Archive for the Japanese Classic Category

Persimmons – part 5

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic with tags , on May 19, 2018 by sosui

. 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…)

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Persimmons – part 4

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic, Tanka with tags , on April 25, 2018 by sosui

. 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

Posted in Haiku, Japanese Classic, Music with tags on February 11, 2018 by Tito
.. 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

Posted in Event report, Japanese Classic with tags , on December 22, 2015 by Mayumi Kawaharada

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’.

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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:

月の輪のみささきまうでする袖に松の古葉もちりかかりつつ
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.

梅が香にのつと日の出る山路哉
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).

応々といえど敲くや雪の門
‘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!

Posted in Book, Japanese Classic, News with tags , on October 18, 2015 by Tito

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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:

傘も化て目のある月夜哉
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

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Classic, Summer with tags , on August 8, 2014 by Tito

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

Posted in Haiku, Japanese Classic, Summer with tags on July 24, 2014 by Tito

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)

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