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:

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


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)

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 –

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.

Twenty-twenty luck

Happy New Year 20-20! MMXX. With a name like that, this is sure to be a really cool year — or so I told my haiku students at Kyoto University yesterday! It’s also the Year of the Rat, the first of the zodiac animals.

On January 1st, guided by the coolest of my Japanese friends, I went to the rocky islet of Miyado Benten in Loch Tōgō, Tottori, to pay my respects – as a poet might – to the goddess thought to preside over the Arts.

As we reached the sacred island, something unusual, yet truly auspicious, caught my eye. May my haiqua image bring you, too, some good luck!

New Year —
a water rat
swimming the periphery
of Benten’s isle

in deepening grey

. Seemed I was there, thoroughly involved, but did emerge unscathed. Had tried to find Kaz. Oh, Kaz! Where are you?! Had woken up. She had been here, all the while, in Kyoto beside me…
. I had seen the Earthquake in my dream a number of hours before it had happened, but didn’t know where it was. Now that I do, my heart bleeds for Kathmandu and, further to the west, for Besisahar and the lower Marsyangdi, for the small towns and villages around Gorkha – beautiful places, all, and all of which I know. What might have befallen the Shangri-La that was Manang? So much more to learn in the coming weeks. I do not look forward to them.

.. Obliging rain –
.. It comes at the crest of a ridge
.. In front of a tea-house
.. With a river view…

………… (haiqua, written between Phalesangu and Besisahar, 14.6.90)

. Am feeling the same shock now as when King Birendra and his Queen were assassinated in 2001 and the Nepalese Royal House was toppled. Why does Fate have it in for humble, good-natured, fine-featured Nepal? I worry for my friends, Hikmat, Hariprasad, Indhu, Vinod, and all of their wives and families. How long will it be before I know what happened to them? Punyaratna Sakya, from the same clan as the Buddha, Sakya-muni, rang me this morning to assure me that he, anyway, was alright.
.  Those marvellous pagodas on which I had sat as a fledgling poet and youth philosopher with long hair, where for the first time in my life (1971) I had watched ‘time go by’ – have any survived? We are told that the Khasthamandap, the city’s oldest building, the very one that gave the fabled city its name, actually collapsed in an aftershock onto people donating blood. How unutterably cruel is the earth goddess! Nepalis must be wondering what they have done wrong. ‘The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Kathmandu’ (Rudyard Kipling). Savage even.
. Peace, peace be unto you, my dear Nepal …

.. The valley smokes in silver twilight…
.. After a storm.
.. The fuming heavens will be our veil
.. For night-time’s tight lament.

.. The crickets and the bullfrogs
.. Pick up the shredded fragments of this day
.. And weave them into night.

.. A lonely temple bell
.. Attempts to break the listless air,
.. But fails
.. (As also does the light).

.. The hour of the dog
.. Is heralded:
.. Today – in deepening grey…

………… (poem, written by the Vishnumati River, Kathmandu, 23.5.72)


Jade beads’
Condensed forest
Around her neck –
Hint of its birdsong.
(For Kazue, Yaoyue Teahouse, Maokong, 5.4.15)
… click on the photo to enlarge and see the beads

A Falcon’s Feather

Dear Hisashi,
The more I think about it, the more amazing it was that I found a raptor’s feather in the shopping precinct at Senri Chuo just after delivering to you my tribute to the late lamented Michio Sano (‘The First Hailstone’) at the Yomiuri Bunka Center English Haiku class on Thursday. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but now I feel like it was some kind of final salute from him!
I had written the following haiku, based on something that had caught my eye on the way to the classroom in Oct. ’96 in Namba, Osaka, just before teaching Michio and the others my first real class for YBC …
…… For the haiku class:
…… Dropped and never picked up again,
…… One velvet button.
As you know, Michio had been both the cement and the oil of that class. In late November, eighteen years later, just after class no. 291, I picked up that dropped feather outside the new Center.
KC4F0063I believe it to be the foremost pinion of a falcon, as its underside matches nicely with the lead wing feather in this picture of a  ハヤブサ peregrine falcon, the fastest creature in the world.
hayabusa1I also carefully checked the internet for goshawk オオタカ, sparrow hawk ハイタカ and kite トビ feathers, but they did not match. Talking with you, and later doing a rigorous Japanese language web-search, shows that these birds are not uncommon in the area in winter.
What is uncommon is for a pinion feather to land in the shopping plaza and for a haiku poet from Britain to pick it up!
So I later wrote …
…… For our Michio prayers:
…… Dropped but then picked up again,
…… A falcon’s feather.
……………………………………………………………… Tito
P.S. Another version (written on the night, unrelated to the Namba haiku):
…… After the memorial,
…… It dropped from the sky
…… To a shopping precinct —
…… A falcon’s feather.
The first version requires a haibun for its comprehension, whereas the second stands up on its own?


At midday
Before making an appearance
Asking for us first
To sleep in the forest –
The baby orangutan.

 …. (Tuaran, Sabah, 22.3.13)


Night granite slopes –
More rain on the peak
Washes down on us
A rebel waterfall.

…. (Sayat-Sayat, Mt. Kinabalu, 24.3.13)