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Adventures in Haiku in Japan – Week 3

Stirring the Incense at the Todai-ji Temple in Nara
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Another Week in Haiku – Adventures in Japan 3

Kirstie Profile SmallWeek three in Japan and still the haiku keep coming. I’m surprised how we’ve managed to keep this up. It requires a bit of daily discipline but seems to be a great way to journal that forces you to try and capture the essence of something, whatever it is. Am I sounding all zen now? Maybe been here too long. Anyway in this week in haiku we’ve another eclectic selection in which we get poetic about maglev trains, participatory dance festivals, the spirit world, pumpkins and atom bombs. Grab a kohi or a green tea, read on and do let me know which one is your favourite. 

Haiku of the Day 15: Levitating Bullet

MagLev Train at Shinkasen Museum, Nagoya, Japan

MagLev Train at Shinkasen Museum, Nagoya, Japan

Levitating Bullet

RIP bullet.
The fastest one, still, I feel
your magnetic pull.

Maglev MLX01-1 has the star billing in a railway park filled with polished wonders. Yet it feels wrong for it to be here. Sitting motionless. Like an athlete in a cage. This gleaming white piece of science that levitates rather than rolls is the world speed record holder for railway, having reached a top speed of 581 km/hr. This one now rests in the Shinkansen railway museum, Nagoya, but still has a magnetic field; I watch as people are drawn to it and stroke its sleek, turbulence reducing nose. But it will never again rise above its coils and beat records.

But other Maglev trains are being tested, near Fuji with the aim of running a public service in 2027 at speeds of over 500km/hr. While this shiny bullet sits killing time. Something unheard of on Japanese Railways.

Haiku of the Day 16: The Joining In Dance

Kimonos on their way to Gujo Odori in Gujo Hachiman, Japan

Kimonos on their way to Gujo Odori in Gujo Hachiman, Japan

The Joining In Dance

This dance is only
for dancing, not for watching.
It’s how life should be?

For 32 nights a year, the town of Gujo Hajiman in central Japan dances. And their month long traditional folkdancing festival, Gujo Odori, culminates in a three day period where everyone dances all night – from 8pm-5am. And we are lucky enough to join them. After all the festival is described as a dance to be be danced rather than a dance to be viewed.

It’s a beautiful spectacle, hundreds of kimono clad people, old and young, clacking wooden shoes (geta) on the narrow streets of a Japanese mountain town. The lines of people moving as one stretch from the town crossing in every direction.It doesn’t matter if you don’t know any of the ten dances. The philosophy is that everyone joins in. Copy and you will learn. And so we do; becoming part of the arresting, colourful swirl of a whole town moving to one beat.

Haiku of the Day 17: Spirit of Obon

Lanterns at the Tōdai-Ji Great Hall in Nara, on Obon

Lanterns at the Tōdai-Ji Great Hall in Nara, on Obon

Spirit of Obon

Tonight you glow bright,
secure in our thoughts,
you drift downstream, to your world.

Across many parts of Japan over the last three days families have been coming together to celebrate Obon. It is believed that during this annual Buddhist festival, ancestral spirits return to this world to visit their living relatives. On the last day of Obon, family members float lanterns in rivers, lakes and seas to guide the spirits back home again.

Outside the Tōdai-Ji Great Hall in Nara, which houses one of Japan’s most imposing bronze Buddhas, lanterns were being prepared and inscribed. It was a beautiful and thought provoking sight, so many paper thin memorials, lined up and waiting for dusk to fall. We had no lantern for our own relatives who have passed from this life, but they were in our thoughts.

Haiku of the Day 18: Naoshima Pumpkin

The Pumpkin on Naoshima, JapanThe Pumpkin on Naoshima, Japan

The Pumpkin on Naoshima, Japan

Naoshima Pumpkin

Pier end pumpkin.
Nature, art and midnight gold.
But no coach ride home.

Naoshima is Japan’s famous art island. A place where contemporary art, nature and island life are one and the same. The best way to get around is on hired bike, and as you pedal along the craggy coast you are rewarded for your efforts by outdoor sculpture, an underground gallery with several of Monet’s Waterlilies, houses that have been turned into art installations, tiny 007 museum and much more.

On the south side of the island is its most iconic sculpture; a gold pumpkin by Yayoi Kusa. Nature and art. Not fairy tale. This won’t turn into a carriage with mice, no matter how long we wait. But it’s a happy ending to the day before we catch the last ferry back to the mainland.

Haiku of the Day 19: The Skyover

Innoshima Bridge on Shimanami Kaido Cycle Route

Innoshima Bridge on Shimanami Kaido Cycle Route

The Skyover

Sky bridge flies over
mating jellyfish while we
pedal under cars.

We had a beautiful day of cycling some of the bridges of the Shimanami Kaido cycle way. This is a cool 70km route crossing six bridges and six islands on the Seto Inland Sea. The bridges all have cycle paths, some alongside the carriageway, some hanging underneath and all have special cycle friendly approaches.

We managed 30km, two bridges and a swim, in between dodging sunburn and thunderstorms. We are out of practice! But all on ladies shopper bikes again. The universe keeps forcing us onto these machines, although we have yet to master riding them with an umbrella. Would have been handy today.

Haiku of the Day 20: A Dome

Atomic Dome A-Dome in Hiroshima

Atomic Dome A-Dome in Hiroshima

A Dome

Annihilated.
City reminds us of peace.
At epicentre.

It’s an eerie feeling, our first night in Hiroshima, under a darkened sky ripped open by lightning in a violent summer storm.

The anniversary of the atomic bombing was marked here just a couple of weeks ago and we are staying just half a kilometre from the epicentre, near the Peace Park.

This storm is intense but nothing compared to the events of 69 years ago. Not sure how well we will sleep tonight and what we will make of it all.

Haiku of the Day 21: Peace Symbol

Paper Cranes at the Childrens Peace Memorial Hiroshima

Paper Cranes at the Childrens Peace Memorial Hiroshima

Peace Symbol

Not a pure white dove.
But a child’s bright paper crane.
Folded bird of hope.

One of the enduring symbols of Hiroshima is the coloured paper crane. It is now an international symbol of peace thank to a Japanese girl called Saddako Sasaki. She was two years old when the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and ten years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. In hospital she heard a Japanese legend that if you make 1000 paper cranes you can make a wish. She wished to live. But it wasn’t to be.

In Hiroshima’s Peace Park a permanent memorial depicts Saddako holding a gold crane, meanwhile paper cranes still come in from all over the world, in  solidarity with Saddako and calling for world peace. The cranes are counted and catalogued and then displayed in the park. A paper crane looks easy to make and we want to add our support. We try over lunch with five napkins and a Wiki page. But just like peace itself, while the goal is simple, achieving it is surprisingly difficult. The International Peace movement will have to wait for us to find a stationary shop and learn some basic origami.

Just after sunset at Onomichi from viewpoint

Onomichi sunset. The sun sets on another week of haiku. Just one more to come. Stay tuned.

More Japanese Adventures

For more on our Japanese Adventures why not check out our other Week in Haiku posts. While travelling around Japan we wrote a haiku every day, capturing something of the highlights of our daily travel experiences in verse together with a brief explanation and a picture. You can find the other posts here:

Haiku Travel Diary: Adventures in Japan Week 1. In which we introduce you to purikura, lantern festivals, geisha tea parties and shrine etiquette.

Adventures in Japan: Haiku Journal Week 2. Poetic musings on hiking Japanese style, cat cafes, robot love, Tokyo gold and more.

Yet Another Week in Haiku: Adventures in Japan 4. On bamboo groves, industrial incineration plants, car factories, ancient Buddhist cemeteries and more.

The Week in Haiku

The Week in Haiku

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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