SOME MORE WINTER HAIKU

I thought of putting in some Spring haiku, but we are getting some light snow today, and it has been overcast all day—very wintery looking out there. Here are some haiku from 2006 – 2007 (I don’t think I have shared any of these ones yet):

 

雪雲り

夕方に

町の光や

 

Yukigumori

yuugata ni

machi no hikari ya

 

Snow clouds

in the evening

the village lights!

 

I love how the lights of a village or town contrast against the darkening gray overcast sky of an early winter’s evening. Or in the late evening, after the sun has gone down, glow against the low hanging clouds, heavy with snow. Yukigumori could also be translated as, ‘threatening to snow.’

 

雪雲り

日暮れに

遠寺の鐘

 

Yukigumori

higure ni

toudera no kane

 

Snow clouds

at day’s end

a distant temple bell

 

 

雪の朝

流れ星の

静かさ也

 

Yuki no asa

nagareboshi no

shizukasa ya

 

snowy morning

the stillness

of a shooting star!

 

Most likely this would be in the very early morning before sunrise, though potentially it could be a brighter one in the early light. I have experienced the quiet hiss of a shooting star that many people report (and science can’t quite explain). That hiss is a silence of its own. On the other hand, when they are completely silent, there seems to be something special about that silence too. As it plummets towards earth, you know that a rock travelling at a very high speed, is melting under intense heat into nothing but minute particles of black iron, and yet this climactic event (climactic for the rock), happens in utter silence, and it lasted for only a brief moment.

I actually composed this one after watching a large shooting star fall towards snowy peaks across a mountain valley, when I happened to walk out on a veranda at 2:00 in the morning, while visiting my mom & dad’s condo up in Breckenridge Colorado. This was in October 2007, and I half expected to see one. Because, the year before I had stepped out onto their condo veranda on a Sunday night in October, about the same time, only to see a shooting star. A week later I was up in Breckenridge again and on a Saturday, about the same time, the same thing happened again. That was three times in a row, so I began stepping out more often—but alas, it has never happened again.

 

大雪の

人もなく道

神さびた

 

Ohyuki no

hito mo naku michi

kamisabita

 

A big snow

the road void of people

serene

 

Or another translation:

 

A big snow

the empty road

touched by the gods

 

There are a lot of ways we could say kamisabita, and I don’t know if any of them do justice to the word. Kami is god or gods, sabiru can mean mature, or mellow, but it can also mean to rust, and to be lonely. But it can be a very special loneliness connected to the Japanese appreciation of simplicity and the rustic. Sabi, in the latter case, is one of those words that does not have an English equivalent. Another translation for kamisabita is hallowed. Or, I could also use, ‘filled with the gods,’ for the last line.

 

重い雪雲

支えるか

老い松也

 

Omoi yukigumo

sasaeru ka

oimatsu ya

 

the heavy snow clouds

does it hold them up

–the ancient pine tree?!

 

Oimatsu is simply a very old pine, another word would be the aged pine tree. In the initial interpretation of this, it is an aesthetic experience of the tree against the clouds. But old trees and other old things of nature, are especially filled with kami—the shinto gods. As an animist belief system, everything has kami within it, but the old things have come into their own way with there kami spirit. Perhaps we could say that they are so filled with kami that they outwardly manifest that in the gnarls of their trunks and branches and the silent strength such old things portray. To hold up the clouds demonstrates that silent, god-filled sense of strength. We could take it even further though—clear across Eurasia, the tall straight pine trees seem to connect with the World Tree, the Axis Mundi—-the celestial center of the world that pierces from the underworld, into our world, and then into the upper worlds. It is the portal of the divine, where spirit connects to us, and we can possibly connect to spirit. The big giant cedar pines in Japan certainly look as if they could be such a portal and universal center. I have a book called Nippon Shinwa (Stories of the Japanese gods) which has the only true Japanese scriptures—the Kojiki and Nihongi—-in it, and explores and discusses these very old myths. As I recall, there is a Pillar God who is connected with the creation of the structure of the universe—-and seems related to these old cedar pines.

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THE TOHOKU EARTHQUAKE

(This was originally posted March 13, 2013, on the other website)

It was around this time—two years ago—March 2011, that Japan experienced the most powerful earthquake ever recorded (at least in modern times). It moved the Japanese main Island, Honshu, Westward so many centimeters and was followed by a horrific tsunami. I have TVJapan as part of my satellite package, and so I got to see first hand a lot of the aftershocks and so forth—at least as good as NHK could broadcast it–as I recall there was a time when even the broadcasts were knocked out—except for the emergency broadcast system.

My sister-in-law happened to be in Tokyo at the time. I mentioned to her before she left, a few days earlier, that there had been an unusual amount of earthquakes recently, “…and I wouldn’t want to go to Japan right now.” Tokyo is still waiting for that next Great Kanto Earthquake. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to come home was that I experienced a large earthquake–over 7—in the Philippines, and I decided that I didn’t want to wait around for a large Tokyo earthquake that even back in the 1990’s was well overdue. Who knows? Maybe this 2011 earthquake released a lot of the stress under the Tokyo plates—-but no one really knows…

Anyway—it scared my sister-in-law so much she wanted to leave Japan as soon as possible. It was several weeks before she could get a flight out. She said that even the water in the hotel toilet splashed all over the floor it was so bad.

If you ever have a chance to watch the movie, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, I really recommend it. They talk about not only the pain and horror of the tsunami, but also the coming of spring, and how everyone was looking forward to viewing the cherry blossoms (hanami–literally flower viewing). But after this terrible disaster, the cherry blossoms took on a whole new meaning: of rebirth, renewal, and growth. But the Cherry blossom only lasts a short time, so it is also a deep symbol of the fleeting, temporal nature of life (See my previous post, YUGEN—A SPIRITUAL FEELING TO DEEP FOR WORDS).

On March 16th, 2011, moved by the terrible events, I composed several haiku:

 

春の朝
津波後
まだ死体あり

 

Haru no asa
tsunami ato
mada shitai ari

 

Spring morning
but after the tsunami
Still there are bodies.

 

Spring is normally a cheerful warm time in Japan. People are coming out of their houses, greeting each other, enjoying the sunshine after the cold bitter winter. It is certainly a time of new beginnings. But in the Tohoku (North Eastern) Region of Japan, the Spring of 2011 was an entirely different experience–a stunned realization of the horror that had hit them. Here is another one with a title:

 

地震
 
春の仙台
瓦礫には
答え無し

 

Jishin
 
haru no sendai
gareki ni wa
kotae nashi

 

Earthquake
 
Spring in Sendai
but in the rubble
there comes no answer.

 

However, even as they searched for survivors—March in Northern Japan is still cold—-it did snow within a day or two, hampering their efforts to find survivors.

 

瓦礫が
白く成る也
町の春雪

 

gareki ga
shiroku naru ya
machi no haru yuki

 

Ah! The rubble
turned white!
spring snow in the village

 

See my earlier post, DEEPER INTO THE FOREST for the sacred, and purifying, significance of the color white.

THE DISTANT TEMPLE BELL

Do you remember the Chinese poem, The Temple Bell, by Yuan Mei (1716 – 1798) that I posted a while back (See, THE BELL IN THE LONELY TEMPLE, CLOUD HIDDEN)? Here it is again:

 

Ancient Temple, monks all gone
the Buddha’s image fallen

 

The single bell
hangs high in evening’s glow

 

Sad, so full of music…
Ah, just one little tap!
But no one dares.

 

Here is another haiku along those same lines from Oct 2008:

 

冬の山
風に吹かれる
寺の鐘

 

fuyu no yama
kaze ni fukareru
tera no kane

 

The wintery mountain
blown by the wind
temple bell.

 

What image did that first bring to mind for you? A cold winter wind blowing on a mountain temple, while monks, bracing against the elements, ring the bell? Or was it a cold winter wind that rings the bell, in an old mountain temple, long abandoned like the one in the Chinese poem? The fact that the second line, blown by the wind, could refer to either the winter mountain, or the temple bell, is a good example of one of the aspects that gives haiku such subjectivity.

Here’s another haiku, this one from November 2006

 

雪の町
夜の静まりに
寺の鐘

 

yuki no machi
yo no shizumari ni
tera no kane

 

Snowy village
in the silence of the night
a temple bell

 

Yes, I love those temple bells. People who have never heard a Buddhist temple bell echo through the mountains, or across the fields, or even through the streets of a small village—don’t know what they are missing…

This one from November, 2002 relates to my favorite Chinese poem about being cloud hidden (also in that same previous post):

 

雲の中
山の庵に
初雪也

 

kumo no naka
yama no iori ni
hatsu yuki ya

 

Within the clouds
in the mountain hermitage.
The first snow!

 

Though most of us have never actually lived in a mountain hermitage, cloud hidden, I hope you have at least experienced a snowfall from the warmth of a mountain cabin—such stillness!

Here is one from December, 1999:

 

黒屋根に
重い雪雲
火の番也

 

kuro yane ni
Omoi yuki gumo
hi no ban ya

 

Black roofs and
heavy snow clouds.
The fire lookouts!

 

In Japan in the winter, the men of the local community take turns going out into the cold night and walking as a small group watching for fires, and warning the people of the neighborhood to be careful with their stoves and candles and all. Fire is a big danger in Japan, especially in the winter. Probably at least once a week, if not more, you’ll hear of a tragic death in a fire. There are a lot of wooden houses, and when a fire starts, those houses burn quickly. The fire lookouts (or whatever you want to call them), walk around the neighborhood alerting people with two sticks that are banged together making a large ‘tok’ sound. This is followed by a call to be careful—goyou—but it is called out in a fairly slow rhythm in a chant-like, eerie sounding voice by the whole group in unison: (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…”

It especially sounds eerie if you don’t know what they are saying or why. In years past they would stay out till late into the night, and watched for burglars and other night problems. They are probably a cry back to ancient times when the little farming villages needed lookouts for wild animals and enemies come to steal grain. Today they don’t stay out too late, and mainly do this in the winter.

Japanese roofs are all tiled in large beautiful black tiles. You can imagine the contrast between those black tiled roofs and the heavy snow clouds above them in the winter sky.

LOVE, INTIMACY, AND A DISTANT ISLAND VILLAGE

Here are some that you can take in an erotic sense, or a romantic one. These are from November 2006:

 

裸愛人
炉火あかし
反映し

 

Hadake aijin
robi akashi
hanei shi

 

Naked lover
reflecting
the red flame of the fire pit.

 

As you may recall from my earlier post—an irori is the fire pit that is in the center of old Japanese farm houses. A Ro is smaller and was just used for heating up water. The Ro is not necessarily a ‘fire pit’ but could be a hibachi-like pot for heating up water with charcoal and what not. It is still used today in tea ceremony. Robi is the flame and refers usually to the ro, but I think it can also imply the irori, but there is also the term ro akari which seems to be more appropriate for the larger irori. Ro is the same character in both terms. Akashi comes from aka—red—so it implies a glowing red. On the other hand, akarui does simply mean to be bright, or in this case, to glow…

 

愛人の胸
炉明かりに
表れる

 

Aijin no mune
Roakari ni
Arawareru

 

Lover’s chest
appears
in the glow of the firepit

 

Arawareru means to appear or to come into view. In this case, the lover could be either sex, depending on who the first person is (i.e. from whose perspective the haiku is subjectively experienced as). But to be more specific, I could say:

 

愛人の乳
炉明かりに
表れる

 

Aijin no chichi
roakari ni
arawareru

 

The lover’s breasts
in the light of the firepit
come into view

 

Chi also means milk, so chichi is very clearly, not a male’s breast. On the other hand, one might complain that this term for a ‘boob’ is a little too, how would I say—Motherly? But the biological goal of sex is motherhood. In any event, chichi could be used sexually as well.

 

冬霞哉
小屋の窓
炉火あかし

 

Fuyugasumi kana
koya no mado
robi akashi

 

Ah. The winter mist!
the window of the small shack
glows red from the ro

 

雪の町
夜の静まりに
寺の鐘

 

Yuki no machi
yo no shizumari ni
tera no kane

 

The snowy village
in the quiet of the night
a temple bell.

 

That last one might be too descriptive for the taste of a Japanese haiku expert. But it floods my senses with memories and feelings—staying in small villages in the Japanese countryside. One example is from a time I went to the small island of Miyajima just outside of Hiroshima. That is famous for the torii gate that stands out in the sea in front of Miyakojima jinja (Miyakojima Shrine)—if I recall the name correctly. This was made famous from a cover of National Geographic years ago. It was around New Years, and small towns have a bad habit of closing up fast. A friend of mine and I were trying to find a restaurant, but the cold streets were empty, and the shops had closed their shutters. As dusk fell we walked the empty streets, still snowy in places. We were hungry, but there was something very calming and special about those streets and the old wooden buildings and houses with their tiled roofs, in between pine trees and shrines. It was a small island and was therefore pretty much a mountain jutting out of the Bay. We knew everyone was inside these wooden dwellings, warm and relaxed—visiting with family (it was New Years after all). I was perfectly content to walk up and down that village in silence, and of course, sooner or later, there was the metallic, ‘gonnnnnnnnnng’ of the temple bell.

Eventually we did find a small convenience store. As night fell and it got dark we cooked some gyoza (dumplings) and a few other things in the kitchen of the hostel we stayed at. We were the only ones there as I recall. After eating, I just had to go back out into the cold and wander the streets some more. That was such a special place…

 

山深し
森にかくるる
冬の月

 

Yama fukashi
mori ni kakururu
fuyu no tsuki

 

deep in the mountain(s)
it tries to hide in the forest
the winter moon

 

That, of course, can be another spiritual one based on the archetypal motif of the moon, as I have written about in a few of my last posts.

MORE ON THE PATHOS OF A PROSTITUTE

Here is another one from that time—an idea for a haiku, because it doesn’t have a seasonal word and is one consonant too many:

 

老いの娼婦也
血を吐くと
遠寺の鐘

 

Oi no shoufu ya
chi o haku to
enji no kane

 

The aged prostitute!
coughs up blood
a distant temple bell.

 

For those of you who do not speak Japanese, ‘to’ means ‘and’ which means we could place an ‘and’ before the distant temple bell. Coughing up blood is never a good sign. In years past, it was usually a sign of advancing tuberculosis. The festering disease was killing the poor soul on a daily basis, as it dissolved the lungs into a dead mush. You knew the end was coming with mucus-filled coughing fits that became more and more bloody, over time you found it more and more difficult to breathe, eventually gasping for air that your lungs, filled with necrotized holes, could barely latch onto to feed into your increasingly oxygen-starved blood stream. In especially advanced cases, you didn’t cough up blood tainted mucus, you actually coughed up copious amounts of blood…

One of my attempts to make this into an actual haiku:

 

老いの娼婦也
血を吐くと
狐鳴き

 

Oi no shoufu ya
chi o haku to
kitsune naki

 

The aged prostitute!
coughs up blood
a fox cries out

 

The fox is a winter word, placing this back into the winter. The fox, of course is the Japanese trickster, and at a deeper level, it is a motif filled with sexual content. The fox would bewitch unsuspecting men–especially if they were wandering home through forests or the countryside. They would find themselves coming upon a beautiful woman or young girl, who would then seduce him. He would have a night of great sex, only to wake up, the following morning (if he still has enough energy to wake up), near death, to see the fox trotting off in its true animal form. The fox had taken all his yang (which, like for the Chinese, meant semen). They believed that if a man lost all his yang, he would die. (In fact, the secret to eternal life in China—the secret of all those immortals (what the Japanese called Sennin, and in Mandarin was called, Hsienjin) was for the man to accumulate yin, without releasing much yang. In other words, the man would have to bring women to orgasm, without releasing his own seed. If he successfully accumulated yin and retained his yang, it would cause his skull to grow as all this sexual yin and yang accumulates there. There was a time in China, when all the women of the household–wives, concubines, maids, daughters, were available to the master to help him achieve eternal life. Think about that the next time you see a Chinese statue with a high forehead. On the plus side, at least they placed a lot of focus on making their women satisfied, unlike Western man and his repressed sexuality of the Victorian Age, that left room for plenty of prostitutes, but it was all about satisfaction of the male. For the women, especially the wives, who were used for making children, it was simply her, ‘cross to bear’).

The prostitute was like the fox in many ways. Maybe her partners didn’t die, but the money left their hands–and there are plenty of Japanese stories of men who became obsessed with prostitutes. One story, made into the movie, ‘In the Realm of the Senses,’ was based on a true story that happened in Japan before World War II. The prostitute was as obsessed with her lover as he was with her. As their obsession grew, he ignored his own family, she her customers—they hardly left the room he rented at a Ryoukan (a Japanese Inn). But it eventually led to his death at her hands. Western man had the same motif as the fox—the succubus.

But the fox, like any trickster, provides a service and is important to the Japanese. The often very elaborate Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrines are to the fox god—a god of rice, abundance, and fertility (See my previous post, THE BELL IN THE LONELY TEMPLE, CLOUD HIDDEN). So again there are various levels of experiencing this haiku.

If you have ever heard a fox cry out, it is nothing like a wolf. It is a troubled call–it can include a whine, but it is a shrill, unsettling, troubled call–at least to our human sensibilities.

 

 

A LAMENT OVER THE PATHOS OF THE LIFE OF A PROSTITUTE

I wrote a bit on the pathos of life referencing the prostitute a few posts back. These are haiku I composed from November and December 2008:

 

冬の道
老いの松に
一人の娼婦

 

fuyu no michi
oi no matsu ni
hitori no shoufu

 

The winter road,
by the old pine tree
a lone prostitute.

 

冬の道
一人の娼婦
風の声

 

fuyu no michi
hitori no shoufu
kaze no koe

 

The winter road
a lone prostitute
voice of the wind.

 

The voice of the wind, is of course, the sound of the wind. I remember one early Saturday morning in Tokyo in February, I had missed the last train home (about 1:15) and stayed at a Big Boy restaurant or maybe a Denny’s–I forget what it was—somewhere in Shinjuku. They closed for cleaning about 4:45 as I recall, and the first train was a bit after 5:30. It was pretty cold as I made my way towards the train station, and I had to pass an area filled with love hotels, where rooms were paid for by the hour (actually 2 hours was a normal block of time. Though there was a special service time between 1:00 am and 7:00 am typically, where you could stay for about the same rate as a 2 hour block of time). A middle-aged woman in a purple trench coat stepped out of a corner, shivering, and asked me if I would like to get warm. I thought I heard her but I wasn’t sure? ‘Sumimasen?’ (I’m sorry?) I said to her (Surprised she would even attempt Japanese with me–most Japanese assumed I couldn’t speak it). She asked again if I wanted to go someplace warm, adding, with a bed.

She wasn’t that bad looking, and I felt sorry for her. But my Filipina wife is a very jealous type and she knew where I was, and what time I’d be home on the first train. ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘my wife’s waiting.’

‘We could go in there for a short time.’ pointing to the love hotel behind her. I took her hand, and held it between mine. It was ice cold. ‘I’m sorry. Maybe next time.’ I said, and headed on to the train station, leaving her to shiver in the corner of the street, trying to stay out of the wind. I wonder what she would have done if I took her over to a coffee shop and bought her a hot coffee, and let her warm up there? Of course, at 5:00 in the morning, there was no coffee shop open in Shinjuku, at least not back in the late 1980’s.

 

道の中
一人の娼婦
底冷え也

 

Michi no naka
hitori no shoufu
sokohie ya

 

In the middle of the road
a lone prostitute
Oh! the deepest cold

 

Sokohie means the coldest day or time of the year. The point of bitter cold. Being a humid climate in Japan, bitter cold there is not the dry cold of Colorado, where a coat and sweater will warm you up. In Japan it is a humid bitter cold that seeps down to the bones.

 

寺門前
娼婦の死体
露霜也

 

Jimon mae
shoufu no shitai
tsuyujimo ya

 

in front of the temple gate
the corpse of the prostitute
frozen dew!

 

Notice the beauty of nature juxtaposing the profane tragedy of life.

 

道中に
娼婦の死体
枯れ野月

 

Michi naka ni
shoufu no shitai
kareno tsuki

 

In the middle of the road
corpse of a prostitute
moon over the withered moor

 

This is actually a late fall haiku—the withered moor being a dead dry field.

 

底冷え也
闇に娼婦は
仏なり

 

sokohie ya
yami ni shoufu wa
hotoke nari

 

The coldest day of the year!
in the darkness the prostitute
becomes a Buddha

 

Hotoke is buddha, but it is commonly used to refer to someone passing on. The idea of calling a dead person a buddha comes from a Japanese concept that death purifies a person from the ignorance and lust that taints the living.

 

大雪也
夜道に娼婦
仏なり

 

Ohyuki ya
yomichi ni shoufu
hotoke nari

 

The big snow!
in the night road a prostitute
becomes a buddha

 

重い雪雲
血を吐く
娼婦が待つ

 

Omoi yuki gumo
chi o haku
shoufu ga matsu

 

Heavy snow clouds
the prostitute, coughing up blood
awaits.