Creatures of Winter

Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) has asked me to share these new winter haiku of his. There will be a new ‘from the Icebox inbox’ posting soon. Happy holidays to all of our readers!

All that must depart,
I leave them to the cold wind
And shut myself up.

去るものは風に任せて冬籠 saru mono wa kaze ni makasete fuyugomori

A pot of young pines,
How deep the green of their needles
In this winter scene.

一鉢の松の若木や緑濃し hitohachi no matsu no wakagi ya midori koushi

A winter crow perched
On an electric wire, sharpens
Its beak against it.

電線に嘴研ぐや冬烏 densen ni kuchibashi togu ya fuyugarasu

A young cat asleep
In a sunny spot, moving
Its ears now and then.

若猫は日向で寝ても耳動く wakaneko wa hinata ni netemo mimi ugoku

A December storm —
Two rainbow pillars stand up
In the Western sky.

冬の虹二本立ちたる西の空 fuyu no niji nihon tachitaru nishi no sora

Autumn’s here

As autumn progresses, allow me to offer a few observations from my part of the world (over 9,000 kms. away, in Macedonia), yet not so very different, one imagines, regarding Mother Nature’s universal brilliant show of colour and latent scent of gradual decay.

warm winds of autumn
busy sweeping leaves
into tidy corners

….. tree roots
….. along the woodland path
….. an old man doffs his cap

………………………… edge of the lake
………………………… poplars on tiptoe
………………………… admiring their reflections

autumnal breath
golden aspens
shivering

breezy stroll
prattling on
a brittle leaf keeps pace

approaching storm
lake swans busking
next to shriveled reeds

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)

How swift the seasons!

It was winter when I last posted on Icebox, and in what seems the blink of an eye it’s October already! Let me share three haiku spanning this summer and autumn.

Cicadas’
cacophony—a song of
blistering skin

Sweet-smelling grass,
a tiny brown frog leaps
among it all

Paddies at dusk,
crows flee a rising
gibbous moon

And finally, a light-hearted non-seasonal haiku inspired by a statue in a park. (A “tribute” to what birds do best!)

Brave man in bronze
white-lipped, mute to
the birds’ disrespect

Haiku from The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

We had 兼題 (suggested topic) at both of the Hailstone English Haiku seminars in August: ‘Olympic sports’. As they watched on their TV sets, poets in both Kyoto and Osaka composed haiku and haiqua on athletics, swimming, cycling, skateboard, gymnastics, surfing, karate, table tennis, baseball, sports climbing, and so forth. To celebrate the Games’ conclusion, here’s a small selection of them after slight 添削 (tweaking).

August sun —
beckoning deities to her chest
her hop step  j  u  m  p! (KY)

Tattooed eagle
on the Olympian’s arm
cleaves the water —
the final length (YA)

peeking over
the ping-pong table
a tiny girl’s happy face —
training for the Olympics (TY)

Neptune’s billow
brings the surfer to …
glory on the beach (HS)

a climber, hung
upside down
poised for the next move …
sweat beads on her cheeks (AK)

To watch the bobbing heads
of BMX cyclists …
illegal crowd
on a distant bridge (T)

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.

from the Icebox inbox – 49

with comments by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

From a lot of new haiku submitted these past few months, I have selected the following eight and will comment on each of them. But first, I should like to tell you briefly what kind of haiku I prefer. Ezra Pound’s famous words “direct treatment of the ‘thing’” are often used to explain haiku, but I have always thought that this shows only one side of haiku. I much prefer William Blake’s famous lines “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower”. They describe haiku much better. I believe that haiku must show infinity in an image of a moment. Of the many submitted, there are only a few that come close to my conviction.

two varied tits
came from the coppice
fused into cherry blossom

Yoshiharu Kondo, Shiga

I like this poem because it successfully conveys the joy we all have when cherry blossoms come to bloom. It would be better to put a dash at the end of the second line to separate the third line. In Japanese haiku we use kireji (cutting word), but I think you can get the same effect by using a dash. It shows the last line belongs to a different level of experience.

my new Jawa bike –
the dragonfly comes back
for a second look

Kanchan Chatterjee, India

I have always liked dragonflies since boyhood. There is something humorous about the dragonfly in this poem. Dragonflies have big compound eyes and they can see certain things very well – for example, another dragonfly far away. I wonder what this dragonfly saw in the poet’s bicycle.

hot sunny day …
ants changing their
course of action

Lakshmi Iyer, India

I chose this poem because a line of ants is a favourite topic in Japanese haiku. I feel, though, that this poem needs to be more precise in its presentation of ants’ action. “Changing course” fails to show us what the ants are doing. I suppose ants changed their course because of the heat. If so, you could say, “ants changed their course / going through the leaves.” You must think once more about Ezra Pound’s words I quoted above.

one pink Japanese
magnolia petal on
the black, wet road –
midwinter

Sydney Solis, Florida

I have chosen this poem for two reasons: first, because it has four lines and second, because magnolia is used as a midwinter seasonal word. I have no objection to four-line haiku. I sometimes feel three-line haiku too short and truncated, especially if each line contains only one word or just a few words. But the one-word line in this haiku, however, can be justified. My second point is about magnolia. In Japan it blooms in spring. Does it really bloom in midwinter in Florida? If the last line had been “midwinter weather”, it would have been easier for me to have understood the poem.

empty house
the sun’s rays light up
the lone gecko

Uma Anandalwar

This is an impressive poem. During World War II, I used to live in a farmhouse with a few geckos. In Japanese, a gecko is called yamori, which means “a keeper of the house”. Geckos used to frighten me, suddenly dropping down from ceilings and walls. A gecko is truly a symbol of an empty house. I am glad to see this poem.

arriving at a tea shop
after a long trek …
a puppy greets me

K. Ramesh, Tamil Nadu

This is a heart-warming poem. It is nice to have a welcome of this kind when you are tired. It would be even nicer if the author had given us a more detailed description of the puppy. I live in a home for aged people where no animals are allowed, but there is one cat that lives with us. Here is my poem about it:

On a balmy day
I whistle to the white cat —
My greeting ignored.

Sleepless night in spring
My love’s gentle breath is a
Melody of peace

Ulla Bruun

This is an impressive poem, soothing and heart-warming. The only thing I am worried about is the way the second line ends. It is better, I think, to close it as a complete line and use a dash to emphasize the last line; for example, “My love’s gentle breath is heard — / A melody of peace”.

wind picking up –
suddenly from glassy lake
Hokusai waves

Ingrid Baluchi, North Macedonia

In this poem, “Hokusai waves” are used very effectively, and the speed with which they rise from the glassy lake is impressive. The only thing I am slightly worried about is the lack of season word. Of course I am aware of the legitimacy of non-season haiku, but in describing a scene like this, the use of a seasonal word is desirable.

‘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.

Sosui at Setsubun & 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho Scroll Exhibition

I first met Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui) in London in 1994 during the Basho 300th celebrations I’d organized for London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies and the British Haiku Society. During that year, BHS held a series of events including a conference,  a long-distance haiku hike, an international renga, and a haiku reading-cum-balloon launch. Together with London U. Prof. of Japanese Lit., Andrew Gerstle, I edited and published the fruits of our celebrations (conference papers, including one by Nobuyuki, renga, haibun, etc.) as Rediscovering Basho a few years later. For the cover, we obtained permission from Gichuji Temple in Otsu to reproduce a portrait of Basho on horseback taken from their amazing scroll painting, 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 Basho-okina Ekotobaden, executed by Kano Shoei towards the end of the Eighteenth Century to celebrate Basho’s 100th.

It just so happens that today (Feb. 11), when I visited Rakushisha (the House of Fallen Persimmons, where Basho had written his Saga Diary back in 1691), I picked up a flyer advertising an exhibition at Otsu Historical Museum 大津市歴史博物館 opening later this month at which for the first time the scroll will be shown in its entirety, all 40 meters of it. It shows Basho on his Oku no Hosomichi (Deep North) and other travels at various locations accompanied by Sora, so Hailstone will certainly hold an event to go and see it soon. One illustration shows B at Ukimido, the Floating Pavilion on Lake Biwa, location for Hailstone’s first ever event (Nov. 2000). Get in touch with me if interested. Museum site link 

Serendipitously, also today, Nobuyuki has just sent me a few of his latest haiku celebrating the season of Setsubun (early February, trad. beginning of spring), which also includes his own birthday (Feb. 10, just turned 89 years old!). He confesses to me that recently he has been feeling lazy and, although still composing, cannot face posting directly onto the Icebox at present, so I shall do so for him. Some of you may remember his nice haibun on the subject of ‘Bean-throwing at Setsubun’ a few years ago (published in our collection, Persimmon). Belatedly… many happy returns of the day, Sosui-sensei!

節分が来ても畑に動きなし
Spring is expected
To come tomorrow, and yet
No change in the field.

節分や仄かに赤き梅の枝
The last day of winter —
A tinge of red now visible
On the plum branches.

Seven “Go To” Haiku

Over autumn and winter, my partner and I made full use of the government’s short-lived Go To Travel campaign. Our trips took us as far north and south as Hokkaido and Okinawa. Here are a few haiku from those journeys.

The following three were written on a trip to Matsushima. Unfortunately, Matsushima itself (we did a bay cruise) didn’t inspire me to the extent that it did the great Basho. Rather, my main inspiration was on the train getting there.

Not for frail eyes
these persimmon stark on
an azure sky

From this train seat—
a yard fire, but without
the smell of smoke

Another haiku from on the train was of an exchange between a child and his parents.

Oysters on trees?
Laughing, they answer him,
Persimmon, son!

(N.B. In Japanese, both persimmons and oysters are pronounced the same: “kaki.”)

Then, from a visually confusing moment experienced on a beach (because poor eyesight can also be poetic!):

Sand-scuttling crabs
flock and take to the air,
yes, as sparrows!

And one from the commercial center—called Makishi—of Naha City, Okinawa:

Sitting in threes
Makishi’s old women
sort bean sprouts

Finally, from Yamagata (post-Go To, actually):

From snowy ground
a blackbird beats its way
up to the eaves

No lovelier
winter thatch than your black
snow-capped hair