Of Mangoes and the Sea Breeze

Here are a few haiku from the long summer in the seaside city of Chennai, South India. ……. (Geethanjali Rajan)
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summer dawn
many songs
from the Asian Koel

left-overs
from the squirrel’s feast
scent of ripe mangoes

sultry noon
the fan’s groans
punctuate snores

the jasmine leaf
is a baby praying mantis
evening stillness

orange dusk
the gentle swish
of coconut fronds

end of summer –
the sound of the waves
in my conch

Songs for Spirits 魂のうた

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A selection of 59 tanka, 11 haiku and 3 English haibun by Kiyoko Ogawa (Taibowsha Corp., 2022). The haiku and tanka are given in both Japanese and English.
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From the Preface: “There are some Japanese poets… not in favour of the idea that one poet writes both haiku and tanka… I myself would like to feel free… Sometimes I intend to compose a tanka, ending up by writing a haiku, and vice versa. I won’t mind if my flexibility is criticized.”
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The five sections of the book are focussed, respectively, on the death of Kiyoko’s mother, journeys to Leipzig and Australia, rural scenes around Lake Biwa, and the transience of our ‘Floating World’. Highly recommended!
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In Japan, ¥1,000 + p&p.  From abroad, US$ 10 incl. p&p. Enquiries/orders to: kiyoko66ogawa”at”gmail.com

Green Pigeon Man

the old pond
a freedom fighter drops his pants
and plunges in

Simon Piggott wrote this haiku one hot summer’s day in Oshika-mura, Nagano, at 1,000m in Japan’s Southern Alps. He lived there for decades in an old wooden house he had named Saimon-tei 祭文亭, occasionally opening it up as a theatre and concert venue. He worked primarily as a translator, acted for a time as Kamasawa Village deputy headman, and led the organization supporting the local Shinto shrine, while also tending the nearby cairn to Prince Munenaga 宗良親王 (son of Emp. Godaigo and 14th century resistance leader for the Southern Court against the North), who had fled there. Simon had once presented on Munenaga and Oshika-mura to our Hibikiai Forum seminar in Kyoto.

Born in Northamptonshire, England on 7 April 1950, he passed away after a bout with skin cancer on 8th June, aged 72. He had studied Japanese Language & Literature in the 1970s at SOAS, London University, ahead of me, and much later, David Stormer, too. After graduation Simon returned to Japan and never left. We had played in the same football team in Tokyo in the early 1980s: the Hachiko Boys! Simon was a gifted, independent soul and taught those of us who visited him much about the art of country living. A breath of fresh air! He leaves behind a wife, three daughters, and seven grandchildren. We will sorely miss this unsung freedom-fighting Englishman here in Japan. Thank you, Saimon.
+ RIP +

いづかたも山の端ちかき柴の戸は月見る空やすくなかるらむ
on every side mountains
tower up around
my brushwood cottage
so narrow is the sky
in which i view the moon

(by Munenaga, trans. SP)

look past the garden
snow mountains are welcoming
stars, the confetti

(by SP)

Finally, and movingly, a short excerpt from a piece he wrote on his blogsite,  back in April:

… It was a beautiful spot, looking out to the high mountains across the valley. It was also adjacent to the place where he had cut down trees for firewood all those years ago.

He walked very slowly, still not confident whether his body wouldn’t be damaged by the exertion. But, so far, it seemed to be holding up.

As he neared his destination he saw an uncommon bird flying horizontally through the trees. Jays and rooks were common here, but it wasn’t one of those. By the flash of colour that he had caught sight of he identified it as an aobato, a green pigeon, a bird whose distinctive call he occasionally heard, but which he had only actually seen a few times. To see it today of all days seemed auspicious.

Immediately he decided that, in accordance with the Buddhist custom of taking a new name after death, he would call himself aobato-koji — Green Pigeon Man.

It was a joke. But he was also serious. Green Pigeon Man.

Presently he arrived at the clearing where the small statue for the dead farm animals stood. He searched for a suitable place to put the stone that would commemorate him, the Green Pigeon Man. About ten metres away he found four closely grouped pines. He would put his stone here between the trees.

Thus he would become the Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines.

Then, satisfied with what he had accomplished, he set off back down the mountain.

He didn’t see the green pigeon again, but, in the forest just above his house, did faintly hear its call.

my gravestone is up:
unknown, unvisited, this
virgin rock perhaps
one day will kisses cover
like oscar’s in père lachaise*

Notes – *alluding to Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The old pond haiku was later published in our 2005 anthology Enhaiklopedia.
The full piece, Green Pigeon Man of the Four Pines, is available at Simon’s blogsite, here.
Richard Donovan and Tito hope to go to Oshika sometime to pay our respects at Green Pigeon Man’s gravestone.

Fair Weather in May

The rainy season came early this year to Haruna (Gunma-ken), but we did have some fair weather in May. I wrote the following poems on such days. (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

五月晴れ野から薫風窓に入る
Fair weather in May—
A scented wind, blowing in
From the fields around.

五月晴れ瀬も堰も越え鮎上る
Fair weather in May—
Fighting the rapids and weirs
Ayu leap upstream.

柿若葉揺れて反射が目に染みる
Fresh persimmon leaves
Dancing, now dazzle my eyes
With their reflections.

一夜明け五月の浅間雪もなし
One morning in May,
Overnight the snow has gone
From Mt. Asama!

夏雲を背に飛び回る燕ろめ
Swallows have returned—
They draw circles and spirals
Against summer clouds.

Notes: ayu – sweetfish; Mt. Asama – active 2,568m volcano on Gunma-Nagano border.

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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from the Icebox inbox – 52

Haiku poems (and one haibun) selected from Icebox submissions (Jan. – Mar. 2022) by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa):

ancestral house
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

jasmine scent…
morning sun warms
the bellies of storks              K. Ramesh

No Fishing sign
a heron’s eye
catches mine                        John Parsons

Haibun:
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

Crooner’s recording
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

Sosui’s comments:

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

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

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