Writers In Kyoto

English-language authors in Japan’s old imperial capital

Writers in focus

Basho’s blossom kimono

Blessings Unto Kasane:

Basho’s Haibun and Tanka of Hope to a Newborn Girl

Translation and commentary by Jeff Robbins

Assisted by Sakata Shoko

               (Basho’s own words in bold to stand out)

Illustration by Ogura Reiko (Photos by J. Dougill)

In Summer of 1689 Basho and Sora, on their journey to the Deep North, got lost among the fields of Kurobane in Nasu. A kindly farmer loaned them his horse for them to follow as far as it would go, then let it return on its own. The farmer’s two children came running after. Basho spoke to the little girl and was charmed. In his journal account, he writes

Two little ones follow in the footsteps of the horse, one a tiny princess who says her name is Kasane,
an unfamiliar name yet a gentle one.

Chisaki mono no futari                               ちさきものふたり、
uma no ato shitaite hashiru
hitori wa ko-musume nite
na o “Kasane” to iu.
Kiki-narenu na no yasashi-karikeriba     ききなれぬ名のやさしかりけりバ

We see this is a Time of Peace — thanks to the dictatorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate which has eliminated the feuds and wars which plagued the country until the early part of the 17th century– so now in 1689, small children are not afraid of strangers. We also see that Dad was doing childcare while farming.  Kasane is fortunate to have a father like this.

She said her name was Kasane: ka as in ‘cot,’ sa in ‘father’, ne in “nest.” Kasane(ru) is ordinarily not a name, but rather an active verb, “to pile up in layers, one on top of another. Furthermore, in the dimension of time, kasaneru is “to reoccur, again and again, in succession”.

 Nine months later, in the spring of 1690, Basho was in Zeze (Otsu City, just across the mountains east of Kyoto; beside Lake Biwa, the area around the eastern end of the Omi Ohashi bridge, ten minutes by train from Kyoto Station.) Basho formed a profound spiritual relationship with Zeze; this spring of 1690, he wrote about Zeze and the surrounding mountains and adjacent Lake Biwa

The mountains in silence nurture the spirit;
the water with movement calms the emotions

 Yama wa shizuka nite sei o yashinau      山は静かにして性をやしなう

  mizu wa ugoite jō o isu               水はうごいて情を慰す

 In a 1692 letter Basho in Edo writes to his follower Kyokusui who lived in Zeze,

Again and again within thy boundaries my heart points,
with humility I know not how, Zeze is like my hometown.

Mata mata kikyou o kokoro-zashi sōrō,           又又貴境と心指し候間、

hitoe ni Zeze wa furusato no gotoku ni     ひとえに膳所は古里のごとくに

zonji nashi sōrō.                                                       存じなし候。                      

 In the spring of 1690, someone in the neighborhood asked a Basho follower to arrange for the Master to choose a name for their newborn daughter. Basho remembers the Kasane in the Deep North, and passes her name on to another. The following haibun ending in a tanka are Basho’s prayer for his goddaughter’s happiness and longevity.   

During my pilgrimage to the Deep North,
in one of the villages there was a little girl
who looked no more than five years old.
She was so small and indescribably charming
that I asked her name and she said Kasane.
What an interesting name!
In Kyoto rarely is it heard
so I wonder how has it passed down
and what is that “layers, again and again”?


Michi no ku angyō no toki             みちのく 行御の

izure no sato ni ka aramu                               いずれの 里にか あらむ

ko-musume no roku bakari to                     こむすめ の六っばかりと

oboshiki ga sasayaka ni                                 おぼしきが, いと ささやかに

e mo iwazu okashiki arikeri o       えも いわず おかしかりける

na o ikani iu totoeba           名を いかに いう ととへば

“Kasane” to kokau,                                        「かさね」とこたう、 

ito kyō aru na nari                 いと 興ある 名なり。

Miyako no kata nite wa mare ni mo      都の方にて は まれにも

kiki habezarishini             きき侍らざりしに

ika ni tsutaete              いかに つたへて

nani o kasane to iu ni ya aramu      何をかさね というにや あらん。

 The prose is mostly phonetic hiragana and only a few Chinese characters, and has a natural speech-like rhythm, — and we suppose Basho wrote it that way so it would be easy for little Kasane to read. The farmer and wife wanted a special name for their daughter, not just a name fashionable in the capital city. What were they thinking of when they linked her heritage and destiny to this lovely multi-faceted word?

“If I had a child this name she would receive
I said in jest to my traveling companion
and now, unexpectedly, through an acquaintance
I have been called on to be Name-giving Parent.

 Ware, ko areba                                             我、子あれば、

 kono na o esesen to                                    此名を得させんと、

  michi-zure naru hito ni tawabure          道づれなる人にたはぶれ

  haberishi o omoi-idete                              侍しを思ひいでゝ、

  kono tabi ni omowazaru en ni                 此たび思はざる縁に

  hikarete na-zuke oya to nari                    ひかれて名付親となり。

Without being biological parent, Basho gets the magical opportunity to give life through a name, and through a poem.                 

       Blessings unto Kasane      

Spring passes by
again and again in layers

of blossom-kimono
may you see wrinkles
come with old age

Kasane o gasu                                                                                賀重

Iku haru o kasane gasane no hana-goromo                     いく春を かさねがさねの 花ごろも
shiwa yoru made no oi mo miru beku                               しわよるまでの 老もみるべく

The double and triple meanings, in both space and in time, overlap in a web of blessing and hope for Kasane and all female children. A silk kimono will, with proper care, last for generations. “Layers of blossom-kimono” has three areas of meaning:

1) the two layers of kimono fabric over an inner robe;

2) the succession of blossom-kimono one woman passes through from bright to sedate as she ages;

3) the kimono passing onto her daughter and grand- daughter, the next layers of herself. Also “wrinkles” are both in the kimono and her skin.

A formal kimono is a two-layer silk robe meticulously folded and tucked around the body in flat, even layers. The colors and pattern are chosen in harmony with the woman’s age. A blossom-kimono for a girl entering womanhood might be a soft pink with bold cherry blossom design on the lower portion. A thick brocade sash of a darker contrasting color encircles her waist. The red inner robe, suitable for a party, shows at the neckline, and where the left side of the skirt covers the right, margins of the kimono lining appear and disappear as she walks.

Speaking to the newborn spirit: ‘Kasane, now your time begins, stretching to infinity before unfocused eyes. Soon you’ll be laughing and playing in the sunshine – that is, if no wars come, and natural disasters, fatal illness, and financial ruin stay away too. One spring in youth, you shall be given your first “blossom-kimono,” an exquisite robe to be worn just once a year to view cherry blossoms, then folded up and stored away until next time to celebrate under cherry blossoms. The springs shall come and go with clouds of pink blossoms filling the treetops to fall in a shower of petals as you blossom into a young lady elegant in your impeccably layered kimono. Each year as you sit with legs folded under you on the straw mat under the cherry trees, creases shall form in the fabric. Carefully, as your mother shows you, restore its silky smoothness for another year.

I pray the day comes for you to pass this youthful kimono onto your daughter, while you wear one more moderate in color and pattern – and this too passes onto her, and you to the dark sedate kimono of an older woman. So, Kasane, may our nation remain at Peace and the happiness in your family pile up layer upon layer until wrinkles in the fabric no longer smooth out and you see wrinkles of old age across your face. Do not despair, my child, for you live again as spring passes by and your granddaughters laugh and chatter in their blossom kimono.’

The tanka SPRING PASSES BY offers Hope to small females —Hope for a childhood without misfortune, hope that she will grow into womanhood and see grandchildren. Basho speaks of what concerns women: the succession of life, the happiness of children — the conditions of Peace, both in society and in family, in which little girls can dress up and party with relatives and friends, and life goes on generation after generation. In less than a single tweet, Basho encapsulates the life of one woman from newborn to wrinkles.

“Civilization will begin the day the well-being of a newborn baby prevails over any consideration.”
– Wilhelm Reich

I know of one poem that compares to Basho’s verse in utter simplicity with profound human depth: it was written by a four-year-old Russian boy in 1928. In the 1960s when nuclear war between America and Russia seemed imminent, the little boy’s poem was set to music and became the refrain to a song. The lyrics never caught on in translation, but the refrain became an internationally known prayer for Peace:

May there always be sunshine
May there always be blue sky
May there always be mama
May there always be me

Both the poems of 46-year-old Basho and 4-year-old Russian boy make a wish from destiny – not the wish for a million dollars or a movie star lover—but rather the wish for something infinitely more precious: that our current Peace will continue. Millions of small children in the world today have reason to doubt these four wishes. The boy speaks only of the environment, mama, and himself, while Basho looks ahead to future layers.

Spring passes by
again and again in layers
of blossom-kimono
may you see wrinkles
come with old age


To access one hundred articles about women, children, friendship, love, and compassion in Basho, please go to my data base Basho4now@yumpu.com. Here are a few of my recent Yumpu posts which relate to Blessings unto Kasane:

Babies in Basho — 6 Basho haiku, a tanka, 11 renku, and 6 Letters all about babies.

Breastfeeding in Basho — 2 Basho haiku and 8 renku about breastfeeding

Child Welfare – 2 haiku, 8 renku, and 4 sections from his letters

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to cooperate with me to edit and improve the presentations, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s humane wisdom throughout the world and preserve for future generations.

Jeff Robbins basho4now@gmail.com

WiK Writing Competition results 2017

Winning entry –  ’The Joys of Silence and Bewilderment’ by Jane Kramer, American living in California
(Posting on 3 websites, inclusion in WiK Anthology, Kyoto craft)

Runner up – ‘Yamaguchi san’ by Florentyna Leow, Malaysian living in Kyoto
(Posting on WiK website, Kyoto craft, and also winner of local prize, free meal at Tadg’s.}

Runner up  – ‘Palm-in-the–Hand Story: The Blue General’ by Mark Cody Poulton, Canadian living in Victoria, Canada
(Posting on WiK website, Kyoto craft)

Student prize – Poem: ‘I don’t want you to go’ by Pwin Tana, Thai student at Kyoto University
(Kyoto craft, craft experience offer, free fish and chips with drink at Gnome)


Offers of craft experience workshops to local entries

– ‘As Ordered’ by Stephanie Juul, American

– ‘Chinese Zodiac Haiku Cycle’ by Marianne Kimura

– ‘Four Seasons at Shoukoku-ji Temple’ by Hisako Kutsuki

– ‘The Almost Invisible City of Kyoto’ by Ken Rodgers

– ‘The end of the eel’ by Kiyoko Ozawa

– ‘Yamaguchi san’ by Florentyna Leow

Featured writing

Poems and Photos by James Woodham

The Beach in Winter

Yaki soba/tako yaki sign spins
outside the closed shop.

Pine tree leans,
dropped needles rusted.

flung from a tree.

Ducks disappear
between waves.

The fishing boat
moves deeper.



A leaf,
red stalk
and veins

and on it
still – gold

now –
the shower


Reds, yellows
on the wet

the air.

The trees


At the wind’s

tumbles air

a moment



To be
at the

of a leaf –
to be

the instant
of touched



lake, mountains
and this


of sky.



of emptiness?


this bone-chilling wind
and the numbing distances
of the heartless stars


tracks of the wagtail
random dashes in the snow
going where they go


still there

(at the desk
after running
the shore)

sky wind lake air

(Photos all taken not far from Omimaiko station near Lake Biwa)


Writers in focus

Edith Shiffert, RIP

(John Dougill writes…)  News comes of the passing away of Edith Shiffert (1916-2017), long time resident poet and a revered figure for those of us who belong to Writers in Kyoto.  Other English-language authors lived in Kyoto before her, but for the postwar generation and those who followed in their footsteps, Edith was a groundbreaking figure who represented the very best of Kyoto’s literary connections.  This was not only because of the widespread reputation she had, both here and in the US, but for her close identification with Kyoto’s historical and spiritual heritage. Along with such poets as Cid Corman, Gary Snyder and Hal Stewart, she established Kyoto as a rich source of inspirational writing exemplified by the Kyoto Journal in which she often featured.

Personally I first came across Edith in connection with her book on Buson, written in collaboration with a graduate student of mine,  Yuki Sawa. The book was influential in raising Buson’s esteem in the outside world. Thereafter I was fortunate to encounter Edith on several occasions, notably through her guest attendances at the interfaith discussion group run by Morris Augustine. I was also able to visit her both at the Residents Home in Ohara and her final Residents Home here in Kyoto.

Perhaps the book that best sums up her attachment to the city is the Tuttle publication, Kyoto-Dwelling: A Year of Brief Poems (1987). Extracted pages are available online through Google Books and can be read at this link here. It’s worth savoring her poetry while dedicating a few quiet moments in her memory.  There is an autobiographical introduction, and as the subtitle indicates it contains a yearly cycle in 12 different sections, with a seasonal illustration for each month.

Edith first came to Kyoto in the heady days of 1963, and she writes fondly of the various dwellings which gave rise to poetry closely related to the spirit of place: a room on Yoshida Hill overlooking the city; a rented room in a Zen subtemple at Myoshin-ji; a lodging in the north between Takaragaike and Midorigaike lakes, before relocation close to Kamigamo Shrine and later Shimogamo Shrine.  From 1981 she lived at the foot of Mt Hiei in the north east, not far from Buson’s grave at Kompoku-ji.  Here she enjoyed a happy second marriage with Minoru Sawano, which formed the basis for a book in Japanese.

Edith studied Taoism and Buddhism in the 1930s, part of a pioneering generation who turned their attention to the Far East. Her love for Kyoto is evident throughout her writings, and she saw it as ‘a Taoist realm, a place of imagined satori…  The sound of rain. The sound of wind. The silence of falling snow. Ridges disappearing into mist. A sudden bursting out of masses of blossoms. Birds in the early morning. Eroding rocks that blow away as sand. Flowing water.’

This love for the earth
is all I need to survive.
My pack sack holds much.

Writers in Kyoto would like to salute the passing of one of our great predecessors.  RIP Edith Shiffert.


For a detailed biography and listing of her works, see this University of California site.

For an article and tribute by Jane Wieman, please see here.

For a Japan Times review of In the Ninth Decade by Edith, please see here.

For a listing of her books in print, see here.

Writers in focus

Cats and Dogs in Basho


Selection, Translation and Commentary by Jeff Robbins

Words of Basho in this font, bold    

Last January David Duff posted his loving discussion of cats on this site which included no poetry about our feline friends. Here, to complement David’s article, are five Basho haiku and six renku links about cats, plus two haiku and three renku about their canine cohorts. Let us consider Basho an ethologist, observing animal behaviour and consciousness.

The nursery song Yuki (yuki ya kon kon arare ya kon kon…) is a traditional folk tune, so certainly was known when Basho was a little boy around the year 1650.


Snowing on and on, hailing on and on

Falling and falling, higher and higher

Mountains and fields wear cotton hats

Every withered tree a white umbrella.


Snowing on and on, hailing on and on

Falling and falling, still not stopping.

Dog joyfully runs about the garden

Cat curls up inside the kotatsu.

A kotatsu is a heater (in our time electrical, in Basho’s charcoal) with a frame holding up a blanket and table top, People sit with their legs inside the warm space and the blanket around their hips – but the cat’s whole body can get in. The song observes that dogs like to get all excited and run about, while cats prefer to be warm and comfortable.

These two renku pairs continue the observation of cats in kotatsu. In the first pair, Basho wrote both stanzas in succession:

With cotton bursting out

walks a pure white cat–

Unknown to us,

within warm kotatsu

lying contented

In summer the balls of soft cotton fiber burst out from their buds, each as soft, white, and furry as a darling little white cat walking amidst the cotton plants.   Come winter, this cat, like an old person, seeks warmth, inactivity, and no involvement with the absurdly changing world. Instead she lies there getting high on the embracing heat.

Uncomforted, the cat

outside, how she cries

Charcoal fire

gone out, ‘twas cold

in the kotatsu

This cat expects to spend the winter inside the kotatsu where it is nice and warm, but now is outside freezing her paws off. Iji explains: the fire in the kotatsu went out, and inside becamse as cold as outside, so here the cat is, crying. Next, the middle segment by Yaba, an ode to the feeling of stroking soft fur on a warm living body, is a bridge between two Basho stanzas.


helped to sit up, she

combs her hair

Cat fondly caressed

by the one I adore

To stop blossoms

from falling, if only

there was a way

Recovering from a long illness, with my assistance, she sits up for the first time. Unable to comb her long black locks properly while lying down, now she enjoys running the comb down through the hair again and again, absorbing power into her body. (Throughout Japanese literature and especially in Basho, a woman carries power in her hair – as when the Sun Goddess Amaterasu prepared herself to battle her brother, the Storm God, she let down her hair; as Samson carried power in his hair till Delilah cut it off). Now done with her hair, her next task in a sitting position is to hold her pet in her lap and caress this small furry living thing. Watching her do this, so soon after she was close to death, makes me love her all the more.   If only there was a way to keep the young and tender from growing old and bitter.

Cats in love

       quiet down, bedroom‘s

       hazy moon

The cycle has ended for now, and the screeching and the yowls cease as the hazy moon shines secretly into the room where futons have been laid out on the tatami for people to sleep or make love on.

‘Heat’ is caused by estrogen, so it occurs only in the female. She then invites Mister Cat to turn on his testesterone. Estrogen drives female cats into ‘heat’ several times a year, but early spring is most common. Spring is the season for love and sex in many species, including humans. The pathos of cats at the mercy of their hormones shows us how pitiful we are in love.

Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the victor wins the right to mate. At first, the female will reject the male, but eventually she will allow him to mate. When cats mate the male bites the scruff of the female neck so she cannot escape (which is why cats like to be rubbed there, behind the neck). The female utters a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her because a male cat’s penis has a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing penile spines, about 1 mm long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which may be a trigger for ovulation. (I’ve heard that sound outside my window.)

After mating the female gives herself a thorough wash… with her tongue which has hooks on it like a brush that untangles fur; also her saliva contains a detergent which cleans fur. If a male attempts to breed with her at this point, the female will attack him. Once the female is done grooming, the cycle will repeat.


With my cat

                the stray cat does it,

                crying pitifully    

Wikipedia and Basho tell it like it is.

The lady cat                                                                            

        over crumbling cookstove                                        

        she commutes

The sex-crazed she-cat ‘commutes’ (kayoi) through the kitchen, climbing the stove then jumping out the window, so many times a day on her trips outside WHERE THE BOYS ARE, that the baked clay structure is starting to crumble.

            Love worn thin                                        

    on barley for dinner?

            the lady cat

The verse is a question. Again we see a cat on her way to get laid. Is the family that feeds this cat too poor to give her any rice or fish, only barley, a grain the Japanese consider low-class, tasteless, and low in nutrition, and since she is too horny to eat much anyway, in her malnourished state the nights of frenzy and exhaustion leave her looking like hell, right?

She resents the snarling

cries of cats fighting

High on top,

low on bottom, how

love is done

This is the Toms fighting for “access” to a female. Cats and humans do it the same way: as a struggle for dominance and being on top. Not only in sex but in every aspect of life, those on top stay there – having fun and sex and leisure — while those on bottom remain on bottom for life.

Fujiwara Teika, in the 13th century, wrote what may be the funniest of all classical tanka:

How I envy

his voice unsparing,

the stray cat

with all of his heart,

makes love to his wife

Because Japanese are reluctant to show their inner feelings, Teika envies the cat’s freedom of expression.

On the other hand, Basho wrote what may be the funniest of all haiku:

   Like a saint

   dog stepped on by

   cat in heat

Mataudo means ‘complete person’ — but is used sarcastically in kyogen comedies to actually mean a fool. The lady cat is so drunk on sex-hormones that she walks right on top of a dog. But the dog is asleep, and only half wakes up to gaze around a bit, wondering ‘what was that?’ then goes back to sleep. Basho compares the dog to a ‘complete person,’ a saint or a fool, who can face any situation with equanimity.

   Clouds passing over –

   a dog peeing on the run

   village winter shower

On an early winter evening, clouds gather in the sky, moving fast while they drop sudden cold showers. To portray this phenomenon Basho chooses a striking image: a dog pissing while running. The rain falls on a village where many dogs run about, and sometimes pee. Clouds, dog, village, and urination, all are one with the season, rain, and movement.

He stays for two nights

before his enemy’s gate —

Sweeping away

dreams, on the field stands

a statue of Jizo

Longing for a wife?

call of mountain dog

A warrior seeks to kill his enemy who plans the opposite. He waits with his weapons at the enemy’s gate, never knowing when and how that one will appear. His feeling is “threatened.” He must remain half awake all night long, ready to defend himself. By force of will, he sweeps the dreams from his drowsy mind. In the nearby field stands a statue of the bodhisattva Jizo, the Buddhist “Guardian of the Roads.” Anthropologist Michael Ashkenazai explains: “Jizo comforts those in distress, succors captives, assists all those in need … Statues of Jizo were therefore erected along lonely mountain passes and difficult roads.” So the warrior calls on Jizo for strength to stay awake and stay alive.

That lonely cry in the distance, is it real or in a dream? Wild dogs do not form pair-bonds, so there is no concept of “wife” in their world. Is the ‘dog’ a real dog or a metaphor for man or men? Or for Basho who had no wife. Jizo “comforts those in distress… and assists those in need.” The male seeks a wife to do the same for him. Within this trio is the life of a warrior: his struggles against male enemies and against nature (the need to sleep), his use of religion to justify these struggles, then (from Basho) his longing for female love. Basho may not have thought of these meanings, but we can.

On stage from humble

cottage the forlorn cry —

Dumb jerk’s

loud squeal of surprise

at the scene

A dog being stabbed

that voice is so sad

 Each of the three stanzas highlights a voice responding to the transitory nature of existence: first, the dejected cry of someone in a stage play whose happiness has vanished. Next, the moron in the audience who reacts noisily. Finally, Basho gets REAL with the actual cry of a life being snuffed out.

Such coolness

naked and waiting for

moon to rise

Straw mats held in front

 they run and jump about

“Is he sleeping?”

strange that the dog’s tail

keeps its shape

Here are little children in summer with no inhibitions at all about taking off their clothes when the heat is so oppressive even in the evening. They wait for the moon to rise, but this may carry the hidden meaning of “waiting for puberty.” Basho says naked is okay, but how about a bit of restraint? The kids hold thin straw mats about a meter square in front of their privates as they dash about screaming. Still we see their “moons.” These children in the paradise of innocence feel the first hints of shame to emerge when their bodies show sexual traits – yet still they are children and can enjoy “running and jumping about.”

One naked child notices a nearby dog asleep — but holding tail up with attention.   Shiba and Akita dogs, the original breeds on these islands, are known for perpetually holding their tails up in a perfect curl, the white fur under the tail curling around to show on top, as round and white as the moon. (Ahh, the link between the three stanzas). The child who frolics in naked joy has consciousness and can observe with wonder the natural world.

The poet 300 years ago makes this observation, through the eyes of a small child, about Japanese dogs, and also about the nature of sleep, consciousness, and muscle control. We can see these round tightly curled tails any evening in a Japanese neighbourhood. Somehow the brain signals which produce this tail shape are programmed into Japanese dog genes. I have a shiba dog, and she always hold her tail in a perfectly round curl. When completely relaxed her tail falls, but she can also sleep with it fully round. In other dogs in the neighborhood, the circle of tail may not be so neat and round, but still with some control in that direction. Often when I see my dog Suzu’s full moon tail, I think of this stanza or the entire trio. Thanks to Basho and his followers, it becomes more fun to be with my dog – and thanks to Suzu, the renku trio becomes ever more enjoyable.


To access several hundred Basho poems about women children, friendship, love, and compassion, please go to Basho4now@yumpu.com. Mostly recently I have uploaded the following which may be of interest:

Basho Discovers Lightness — 10 Basho haiku, 3 renku, 6 letters, and 10 passages of speech about Basho’s Ideal for poetry.

Basho on a Journey –– 11 Basho haiku, 10 renku, 8 prose passages, and 3 Basho letters on the nature of traveling.

Shonagon and Basho — 8 passages from Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, 4 related Basho haiku, 2 linked verses, and a bit of Basho speaking about Shonagon.

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to cooperate with me to edit and improve the presentations, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s wisdom throughout the world and preserve for future generations.

Jeff Robbins  basho4now@gmail.com


Writers in focus

5 Competition entries, 2016

This years WiK Competition closes in just over a week on March 1, and with time running out for entries we look back on some of the best runners-up from our previous competition in 2016.  Our thanks to all those who submitted, and we hope that their ideas will stimulate new submissions in these closing days for the 2017 Competition. (For details please see the top righthand column under News.)

Maps of Kyoto’s Water:
by Kate Garnett

Eastward, rivers inked
with sakura flow throughout
time. For centuries

they move through ancient
city streets, cleaning deep wounds
of war, dousing shrines

that are asunder,
while tea water, equally
as vital, is poured

into younomi.
This simple act will never
change. Whether whisked by

geisha’s elegant
hands or encapsulated
in vending machines,

even one hurrying
out will always stop to drink—
just as one is stopped

by autumn’s first snow
as it laces the ponds where
koi fish liquesce, just

as spring’s warm rainfall
dissolves into garden lakes
of imperial

castles where even
ancient samurai take brief
reprieve to quench throats—

because that same vein
of water, reflecting glass-
faced towers, scarlet

tori, and sky , are
both the surface and the rain
that inspires it.

STORY SUBMISSION by Mark Schumacher

A sudden downpour stops soon after starting. The water-laden trees shimmer in the radiance of the resurrected sun. The wind caresses the trees, shedding them of their tears. The camellia flower cries in joy, dropping its red petals to adorn the lonely stone path. I descend, not knowing if I remember or forget. Kyoto is such a place. Every stone, every tree, every inch of soil has a story.

           Snow in Kyoto 2015  by Kiyoko Ogawa


this snowless town turning

into a silver world overnight

the yurikamomes are departed

the old river, run slowly, till we end our time


a dingy tiny snowman

standing in the narrow alley


no children in sight fighting snowball

but the ojizo-san is surely watching them


bamboos and aoki trees bent by the snow

sasanquas silent in the garden of a deserted house


afternoon brings the bright sun

melting everything at ultra-high speed


from snow dream

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TWO POEMS by Travis Roy Venters jr

First poem: Ikkyu Under Shijo Bashi

Every waking, moving moment
His shadow cries. Death. Death is near.
Ikkyu fills anther cup and laughs.
Too bad shadow; I can’t take you with me.

Second poem: Kyoto 2015 AD

Getting into temples costs more
But incense burning is the same.
At Koryuji temple gardeners tel you
The temple moss is also sacred
But there is no clear evidence why.

Tourists from around the world,
Realize all the Buddhas thought
The world of illusion and all that
Unrolled flat like a scroll with the
Center the center of a square.
California was not even a remote
Possibility. Every photo you take of
Kiyomizu-Dera or the tigers in Nanzen-jiI
Is imbued with many, many false memories.
You want Eastern Wisdom to show
The folks back home? Photograph
The ribbons of silk dye rushing by
In the river under Sanjo Bashi.

Kyoto Botanical Gardens in Late October
by Branko Manojlovic

It is the season of high camp:

a monster triptych, anchored

in the lotus pond. A plastic

sylph both smiling and sad,


both looking and staring

at Mount Hiei. To her right

a fifty-foot globe: spike-

beset, turd-coloured.


To the left, a grossness

with electric ruby eyes

vomiting gallons of pond

water back into the pond.


Nearby woods, cameras

with preposterous lenses

waiting in ambush for

an elusive songbird.


They miss a pastiche of ghost

-white: a wedding dress gliding

past nude cherry trees,

the groom ten yards behind.


And by the crocus path

a slender bronze reclining,

worthy of Rodin (no more

than yet another oddity),


four bite-sized dogs scamper

around obā-chan’s legs.

Even the water mill spins

faster than it ought to.


Dinner talk with Judith Clancy

WiK members enjoying a convivial dinner talk with author Judith Clancy, seated on the far side near the centre of the picture

Sunday evening’s dinner talk by Judith Clancy proved a convivial literary evening as the author of Exploring Kyoto walked us through her several publications on the city. (Residents of Kyoto will surely have used Judith’s books at one time or another to guide them through the city, but for those unfamiliar with her publications please take a look at her amazon page.)  She first came to Kyoto in 1970, and threw herself into Japanese life, working for Kanebo and then teaching at Otani University as well as acting as guide to foreign visitors. Her first ever book was about her ikebana teacher, a self-publication with gorgeous colour photographs held by Judith in the picture to the right. Judith’s subsequent involvement with Weatherhill, Stonebridge and Tuttle was to some extent built on the familiarity with Japanese aesthetics which she learnt through her ikebana book. It’s an indication of how self-publishing can work to a writer’s advantage, even if it involves a loss financially.  The talk covered her different experiences with Japan specialist publishers, as well as her work on an update of the Kyoto section of the Fodor guidebook. But perhaps her most fascinating stories came in association with a book published last year in Japanese about maiko and geiko (see here). It took her deep into the rarefied world of Kyoto’s geisha districts and the people employed there. The publisher Tankosha had sufficient clout to organise a huge launch party studded with Kyoto’s finest, including the mayor and the cream of the city’s geisha, at which Judith was the sole foreigner. Afterwards,  in response to questions, Judith talked more of the background that brought her to Japan, with tales of Woodstock, Korean shamanism and restoring a machiya in the heart of the Nishijin weaving district.  The evening went on far longer than intended, as anecdotes led one to another, and by the end those attending were deeply impressed by the intrepid enterprise of this trailblazing author.  Thanks very much to Judith Clancy, and to her contemporary Charles Roche of Papa Jons for catering for such a wonderful evening.

Writers in focus

WiK 2016 competition (Adams)

The following were submitted by independent filmmaker and freelance translator, William Adams, currently based in Miyazaki.  Judges were impressed by the original and stimulating nature of the entry, though in the end the prizes went elsewhere.  Nevertheless the submissions show what can be accomplished in less than 300 words with a little touch of verve (and perhaps a lot of bourbon)….

Keywords: Kyoto.

Title: The Thousand-year Capital.

Hue: Aged.

Bureau: Art.

Hours: Kyoto at night.

Kyoto is_

Kyoto is famous for

Kyoto is in what prefecture

Kyoto is known for

Kyoto is tokyo backwards

Kyoto is ovrerrated

Tranquillity ravaged.
Scenic Kyoto temples with Latin spirits.
Few artists of mere windshield shine fame.
Kyoto for Kyoto.
Tourism. Ancient. Unequivocally.
Kyoto travelers quote Kyoto girls’ tongues;
invade their palaces; overload their grids.
Kyoto written off as a hooded off-market Kioto.
An international buffet of Kiotos.
Weeping dialect raids a strong year.
477 kimono instantly from Germany.
Leaf day in Ukyo-ku verse; academic menu in Nijo;
pools of artists scattering in the gardens of Nanzen-ji.

Kyoto’s country.

A long-hooded Buddhist at the A Station.

City canals forecasted for Kyoto in 1002.

A village in Kyoto defined by its zoo; its temple; its every UNESCO.

Unlimited men and days.

Kyoto complexes. Kyoto quotes. Kyoto forecasts inscribed in paper museums.

Once upon the concentration in Matsugasaki Temple,

written until keage connected, retaining Japanese Buddhists in 794.

Nintendo woman helps Karasuma across a Kyoto Shinkansen intersection.

Capital places have the longest hours in Kyoto.

Strong and slow are the whimsy.

One line in Kyoto.

Significant circumstances make for Airport movements.

  1. Miyako.

Blog about the Kyoto Azalea.

A trove of long ordinances.

So begins Miyako.

Temples brightly draining south.
I for Bon; the hooded in the graveyard.
The picturesque Higashiyama snowfalls,
built out of the infamous Tin Bombing;
the blanketed slopes of the temple in Chion;
Buddhist Meiji responding not in Nakagyo;
the temple serving as his own personal Villa,
fanning out of the eastern court.

The special were there.

Rental monkeys bomb

the tranquility of Kyoto.

Rustle along in Spring;

the standing re-placed.

Even in Kyoto

they longed for Kyoto

when the bloggers blogged.

Writers in focus

Hearn on Pontocho

Pontocho as it is now, and as it once was (Kyoto City/ Kyodo courtesy Japan Times)

In the past twenty years Pontocho has changed out of all recognition.  Now it is packed with tourists, English menus are everywhere, and there are shops which cater even to budget travellers. Needless to say, a hundred years ago things were quite different, as Lafcadio Hearn here makes plain when he came on a visit in 1891.  At 400 words the passage is a little long for the WiK Writing Competition (deadline March 1), but I have no doubt if he cut it down a bit he’d be a worthy winner for his fine evocation of a distinctly Kyoto atmosphere!

“Seen at night the street is one of the queerest in the world. It is narrow as a gangway; and the dark shining wood – work of the house-fronts, all tightly closed,-each having a tiny sliding door with paper-panes that look just like frosted glass, – makes you think of first-class passenger-cabins. Really the buildings are several stories high; but you do not observe this at once – especially if there be no moon – because only the lower stories are illuminated up to their awnings, above which all is darkness. The illumination is made by lamps behind the narrow paper-paned doors, and by the paper-lanterns hanging outside-one at every door. You look down the street between two lines of these lanterns-lines converging far-off into one motionless bar of yellow light. Some of the lanterns are egg-shaped, some cylindrical; others four-sided or six-sided; and Japanese characters are beautifully written upon them.

The street is very quiet – silent as a display of cabinet-work in some great exhibition after closing-time. This is because the inmates are mostly away-attending banquets and other festivities. Their life is of the night. The legend upon the first lantern to the left as you go south is “Kinoya: uchi O-Kata”; and that means The House of Gold wherein O-Kata dwells. The lantern to the right tells of the House of Nishimura, and of a girl Miyotsuru-which name signifies The Stork Magnificently Existing. Next upon the left comes the House of Kajita; – and in that house are Kohana, the Flower-Bud, and Hinako, whose face is pretty as the face of a doll. Opposite is the House Nagaye, wherein live Kimika and Kimiko…. And this luminous double litany of names is half-a-mile long.

The inscription on the lantern of the last-named house reveals the relationship between Kimika and Kimiko – and yet something more; for Kimiko is styled “Ni-dai-me,” an honorary untranslatable title which signifies that she is only Kimiko No. 2. Kimika is the teacher and mistress: she has educated two geisha, both named, or rather renamed by her, Kimiko; and this use of the same name twice is proof positive that the first Kimiko – “Ichi-dai-me” – must have been celebrated. The professional appellation borne by an unlucky or unsuccessful geisha is never given to her successor.”

(from “Works of Lafcadio Hearn“. You can read it for free at: http://a.co/5hHbRMP

Writers in focus

Transience (Peter Macintosh)

One of the entries for the 2016 WiK Writing Competition provides a perfect example of how the restriction of 300 words can be overcome by suggestive vignettes that tell a story in themselves. The suggestion here that ‘a tired old man’ has fallen asleep in the bubble years and woken in contemporary Kyoto is framed by the notion that the kimono-clad beauties are no longer those of maiko and geisha but tourists in cheap rental clothing. This evocation of a changing Gion was very much what the judges had in mind when shaping the competition.


Transience (by Peter Macintosh)

The evening sun begins to set. Along the river, now feeling quite tipsy, a tired old man closes his eyes and slowly fades into a slumber under the withering cherry blossoms….

The streets of Gion are bustling. You can smell the money. It is like the whole country had won the lottery. The spring air scented with expensive perfumes as the bar hostesses flutter past in mini skirts carrying designer handbags. Foreign street vendors selling knock off posters of Hollywood stars and over priced jewelry from India are on every corner. Targeting the “Gods of Gion”, to whom money isn’t an issue. Japan is on the top of the world.

Oblivious to taxis waiting for the big fares back to Osaka lining the streets, he and his underlings drunkenly maneuver between them. Heading into the backstreet alleys laughing in unison with two young maiko at their side, they disappear into the teahouses of the floating world, only to reappear hours later to continue on to karaoke, where drunken song will take them into the wee hours of morning. All of this only to be repeated the following evening and the one after that and the one after that.

….Awakened by loud voices, he finds himself among hoards of kimono clad women laughing and taking selfies. He smiles. Was he still dreaming? Then, he realizes that the kimono were not beautiful silk but polyester and the women weren’t even Japanese. Disheartened, he grabs his bottle, rushes into the busy street and just like the cherry blossoms, he is gone.

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