December 2003, Volume 1, Number 6

Jim Kacian: Haibun

Jim Kacian is a familiar name in haiku circles. He is longtime editor of Frogpond, the international journal of the Haiku Society of America. He is also owner and founder of Red Moon Press, the largest and most prestigious publisher of English language haiku and related genres in the world. He is author of eight books (one of which, Six Directions , features haibun), editor and/or translator of scores more, and is currently at work on a novel in which haiku plays a role. He is also co-founder of the World Haiku Association, and in 2001 spent three months traveling around the world in the name of haiku, during which time he helped to found eleven national haiku societies. He is co-editor and publisher of the Contemporary Haibun series, the only serial book dedicated to haibun and haiga in English. In his spare time he is a tennis professional and an avid camper and kayaker.

 

Getting There
Excerpts from Japan Sketches, Haibun from Travels in Japan

Three hundred miles we have trained today, and arrive in the gloaming at Tazawako. The place we seek lies yet ahead, to the north and into the mountains. The tattooed driver of the local cab has heard of it, and we are relieved. He quotes a price, and we are dismayed. His breathstream plumes white into the cooling air as we converse, agree, and bid him take us there.

The valley road is two lanes wide, straight and smooth all the way to the Pacific Coast. We follow it for several minutes, then turn north onto a narrower road aimed straight at Mt. Iwate.

The dusklight has now faded, and no moon has risen. The mountains crowding round are discernible only as a greater blackness against the blackness of the sky. The snow which skirts the road deepens as we rapidly rise.

We turn again, onto a road even more ragged and narrow. We cannot see around the switchbacks the road makes to accommodate this steep climb. The headlights illumine only the wall of snow which now surrounds us. The shapes of the roadside trees, mere shadows hurrying past, are mixed, then become all pine, then disappear altogether.

When at last we crest, the road turns to gravel, and we careen down into an unlit valley, snaking along a river whose rush we can hear above the rattle of the cab, but cannot see.

We have grown accustomed to this dimness, but there is nothing out there for our eyes to hold, merely the apparitions of snow and landscape. It is in some other manner, then, that we slowly become aware of a looming
presence, the blackness which presides here. As we have plunged down, a mountain has risen up before us, whose dimensions we cannot take in with a single pass: it is the genius of the place. Its arms extend around and behind us; there is no other place to go but into its embrace.

The cab, fishtailing in the mud and ruts, slows and finally stops. We remain seated before the presence, silent in the darkness. Only then, and slowly, do we make out the dim light of kerosene lamps strung out before an ancient building. We have arrived.

into the dark
of an unknown country--
beginning to see

The night is bitter, and utterly black. We have donned our yukata--the heavy one supplied against this mountain cold--and leatherette slippers, the largest they have but not quite large enough for our feet. We carry a lighter cotton yukata used after bathing over our arms, and set out in search of the hot springs.

For at least a thousand years people have come here. Almost nothing has been done to improve it. It has been the right choice. The rustic lodge dates from the fifteen-hundreds. Its thatched roofs, black from centuries of kerosene fires, might be original. No one is sure.

Electricity has come to this valley, but this place will have nothing to do with it. Each of four baths, four distinct waters--black, green, white and clear--issues from the belly of the mountain. Each possesses its own temperature, odor and feel. Each is specific for a host of ailments, from sciatica to psychopathy, and they do not overlap. Thousands attest to the properties of these elixirs, and each swears by his favorite.

We, unafflicted and careless, sample them all, lingering last and longest in the large outdoor pool, whose cobbled bottom massages the feet as one scuttles about. Other stones, larger and exposed, accommodate a variety of resting postures. My favorite cups my head like a pillow, permitting me to lay immersed while gazing up into the blackness of the sky. A few stars can be glimpsed, but a mist obscures them. I shift left and right, but they come no clearer. It is some time before I realize they are hidden by the fog emanating from my own bald head.

rising steam--
on the bathhouse eaves,
icicles


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