We arrive a little early for the activities of the Mourning Anniversary. I sign a guest book in honor of Shiki, turning the page sideways to write my name and address. It is similar to signing a visitors' book at a funeral or even an art opening I guess, but the fact that I am here, for this man, signing this book overwhelms me with a sense of undeserved honor. How can this be?
my signature stalled
in the stream of kanji-
At the Mourning Anniversary (commemorating the death of Shiki) I stand in the temple cemetery among many living people too. I move around the monuments like a human chess piece in the hand of a hesitant god. I don't know how I got here and I don't know what to do. Kim poses me for a couple of camera shots in front of Shiki's monument but most of the cameras, TV or otherwise, have their black lens focused on the white sheet covering Shiki's new stone which will be unveiled during the afternoon ceremony. This is a big event and looking around the only blue eyes watching are mine.
the breath of life
on Shiki's darkened stone-
this year's sponge gourd
There is a certain advantage to being dumb (both speechless and clueless). You have no choice but to settle into your own flawed stream like a steadfast stone. You watch and you see as time erases and refaces the moment at hand. You can have the brief and foolish pleasure of thinking you have not been touched, or of thinking you are wise because, removed from the stream you are aware of how much has passed you by. I am a skeptic and a believer. I am suspicious about the efficacy of ceremony even though my primitive superstition is aroused on the slightest provocation.
A Buddhist priest arrives and begins to chant. He reminds me of someone I should know. He makes a good sound; for a time it leeches out my foolish thoughts.
the priest chants
to the sponge gourd-
the smell of incense
I don't know if the ceremony calls Shiki's soul forth or keeps it peacefully away. Perhaps it placates a restless sleep with a gentle waking. Perhaps the only entity woken is remembrance (re-member). From the viewpoint of my blessed dumbness, it seems the entire ceremony is obviously a reaction to Shiki, so in that sense, he seems to be there. Certainly he is conjured in every mind. Religious ceremonies share with art, I think, the ability to translate loss into presence and the success of either depends on the measure of that ability. A late season butterfly flits through the crowd. To my enlightened hindbrain it is an obvious omen, a presence. No one seems to notice, though surely they
must as it has woven its way through so many, even flying in front of the priest. I study his face to see what subtle change the butterfly might make on his expression.
a late butterfly
hovers among the mourners,
flits between the stones;
it seems a brush dipped in light,
painting a beautiful grief
a butterfly flits before
the chanting priest
Eventually the sheet is removed. Shiki's stone is unveiled. It is much whiter than the old one and is inscribed with a haiku Kim translates for me:
beautiful harvest moon
over the temple
the shape of the window
The ceremony moves inside the temple where the governor of the prefecture and the mayor of the city (for two) officiate. Members of Shiki's family read, actually sing, haiku. This is a form called shigin. The priest of the temple invites me to sit up front. Once again I am overwhelmed with honor.
If earlier I made room for the mountains in my camera, today I am given a piece of the mountain by the Shiki Team. After the Shiki Mourning Anniversary Hiromi and Kim introduce me to Tobe-Yaki. 'Tobe" is a Yamato Period (390-645) word that means 'Whetstone Producing Folk" so it would seem that if Shikoku's history relative to the rest of Japan has been a history of peace, it was nonetheless on the cutting edge of
events. 'Yaki' is pottery. Pottery making, though, did not begin in this area until 1777. A local potter was ordered to make pottery out of whetstone chips which were in abundance. Kim, who seems truly to be the Queen of Matsuyama and resident historian shows me around the factory. The process begins with a stone that is crushed to a powder and mixed with water in a kind of reversal to clay.
what became a stone
becomes a bowl
I am shown the original kilns.
so much cooler-
I linger with my guide
in an ancient kiln
And then, of course, I tour the store. Tobe ware has a distinctive blue grass blade design painted on its surface. It is very attractive and very durable. Since my wife has a number of blue ware objects already crowding her shelf, I want to find something distinctive in shape. I decide on a sake decanter. It has shoulders and a neck, a cork for a head - and it can be filled with spirits. It feels aesthetically appropriate for an object that was also mountain. I think Kim is amused by my choice. She tells me the Shiki team had decided to present me with whatever item (within reason) I chose, and because my choice is under budget, I may pick something else as well. I choose a white dragon. Or it chooses me.
the sales clerk finds a box
for the porcelain dragon
the mountain's silence
in the Tobe decanter
presented this day,
September nineteenth 01
with grace that leaves me speechless
And then it is on to Ishite-ji: Ishite-ji is the fifty-first temple of Shikoku's eighty-eight temples. It dates from 728 but many of its buildings were built during the Kamakura Era (1192-1333). "Ishite-ji" means stone hand temple. The name derives from a rich and greedy man named Emon Saburo who turned away Kobo Daishi when he came to beg, even by some accounts putting excrement in his bowl. As a result all of Emon's sons died one by one over a period of eight days. Emon repented and wanted to ask forgiveness but went around and around Shikoku, temple to temple, in an unsuccessful quest to find Kobo. Finally when Emon was dying Kobo appeared and granted Emon his wish to be reborn as a benefactor. Kobo put a stone with the inscription "Emon Saburo reborn" in the dying man's hand. Later the wife of the Lord of Iyo (Ehime) gave birth to a baby that was clutching the stone. The stone is on display in the temple, though it must have swollen with fame - or perhaps the baby had a very large hand (the stone is golf ball size, maybe a bit smaller).
its famous stone protected
Upon arriving Kim instructs me on how to purify myself before entering the temple grounds. A wooden ladle is dipped into a fountain. Water is poured over the left hand and then the right. A little water is poured into the palm and one pretends to drink in order to purify the mouth. The remainder of the water is poured out in such a way that it should run down the handle to the ground. I think this last part is curious and in doing so I found myself visualizing the handle as a kind of foreshortened stream to the departed. But perhaps I was only giving succor to an unseen earth spirit. Not knowing if I was actually supposed to drink the water, I was reassured when the pantomimed ritual was deemed sufficient.
The site has a two Deva-king gate that is a national treasure and said to be the work of Ukei, a famous sculptor. One king has its mouth open and the other king's mouth is closed, signifying beginning and ending.
I hesitate before
before the Deva -kings-
recalling a carnival
from my youth
I guess this is partly because they stand at the entrance gate behind a screen that obscures them just enough to make one want to get a closer look. Or maybe somewhere/sometime, I had seen these kings represented at the entrance to some nearly forgotten spook house. After passing through the gate we go to Shiawase-No-Kane (the bell of happiness).When I shove the suspended tree trunk toward the bell I intend to make the bell ring loudly, but even when I knock on doors back home I don't like to knock with gusto as I think a loud knock disturbing when a soft one could be sufficient. I would not be famous among poltergeists. Anyway, my attempt results in an audible but quiet exaltation. As I stand listening, admiring the timbre, a different alarm is set off by my adrenal gland as I narrowly avoid the recoil of the log. Let this testimony serve as a warning to the absent- minded pilgrim:
but beware the log that strikes
the bell of happiness
Manjushage is an amaryllis that blooms in abundance around the rice fields during the late summer/fall season. A spider lily I think. It is red in color and (to me) very unique in the arrangement of its bloom, resembling a softball -size globe of swarming comets. Not a great description, but here, as elsewhere (the deva-kings for example), I find myself wishing for a picture. During a famine farmers warned foragers the plant was poisonous, but I was told they said this only because they were desperate to keep the meal for themselves. Elsewhere I was told only part of the plant is poisonous…so both speculation and admiration surround the flower. In truth it was not the distraction of the manushage that nearly cost me my head. The admiration came after I stepped away from the bell and saw them blooming nearby.
A man approaches me. Or a spirit. At a place so old, one might expect anything. There are seven gods of fortune exhibited in the statuary around the temple grounds. Only one is a woman. (Not commentary, only a fact.) There is a statue of Emon and Kobo and I don't know whom else. With statuary in such abundance spirits must flock to the place like ducks to decoys. I will call the man/spirit "the archetype of longing gone to seed'. He practically materializes at my side. He smells of wood smoke or perhaps it's the incense sending up clouds behind him? He exudes a friendliness that is meant to be disarming and though his expression is one of amusement; there is something existential and impersonal about it that makes me uncomfortable. I cannot understand his broken English, yet I know he is searching for an opportunity that involves me. I know this because I have seen his counterpart in Pittsburgh, in Baltimore and Wheeling. I have worked beside him on the railroad. He wants a drink… or any windfall will do. But he's ok. He means you no harm. He wants to have a good time at your expense, but if you buy him a drink he wants you to buy yourself one too, because it's a kind of collusion he's after. He wants to insert himself into your happiness because he is lonely and lacking something he can identify but not find the path to…but how can I know this? Perhaps I am indeed only looking at smoke. He looks at Kimiyo and asks if she is my wife or girlfriend. I want to answer with something witty but I am at a loss for wit because in asking the question he has conjured two hypotheses that act as pebbles under my steadfast footing. I answer that she is a friend, to which he knowingly smiles.
near the bell of happiness-
Several pilgrims have entered the temple, jiggling their bells. They are dressed in white and carry walking sticks, which identifies them as pilgrims. Many such pilgrims have made it a personal mission to walk to each of Shikoku's 88 temples in homage to Kobo Daishi. It is said that Emon Saburo was the first such pilgrim. Ishite-ji is such that one visit does not see it all. In preparing this chronology I found there were items I overlooked, forgot, or did not encounter. It was getting near dusk when we left, so it's quite possible that we simply ran out of time (…which is the story of life is it not?). It is my understanding that there are eight senryu/haiku stones on the ground. Two bear haiku by Shiki:
Ishite no tera ya
ine no hana
devotion to the great saint,
the temple of Ishite…
rice plants abloom
As you will see if you go to the above site, at one time rice fields bordered the temple grounds. While this is no longer true, all over Matsuyama the smell of burning rice stalks permeates the air during the late summer season. There are still many rice fields in and around the city itself. They are one of the reasons why the roads can be so narrow down the side streets of the marginal city.
the smell of burning rice stalks,
the smell of incense
The other haiku stone dedicated to Shiki bears this haiku (again transcribed from the above site:
mi-kuji o hikeba
aki no kaze
(alas my) fortune;
drawing divine lots,
the autumn wind
This haiku refers to a fortune that Shiki found on the temple grounds; a very bad fortune that he took personally. I have felt compelled to include the haiku here because a long time ago a similar yet opposite event happened to me that the story brings to mind, and it seems an appropriate segue as I leave Ishite-ji .
When I was in Vietnam, at a fire support base during Tet of 1969, I was homesick and depressed. A bright red and yellow piece of cloth blew against my boot. On it were the words phuc, loc, tho - which in Vietnamese is happiness, prosperity and long life. It comforted me. It was a good omen; one I did not overtly believe but one I wanted to
believe. When we are young, we are foolish. Then we grow old and foolish. When the piece of cloth blew against my boot I felt chosen. Standing in Ishite-ji how could I not feel chosen? Foolishness hands Time a party hat and hopes he'll stay a little longer and in doing so Foolishness convinces himself he actually invited the fellow to a party…
Forget about chosen-ness or randomness, I tell myself. Perhaps you deserve nothing. It is all a gift.
Not too far from Ishite-ji there is Isso-an, the small cottage where Santoka lived. Most of his life Santoka (Taneda Shoichi) was a beggar and a drunkard; yet, because of his free form haiku (He did not adhere to 5-7-5, nor always include kigo, and often his syntax and grammer were colloquial) he is revered by many. (One would think he would be a favorite of us free wheeling Americans…) For further information please check the Shiki Haiku Salon site. My primary memory of Isso-an (one blade of grass hut) is of how Hiromi, Kim and myself were attacked by mosquitoes.
the mosquitoes are as thirsty
a part of me stays