This year, after wintering in Andalusia, I returned to the U.K. to start creating a dry landscape Zen garden, or karesansui. Gravel would represent water; raking marks, waves; and rocks might suggest islands or mountains. Areas of white gravel emptiness, to provide serenity.
The site chosen was next to my pottery studio and anagama kiln in the middle of a field. It offers a beautiful vista into a neighboring meadow, which would soon become the shakkei, borrowed scenery forming the garden’s backdrop. I wanted to create a meandering flow of gravel with rocks, landscaped on either side with mounds of top-soil and a boundary of clumping bamboo. A crescent-shaped path of Scottish cobblestones would lead out into the field towards Japanese cherry trees. In the garden itself the planting scheme was going to be mostly evergreen – dwarf pines, miscanthus and other grasses. A stone lantern ishitoro and a stone washbasin tsukubai would provide focal points and lend Japanese atmosphere.
The sound of water — . / . how miraculous . / . in the dry gravel garden!
As the Zen garden project developed, we encountered problems in design — should there be tobi-ishi, stepping stones, going into the garden? Should there be hanashōbu, Japanese ensata irises, or momiji, acer palmatum? As it turned out, all three were omitted, in an acknowledgement that less is more.
The final piece in the creation of the garden was a conical pile of gravel, symbolic of Mount Fuji, placed where the garden merges into the English countryside.
A day of quiet gladness — . / . a cone of gravel rises . / . in the Cotswolds
The Fukuda Museum in Arashiyama, Kyoto has just announced that it has acquired a scroll painted by Basho himself of his 野ざらし紀行 Nozarashi Kikō journey centred on Kansai in 1684-5. They will exhibit the 14-metre scroll for the first time 10/22-1/9, and Hailstone will no doubt plan an event to go and see the work. My fellow editor, Nobuyuki Yuasa, translated the piece for Penguin Classic as ‘The Records of a Weather-exposed Skeleton’. It was the first of Basho’s great haibun journeys, but the only one he illustrated completely himself. The scroll was known to exist, but its whereabouts had not been confirmed for half a century or more. The Museum had been contacted by an Osaka dealer who had suspected that the scroll could be the missing one.
The close-up shots of the scroll (each can be enlarged by clicking), clockwise from top centre show, respectively, Hakone, Yoshino, Kuwana, Tōdaiji’s Nigatsudō (in Nara), and Narutaki (in Kyoto). To give a flavour of the written account itself, here are some of Basho’s haiku inscribed adjacent to each of these illustrations:
(HAKONE: Kirishigure / fuji o minu hi zo / omoshiroki) . Misty rain / hides the view of Mt. Fuji… / yet still I’m spellbound!
(YOSHINO: Kinuta uchite / ware ni kikase yo / bō ga tsuma) . Beat your fulling-block / so I may enjoy its sound, please / wife of the temple priest
(KUWANA: Akebono ya / shirauo shiroki / koto issun) . Before sunrise… / young icefish flashing white / just one inch long
(NARA: Mizutori ya / kōri no sō no / kutsu no oto) . Water-drawing Ceremony – / cold sound of monks’ clogs / pounding the wooden floor
(NARUTAKI: Ume shiroshi / kinō wa tsuru o / nusumareshi) . Plums in white blossom, / but the crane’s absence might tell of / its kidnap yesterday!
It is also worth noting that a newly found scroll by Buson of Basho’s 奥の細道 Oku no Hosomichi travel sketch will be shown for the very first time at the Kyoto National Museum from June 14 to July 18 this year. Of the existing Buson scrolls on this subject, this is apparently the oldest.
Haiku poems (and one haibun) selected from Icebox submissions (Jan. – Mar. 2022) by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa):
the old tree and I
share our memories Mira
last sliver of sunlight
gray geese still honking, grazing
on dark earth Sydney Solis
arises from the fog
and disappears in it –
the pilgrim Momiji
morning sun warms
the bellies of storks K. Ramesh
No Fishing sign
a heron’s eye
catches mine John Parsons
Under my high-legged sofa is an old brown suitcase with remnants from my dear deceased parents. It has been sitting there since my sister and I cleared out our childhood home nine years ago. Like a constant reminder, it has been on our “to do” list since: sorting out diaries, letters from relatives and papers from our father’s work as professor. But each time my sister visited, we postponed it as just too much – just now – when the sun was shining or a museum or film lured us to less heartbreaking activities. We know how fast we packed that heavy old thing! Years went by and last May my little sister became ill with cancer and died after just one month. So short a time to say all the unsaid things from a long life! Now I am the sole matriarch and the suitcase has been shouting at me to be opened. To my surprise my father wrote drafts of his correspondence.
The paper crackles
Thin between my fingertips
Letters from beloved Ulla Bruun
Once a lump of clay—
Three sharp pieces in the sink
still hold memories David Sinex
From a promenade bandstand
Vies with wind and waves. Kamome
in the dance of snowflakes
a Japanese white-eye begs food
from me in the garden Yoshiharu Kondo
The criteria used in my selection were (1) to choose one piece from each contributor and (2) to choose the poems that struck my heart in one way or another. My comments are as follows.
Both the author and the tree may be silent, but Mira’s poem is very eloquent nonetheless. Sydney Solis’s poem is a beautiful description of an evening scene. I wondered if it might be possible to move ‘grazing’ to the third line, though. Momiji’s poem not only describes the fog but also the inner mind of the pilgrim very well—full of anxiety but looking for peace. K. Ramesh’s poem is a vivid description of a morning scene. I smelled jasmine and felt the warmth of the sunlight. John Parsons’s poem catches a poignant moment well. I happen to be a fisherman myself, and have always detested ‘No Fishing’ signs and enjoyed meeting herons. Although they are our rivals, they can sit on a stone in the stream like a philosopher. They do have very sharp eyes, though.
Ulla Bruun’s haibun deals with a common theme, but I found it very sincere. I chose only one of the poems after the prose section, but it is a powerful one with which to conclude the piece. I found David Sinex’s poem somewhat mystifying, but thought-provoking at the same time. I wondered if it might not be possible to add a short prose paragraph to make the poem more understandable. Kamome’s poem describes the loud voice of the singer effectively. I wonder, though, which is really louder, the singer’s voice or the wind and waves. Singers nowadays may use electronic devices to make their voices very loud but, even so, winds and waves are more powerful, or at least it should be so. I enjoyed reading Yoshiharu’s poem on white-eyes (mejiro). I am also fond of these tiny green birds. Spring does not come until they are around.
Please allow me also to share a few haiku poems of my own. Feel free either to skip them altogether or to send me your own comments through the reply box.
The sky dawns today
Flushed in the softest of pink —
We know spring is here. ほんのりとピンクに染まる春の朝
A pair of crows fly
From a plum blossom village
To their mountain home. 梅が咲く里から山へ鴉二羽
A pair of white-eyes
Sing by turns in a hedgerow
In their sweetest voice. 生垣に目白鳴き交う声優し
With its sudden cry
A pheasant broke the silence
Of a spring morning. ケンケンと雉鳴き春のしじま断つ
Although I wrote the following poem years ago, I repeat it every year when the cherry blossom season is over.
Cherry blossoms gone—
Now I sit down to enjoy
Blossoms in my heart. 散り果ててやっと心の花見かな
Yet another pilgrimage. Overland to Malawi. Now paused at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border. Visas and passports and customs checks before crossing the Limpopo River. Close by, the old railway line is now a footbridge for the masses heading south. Seeking safety and work. Perhaps a new life for their children. Somehow I trade places with them. Leave any sense of knowing and security behind.
Stepping down from the bus into Masvingo. Then a taxi to the ruins. A fellow traveler had derided this place—“Just some piles of rocks!” But a local poet has captured it best. “Stones, the visible end of silence.”
dzimba dza mabwe
Down into the valley. Past the eastern enclosures. Looking for a sacred seam in the earth. Somewhere here on the path, requiring a brief ritual. Putting down my load. Uttering a prayer to the ancestors. Then a slow, superstitious step over it.
a witch’s spell
hardens into bedrock
I take in my final sunset at the western enclosure. My solitary perch this past week. Alone again with the baboons and some lingering spirits of the past. Thoughts of the future. Moving beyond the monk that I was. I uncross my legs. Stand. Stride.
the ancient wall
mapped in lichen
Notes: …. dzimba dza mabwe is the Shona origin of “Zimbabwe,” meaning “houses of stone.”
…………. This haibun was first published in the book, Africa, Buddha, Red Moon Press, 2022
…………. The photos, which are not in the above book, are by Gunji Suda.
The first rice stalks are harvested.
a mellow sun
lights up the old garden –
Thai Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated mid-January here in Tamil Nadu*. Spread across four days, it also marks the change in the direction of the Sun towards the north and the advent of Spring. Many of the festive activities express gratitude to the Sun, nature and livestock (especially bulls and cows).
Women make decorations on the ground outside their homes with powdered colours and rice flour.
drawing a rangoli* –
the rainbow hues
of a butterfly
Pongal is also the name of the traditional food eaten at this time, cooked with milk, rice and jaggery*.
flash of a blade
slicing the banana leaf
to adorn the mud pot
pongal boils over –
the sunshine smile
on the little girl’s face
grandma’s prophecy –
this year’s harvest
will overflow the granary
the farm’s only bull
It was a muggy day when I first noticed something unusual at my house. I glimpsed it in a nook of the porch, but lazily dismissed it thinking it was nothing serious. There were some spotted stains on the tiles, too.
Several weeks later, I was startled to see that the spots had spread. I lifted my eyes along the drainpipe towards a dark corner.
Something in a row
something in a huddle:
nest of bees
Carefully opening the door, I slipped into the house, regretting my laziness. I googled how to get rid of bees. Then, I conferred with my wife and concluded the best way would be to call in an exterminator.
The next day, I searched to find a suitable professional, but before I called, remembered that the bees had never actually attacked us nor done any harm. It was in part sympathy for the bees and in part my laziness again that made me change my mind. So we opted to leave the nest as it was and see how things went.
A weary bee
basking on the porch －
an autumn field
It’s been one month now, but, so far, living together with the bees, sharing the space on both sides of the wall, is going well. Although their numbers have seemed to dwindle as the days get colder, I am happy with our decision.
We live in a new residential area, which once used to be grasses, bushes, and bamboo groves. Now it’s all houses, apartments, hospitals, malls, and roadways. It makes me sad to realize that we’ve been changing the rules and destroying the environment for our own benefit. Humans move and buy ownership of a house. Bees move and make their houses where they please. Mankind is just 1 of 1.75 million species cohabiting the Earth. Sometimes, I have to remind myself of this.
before an autumn sunset －
The Cottage of Visions, Genjuan Haibun 2018-21 anthology, 160pp, lilac cover A5, ￥1,400 (US$18 incl. p&p), just published by Hailstone! Available in Japan via teruyama2014″at”gmail”dot”com and for overseas mailing via indigoapple28″at”gmail”dot”com. Short of funds, this time we will only send it free to those in the book itself – awardees for the 2018-21 contests + judges and officers. Content: 40 awarded haibun, 13 judge’s comments (incl. ones by Nenten Tsubo’uchi, Toru Kiuchi, Akiko Takazawa, Hisashi Miyazaki, Sean O’Connor, and Angelee Deodhar), 8 haibun pieces by the judges, 3 new translations of Basho, Kyorai and Kikaku, 10 illustrations by Buson & Taiga. From the Preface:
There will be no Genjuan International Haibun Contest next year. This has nothing to do with the epidemic; simply that all judges and the officer wanted a rest! The organizers (Hailstone Haiku Circle) have decided at this point to call it a day. We have tried to provide a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world in the field of haibun. Thank you for your creativity and enthusiastic support these past 10 years (13, if we include the first 3 as Kikakuza). Icebox will of course continue to publish and promote haibun in English. Enquiries can also be made, via comments below or on our Publications page.
Dear Stephen and Kazue-san,
The season of our plum harvest has returned.
Due to the rain and our delay at harvesting, some of the ripened ones may be bruised. Sorry for that. We selected those relatively young and green to avoid the above mishaps. Please water-wash their surface before taking a bite.
Akira and Shigeko, the residents of Rakuki-sha (落李舎)
another impact on the ground …
Ah, the ripened plums!
In this most unhurried, most forsaken of villages where not a single shop seems worthy of the term, where a ferry timetable hangs redundant, we are trying to locate a Basho kuhi. When at long last we bump into a local fisherman, and ask about Matsuo Basho, he looks dismayed: ‘There’s nobody by that name around here.’ Must rely on instinct. An hour later you spy a flight of stairs leading up a verdant hill. To reach the shrine on top one must tiptoe through a minefield of dozing cats in front of a grey torii.
Under summer’s moon
The octopus is said to be one of the most intelligent creatures of the sea, able to figure its way out of all kinds of mazes, puzzles and traps. Long ago, however, the Japanese figured out the invertebrate’s love of hiding in small spaces and devised a deceptively simple contraption for catching them: a baited cylindrical clay pot lined with a mesh net and a trap door. These takotsubo (蛸壺, octopus pots) can be found piled and stacked up against seawalls in towns and villages along the Seto Inland Sea, where octopus is part of the daily diet.
Looking for one thing
finding another —
Late Summer, 2015
kuhi – a haiku stone on which a poem is engraved
A Mead-Hall of the Mind by J Hahn Doleman (USA)
An (Cottage) Prizes
Wintering Grounds by Marietta McGregor (Australia)
The Departing by Manoj Nair (India)
Call to Prayer by Matthew Caretti (USA)
Donnybrook Graveyard by Glenda Cimino (Ireland)
Bells on New Year’s Eve by Akihiko Hayashi (Japan)
Afternoon Memories by Margherita Petriccione (Italy)
Morning Zoo by Jennifer Hambrick (USA)
Great Horned Owl by Margaret Chula (USA)
Village Clean Up by Diarmuid Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Judges: Akiko Takazawa, Stephen Henry Gill, Sean O’Connor
Officer: Junko Oda
This year we had a record field of 139 entries from approx. 20 countries. For the first time, our entries came in by email, and not everyone stated where they live. Warm congratulations to all awardees, who will in due course receive certificates, judges’ comments and (the top four only) prizes. The 2021 prize-winning pieces are now available to read on a dedicated page here at the Icebox. A little later on, they will also be published in The Haibun Journal.
Last Sunday in January: the dead of winter. Japanese Government toying with extending the latest Covid Emergency Order. Almost the end of the university year. Still one online lecture, three classes to grade and eleven grad theses to go. At home, almost at the end of our tether: getting on each other’s nerves.
Looks sunny. We strip off all our sheets and put them in the washing-machine; futons, out to the terrace to dry. Sunday, right? So, where to go for a kibun-tenkan (change of surroundings)? I ask my wife.
“The Botanical Gardens.”
“There’ll be nothing out,” I say.
Rounding the first corner… and a freak shower is racing towards us from the north! We rush back home, unlock the front door. Sprint upstairs to the terrace, as icy rain comes blasting through; hurl those futons and sheets back inside… then drape them all over the furniture in our living room.
We set off once more.
Entering the Gardens. Nothing out at all. Just a few bobbly white buds on the mitsumata (paper-making bush).
As a last resort, we head for the glasshouse.
The orchid exhibition —
each one a fashion statement
with its own devotees
There is a small voting-box, at one end of the hall, and a stack of cards and pencils. All are urged to vote for their favourite bloom. I find myself tending towards no. 37.
Taking off my mask
to smell the orchid —
nothing at all!