Dorxi Travel

Getting to Know Japan With Haikus

The wind from Mount Fuji
I put it on the fan
Here, the souvenir from Edo.
Basho Matsuo
Haiku poet (1644-1694)

Being Catholic, I didn’t realize that Mount Fuji was a sacred mountain for the Japanese who are mostly Buddhists. To them, Mount Fuji is the home of the great kami-sama or gods. They believe it is a mystical gateway between heaven and earth. Pilgrims would climb Mount Fuji’s 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) to reach the top and read haikus while contemplating the scenery. In literature, a haiku is a poem usually containing three unrhymed lines, which have 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. A haiku presents a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeting observation.

I can understand the sentiment of the Buddhists. Even for Catholics, a high mountain is the closest place on earth to pray to God in heaven, as exemplified by Jesus in the Mount of Olives. Since I wasn’t able to “climb” Mount Fuji while in Japan, I could only hope to glimpse its peak from the train station in Odawara, which is near the Hakone National Park. On our sixth and last day in Japan, we were rewarded with a sunny, clear day and the perfect, snow-white cone appeared like a painting in the sky. What a beautiful souvenir from Japan! My feelings at that moment could be expressed by this haiku:

The older we get
the more easily tears come
on a long day.
Yoshi Mikami Issa
Haiku poet

It is true that when we travel to a place for the first time, we are seeing it through the eyes of a child, absorbing everything that we encounter. If my last day were sentimental, it’s because my first days were a wonder. If I were to describe my experience in Narita airport toilet as a haiku, it would sound like this:

I sit down slowly
and see buttons on one side…
a shower in spring.

Yes, the toilet-bidet combination with seat warmers, called washlet, is very popular in Japan, even in public places. Next came the trains. There was something soothing in the soft, humming sound of a modern train as it chugged along its path. Through the wide windows, I saw many Japanese houses that looked the same, mostly painted white with brown colored tiled-roofs.

Next stop was Shinjuku station, where we made a train transfer. It was a blur of black stockings over mini skirts, leggings, boots, trench coats, pashminas, folded denims with stilleto heels, black coat and ties, chic hairdos. Need I say more about Tokyo fashion? Luckily for our stomachs, we bought a bento box meal from the Ekiben (station bento) and a hot green tea bottle from a vending machine. Yes, local fast food Japanese version.

Just to say the word
home, that one word alone
so pleasantly cool.
Kobayashi Issa
Haiku poet

Have you ever tried sleeping on a mat on the floor? How about eating on a low table with your legs warmed underneath the floor, as in a kotatsu? The part I liked most was wearing Japanese pajamas called yukata, it’s almost like a kimono but made of cotton. I was at home drinking green tea and sipping miso soup, eating dried tofu, pickled ginger, maki, sushi, dried local fish and sticky rice. There was so much to learn about Japan and its culture, and thanks to my “foster parents” in Japan, I was home away from home.

How can the heart hold
something to last a lifetime…
long conversations.

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