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)

Notes:
*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)

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE!
* 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
Descending,
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.

.
Notes:
* 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.
.

Tennozan Clouds

On June 22nd, Tito and I joined William Russell and his New Zealand friend Matt at Suntory Kyoto Brewery for a tour, concluding with a welcome sampling of three of their wares.

My friend,
first one into
the beer-tasting room:
summer clouds
………….. Tito

Though it was a hot, sunny day, Tito and I, thus fortified, proceeded to walk west to Ogura Shrine and from there up to the peak of Mount Tennōzan (270 m). Clouds rolled in as we climbed, and for a while threatened rain, though in the end only a few drops fell. The air was dense with humidity and mosquitoes.

A black haze
circling my legs,
but never landing —
our Aussie mozzie lotion!
………….. Richard

The woods were fecund, sustaining us with red bayberries and orange raspberries. We paused at Ryūjin Pond, embroidered with duckweed. Our descent into Sakatoke Shrine brought us more of nature’s bounty:

Pulling drips
from out of the stormy sky,
purple hydrangea
………….. Tito

Hailstone’s 17th Autumn Haike: Mt Miwa and Tanzan Shrine

Oct. 13, 2018 – Mt. Miwa 三輪山

After a box lunch taken in the harvest rice-fields near Omiwa Shrine 大神神社 and a visit to Omononushi’s ancient cryptomeria in the main compound, the five poets intending to scale Mount Miwa (467m, to the north of Sakurai) have first to obtain permission at Sai Jinja 狭井神社. They are issued with a route map and pilgrims’ garlands to wear around their necks, each supporting a small bell that jingles all the way up to the summit. All pledge to remain silent throughout the climb. Tito decides to climb barefoot. Here are a few of the haiku from this first day.

Snake God Tree:*
searching through my pockets
for raw egg offering
………………………… Branko

“Komorebi!”*
pointing and whispering
to his wife —
his tree enlightenment!
………………………… Richard

To my sweating forehead
a splash of waterfall —
just halfway to the top
………………………… Kyoko 

My vow of silence,
severely tested on the climb
by an English-speaking man!
………………………… Tito

The rock sanctuary:
one family clapping hands in unison,
a lone woman staring faraway
………………………… Kyoko

Pilgrim’s bare feet
imprinting the mud …
unspoken words
………………………… Branko

Miwa —
blue light
shining from a black leaf
on the forest floor
………………………… Tito

After the descent, talk resumes at Hibara Jinja* 檜原神社 a little way along the Yamanobe Old Path. Later that evening, at Wakaba Minshuku*, haiku are shared, appreciated, rejected, and occasionally reworked, until the wine is drunk and midnight has long passed.

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Oct. 14, 2018 – Mt. Goharetsu 御破裂山

Two poets return home, but another joined the haike last night. It’s a cool, early autumn morning and four poets are searching for a path over Mount Goharetsu* (610m). Their destination is Tanzan Shrine 談山神社 and its annual “Kakitsusai” 嘉吉祭 harvest festival, which is due to start in a few hours.

Cloud shrouds the peaks
above the plains of Asuka —
a lone kite circling
………………………… Richard

Fields of golden rice
ready for harvesting —
ancient village, unchanged
………………………… Kyoko

The autumn butterfly —
how prim and proper
its ribbon ties!
………………………… Tomiko

The persimmon farmer talks
of a typhoon-damaged slope:
Mt. Katsuragi*
wreathed in mist
………………………… Tito

Their route takes them through the streets of Asuka 明日香 into its eastern foothills, past locals tending their crops, and up into the tall, straight trunks of cypress and cedars growing on the mountainside.

Another step
on rising earth,
interrupted —
span of silver thread
………………………… William

The entomologist —
showing us his bagged live specimens
in a dreary wood
………………………… Tito

The trees close in and
catch our voices — their reply
a soft mockery
………………………… William

They reach Tanzan Shrine, a burst of Japanese architecture, and find the festival’s main ritual is already underway. Removing their shoes, they shuffle quietly into one wide room—open at the back to a sunlit veranda hung with iron lanterns—and join the worshippers. To the shrill accompaniment of gagaku*, many elaborate displays of fruits and vegetables are brought out from deep within the shrine, carefully passed from priest to priest. A glimpse is had of a statue of the enshrined deity, Fujiwara no Kamatari*, whom the festival honours.

The Shinto priest:
a single green pepper
atop his chestnut offering
………………………… Richard

For another year
priest pulls the curtain down
on the clan divinity —
his long, plaintive wail
………………………… Tito

The festival complete, our pilgrims head back into the sun, retrieving lunch boxes from their backpacks.

tier upon tier,
the surrounding trees are touched
by new scarlet
………………………… William

The summit of Goharetsu is attained after a further short climb. To where next year?

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* Notes
Haike – haiku hike
Snake God Tree – an ancient sugi (cryptomeria) thought to be a yorishiro (conductor) for Okuninushi, who comes in the form of a snake
komorebi – sunshine filtered through branches
Hibara Jinja – a Shinto compound lacking any hall for its divinity, Amaterasu, and thought to be the first Ise Shrine
Wakaba Minshuku – a rustic inn beside Okadera Temple in Asuka
Mt. Goharetsu – to the southeast of Asuka, part of which is commonly referred to as “Tonomine”
Mt. Katsuragi – a peak (959m) to the west of Asuka famed as the haunt of the C7th mystic, En no Gyoja
gagaku – ancient court music, featuring reeds and pipes
Fujiwara no Kamatari – instigator of the Taika Reforms in C7th and founder of the Fujiwara clan

Hailstone’s 16th Autumn Haike: Mt. Aoba

Takahama-Ōi 高浜町ー大飯郡 district of Wakasa Bay, Fukui Pref. We travelled there and back in three cars.
Nov. 11 (Sat.) – a clutch of nine poets congregated on a day of autumn showers: the six men scaling the heights of Aobayama (693m) for five rigorous hours, while the three women enjoyed the more sedate pleasures of the mountain-foot herb garden. The evening culminated, at Loghouse Akioya, in a rollicking poetry reading of the day’s experiences, that some haijin of earlier centuries might surely have related to.
Nov. 12 (Sun.) – the following morning, as the sun came out, we composed further haiku near the site of Takahama Castle and the eroded arch of Meikyodo beside the Japan Sea’s pounding surf. Two cars then drove over to Ōshima on the leeward side of the Ōi Peninsular, where a harbour stroll was had.
Here follows a selection of our poems, in rough sequential order, with each poet represented.

greeting five hundred
invisible bears
between Kyoto and the sea
……………………….. Ursula

empty forest —
one bird sings
to the steady rain
……………………….. David McC.

here
at the edge of the world
all things are covered in gold —
the sound of bamboo grass
rustling
……………………….. David

tangle of grasping roots —
frozen struggle
of a mountain-top tree
……………………….. William

a friendly hand
wet from rain
pulls me over
the abyss
……………………….. David

at our first proud summit,
the faded clipping:
“Old Man Climbs A Thousand Times”
……………………….. Richard D.

somewhere through
this mountain’s heart —
the sea, crashing
……………………….. Tito

slippery path:
our feet swallowed
by coloured leaves
……………………….. Branko

long legs
short legs
three legs
arse slide
……………………….. Tito

descending Mt Aoba,
light rain turns to hail:
a whispered goodbye
……………………….. Richard

two claps, two bows:
imparting to the god
my full name
and postal code
……………………….. Branko

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between this world and the next —
a gateway framing sky and sea
……………………….. Tomiko

by the slack silver harbour
a fisherman offers me his rod —
I catch his smile
……………………….. Tito

a globefish
dances around my float:
its tantalising orbit
……………………….. Tomo

acorns scattered
all over the herb garden —
immune from the nuclear plant?
……………………….. Kyoko

raucous poets —
hold the pickled mackerel,
pass the persimmon liqueur!
……………………….. Ursula

autumn mountain jaunt —
honouring my ursine name
with bear-like sleep
……………………….. Ursula

*slideshow photos by Tito, Branko, William, Richard & David

Haiga Walk & NEW Hibikiai & Senri Times

Click on the page link marked ‘Haiga Walk – March 2017‘ at top right to enjoy Gerald’s illustrated report on the wonderful haiku sketching and painting outing to Umenomiya Taisha’s plum garden on March 14th, which he kindly organized.

Please also note the NEW time scheduling of our two English Haiku classes (for the next three months only):
KYOTO Hibikiai Forum 5/11, 6/8 and 7/13 18:30-20:00 (30 mins later than normal)
OSAKA Senri Bunka Centre 4/27, 5/25, 6/22 19:30-21:00 (90 mins later than normal; we will return to 18:00-19:30 from July)

The Snow Quest

Bright snowy mountains
came into my eyes –
silent morning
……………………. Mayumi K.

Prior to Sunday February 12th, Kyoto had seen intermittent snow for two days and nights, much of the city having been shrouded in white. A poetic adventure invariably on his mind, it didn’t take long for Tito to come up with an idea for a snow-viewing meet at two famous ponds in Saga. In spite of very short notice, six haiku wanderers showed up on what turned out to be a mostly dry and breezy Sunday. The snowfall, alas, had petered out by the early morning hours. All we were left with was white mountain-tops and an occasional patch of unmelted snow to marvel at along the way.

The shrine grove
still holding snow –
the wicked sun
……………………. Titoosawa-pond-snow

Four of us started our walk at Daikaku-ji in Ukyo ward, where a small shrine dedicated to Sugawara Michizane (Tenjin-san), the Japanese God of Poetry, sits on an island in Osawa Pond.

Praying for snow
before a toneless bell
of Tenjin-san
……………………. Branko

Nearby, a plum orchard, barely in bloom, was a welcome sight.

a day of teasing snow –
the small white buds
on this plum tree
……………………. Duro

b-w-tomiko-mayumi-ume-orchardYears ago, Tito used to live just around the corner from Daikaku-ji and, needless to say, knows the surrounding area like the back of his hand. He was kind enough to provide us with lots of information on local history, both ancient and recent. One such point of interest was a group of burial mounds (‘Kitasaga Shichi Kofun’) dotting the rural landscape of vegetable plots and rice-fields. After clawing our way to the top of one such tumulus, we were astonished to find a great number of badger burrows, some of them freshly dug. From each emanated a strong animal scent, and it was safe to say the nocturnal creatures were better off inside the mound than we were, standing frozen on its windy top.

Below the frost line
the ancient tomb
reclaimed by badgers
……………………. Branko

p_20170212_111844_vhdr_in-the-fields-ab

Without restraint
beating its own drum:
a speedwell
out-of-season
……………………. Tomiko

More plodding through the  fields, soggy with snow-melt, and the four who began at Daikaku-ji eventually reached Hirosawa Pond … for a perfectly timed rendezvous with Hitomi and Duro (Gerald). This pond is emptied every December and was that day still partly water-less, a landscape dotted with wading birds foraging across the shallows and mudflats.

Hirosawa Pond –
left and right
high over fish shadows
an osprey hovering
…………………….. Hitomi

a famous pond
drained for the winter –
such hollow dreams
…………………….. Duro

Our final stop was a rather stylish Japanese restaurant, a 15-minute walk from Hirosawa Pond. Have you ever dined at a place frequented by members of royal families? Well, apparently this was such a place! On the walls, large photos recorded visits from the Cambodian and Burmese Royal Families, those of Mongolian dignitaries, and even one from a Ugandan chieftain.

Looking at
framed pictures of royalty …
my oyster curry arrives
……………………. Tito

After a lengthy meal and a productive and fun haiku sharing, we had a group photo taken in the garden outside. No sooner had we said goodbye, than snow began to fall again!

* click on any photo to see it enlarged *p_20170212_154858_vhdr_the-dirty-half-dozen-abchirosawa-osprey-feb-12-2017b

A Path Through Autumn Hills

Asuka (or Tōtsu ‘Distant’ Asuka, in Nara prefecture), Japan’s first state capital, is a name to conjure with, though few perhaps will have heard of Chikatsu Asuka (‘Nearby’ Asuka, in Osaka prefecture), through which the Takenouchi Kaidō passes on its way from Naniwa. This was Japan’s first state road, plied by emperors and emissaries as they travelled between Yamato and the kingdoms of Korea and empires of China further to the west. Naniwa (Osaka) was the entry/exit port.

Autumn clouds
sailing in the shape of
an ancient mission boat ……………. Miki

Day 1. November 12th , Bashō’s death anniversary and the first day of this year’s Hailstone Autumn Haike, had us passing through a landscape dominated by huge, moated imperial tumuli and early Buddhist temples that had seen better days. At the first of these, Fujiidera, a prayer for our journey in clouds of incense smoke. At another,

Someone tolling
the Yachūji bell:
by my feet, a few
rustling leaves ……………. Branko

One tumulus we rested beside was Shiratori no Misasagi (the White Bird Tumulus) made in the fifth century for Prince Yamatotakeru, perhaps the greatest of the Yamato heroes, whose exploits are recorded in the Kojiki. When he died, his spirit became a swan, and we were amazed to see some large swan haniwa (terracotta statues) in an archaeological display nearby. We paid our respects to him at nearby Shiratori Shrine.

The Takenouchi Kaidō proved somewhat difficult to follow in places, and we had to use a combination of maps, GPS and talking to the locals to navigate through the surprisingly urban first few hours. Richard’s hard work and a measure of good fortune allowed us to eat our packed lunches in a pleasant autumn-tinted park neatly sandwiched between a sewage works and a rubbish incineration plant!

We had just crossed the Ishikawa River on Garyū Bridge, from where we had spied the twin peaks of Mt. Futagami (Nijō) and a more rural, hilly landscape up ahead. Blessed with an idyllic ‘Indian summer’ day.

In the time it took him
to count the three clouds …
there were only two ……………. Tito

Found the rather creepy Morimoto Jinja, but overlooked, alas, its mysterious rat-headed courtier stone, Hayato-ishi.

Bare lightbulbs hanging
where lanterns used to be —
neglected shrine ……………. Candace

As the afternoon wore on and our feet began to get weary, golden vine leaves appeared beside the road. Although the harvest was already in, we did not need the signboards for ‘Asuka Wine’ to know that we were entering a land of grapes. The vines scrolling around their metal frames reminded some of us of the seventh century budō karakusa patterns on the black bronze Buddha’s pedestal in Nara’s Yakushiji. Around 3, we picked up Kyoko at Kaminotaishi Station.

The man perhaps most responsible for the introduction of Buddhism to Japan was Prince Shōtoku, and it was to his final resting place at Eifukuji Temple that we were now headed – uphill. The spacious temple precincts command a fine view out across the Valley of Kings and its imperial mausolea.

So still at Eifukuji:
only the huge sun sinking
behind the pagoda ……………. Branko

Down some steep steps … and up another flight beyond, brought us to the little nunnery of Saihōin, our last port of call for the day. The bus from the hotel soon came to collect us.

The nuns have left
the gate open wide –
November moon ……………. Tito

Taishi Onsen was where we bedded down for the night, now joined by David, who had walked up  from the railway station through late afternoon fields. The hot-spring waters and the local food and wine set us up for an open-mic haiku sharing.

Reciting the day’s poems
with a karaoke echo:
last of the autumn wine ……………. Richard

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Day 2. The 13th dawned, crisp and clear.

Morning bath
in the open air,
a yellow leaf falling
as I close my eyes ……………. Miki

At Kaminotaishi Station we waited for the arrival of the Osaka train and found Akira and Shigeko almost immediately. Somehow, though, Hisashi slipped through the radar and had a quiet smoke just behind us while others continued to hunt for him! The ten of us proceeded eastwards along the Kaidō, paralleling the glittering Asuka Stream.

Now I am alone
but the snowflies
have found their sunbeam ……………. David

Passing the thatched roof of the Yamamoto House, we climbed a lane to the humble but commendable Historical Museum of the Takenouchi Road. Inside, many were entranced by a holographic presentation of local history, which even introduced Bashō ghosting his way through the area!

In clearing the loose rock
he trips on another –
a path through autumn hills ……………. Tito

Arrival at the busy fishing pond of Dainichi. A short rest, and then a stiff climb over Mt. Futagami, decked in its November best. Lunch was taken on a rocky peak with marvellous views back towards Fujiidera, from where the walk had begun.

Bending in the wind
tall pampas grass:
we vote for a left turn ……………. Branko

Somewhere between the 13-tiered solid stone pagoda of Rokutanji and Iwaya Pass on this, the 13th of the month, u n f o r t u n a t e l y we got lost. To reconnoitre, both Richard and David hared off up different rocky paths. The former came back to tell us that he’d met an old man who had warned him, “You’ll never get through before dark!” We descended the mountain as far as Route 166 and slogged along it to Takenouchi Pass.

Bashō’s checkpoint:
on the Nara side
smoother asphalt ……………. Branko

A pleasant descent past a large pond with a kingfisher … to the outskirts of Takenouchi village. There, we debated the merits of making a detour to take in the Hakuhō period temple of Taimadera, along the so-called “Bashō Path”. David voted with his feet, and we were soon all off behind him!

A farmer’s
long-winded explanation
about the highway shortcut –
Indian summer ……………. Hisashi

At the temple, we prayed before its main image, the huge tapestry-weave Taima Mandala of Amitabha’s Pure Land. Hisashi writes, “The precincts were packed, as that day local agricultural cooperatives were holding an autumn fair. Caught in the crowd, I was attracted by a dry, leafless plant a metre long, carried by a young girl and bearing on its tips fluffy white cotton seeds. I recalled that Taimadera was adjacent to the district of traditional cotton production in Osaka. I imagined the girl would go home with the plant and arrange it carefully in her tatami-mat room.”

Leaves of foreign words
floating away
In the autumn breeze ……………. Miki

We hurried back to Takenouchi and there, altering our pace, began to amble down, backs to the sunset, through the hometown of Bashō’s early travel companion, Naemura Chiri. It seems not to have greatly changed since the visits of the haiku master: an evocative place. In 1684, accompanied by Chiri on his journey of the ‘Weather-exposed Skeleton’, Bashō had stayed at the house of the village headman, Aburaya Ki’emon, and complimented him with the hokku

Watayumi ya / biwa ni nagusamu / take no oku

The cotton-beating bow –
as pleasing as the plucking of a lute
deep in the bamboo

A cotton-growing area indeed.

Hanging above
our full array of grins,
a line of drying onions ……………. Tito

After a group photo (see the slideshow), and a short reading by Stephen of Bashō’s haibun and verse related to the area, we meandered along our final stretch of the Kaidō towards its junction with the Katsuragi Road at Nagao Shrine. Looking back, we could see the range we had come over – Kongo, Katsuragi, Futagami – a rearing mountain wave against the afterglow. Prayers of thanks for safe completion of our journey. From Iwashiro Station, the train-ride home.

Nara Basin –
stubble smoke rising
from the end of
the Silk Road ……………. Akira

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Thames Way : Ulster Way (brown to blue)

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Former Kyoto-based Hailstone, Diarmuid Fitzgerald, launches his first haiku and tanka collection the Irish Writers’ Centre, Parnell Square in Dublin from 7pm on 22 Oct. Anyone in the area is welcome to attend, but should contact Diarmuid first. The collection is based on a long-distance walk he made along the Thames Way in Southern England. Published by Alba (Kim Richardson).
…………………………. fields of barley
…………………………. shift of hue
…………………………. from yellow
…………………………. to brown
…………………………. clouds pass
………………………………… DF, on the …
Thames Way
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Icebox contributor, David McCullough, who has just begun a year’s sabbatical in his native Belfast, guided Tito recently along a stretch of the Ulster Way long-distance footpath in Antrim.
brown eyes of heifers
gazing at the ocean –
two jet trails
…….. DMcC, on the Ulster WayKC4F0045
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……….. On an offshore islet
……….. a man reclining
……….. in a brown coat –
……….. the seal!
………………. Tito, ditto
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