The Weather-Beaten Jizō:
Shikoku Pilgrimage Haiku by Shūji Niwano
First published in Modern Haiku 47:3, Fall 2016, pages 105 to 121. Poems originally translated by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita in July and August of 2009 for the 2009 Haiku North America conference at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario for a presentation by Robert Sibley. Introduction and commentary originally written from 2013 to 2016. In Modern Haiku, the commentary on selected poems appeared after all the translations, but here the comments for particular poems have been integrated to appear immediately after each poem, with occasional revisions to the text since its original publication. Thank you to Paul Miller and Emiko Miyashita for their help in refining the introduction and commentary. I also have a PowerPoint presentation featuring these poems and commentary, with additional maps and photographs.
Gratitude to Ikuko Niwano (庭野 生子) for permission to publish and translate her husband’s poems. Thank you to the University of Virginia Press for permission to reproduce the Shikoku pilgrimage map, originally published in 2013 in Robert Sibley’s The Way of the 88 Temples, where seven of the following translations also appeared. Thanks also to Robert Sibley for his kind assistance, and for his memories and glosses that amplify the following notes, and to Guy Simser and Terry Ann Carter for the original connection to Sibley, and thus to Shūji Niwano and these poems.
For more information about the Shikoku pilgrimage, please see the Wikipedia page, the Walk Japan page, and especially the Route 88 Temple Trail page (click parts of the map to see close-up maps and transportation guidance, plus detailed descriptions of each temple). I also recommend David Turkington’s Pilgrimage to the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku. Also note that the fourth episode in NHK’s “Haiku Masters” television program features Taisan-ji (太山寺), temple 52 on the Shikoku pilgrimage, and shows many pilgrims dressed in white performing pilgrimage rituals. This program also observes that the Shikoku pilgrimage is similar in length to Bashō’s Oku no Hosomichi trip to the northern interior of Japan, as is the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain (which Robert Sibley has also written about), observing that this distance is challenging yet seemingly ideal for achieving enlightenment without being so long as to be impossible for people to endure. In addition, for more details on the poetry of Kūkai, or Kōbō Daishi, see Ronald S. Green’s “The Mysterious Mirror of Writing: Kūkai’s Poetry and Literary Theory,” and “Santōka’s Shikoku,” also by Ronald S. Green. See also the highly recommended Shikoku episode in Bruce Feiler’s “Sacred Journeys” PBS television series (requires membership for video streaming). See “Shikoku Pilgrimage Meeting Report” for Alison Woolpert’s summary of one of my PowerPoint presentations of this essay.
Shikoku is the fourth largest of Japan’s main islands, and for centuries it has been famous for a pilgrimage to eighty-eight temples around its circumference—Japan’s oldest pilgrimage. These temples are known as the Shikoku Hachijūhakkasho (四国八十八箇所), eight of which are located in Matsuyama, birthplace of the haiku master Shiki. The Shikoku pilgrimage, known as the Shikoku Henro (四国遍路) or the Shikoku Junrei (四国巡礼), or more commonly as Henro Michi (遍路道, or “pilgrim road”), is a trip of about 750 miles and takes up to two months to complete on foot, traditionally clockwise around the island. The temples along the route are all associated with Kūkai (空海), a Japanese monk who was born in 774 at Zentsū-ji (temple 75). After he died in 835, Kūkai became known as Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師 or “The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching”), and each pilgrim on the Shikoku pilgrimage is said to walk with the monk’s spirit at every step. Kōbō Daishi founded the Shingon (“True Word”) school of Buddhism, and he has been credited with inventing kana, the syllabary system that, with Chinese kanji, still makes up Japan’s written language today.
Millions of people, nearly all Japanese, have attempted the Shikoku pilgrimage, or henro (遍路)—an estimated 150,000 each year in recent years. One of the rare foreigners who has completed the trip is Robert C. Sibley, a Canadian journalist and writer for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. Sibley wrote about his pilgrimage in a series of eleven articles in 2005 (in 2006 the series won the Templeton Religion Story of the Year award from the Religion Newswriters Association of America). He later revised and collected his reports in the book The Way of the 88 Temples: Journeys on the Shikoku Pilgrimage (Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2013). In 2009, when the Haiku North America conference took place at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Sibley was one of the keynote speakers, not just because his travels described Japan and its culture, but because one of the pilgrims Sibley met along the way was Shūji Niwano (庭野修治), a retired telecommunications salesman who also wrote haiku. For his HNA presentation, Sibley asked me and Emiko Miyashita to translate thirty-three haiku written by Niwano, many of which he shared at HNA as part of his multimedia presentation, along with photographs from his trip (you can see selected photos, including one of Sibley with Niwano, at Sibley’s website). Seven of our translations (poems 1, 3, 5, 24, 30, 31, and 32) also appear in Sibley’s book as epigraphs to start each of the book’s seven chapters.
Kukai, also known as Kōbō Daishi.
What makes these poems particularly compelling is not just that they record everyday aspects of the pilgrimage itself, such as the silence of walking in the rain, or of passing and being passed by others, but that Shūji Niwano may well have taken the pilgrimage, accompanied by his troubled son Jun, as a deliberate last accomplishment in his life. As Sibley explains near the end of his book, “In Buddhist tradition, a pilgrimage can be an act of expiation before death, an attempt to cleanse yourself in the hope of being reborn without all the bad karma of previous lives.” Furthermore, in The Japanese Mind, edited by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2002), the chapter on Japanese funerals says that “there is the belief among Buddhists that people go on a kind of pilgrimage after death” (205), so perhaps Niwano wished to get a head start on his afterlife pilgrimage.
Pilgrims to the Shikoku temples traditionally wear a wide-brimmed conical bamboo hat and white shirt or robe. In Japan, white symbolizes death, and it becomes evident in Sibley’s book that Shūji Niwano takes the pilgrimage in anticipation of his own death. That makes all of these poems jisei (辞世), or death haiku. Indeed, the sad story is that Niwano and his son Jun both died in December of 2004, shortly after the pilgrimage. Sibley’s book provides details. Just a few weeks before, Niwano had sent Sibley a package containing thirty-three haiku from the pilgrimage, written from March 30 to May 11, 2004, with a letter that said “we finished the pilgrimage at last, thanks to the encouragement of the bush warblers, the stone Jizō statues, and the kindness of our companions.” Among these haiku is a poem (number 32) that Shūji’s wife Ikuko had engraved on the gravestone for her husband and their son. This poem, along with several others in the sequence, refers to Jizō, which are statues said to be guardians of troubled souls, especially children, commonly dressed up with red bibs at Japanese temples.
In his first chapter, Sibley quotes Ian Reader, a British scholar of Japanese religion, as saying that the Shikoku pilgrimage reaffirms each pilgrim’s “social and cultural identity” and is “a way of consolidating the religious outlooks that underpin their existence.” The island of Shikoku has four provinces, and the journey through these provinces symbolizes a path to enlightenment. Temples one to twenty-three represent the idea of awakening (発心 hosshin), twenty-four to thirty-nine represent austerity and discipline (修行 shugyō), forty to sixty-five represent attaining enlightenment (菩提 bodai), and sixty-six to eighty-eight represent entering nirvana (涅槃 nehan). While some pilgrims take the Shikoku trail as tourists, most participants do so for seemingly spiritual or ascetic reasons. While little more is known of Shūji Niwano other than the details Sibley relates in his book, we hope that the following poems capture something of the pilgrimage that Niwano accomplished, tinged with the sadness of their author’s tragic demise.
Shūji Niwano’s Shikoku Pilgrimage Haiku
Translated by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita
yamazakura yama honnorito akarameri
mountain cherry blossoms
the mountain becomes
This poem is dated March 30, 2004. Poem 33 is dated May 11. The season of spring flavors Shūji Niwano’s Shikoku pilgrimage haiku. Spring is the best season for taking the Shikoku pilgrimage, because it is when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. Because the pilgrimage is taken most often in spring, the word for pilgrimage, henro (遍路), is considered a spring season word in haiku. Robert Sibley remembers: “It was blossoms, blossoms, blossoms all the way as our walking seemed to coincide with the cherry trees coming into bloom as we followed the mountain paths.”
beiju naru henrobāra no nigiyaka ni
on a pilgrimage
It used to be significant and rare for either men or women to reach this age in Japan. The age of eighty-eight is called beiju (米寿), incorporating “rice” and “age” in two characters. The first character combines 八 (eight), 十 (ten), and 八 (eight), which produces 米 (rice). In cerebration of such longevity, Japan continues to have a custom of giving an eighty-eight-year-old person something in a golden-brown color, such as clothes or a cushion, and families celebrate by eating a festive dinner together. The number eight is indeed a number of good fortune, and the kanji for eight (八) also reminds the Japanese of Mt. Fuji, and vice versa. This shape is also referred to as sue hirogari (末広がり), which has the literal meaning of “upside-down fan shape” but also means “becoming prosperous.” So the number 88 is especially prosperous. In addition, of course, the number in this poem brings to mind the eighty-eight temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage—or perhaps it’s the other way around, in that the number of temples has led to the belief that the number itself has good fortune. Sibley notes: “I remember encountering two elderly women in the early days of our walk. They were slow and we easily sped past them. But every time we stopped to rest our aching feet, lo and behold, they soon appeared, chatting cheerfully to each other as they trudged along like white-gowned Energizer bunnies. Made us look like pilgrim wimps.”
odaishi ni hayakumo aishi henro kana
on this pilgrimage
This poem most likely refers to Odaishi-sama (お大師様), an honorific name for the revered Japanese monk Kūkai, later known as Kōbō Daishi, whose spirit is said to accompany each pilgrim. There may be another interpretation of this poem, however. The first line might also be understood more generally to mean “a holy person.” Shikoku pilgrims can be seen as holy people because Kōbō Daishi is walking with them. Given that Robert Sibley was Shūji’s main companion (aside from Jun), readers might wonder if Shūji is referring to Sibley. Sibley notes: “Shūji several times referred to me as Kōbō Daishi. Of course, he meant this in the sense that Kōbō Daishi is the spiritual companion of all pilgrims.”
utsumukishi nojizō wo yuku henro kana
passing a Jizō
with cast-down eyes
nojizō no koke wo matoite henromichi
a moss-worn Jizō
in a field—
Sibley notes: “Jizō statues are everywhere in rural Japan—at roadside shrines, temples, the edge of farm fields, along mountain trails. These last two haiku, 4 and 5, tell me that Shūji, like me, adopted the Jizō as guardian spirit. Or, maybe it was the other way around: the Jizō adopted us.”
ohenro no shiroki ichidan shōzanji
a troop of pilgrims
dressed in white
Pilgrims typically wear a white shirt known as oizuru (白衣). Sibley remembers: “One of the most common sights that always surprised me was seeing white-robed Japanese pilgrims lined up in orderly fashion at the temples. Seen from a distance, and with a bit of poetic imagining, they reminded me of a row of toadstools in their sedge pilgrim hats. I suspect Shūji saw them similarly.” The temple referred to in this poem, Shōzan-ji, the Temple of the Burning Mountain, is temple 12, located in Kamiyama, Tokushima. In a traditional legend, a fiery dragon of this mountain was once causing great damage to life and property in the area. Kōbō Daishi ascended the mountain while flames threatened to engulf him, but he extinguished them by forming the mudra (hand gesture) of turning the wheel of the dharma. He sealed the dragon in a cave, carving two images to guard it. This temple is located up a steep path at an elevation of 2,640 feet (800 meters) above sea level, the second-highest elevation of all temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage—a path so daunting that many pilgrimages end here.
mokumoku to aruki henro ya ame no naka
the pilgrims walk—
Sibley recalls: “There were days on the trail when it did nothing but rain. Reading this poem I can readily visualize the three of us, Shūji, Jun, and me, trudging single-file along the edge of some highway or path, soaked to the skin. Clearly, Shūji was paying attention even then, as Zen teaches.”
uguisu no oshiete kureshi ameagari
a bush warbler
tells me that the rain
“Bush warbler” (uguisu) is a spring season word, and also appears in poems 22 and 26. Shūji Niwano said that he was able to finish the pilgrimage thanks to the encouragement of the bush warblers. Sibley adds: “One of the most haunting and plaintive sounds in the forests of Shikoku was that of bush warblers. As Shūji’s haiku suggests, they seemed to burst into song as soon as it stopped raining. It was a lovely wake-up call to hear.” [Listen to the uguisu song.]
To more deeply understand the spiritual symbolism of the bush warbler in Japanese culture, one need not go further than a prominent waka by the 12th-century wandering monk Saigyō, here in translation by Meredith McKinney (Gazing at the Moon: Buddhist Poems of Solitude, Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala, 2021, 67):
No easy path
in the uguisu’s call—
it too is fleeing
joy though it is to hear it
The warbler inspires, but its song is poetry itself. In his introduction to Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998, 15), Haruo Shirane quotes the Kokinshū from 10th-century Japan as saying, “Listening to the voices of the warbler that sings in the flowers or the frog that lives in the water, we ask, what of all living things does not create poetry?”
amacha nomu michizure no ite shinshōji
drinking sweet hydrangea tea
with my traveling companion
At Shinshō-ji, temple 25, a central decorative motif is the ship’s wheel, held by many of the Jizō statues in this area. Legends say that a local lord was saved from a shipwreck when a Jizō took the ship’s helm. In a different vein, Sibley notes the following: “The companion Shūji refers to has to be Harumi Nakatsuji, a nurse from Osaka, who we met at this temple. She walked with us for several days and was very helpful to Shūji in dealing with his son, Jun.”
Shinshō-ji, temple 25, showing the ship’s wheel decoration above the archway.
henroyado sawachi ryōri wo furumaware
of sawachi dishes
Sawachi dishes are a special treat served in Tosa, in the southwest part of Shikoku Island, in Kōchi prefecture, where a huge dish is arranged with many kinds of seafood—sashimi, grilled fish, sushi, and shells. Usually three or four people share a single large dish in a communal fashion, so this poem suggests much camaraderie.
Sawachi dishes, served in Tosa.
awa no sakura tosa no sakura to medeni keri
first in Awa
and then in Tosa . . .
admiring cherry blossoms
Awa, near the start of the Shikoku pilgrimage, is some distance north of Tosa, so one would expect the cherry blossoms to appear further south first, rather than here to the north, as described in this poem. However, Awa is closer to the inland sea, Setonaikai, where the weather is milder. Along the Pacific coast, at Tosa, the blossoms come later because of the harsher climate. Note that “Shikoku” literally means “four provinces,” which in ancient times were known as Awa, Tosa, Iyo, and Sanuki, but were reorganized during the Meiji period into the prefectures of Tokushima, Kōchi, Ehime, and Kagawa, as they are known today.
kachi nareba nukitsu nukaretsu henromichi
we pass and get passed—
odayakana seinen futari henroyado
two young men
at the pilgrim’s inn
unsui no sugata no yokari henrogasa
in fine style—
bamboo pilgrim hats
Sibley notes: “At one point our pilgrim family acquired two Buddhist monks-in-training, and this poem may refer to them. They walked with us for a couple of days.” Henro pilgrims traditionally wear conical hats known as henrogasa (遍路笠), which resemble Mt. Fuji in appearance—Japan’s most sacred mountain.
These hats are sometimes called ajirogasa (網代笠) if made from bamboo, sugegasa (すげ笠) if made from sedge, and warabooshi (藁帽子) if made from straw. Featured on these hats is the Sanskrit for Kōbō Daishi, whose name is worn at the front of the hat in honor of the Buddhist saint. Also included is the phrase Dōgyō ninin (同行二人), which means “We two pilgrims together,” and a Buddhist sutra consisting of twenty letters in four phrases: 迷故三界城 / 悟故十方空 / 本来無東西 / 何処有南北 (meikosangaijō gokojippōkū honraimutōzai gashounanboku). The meaning of the sutra is that people suffer because they are trapped in desires and remain in the three realms of existence: the realm of desire-driven beings, the realm of beings with form, and the realm of beings without form. The sutra suggests, however, that when one regains the Buddhist mind by seeking satori, one’s obsessions will disappear, replaced by a tranquil view of the world in which one is free of restrictions. In this view, there is no east or west, no north or south, and one can abandon obsessions and live freely. In addition, this sutra was sometimes written on the inside of coffin lids. When a pilgrim died on his or her way, this bamboo hat was placed on the body as a temporary substitute for a coffin. The white clothes worn by henro pilgrims serve as a uniform for the “dead” person on his or her last journey.
mokumokuto nao mokumokuto henromichi
and still in silence
along the way
Sibley observes: “One of the great benefits of the pilgrimage was spending hours each day in silence, ‘listening’ to your own thoughts and memories. I don’t recall Shūji and I ever discussing this aspect of long-distance walking, but this haiku tells me he shared the same pleasure in silence and solitude.”
marugao no henrobāra no yoku warau
the old women pilgrims
mata aishi marugao no bā henromichi
that old lady with a round face—
aoki me no henro mo itari seiryūji
a pilgrim, too,
with blue eyes—
In 806, while visiting T’ang-Dynasty China, Kōbō Daishi decided to establish a school of Buddhism in Japan based on what he had learned in China. On the shore of Mingzhou (now Hangzhou), just before he left China, he took hold of a dokko (or sanko), a ceremonial ornament, pointed at both ends, that is used in esoteric Buddhist rituals. He then threw the dokko toward Japan and wished he might build a temple wherever it landed. When Kōbō Daishi was traveling in the hills of a particular part of Shikoku, he felt the presence of the dokko he had thrown and asked the emperor to build a temple there, and thus Seiryū-ji was built. In this poem Shūji Niwano uses the name Seiryū-ji (青龍寺), which is a variation of Shōryū-ji (青竜寺), for temple 36 (龍 is an informal variant of 竜). In a note with this poem, Niwano says he met a couple and their son from the United Kingdom at this temple. Perhaps this couple flew to this temple from abroad like the dokko.
Dokko, used in esoteric Buddhist rituals.
yu no areba ame mo matayoshi henroyado
ah, a hot-spring bath,
so rain will be okay—
Sibley responds: “I fell in love with the Japanese o-furo, or bath. During a hard walk, the thought of a hot bath and cold beer at the end of the day was like a carrot hanging in front of a donkey.”
yoki hito no michizure to nari henroyado
I become a good person’s
Sibley speculates: “I think this haiku refers to the day about halfway along the pilgrimage trail when we met Yukuo Tanaka, a retired Tokyo engineer. His wise presence strongly affected both me and Shūji.” The following photo shows Shuji Niwano, Robert Sibley, and Yukuo Tanaka. +
Shuji Niwano, Robert Sibley, and Yukuo Tanaka.
tosa wo dete mitsubatsutsuji no iyo ni iru
I enter Iyo
and its azaleas
Tosa is now Kōchi prefecture, and Iyo is now Ehime, so the poet is conscious of crossing a border, similar to moving from one state or province to another in North America. The azaleas seem to welcome him—surely in bloom.
uguisu no mukaete kureshi tōgemichi
the mountain pass
henro shite haiku no kuni ni iri ni keri
on my pilgrimage
I walk into
Shūji Niwano has just entered Iyo prefecture, which is home to the city of Matsuyama where such famous haiku poets as Shiki, Kyoshi, and Hekigotō were born—thus, “haiku country.” Sibley adds: “I often noticed Shūji writing in a small notebook, and when I asked him what he was writing about, he shyly referred to himself as an ‘amateur’ practitioner of haiku. With this poem, I can’t help but think that, like Bashō, Shūji found the solitude of long-distance walking to be an inspiration.”
michizure no fuete henro no nigiyaka ni
with more companions
to pilgrimage with
we travel merrily
Sibley comments: “One of the pleasures of pilgrimage is the acquisition of a pilgrim family. People attach themselves to you—or vice versa—and while you might walk alone during the day, in the evening you come together as a kind of community to eat, drink, and regale each other. Thanks to Shūji’s adoption of me, I enjoyed this communitarian aspect of the Henro Michi much more than if I’d been a gaijin on my own.”
machinami no yasashiki iyoji henrogasa
a laidback townscape
along the road to Iyo—
bamboo pilgrim’s hat
uguisu ya ato ichiri mata ato hanri
another league to go
another half league
A “league” is a unit for measuring distance. In Japan, an old unit of measurement was the ri (里), which is nearly four kilometers (2.44 miles). At one time the ri was said to equal the distance that a person could walk in a fixed amount of time, which is similar to definitions of the old Western term “league,” which was said to be the distance one could walk in an hour (about three miles). However they might be measured, distances are understandably on the minds of many Shikoku pilgrims. And of course, it’s the inspiring bush warbler that helps the pilgrim in this poem to turn one league into just half a league.
yawarakaki haiku no kuni no fuji no hana
the wisteria flowers
of haiku country
tabinakaba kawari no ari ya hanamizuki
journey half done—
have the dogwood blossoms
changed at all?
tabinakaba nani mo miete kozu haru no kaze
although halfway there,
nothing comes to view—
henrozue kokoro mu ni shite kū ni shite
I fill my mind
Sibley notes: “One of the psychological aspects of pilgrimage is how after many days of walking your mind slows down to match the pace of your walking. The result, sometimes, is a kind of emptiness that can awaken you to spiritual concerns.”
tada noboru tōge ni haru no kaze areba
to the mountain ridge
hohoemishi nojizō no ite satowakaba
no more smiles
on the weather-beaten Jizō . . .
village in leaf
Ikuko Niwano, Shūji Niwano’s widow, chose this poem to be engraved on her husband’s gravestone, perhaps seeing him as a weather-beaten Jizō—one that could no longer smile, even though it always wanted to, because time and hardship had worn the smile away. This poem appeared in Robert Sibley’s book in our earlier translation: “roadside Jizō / smiling in a field— / village of young leaves.” However, we later thought it more accurate to revise the poem to clarify that the stone Jizō has been worn away and no longer smiles. This aspect of the poem seems to more accurately capture what Shūji Niwano had become—a beaten but determined pilgrim of life. This would be a fine poem to end with, as it is indeed a fitting jisei, or death haiku, but we see one final touch of humanity after this in Niwano’s final poem.
kechigan no biiru no umashi ōkuboji
our beer is tasty
at Ōkubo-ji Temple
Ōkubo-ji is the eighty-eighth and last temple on the Shikoku pilgrimage. Here is where henro pilgrims typically leave their kongō-zue (金剛杖) or walking sticks. These sticks are often inscribed with the chant Namu-daishi-henjō-kongō (南無大師遍照金剛) and Dōgyō ninin (同行二人) or “We two pilgrims together” (which also appears on the conical hats that pilgrims wear). This staff represents the body of Kōbō Daishi and supports each pilgrim along the way, except when crossing bridges when it is traditional to keep the staff lifted so as not to disturb Kōbō Daishi, who once sought rest under a bridge. Sibley comments: “I remember this evening well. We reached Ōkubo-ji after a very strenuous day. After our final prayers, we headed to our hotel, arranging to meet for a celebratory dinner. The beer was delicious.” If the previous poem (32) serves as the climax of this set of haiku, this last poem (33) is a sort of coda or denouement. In Shūji Niwano’s final poem, perhaps beer is a substitute for the walking stick after the pilgrimage is over. Yet perhaps his pilgrimage never ended at all.