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.

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 Last of My Wandering Journeys – Part IX Ashikaga Girls

.. On my way home, I took another deluxe train, this time to Tochigi. There, I found I had to change to an ordinary commuter train to get to Takasaki, where I live. The latter was practically empty, so I occupied two whole seats reserved for elderly people, and fell asleep.

.. Somewhere near Ashikaga, however, I was awakened by the noise of high school girls getting on the train. They all sat down and pulled out their smartphones. I had no way of knowing what they were doing with their phones, but they were so intent on their operations that no one talked or laughed. The whole train was as silent as a prison, and I was rather perturbed by this. When I was young, trains were full of noise.

.. Before long, the girls began to leave the train, in threes or fours, disembarking without even saying goodbye. Some girls, though, stayed on board for a long time. After more than an hour, when the train reached Takasaki, I still had a few of them around me. I wondered why they had to travel so far every day and what they would expect to learn at school. But both of these questions were beyond my own capacity to answer.

A fine autumn day—
My highland river journey
Full circle, achieved.

The tour is over,
Yet my heart, still a-dancing
With the autumn leaves.

The Last of My Wandering Journeys – Part VIII Kinu River Descent

.. Next morning, I rose early and went to the station, for I wished to descend the Kinu River in a boat. I had taken boat trips down rivers at many places and had always enjoyed myself immensely. Basho, too, had gone down the Mogami River in a boat.

.. There was a boat leaving at nine, so I thought I’d best go to the boathouse by taxi to catch it. But the woman taxi driver said to me, in heavily accented Japanese, “The boathouse is only five minutes’ walk from here. Look, you can see it around the corner! Why don’t you walk and save your money?” I was not sure if she was saying this out of kindness or if she preferred not to do short distances, but she was so firm in her attitude that I decided to follow her advice! Although I had to go down an awkward flight of steps, I did reach the boathouse in time, and walked down the final steep slope to the river. Some passengers were already in the boat, but there was plenty of space, so I stretched out my legs and leaned back comfortably against the side of the boat.

.. Soon we started to move, passing a couple of shallow rapids where the boat scraped the sands and stones of the river bed. A little later, we had showers of spray coming down on us! This was indeed an exciting way of starting a boat trip.

The foaming rapids —
A young boatman braced himself
Before going down.

.. We soon reached a pool, where the boat slowed. The older boatman told us to look ahead. Our eyes lighted upon a soaring pillar of white granite, sharply pointed at the top. This is known as Shield Rock. At this point, though, it looked more like a rocket waiting for lift-off. When the boat moved farther downstream and came alongside the Rock, its middle part did indeed look very much like a square shield. As we passed it by, the older boatman muttered jokingly that our journey had now come to an end! At the time, I did not really understand what he had meant. But later I realized that he was implying that the whole journey had no other scenery as fine as that of the awesome Rock.

.. At one point, the boat passed beneath a suspension bridge. We noticed some people on this bridge, but it was so high up that they appeared only as dots. The older boatman said, “Wave back”. And so we all did.

.. The last part of the voyage was moving through a reservoir behind a dam. Here, the boat had to be towed by another one equipped with an engine. At the end of our journey, everyone got up and left the boat. I too tried to stand up, but found my legs were numb! A young tourist saw me struggling and offered me his hand. He pulled me up with some difficulty. Another tourist helped me onto the pier. I gave both men my heart-felt thanks.

A great granite cliff —
I gaze up at it, laid back
In a river boat.

A bridge, high above —
Though the tourists looked like dots,
They were all waving.

.
To be continued …

The Last of my Wandering Journeys – Part VII Dragon King Gorge in Autumn Dusk

.. My next stop was Ryuou-kyo (Dragon King Gorge) in Tochigi Prefecture. I got off the luxury train at a small station perched between two tunnels. Fortunately, I spotted a row of lockers on the platform, and placing all my belongings in one of them, climbed to the exit. There were two or three souvenir shops, but no sign to show me the way to the Gorge. I spied a stone torii (shrine gateway) beyond the shops, and believing it to be the entrance to the Dragon King Shrine, I began to descend a steep, tricky trail. My original intention had been to hike all the way down to the river, but I found it dangerous to walk on the trail in half-light. Although still only about four o’clock, the foliage above my head was so thick that everything was dimmed. At a certain point, from where I could see the shadow of the shrine and a cascade coming down from a rock nearby, I decided to turn back.

.. Before I did so though, for a few moments, I stood there thinking about the fate of the Dragon King. The story is that his shrine had originally been at Lake Benten, high on Mt. Keicho, but leaving that place, that he had then wandered for some years … before he came to be enshrined at the present location. It is said that a rainbow can be seen at the waterfall on fine days, but there was no sunshine when I saw it.

Standing in darkness —
The roar of the waterfall
Sinks into my guts.

“Show me a rainbow,”
I howl to the Dragon King —
There is no reply.

.. Returning to the station, I took a local train to Kinugawa Onsen. This was another comfortable one, with large red seats, which enabled me to stretch out my tired legs. When I reached my hotel, I had another surprise. Although I had booked a single room, I was given a ten-mat room with two beds placed in an anteroom attached to it. It seemed to me that a group of ten people would have easily been able to sleep there! Perhaps this says something about the changing styles of travel in Japan? Formerly, people used to travel in groups on company excursions, but nowadays they tend to travel as small family units. The number of solitary travellers like me has also been increasing.

.. After enjoying a pleasant dip in the hot spring, and a buffet dinner (known as a ‘Viking’ dinner in Japan, perhaps originating from smorgasbord), I selected my bed and fell soundly asleep. In my dream, though, the Dragon King appeared, and spoke to me:

“As a river god
I love blue, but in anger
Become reddish brown!”

.. I prayed to him, “Kindly pacify your anger by tomorrow and show me a beautiful contrast between your true blue and the flamboyancy of the autumn leaves.”

.

To be continued …

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

Balloon at Cape Irago

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)

波音の墓のひそかにも
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)

My Trip to the North: 4. Lake Usori & the Land of Bliss

Emerging from the region of the Hells, I now came to the beautiful shore of Lake Usori, a large crater lake surrounded by steep mountains, with names such as Mt. Screen and Mt. Overturned Cauldron. The shoreline was one of white sand. They call it Gokurakuhama, the shore of the Land of Bliss. I was told that the name of the lake had derived from the Ainu word meaning ‘peaceful bay’, and that ‘Usori’ had turned into ‘Osore’. I thought this was a very ironic corruption, for ‘Osore’ means ‘fear’. The lake should not be thought of as a perfect paradise, however, for its water is acidic and only a single species of fish can live there. Just looking at it, though, the lake was surely beautiful enough for a gateway to the Land of Bliss.

……… The wind from the hills
……… Carried away from my nose
……… That smell of sulphur.

…………………….. Beyond the white shore,
…………………….. A belt of emerald green
…………………….. Lit by summer sun.

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

.. 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.

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

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.

My Trip to the North: 1. Tsugaru Strait

Compelled by my desire to see the Tsugaru Straits, I took a ferryboat from Hakodate to Oma. I first went to look at the Mashu Maru, a retired ferryboat which used to connect Hakodate with Aomori. It was a large boat, but it looked rather lonely moored at a pier. I thought of the tragedy of the Toya Maru caused by a typhoon: the boat sank killing more than one thousand people including the captain. The ferryboat I took was much smaller than the national railway ferryboats, but it was elegantly constructed. The room reserved by the travel agent for our group was an unfurnished carpeted room. I decided to spend most of my time in a chair on the deck. The weather was good. I was able to enjoy the blue sky, the blue sea, and the blue mountains.
Having left behind the red lighthouse standing at the end of a breakwater, our boat sailed along beneath the steep slopes of Mt. Hakodate. The Big-Nose Promontory was a sharp cliff, black in most places but dotted with white spots. I thought it might be made of ageing limestone. The boat went round this promontory, allowing us to see another rocky place called the Stand-and-Wait Promontory, where the famous poet, Ishikawa Takuboku, has his grave. As the ferryboat sailed into the Tsugaru Strait, unexpectedly, dolphins appeared on the port side as if to welcome us. They came and went so suddenly I did not have time to count them, nor to take their picture, but I regarded this welcome as a special bonus.

………. Sharper than arrows,
………. They cut the dark brine, splashing —
………. A pod of dolphins.

(Sosui is Nobuyuki Yuasa)