外は夏あたりの水は秋にして内は冬なる氷室山かな (藤原良経)

The air about, that of summer;
its flowing stream water
has an autumnal feel:
but beneath the ground, Mt. Himuro
is winter to its core
…………………….. (waka by Fujiwara Yoshitsune)

Being admin. ed. of a haiku space that goes by the name of the “Icebox,” I’m always on the lookout for Himuro Jinja (ancient Ice-hut Shrines) … and, so far this year, I’ve managed to visit two.

At the first, not far from Todaiji in Nara City, you can have your fortune told by sanctified ice. You pick your fortune from a box, but it looks blank until you place it onto the block of ice before the worship hall. Then the words come through …

Close by the second shrine, what is perhaps the original Himuro Jinja (at Fukuzumi in Tsuge-mura, near Tenri), there’s an ancient-style 氷室 himuro still used for ice storage till the summer, …

… though they no longer provide ice to the Emperor, as they used to back in Nintoku’s time (early Kofun Period). As a sacred place, the shrine itself is said to go back 1,600 years. The ice, cut as blocks from a nearby pond in winter, is stored underground beneath the hut’s ‘floor’. It is further insulated with bundles of straw.


A veritable mystery,
yet he’s not about to let the secret out —
the ice-hut guardian
……………………..  (Buson)

The Path of Birds: Kyoto Isshu Trail — Part II

May 17.

Five of us met, carefully masked, to walk the eastern section of the Kyoto Circuit Trail, from Fushimi Inari to Keage. With an end to the lockdown in sight more people were out, but the approach to Fushimi Shrine still quiet.

Sparrow-meat stalls*
closed by the Virus:
sparrows celebrate   (Tito)

Japanese visitors shared friendly, if slightly cautious, smiles as we walked through the shrine grounds.

Vermilion-faced foreigners
trooping down
the wrong torii tunnel   (Richard)

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Climbing past myriad shrines, fox statues and altars to the gods, we wound our way over Mount Inari.

Known to steal even
the shrine’s lighted candles,
crows in a spring wood    (Tito)

At Sennyuji we passed through an area of many imperial tombs, including the grave of Komei. His son, the Emperor Meiji, penned the following:

⽉の輪のみささぎまうでする 袖に松の古葉もちりかかりつつ
Tsukinowa no misasagi mode suru sode ni matsu no furuha mo chiri kakari tsutsu
Here at Ring of the Moon Cemetery
I visit the ancestral tombs
and onto my sleeves
ancient pine needles
are falling, falling*

For a while, we skirted the edge of the city before climbing onto the hills that rise above Kiyomizu Temple.

treetop birds —
even their laughter
keeps a safe distance    (David)

The day ended with a visit to Himukai Daijingu, the Sun-Facing Shrine, a source of holy water that once helped to ward off a ninth century plague.

At the foot of Himukai Shrine–
a white cockerel*
clucking under my caresses    (Richard)

*Fushimi Inari is famous for its stalls selling grilled sparrows;
*falling pine needles indicates early summer;
*cockerels are sometimes kept at Shinto shrines dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu.

Seeking Buson

click on any picture to enlarge

.. Approaching a shaft of light in the winter grey of the Japan Sea at Miyazu, I came across some wild ducks sleeping in a loch. The pine-clad isthmus, Amanohashidate (the Bridge of Heaven), stretched on, pointing towards Buson’s Temple, a rickety shack at the back of the town – Kenshōji 見性寺.

.. At the gate, a sign with a haiku on:

…….. 楠の根を静かにぬらす時雨哉
.. kusu no ne o shizuka ni nurasu shigure kana 
…….. The roots of the camphor
…….. being quietly wet …
…….. passing winter rain

.. With that image in mind, I stepped through into the precincts, soon to be greeted by resident priest, Umeda Jikō, gaunt and smiley.
.. “Have you come for Buson?”, he asked.

.. Shoes off – how cold the floor! Respectfully offering a prayer before the Amida Buddha there, we turned to an improvised display of things from Buson’s time in Miyazu, including two or three remarkable paintings – not haiga, but nanga – of what I took to be Chinese immortals. But which immortals? And why the mysterious plumes of white breath? Do they indicate a type of energy (qi 気) perhaps? Or it is just that the air was cold (seeing one’s breath)? For a moment, I focused in front of my mouth and … sure enough, my breath was visible, too!

.. Buson had come to Miyazu in 1754, aged 39, to stay with his friend, the priest of Kenshōji, Chikkei 竹渓 (barefoot on left in the picture below by Buson). He spent much of the next few years there, participating in a haiku circle, changing his family name from Taniguchi to Yosa (a village by the Bridge of Heaven) and taking a local wife, Tomo, who soon gave birth to a daughter, Kuno. In Miyazu, he also developed his skill as a painter, turning to this profession when he eventually returned to Kyoto. I wondered if the assured brushwork of the paintings in the temple might just be that of a senior painter at the time, with whom he was studying.  One of the paintings has a signature, the second character of which looked like the kei 渓 of Chikkei 竹渓, but the first is not recognizable and is surely not chiku 竹 bamboo.

.. As I left the temple, Jikō turned to me and said, ‘Next time, please stay.’

……………… Puffing out
……………… towards the valley-head moon …
……………… my white breath

P.S. If anyone has an idea who the breathy mountain men are in the pictures, or who might have painted them, please leave a comment below. It didn’t seem as if Jikō himself was sure.

Persimmons – part 6

. Among haiku poets, both ancient and modern, I think it was Shiki who loved persimmons the most. Let me quote the following passage to prove this point. It is from his work entitled “Two Persimmons”. Shiki calls it a novel and uses the third person singular for the main character, but to me, it is a piece of haibun, in which the author describes his own experiences:

Soon his sister stood up, shaking threads from her knees. She wanted to take a tray of the remaining persimmons to her sick brother, the master of the house.
“Is that all that remains,” her brother asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the persimmons.
“Yes, this is all. You ate so many of them yesterday,” she answered. There were only two persimmons on the tray.
He was a great lover of food, and especially liked all kinds of fruit. But, above all, he loved persimmons.

. He must have decided to save the two remaining persimmons till he had finished his work as reviewer of haiku. When he had done so, he wrote the following poem:

Three thousand haiku to read —
Finishing them all, I eat
The two persimmons.

. I think Shiki is implying how hard his reviewer’s work was, and also how quickly the persimmons disappeared eating them at such a pace.

. Shiki indeed has many poems about persimmons, but the following is perhaps the most famous:

A bell rings out while
I’m eating a persimmon —
Horyuji Temple.

. Personally, I find it a bit difficult to understand. If the haiku simply describes a time sequence, then perhaps it is not such a great poem. Among scholarly commentators, there is one who says that it should be taken as a poem of greeting to Soseki, who had written a similar poem. Another points out that Shiki was so ill during his visit to Nara that he probably never actually went to the Horyuji Temple. I do not find these comments very helpful for the interpretation of the poem. For me, there must be some meaningful relationship between Shiki’s eating the persimmon and the ringing of the temple bell: otherwise, the poem falls apart. The only connection between them that I can think of is the sense of satisfaction. Shiki adored persimmons, and whenever he ate one he found pleasure; while the temple bell brought him pleasure of a different sort. I think we could say that one was a physical pleasure and the other spiritual. So I take this haiku to be an expression of both physical and spiritual satisfaction. Incidentally, the poem has a short preface saying, “I rested at a tea shop near Horyuji Temple”. In an essay elsewhere, he also comments:

For a long time persimmons have been neglected by poets. I had never thought of combining persimmons and Nara, but was overjoyed when I found this possible. It was a new combination.

I believe that this combination was in fact an old one, for Imperial Palace Persimmons have traditionally been grown in Nara.

. To the end of his life Shiki remained an admirer of persimmons, and the following poem should be used as his epitaph. It is indeed prefaced “After my death”.

Let it thus be known:
A great persimmon eater
And haiku lover.

(To be continued…)

Persimmons – part 5

. There are also many paintings and decorated lacquer boxes in which persimmons are depicted, most dating from the Edo period. One, for example, is a painting by Sakai Hoitsu (1761~1828), included in the series called “Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months” (owned by the Imperial Household Agency), and which relates to the month of September. It shows red persimmons hanging from the branches and a pair of pale green white-eyes on the trunk. The contrast of colours in this painting is superb, and there is a touch of playfulness in the attitude of the little birds.

. Haiku poets of the Edo period have also left some poems about persimmons:

…………… In this old village,
…………… There is not a house without
…………… Some persimmon trees. ………… Basho

……………………………… Lord of Persimmons,
……………………………… But his tree tops are too close
……………………………… To Mt. Arashi. ………… Kyorai

………………………………………………………. A ripe persimmon —
………………………………………………………. I felt autumn sinking deep
………………………………………………………. Into my stomach. ………… Shiko

…………… Entrusted with the
…………… Imperial persimmons,
…………… A scarecrow looks proud. ………… Buson

……………………………… The top branch still has
……………………………… One sour persimmon hanging —
……………………………… I feel so attached. ………… Issa

. Basho’s poem is a beautiful description of a happy village which has enjoyed peace for many years. Considering the fact that he spent most of his life in wandering, I think Basho must have had a rather complex reaction to the scene, which we might say is mixed with envy. Kyorai’s poem concludes “The Story of Rakushisha” (House of Fallen Persimmons), which he wrote to explain why he had chosen this rather unusual name for his cottage. Apparently, his cottage had forty or fifty persimmon trees standing around it, but the keeper whom he had hired to look after it had never sent him any persimmons. So, one year, he went to see for himself, and found the trees loaded with fruit. Soon a merchant came and offered a large sum of money for the persimmons. But a night storm knocked all the persimmons down. Next morning, the merchant came and complained that in his long career as a merchant he had never had such an experience, and asked Kyorai if he would return the money. Rather unwillingly Kyorai consented. So, the above haiku is not a simple description of his cottage. The present Rakushisha Cottage is a later reconstruction. We do not know the original site, but judging from the haiku quoted above, it may have been closer to Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”). Anyway, Kyorai expresses his fear of the storm that comes from the mountain straight down to his persimmon trees. Shiko was the leader of the group of haiku poets called Mino-ha, but his poems are said to lack depth and complexity. The poem I quoted above is, I believe, derived from a poem by Basho, but it has neither the depth nor the complexity of the model. That is why I used the word “stomach” to translate harawata. This Japanese word is normally translated as “intestines” or “guts”. I felt that Shiko is simply referring to a physical, rather than a metaphysical, phenomenon. The Imperial Palace Persimmons mentioned in Buson’s poem are the sweet persimmons I referred to in an earlier instalment. I believe birds liked them very much. So a scarecrow was entrusted with watching over them. I wonder what kind of expression the scarecrow had on his face? He must surely have looked proud, but at the same time he would have known the limit of his power. So, I take Buson’s poem to be rather humorous. I only wish Buson had left a painting of this scene, too. Issa’s poem expresses not only his sympathy for the last persimmon hanging on the top branch, but also sympathy for himself. Issa says the persimmon is sour, yet sour persimmons usually become sweet in late autumn. The sour-sweet persimmon hanging from the top branch is a symbol of his own life. Issa has many poems about persimmons, and I am tempted to quote two more.

…………… In response to a call
…………… A small boy answers “yes” from
…………… The persimmon tree.

……………………………… The mentor priest goes
……………………………… To a hill; his pupil climbs
……………………………… A persimmon tree.

. These two poems recall Issa’s childhood experiences. How skilfully he describes a child’s point of view!

(To be continued…)

Persimmons – part 4

. At this point I should like to turn to the subject of how persimmon was treated in literature. Persimmon seeds have been dug up from some archaeological sites of the Jomon period. So I believe that persimmon trees must have existed in Japan long before the Man’yo period, yet the Man’yoshu has no poems about persimmons. Judging from his name, the poet Kakinomoto Hitomaro (柿本人麻呂, fl. ca. 680 during the reign of Emperor Tenmu), lived in a house standing beneath a persimmon tree. But he is silent about his persimmon tree. In the Kamakura period, Fujiwara no Tame’ie (藤原為家, 1198~1275) wrote the following poem:
……………………………… Autumn has arrived.
……………………………… I wonder about the leaves
……………………………… On higher mountains.
……………………………… Our garden persimmon trees
……………………………… Display deeply coloured leaves
. I like this poem because the poet expresses his concern for the leaves in the high mountains. He is wondering whether they have taken on their autumn hues like the persimmon trees in his garden, or whether they have already been scattered by the wind. Probably the latter was the case, and if so, he may have been equally concerned about the persimmon trees in his garden. In the Edo period, Ozawa Roan (1723~1801), who stood for tadagoto-uta (honest poetry), wrote the following poem about persimmons:
……………………………… Chestnuts are smiling.
……………………………… Persimmons are getting red.
……………………………… It is indeed time
……………………………… For short-haired children to be
……………………………… Proud, and enjoy the season.
. This poem is so cheerful that I cannot help laughing with the poet.

(To be continued…)

Haiku Requiems

.. Following the inclusion of a long haiku sequence, ‘Singing Carmina Burana‘, in our most recent book, Persimmon, some of you might be interested to learn that a few of your singing poet friends are now enrolled to perform Faure’s Requiem with the Kyoto Muse Choir this July. Deadline for enrolment is March 2.
.. Practising, I was reminded of another beautiful, currently popular Requiem: one by British composer, Karl Jenkins. Its first performance was in London in 2005, so it is 21st Century music, but 5 of its 13 movements are based on Japanese haiku-style death poems (辞世) by, respectively,
.. Gozan 吾山 (Koshigaya, 18th cent.) in movement 3: The snow of yesterday / that fell like cherry blossoms / is water once again 花と見し雪はきのふぞもとの水
.. Issho 一笑 (Kanazawa, 17th, disciple of Basho) in 6: From deep in my heart / how beautiful are / the snow clouds in the west 心から雪うつくしや西の雲
.. Hokusai 北斎 (Edo, 18-19th, ukiyo-e artist) in 8: Now as a spirit / I shall roam / the summer fields 人魂(ひとだま)で 行く気散じや 夏野原 
.. Chiyo-ni 千代尼 (Matto, Kaga, 18th, most famous haiku poetess) in 10: Having seen the moon / even I take leave of this life / with a blessing 月も見て我はこの世をかしく哉 
.. and Banzan 晩山 (Kyoto 17-18th) in 12: Farewell / I pass, as all things do, / like dew on the grass まめでゐよ身はならはしの草の露
and are sung in Japanese, the last two with traditional Latin Requiem words woven in! If your interest or time is limited, just listen to those 5 haiku-based movements from the complete work. Surely, it is a successful blending of West and East. There is a shakuhachi 尺八 and taiko 太鼓 in there, too. English translations are from Hoffmann’s book, Japanese Death Poems, which is where Jenkins probably found them, too.
.. There are one or two live performances of this haiku-replete Requiem available on YouTube, but nothing special. The studio version you can listen to here is well performed by a choir and orchestra in Kazakhstan! Best to copy and paste the link below into a parallel tab; then you can look at the haiku here and think of the poets while you listen …

‘Emperors & Generals’ Ginko

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.

212 new Buson haiku discovered!


Tenri Library (near Nara) announced on 14 Oct. that they had discovered two new books of original haiku by Yosa Buson: one volume of Spring & Summer poems, the other of Autumn & Winter ones. Altogether, they contain just over 1,900 haiku, of which 212 are previously unknown! The name of the missing collection is Yahantei Buson Kushu. ‘Yahantei’ (Midnight Teahouse) was an alias inherited from his teacher, Hajin, which, later in his life, he used alongside his better-known one of ‘Buson’ (Turnip Village). Above is the first page of the Spring volume, bearing critical marks said to have been made by the poet himself. The book was once owned by his Kyoto disciple, Hyakuchi. They will go on show at the Library, along with many other Buson-related works, until Nov. 8. Hailstone is planning a trip there on Oct. 25 (Sun.). Free entry. Contact SHG (Tito) for details, or leave a message in the reply/comments box below.

To put the find into some sort of context, Stephen was interviewed over the phone by BBC Radio 4 on 16th and you can hear the resultant 3-4 min. passage in the arts programme, ‘Front Line’, (available on the i-player: wait until it has loaded, then fast forward to 17:48′) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gxysv.

One of the new haiku is:

karakasa mo bakete me no aru tsukiyo kana

The torn paper umbrella
has just become a ghoul …
with moonlit eyes!

(trans. SHG)

Turning up the heat

The youngest man to have become a disciple of Bashō was surely Izumiya no Kumenosuke. At the age of 14, Bashō conferred upon him the haiku name, Tōyō. The poet had been soothing his aches and pains at the Izumiya Inn in the little hot-spring town of Yamanaka towards the end of his Narrow Road journey of 1689 and had found young Kumenosuke to be the new keeper. Kumenosuke had convened a haikai session there in Bashō’s honour.

Although we are currently in the heat of August, and the last thing I would think of is a hot spring, my wife happened to book us in to stay in Yamanaka last Sunday night. The following morning, at the Bashō no Yakata (Bashō Mansion, which stands by the site of the Inn), its windows open wide  …

The transpicuous house–
a squally wind ruffling
…… a summer garden

……………. (Tito)

… for the grand sum of ¥350, I bought a very slender volume, entitled 山中蕉門:桃妖俳句集 (Haiku by the Yamanaka Bashō-school Poet,  Tōyō).

Every night since then, back in stifling Kyoto, before turning my head against the pillow and closing my eyes, I have enjoyed reading a few haiku by this most poetical of inn-keepers, around whom a lively haiku circle had grown in the mid Edo period.  I doff my hat to whomever it was that researched and made this tiny white booklet of lightness and air. No one at all is credited.

鼻からたばこ吹きけり雲の峰 (桃妖)
Exhaling tobacco smoke
through his nose–
…… cumulonimbus

……………. (Tōyō)


sekirei & hamanasu

Buson had once written sekirei no/ o ya Hashidate wo/ ato nimotsu 

Tail of a wagtail—
Left behind in Hashidate
My luggage
…………. (trans. Makoto Ueda)

Today, I walked the same strand as he had done one quarter of a millennium before and found myself humming

Before a sea of Prussian blue
Hips of the wild rose …

…………. (Amanohashidate, 23.7.14)


Lake Yogo haiku

I had brought a haiku by the mendicant poet, Rotsū (1651-1739), on the autumn haike (see posting below) to share at Lake Yogo, but forgot to do so.

.. 鳥どもも寝入っているか余呉の湖
toridomo mo neitteiru ka Yogo no umi

 In its stillness
…… even the waterfowl
……… seem to be sound asleep —
………… the Lake of Yogo

How little has changed! Many of the wild ducks were indeed asleep as we walked by.
Rotsū accompanied Basho on the final leg of his Oku no Hosomichi journey using the Hokkokudo Road 北国道 between Tsuruga and Ogaki, passing Lake Yogo on the way. From the peak of Shizugatake we caught sight of that mountain road running along the neighbouring valley to the northeast. The last stretch of Basho’s ‘Narrow Road’ had been framed, briefly, beneath a rainbow!