Silver Ears, Crimson Clouds

(Hailstone Autumn Haike 2022, Day 1 – Oct.8)

Gose* is today a small, rural town in Nara Prefecture, but it was once one of the most developed areas in Japan. It used to be the home of the Katsuragi clan, which disappeared from the foreground of Japanese history at the end of fifth century, in spite of intermarriage with the imperial family. Mt. Katsuragi (959m) and Mt. Kongo (1125m) rise up steeply behind Gose.

Cloud-mountain -
harried by winds
yet holding fast ……. (David)

Under cloudy skies, seven Hailstone poets start climbing Mt. Katsuragi from a hamlet called Kujira. At first, the trail is a steep, zigzag climb, but before long we find a good vantage point and have lunch. Below us, we can see the landscape of Gose with its golden rice fields ready for harvest, scenery that has been sung about since Manyo* times.

The slope of the ridge trail then slackens a bit, and we join the Diamond Trail, which runs for about 45km from Nara to Wakayama and Osaka through Mt. Katsuragi and Mt. Kongo.

Katsuragi’s ridge -
one giant red pine
reaches for the sky ……. (Akishige)

Repeated ups and downs lead to the summit of Mt. Katsuragi. Unlike other mountains in Japan, it is covered with silvergrass (miscanthus), and one can see Nara, Wakayama, Osaka, and even Awaji Island and Kobe across Osaka Bay. To the north, the ridge extends all the way to the border with Kyoto. For most of its history the capital of Japan was located in the basin east of this ridge, moving northward (6th-19th centuries) from Asuka (just east of Gose), through Fujiwara, Nara, and finally to Kyoto. Originally, this would have been in consideration of protecting the capital from raids from the west (Asian continent).

Behind the silvergrass
shades of distant mountains
my mind goes quiet ……. (Margarite)

When we check in at the lodge just below the summit, we are joined by two friends who have come up by ropeway, but we part ways then and there with another friend who must return by the ropeway before nightfall.

the public bath to myself . . .
gushing from the stone lion’s mouth
steaming hot water ……. (Duro)

Harvest has come -
hastily a crow flies home
persimmon in beak ……. (Akishige, now down in Gose)

About a thousand years ago, Sei Shonagon, the female author of the Makura-no-Soshi*, asserted that autumn is best appreciated at sunset. Things have not changed! The sky is clearing, with the sun now dropping out of the clouds. Someone starts singing the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Others join in. This evening, over the silvergrass moor, the lodgers will have to themselves the ever-changing sky and Osaka cityscape during sunset, dusk, and night.

Susuki grass
waving goodbye
to the purple mountains ……. (Kazue)

mountain view . . .
colors of the autumn sunset
sink into the sea ……. (Duro)

Tonight’s dinner is the lodge’s specialty, duck hot pot in citron-flavored soup stock. We soon realize why it had previously won the grand prix in the National Local Hot Pot Contest! In ancient times, the people of Yamato (Nara), as a show of gratitude, had offered to the gods some of the ducks and pheasants they had caught in the marshlands and along the irrigation channels. This custom is still preserved in the “Kaketori-no-Gi” ceremony of the On-matsuri festival at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

After dinner, we gather in Tito & Kazue’s room and share some of our own haiku from the first day, while sipping Nara’s famous “Kaze-no-Mori” sake, made with local rice grown on the lower slopes of the mountain.*

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(Day 2 – Oct.9)

Sun worshippers at dawn —
through trailing clouds
with an indigo halo
she shows her face ……. (Kyoko)

The early birds amongst us enjoy the changing colors of elongated clouds. Looking south, Mt. Kongo can be seen in the distance, a little stratus tethered to its summit. Just visible nestling in the hills to the east is the Gills’ new home, the ancient village of Asuka.

Trailing clouds,
lakes of cloud,
a cloud that’s going
nowhere ……. (Tito)

After breakfast, waving goodbye to those descending by ropeway, five of us leave the lodge to descend Mt. Katsuragi to a col and, from there, climb Mt. Kongo. Rainclouds are approaching from the south. How long will the weather hold?

Bidding farewell to friends:
one miscanthus swaying
in the autumn breeze ……. (Tomiko)

We descend Mt. Katsuragi by continuing on the Diamond Trail, looking out over the silvergrass ears at distant mountains in multiple layers, and head for Mizukoshi Pass 450m below. This pass was once the site of a water rights struggle between Yamato (Nara) and Kawachi (Osaka).

wanting to stay
in this green hollow
so I can listen
to the invisible waterfall ……. (David)

After the pass, the track gradually increases in gradient and a murmuring in the distance becomes clearer. The spring water in this area is called “Kongo-no-Mizu” (water of Kongo) and is famous for its good quality. It is used to produce delicious sake and tofu in the towns below. Passing through a forest of cedar and cypress trees, we take a break at a panoramic spot looking back at Mt. Katsuragi. Although the feet and legs of some are beginning to scream, it surprises us to see just how far we have already come!

Mt. Kongo is a mountain of Shugendo practitioners (mountain ascetics in white livery who often carry a conch-shell on a rope around their necks). It is the mountain where En no Ozunu (En-no-Gyoja), the founder of Shugendo, practiced asceticism. Emerging from a beech forest, we visit Katsuragi Shrine, said to be headed by a descendant of the Katsuragi clan. Then, on the far side of the summit, we are greeted by the blowing of a conch and reach Temporinji Temple and assorted hiking shelters, where we must say goodbye to David, who as part of his race training is to run ahead of us down the mount!

As predicted, it begins to rain. We have lunch under an old lean-to, put on our rain gear, and leave the summit for our destination, Takamahiko Shrine, abode of the Katsuragi clan’s guardian deity, far below. We take the so-called “Postal Road,” where mail carriers used to shuttle between Gose town and the temple and shrine at the summit. The path has in recent years been severely damaged by typhoons, but is now passable once again, though in one landslip area, we are obliged to use a long, fixed ladder.

It is said Shugendo practitioners abandon their attachments by toughening themselves in the mountains. This is a time to confront themselves and try to appreciate that their own mind is gradually being sharpened as they walk. Far from their ascetic state, however, two of the party are now beginning to feel plain exhausted and to learn how very hard it is to descend such a mountain in the sombre rain, every step an ordeal!

The scar of landslide -
mountain rain trickles
down the madder* ……. (Akihiko)

Takamahiko Jinja is an ancient shrine with a rustic but sublime tree-lined approach. The deity is Takamimusubi, who resides on Mt. Haku’un, a spur of Mt. Kongo located behind the shrine. This area is said to be close to Takama-ga-Hara (Takamahara), the original realm of the Shinto gods, as described in the Kojiki*. The view from this hillside may truly be thought of as the original landscape of Japan, “Toyo-Ashi-Hara Mizuho-no-Kuni” (the country of rich marshy rice fields).

After crossing a rushing stream by a cascade, the mountain trail finally flattens out. Passing a watermill we see the sacred arch of the Shrine and learn that our long trail has come to an end.

Beyond a sea of tumuli
a peninsula of cloud:
our Takamahara view ……. (Tito)

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* Notes:
1 Gose – lit. ‘August Palace’. This placename is pronounced “goss-eh.”
2 Manyoshu – the oldest collection of poetry in Japan, which features verse mainly from the 7th and 8th centuries.
3 Makura-no-Soshi – Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, the earliest extant Japanese essay, thought to have been completed ca. 1001.
4 Nara is considered to be the ‘birthplace’ of sake.
5 madder – akane in Japanese, a local plant whose roots are used to make a crimson dye; akane-sasu is a pillow-word for dawn.
6 Kojiki – ‘Records of Ancient Matters’, compiled in 712, an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, and semi-historical accounts down to 641, concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (deities), and the Japanese Imperial House.

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

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII

Heavy snow had fallen all over Kyoto in the days before six intrepid haiku hikers gathered at Ninose, a tiny village next to Kurama. We found the northern hills still draped in sheets of white.

The local railway
gently winding to snow —
silent mountains
………. (Akihiko)

Our aim was to reach Himuro, an ancient centre of ice production for the imperial court. We had certainly chosen the right time of year. Paying brief respects to a kamakura (Japanese igloo) we began the long, steady climb of Mount Mukai. Throughout our hike we were treading on snow, grateful to follow the footsteps of the few hardy souls who had broken the trail on previous days.

The buck bolts
up the snowy riverbank
before my shutter clicks
………. (Richard)

Higher up, we reached Yonaki Toge (夜泣き峠) or Night-Wailing Pass. Here, the infant Prince Koretaka was pacified when his nurse prayed for relief to local gods, who advised her to place a piece of pine bark under his pillow.

Frozen under the snow
on a Kyoto hill —
ancient tears
………. (Margarite)

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Crossing the peak of Mount Mukai, we stopped for a chilly lunch at one of the few spots on the northern trail that offers a view across the city. Too cold to linger, we descended to the headwaters of the Kamo River. Gazing south along the river valley, it was hard to imagine the large city that lay hidden beyond the ridge. Climbing again, we entered Nusuttodani(盗人谷)or Thieves’ Canyon. This is one of the wildest spots on the Round Kyoto Trail, a dark and claustrophobic place where we were forced to stoop under innumerable fallen trees and hop over streams. But the deep snow added light to the valley, and lightened our mood.

Middle-aged folk
hurl snowballs back and forth,
………. (Kazue)

Splattered over snow,
a blue mystery —
………. (David)

All the way up
the Gorge of Thieves
tall trees
throw down ice
………. (Tito)

At the head of the valley we emerged into a blindingly white world. The tiny hamlet of Himuro, hidden away among the northern mountains, felt completely deserted, save for one barking dog and a rising line of smoke.

Blanketed in snow,
wreathed in wood smoke —
the icemakers’ village
………. (Tito)

We clambered through deep snowdrifts to the spot where, from ancient times, villagers stored ice in shallow pits. In June they uncovered the precious commodity and carried it over mountains, bringing a touch of summer cool to fortunate aristocrats in the capital.

Finally, we paid a visit to the snow-bound Himuro Shrine, dedicated to the God of Ice.

Flat and square
under the shrine roof,
a snow blanket
………. (Akihiko)

One adventure remained, as we were obliged to return by car over the high, and deeply frozen pass at Kyomi Toge (京見峠). Slithering and slipping on the treacherous road, we descended to a downpour of snow-melting rain.

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)

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VII

Having dodged another typhoon, we had fine if unseasonably muggy weather for our haike on Sunday 3 October. I led Tito, Mayumi, David, and Akihiko Hayashi on a hike through the northern Higashiyama hills, with Akira and Shigeko Kibi joining us at the beginning.

五月雨は 露か涙か 不如帰 我が名をあげよ 雲の上まで

An early-summer rain: but is it dewdrops or my tears? Little cuckoo, take my name up with you, high above the clouds!

The first signs of autumn tinged the foliage, and we were rewarded with a refreshing breeze as we took our lunch under a tree, with good views south to Mt. Daimonji, site of the previous Isshu Trail haike.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VI

Typhoon weather forced postponement of our Kyoto Circuit Mountain Trail haiku hike from Aug. 9 to 10. Until that typhoon, we had had daily highs of 37-38C and the day after the haike we entered a period of unrelenting rains, so the 10th turned out to be a blissful window of fair weather, cooler and drier than anything on either side. Postponement, however, meant that we lost a couple of haikers (haiku hikers) to other commitments. Sorry for that.

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On the day, 5 haikers headed out from Keage Station in Higashiyama via Himukai Jinja, said to be one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines, a kind of mini-Ise for those who cannot get there. Near the entrance, we came across a friendly jewel beetle, tamamushi, who seemed to want to come along with us. We all walked through the slender Amano’iwatoya Cave and thence on and up through mountain woods towards a still-hidden skyline. The soundtrack to our walk was most beguiling. There was even a horagai-blower.

In a tall cypress forest,
pine twigs scattered
by yesterday’s storm
………. Tito

among these hot hills
the sound of a conch
………. David McCullough

Like dewdrops below
Kyoto streets are glittering —
summer realization
………. Akihiko Hayashi

Cicadas and birds —
on a cool mountain breeze
their music melds
………. Margarite Westra

from the top of Mount Daimonji
my primal scream
over Kyoto
………. Duro Jaiye

The panorama from the summit of Daimonjiyama (466m) was superb – much of Kyoto, most of Osaka, a suspicion of the Inland Sea, Mts. Atago, Ikoma, Kongo, and even the cloud-capped Omine Range beyond Yoshino.

On the steep descent, we came upon a refreshing cascade at the head of Shishigatani Valley. After a brief stop there, we walked down into the vale as the sun began to set.

An impromptu haiku sharing was later held in a cafe near Ginkakuji. Deep red shiso (perilla) soda was its long, cool accompaniment. We look forward to seeing some of you on the Trail again for Part VII this autumn.

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


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

Bamboo grasses of Mount Hiei
bowing low
to their Arashiyama cousins


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


Intensity of green
this vaccination crisis


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


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


Tranquil silence
in the thousand year old temple —
late camellia


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


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


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


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


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!


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


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


Blinded by Leaves

Since 2002, we in the Hailstone Haiku Circle have walked an annual haike (haiku hike). Each autumn we throw ourselves into the rich colours of the Japanese countryside and let the poetry flow.

This year, nine of us gathered for a scaled-back hike in the remote village of Hanase, far to the north of Kyoto city.

We had hoped to begin the day with a visit to the dramatic, stilted temple of Bujoji. Unfortunately, the combined effects of corona virus and typhoon damage had closed the temple. But with autumn in full blaze we set off on a gentle riverside walk.

Autumn shade — / a spider pretending to be / a leaf  (Kumiko)

Beneath a slate gray sky / trees flaunt their colors, / as if in defiance (Ted)

Wandering along a forest path, slowly ascending, our senses were captured by the fruits of autumn.

Crab* zigzags / up her small hand, she says / like soft needles (Branko)

hundred-year-old maple tree, / still so young / above the clean river (Tomiko)

Bridge of trees, / a typhoon offering / to foxes and bears (Minori)

At the end of the climb we lifted our eyes to three enormous cryptomeria* that seemed to rise from a single trunk. These are the tallest trees in Japan, sheltered from storms amid a cleft in the mountains.

The fifteen storeys / of Sanbonsugi: / homes of flying squirrels, / homes of owls (Tito)  

We slowly descended to our starting point, from where we visited a forest park for a fine lunch, including wild mushrooms.

after the autumn amble, / kissing my wooden staff / farewell (Ursula)

Round a chestnut table / our masks slip off / one by one (Branko)  

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Fully refreshed we returned from deep countryside to the charming village of Hanase … to be greeted by blue skies and ever richer colours.

Man up a ladder / proofing tiles on his roof … / masked poets file by (Tito)

Rows of pampas grass, / catch light and sway — / the autumn wind (Kyoko)

Reaching the middle of the village we ascended a long, grass staircase to pay our respects at the rustic sanctuary of Miwa Jinja.

from dark forest / behind the mountain shrine — / echoing laughter (David)

Sudden sunbeam / spills through the gate, / ferns bow (Ted)

The day concluded with a safe return to Kyoto City. At Cafe Dorf in Iwakura we shared our compositions round the hearth.

Notes: crab* – land crabs are encountered in the mountains here in Japan; cryptomeria* – sugi in Japanese.

Kyoto Isshu Trail — Part III

Wed. 16 Sep. (a day earlier than planned because of weather concerns): I led Tito, Kazue and David on the third Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike of the year, meeting outside Kinkakuji and concluding at Togano-o near Takao. We walked up the road past Hidari Daimonji (the 大 character near Kinkakuji that features in the annual fires lit on the hills of Kyoto for Obon) and paid a quick visit to my new home before heading on upstream along the Kamiya River to the trailhead on the Tokaishizen-hodo (東海自然歩道), which soon links up with the Isshu Trail. There are many carpenters and joiners along this road, and also a jizo shrine with a delicious spring.

…. Cypress shavings smoulder
…. by the stream-side rowan —
…. berries, small this year
…………………………… Tito

Soon after beginning our trail ascent, we observed the remnants of devastation from the typhoon of two years ago, tree trunks lying like tossed ‘pickup sticks’ across the valley, and some still encroaching on the trail. Further evidence could be found at the marker, where the main route to Sawanoike Pond (沢ノ池) was closed due to a large landslide. However, we stepped over the warning tape and scrambled up an alternative route that David had found, coming across a beautiful yamamayuga (山繭蛾), a Japanese silk moth, slumbering on the far side of the yawning cavity left by the landslide. Close by, Tito tended to a near-forgotten shrine.

…. Dead end on the Kyoto Trail:
…. he brushes the cobwebs
…. from the bodhisattva
…………………………… Richard

– click on any photo to enlarge –

We approached the pond from the north along a forestry road, heading along its east bank, past the odd tent, until we reached the far end of the gourd-shaped body of water, a reservoir fashioned in the Edo Period to provide for Kyoto. No obvious evidence of the construction remains; it is a charming place, reflecting the sky and the slowly turning foliage, though its waters are murky. We all braved them for a refreshing swim, some emerging more scathed than others.

…. Mountain afternoon —
…. his toes now nibbled
…. by fish in the lake
…………………………… Tito (after/for David*)

Over lunch we sat in admiration of such a tranquil, enigmatic spot mere kilometres from downtown Kyoto. Tito told us there had been a village here in Jomon times.

…. The wide green lake
…. skimmed by red dragonflies:
…. who will see this
…. when I have gone?
…………………………… David

The sun came out, as if urging us onward, etching the trees luminously on the water’s surface and raising temperatures to the low-30s. It made for a hot walk along the ridgeline to the south of the lake, with fine views of Kyoto and the rolling hills of Saga as we headed west towards Takao. As we emerged onto the Fukugatani-rindo (福ヶ谷林道), David zoomed off ahead of us to attend a university Zoom meeting. We three remaining haikers sauntered down to Togano-o (栂ノ尾), where we took another dip, this time in the pristine Kiyotaki River.

…. on the hook on the end of the line by the rock on the river
…. someone’s sweetfish** dinner
…………………………… Richard

We spent a silent moment thinking of our recently departed haiker friend Hisashi, then had a leisurely drink and a snack at one of the pretty restaurants looking out across the river, brushing up our poems and pondering the day’s refreshing excursion. A JR bus took us back into Kyoto.

* David’s earlier haiku, to which this is a complement, was Mountain morning — / my face tickled / by spiderwebs
** ayu

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.

Kyoto Isshu Trail – Part I

On Mar. 31, in spite of the corona virus scare, three Hailstones (of eight solicited) did actually hike about 14km of the Kyoto Circuit Trail between Takao and Arashiyama, much of it beside or overlooking water – Kiyotaki Stream and later Hozu River from the gorgeside trail on Mt. Ogura.

The mountain cherries were coming into bloom. Packed lunches were eaten on a huge rock in Kiyotaki Stream. Two of the hikers managed a few haiku, a flavour of which is given below.  Once the virus subsides, we hope to do some more of these not-too-vigorous hikes together, next time perhaps on the Higashiyama hills.

…………… Almost vulgar
…………… the azalea hillside’s pink —
…………… where Kukai’s brush* was thrown ……. (Tito)

………………………… as I wait
………………………… for tomorrow’s storm
………………………… the mountain burns with flowers ……. (David)




……. Waylaid
……. by watching red camellias
……. floating down the stream … ……. (Tito)

………………………………………….. girls in masks
………………………………………….. taking selfies —
………………………………………….. how deep the valley ……. (David)

* Kukai (774-835), the founder of Jingoji, Japan’s first Shingon Buddhist temple, threw his brush, already dipped in ink, from one side of the valley to the other, where magically it wrote the name of the new temple on a plaque. Or so the legend goes!

Hailstone’s 18th Annual Autumn Haike: Mitarai Gorge and Mt. Inamura

A chilly November morning (23rd), and the first three Hailstone haikers arrived at the rendezvous site – cosy cafe Coccolo in 明日香 Asuka. Our haiku hike had had to be postponed for a month due to the intervention of Typhoon Hagibis, but summer was slow to surrender this year. Cracking the spines of our notebooks, we penned the weekend’s first haiku in a nearby park.

rustle rustle rustle … …………………… tree’s stalwart green heart
falling leaves hitting ……………………. battling the grip of autumn…
the colored branches below ……….. losing
.. Akira Kibi ……………………………………… William Russell

After lunch, now with the other seven poets, it was into the Kii Mountains for a trek through みたらい渓谷 Mitarai Gorge, where the Yamagami River has carved a breathtaking ravine, now crisscrossed with footbridges.

between two roads ………………………. Water gushing though
a field of pampas grass – ……………. Tapestry of autumn leaves –
colours I’ve never seen ……………….. The remains of the day
.. David McCullough ………………………….. Kyoko Nozaki

With the fading of the sound of the rapids and waterfalls behind and of the daylight above, we reached our stop for the night at 洞川 Dorogawa, a hot-spring village lined with traditional Japanese ryokan inns and bathhouses, many of them frequented in season by yamabushi, mountain ascetics.*

rising into the sky
the sound of my wooden clogs –
lured by orange lanterns
.. Shigeko Kibi

Dinner, drinks, baths and poetry were enjoyed before an early night, as we had a long day to come.

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The next morning, we rose to take on 稲村ケ岳 Mt. Inamura (1,726m), with the mist still clinging to its sides. 6 poets ascended the peak, slightly higher than neighbouring Mt. Ōmine, and open for both men and women to climb.** Meanwhile, 4 poets stayed in the valley, visiting caves, 天河大弁財天社 Tenkawa Daibenzaiten Shrine, springs and temples.

It was curious that the trailhead we sought that morning began at a temple called 母公堂 Hahakōdō (“Holy Mother’s Hall”). Ozunu’s mother, Shiratōme, had once come here from Katsuragi to try to find her son, and a vision of Amidha Buddha had appeared, assuring her of his safety but also warning her not to disturb him in his austerities on the mountain. Yet it is on the path leading up from behind this temple that women are presently allowed into the mountain to practice their own austerities.

On the climb, we walked through hushed ranks of cedar trees, clung to chains on rocky ledges, found rhododendrons amid the wintry deciduous woods higher up. At one point, we froze at the piercing call of an unseen deer. Everyone pushed themselves for four or five hours … and, thankfully, made it to the peak. From there, by drone, we were able to view the sea of clouds around us from an aerial vantage point (see video below). What would En no Ozunu have made of that? 

Acorns … …………………………………………. my walking stick
celebrating their birthdays ………………….. all the way
all over the place ……………………………………… to the summit
.. Tomiko Nakayama …………………………………… Duro Jaiye

This color ………………………………………… No breeze
Squeezed from sky and earth, ………. no water
A colored leaf falling ………………………. no sound,
.. Miki Kotera ………………………………….. only withering
…………………………………………………………….. Tito
the cedar forest dims –
moss, electric green
.. Kazue Gill

Eventually, tired and silent, we made our way back down into the autumn colours again, past the spring Gorogoromizu, to rejoin the valley walkers for a final sharing of the day’s experiences and reading of our haiku: hot coffee and fresh persimmons in a small cafe in Dorogawa. We parted ways in afterglow as dew began to fall.

* 山伏 yamabushi are the white-robed followers of the 7th century mountain priest, En no Ozunu, founder of the 修験道 Shugendō religion. They descend on Dorogawa every year during the late spring and summer to take part in rituals and mountain training.
** 大峰山 Mt. Ōmine has the Ōminesanji Temple on its summit. It is situated on a training route for the yamabushi and is one of the very few World Heritage sites where women are not allowed, an ancient taboo unbroken to this day. Women can climb Inamuragatake instead.