I couldn’t manage to connect to WordPress from internet cafes while I was in Japan, so now that I’m back home, I’ll post some thoughts and images from the trip. I didn’t expect to have time to write any haiku while I was there, but I actually found that in the middle of seeing and doing so many things, composing a haiku could sometimes be a good way of focusing in on a single experience (at least for a few minutes).
My first night in Japan I fell asleep to the creaking of frogs from a nearby rice paddy and woke up to the chattering of birds. I went for a morning walk and watched rice being planted, then composed my first haiku of the trip as I sat in the back seat of a friend’s car on my way to lunch (at a French restaurant, of all places, where my first meal in Japan was vegetarian quiche). We drove past recently flooded rice fields where rows of new plants bent and twitched in the wind, while white egrets stood erect and motionless.
newly planted rice
green fingers tap in the wind
three patient egrets
(I don’t know if this comes across, but the contrast between the two, reminded me of the impatient eagerness of youth vs the knowing resignation of old age…??)
In Kyoto a couple days later, I walked through a bamboo forest and stopped by a basho (bannana leaf) plant (the plant for which the poet Basho took his name) near an old house once frequented by Basho (in the 17th c.). It seemed an appropriate spot to stop for a rest and a haiku moment.
in the bamboo grove
stripes of light and shadow
a nightingale sings
I heard the uguisu (Japanese nightingale) near a spooky old inari (fox messanger) shrine in the middle of the bamboo forest in an area called Sagano, near the Togetsukyo Bridge over the River Oi, which is the last stage on the old Tokaido Highway, a place that has been visited by pilgrims and other travellers for perhaps a thousand years (being used to Canada’s west coast, where recorded history is very recent, this thought blew me away).
On our last day in Kyoto, my friend and I walked down Pontocho Road (one of the traditional geisha areas). The street was so narrow, two people barely had room to pass.
rain drips from roof tops
along Pontocho Road
two umbrellas touch
Further along the road, we discovered a tiny temple and garden honouring thirty-something women and children killed and buried near the spot in the 16th c. after the male leader of their household fell out of favour with his uncle (Hideyoshi, the samurai lord who controlled power at the time) and was forced to commit seppuko. Kyoto is full of magnificant temples, shrines, castles, etc., but to me, history never felt as poignantly close as at this modest, easy-to-miss spot. My friend and I stopped to ring the temple bell and make an offering in memory of the murdered women and children, and I tried to put the experience into words as we sat on the train that night, returning to Suzuka.
beside the canal
in a small temple garden
the names of children