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.

Seven “Go To” Haiku

Over autumn and winter, my partner and I made full use of the government’s short-lived Go To Travel campaign. Our trips took us as far north and south as Hokkaido and Okinawa. Here are a few haiku from those journeys.

The following three were written on a trip to Matsushima. Unfortunately, Matsushima itself (we did a bay cruise) didn’t inspire me to the extent that it did the great Basho. Rather, my main inspiration was on the train getting there.

Not for frail eyes
these persimmon stark on
an azure sky

From this train seat—
a yard fire, but without
the smell of smoke

Another haiku from on the train was of an exchange between a child and his parents.

Oysters on trees?
Laughing, they answer him,
Persimmon, son!

(N.B. In Japanese, both persimmons and oysters are pronounced the same: “kaki.”)

Then, from a visually confusing moment experienced on a beach (because poor eyesight can also be poetic!):

Sand-scuttling crabs
flock and take to the air,
yes, as sparrows!

And one from the commercial center—called Makishi—of Naha City, Okinawa:

Sitting in threes
Makishi’s old women
sort bean sprouts

Finally, from Yamagata (post-Go To, actually):

From snowy ground
a blackbird beats its way
up to the eaves

No lovelier
winter thatch than your black
snow-capped hair

Nothing at all

Last Sunday in January: the dead of winter. Japanese Government toying with extending the latest Covid Emergency Order. Almost the end of the university year. Still one online lecture, three classes to grade and eleven grad theses to go. At home, almost at the end of our tether: getting on each other’s nerves.

Looks sunny. We strip off all our sheets and put them in the washing-machine; futons, out to the terrace to dry. Sunday, right? So, where to go for a kibun-tenkan (change of surroundings)? I ask my wife.

“The Botanical Gardens.”

“There’ll be nothing out,” I say.

We go.

Rounding the first corner… and a freak shower is racing towards us from the north! We rush back home, unlock the front door. Sprint upstairs to the terrace, as icy rain comes blasting through; hurl those futons and sheets back inside… then drape them all over the furniture in our living room.

We set off once more.

Entering the Gardens. Nothing out at all. Just a few bobbly white buds on the mitsumata (paper-making bush).

As a last resort, we head for the glasshouse.

The orchid exhibition —
each one a fashion statement
with its own devotees

There is a small voting-box, at one end of the hall, and a stack of cards and pencils. All are urged to vote for their favourite bloom. I find myself tending towards no. 37.

Taking off my mask
to smell the orchid —
nothing at all!

Snow Kukai

The Snow Kukai event held on March 8th turned out to be a very pleasurable afternoon. 14 poets gathered in the gorgeous pond-side setting of Shusuitei villa in Kyoto Gyoen to share and discuss snow-themed haiku submitted by no less than 24 different people.

David McCullough won first prize for his snow haiku. With 8 votes, it proved the most popular of those entered:

snow falls softly
onto the river —
last train passing by

Runners-up, both with 6 votes, were:

endless snow… …………………………………… Excavated remains —
I break the froth ……………………………….. into the postholes,
in a cup of cappuccino ………………………. snowflakes
….. (Yaeno Azuchi) …………………………………… (Keiko Yurugi)

Next, two poems that received 5 votes:

daybreak… …………………………………………. In the freezing rain
the muffled sound ……………………………… an old man living alone
of a raging snowstorm ………………………. picking peach blossoms
….. (Duro Jaiye) …………………………………………. (Yoshiharu Kondo)

And 3-pointers:

silky snow ………………………………………….. Lunchtime strollers
left on old tree — ………………………………. squint into the sun’s glare —
the clouds begin to break …………………. first snow flurries
….. (Akihiko Hayashi) ………………………………. (Jun Tsutsumi)

a morning of the cottage
everything with snow —
a straight track by a tiny hare
….. (Teruko Yamamoto)

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Poems that got 2 votes were:

oh no ……………………………………………………. snow vanishes…
snow in the deck-chair again ………………. as though an hour ago
insisting it’s winter ………………………………. never existed …..
….. (Ann Mari Urwald) ……………………………….. (Branko Manojlovic)

Twilight Venus
over the mowed garden —
the first snow
….. (Kiyoko Ogawa)

Poems with 1 vote were by: William Sorlien, Tito, Hisashi Miyazaki, Hiroko Nakakubo, Ursula Maierl, Kyoko Nozaki, and Eiko Mori. Alas, we didn’t have enough time to talk about these.

The event was well organized by Yaeno Azuchi and Tomiko Nakayama. Tito introduced the kukai, using snow haiku by Shiki, Meisetsu and Issa, and later gave the prize, a handmade Indian book for writing haiku. Branko Manojlovic debuted as discussion coordinator. He came up with the following haiku written during a tea break:

Still pond
touched by sunlight —
sharing snow haiku

Seeking Buson

click on any picture to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Sekitei

Late November. I climbed Mt. Takamiyama (1,248m, ‘Kansai’s Matterhorn’) on the border between Nara and Mie. Found a little snow at the top, where there’s a shrine to Yatagarasu, the giant three-legged crow, guide of the first emperor, emblem of Kumano Jinja (and of Japan’s national football team). The scene was almost biblical: a mountain ark.
.

The Messenger Crow’s Mount —
there below, autumn ranges
north, south, east and west ……………. Tito
.

After the descent, took a dip at Takasumi Hot Spring. Of this, another time. The bathhouse receptionist gave me a map, however, on which was marked “Sekitei-an”, a haiku poet’s hermitage elsewhere in the village of Higashi Yoshino. I remembered the name from Blyth’s History of Haiku. Although Blyth has him in Meiji, he is actually one of the best of the Taisho period haiku poets. I began to envisage a Hailstone event there next year. In the meantime, here are two of his beautifully alliterative/assonant verses for the winter season. Happy New Year!
.

koshiyuki no / yama mite shouji / shime ni keri
Gazing across
to the snowed-up mountains …
then shutting up
my paper window-screens ……………. Sekitei, 1913

.
getsumen ni / samukari no ei / kakari keri
The face of the moon:
in silhouette
flying on through it,
a flock of winter geese …………….. Sekitei, 1951