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poems, etc.

Iga Ueno: Basho's birthplace (oh, and ninjas)

in the garden of
Basho's ancestral home -
a buttefly

Today, out to Iga Ueno. Kind of out in the sticks, you have to ride the Kansai/Yamatoji line way out past Nara to the Yamatoji line's end at Kamo, the pick up a tiny backcountry train to Iga Ueno. Then I switched to a Kintetsu train to go downtown.

To paraphrase Lou Gosset Jr.'s drill sergeant from An Officer and a Gentleman: "Only two things come out of Iga Ueno, boy: ninjas and haiku masters. And I don't see no sword on your back."

This is the home town, the birthplace, of Basho. And it's also known for it's ninjas, apparently they were allies of Ieyasu Tokagawa. Guess which one the lady at the tourist office assumed I was here to see? But she seemed pleasantly surprised when I inquired after the Basho museum instead of the Ninja one.

The museum is not much to see if you can't read Japanese, but I could enjoy some paintings on the scrolls, and it's closest to the station.

But Basho's birthplace and childhood home, preserved or restored, is something to see. The lady who worked there was so nice; only a bit of English but tried to explain as much to me as possbile. Took my photo outside the place for me. Looking into the courtyard garden - bam! butterfly, so the above haiku.

She gave me an English map of the local Basho sites. At her suggestion I visited the nearby Shinto shrine to which he dedicated his first collection of poems. The shrine is not a spectacular sight, but interesting that a fellow so associated with Zen would make such a gesture.

Basho, Biwa, and marching band

Basho walked
this road, I realize
and slow at the thought

tokaido road
monk on a motorbike
i love the universe

The gravesite of Basho, a small temple in Otsu. Next door a kindergarten, Japanese kids singing "happy birthday".

Turtles and some sort of ferret/cat keep him company.

At the grave of Basho
bees buzz in the flowers -

a song fragment

song fragment...

Give me a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Out all night 'till the first train runs
Yes a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Out all night 'till the light of the sun

stuck somewhere in a dead-end town
when fun is outlawed and can't be found
please take me away to a better place
a floating world and a pretty face

Give me a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Narrow streets and vibrant lights
Yes a Saturday night in Shinsaibashi
Take it from me it's quite a sight

a poetic pilgrimage

finger wet with tears
i touch the monument to
haiku poets

-- written at Rakushisha, Kyoto

A poetic pilgrimage today. Back out to Arishiyama, this time with the intent to visit Rakushisha, the reconstructed cottage of haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Kyorai was a friend and student of Basho, who said of Kyorai that he was "in charge of haiku in Western Japan."

Some of his haiku (gathered from the internet):

Chanting and humming / gongs immerse the green valley / in cool waves of air

Returning from a funeral / I saw this very moon / high above the moor

Awakening faith / At the time when blossoms / Are just in the bud.

Sadly fading / its light on my palm - / a glowworm

Trees as well as stones / glaring in my sight - / heat wave

I'm coming, I yelled / yet knocking on the gate - / it's snowing

Rakushisha literally means "Cottage of the Fallen Persimmons". Apparently, Kyorai had a bunch of fruit trees with a bumper crop expected, and had made arrangements to sell it. But a storm blew up one night, and knocked all the persimmons to the ground. (Arishiyama means "stormy mountain".)

When Kyorai saw the damage the next day, and saw the mountain through the now-bare trees, he had an awakening experience (even if an expensive one, since he had to pay back advance payment on the fruit.)

Basho stayed at the cottage three times, in the late 1600s. So the place has some gravitas in the haiku world.

So much so, I found (and this wasn't in the guidebook) that there's a monument to haiku poets in the garden. This "haijin to" (haiku poets memorial) gorinto (five-stone monument, a traditional form often found in graveyards representing the five elements - in Japanese thinking, earth, water, fire, wind, and heaven/void) is dedicated to all haiku poets of the past, present, and future.

Well, having written a few haiku myself, I figure that's a monument to us, not a monument to them, if you see my meaning, so I got a little teary-eyed. Touched my eye, then touched the stone, finger damp with a tear.

A poem stone next to the monument (added later, I think) reads:

the spring rain
heaven and earth here
the monument to haiku poets

haru no ame
ame tsuchi koko ni
haijin to

temple bell

a haiku (or haiku-esque poem) from yesterday:

the temple bell
so loud
I jump!

sex (or the lack thereof) and the single gaijin

Back out to Kyoto today, on the Hankyu train now...

So Friday, after I got back home from Kyoto I decided to bike down to Shinsaibashi and go out for the evening (it being Friday night and all). Ended up at Cinquecento. Randomly met another one of Eric's co-workers - on Wednesday a new guy from Australia, Rob, had turned up at the dojo, he's a teacher at KIS, now Friday I met Kendel, another KIS teacher, from New Zealand.

A Japanese girl a few stools down decided to introduce herself. Introduce herself rather vigorously, one might say. She was nice to talk to, seemed an outsider in her own country, a hardcore punk rock fan, lonely, and I was happy to talk to her (even as, I must admit, I was eying other women). But I just wasn't interested in taking her home, as she quite clearly suggested. (Two warning signs that, IMHO, one should be very careful about getting involved with someone are the name or logo of a band tattooed on their body, and cutting scars. While neither of these are absolute deal-killers - people do change, after all, and get left with regrettable tattoos and scars after the fact - the presence of both warrants extreme caution.)

"Do you like Japanese girls?" she asked.

"Sure. I like all kinds of girls - Japanese girls, American girls, whatever." In my life I've gone from a hamburger-lover to a vegan, from a Catholic to a Zen Pagan, but I had it figured out real early that I liked girls. It was certainly never a matter of "choice", as some homophobes would have it - I was born heterosexual and seem stuck that way, even if logic suggests we'd all be better off bi (and thus maximize our chances of a date).

Kurt Vonnegut has left us

I just heard on BBC World TV that Kurt Vonnegut has passed on, died, expired, left us.

I recently read Mother Night on the plane over to Japan. In his introduction to that novel, he wrote:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvellous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.


There's another clear moral to this tale, now that I think about it: When you're dead, you're dead.

And yet another moral occurs to me now: Make love when you can. It's good for you.

Nara: art museum, deer, meeting a Shinto priest

Today's psudeo-haiku:

sacred pilgrimage
nara temples
the smell of deer poop

Today: back to Nara. Went to see the special exhibit at the National Museum on "Shinto Gods and Buddhist Deities" , which was definitely cool. (Though I could have used more English explanation - but not their fault I don't read Japanese, now is it?) Took about 2 1/2 - 3 hours to go through, so I'm glad I went last week to see the main exhibit (indeed, it was valuable background for someone not familiar with esoteric, Shingon, and Pure Land Buddhism, and their proliferation of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Myou-ou, Tenbu, and so on.)

Nearby, in Nara Park, is Kasuga Grand Shrine - which, according to the exhibit was one of the places the Shinto gods came to Earth. I stuck my head in before - the grounds are beautiful. This time I paid to actually enter the shine area, or at least the part of it open to tourists...pretty, but not all that exciting. So I headed over toward some little shops in front of Todaiji, bought some food there for dinner (a roasted yam, some of those great kusamochi, and some biscuits for the deer), and thought I'd walk back over into the hills behind the shrine a bit.

Wandering along the paths near the shrine, had the most amazing "coincidence" or "calling" or something...

a haiku

Today's true moment:

reading Buddhist sutras
I burn my dinner
no enlightenment here!

Emerson on Poetry

How is it that I have reckoned myself a poet all these years, and yet
not read this?

For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire
and torch-bearers, but children of the fire, made of it,
and only the same divinity transmuted and at two or three
removes, when we know least about it.


Too feeble fall the impressions of nature
on us to make us artists. Every touch should thrill.
Every man should be so much an artist that he could
report in conversation what had befallen him. Yet, in
our experience, the rays or appulses have sufficient
force to arrive at the senses, but not enough to reach
the quick and compel the reproduction of themselves in
speech. The poet is the person in whom these powers are
in balance, the man without impediment, who sees and
handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole
scale of experience, and is representative of man, in
virtue of being the largest power to receive and to


For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument
that makes a poem,--a thought so passionate and
alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal
it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature
with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal
in the order of time, but in the order of genesis
the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a new
thought; he has a whole new experience to unfold; he
will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be
the richer in his fortune. For the experience of each
new age requires a new confession, and the world seems
always waiting for its poet. I remember when I was
young how much I was moved one morning by tidings that
genius had appeared in a youth who sat near me at
table. He had left his work and gone rambling none
knew whither, and had written hundreds of lines, but
could not tell whether that which was in him was
therein told; he could tell nothing but that all was
changed,--man, beast, heaven, earth and sea. How gladly
we listened! how credulous! Society seemed to be
compromised. We sat in the aurora of a sunrise which
was to put out all the stars. Boston seemed to be at
twice the distance it had the night before, or was
much farther than that. Rome,--what was Rome? Plutarch
and Shakspeare were in the yellow leaf, and Homer no
more should be heard of. It is much to know that poetry
has been written this very day, under this very roof,
by your side.


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