A Path Through Autumn Hills

Posted in Autumn, Event report, Walking with tags , on November 29, 2016 by Tito

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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My Trip to the North: 3. The Hells of Osorezan

Posted in Haibun, Summer with tags , on November 6, 2016 by sosui

.. After enjoying a bowl of rice topped with tuna for my lunch, I went to Osorezan via the city of Mutsu. This was a roundabout course, but the shortcut along the Ohata River was too narrow for sightseeing buses. The road from Mutsu up to Osorezan was an ancient highway with stone pillars marking distances from the shrine. It was also dotted with stone images of Jizo, the traveller’s guardian. I found the Fountain of Hiyamizu was still alive. Its icy water was coming straight down from the mountains. Here and there I saw pink flowers of valley deutzia, but was told that they were never used as decorations for the house. I wondered why.
.. Crossing the so-called River Styx, we entered the precincts of Osorezan, a Zen temple belonging to the Soto Sect. Soon, the smell of sulphur hit my nose. Watched by six huge statues of Jizo, representing the six phases of existence, I passed through the first gate. On the second gate was displayed a large square plaque of beautiful blue colour, inscribed “Osorezan” in silver characters. The building at the end of the path housed the main Jizo image and a statue of Ennin, the founder of the temple.
.. Up to this point, we had been walking on flat ground, but as we turned to the left, we entered the rocky region of the ”Hells”. Many infernal pools now came into view, with such horrible names as ‘the Pool of Blood’ and ‘the Pool of Grave Sinners’. Each was somewhat different in shape and colour, but they were all pools of sulphurous water that had issued out of the volcanic strata. Huge piles of rocks were seen in places, but what arrested my attention was the piles of smaller stones that had obviously been fashioned by human hands. I was told that they had been made supernaturally by children who had passed away before their parents as an expression of their regret at doing so. I was not persuaded, presuming, rather, that these piles of stones may have been made by the parents to express their own sorrow at the untimely death of their children. My conviction was strengthened by the red stick-windmills often placed on top of the piles. Was it not the parents who had placed them there out of a desire to buy them for the deceased children? The place where I saw the greatest number of windmills was around the statue of the guardian of aborted and miscarried children.

……. An endless rattle…
……. Little windmills spinning round,
……. Calling to the dead.

Yoshihiko Suzuki

Posted in News, Tribute with tags , on October 8, 2016 by Tito

Today, I heard the sad news that one of Hailstone’s founding members, Yoshihiko Suzuki, had passed away of cancer last month in Nishinomiya, aged 90. He graduated in 1951 from Tokyo Univ. as a mechanical engineer, later working for Sakae Kogyo KK. Because of his excellent English, he was often posted abroad. The trilingual haiku here is reproduced from his book, Signpost (pub. 1999). In it, we find Yoshihiko out in Thailand, from where he sent us many wonderful poems. The haiga of a Thai elephant is by his daughter, Ritsuko, whom, together with his wife Michiko, he leaves behind. There are grandsons, too (viz. another fine haiku, for which there is an extant kuhi (poem stone) in Hikami-cho in eastern Hyogo (btm. lt.). Our thoughts are with them all. [Click on any pic to see more detail.]Why? Why not? / Little grandson asking endlessly – / Spring evening

Summer shower – / Encountering a beauty, / Saying, “After you!”

Waiting in a long line / To cradle for a minute / The tiny koala …………. (Sydney, pub. The Meridian, 1998)

Floodwaters besieging / An old temple – / It grows dark …………. (Thailand, pub. Enhaiklopedia, 2005)


Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2017 Opens

Posted in Challenge!, Haibun with tags , on September 27, 2016 by Tito

This is still Japan’s only international haibun contest. Entry is free and there are prizes and certificates. This year we have one new judge, Ellis Avery, who is American, female, a haiku poet, but also a novelist and a fiction writing teacher at Columbia University. She is a contributor to Icebox, too.

Ideally, there will be one Grand Prix, a number of An Prizes (‘Cottage’ Prizes, highly commended), and some Honourable Mentions, too. The authors of entries chosen for the first two of these categories will receive prizes, and all decorated works will warrant a certificate from the organizers. In the late spring, the results will be displayed here on the Hailstone Icebox and elsewhere. You can read last year’s winning pieces on a separate page (‘Genjuan ’16 Winning Haibun’).

Entries to : Ms. Eiko Mori, 2-11-23-206 Jokoji, Amagasaki-shi, Hyogo-ken 660-0811, Japan (to arrive between 1 Oct. 2016 and 31 Jan. 2017)

We have lowered the minimum length stipulation to make it easier for writers using English as their second language. Each entry should total 7 to 35 lines (at 1 line = 80 spaces), with title and at least one haiku (no formal restrictions). Print on one side of A4, if possible, with your name and address, tel. no., and email address typed along the bottom. The judges will not get to know your identity until judging is over and the Genjuan Contest Office already knows the results. We are sorry, but email entries are not accepted.

Judges: Nenten Tsubouchi, Stephen Henry Gill, Hisashi Miyazaki, Ellis Avery.

Full details via the page link (top right) ‘Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2017 Guidelines’.  Please do take part!

Crystal Beads

Posted in Haiku, Summer with tags on September 20, 2016 by Mayumi Kawaharada

Glittering crystal beads
Decorate my body —
Humid afternoon

Beads of sweat
Twinkle on my ears —
Unlooked-for jewels


My Trip to the North: 2. The Promontory of Oma

Posted in Haibun, Summer with tags , on September 12, 2016 by sosui

As the ferryboat approached Oma, I was able to see an island with a lighthouse and the Promontory of Oma, so flat that it seemed the sea was ready to swallow it up. Oma is famous for tuna fishing, but I did not sight any boats. After landing, our bus took us to the Promontory, the northernmost point of the mainland of Japan, where I saw a huge concrete image of tuna, and a stone monument to Ishikawa Takuboku with the following poem inscribed.

………. An Eastern Island:
………. On the white sands of its beach,
………. I weep by myself
………. Till I am wet with the tears,
………. Playing with scuttling crabs.

The Eastern Island mentioned in this famous poem was believed to be Benten Island. It had looked quite distant from the tip of the Promontory when I had seen it from the ferryboat, but now it seemed close enough to reach by swimming. The lighthouse was painted in stripes of white and dark green, and there was a red buoy dancing in the waves before it.

………. Tuna-abounding seas,
………. To the far horizon, blue,
………. Their summer colour.

……………….. The Eastern Island:
……………….. The lively June waves breaking
……………….. Wash its sandy shore.

………………………… On a sunny day
………………………… In the long monsoon season,
………………………… Gulls crossing the strait.


Posted in Haibun, Summer with tags on September 3, 2016 by Branko

For more than ten years now, each summer I have gone back to Serbia, the place of my birth. This summer, my family took a four-day trip to the southwest of the country. On the third day we found ourselves at the Special Natural Reserve, ‘Uvac’. My son and I joined a boat tour along its famous meanders, the longest of its kind in Europe. The emerald body of water snakes its way through the Uvac Canyon for some 25 kilometres. The tour took five hours, yet it was probably the quickest five hours of my life.

Our first stop was at the so-called ‘Ice Cave’. The name does it justice, as it was very chilly indeed, but the cave’s mysterious beauty more than made up for this.

………. The cave floor –
………. as if petrified Buddhas
………. stirred in our torchlight

Our second port of call was the foot of a hill, from where we had to climb a narrow forest path. Young and old, weak and strong, we all reached the viewpoint with only minor scratches. And there was a sight to behold: the meandering Canyon beneath us, in all its glory, last sanctuary of the majestic Griffon vulture.

As we were climbing down toward the boat, I overheard someone saying, as if reading my own mind: ‘May this reserve remain intact forever’.

………. Cruising along 
………. Uvac’s meanders –
………. a
 vulture’s regal flight