Another Week in Haiku – Adventures in Japan 4
Our final week in Japan and the pace hasn’t let up or perhaps we haven’t. So much for a month spent meditating on the sound of one hand clapping. This week has been a right old mix of ancient and modern. We’ve been to industrial incineration plants and car factories and visited ancient Buddhist cemeteries where wise men are said to have been meditating in mausoleums for over a thousand years. Just stop and imagine that for a moment. What blissful luxury. Still we’ll be home soon and can relax then, right? In the meantime, grab yourself a Sapporo or glass of sake, and enjoy this final instalment of our haiku from Japan. And do let me know which one is your favourite.
Haiku of the Day 22: Temple of Consumption
Temple of Consumption
Shiny temple burns
not incense but city waste.
Shrine to consumption.
At the end of Hiroshima’s main boulevard there’s a dazzling building that’s both technology museum and tourist attraction. And neither of these things. Curiously, this building is the city’s waste processing plant.
The Naka Waste plant is a state of the art construction (the same architect designed New York’s MOMI) with a glass tunnel running through it that leads to the sea. From this tunnel, or ‘ecorium,’ people can watch their rubbish burn. Except there’s nothing as dirty as rubbish on view. It’s all squeaky clean (workers are rumoured to take their shoes off before going in) and silver lined.
The idea was that in an overpopulated city, with a growing problem of rubbish and how to dispose of it, if people could see the waste production for themselves, they might produce less waste. That’s the theory anyway..
Haiku of the Day 23: Cog in the Car Factory
Cog in the Car Factory
You travel all night.
Where do you go in your mind?
Further than we drive?
A popular Japanese tourist attraction is the car factory. Toyota has several car manufacture related attractions in Tokyo alone. In Hiroshima we visit the Mazda Factory where we are herded at lightening speed around museum exhibit and production line. A shame, because I could have watched the factory floor for hours.
It’s mesmerising, this ariel view of humans and robots working side by side. Everything is moving, operating at maximum capacity as workers glide with the cars on treadmills around the factory. I wonder how many miles they literally travel each day, without taking more than a few steps?
And where do they travel to in their heads as they repetitively install 1800 dashboards each day or drill down several thousand screws? Do they go even further than we do when we get our hands on one of their shiny new cars?
Haiku of the Day 24: Buddhist Cemetery
Thousands sleep in peace
while one meditates, waiting
for all our futures.
Oku-no-in is a temple complex surrounded by a huge cemetery; the resting place of choice for a Japanese Buddhist. It’s also one of the most atmospheric and authentic places we have visited.
Mile upon mile of cedar forest, packed tight with memorials sculptures, statues, tombs and legends about the spirits.
But one important Buddhist is not dead; only meditating. Kobo Daisha Kukai is believed to have been meditating for over a thousand years, awaiting the arrival of the future Buddha to translate his message to the rest of humanity.
We pay our respects to the meditating Kukai in his mausoleum behind a temple with lights that are said to have been lit for 900 years. And then we return through his dark dark wood, while he continues to dream and his fellow Buddhists sleep for ever, waiting for a message that some suspect we badly need.
Haiku of the Day 25: Gacha City
Inside brittle shell
of urban gacha gacha
lies Kitty city.
Our kids love Japan’s gacha gacha balls. These plastic shells with tiny toys inside are available from vending machines at service stations and convenience stores everywhere for the small change in your pocket.
For me, Japanese cities are a bit like gacha gacha balls. Like any industrialised country, Japan is all hard surfaces and modern materials. On first appearance it’s not the fragile tea ceremony or bamboo glade that you see in the guide book inserts. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is here, but you have to work hard to get inside the exterior shell, and even then you can’t totally predict which novelty you will be gifted.
But when you get the equivalent of the prize kitty or the rare Pokemon, you feel like a child who has spent the day in a toy shop. That’s Japan.
Haiku of the Day 26: Glimpse of Geisha
Glimpse of Geisha
Painted face of Old.
Geisha girl. Gone in a flash.
Taxi is waiting.
Some say Kyoto is the heart of Japan. Once the capital, it is now said to be the best place to get a feel for the Old Japan.
The ‘Old Japan’ is the one in the movies, the Japan of the marketing brochures, the Japan of your dreams. We’ve been looking for it for a month now as we’ve travelled around the country, just catching glimpses amongst the modernity.
One of the symbols of this Old Japan is the Geisha Girl. I was told you have to be lucky to see one; even in Gion where they live. They tend to emerge at night on their way to engagements and don’t hang around as they are always mobbed by cameras. I pass this message on to the kids. But within five minutes of being in Gion, we see several; one Geisha, one Maiko and a couple riding a tourist rikshaw who I reckon are just dressed up for the day. They are all jumping into various modes of transport.
I am transfixed by them, staring into the distance long after they have gone. Meanwhile the kids have made up a song-to the tune of We Three Kings..
‘We three Geishas of Kyoto are. One in a taxi, one in a car. One in a rikshaw, off to the grocery store, just round the corner, not far.’
Haiku of the Day 27: Bamboo Blades
Grass stronger than steel.
Grows fast, cuts cloud, slices sun.
King Fu Panda’s meal.
Bamboo is not a tree species. It is grass. This seems illogical as we stroll through a mystical forest in Arashiyama west of Kyoto.
Way way above, the tall straight stalks reach up to worry the cloud. Photographs are tricky. No lens can contain their length and grace. Still, it is a pleasing activity as the lens is crammed with straight lines and slowly moving sunburst. And all the time we walk, the bamboo grows taller.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. Some species grow so fast they can be a metre taller at the end of a good day. In our walk through this grove we capture a fraction of its fast, tall short life.
Haiku of the Day 28: Torii Story
Beyond the gate lies
sacred space. A thousand times.
Shinto mountain shrine.
Sometimes tourism is more than tourism. You forget the admission charges, the vending machines, the crowds and just become part of what you have come to see.
I had no idea of the scale, magnificence and spiritual significance of the Fusimi-Inari Taisha Shrine Complex. As we approach there is a big sign advertising it as a Trip Advisor foreign favourite. I briefly wonder why. In a city packed with shrines, Castle, Palace, Silver Pavilion, how could a few gates compare?
I have been wandering uphill through torii gates for maybe half an hour before I realise that maybe this lot go all the way to heaven. Simple red and black gates, bought by believers, a tunnel to enlightenment. A winding path up a hillside, a moment of contemplation in a month of full on experiences. The children peel away. For once, I am alone, lost in this vermilion world, on a winding 4km path to peace.
Want more Japanese Travel Haiku?
If you’ve enjoyed this selection of haiku you can read more in our collections from previous weeks. You can find the 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.
Another Week in Haiku: Adventures in Japan 3. In which we get poetic about maglev trains, participatory dance festivals, the spirit world, pumpkins and atom bombs.