō period temple of Taimadera, along the so-called “Bashō Path”. David voted with his feet, and we were soon all off behind him!

A farmer’s
long-winded explanation
about the highway shortcut –
Indian summer ……………. Hisashi

At the temple, we prayed before its main image, the huge tapestry-weave Taima Mandala of Amitabha’s Pure Land. Hisashi writes, “The precincts were packed, as that day local agricultural cooperatives were holding an autumn fair. Caught in the crowd, I was attracted by a dry, leafless plant a metre long, carried by a young girl and bearing on its tips fluffy white cotton seeds. I recalled that Taimadera was adjacent to the district of traditional cotton production in Osaka. I imagined the girl would go home with the plant and arrange it carefully in her tatami-mat room.”

Leaves of foreign words
floating away
In the autumn breeze ……………. Miki

We hurried back to Takenouchi and there, altering our pace, began to amble down, backs to the sunset, through the hometown of Bashō’s early travel companion, Naemura Chiri. It seems not to have greatly changed since the visits of the haiku master: an evocative place. In 1684, accompanied by Chiri on his journey of the ‘Weather-exposed Skeleton’, Bashō had stayed at the house of the village headman, Aburaya Ki’emon, and complimented him with the hokku

Watayumi ya / biwa ni nagusamu / take no oku

The cotton-beating bow –
as pleasing as the plucking of a lute
deep in the bamboo

A cotton-growing area indeed.

Hanging above
our full array of grins,
a line of drying onions ……………. Tito

After a group photo (see the slideshow), and a short reading by Stephen of Bashō’s haibun and verse related to the area, we meandered along our final stretch of the Kaidō towards its junction with the Katsuragi Road at Nagao Shrine. Looking back, we could see the range we had come over – Kongo, Katsuragi, Futagami – a rearing mountain wave against the afterglow. Prayers of thanks for safe completion of our journey. From Iwashiro Station, the train-ride home.

Nara Basin –
stubble smoke rising
from the end of
the Silk Road ……………. Akira

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‘Green Leaves and Water’: Ginko-no-Kukai at Mino

Posted in Event report, Summer with tags on June 27, 2016 by kibiakira

We chanced on one sunny morning  in the rainy season for our Ginko (June 11), a haiku stroll in the Mino Valley, N. Osaka. Ten poets turned up at the Station, and in less than five minutes we were in a green forest with fresh leaves and a clean stream. We enjoyed the murmuring water, birdsong, cool air, and tree-filtered sunlight. We glimpsed a wedding ceremony at one of the old Japanese-style inns on the way, and gazed up at the huge rock, Toujin-modori-iwa, which, as the legend goes, because of its formidable aspect made a group of Chinese visitors in the Qing Dynasty give up their attempt to reach 33m-high Mino Falls. Eventually, a silver waterfall came into sight. There, a monkey was hiding in the trees, attracting even more visitors than the cascade itself.  After enjoying the Falls, we walked back to the town of Mino, some of us taking a short dip in a hot-spring foot-bath on the way.

That afternoon, we were to hold a Kukai on the pre-selected theme of ‘Green Leaves and Water’ in the newly-opened Ii-ichi-nichi Café, the owner of which, Mr. Kinoshita, was a friend of one of our members. At lunchtime, poets wrote down some of their haiku from the morning’s Ginko, and the scribe and event organizer (yours truly, Akira) chose a few of them to add to the Kukai sheet (part-prepared from submissions already received, including a couple from a poet currently abroad). This sheet soon had 25 haiku inscribed on it (a maximum of two for each participant) and copies were made in a nearby store. Everyone had to choose their favourite (2 pts.) and three other haiku they liked (1 pt. each). The votes were then tallied by the scribe, and over coffee the session chairman, Branko Manojlovic, then read out the winning haiku and asked those who voted for it to say why they had liked it. Soon, we moved onto the runner-up, and so on down the scale of popularity, managing to cover most of the poems that had attracted at least two votes. Tito presented the author of the winning haiku, Hisashi Miyazaki, with a dyed cloth iwana fish. It seemed an appropriate prize for the clear waters of Mino.

we watch the fall–
it watches us,
a lone monkey ………… (Hisashi Miyazaki, 5 pts.)

the last drop poured,
…….. spreading
……….. scent
. of fresh picked tea ………… (*Mizuho Shibuya, 4 pts.)

The Mino Fall/ behind the maple leaves/ a shy monkey
(Teruko Yamamoto, 3 pts.)

Going deep into the greenland/ at its goal/ waterfall’s white spray   ………… (Eiko Mori, 3)

clear water…/ the fish under the bridge/ cooling in the shade   ………… (*Duro Jaiye, 3)

new leaves above and below:/ a cart of three-year-olds/ crossing the mirror paddy ………… (Richard Donovan, 3)

Strolling the valley…/ a faint light on the stream,/ clear still water ………… (Akito Mori, 3)

* authors with asterisks were not present on the day; click on any photo to enlarge

Pink Showers

Posted in Event report, Spring with tags on May 7, 2016 by Branko

It seems this year’s cherry blossoms had held on a little longer than usual. Perhaps they did so for the benefit of the ten Hailstone poets who attended the flower ginko event at Kyoto Botanical Gardens and Kamo River on April 10th. Anyway, we’d like to think so.

Loosely organized by Ursula and Branko, the late morning and early afternoon were spent at Kyoto Shokubutsuen, the oldest and the most comprehensive public botanical gardens in Japan. A bit surprising then that most poets in our group had never visited it! Since B. is the proud owner of an annual pass to the Gardens, he was a logical choice to guide the poets around, suggesting routes and beauty spots.

KC4F0042We started off at the Tulip Garden near the North Gate. There, we encountered a newly-wed couple, their every step followed by a hired photographer. This sight is not uncommon at the Gardens. What was unusual, though, was that they were evidently not Japanese (probably Korean or Chinese), for their super-relaxed behaviour went hand-in-hand with non-conventional, brown attire!

…….. A fungus wedding dress:
…….. falling sakura
…….. confetti
…………………… Branko

We strolled on, occasionally pausing by this or that plant or tree for a haiku-inspiring moment. The highlights included:
a suikinkutsu (literally ‘water zither cave’), a place where one can listen through a bamboo stalk to water trickling inside a jug buried underground;KC4F0043
the Cherry Garden where, besides cherry blossoms, a Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis) caught our attention;

…….. brimstone butterfly
…….. zigzags among
…….. weeping cherry blossoms
…………………… Eiko

…………………………………… Right through
…………………………………… The magenta redbud shrub …
…………………………………… Cherry petals streaming
…………………………………………………. Tito

the Lotus Pond, with its withered seed pods;

…….. brown and broken
…….. lotus stems –
…….. the muddy pond
…………………… UrsulaKC4F0031

a waterwheel that somehow rotated too fast for one propelled only by a tenuous stream of water from above;

…….. a maple seedling –
…….. how it trembles
…….. perched just above
…….. the waterwheel!
……………………. Hitomi 

and the Perennial Garden, where we all gathered by a lilac daphne (Daphne genkwa). Each of us took a sniff at its strikingly purple flowers, whose scent, Tito proposed, was that of an iced-sugar lump.

…………………………………… Daphnes bloom –
…………………………………… a yellow butterfly flits around
…………………………………… the spring garden
…………………………………………………. Akito

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter leaving the Shokubutsuen, we dropped into a nearby supermarket and, armed with bento-boxes,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA headed toward the Kamo River. There, we found a cosy spot on its east bank, where we ate, drank and discussed our haiku drafts. We were joined there by Richard D.

As we were preparing to leave, a sudden gust of wind brought about a hanafubuki, a pale-pink cherry blizzard.

…………………. Cherry petals
…………………. gently raining
…………………. on a poet’s palm
…………………………………… Branko

* Click on any photo to enlarge *

At the Kakimori Library

Posted in Event report, Haibun, Haiku with tags , , on February 26, 2016 by Tito

click on any pictures to enlarge

On 11 Feb., 2016, Stephen Henry Gill (aka Tito) gave a talk in Japanese at the Kakimori Library (in Itami, Hyogo) entitled  はいくとはいぶん (Haiku & Haibun, deliberately left in hiragana). There was an audience of 80 people, including many Hailstone poets. 「はいくとはいぶん」② IMG_8554-In order to set the context, he first briefly related the story of haiku’s transmission to the West – from Hendrik Doeff around 1800, through Noguchi, Couchard, Flint and Pound in the early 1900s, right up to the haiku society-based, website-based scene of today. The audience had a sheet of haiku examples in two languages to savour. Along the way, Gill talked about certain haibun (haiku-style prose) introducers and pioneers, including Yuasa, Ueda, Cain and Spiess. The work of poets like Ross, Kacian, Higginson, Cobb and Jones was also alluded to, and two English haibun excerpts (in both languages) were also read.

lt. Tsubo’uchi, rt. Gill

There was a talk session afterwards lead by Gill’s fellow Genjuan Haibun Contest judge, Nenten Tsubo’uchi, which attempted to ascertain how truly ‘haiku-style’ the examples of Western haibun provided on the handout really were.  The audience seemed to have been genuinely moved by the way the narrative line and haiku poems were used as mutual counterpoint in the late Ken Jones’ piece, The Spirit Level.

The Kakimori Library holds one of Japan’s gyougamanroku-foremost collections of haiku documents and paintings, including many works by Basho, Onitsura, Buson, Issa, etc.  The current exhibition included the famous sketchbook-diary from Shiki’s last days, Gyouga Manroku.

After viewing the beautiful works in the galleries, some Hailstones called in at the nearest sakagura (sake warehouse) for a drink and meal.

lt. H. Miyazaki, rt. E. Mori

‘Emperors & Generals’ Ginko

Posted in Event report, Japanese Classic with tags , on December 22, 2015 by Mayumi Kawaharada

December 11th, a torrential downpour. The following morning, however, a bright sunny start to the day. Six haiku poets set out with fresh hearts ready to pen their thoughts on a walk that would traverse the course of centuries: the route from Tambabashi to Fushimi Momoyama took in the burial mounds of the first and last emperors to be associated with Kyoto, and two shrines with imperial connections. It normally takes an hour and a half; the Hailstones managing to spin it out to five hours, with two participants even staying on a while longer in a saké bar.

Its last fruit weighed          P1020327 quince
Against December blow:
The quince tree

– Branko

There are few visitors to Kammu’s grave, yet the founder of Kyoto surely deserves recognition for the extent of his historical legacy. For lovers of the city this is an awe-inspiring spot, and by the side we found a persimmon tree laden with fruit, as if in honour. Nearby, the tower of the rebuilt castle of Hideyoshi’s time could be seen through the trees. Kammu’s grave, like other imperial mounds, typifies the blending of ancestral worship and animism that form the twin pillars of Shinto. Through placing the corpse in the earth, the deceased evolves into the landscape, and the imperial spirit is transformed into a true ‘spirit of place’.


Emperor’s mound
The sound of birdsong
Like gagaku

– John

On the green moss path
Autumn leaves spotlighted
By morning sunshine

– Mayumi

From Kammu’s grave it’s a short walk through pleasant woods to the burial mound of Emperor Meiji. Here is evident the pomp and glory of State Shinto, as the Restored Emperor at the centre of the Meiji regime was given a full-scale burial designed to impress. You only have to stand at the bottom of the huge stairway leading up to the shrine to appreciate the grandeur. As Mutsuhito, he was the last emperor to be born in the city, and the last who could be considered a Kyoto man. His father died when he was 14, making him emperor; he was ‘restored to power’ at the age of 15; he shifted the capital to Tokyo and married at 16. Quite a start to life! Meiji was something of a poet, and after paying respects at the grave of his father, Emperor Komei, he penned the following:

Visiting the family tombs
At Tsukinowa;
On my baggy sleeves
Old pine needles, cast off,
Collecting …

Out of view, and discretely located to one side, is the burial mound of Meiji’s chief wife, Empress Shoken, who died two years later. She had no children of her own, whereas her husband had fifteen by his concubines, or official mistresses. So she adopted the son of one of the other ‘wives’ and brought him up as heir apparent (later to become Emperor Taisho).

P1020597Pine seedlings
Sprouting here and there –
The childless empress

– Kyoko

Not far away from the imperial mounds is the shrine of Meiji’s devoted servant, General Nogi, who served as governor of Taiwan. He was the last person (together with his wife) to commit junshi, ritual suicide to follow one’s master into death. After distinguished service against the Chinese in 1894, he was made commander of the forces who took Port Arthur from the Russians a decade later, thus helping cement victory against the Europeans in the 1904-5 war. He was appalled, however, at the loss of life of those under him and sent a letter to the Emperor requesting permission to commit suicide. Though the request was refused, he and his wife felt obliged to take their lives in 1912 immediately following the funeral of Emperor Meiji.  Some praised him highly for loyalty and devotion; others saw it as a retrograde act of feudalism.

…. After stories of war
…. At the General’s shrine,
…. Free tangerines.

…. – Tito

Gokonomiya is not one of the better-known shrines of Kyoto, though in any other town it would certainly be a focus of attention. Said to have been built on the site of an imperial villa, the connection is further reflected in its enshrined deities, the Empress Jingu and her son, Emperor Ojin (also known as Hachiman). Spring water with a particularly fresh aroma gushed out of the earth here in 863  – hence the name ‘Shrine of Fragrance’. The water is treasured by parishioners, who bottle it for home consumption.

The haiku poets were able to find a condusive corner of the shrine in which to compare their writings for the day, perched on large rocks taken from the remains of Hideyoshi’s castle. As the sun went down on what had been a fine outing blessed with good weather, we were able to pick over what we had gathered from the day.

Late autumn
Sunset sinking
Into the vermilion torii

– Lawrence

At Gokonomiya, we happened on a haiku monument bearing poems by both Basho and Kyorai. Though none of us could decipher the cursive writing, a check on the Internet later revealed what was inscribed.

Scent of apricot blossom –
Suddenly the sun comes up
On the mountain road.

This was written by Basho in Fushimi in 1694, the year of his death. The second haiku on the Gokonomiya stone was by Kyorai (both Eng. trans. by SHG).

‘Alright, alright!’ I shout,
But the knocking goes on
At the snow-cloaked gate.

Report by John D. and Mayumi K.