One thing + another thing

I bought this postcard while in Japan last month.

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Fireworks at the Ryogoku Bridge, an 1858 woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, from his series ‘From One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The text on the MIA page says: “Situated on the shores of Edo Bay, the city of Edo [renamed Tokyo in 1868] was defined by a network of rivers and canals. Bridges became vital links for travel and communication and also gathering places comparable to the plazas of Western cities. Erected over the Sumida River in 1659 or 1661, Ryōgoku was Edo’s second major bridge. In the early 1730s, the government sponsored an event commemorating citizens who had died in a cholera epidemic. The memorial, which included a display of fireworks, became an annual observance. Hiroshige devoted more than half of this composition to the night sky, illuminated by sparkling fireworks. On the river below, pleasure boats from which people view the pyrotechnics are festooned with red lanterns that form tiny points of light on the deep-hued water. At first glance, Ryōgoku’s broad arch is a dark silhouette against the river, but a closer look reveals a crowd of tiny figures, each casting a fleeting shadow.”

The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi, which translates to fire flowers. The season for fireworks is summer – July and August – when big public shows are put on. Apparently, the Sumida River in Tokyo was first chosen as a site for fireworks because of the reflections on the water and the cooling breezes that might be had during the city’s hot, humid summers. The first public display was in 1733. Here’s a nice blog post about attending a fireworks display in Japan.

Hiroshige is one of Japan’s most famous woodblock artists. Here’s a brief profile of him. Interestingly, his father had been a fire brigade warden! Serious fires were so common in the city that the locals had a saying, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo”.

ichi mon no hanabi mo tamaya tamaya kana

even one-penny
fireworks …
ooo! ahh!

Issa, tr David Lanoue (written in 1825)

From David Lanoue’s website, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, comes this extra information: Tamaya is the name of a company that made fireworks in Issa’s day. Praising the fireworks, the crowd shouts, “Tamaya!” Issa’s humour lies in the fact that even cheap fireworks that cost only one mon are praised wildly. (The mon was the basic currency of Issa’s time, a coin with a hole in its middle so it could be put on a string. In Issa’s day six mon could buy a bowl of rice.)

I took this photo at an exhibition in Melbourne last year.

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Fireworks, a 1933 lithograph print by M C Escher. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The accompanying text said: “For this lithograph, rather than building the composition with black lines and shading on white, Escher began by spraying a tint on to the entire surface of the lithographic stone, resulting in a smooth black finish. He then scratched away the lighter parts of the print – the flares of the firework piercing the night sky and the people below who look up in wonder at the spectacle, briefly lit by its glow. This unusual method was taken up by Escher during a period of experimentation with the lithographic technique and is well suited to depicting dark interiors and night scenes.”

The photo has been taken at an angle to avoid light reflection off the surface of the print.

To my eye Escher had more than a bit of a Japanese aesthetic about his work. Read more about the life of the Dutch artist, famous for his mind-bending illusions.

fireworks
suddenly the ocean wind
is warmer

Jane Reichhold, from A Dictionary of Haiku (2013)

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Butterflies

Watching four or five monarch butterflies dance around our swan plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) last evening was a delight – sadly though, unless I intervene, there likely won’t be a new generation as nesting wasps consume any caterpillars until about the end of February when the predator’s diet changes.

Leaving that unfortunate thought aside, I thought I’d browse my bookshelves for butterfly-related haiku and there in the first book I opened, on the first page I looked at was …

on the manuscript
the shadow of a butterfly
finishes the poem

Nick Virgilio
from naad anunaad, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2016)

Heartened, I continued …

summer butterfly
between my fingers the thickness
of a playing card

Katsuhiro Takayanagi (tr Koko Kato)
from A Vast Sky, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2014)

 

echium

Monarch  butterfly. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Two from the internet:

my son noticing . . .
the attention i pay
to butterflies

John Stevenson
from The Heron’s Nest 1.1 (1999)

黄色組白組蝶の地どりけり
kiiro-gumi shiro-gumi [chô] no chidori keri

yellow gang, white gang
the butterflies claim
their turf

Kobayashi Issa, written in 1820 (tr David Lanoue)

At his website, David Lanoue notes: Chidori is an old word, a form of the verb chidoru, which means to measure out a lot on which to build a house.

And back to the bookshelf …

blue butterflies
a knife without a handle
on the lichened stone

Peggy Willis Lyles, 1939-2010
from Haiku 21 (2011)

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Long-tailed blue butterfly (Lampides boeticus). Photo: Sandra Simpson

first white butterfly
my cabbages
not yet planted

Elaine Riddell
from the taste of nashi (2008)

traffic lights
all eyes follow
the butterfly

Belinda Broughton
from Third Australian Haiku Anthology (2011)

Paulownia – the haiku tree

The paulownia trees are flowering just now – they always catch my eye because the purple flowers seem such a long way up. We used to have one on a boundary with a neighbour but it’s not so much the flowers I remember from that tree but the sound of sparrows rattling the seed pods.

Paulownia (empress tree, foxglove tree) is named for Anna (1795-1865), the daughter of Tsar Paul 1 of Russia (1754-1801). Courted by many, including it’s said Napoleon Bonaparte, she married the future King William II of The Netherlands, who stayed with the Russian royal family for the best part of a year before she agreed to the match. In The Netherlands, she was known as Anna Paulowna, which gives us the tree’s botanical name. Read more of this story here, as well as some botanical background.

Just about past, the blossoms of a paulownia tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The faintly perfumed wood is traditionally used in Japan for clothes chests, particularly kimono, as it contains a natural insect and mould repellent, and is slow to burn (a big consideration when everyone lives in wood and paper houses). Read more about Japanese traditions associated with the paulownia here, including the planting of a paulownia when a daughter is born.

Underlining its treasure box status is the fact that in The British Museum is a set of four calligraphy albums featuring haiku by Basho – one album for each season and each album stored in a paulownia box.

I wasn’t able to find any haiku about paulownia blossoms – only the tree’s leaf fall in autumn which has significant, and ancient, connotations for Japanese and Chinese poets.

hitoha chiru / totsu hitoha chiru / kaze no ue

a leaf falls
Totsu! A leaf falls
on the wind

– Hattori Ransetsu (1654-1707), tr William Higginson
The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology (Courier Corporation, 2012)

The notes with the haiku say this (in part):

The term ‘one leaf’ in a Japanese haiku is code for paulownia (kiri in Japanese).The fast-growing tree’s leaves drop throughout the year and symbolise loneliness and connote the past. The large, purple flowers are deeply associated with haiku because they hold 3 prongs of 5-7-5 buds, respectively. The blooms and their bracket of leaves form the crest of the Empress of Japan. Totsu is an exclamation uttered by a student of Zen Buddhism when enlightenment is achieved – it is also said to be the sound a paulownia leaf makes as it hits the ground upon falling.

Sourced from the Old Pond Comics website.

鳴蝉も連てふはりと一葉哉
naku semi mo tsurete fuwari to hito ha kana

with a singing cicada
softly…
one leaf falls

– Issa, from Haiku of Kobayashi Issa website.

David Lanoue’s notes say: The phrase, “one leaf” (hito ha), specifically denotes a paulownia leaf in the shorthand of haiku. Shinji Ogawa notes that naku semi mo tsurete means “together with the singing cicada”. The falling leaf has a passenger!

The footnote to another poem amplifies the power of ‘one leaf’: Shinji Ogawa comments: “In a Chinese book, Enanji (in Japanese pronunciation) published in the early third century, it is written that when a paulownia leaf falls, the world’s autumn is known. The ‘world’s autumn’ implies the changing of the dynasty. Since paulownia leaves are the crest of the Tyotomi family that ruled Japan in the sixteenth century and was ruined by the Tokugawa, the word hito ha (“one paulownia leaf”) implies a sort of sadness.”

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The symbol of the Japanese empress – three paulownia leaves – is seen on a roof tile in the Imperial Palace, Kyoto. (The tadpole-type symbols on the other tiles are apparently water drops that act as a ‘charm’ against fire.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

making sure we know 
that autumn is here, a leaf
from the empress tree

– Den Sutejo (1633-98) tr Makoto Ueda
Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women (Columbia University Press, 2012)

An editor’s choice!

Lovely to be included in the Editor’s Choices for the latest issue of The Heron’s Nest. Amazingly enough – to me anyway – this is the first dragonfly haiku I’ve had published!

torpid heat the small breeze a dragonfly makes

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest, 18.3

Another nice surprise came through the ether all the way from Angelee Deodhar in India, who created this haiga:

Beautiful photo, isn’t it? My attempts at dragonfly photography are very mediocre by comparison.

The appearance of a dragonfly in Japanese haiku tradition is a signifier of autumn but as you can see from my poem, I haven’t necessarily bothered about that. It might be high summer, it might be an Indian summer, you figure it out!

a round melon
   in a field of round melons
          – resting dragonfly

– Robert Spiess (1921-2002)
from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years

Number one on a list of 14 ‘fun facts’ about dragonflies is this: Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches (5-12cm), but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet (61cm). Read the rest of the list here.

the dragonfly
on mother’s gravestone
something of her

– Jane Reichhold (1937-2016)
from A Dictionary of Haiku: Second Edition

We have a ‘giant’ dragonfly in New Zealand (Uropetala carovei) which has a yellow and black body that can be up to 86mm (3.4 inches) long, with a wingspan up to 130mm (5 inches). Read more about it here and listen to a radio talk about it and our other large dragonfly here (11 minutes 30, not all dragonfly). And no, I’ve never seen one.

.とんぼうのはこしているや菊の花

tombô no hako shite iru ya kiku no hana

the dragonfly
takes a crap …
chrysanthemum

– Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)
translated by David Lanoue and from his website Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

Another Issa haiku to finish – the cartoon by talented Canadian Jessica Tremblay from her Old Pond Comics collection.

Sharp blades drumming

Yesterday turned into a wet day (much, much worse further south on the island so not complaining) so I dived into the video store and hired some DVDs.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a delightful documentary looking at the work (which it turns out is also the life) of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who has three Michelin stars for his nine-seater restaurant in a Tokyo railway station. A food writer says dining there may take 15 minutes – which probably makes it the most expensive restaurant in the world. Although no mention was made of whale meat, there was plenty of discussion about tuna. Anyway, it seemed serendipitous to discover this haiku, new to me.    

                     whale-meat market 
sharp blades
 
drumming

– Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

The translation is by Stephen Addiss and appears in his book The Art of Haiku (Shambhala Publications, 2012). There are amazingly sharp blades featured throughout the film.

.貰ふたよ只一切のはつ松魚
morauta yo tada hito kire no hatsu-gatsuo

my portion
just a tiny slice …
summer’s first bonito

– Issa, written in 1824

Translated by David Lanoue and from his Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828). This note also appears: Shinji Ogawa explains, “Bonito swim along the Black Current (or Japan Current), from the Philippine Sea to the northern sea around Hokkaido. They pass near Tokyo (Edo) in spring [old calendar = summer] on their way north. They return to pass Tokyo in the fall on their way back to the south.” In haiku, bonito is a summer season word.

Horse Mackerel and Prawns, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Towards the end of the film Jiro, who was abandoned by his family when he was seven years old, and his older son Yoshikazu bemoan the small numbers of fish available, and that the quality is more variable than in the past. They believe part of the problem is the proliferation of sushi bars throughout the world (I had the impression they didn’t much care for the conveyor belt outfits).

桜えびすしに散らして今日ありぬ
sakura ebi sushi ni shirashite kyoo arinu

cherryblossom shrimps
sprinkled on my sushi —
what a fine day!

Hosomi Ayako (1907-1997)

Translated by Gabi Greve and taken from her World Kigo Database page for Raw Fish, which includes this note: The shrimps are a speciality of Suruga Bay, Sagami Bay and a few others, where they are caught and dried on the shore, with Mt. Fuji in the background … Eating them brings the pleasant feeling of spring, even in winter.

Bowl of Sushi, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Mid-winter evening,
alone at the sushi bar —
just me and this eel

– Billy Collins, from Modern Haiku 35.3 (2004)

ひとみ元消化器なりし冬青空
Hitomi moto / shôkaki narishi / fuyu-aozora

eyes used to be
digestive organs —
winter blue sky

– Yukihiko Settsu (1947-1996)

Translated by Keiji Minato and taken from his essay Notes on Modern Haiku, section 3.

Gochisōsama deshita! (Said after a meal by those who have enjoyed eating it – I hope you like / enjoy these haiku as much as I have.)

Soaping Fabulously 4

Yet another from the back of the wardrobe (still not my wardrobe, honest) is “luxury English soap” Bronnley Merry Christmas which comes in a box with a holly pattern on it, reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas card. At the time the box was made the company had warrants from HM Queen Elizabeth and HRH the Prince of Wales, but its website now displays only the former.

From a little bit of surmising I would say the soap was purchased in 2008 (the website has different Christmas soaps now available) but it had lost none of its soapiness or its scent – apple and cinnamon, which yes, did remind me of Christmas, a bit. A pleasant soap to use, a decent-sized bar and it lasted for a good length of time.

Although this particular soap is no longer available, on the basis of how much I enjoyed it, I would try a Bronnley soap again.

Cost: $9.90 for 100g. Rating 4 stars.

Also coming in a box (actually, there’s something a bit special about soap in a box) is Linden Leaves aromatherapy synergy in love again. My first recommendation is to this New Zealand company is to come up with a snappier name! The soap is branded as “vegetable soap” (large print on the front) and is certified organic (small print on the back), while the box itself is printed with “vegetable inks” and is “attractively packaged in a paper-based wrap”. Okay, I added the hyphen, I couldn’t help it. What’s “paper-based” mean, do you think? Some paper and some other yukky stuff we don’t want to mention? What’s wrong with using 100% recycled paper?

Back to the small print on the back – besides the rosehip oil and avocado oil there are  things with numbers and chemical names on the list of ingredients. I guess we have to figure that if it’s certified organic (why isn’t that on the front in big letters?) it’s all good.

The soap itself was pleasant enough, but it is one of the pricier ones I’ve used and that extra cost didn’t really stand out in terms of scent or skin feel. In fact, it was probably a bit less fabulous than the six-year-old Bronnley soap. This soap is tagged as having a scent of neroli, vanilla and sandalwood (although the box shows an orange and orange blossom, which is just plain confusing). You all know how I am about vanilla and, once again, I have been disappointed. Pleasant but not nearly what I wanted or was expecting. See the full range of Linden Leaves soap.

At the same time I bought the soap I also purchased a bottle of Linden Leaves ginseng and orange blossom bath salts, which smell divine. Oddly, there is no soap to match.

Cost: $14.99 for 100g. Rating 3 stars.

Haiku Husband has been gallivanting and one of my proceeds from a recent trip was a bar of Honey I Washed Teh Kids (sic) from a Lush outlet in Dubai. Here’s a link to the New Zealand branch of Lush, which is a UK-based company.

The soap is advertised as “toffee and honey” and the bar comes with a honeycomb effect on top of the slice. It does have a scent, but I clock it as something spicier than either toffee or honey. I’ve always wanted to love Lush products but often feel let down when I use them. The fun names and the unique look of the stores usually don’t translate into the same fun at home (website slogan: “magic is something we make”).

The soap lathers okay, but being brown the soap isn’t so pretty to look at and the “honeycomb” on the end is sharpish and/or falls off … and this stuff isn’t cheap! Not one I’d try again.

Cost: Dhr410/kg or $NZ140/kg (Dhr42.65 for my block/ $NZ14.61). Rating 2 stars.

Read Part 3
Read Part 2
Read Part 1

.かくれ家は浴過けり松の蝉
kakurega wa yuami sugi keri matsu no semi

secluded house –
a hot bath
and cicadas in the pines

– Kobayashi Issa, written in 1804.

This haiku (both Japanese and English) is from David Lanoue’s amazing site, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

Plum blossom season

ossom” is synonymous with spring but, traditionally, “plum blossom” in Japanese haiku is a signifier for late winter and, as that’s where my part of the world is at, it’s timely to shine a small spotlight on this flower.

Probably my best effort at plum blossom. Artwork: Sandra Simpson

Several years ago I joined a Chinese brush-painting class where we worked through the “four gentlemen”, starting with bamboo before moving on to orchid, chrysanthemum  and finishing with  plum blossom.

Our teacher, Sally, had a magnificent scroll painting of plum blossom she had bought in Hong Kong. It was enormous and masterfully done. Painted images of plum blossom often show snow on the branches too, reinforcing the late winter season.

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Billington is the first plum variety to crop and these blossoms were out with the magnolias in a Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

home village
all the potholes
patched with plum blossoms

– Ernest Wit, Asahi Haikuist network, February 1, 2013

捨扇梅盗人にもどしけり
sute ôgi ume nusubito ni modoshi keri

abandoned fan –
I return it
to the plum blossom thief

– Kobayashi Issa (tr David Lanoue)

Read more of Issa’s plum blossom haiku.

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Plum blossom in Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I visited Japan in April 2012 and while the cherry blossom was opening in the lower areas, in the higher country we were still in late winter. This photo was taken in the Fuji Five Lakes national park (Fuji-Goko).

Gabi Greve, writing about plum blossom on her World Kigo Database website, says plum blossom viewing was a popular pastime, particularly in the Heian period (794-1185), but was done more on an individual basis than by the big groups who undertake cherry blossom viewing – red plum blossoms  remind the viewer of the coming spring, while white blossoms are a reminder of the snow that may still be about or still to fall.

plum blossoms everywhere …
I should go south,
I should go north

– Yosa Buson

While looking for haiku for this post, I came across this one in Haiku Before Haiku by Steven D Carter (Columbia University Press, NY, 2011):

plum branches –
umbrellas taking shape
in the rain

– wife of Mitsusada (1583-1647)

A note with the haiku says the wife of Sugiki Mitsusada was “often called the first female haikai poet” … so I did a little online research and found this from Far Beyond the Field, Haiku by Japanese women, compiled by Makoto Ueda:

The earliest documentary evidence for female authorship of haikai is  … Enokoshu (The puppy collection, 1633), which collected verses  written by poets of Tei-mon, the oldest school of  haikai. [It] contains works by a person identified only as “Mitsusada’s wife”. Of the 178 poets represented in the anthology, she was the lone woman. That statistic, and her being listed under her husband’s name, suggest the kind of status to which women were confined in haiku circles during this seminal period.

Read a sample from the book.