Archive for Basho

Persimmons – part 7

Posted in Haibun, No/All season with tags , on September 20, 2018 by sosui

. I should like to end my haibun with a paragraph or two on kakishibu (persimmon varnish). I do not know exactly how it is made, but suppose it must be by condensing and fermenting persimmon juice. It is used mainly as a coating for traditional Japanese paper, thereby not only strengthening it but also making it waterproof. Thus a raincoat called kamiko came to be made, first for the priests of the Risshu sect to wear, but later for warriors and travellers as well. It was both light and warm. It was one of these raincoats that Basho took on his journey to the North. Persimmon varnish is also used to coat paper umbrellas. Seeing pictures of them on the Internet recently, I was surprised by the variety of designs. The traditional colour was brown, but now they seem to come in bright colours like red and green and make good decorations for restaurants and hotels.

. I have fond memories of persimmon-varnished fans. They were always sturdy ones and kept me very cool. I always used to pick out a fan of this type from the bamboo case in which we kept our fans at home. Nowadays, the Internet shows fans of this kind in many different colours, but mine was dark brown. I prefer this traditional colour. When summer comes again, I will probably buy a new one.

Let me take a nap,
Using a fan coated with
Persimmon varnish.

this instalment concludes Nobuyuki Yuasa’s haibun 

Balloon at Cape Irago

Posted in Event report, Summer with tags , , , on August 6, 2017 by Tito

鷹一つ見つけてうれし伊良湖岬 (芭蕉)
To find a hawk
flying at Cape Irago —
my pleasure, deep
……………… (Basho)

On his 1687 Backpack Notes journey, 笈の小文, Basho had composed this haiku for his beloved disciple, Tokoku 杜国 (aka Mangikumaru 万菊丸), who was exiled in Hobi, near the tip of the Atsumi Peninsular (Aichi) for ‘cooking the books’ with his rice-dealing in Nagoya.

July 23: Tito plans to fly his birthday balloon (a personal ritual) from the ferry leaving Cape Irago after a day (with wife, Kazue, and Hailstone friends, David McCullough and Gerald Staggers – aka Duro Jaiye) visiting Tokoku’s grave at Cho’onji Temple (the “tide-listening” temple) in Hobi and then swimming in the Pacific at Koijigahama Beach.


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Leave Kyoto/Osaka early for Toba in Mie, from where we sail across the sea to that erstwhile place of exile.

The ferry departs
through a flotilla of jellyfish —
summer clouds
……………… (Tito)

Landing at Cape Irago, walk out to the lighthouse with its views back to the sacred isle of Kamishima.

all along the seafront
stone carved poems
visited by dragonflies
……………… (David)

midday heat …
in their wheelbarrow
the catch of the day
……………… (Duro)

Indulge, as Basho would have done, in huge clams and oysters at Tamagawa’s in Fukue. Then, at the temple itself, we meet the Zen priest, Miyamoto Rikan 利寛, tending his lotuses. Spend a quiet moment at the graveside, remembering how Basho had wept at the House of Fallen Persimmons after dreaming of Tokoku some months after his premature death. Their relationship had been a happy one, with Basho once brushing the ‘shape’ of Tokoku’s snore onto paper… and them having written pledges together on their travel hats on the way to Yoshino. “His good heart reached to the very core of my own. How could I ever forget him?” (from the Saga Nikki)

the sound of the waves
also heard in secret
from his grave
……………… (Santoka, visiting Cho’onji in 1939)

last patch of summer heat —
cat tails flicking
back and forth
……………… (David)

burning heat …
he waters the small plants
in the rock garden
……………… (Duro)

Rikan proves a genial host, showing us a huge rockery he has made himself; also, the “tide-listening” Kannon statue in the pond at the back of the temple; and, finally, driving us back to Koijigahama Beach near the Cape. Body-surfing and beach-combing before boarding the return ferry.

A pink balloon
leaves my hand …
the sun, too, dropping down
into Ise Bay
……………… (Tito)

Plum Blossoms I

Posted in Haibun, Spring with tags , on March 30, 2017 by Tito
The following is the first part of a recent haibun by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui).  

The fragrance of plums —
Suddenly the sun comes up
On the mountain path.                 Basho

.. Plum blossoms are beautiful, especially in the morning when their colours are highlighted; yet plums appeal not only to the eye but also to the nose. In fact, the scent of their blossoms is their greatest charm. When their aroma is carried on a gentle spring breeze, I am captivated by its nobility and find nothing else capable of rivalling it. In the garden I can see from my windows, white plums are just now coming out — one or two already fully out, but the rest still pinkish-white balls, some swollen and others small. It is plum blossoms at this stage that I love best, for they give us hope and trust in the future. A week from now, they will be in full bloom. Then I can enjoy their fragrance. On warm days, I shall open my windows wide to enjoy it, far superior to any artificial perfume.

I know there are plums
In the recess of darkness —
Deeply scented winds.                  Sosui

Kompukuji Ginkō

Posted in Autumn, Event report with tags , on December 17, 2016 by Richard Donovan

Kompukuji (金福寺), near Keizan Ichijōji Station in Higashiyama, Kyoto, was founded in 864, and is the site of the Bashō-an (芭蕉庵), a hut that the poet visited in 1670 and that was afterwards dedicated to him. Yosa Buson (与謝蕪村) and his disciples helped restore the hut in 1760. On Buson’s death in 1783, his disciples erected a tomb on the hill overlooking Bashō-an and its adjacent well. Thus this little-known temple is something of a mecca for poets!

We were fortunate, then, that it was quiet on the Saturday afternoon (3 December) when we 15 Hailstones visited, led by Tito. We were able to take our time, even sitting on the engawa (perching boards) of the hut to compose our responses. The guest of honour was Maeve O’Sullivan of Haiku Ireland.

Thatched with water reeds
topped with maple leaves –
Basho-an, the poet’s hut                       Maeve

Peeling shōji
a corner thumbtack
holds sway                                   Albie

Perhaps it was the fact that the autumnal leaves were a little past their prime that staved off the crowds, but we were still surrounded by rich golden and scarlet hues, the light-blue sky above and the soft greens of the moss at our feet forming a poignant contrast.

Maple leaves
dying beautifully                              Branko

Lantern of Kompukuji’s
soft stillness –
lichen dresses you                             Christine

Footpaths through shadows
leave the bright colors behind –
Buson’s resting place                          Peter

A high wire fence
Through burning maple leaves –
No deer by the gate                            Tito

Framed by the temple gate
Deer and mountain silhouette –
The sinking sun
shika nagara / saneimon ni / iru hi kana
This was Buson’s original, alluded to above in Tito’s haiku.

After our extended visit to the temple, we repaired to Café Anone, near the train station, joined by co-organiser Ursula for coffee and cake and the recital of haiku and haibun.

[Notes: ginkō – composition stroll; shōji – paper window screens]

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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Of Michio, Toshi and the Village of Mizuo

Posted in Autumn, Event report, News with tags , , on November 2, 2014 by Tito

Mountain valley —
chancing upon
the Shangri-La
of a spring in citron-trees

……. (Michio Sano)

The full moon
over the harvested rice fields —
villagers sleep

……. (Toshi Ida)

There were two Hailstone journeys undertaken recently which passed, under high blue skies, through the mountain village of Mizuo (水尾lit. ‘Water Ridge’) that nestles beneath a shoulder of Mt. Atago. As Michio’s 1998 haiqua (above) intimates, Mizuo is famous for its citrons and is often referred to as 柚子の里 Yuzu no SatoKC4F0040

The first journey, on October 19, was a most solemn occasion: a break on the way to visit the late Toshi Ida’s house in Chitose-cho (千歳町, 30 mins beyond) and offer prayers before his funeral altar. Toshi was a founding member of Hailstone Haiku Circle and close friend of so many of us. We soaked up the autumn sun in Mizuo, where chestnut tiger butterflies still flew around. Arriving eventually in Chitose-cho, the Hailstone delegation of the day – Keiko, Ursula and Tito – was graciously welcomed by Toshi’s wife, Michiko. Later we met their son, and were shown around Toshi’s study and the vegetable patch now immortalized in his collection, Plain Living, Happy Singing. Secrets were revealed, hugs were given and tears were shed.

October field —
mantes, too
their sickles pressed together
praying for a poet’s soul

……. (Keiko Yurugi)

It’s autumn —
yet the bells he used
for warning bears
now hung on the wall

…….  (Tito)

a yellow rose,
his home-grown mikan, goya and
book of verse

……. (Ursula Maierl)

The second journey, held on October 26 in association with People Together for Mt. Ogura, was a happy hike along the Rice Buyers’ Way (米買の道 Komekai no Michi) from Mizuo to Ochiai, and then up over Rokucho Pass 六丁峠, skirting Mt. Ogura, and finally dropping down into Adashino. The 9 participants began by visiting the 9th Century Emperor Seiwa’s Shrine in Mizuo.

Spilled rubies —
fallen pomegranate
from the neighbour’s tree

……. (Richard Donovan)

The trail climbed out of Mizuo through woods in early autumn colours. After cresting Koujin Pass at about 400m, we descended to a mossy spot by a stream.WIN_20141026_102432a- Sunbeams pierced tall cypress trees whose distant tops were slightly moving against the sky. There we ate our packed lunches.

Water striders
gliding on a stream …
illusion of drizzle

……. (Kyoko Nozaki)

Twinkling diamonds
stud a tiny mushroom —
morning dew

……. (Mayumi Kawaharada)

To what tune
does the spider spin
this disc that snares the light?

……. (Michael Lambe)

At Ochiai, we saw the poem monument for Basho’s Kiyotaki ya haiku about green pine needles. After watching boats shooting the rapids on the Hozu River, we climbed up past the now almost-cleared rubbish tips of Mt. Ogura. KC4F0036

In Adashino, participants were offered the chance by a local PTO supporter, Mrs. Matsuyama, to pick their own citrons from a thorny tree standing by the NPO’s rubbish collection tools storehouse just outside Nenbutsuji Temple.

That evening, belated news happened to come through from the wife of another founding member of Hailstone, Michio Sano (of Yao in Osaka). He had passed away, aged 86, on January 15 this year!

Full circle:
a citron now floating in the bath,
a new devouring grief

……. (Tito)

Michio, how much we learned from you! How deep and elegant was your haiku oeuvre. In Shangri-La eternal, please now rest in peace. 合掌

Jumping from
the harvest bonfire —
a sooty frog

……. (Michio Sano, from Seasons of the Gods, 2007) KC4F0058

Rakushisha Exchange

Posted in Autumn, Event report, Haiku with tags , on October 13, 2014 by Tito

Sep. 27. Fine autumn weather. Rakushisha (The House of Fallen Persimmons), Saga, Kyoto. 10 poets assemble. Tito has already taken guests from America, Charlie Trumbull, Cynthia Henderson and Lidia Rozmus to Saigyo’s Well and Kyorai’s Grave. The meeting itself begins with readings of Kyorai’s Record of the House of Fallen Persimmons and Days 3 & 17 of Basho’s Saga Diary, which the poet had written in 1691 while staying at this cottage. Hisashi reads the Japanese originals and Tito, the new English translations they have prepared. During the tea break, Lidia decorates the back room with display panels of American Haiga (many of them, her own beautiful work). Charlie then presents to the group on the subject of Japanese Influence on English-language Haiku. Fascinating stuff. After an exchange of ideas, Lidia follows with her own Approach to Haiga, and we enjoy looking at the mini-exhibition of examples she has brought along. There follows a stroll in the autumnal garden (purple berries, orange persimmon leaves) and on through the nearby bamboo groves to the Oi River, where a local friend of Tito offers the poets a covered wooden punt with a robed man at the prow. In jovial spirits, we are poled upstream a little way, then slide back down the river in the warm dusk … Our thanks again to our guests for having visited and given us so much on this happy day.

haiku gathering the scent of fresh-turned earth

(Charlie Trumbull)

………….. The twilight hour —
………….. the boatman’s long white sleeves
………….. billow out

………….. (Tito)


Turning up the heat

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Classic, Summer with tags , on August 8, 2014 by Tito

The youngest man to have become a disciple of Bashō was surely Izumiya no Kumenosuke. At the age of 14, Bashō conferred upon him the haiku name, Tōyō. The poet had been soothing his aches and pains at the Izumiya Inn in the little hot-spring town of Yamanaka towards the end of his Narrow Road journey of 1689 and had found young Kumenosuke to be the new keeper. Kumenosuke had convened a haikai session there in Bashō’s honour.

Although we are currently in the heat of August, and the last thing I would think of is a hot spring, my wife happened to book us in to stay in Yamanaka last Sunday night. The following morning, at the Bashō no Yakata (Bashō Mansion, which stands by the site of the Inn), its windows open wide  …

The transpicuous house–
a squally wind ruffling
…… a summer garden

……………. (Tito)

… for the grand sum of ¥350, I bought a very slender volume, entitled 山中蕉門:桃妖俳句集 (Haiku by the Yamanaka Bashō-school Poet,  Tōyō).

Every night since then, back in stifling Kyoto, before turning my head against the pillow and closing my eyes, I have enjoyed reading a few haiku by this most poetical of inn-keepers, around whom a lively haiku circle had grown in the mid Edo period.  I doff my hat to whomever it was that researched and made this tiny white booklet of lightness and air. No one at all is credited.

鼻からたばこ吹きけり雲の峰 (桃妖)
Exhaling tobacco smoke
through his nose–
…… cumulonimbus

……………. (Tōyō)


Lake Yogo haiku

Posted in Haiku, Japanese Classic with tags , on October 21, 2013 by Tito

I had brought a haiku by the mendicant poet, Rotsū (1651-1739), on the autumn haike (see posting below) to share at Lake Yogo, but forgot to do so.

.. 鳥どもも寝入っているか余呉の湖
toridomo mo neitteiru ka Yogo no umi

 In its stillness
…… even the waterfowl
……… seem to be sound asleep —
………… the Lake of Yogo

How little has changed! Many of the wild ducks were indeed asleep as we walked by.
Rotsū accompanied Basho on the final leg of his Oku no Hosomichi journey using the Hokkokudo Road 北国道 between Tsuruga and Ogaki, passing Lake Yogo on the way. From the peak of Shizugatake we caught sight of that mountain road running along the neighbouring valley to the northeast. The last stretch of Basho’s ‘Narrow Road’ had been framed, briefly, beneath a rainbow!

The Sound of Water (IV): Lakes and Ponds 5

Posted in Haibun with tags , on December 18, 2012 by sosui

At an age-old pond,
A frog leaps into water —
A deep resonance.

Basho is believed to have written this poem at his cottage in Fukagawa in Edo (now Tokyo). It is difficult to imagine what kind of place it was. Basho has written several short haibun pieces about this cottage, in one of which he says:

“My grassy cottage is at a lonely place called Mitsumata in Fukagawa where two rivers come together as a fork. I can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, and nearby, large boats sailing to and from far-off places. Morning waves disappearing in the wakes of the boats as soon as they row farther away, and evening winds blowing dream-like through the withered leaves of overgrown reeds make me very lonesome. I sit facing the moon, deploring my always-empty sake barrel. I sleep lamenting the stiffness of my bed.”

Oars hitting the waves,
I feel my guts stiffen in the cold,
Shedding tears at night.

I do not know how accurate this description of his cottage is. Basho is quoting a number of poems from classical poets, both Japanese and Chinese, to emphasize his loneliness. Considering the fact that his cottage was burned down in the Great Fire of Edo in 1682, it may not have been so isolated from other houses. We have no description of the pond by Basho himself, but we know his cottage was owned by his disciple, Sugiyama Sanpu, who was by profession a fishmonger. The pond was originally his fish pond and the cottage was built for its keeper, but it was out of use by the time Basho occupied it. So probably, it was overgrown with reeds and weeds. Actually, Basho lived not far from the estuary of the Sumida. Big rivers tend to form a delta before they empty themselves into the sea, and the whimsical movement of the water creates many ponds. Basho’s pond was probably one of these. A book called Edo Meisho Zue (Famous Sights of Edo) has a drawing of Basho’s cottage by Hasegawa Settan. This book was published nearly a century and a half after Basho’s death, so its accuracy is doubtful. However, it is this book that tells us Basho’ s cottage was once for the keeper of Sanpu’s fish pond.

By a shady pond
I flipped over a black newt —
Its belly was red.

Quiet afternoon,
Coupled dragonflies slumber
On water lilies.

Basho’s statue sits
Facing modern high rises
And an iron bridge.

Drops of rain shining
On the blue iris flowers —
A June luxury.

Postscript: This concludes my haibun series, “The Sound of Water”. Thank you very much for reading them with patience. Thank you, Tito, for brushing up my English. My best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. The world is full of troubles, but let me pray that peace will prevail throughout the coming year. (NY)

The Sound of Water (IV): Lakes and Ponds 4

Posted in Haibun with tags , on October 17, 2012 by sosui

.. Marshes and ponds are found almost everywhere in Japan. At the foot of volcanic mountains, we have large areas of marshes dotted with little pools, which are called ‘chito’ to distinguish them from other ponds. I saw such areas at the foot of Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Gassan. Sometimes these marshy areas are referred to as ‘gakida’ (starving ghosts’ rice-fields). Poor starving ghosts! They would surely not be able to satisfy their stomachs with the harvests of these tiny ponds! Their beauty, however, can fill our hearts, especially at night when the stars are reflected in them. Spiritually, many of us are starving ghosts, and we are healed when we stroll among these ponds admiring their beauty.

.. At the foot of Mt. Hiuchi in Oze stretches mile after mile of marshy land dotted with ponds, where in early spring, mizubasho (skunk cabbages) bear their pure white flowers, and in summer, kisuge (yellow day-lilies) spread their golden flowers. These marshy areas are isolated worlds and very difficult to get to, for cars are not allowed. At Oze, an attempt was made to build a road to improve access, but this was abandoned in 1971. Visitors are requested to walk on wooden planks and not to step on the ground. These marshy areas are extremely vulnerable, so these precautions are necessary to save the natural environment. I visited Oze in late May, but there was still some snow even on the planks. I fell over a couple times. The tour guide, who had told us to be careful, even had a fall! However, I was able to enjoy some early flowers of skunk cabbage. Their beauty, I thought, comes from their strength. It is a wonder to me how they can grow and bloom in the ice-cold water of the mountain marshes.

.. Quite different kinds of ponds are found in rice-growing villages – small reservoirs built to feed water into the rice-fields. Some are made by damming up little streams coming out of the hills, and others, in low-lying places, by building an enclosing bank. These ponds usually abound with small fish, frogs, salamanders, and reptiles. I used to fear these ponds, especially when they were hidden in dark corners. One time, I saw a snake aiming for a frog which was paralysed in fear. Another time, I saw a huge dragonfly called ‘oni-yanma’ claiming the pond as its territory. When it alighted on a bamboo twig, the branch bowed reverently as if to pay the insect homage. In the village where I was evacuated during World War II, big salamanders known as ‘hanzaki’ used to live in the ponds and streams. Hanzaki means ‘half torn’, a strange name for an animal. Nobody knew exactly what the name meant, but it certainly created fear in my mind. It is an ugly animal with a big head and tiny eyes set wide apart. Its movement is very slow, as if it were very lazy, but when it opens its big mouth and swallows a fish, it moves faster than lightning. Another animal that I often saw in these ponds were the frogs called ‘mori-aogaeru’. Just as the name suggests, they are green frogs living in deep forests. In early summer, they make foamy nests on twigs hanging over ponds and lay eggs in them. When baby frogs are born, they automatically slip down into the pond below.

.. This reminds me of the following poem by Basho:

…….. At an ancient pond,
…….. A frog leaps into water —
…….. A deep resonance.

(Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui), to be continued)

The Hang of Things

Posted in Haibun, Summer with tags , , on September 14, 2012 by Tito

.. Many people regard the act of getting from A to B as basically a hassle. OK: a complete chore! They only wish to get to their destination fast. My dear wife can be like this, but I am different. I enjoy the  p r o c e s s  of travel itself; although, as you may see from this account, at times it is full of uncertainties. When Basho decides to record the fleas biting and the horse pissing by his pillow, I sense he felt so, too.

…… Loitering hungrily
…… Towards the end of Ramadan –
…… A town of meat and fruit.

.. As long as we were with our dignified, quiet-eyed driver, Mr. Gunapala, we were ‘in the know’. We do not speak Singhalese (the language of Ceylon). He reminded us that in just a few more days Ramadan would end. As we passed through Akurana on the climb towards Kandy, the ambience on the high street seemed to be one of a n t i c i p a t i o n. Akurana, a Moslem corner in a largely Buddhist world. Yes, neighbouring Kandy even boasts a temple housing a holy relic of the Buddha’s very own tooth. (Where are the others, I’d like to ask).

.. Although, as a young degree-bound vagabond, I had once stayed there quite happily for a day or two (thirty-five years ago), this time my experience of Kandy was almost entirely of its Bus Station – with a short, aborted foray to the Train Station for light relief.

.. Gunapala had slightly miscalculated the likelihood of us being able to jump on a bus to Nuwara Eliya1, a mere “two to three hours up the highland road”. A room in the Tea Bush Hotel had long ago been booked. In Kandy, Mr. G’s services would end and we would say goodbye. The last bus had left, however, twenty minutes before, and our traipsing forlornly, rucksacks shouldered, backwards and forwards, left and right (there was no train either), had attracted the attention of every tuk-tuk2 driver in town. We were beset by drivers offering the hairpin, nighttime climb all the way to the hill station in the clouds for 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees, or thereabouts – affordable, but… it was due to rain, to get cold, and we thought of the fumes, the danger and the noise… and declined them all, including the one with curly hair and an honest smile, who had seemed for a while to have had karma on his side.

.. Eventually, with our cellphone now out of juice, unable to cancel our N.E. room, on a muddy, unlit roadside in nearby Peradeniya, as the rain came pattering down, we negotiated (through Gunapala) with two men in a clapped-out Nissan van to drive us across the incognito highlands and try to find our hotel. Trouble was: the vehicle seemed to have two gearboxes, and the gangly, very young driver failed to find any notch at all three or four times in the first few miles… resulting in the van regularly breaking down. The two men discussed ways and means. For sure, it was not their vehicle.

.. After half an hour, though, everyone – us included – seemed to get the hang of things, and an easier silence, found somewhere deep in the thudding recesses of an over-straining engine, permeated through and joined our own inward acceptance of fate. We now dozed, waiting without language for some sign we might be nearing our destination… on the verge of myth.

…… Through tired eyes
…… One valley, full
…… Of pearl-like lights.

1 the highest town in Sri Lanka
2 motorbike taxi