Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike IX

Fine as rice bran
the hillside rain:
tram station
in the woods
…. (Tito)

6 March, a day of lively weather. Three women, three men start out from Ninose heading upstream along the Kurama River. Two of the women have been ‘awarded’ martenitsa* brooches, sent to Tito a few days earlier by haiku poet-artist Venelina Petkova. On spying her first flowering tree of spring, the recipient must take it off and make a wish. But, on a day in which snow is in the forecast, will the two women get to see any blossom?

below the graveyard —
a fisherman casts
one shining line
…. (David)

After less than a mile, walking towards us come two more men – a father and son. The party of eight, now complete, soon passes another white paper-trimmed ritual wheel* as we enter the village of Kurama.

a flurry of snow
disappears in deep forest —
stippled sunshine
…. (Akihiko)

Sakuramochi* are bought and eaten at the foot of the broad steps leading up to Yuki Shrine, famed for its October Fire Festival. Eighth century priest, Saicho, had had a vision of Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, near here, so the pass over which we must now trudge goes by the name of Yakkozaka-toge 薬王坂峠, Medicine King Pass.

a tit’s chirp
opens the blue sky —
that spring blue!
…. (Akihiko)

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Descending steeply to the northwest, we come upon the village of Shizuhara.

One after the other
Snow and sunlight —
A white plum blooms
…. (Mayumi K.)

the high village
gusted by March wind —
peach blossom
…. (David)

Martenitsas have now been taken off and wishes made! The sky gods seem to be sparring – Rain, Sleet, Hail, Snow, Sun and Wind. Having first dutifully prayed at the village shrine, we seek shelter from another shower at a pavilion housing, amongst other things, New Year’s rice-straw cast-offs. We eat the lunches we have brought and enjoy the meteorological show. There is even a hint of a sleet-bow.

From blue skies
the Milky Way’s descended …
as a river of snow
…. (Margarite)

Three old cedars
reaching for the sky:
their heaven,
their earth
…. (Margarite)

We cross Shizuhara River on a bridge, the rounded granite outcrops of Mt. Kompira looming up ahead. The valley along which we are now walking soon closes down again, and the Isshu Trail begins a second climb – Ebumi Pass 江文峠.

Cresting the pass …
feeling the windblown snowflakes
smart on my face
…. (Tito)

After a wild descent, the Vale of Ohara now opens out before us. David takes us to Ebumi Shrine, to see the giant cryptomeria*, which wears a long sacred rope around its massive bole.

The moss-covered steps
To an ancient shrine —
Early spring snow
…. (Mayumi K.)

Giving thanks for the safe completion of this leg of our Kyoto mountain circuit, we head off along drystone walls and peer through the village gates of Ohara, our destination, catching glimpses of corners of gardens. Ahead of us rise the ramparts of Mt. Hiei; behind us, away to the north, the distant snowy ghost of Mt. Hira. The Takano River accompanies us with its merriment.

At the bus-stop, all perhaps now feel the glow of having lived with the Elements for a day in early March.

* Notes:
ritual wheel – (featured in the slideshow) indicating a prayer station for the Fire Festival
martenitsa – see here
sakuramochi – rice-cake stuffed with sweet azuki-bean paste and wrapped in a fragrant cherry-leaf
cryptomeria – sugi, a type of giant conifer

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VIII

Heavy snow had fallen all over Kyoto in the days before six intrepid haiku hikers gathered at Ninose, a tiny village next to Kurama. We found the northern hills still draped in sheets of white.

The local railway
gently winding to snow —
silent mountains
………. (Akihiko)

Our aim was to reach Himuro, an ancient centre of ice production for the imperial court. We had certainly chosen the right time of year. Paying brief respects to a kamakura (Japanese igloo) we began the long, steady climb of Mount Mukai. Throughout our hike we were treading on snow, grateful to follow the footsteps of the few hardy souls who had broken the trail on previous days.

The buck bolts
up the snowy riverbank
before my shutter clicks
………. (Richard)

Higher up, we reached Yonaki Toge (夜泣き峠) or Night-Wailing Pass. Here, the infant Prince Koretaka was pacified when his nurse prayed for relief to local gods, who advised her to place a piece of pine bark under his pillow.

Frozen under the snow
on a Kyoto hill —
ancient tears
………. (Margarite)

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Crossing the peak of Mount Mukai, we stopped for a chilly lunch at one of the few spots on the northern trail that offers a view across the city. Too cold to linger, we descended to the headwaters of the Kamo River. Gazing south along the river valley, it was hard to imagine the large city that lay hidden beyond the ridge. Climbing again, we entered Nusuttodani(盗人谷)or Thieves’ Canyon. This is one of the wildest spots on the Round Kyoto Trail, a dark and claustrophobic place where we were forced to stoop under innumerable fallen trees and hop over streams. But the deep snow added light to the valley, and lightened our mood.

Middle-aged folk
hurl snowballs back and forth,
sniggling
………. (Kazue)

Splattered over snow,
a blue mystery —
winterberries
………. (David)

All the way up
the Gorge of Thieves
tall trees
throw down ice
………. (Tito)

At the head of the valley we emerged into a blindingly white world. The tiny hamlet of Himuro, hidden away among the northern mountains, felt completely deserted, save for one barking dog and a rising line of smoke.

Blanketed in snow,
wreathed in wood smoke —
the icemakers’ village
………. (Tito)

We clambered through deep snowdrifts to the spot where, from ancient times, villagers stored ice in shallow pits. In June they uncovered the precious commodity and carried it over mountains, bringing a touch of summer cool to fortunate aristocrats in the capital.

Finally, we paid a visit to the snow-bound Himuro Shrine, dedicated to the God of Ice.

Flat and square
under the shrine roof,
a snow blanket
………. (Akihiko)

One adventure remained, as we were obliged to return by car over the high, and deeply frozen pass at Kyomi Toge (京見峠). Slithering and slipping on the treacherous road, we descended to a downpour of snow-melting rain.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VII

Having dodged another typhoon, we had fine if unseasonably muggy weather for our haike on Sunday 3 October. I led Tito, Mayumi, David, and Akihiko Hayashi on a hike through the northern Higashiyama hills, with Akira and Shigeko Kibi joining us at the beginning.

五月雨は 露か涙か 不如帰 我が名をあげよ 雲の上まで

An early-summer rain: but is it dewdrops or my tears? Little cuckoo, take my name up with you, high above the clouds!

The first signs of autumn tinged the foliage, and we were rewarded with a refreshing breeze as we took our lunch under a tree, with good views south to Mt. Daimonji, site of the previous Isshu Trail haike.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike VI

Typhoon weather forced postponement of our Kyoto Circuit Mountain Trail haiku hike from Aug. 9 to 10. Until that typhoon, we had had daily highs of 37-38C and the day after the haike we entered a period of unrelenting rains, so the 10th turned out to be a blissful window of fair weather, cooler and drier than anything on either side. Postponement, however, meant that we lost a couple of haikers (haiku hikers) to other commitments. Sorry for that.

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On the day, 5 haikers headed out from Keage Station in Higashiyama via Himukai Jinja, said to be one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines, a kind of mini-Ise for those who cannot get there. Near the entrance, we came across a friendly jewel beetle, tamamushi, who seemed to want to come along with us. We all walked through the slender Amano’iwatoya Cave and thence on and up through mountain woods towards a still-hidden skyline. The soundtrack to our walk was most beguiling. There was even a horagai-blower.

In a tall cypress forest,
pine twigs scattered
by yesterday’s storm
………. Tito

somewhere
among these hot hills
the sound of a conch
………. David McCullough

Like dewdrops below
Kyoto streets are glittering —
summer realization
………. Akihiko Hayashi

Cicadas and birds —
on a cool mountain breeze
their music melds
………. Margarite Westra

from the top of Mount Daimonji
my primal scream
over Kyoto
………. Duro Jaiye

The panorama from the summit of Daimonjiyama (466m) was superb – much of Kyoto, most of Osaka, a suspicion of the Inland Sea, Mts. Atago, Ikoma, Kongo, and even the cloud-capped Omine Range beyond Yoshino.

On the steep descent, we came upon a refreshing cascade at the head of Shishigatani Valley. After a brief stop there, we walked down into the vale as the sun began to set.

An impromptu haiku sharing was later held in a cafe near Ginkakuji. Deep red shiso (perilla) soda was its long, cool accompaniment. We look forward to seeing some of you on the Trail again for Part VII this autumn.

Kyoto Isshu Trail Part V

Fourteen Hailstones gathered at Yase in early May for the fifth in a series of poetic encounters with the Round Kyoto Trail. Speedily we rose to the heights of Mount Hiei.

from the cable car
we spot a deer in the trees —
it spots us back

Peter

Transported to a new perspective we gazed out over the Kyoto hills.

Bamboo grasses of Mount Hiei
bowing low
to their Arashiyama cousins

Kenji

Before long we could look over the great inland sea that lies on the far side of the mountain.

From the fresh green hills
young maple leaves
frame lake Biwa

Margarite

Intensity of green
piercing
this vaccination crisis

Kyoko

Traversing the western temple precincts we were captured by the solemn atmosphere of the holy mountain.

My prayer stone —
I leave it on a fence post
along this mountain trail

Duro

Offering a cherry flower
to Saicho —
the wind blows it away

Tito

Tranquil silence
in the thousand year old temple —
late camellia

Mayumi

Ashes in the sky
settling on the new spring leaves,
eternal peace found

Paul

Sunning on the perfumed mountain
by the peace bell —
sonorous resonance

Ursula

Along the trail, rich with the colours and scents of late spring, we discovered insectivorous flowers.

sucked in
by a pitcher plant –
a swarm of excited hikers

Richard

Striding over the mountain ridge we reached a high viewpoint where, for a thousand years, pilgrims have paused to pray for the well-being of the Emperor.

chestnuts presented
to the holy cedar tree —
wind shaken leaves

Minori

Descending toward Ohara the youngest member of our party, seven-year-old Noah, raced ahead with impish glee.

Running down the trails
falling so many times —
what a great day!

Noah

We had struggled over the highest and most difficult section of the Round Kyoto Trail. On the long descent our legs grew weary and our hearts heavy as we spoke of the travails friends and family have faced over the past year.

Recovering people,
ailing people,
stricken people …
and then the mountain ends

Tito

We came to rest at a riverside, taking time to enjoy shared friendship and the prospect of further adventures.

green leaves pushed apart —
those distant mountains
are so blue

Minori

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.

Kyoto Isshu Trail — Part III

Wed. 16 Sep. (a day earlier than planned because of weather concerns): I led Tito, Kazue and David on the third Kyoto Isshu Trail Haike of the year, meeting outside Kinkakuji and concluding at Togano-o near Takao. We walked up the road past Hidari Daimonji (the 大 character near Kinkakuji that features in the annual fires lit on the hills of Kyoto for Obon) and paid a quick visit to my new home before heading on upstream along the Kamiya River to the trailhead on the Tokaishizen-hodo (東海自然歩道), which soon links up with the Isshu Trail. There are many carpenters and joiners along this road, and also a jizo shrine with a delicious spring.

…. Cypress shavings smoulder
…. by the stream-side rowan —
…. berries, small this year
…………………………… Tito

Soon after beginning our trail ascent, we observed the remnants of devastation from the typhoon of two years ago, tree trunks lying like tossed ‘pickup sticks’ across the valley, and some still encroaching on the trail. Further evidence could be found at the marker, where the main route to Sawanoike Pond (沢ノ池) was closed due to a large landslide. However, we stepped over the warning tape and scrambled up an alternative route that David had found, coming across a beautiful yamamayuga (山繭蛾), a Japanese silk moth, slumbering on the far side of the yawning cavity left by the landslide. Close by, Tito tended to a near-forgotten shrine.

…. Dead end on the Kyoto Trail:
…. he brushes the cobwebs
…. from the bodhisattva
…………………………… Richard

– click on any photo to enlarge –

We approached the pond from the north along a forestry road, heading along its east bank, past the odd tent, until we reached the far end of the gourd-shaped body of water, a reservoir fashioned in the Edo Period to provide for Kyoto. No obvious evidence of the construction remains; it is a charming place, reflecting the sky and the slowly turning foliage, though its waters are murky. We all braved them for a refreshing swim, some emerging more scathed than others.

…. Mountain afternoon —
…. his toes now nibbled
…. by fish in the lake
…………………………… Tito (after/for David*)

Over lunch we sat in admiration of such a tranquil, enigmatic spot mere kilometres from downtown Kyoto. Tito told us there had been a village here in Jomon times.

…. The wide green lake
…. skimmed by red dragonflies:
…. who will see this
…. when I have gone?
…………………………… David

The sun came out, as if urging us onward, etching the trees luminously on the water’s surface and raising temperatures to the low-30s. It made for a hot walk along the ridgeline to the south of the lake, with fine views of Kyoto and the rolling hills of Saga as we headed west towards Takao. As we emerged onto the Fukugatani-rindo (福ヶ谷林道), David zoomed off ahead of us to attend a university Zoom meeting. We three remaining haikers sauntered down to Togano-o (栂ノ尾), where we took another dip, this time in the pristine Kiyotaki River.

…. on the hook on the end of the line by the rock on the river
…. someone’s sweetfish** dinner
…………………………… Richard

We spent a silent moment thinking of our recently departed haiker friend Hisashi, then had a leisurely drink and a snack at one of the pretty restaurants looking out across the river, brushing up our poems and pondering the day’s refreshing excursion. A JR bus took us back into Kyoto.

* David’s earlier haiku, to which this is a complement, was Mountain morning — / my face tickled / by spiderwebs
** ayu

The Path of Birds: Kyoto Isshu Trail — Part II

May 17.

Five of us met, carefully masked, to walk the eastern section of the Kyoto Circuit Trail, from Fushimi Inari to Keage. With an end to the lockdown in sight more people were out, but the approach to Fushimi Shrine still quiet.

Sparrow-meat stalls*
closed by the Virus:
sparrows celebrate   (Tito)

Japanese visitors shared friendly, if slightly cautious, smiles as we walked through the shrine grounds.

Vermilion-faced foreigners
trooping down
the wrong torii tunnel   (Richard)

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Climbing past myriad shrines, fox statues and altars to the gods, we wound our way over Mount Inari.

Known to steal even
the shrine’s lighted candles,
crows in a spring wood    (Tito)

At Sennyuji we passed through an area of many imperial tombs, including the grave of Komei. His son, the Emperor Meiji, penned the following:

⽉の輪のみささぎまうでする 袖に松の古葉もちりかかりつつ
Tsukinowa no misasagi mode suru sode ni matsu no furuha mo chiri kakari tsutsu
Here at Ring of the Moon Cemetery
I visit the ancestral tombs
and onto my sleeves
ancient pine needles
are falling, falling*

For a while, we skirted the edge of the city before climbing onto the hills that rise above Kiyomizu Temple.

treetop birds —
even their laughter
keeps a safe distance    (David)

The day ended with a visit to Himukai Daijingu, the Sun-Facing Shrine, a source of holy water that once helped to ward off a ninth century plague.

At the foot of Himukai Shrine–
a white cockerel*
clucking under my caresses    (Richard)

Notes:
*Fushimi Inari is famous for its stalls selling grilled sparrows;
*falling pine needles indicates early summer;
*cockerels are sometimes kept at Shinto shrines dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu.

Kyoto Isshu Trail – Part I

On Mar. 31, in spite of the corona virus scare, three Hailstones (of eight solicited) did actually hike about 14km of the Kyoto Circuit Trail between Takao and Arashiyama, much of it beside or overlooking water – Kiyotaki Stream and later Hozu River from the gorgeside trail on Mt. Ogura.

The mountain cherries were coming into bloom. Packed lunches were eaten on a huge rock in Kiyotaki Stream. Two of the hikers managed a few haiku, a flavour of which is given below.  Once the virus subsides, we hope to do some more of these not-too-vigorous hikes together, next time perhaps on the Higashiyama hills.

…………… Almost vulgar
…………… the azalea hillside’s pink —
…………… where Kukai’s brush* was thrown ……. (Tito)

………………………… as I wait
………………………… for tomorrow’s storm
………………………… the mountain burns with flowers ……. (David)

 

 

 

.
.
……. Waylaid
……. by watching red camellias
……. floating down the stream … ……. (Tito)

………………………………………….. girls in masks
………………………………………….. taking selfies —
………………………………………….. how deep the valley ……. (David)

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE!
* Kukai (774-835), the founder of Jingoji, Japan’s first Shingon Buddhist temple, threw his brush, already dipped in ink, from one side of the valley to the other, where magically it wrote the name of the new temple on a plaque. Or so the legend goes!