The following extracts are taken from Kyoto Journal No. 24, ‘Of All the Wild Sakura’. They comprise notes from Gary Snyder’s Kyoto journals between March and June 1959. (With thanks to Ken Rodgers.) Click here for the full Gary Snyder article, which is much longer and has non-Kyoto entries too.
Preparing to leave Shokoku-ji and move to the Kitano river valley. The last few days cleaning the little house I’ll rent at Yase, “Eight Sandbars.” Yesterday Petersen and I were out there taking up all the tatami, peering under the floor, shoring up busted boards. Dust everywhere from the road. Yesterday it rained; smoking and sitting on the porch-edge; the white puffs of cloud on the hillsides almost too oriental. Dust and cobwebs, old sake bottles. Today I finished the job, beating the tatami in spots of sun between showers, reading an old Mainichi as I laid them out with bug powder.
Mrs. Ishiguro brought bancha for lunch. No dreams since I got here. The big old Rinko-in tom disappeared. & now a brindled male kitten roams about looking for food and warm spots. The temple family rise at 5:30, dust the shoji, cough and piss and talk — barefooted on chill floors, splashing cold water on the face. Camellia blooms / cherry begins / tombi sails over the hinoki tops slowly, twisting and angling his wide flat tail feathers.
Cid Corman tearing into much of Myths and Texts [just-then published book of poems by GS], it isn’t “real” he says of “Io” and other borrowings from Occidental sources. The Native-American-derived stuff he thinks makes it. Digs the concrete and directly experienced portions — finds the language not compressed or sharp enough often. He’s a very scrupulous critic but not always right.
Kerosene stoves, gasoline stoves, propane.
& last night dinner with Mrs. [Ruth Fuller Everett] Sasaki: She seems much less inclin’d to arrogance. & I much less inclined to be annoyed with her simply because she has money and is of the middle class. Today — chilly dusty — I come to recognize the tombi that works up and down the river — the sense of the place is growing.
Last night Yampolsky and I ate out and wandered a bit the bars. I feel weird. As though the Sappa Creek and San Francisco knocked all the shit out of my head.
It starts all over again..
am I young &
this time clear.
ears, nose, eye, skin,
Wa! Spring! By the river.
frogs all creaking
bugs begin to fly in at night to
bang on the light-bulb.
seeking the light! pow! like me.
Poverty and appreciation of the mind, in the far east.
& though it may take years to make a man wise, he cannot put off the necessity right now for dealing with the problems of himself and people. The woes of the world. & it is at that point we judge.
10.V.Installation of the new Abbot of Shokoku-ji
Shokoku-ji ceremony installing — “joza — climbing into the chair” for Otsu Roshi as new Kancho. Jan the Dutchman [Jan-Willem Van der Wetering], Paul Wienpahl [Philosopher from Santa Barbara, Spinoza-specialist], & me.
Hatto I Dharma Hall
Otsu Roshi sits in a chair on the floor before the high platform. Monks start beating the two drums on each side of the hatto. 2 blows each, alternating – / -/ – — gradually speeding up. The Shokoku priests file in from North door. Rhythm gradually speeds up, then breaks and starts slow again. Builds up.
Audience is older men and women. The women talk a lot. The men are in suits, a few in swallow-tail coats and morning pants. Old Kyoto women — with a certain sneaky humility.
Drum-beats shift to alternate single beats on center of drum. Great reverberation. Hitting the drum with both mallets at the same time. Builds up to a low roar on both drums, then starts slow again.
The walls open, sunshine outside, a huge system of hanging pennants over the platform limply moving.
Oda Roshi comes in. Other priests keep coming in. Four tall candles in 6 foot high holders on the floor before the platform. A green pine-top on the west side of it, on top.
The high hall, wood pillars, dragon, and thunder-drum.
Drums stop. Otsu Roshi climbs the stairs to the top of the platform and the joza in big Chinese slippers. With lots of young monks help, gets in the chair and carefully adjusts his robes. His kesa is magnificent stiff gold brocade. All the priests, row by row, come and bow before him. He acknowledges each with a gassho. Then monk hands him his hossu, he swishes it about.
He sits up and starts to yell in a weird voice — Chinese goroku chanting voice I think. Incomprehensible to everyone. But a spectacle. Outside some little kid with a voice like a magpie shouts.
Now he takes his staff, with what looks like a frog gig on the bottom, thumps it, and chants out again in the Chinese Voice. Vowels drawn out, strange rises and drops, breaks, falling to a growl and other times rather high and clear.
Then from Chinese Voice to sutra chant.
He gets down from his chair, comes back to the floor, walks out, all the other priests following him.