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Toru Kiuchi on Issa

Toru Kiuchi

I went to Mt. Togakushi to compose haiku with my fellow haiku poets on July 31, 1995. We took a bus from the Japan Railways Nagano Station. The bus climbed up a steep mountain road slowly. The higher we climbed, the colder it became, although it was a hot summer day. I was thinking of the fact that not only Issa but everybody had to walk along this treacherous mountain road during the Edo Era. We arrived at the entrance to the shrine, which is located at the foot of Mt. Togakushi, and got off from the bus. From here we also had to walk and took exactly the same road which Issa took nearly two hundred years ago. It was two kilometers from the entrance to the shrine. When we walked among cedar trees, we could see the mountain range of Mt. Togakushi high above. One of my friends said, "Look at the rugged grandeur of the Togakushi." Just before we arrived at the shrine, it got darker and darker and a sudden rain shower fell down, so somebody else said, "Anybody with an umbrella?" and someone else: "It's only rain shower. Don't be worried to get wet." Then, my favorite haiku of Issa's popped up, timely, in my mind, so I recited it for everybody else:

blessings fall
on Mount Togakushi...
a cloudburst
(trans. by David Lanoue)

Issa composed this haiku exactly at the same place and during the same season when he prayed at the very shrine in 1813. The mountain range soared to the sky as if brooding over me when I looked up from the shrine at the mountain bottom. I felt the rain shower coming down from the mountain was like a blessing from the shrine. I was sure Issa felt the same way.

Issa composed this haiku in summer 1813 when he was 51. This year was an important year to Issa because he decided to settle down in his native village of Kashiwabara in 1812, making a haiku with a sigh of resignation as well as relief:

well here it is
my final home?
five feet of snow
(trans. David Lanoue)

In the next year in 1813, according to Lanoue's chronology, Issa was "living in Kashiwabara in a rented house." In summer, Issa came to Mt. Togakushi and prayed at the shrine, seeing a blessed rain shower falling down. I do not know whether his prayer was heard by God or not; "his inheritance dispute finally settled, he move[d] into his family home." In 1814, when Issa was fifty-three years old, he married Kiku, who was twenty-four years younger than he.

As for me, I am 53 years old now and as old as Issa was at that time. I do not know whether my prayer was heard by Mt. Togakushi's God or not, either, but nothing very bad has happened since then, so I've decided to go back to Mt. Togakushi shrine this summer (2006) to offer thanks for the favor of the god.