Meiji burial mound

On December 12, the Hailstone Haiku Circle in conjunction with WiK set out on a hike into Kyoto’s Imperial Past, including Emperor Meiji’s burial mound (above), with the intention of culling a few haiku poems from the historical surrounds.  There were six writers in all, and the report below was put together by haijin Mayumi Kawaharada and John Dougill. (Photos by members of the group)

On December 11th, there was a torrential downpour.  The following morning there was a bright sunny start to the day, and six haiku poets set out with fresh hearts ready to pen their thoughts on a walk that traversed the course of centuries.  The route from Tambabashi to Fushimi Momoyama took in the burial mounds of the first and last emperors to be associated with Kyoto, and two shrines with imperial connections completed the itinerary.  It normally takes an hour and a half; the Hailstones managed to spin it out to five hours, with a couple of members prolonging the occasion in a saké bar.

Its last fruit weighed P1020327 quince
against December blow:
the quince tree
– Branko

There are few visitors to Kammu’s grave, yet the founder of Kyoto surely deserves recognition for the extent of his historical legacy. For lovers of the city this is an awe-inspiring spot, and a nearby persimmon tree was laden with fruit as if in honour.  Nearby the tower of the rebuilt concrete castle of Hideyoshi’s time could be seen through the trees, complementing the rich historical associations of the area.  His grave, like other imperial mounds, typifies the blending of ancestral worship and animism that form the twin pillars of Shinto.  Through placing the corpse in the earth human and nature become one in the form of lush evergreen growth.  In this way the deceased evolves into the landscape, and the imperial spirit is transformed into a true spirit of place.



Emperor’s mound –
The sound of birdsong
Like gagaku
– John

From Kammu’s grave it’s a fifteen minute walk through pleasant woods to the burial mound of Emperor Meiji.

Path from Kammu to Meiji

On the green moss path/ Autumn leaves spotlighted/ by morning sunshine – Mayumi

Here was evident the pomp and glory of State Shinto, as the Restored Emperor at the centre of the Meiji regime was given a full-scale burial designed to impress.  You only have to stand at the bottom of the huge stairway leading up to the shrine to realise the grandeur by contrast with that of Kammu.

As Mutsuhito, Meiji was the last emperor to be born in the city, and the last who could be considered a Kyoto man.  His father died when he was 14, making him emperor; he was ‘restored to power’ at the age of 15; he shifted the capital to Tokyo and married at 16.  Quite a start to life!!

Meiji was something of a poet, and after paying respects at Tsukinowa, the imperial cemetery in Sennyu-ji, to his father, Emperor Komei, he penned the following:

When I visited
The tombs at Tsukinowa
On my sleeves
Old needles from pines
Kept falling

Discretely located to one side of the Meiji burial mound is that of his wife, Empress Shoken who died two years later.  She had no children of her own, whereas her husband had fifteen by his concubines, or official mistresses.  Unlike Jewishness, it’s the male line that counts in Japaneseness, and so she adopted the son of one of the other ‘wives’ and brought him up as heir apparent (later to become Emperor Taisho).

pine seedlings



Tree seedlings
sprouting here and there –
the childless empress
– Kyoko


Not far away from the imperial mounds, just ten minutes walk, is the shrine of Meiji’s devoted servant, General Nogi, who served as governor of Taiwan.  He was the last person (together with his wife) to commit junshi, ritual suicide to follow one’s master into death.

Nogi Jinja

After distinguished service against the Chinese in 1894, Nogi was made commander of the forces who took Port Arthur from the Russians a decade later, thus helping cement victory against the Europeans in the 1904-5 war.  He was appalled however at the loss of life of those under him and sent a letter to the Emperor requesting permission to commit suicide.  Though the request was refused, he and his wife felt obliged to take their lives in 1912 immediately following the funeral of Emperor Meiji.  Some praised him highly for loyalty and devotion; others saw it as a retrograde act of feudalism.

Citrus fruit at Nogi's shrine

After stories of war
At the General’s shrine,
Free tangerines.
– Tito


Gokonomiya Shrine is not one of the better-known shrines of Kyoto, though in any other town it would certainly be a focus of attention. It is said to have been built on the site of an imperial villa (Kyoto was founded in 794).  The imperial connection is reflected in its enshrined deities, the legendary Empress Jingu and Hachiman (also known as her son, Emperor Ojin).  Spring water with a particularly fresh aroma gushed out of the earth in 863  – hence the name (Shrine of Fragrance).  The water is treasured by parishioners who bottle it for home consumption.


The haiku poets were able to find a conducive corner of the shrine in which to compare their writings for the day, perched on large rocks taken from the remains of Hideyoshi’s castle.  As the sun went down on what had been a fine outing, blessed with good weather, we were able to pick over what we had gathered from the day.

late autumn –
sunset sinking
into the vermillion torii
– Lawrence

Gokonomiya haiku stone monumentAlso at Gokonomiya we happened on a haiku monument bearing poems by both Basho and Kyorai. Though none of us could decipher the cursive writing, a check on the Internet later revealed what was inscribed.

Scent of apricot blossom –
Suddenly the sun comes up
On the mountain road.

This was written by Basho in Fushimi in 1694, the year of his death. The second haiku on the Gokonomiya stone was by Kyorai (both here trans. by SHG).

‘Alright, alright!’ I shout,
But the knocking goes on
At the snow-cloaked gate.

poets on rocks

From left to right: Lawrence ‘Jiko” Barrow, Mayumi Kawaharada, John Dougill, Kyoko Nozaki and Stephen Gill (Tito). Branko took the picture.