Ichinen

 

TEMPLE

 

That morning, contrary to his usual practice, the Reverend had joined us in a drink to speed my friend Banto on his way. For some time after Banto's departure, he sat with his feet in the sunken fire place, his chin resting on the quilt-covered frame that concealed it. After a while, he said, "I shall have a little nap," and without ceremony stretched himself out on the floor.

For the past four or five days, I had been staying at the priests' quarters of the Central Hall of Yokawa, one of the three groups of buildings that make up the monastery on Mt. Hiei. Banto, who happened to visit Kyoto at just the same time, had come up from the city to see me the previous evening. He and I had shared the same room with the Reverend, and that morning Banto, after a rapid inspection of the monastery's two other precincts, had left for Kyoto again. I myself had promised him to leave the following day and join him for a day or two's relaxation in Kyoto.

Yokawa, the remotest of the temple's three precincts, is also the loneliest of them all. Founder's Hall, two or three hundred yards away, attracts a sprinkling of worshipers on some days, but Central Hall has scarcely a single visitor the whole year round. A massive structure, it seems almost to dwarf the cryptomerias about it. The doors on all sides are shut fast, and the inside is pitch dark, save for solitary lamp which burns day and night in the blackness before the altar, and which is visible if one peers through a hole, about one foot square, in the door at the front. The priests' quarters form a separate building standing about twenty yards from the Central Hall. Here the Reverend dwells alone, without even a manservant to help him prepare his meals. I myself had helped him with the cooking during the days I had spent there.

The Reverend was lying hunched up like a prawn, with only his round pate protruding from the quilt. He seemed to have gone fast asleep. His priestly duties consisted solely of reading the sutras to himself for one hour and a half every day in the Central Hall; apart from that, there was nothing for him to do. The time for reading the sutras was not even fixed; morning, afternoon, or evening would do equally well. If he felt sleepy, there was nothing to stop him from sleeping, even in the morning. A lonely lot, but an easy one, too. . . .

I left the Reverend's room and went back to my own, near the entrance hall. Seating myself on my cushion, I propped myself up against the low table and listened. Silence. No gale roaring in the trees, no birds singing even. It was terrifying almost, as though the silence were building up to a climax. Suddenly, I heard a sound hke rain going drip, drip. . . . Startled, I opened the sliding doors and looked out. It was raining, and I had not realized. The drops hanging from the eaves glistened and fell, glistened and fell. I felt cold, and shut the doors again.

For some two hours I worked, oblivious of all else. "When I came to, the Reverend was still asleep, the rain still falling gently. Something seemed to be astir in the kitchen. Puzzled, I went and looked. A young novice, his robe white in the dark kitchen, was standing before the sink, washing something which proved to be the breakfast dishes, which had left dirty. He looked at me and smiled cheerily, but omitted to bow.

"What temple are you from?" I asked.

"Founder's Hall," he replied in a loud voice. "Why didn't you come for your bath last night?" he continued, as though addressing someone of his own age.

"I had a cold."

"After I'd heated it upspecially for you, too. . . ."

"You? Sorry. I'll have one next time."

"I'm going home tomorrow."

"Where's that?"

"My real home's in Tokyo, butI've got an aunt in Kyoto. Tomorrow, I'm going to her place."

"Whereabouts in Kyoto does she live?"

"Gion."

I was somewhat taken aback. Gion was the celebrated geisha quarter.

"Where's Gion?" I asked, to test him.

"What, don't you know Gion? Gripes!" His tone implied infinite scorn. "How long are you here for?"

"Me? I'm going to Kyoto tomorrow too. . . .Don't bother, there's a cloth here, I'll do the wiping."

"No, give it here and let me do it. . . . Going to Kyoto tomorrow, eh? Just when d'you think you'll have a bath ‘next time,' then? Silly ass, the bath's only heated once every five days." I was no match for his nimble wits.

"I see. That means I can't have a bath at the Founder's Hall again. What a pity."

"No pity about it! There are plenty of decent baths in Kyoto, aren't there, without using messy ones like that. Kyoto beats Tokyo for baths, don't you know, There's a first-rate one in Kyogoku—steam-heated!"

"When did you become a novice?"

"February."

"This year?"

"Mm."

"When did you leave Tokyo?"

"Last year. I came here after I left elementary school. You heard of Sakurada Elementary School? That's where I was. Old Yamazaki and Kaida are putting on airs just because they'll be in second grade at junior high school this year. They wrote to me about it. Bad writing, as I expected. Now, I ask you—isn't it disgraceful for people who put on airs like that not to write decently?"

He put the dishes and bowls away in the cupboard, cleaned out the kitchen, and followed me into my room without so much as aby-your-leave.

"Studying? Whatever d'you come to this place for? For a holiday?" He sat down on the other side of the charcoal brazier and, taking up the notebook I had left open on my desk, began to abuse efforts in no uncertain tones. "Cripes! Look what

he draws! Awful, aren't they? I'm much better."

Seen in the light of my room instead of the dark kitchen, he was quite a good-looking boy. Twelve or thirteen, he had a fair complexion, large eyes and firmly-drawn lips.

"I say, what's this you've drawn?  'Buddhist altar'? Whoever saw a Buddhist altar like that! Cripes! Look here, now—you've got the altar far too big and the side-tables far too small. I had no artistic talent to begin with, and the pictures which I had drawn to save long written explanations were attacked without mercy.

"What's this—‘Think on Kwannon in the morning; think on Kwannon at eventide; thoughts arise from the mind; thoughts are not separate from the mind.' Silly ass! Is this the kind of thing you write? You really are a fool!"

He looked into my face, his big eyes full of amused scorn.

"What d'you think you are.'' What d'you do for a living? Copying down all kinds of funny things. . . . " He went on as if talking to himself; at the same time, he took out a pencil from between the pages and began to sketch my face. He glanced up and drew, glanced up and drew again.

"No good—you move. Perhaps I'll try the Reverend here instead. Got a big head, hasn't he?' See here, like this. Then his ears . . . just like a bat's. When I'm talking to him it's always his head and ears I look at, you know." Gradually his voice rose in pitch.

"And his ears move too, you know! It's funny-when something sets them off they waggle like a cat's. Awfully funny, I thought!"

The Reverend groaned and, thrusting a pale arm out over the quilt, rubbed it with his other hand.

"That's enough, now," I said. "You musn't say unpleasant things about people. You're an ill-mannered brat, that's what you are".

I gave him three cakes.

"Thanks," he said, cramming one into his mouth without delay.

The Reverend yawned. "My word, I slept well," he said, sitting up. "So you're here are you, Ichinen. Now you musn't get in the visitor's away."

"Me get in the way?" He was drawing in my notebook a picture of the Reverend yawning, his face all mouth. A balloon proceeding from the mouth contained the words "Here are you Ichinen now don’t get in the visitors way." Another balloon proceeding from one of his ears said "these ears

Waggle.” I burst out laughing despite myself

"The Reverend at the Hojuin told me to tell you he was going down to town today," said Ichinen innocently. He glanced at the Reverend and started another likeness, this time in spectacles, The Reverend had, in fact, assumed a large pair of tortoise-shell framed spectacles and was examining something written on a piece of paper.

"Let me see, the twelfth, isn't it?" he said absentmindedly.

"No, it's the fourteenth," I said.

"The fourteenth, is it? Well, now. Let's see, was it the day before yesterday that you came?"

I had been there for five days, but it felt like a month. How lax of the Reverend, I reflected.

"How do you like butterburs? Or fermented soybeans, perhaps?"

"I can't take the beans, but butterburs would be nice, thank you."

"Well, then, I’ll make you some baked butterburs before you go tomorrow. It's raining today, but there are lots of them over by Tosotsu Valley. Ichinen, get some tomorrow morning if it's fine, will you?"

Ichinen, affecting not to hear, was writing in the notebook, in square characters, "Ichinen born Oct. 2nd 1895."

"Baked butterburs?" I queried.

"One skewers the butterburs, covers them with bean-paste, and bakes them," the Reverend explained. "Most tasty, I assure you. I'm sure we'll have you singing their praises—so long as you don't dislike butterburs, of course."

"They sound excellent. Tosotsu Valley—that's the other side of the Eshin Mausoleum, isn't it? Let me go and get them, then."

I had had nothing but vegetarian food—and that consisting mostly of boiled beans, broiled bean curds, and bean paste—ever since my arrival. Soup with fresh bean curd, or spinach, was unobtainable without a lucky delivery of bean curd and spinach from Sakamoto, at the foot of the mountain. In such circumstances, the mere mention of baked butterburs set my mouth watering. Already their fragrance seemed to fill the room.

Ichinen was ferreting about on my desk. My safety razor caught his attention.

"I say, what's this!"

"A razor."

"A razor? Cripes!" You shave with a razor like this? Does it cut well?" He was twisting it busily in his fingers.

"Now Ichinen, why don't you help in the kitchen or something instead of getting in the visitor's way?"

"He's already done a great deal," I said. "He's washed up every single dish and bowl."

"Has he, now. That was good of him. Then I wonder if I could bother him to boil up a kettle of water?"

Ichinen was silent, playing with the razor still.

"How d'you sharpen it?"

"Like this." I showed him.

"Cripes!" He took it back. "When did you shave? Here, show me. No? Cripes!" "Gripes" served him to express both admiration and dissatisfaction.

"Ichinen, boil the kettle, wont you," repeated the Reverend unhurriedly.

"Don't you hear? the Reverend's talking to you," I said.

"So you won't shave? Silly ass!" said Ichinen, casting a glance of unutterable regret at the razor as he went off to the kitchen. In no time the sound of pine needles crackling suggested that he had lit the fire under the kettle.

"Quite a sharp lad you’ve got there," I said.

"Full of mischief, I'm afraid. But then, he's good at memorizing the sutras. Useful. Properly brought up, he'd turn out well, I don't doubt. . . ." He paused. "It seems to be raining badly. Poor Mr. Banto. . . . Dear me, eleven o'clock." He took his feet out of the sunken fireplace and stretched. His huge head tickled my fancy. The pine needles were still crackling, but there was no other clue as to what Ichinen was up to.

The Reverend took the wooden frame off the top of the fireplace, which was disclosed directly beneath, then put the kettle on, and brushed up the dust round about, throwing it on the fire.

"I think I'll have a cup of tea. Won't you join me if you're having a break?"

"Thank you," I said, seating myself on the other side of the fireplace.

"I always use a rattan pillow,evenin winter, you know. ... I don't know what happened today, my head'squite numb." He rubbed it with the palm of his hand, on the right side, which had been underneath. The red mark left by the edge of the pillow was, in fact, visible on his cheek.

"It must be because you slept on one side without turning over."

"I never turn over very much at any time. The scriptures insist that one sleep on one's right side, with one's head pointing north and one's face to the west. It's often difficult to keep to the northwest rule strictly, for reasons of space, but most priests observe the part about sleeping on the right side. The thing they object to most is sleeping on their backs. If you sleep on your back, they say, you have lewd thoughts. Then again, it's said: 'the man who peddles lewdness sleeps on his back.' So with one thing and another, we're supposed to avoid it like the plague Reasons apart, though, it would be rather shocking for someone in orders to sleep sprawled out on his back, wouldn't it?"

He divided the lastfew drops in the teapot evenly between my cup and his own. The steam from the iron kettle rose in a straight line which vanished somewhere in the vicinity of his face.

"How old are you. Reverend?"

"Well, now, a nice round figure."

"Fifty?"

"That's right. Around next year or so I shall begin feeling things are a bother without a novice or a man to help with the meals."

"I should think so, too! Is Icliinen the Hojuin's exclusive property?"

"He's a bit too much for them to manage. They've been asking me to look after him, but I suspect he'd be a bit too much for me, too." He chuckled and crumbled a cake on the palm of one hand, eating it carefully with the other. He pressed a finger on the crumbs that fell on the edge of the fireplace, and conveyed them to his mouth.

"Reverend," came Icliinen's voice, "The kettle's boiling. Goodbye!"

"Is it, now. Thank you. It's midday, so why don't you have a bowl of something simple before you go? Do, now. Ichinen, Ichinen. . . .!"

He stretched up from his seat and called out in a loud voice. His ears did, indeed, move a little. I recalled Ichinen's drawing in my notebook and wanted to laugh. But Ichinen himself must have left by the back entrance, for there was no reply.'

 

 

TEA HOUSE

 

"Is that the famous 'red apron'?" I said to Oen, a maid at the tea house "Ichiriki."

"That's right," she said, trimming the wick of a candle with a slightly affected gesture

"We’re not the only place that has it, but the way it's tucked up under the sash is different from other places."

"Won't you stand up and show me?" said Banto. "Is it long?"

She stood up without replying and unfastened the apron from under her sash. A broad apron, made by joining two wide strips of crimson crepe, spilled down on to the tatami like a ceremonial curtain, hiding her neatly aligned feet. It seemed to gather to itself all the light from the forest of candles on tall stands that thronged the large room. At that moment, a young apprentice geisha, exactly like one of the dolls I had seen in the shops on Shijo Street that day, appeared from behind a screen cover with silver foil. Simultaneously, a voice from behind the screen announced;

"Miss Michitose."

The young geisha knelt before us and, bowing with fingers pressed on the tatami before her, greeted Oen.

"Good evening. Miss Oen." Dimples appeared in the thick makeup, and the lips shone like the irridescent wings of beetles. Now the red of Oen's apron was folded back in its proper place, and a brilliantly colored Kyoto doll sat on the tatami in its place.

"How old are you?"

"Thirteen."

"Such a sweet little thing, isn't she?" said Oen, filling a miniature silver pipe with tobacco. "We see her every day, but each time it strikes us all over again."

"That's an odd way of tying a sash," I said to the young geisha.

"This? You do it like this, then you take it up and fold it this way, then you let it hang like this,"

She said, demonstrating with a red handkerchief on her lap. Her white fingers entwined attractively with the red.

"What do you call it?"

“Darari.”

"And your hair?"

"Kyoto style."

"The combs?"

"Combs?" She put a white hand up behind the front part of her hair. "Flower comb. And this one holds the front hair in place. What are you drawing?" She peered over at my notebook.

"Michitose, did you pay your respects at the kokuzo shrine today?" asked Oen. Kokuzo was the god of wisdom.

"Mm."

"What did you pray to him for?"

"To make me brighter, as I'm so stupid."

Another doll emerged from behind the screen.

"Miss Matsuyu," said the voice.

She seated herself beside Michitose.

"Did you go to the Kokuzo shrine today?" she asked, taking Michitose's hand on her lap.

"Mm."

"You didn't look back on your way home?"

"No, I didn't look back." Michitose pressed her both hands to her mouth, one over each dimple, to hide a giggle.

"Sounds interesting," I said, "Tell me."

"They say if you look back on your way home from the Kokuzo shrine you lose your wisdom again," said Oen. "They say that Somegiku at ‘Kanaya' forgot and looked back, and she went stupid after she got home. Oh dear!"

"Nasty!" exclaimed Michitose and Matsuyu simultaneously, each frowning and putting a hand behind her back to pat her sash in identical fashion. It was as though two puppets had moved together on the same string. Of the two sashes hanging from the middle of their backs, Matsuyu's was the longer, and trailed on the tatami.

"What do you call the way your sash's tied?" I asked her.

"Sash? Darari"

"Your hair?"

"Kyoto style." The same as Michitose.

Two more dolls appeared together from behind the silver screen.

"Miss Kichifuku."

"Miss Tamagiku."

"Good evening, Miss Oen."

"Good evening. Miss Oen."

They sat down side by side on the other side of the tall candlesticks. The two on this side might have been their reflection in a glass, they were so alike.

"What style are your sashes done in?" I asked again,

"Sashes? Darari.'' said Kichifuku, looking at Tamagiku.

"Your hair?"

"Kyoto style," said Tamagiku, looking at Kichifuku.

"You always ask the same things," said Michitose, laughing and peering at my notebook again.

"Kichifuku, he's drawing your face. He's done it awfully strange."

They all laughed and looked at Kichifuku, who covered her face with the middle part of her long sleeve.

"Oh dear!" she exclaimed bashfully. "Miss Oen, what about the shamisen player?"

"I sent for Ohana. She'll be here any moment. Tell me, do you take part in the Miyako Odori?" The "Miyako Odori" was the annual program of dancing and music put on for the public by the apprentice geisha of Gion.

"Yes."

"Just dancing?"

"Dancing and hand-drum."

"And you, Michitose?"

"Just dancing."

Next there appeared from behind the screen a woman in her fifties, carrying a shamisen.

"Miss Ohana."

"Good evening, Miss Oen."

"Good evening."

"Good evening."

"Good evening."

"Good evening."

The four dolls vied with each other in bowing to the elderly geisha.

A child brought more candles. Ohana took her shamisen and sang "The Four Seasons in the Capital." The four girls danced side by side. They were all pretty, Michitose the prettiest of them all. When the others finished, she stayed on and danced by herself.

The song of the lion playing among the peonies . . .

Ohana's voice swelled out over the accompaniment; it was a little husky, but it came over well.

At How wondrous is His swift-given grace . . . they clapped their hands and Michitose spun round with her fan drooped down from her hand.

At Have him wait a little, she said. . . the excitement mounted, and at When they dance the Lion Dance, ... she stamped spiritedly with her foot.

I left the room to go to the toilet, and went down the stairs. I must have been drunker than I realized, for I staggered slightly.

"Be careful," said Oen, who was following after me.

I could still hear the voice faintly behind me: And sat in the lion s own place ...

Parties were in progress in three of the downstairs rooms too. I was washing my hands when someone spoke behind me.

"You here?"

I turned round and saw Ichinen.

"What do you mean, saying you don't know Gion!" he said, coming up as if he was glad to see me again. "Did you come down today?"

"I came down the day after you. This your aunt's place?"

"No, it isn't."

"Come and join the party!"

"No!"

"Why? I'll apologize for you if you get into trouble, so come on!"

I took him by the hand and led him back to the room with me.

Swore to be true for ever . . . On the pilgrimage of the forty-eight temples, chanting the Buddha's praises . . .

Matsuyu was dancing to Ohana's accompaniment. Seeing me come back with Ichinen, Ohana smirked as she sang. Both Kichifuku and Tamagiku broke into smiles. Oen chuckled. I soon realized that they were not laughing at me, but were staring first from Michitose to Ichinen, then back again.

"Here's Ichinen. Do you know him?" Micliitose asked me, beckoning Ichinen to sit beside her. He sat next to her obediently.

"And where did you meet the happy pair, Mr.— ?" asked Oen.

"Happy pair?" I asked, astonished.

"You see, I'm in love with Ichinen," said Michitose. "They all make fun of me. But I don't care. Do I, Ichinen?" She looked round at the assembled company, her pretty little mouth pursed defiantly.

"Hark at the little spoony!" said Ohana, flapping at the air with her plectrum.

Ichinen picked up my notebook.

"At it again!" he said.

Michitose peered over at the book, brushing her pretty face against Ichinen as she did so.

"He was drawing all kinds of things a while ago," she said. Look, don't you think this picture's queer?"

"Awful, I think. Who's it supposed to be? You?"

"Actually, it's Kichifuku. I expect he drew her because he's fond of her. What's that picture there? What a big-headed old priest! Did he draw it? Oh, you? So that's the Reverend at Yokawa, is it? Is his head really as big as that? And his ears, too?

Ugh! 'These ears waggle.' Do they really? How queer! Matsuyu, he says the priest's ears at Yokawa waggle. Isn't it queer?

"Awfully queer. Ichinen, do they really Yes? What funny ears!"

"Ichinen, did you go to elementary school?" asked Michitose.

"Of course. What about you?"

"Yes, I left last year. And you?"

"Last year."

"We're the same, then. Were you good at school?"

"I was first. Nothing but 'A's."

"Really? Wonderful."

"And you?"

"In first grade I was third from the bottom, but in second grade I went up to fourth—really—and I was still fourth when I left. I had one 'B,' too!"

"What was it?"

"Physical training."

He wrote an ideograph in my notebook and showed her.

"Michitose, do you know this character?"

"No, I don't know such difficult characters. Do you?"

"It's the 'ro' in the name of the Shurogon Hall up at Yokawa."

"How should I know stuffy religious things like that? Then do you know this one?"

"You know such queer characters?"

"We geisha use it at the end of letters."

"How should I know silly geisha words? Then

do you know this one?"

"That's a difficult one. No, I don't know it."

"It's the name of one of the 'Three Sutras.'"

"Well, then, do you know this one? You mustn't look till I've written it." She wrote something, covering the notebook up with her long sleeve. Her 'flower comb' shone charmingly in the light of the candles.

"You can look now. How do you read this?"

"Cripes! What a lot of silly scrawling!"

"You two are just playing with my notebook, I interposed." I know what I'll do: I'll send it to the Reverend at Yokawa and tell him that Ichinen’s got a wife and that this is the kind of mischief the two of them get up to. How would that be?”

"I don't care! Silly ass!"

"If you tell tales on Ichinen, I'll do something dreadful to you. I'll kill you next time you come!"

"Oh, I'm scared," said Matsuyu. "Aren't you scared, Mr. —? I'm sure it would hurt if Michitose killed you."

"I might bleed a whole drop of blood."

"Go on, tease me—I don't care! I say, Ichinen, let's both pay him back, shall we?"

"Shall I draw his stupid face? Like this—square, isn't it?"

"That's right!"

"His eyes turn down at the corners like this, don't they?"

"That's right!"

"And his nose bent?"

"That's right!"

"And his head pointed?"

"That's right!"

''And his neck long?"

"That's right. It's really awfully like him. Look, Matsuyu. It's awfully like Mr. —, isn't it? Isn't Ichinen good at drawing?"

"Perhaps it would be better if you did something for your living instead of hanging round the men all the time," said Oen. "If you keep flirting like that, I’ll tell your mother."

"Don't be nasty, Miss Oen. You've only got to say. Music, is it? Shall I take the drum? Gome on Matsuyu, let's do it together."

The music started. Michitose and Matsuyu's big drum was joined by Kichifuku and Tamagiku's hand-drums. Yo, ho, went their reedy little voices at full blast, and thump, bang went the drums. Ohana and Kosue, a young shamisen player who had just joined her, accompanied them. Banto beat time drunkenly, swaying backwards and forwards to the rhythm.

"Won't you do 'The Maiden from Ohara'?" he said, opening his eyes blearily.

Ohana took up her shamisen. This time Kosue danced.

I dwell in a country spot outside the capital, and I lead my ox to Yase and Ohara . . .

Ichinen and Michitose sat side by side, listening seriously. Kosue was a girl of seventeen or eighteen, with her hair done up in the Shimada style typical of old Edo. She wore a kimono with dark blue and white stripes, stylishly tied with a heavy brocade sash. The cotton towel tied round her face to indicate that she was the maid of Ohara brought a refreshing touch of simplicity to the hitherto unrelieved color of the scene.

"Aren't you having any?" I asked Ichinen, passing him the raw fish.

“No, I'm a priest."

"Then what do you mean by letting Michitose fall for you and making sheep's eyes at Kosue?"

"Get away with you!" But even as he said it, he took a slice of apple from Michitose's plate and ate it.

"Well, aren't we cosy!" said Matsuyu, affecting a tactful withdrawal.

"There's nothing wrong with that, is there?" said Michitose primly.

He takes her hand and says goodbye, He walks a step or two, still loth to part. . .

It was modern song that Ohana was singing this time, and Tamagiku and Matsuyu were dancing. Soon Kosue and Kichifuku were dancing with them, Ohana correcting their faults all the while.

He takes her hand and says goodbye . . .

The same song was repeated time and again; they might have been having a private dancing lesson. In the end, Banto got up and started dancing himself. His movements were comically clumsy, and Oen laughed.

"Ichinen," a maid called from below. "Your aunt's come to fetch you. You'd better come quickly."

Ichinen made no reply.

At They gazed into each other's eyes, Banto's look was so comical that everyone burst out laughing, Ichinen with the rest.

"Ichinen!" I called. "Didn't you hear? Your aunt's come to fetch you. Go quickly now, before you get told off! Here—here's something for you to take home." I gave him some of the cakes which had just come, wrapped up in a piece of paper.

"Let them tell me off, I don't care!" he said, snatching up the cakes. "Aren't you going up to Yokawa any more? I'm going tomorrow."

He started to leave, still holding the cakes in both hands.

"Ichinen, shall I lend you a handkerchief?" called Michitose, getting up and waving hers. He glanced back briefly, then pretended not to have heard and, weaving his way rapidly through the dancers, disappeared.

Mushizushi, a Kyoto delicacy, was brought, and the players, the apprentice geisha, and the maids gathered round it and fell to.

"Micliitose," said Oen, "I expect you're feeling miserable now Ichinen's gone; be careful you don't choke on the food."

"Thank you, Miss Oen."

"That's a bright lad," I said. "I don't wonder Michitose's sweet on him."

"They say he's no father or mother, poor boy," said Michitose. "I wonder why his aunt put him in a lonely place like Yokawa?" She looked depressed.

The nights in Gion are short—short as the Yokawa nights are long.

"Coming ..." came the call of a child-servant, its drawn-out, falling tone echoing throughout the whole geisha house.

translated by John Bester

 

 

Takahama Kiyoshi (1874-1959), the haiku poet and novelist, was a member of the Japan Art Academy. Along with Kawahigashi Hekigoto, he was one of the two most brilliant pupils of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), the haiku and waka poet who advocated a type of prose writing known as shaseibun. In Shiki's case this shaseibun—which derives from shasei, the sketching from reahty practiced by painters—is sometimes hard to distinguish from ordinary realism, but with Kyoshi the emphasis is more on the depiction in close-up of selected aspects or moments of reality which have captured the writer’s imagination, and the style is close in spirit to the haiku. Stimulated by the example of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), the novelist who wrote I am a Cat, Kyoshi tried his hand at fiction also. He produced some excellent works, including Furyu  Sempo (translated here as Ichinen), Ikaruga Monogatari (The Ikaruga Story), and Haikai-shi (The Haiku Master), and for some years forsook the haiku. He returned to it in 1912, however, and, accepting the limitations imposed by the form, worked to bring new life to the old tradition. If Shiki is to be credited with effecting reform of the haiku, to Kyoshi must go the credit of creating the framework on which the achievements of the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926- ) Eras have rested.

 

  The issue contains a complete translation of a short story, Furyu Sempo, by the haiku poet Takahama Kyoshi. In the author's own words, it is "a short story with elements of shaseibun"—shaseihun being a type of writing, sharing much in common with the haiku, which aimed at setting down on paper individual moments or aspects of reality in the manner of an artist sketching from Nature. Anyone interested in reprinting or retranslating this short story is requested to contact the secretariat of the Japan P.E.N. Club.

The Committee which selected the story and the other four works introduced here is composed of members of the Japan P.E.N. Club and of the Japan Writers' Association.

They are: Serisawa Kojiro, novelist •Nakajima Kenzo, critic •Nakamura Shinichiro,

novelist . Sugimori Hisahide, critic •(representing Writers’ Ass.) •Kawabata Yasunari,

novelistIto Sei, novelist • Takami Jun, novelist •Nakamura Mitsuo, critic • Senuma

Shigeki, critic. Fukuda Rikutato •translator (representing Japan P.E.N.)

© The Japan P.E.N. Club, 1963

 

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Ichinen or Huuryuu Senbou in the Japanese original title was published in Hototogisu magazine in April 1907.  It was written during the several years when Kyoshi, inspired by Natsume Soseki, concentrated on writing novels after the demise of his haiku mentor Masaoka Shiki.  ‘Senbou’ is a Buddhist term meaning a ceremony to confess sins and faults by dictating sermons.  It is a story about a young couple of thirteen years of age.  They are called Ichinen and Michitoshi, both named after a teaching of Tendai Sect called Ichinen Sanzen, which describes the principle that all men and women can attain Buddhahood.  It is one of his early short novels depicting in plain Shasei-bun style the secret solitude and sorrows of Ichinen who was farmed out to Hieizan temple as a monk apprentice and Michitoshi who became a Maiko or apprentice Geisha in Gion in Kyoto.  Natsume Soseki commented that this work depicted “a scene of an evening at an entertainment pavilion” and also wrote that “Kyoshi’s novels tend to have ‘teikai shumi’ (taste of rejecting mundane affairs and enjoying nature and art) arising from having leeway.”  Later Huuryuu Senbou became a trilogy.  Ichinen or Huuryuu Senbou was translated into English and published by the Japan P.E.N. Club in August, 1963. (From The Japan P.E.N.News No.11,1-8 1963

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The Japan P.E.N. Club, in order to preserve them in an archive of modern Japanese culture, is digitizing the English translations of literary works as they appeared in The Japan P.E.N. News (irregular publication dates, July 1958-September 1971) and will publish them at irregular dates online in the Digital Library - International Edition.

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TAKAHAMA Kyoshi
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TAKAHAMA Kyoshi

Poet. Novelist. February 22, 1874 – April 8, 1959. Born in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. Kyoshi grew up listening to his father and elder brothers’ Noh recitations (utai), providing the foundation of his outlook on haiku poems. He became a disciple of Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902), who was instrumental in the modernization of tanka and haiku poems, and contributed to the restructuring of the haiku magazine Hototogisu as the editor, by including prose and other genres of literature to change it into a general literary magazine. He studied shasei-bun (sketching style poems) as an extension of haiku and concentrated on writing stories and novels for a while, but eventually returned to haiku. In the middle of the Taisho era he advocated the kyakkan shasei haiku concept (detached observation sketches, expressing the reality of life with objects depicted as they are), and in the early part of the Showa era, the kacho huei concept (using season nature words to express the Japanese traditional sense of beauty and harmony between humans and nature), and opposed poems that did not follow the fixed-structure rules. He became the leading figure to inspire many noted haiku poets and is the representative of the Japanese haiku world in the modern era. He was awarded the Order of Culture in 1954.

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