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.

Making a Zen Garden in the Cotswolds

This year, after wintering in Andalusia, I returned to the U.K. to start creating a dry landscape Zen garden, or karesansui. Gravel would represent water; raking marks, waves; and rocks might suggest islands or mountains. Areas of white gravel emptiness, to provide serenity. 

The site chosen was next to my pottery studio and anagama kiln in the middle of a field. It offers a beautiful vista into a neighboring meadow, which would soon become the shakkei, borrowed scenery forming the garden’s backdrop. I wanted to create a meandering flow of gravel with rocks, landscaped on either side with mounds of top-soil and a boundary of clumping bamboo. A crescent-shaped path of Scottish cobblestones would lead out into the field towards Japanese cherry trees. In the garden itself the planting scheme was going to be mostly evergreen – dwarf pines, miscanthus and other grasses. A stone lantern ishitoro and a stone washbasin tsukubai would provide focal points and lend Japanese atmosphere.  

The sound of water — . / . how miraculous . / . in the dry gravel garden! 

As the Zen garden project developed, we encountered problems in design — should there be tobi-ishi, stepping stones, going into the garden? Should there be hanashōbu, Japanese ensata irises, or momiji, acer palmatum? As it turned out, all three were omitted, in an acknowledgement that less is more.

The final piece in the creation of the garden was a conical pile of gravel, symbolic of Mount Fuji, placed where the garden merges into the English countryside.

A day of quiet gladness — . / . a cone of gravel rises . / . in the Cotswolds

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

.

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

Giving Thanks

The first rice stalks are harvested.

a mellow sun
lights up the old garden – 
Thai Pongal

Thai Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated mid-January here in Tamil Nadu*. Spread across four days, it also marks the change in the direction of the Sun towards the north and the advent of Spring. Many of the festive activities express gratitude to the Sun, nature and livestock (especially bulls and cows).

Women make decorations on the ground outside their homes with powdered colours and rice flour.

drawing a rangoli* –
the rainbow hues
of a butterfly 

Pongal is also the name of the traditional food eaten at this time, cooked with milk, rice and jaggery*.

flash of a blade
slicing the banana leaf 
to adorn the mud pot

pongal boils over – 
the sunshine smile
on the little girl’s face

grandma’s prophecy –
this year’s harvest
will overflow the granary

tinkling bells
the farm’s only bull
nods assent

 

Notes: *Tamil Nadu – a state in peninsular South India; *rangoli – also known as kolam in South India, is an art form in which patterns decorate the ground or floor; *jaggery – unrefined dark brown sugar made from the sap of sugarcane or palm.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Part V

Fourteen Hailstones gathered at Yase in early May for the fifth in a series of poetic encounters with the Round Kyoto Trail. Speedily we rose to the heights of Mount Hiei.

from the cable car
we spot a deer in the trees —
it spots us back

Peter

Transported to a new perspective we gazed out over the Kyoto hills.

Bamboo grasses of Mount Hiei
bowing low
to their Arashiyama cousins

Kenji

Before long we could look over the great inland sea that lies on the far side of the mountain.

From the fresh green hills
young maple leaves
frame lake Biwa

Margarite

Intensity of green
piercing
this vaccination crisis

Kyoko

Traversing the western temple precincts we were captured by the solemn atmosphere of the holy mountain.

My prayer stone —
I leave it on a fence post
along this mountain trail

Duro

Offering a cherry flower
to Saicho —
the wind blows it away

Tito

Tranquil silence
in the thousand year old temple —
late camellia

Mayumi

Ashes in the sky
settling on the new spring leaves,
eternal peace found

Paul

Sunning on the perfumed mountain
by the peace bell —
sonorous resonance

Ursula

Along the trail, rich with the colours and scents of late spring, we discovered insectivorous flowers.

sucked in
by a pitcher plant –
a swarm of excited hikers

Richard

Striding over the mountain ridge we reached a high viewpoint where, for a thousand years, pilgrims have paused to pray for the well-being of the Emperor.

chestnuts presented
to the holy cedar tree —
wind shaken leaves

Minori

Descending toward Ohara the youngest member of our party, seven-year-old Noah, raced ahead with impish glee.

Running down the trails
falling so many times —
what a great day!

Noah

We had struggled over the highest and most difficult section of the Round Kyoto Trail. On the long descent our legs grew weary and our hearts heavy as we spoke of the travails friends and family have faced over the past year.

Recovering people,
ailing people,
stricken people …
and then the mountain ends

Tito

We came to rest at a riverside, taking time to enjoy shared friendship and the prospect of further adventures.

green leaves pushed apart —
those distant mountains
are so blue

Minori

Uji ‘I Wish’ Kukai – Hanami – Ginko

At last, after coronavirus cancellations and a rain postponement the previous week, a real opportunity to celebrate our new book! 3 April 2021 – Hailstone held a hanami kukai (haiku evaluation meet) in Uji, on a large groundsheet on Nakanoshima Island under some of its still-blossoming cherry trees. Participants read aloud and commented on their favourite 3 haiku from the ‘I Wish‘ anthology (published last December). Afterwards, a ginko (composition stroll) was held on the north bank of the river, visiting Uji Shrine, the Heian Period Ujikami Shrine, and the rocky approach to Koshoji Temple.

Kukai Winning Haiku (3 votes):

…… Like a Kabuki actor
…… an old persimmon tree
…… posing alone
……………. Hitomi Suzuki

Runner-up (2 votes):

…… This colour
…… squeezed from sky and earth,
…… a tinted leaf falls
……………. Miki Kotera

Congratulations to both poets. Your haiku were selected as favourites from a field of 218 in the book!

That very week, Masahiro Nakagawa had sent in this haiku:

…… ‘I Wish’ —
…… I finish reading it
…… as cherry petals fall

The cover of the book, by Richard Steiner, also portrays streaming cherry petals. Now, here we were celebrating its publication and enjoyment on the last possible day for a hanami this year.

…… Lips get eloquent
…… at the outdoor haiku gathering …
…… wandering cherry petals
……………. Akihiko Hayashi

………………………….. Mistletoe
………………………….. on a blooming cherry —
………………………….. a wish to be transformed?
………………………………………… Kyoko Norma Nozaki

…… Through cherry blossoms
…… blushes of sunlight visit
…… our picnic lunch
……………. Akira Kibi

………………………….. “One more night”
………………………….. whispered to the station cherry –-
………………………….. rainclouds in the west
………………………………………… Tito

Otsu Ginko: Basho & Fenollosa on the Shores of Lake Biwa

The forty-meter Basho-o Ekotobaden 芭蕉翁絵詞伝 scroll exhibition at the Otsu Museum of History turned out to be an absorbing experience for the 8 Hailstone poets who visited it on 14 March. At least 2 more went on their own on separate occasions. It finishes on 11 April, so there is still time. The scroll was commissioned of painter Kano Shoei 狩野正栄 as part of the 100th anniversary of Basho’s death (prior to 1794) and depicts the Master as a young man in Iga-Ueno, on his literary pilgrimages (Matsushima, Ise, Yoshino, etc.), in his retreats (Basho-an, Genjuan, Rakushisha, etc.), as well as his death in Osaka, and his grave at Gichuji Temple 義沖寺, not far from the Museum itself. This was the Life of Basho in meticulous style painting and beautiful calligraphy. Basho’s camellia-wood staff, Yayu’s desk with a crescent moon inset, and many other interesting exhibits augment this landmark exhibition, which shows how Basho became so revered and how his school of haiku 蕉門 was re-envigorated by poets such as Chomu 蝶夢, Kyotai 暁台, and Buson as 100 years were chalked up.

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Afterwards, somewhat exhausted, for a while we rested on benches at the Museum, looking out across Lake Biwa. It was such a beautiful spring day that we decided to go for a stroll towards the northwest, where Tito had found out that there is a tiny dilapidated temple, Homyoin 法明院, in the grounds of which the American orientalist, Ernest Fenollosa, has his grave (Basho’s is at the other end of Otsu). The mountain temple is reached by an overgrown grassy path and a lot of wonky stone steps. When we arrived at the main hall there was no one around. We noticed a can hanging on the gatepost asking for donations upon entry and we duly put in some coins and walked around the unkempt garden, ravaged by wild boars, but with some trees putting out blossom and unfurling new leaves… up a further flight of steps to Fenollosa’s grave. He had done translation work with Ezra Pound more than a century ago, helping us to a better understanding of the beauty of Chinese poetry, and, with Okakura Kenshin, had helped to preserve the artistic heritage of Japan at the precarious time of the Shinbutsu Bunri movement. He saved many Buddhas from destruction, finally becoming a Buddhist himself.

Collecting scraps
of conversation on Basho,
Lake Biwa’s
spring breeze
………. (Akihiko Hayashi)

Twittering
for us to pass
beneath its wire perch -–
the first swallow!
………. (Tito)

The lake is calm,
with distant yachts —
bursting cherry blossoms
………. (Kyoko Nozaki)

Offering a camellia
to Fenollosa’s tomb ―
bush warblers call
………. (Yaeno Azuchi)

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.