9/26/01 Chateutel Matsuyama

This morning I decide to go for a walk around the rice fields and farm behind Hiromi's neighborhood. A few days ago Hiromi and I took the neighbor's dog, Ponta, for a walk in the area, so I wasn't worried about getting lost. On this route I saw my first bamboo grove, and the first manjushage, and the first orange grove. If once again I leave the road to stand in bamboo or lope a little ways through an orange grove, it is because I can. This will be my last morning here before I move to the hotel, so it is also a walk to prepare myself for something new. I leave some coins with the sitting Buddha at the end of a farm driveway.

coins reflect the light
in Buddha's black box


Naoko drives me to the hotel. The first thing I do is shower, and then I study the map. Afterwards I venture out and do a considerable amount of walking in an attempt to imprint the sights on my brain. It works as long as I don't get too adventuresome. After my first foot blister I get brave enough to look for dinner. As the menus are all in Japanese, I study the displays outside restaurants to see what looks good. Finding what appears to be an egg/fish/noodle combination I carefully copy the Japanese in my notebook and take it inside to show the waitress when she takes my order. It works! And the meal was delicious too. Leaving, I don't go straight to the hotel but stop at the department store to look around and to buy sake for my evening muse. My first excursion feels like a success. I am a citizen of the world.

Since I have been asked "What makes a good American haiku?" I sit at the desk and attempt to figure out what my answer is. The question, I feel, is indulgent because who am I to say? But it would be nice for me to find out what I think.

What Makes A Good American Haiku?

It is almost as if you have asked, "What is life?" It is probably because the best haiku impart some essential quality of life that they are so hard to define. I think, American or otherwise, they must convey a sense of awe, deep beauty, deep love and respect - reverence for creation and they must convey all this in simple, elegant terms. A haiku resonates from a profound and mysterious silence. It often reminds me of the painted designs one finds in dark Japanese lacquer ware. Both the designs and the dark lacquer compliment one another, and always to me, they seem to be more than what they are. Yet, lacquer ware is a thing at rest. Haiku imparts something of the restless soul, a soul that is drunk to exhilaration on the melancholy sake of life.

For me, the perfect haiku moment is like standing on the border between two worlds. Meido. One world seems a landscape I carry inside, but perhaps I am a fish peering from a pond. The other world is the world we sketch in shasei. I think shasei is very important because life is filling all things. Often we are too full of ourselves to see this, so the practice of shasei is an absolute must. It (shasei) is not the heart of the haiku, but the construct of an altar made of words where the soul for a timeless moment can dwell. Too many haikuists are not in love enough with language to build an effective altar. The gods stay in the wilderness and do not enter the hack-worked birdhouses. So the haiku is an altar that stands as a stopping place, both for the gods and us.

And I think, not enough Americans realize language is not simply a tool used to communicate from one man to another. It is also a conduit through which silence speaks to the writer. All speech flows from silence and if we listen as we practice writing memoirs, essays, stories, letters- and haiku - we may have the good fortune to hear something very strange, foreign, alien - and yet familiar talking to us through the very words we thought were our own. This is why in shasei the haikuist is often surprised to see what she has written. In a manner of speaking, something from silence flows through the backside of the altar, as the reader's consciousness approaches the front.
I think it is also important for the haiku to be in season. I have written many that are not, but generally I think they are inferior. Still, sometimes the silence speaking through a haiku moment seems to be saying something about "all time."

The Japanese have stalked their shelves with rich and varied spices of season words. Americans, lacking the shelter of tradition, grab any fish and call it sushi. But as American haiku refines and defines itself - I trust it will become more palatable to Japanese tastes.



Mr. Miyamoto, my Shiki Team guide for the day, meets me in the lobby and we go to Matsuyama Castle. The winding walk up the hill will guarantee a breathless view, but before we ascend the entire distance we veer off to the castle garden. There are bi-colored orange and white carp in a remote corner of its pond. They have learned to expect something of people who stand next to their shore.

Matsuyama carp
expecting a tithe
from this hand that has traveled
6,000 miles to see them.

The garden is probably as fine a garden as one will find anywhere in Japan. Under the brushwork of cherry blossoms it must become a breathtaking masterpiece.

autumn afternoon-
a patient spider
in the gnarled bonsai

The Lord of Iyo's recreational baths are dimpling with rain.

bodies of water-
a few raindrops dimple
Kato's baths

But the rain only lasts a moment.

bodies of water-
Kato's baths
are undisturbed

The sight of the baths reminds me I am to let Mr. Miyamoto know if I want to go to the bath at the Dogo Hot Spa. My so-called American modesty has put me in two minds about the prospect. (Earlier, misunderstanding the deep tradition and exactly what it entailed, I had told a Shiki Team member that I would only go with a female guide.) I mention to Mr. Miyamoto that I might be willing to go, but obviously I do not make myself clear and as the day wears long, I do not mention it again. Frankly, I did not like the idea of being in a public bath with a bunch of men. But neither have I historically liked public swimming pools either. Even Bocchan preferred to bath alone and actually used the bath as a swimming pool. Still, I know the spirit of Soseki would be disappointed in me, and that I should make amends with the kami of the spa I slighted by not making my clay more fluent to local customs. But how? I didn't even have bread for the carp.

The castle has many gates and foils that function as strategies for its defense. I do not want to sound like a guidebook, so I will leave it up to the reader to find his/her own approach to the defensive works. The steps are steep.

Long windows,
square windows,
arrow or bullet -
climbing Matsuyama
I stumble on the past.

In the dark interior the displays of armor are silhouettes evoking phantoms of the past. At the top of the castle you find a clear view of the present.

twelve o'clock-
a flock of birds disperses
through the Ferris wheel

hotel view-
a castle sits neatly
atop the Iyo Bank

Kukai suddenly appears
on the mountain

Matsuyama Castle-
its city splashes to the sea

These are more in the way of 'greeting haiku" (Kimiyo has given me that term) and I include them as such. The Ferris wheel was atop a large department store, and I think, a recent addition. The hotel window was in a tenth floor dining room at the hotel.


Mr. Miyamoto drives to a supermarket where we will have lunch. I wait at a table in the dining area drinking hot green tea (free from a vending machine). When Mr. Miyamoto returns he puts several bags on the table and announces,
"We will eat like a horse."
This is the first and only occasion where I cannot eat sushi with relish. Or without. Not that there was anything wrong with the sushi. I think it was just the idea of sushi from a supermarket. Whatever it was did have the advantage of consuming my appetite.

warm autumn sun
flooding the table-
supermarket sushi

Mr. Miyamoto encourages me to eat but my stomach is neighing "nevermore." I feel I must make a choice between hurting his feeling or upsetting the soft and sacred urn sitting atop my hips. I make an attempt but find the going rough. Mr. Miyamoto remarks,
"I think I have gone overboard."
Burbling green tea over the sushi lodged in my throat I assure him that we are both drowning in a sea of good things and that maybe my appetite wasn't so strong as I thought it was, or maybe, as the American expression goes, "My eyes were bigger than my stomach." Mr. Miyamoto is genuinely distressed about the waste of food and urges me to take it back to the hotel. Knowing the hotel is several hours away I glance out the window hoping to see a cat.
"Sea gulls!" I say. "Let's feed it to the sea gulls."
We eventually decide to drop it off at his house on the way to the Iyo Kasuri shop where instead of the beautiful indigo cloth the area is noted for; I buy green tea with plum (?) flavoring. I also buy a cloth sutra. During the course of the day Mr. Miyamoto drives me to some temples which are most fascinating for their varied statuary of Buddha, and Kobo Daishi. Enroute we talk of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman and of the difference between Shinto worship and Buddhism, which, he says, may be glibly presented as follows: funerals are left for the Buddhists while all ceremonial and festive occasions are presided over by Shinto priests.