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.