Category Archives: Poetry

Kyoto Conference on Contemplation, 27-29 March 2015

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Many thanks to Peter Cheyne for sending me the following information on an upcoming conference on contemplation at Kyoto Notre Dame University.

Peter writes,

While the title is ‘Coleridge and Contemplation’, not all talks are specifically about Coleridge, although all will discuss aspects of meditation and contemplation.

Each of the three days is loosely themed as follows:

Friday 27th: Literary/ Philosophical

Saturday: Philosophy, and some Religious perspectives

Sunday: Walking, Mystery, Nature, Environment, and some Buddhism

There will be free tea, coffee, juice, drinking water and light snacks during the breaks.

Summaries of each talk can be found on the webpage for each speaker:

Guest Chairs from around Japan will help with some of the sessions, including Kyoto’s own John Dougill (Ryukoku), David Chandler (Doshisha), Rob Kritzer (Kyoto Notre Dame), and Elizabeth Kenney (Kansai Gaidai):

Though this is an academic conference, it is open to the public and free of charge.

Please visit the official website to learn more about the schedule and speakers:

Plum Blossom at the Imperial Palace Park


On my way home from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine the other day, I stopped by the Imperial Palace Park to enjoy the plum blossom. The trees at Kitano Tenmangu are probably more famous, but the shrine grounds were also a lot more crowded. Though each tree in the park had its admirers, there was really only a small scattering of people around, and so I could enjoy the blooms in a more relaxed and pleasant manner.

Every tree has its admirers...

Every tree has its admirers…

And there is something very calming about viewing plum blossom.


The scent of plum blossom is subtle, not strong, but deep like wine and very rich. I love to stick my nose in a spray and take a big sniff!

梅が香に追い戻さるるさむさかな [松尾 芭蕉]

ume ga ka ni
samusa kana
~ Matsuo Bashō

plum blossom scent
this chases off
the cold!
( tr. Michael Lambe)

Images from Sanka’s Winter Ritual

On January 25th I attended Sanka’s Winter Ritual; a performance at Urbanguild by the mixed media collective Ensō Watt. Just as  when I attended the Autumn Ritual in October, I was completely enthralled by the mounting energy of this show. It really is a treat to see talented artists from so many varied disciplines blending their abilities so successfully.

At an Ensō Watt performance there are two screens, one poet, and musicians positioned around the room... The audience is bathed in light and sound.

At an Ensō Watt performance there are two screens, one poet, and musicians positioned around the room… The audience is bathed in colour and sound.

Of course, it could have all gone horribly wrong. On the one side you have a classically trained composer and conductor (Yannick Paget), and on the other you have an unruly bunch of experimental musicians, video artists and soundscape technicians (everybody else). You might assume that their natural instincts would pull them in two mutually incompatible directions, and you can easily imagine the resulting riotous blasphemy of chaotic sound and colour that would result. Ensō Watt manages to keep the balance between order and liberty just right however, and I think it is that fine balance, that tension between two compulsions that makes their performances so thrilling.

A limited score gives some structure to the performance, but the rest is improvisation...

A limited score gives some structure to the performance, but the rest is improvisation…

Those experimental artists who are used to playing with complete fresdom, are given a structure in which to contain their genius. The composer/conductor Yannick Paget, who by his training has always played completely fixed and rigid compositions, is suddenly set free to improvise at will. Everyone is playing outside their comfort zone and this provides a sense of adventure.

Yasutaka Okada on contrabass

Yasutaka Okada on contrabass

And all of this is inspired by the mystical refrains of Chris Mosdell’s poetry. His words conjure visions of a people (the semi-legendary Sanka tribe) who are swept up in both dread and ecstatic passion at the most elemental forces of life.

Poetry assaults the senses!

Poetry assaults the senses!

Clearly he is in his element, and  it must be a great joy for the poet that his words have inspired the other artists to produce for this one night a magnificent shimmering sanctuary of light and sound.

The poet too is caught up in the magic of the moment.

The poet too, is caught up in the magic of the moment.

Meanwhile, Yannick Paget throws himself into an enraptured percussive performance, while simultaneously (and most wondrously!) maintaining control over the ritual’s flow by conducting the other musicians. How he does all this is a mystery, but as he banged out the final crescendo of rhythm on the drums, it was all I could do to stop myself from throwing up a horny handed salute! The man might be a classical musician by trade, but at heart he is a rock star!

Yannick in the dark.

Yannick in the dark.

It is unfair though, to single out individuals for special praise in this collective. All of the members are brilliant, and their seamless collective pooling of their talents a remarkable phenomenon that I would encourage you all to see. The next miracle from Ensō Watt, the Rite of Spring will be performed at Urbanguild on April 29th. Mark it down in your diaries.

The ring leaders, left to right: Samuel André, Yannick Paget and Chris Mosdell.

The ring leaders, left to right: Samuel André, Yannick Paget and Chris Mosdell.

To learn more about Ensō Watt and their seasonal rites, visit their website here:

Hiking the Rice Buyers’ Way

IMG_0058 (Medium) (Medium)

Into the woods!

Two of the most rewarding activities I have been involved in during my time in Kyoto, are the events organized by the Hailstone Haiku Circle, and the conservation activities of People Together for Mt. Ogura (PTO). Stephen Gill is a primary organizer of both organizations, and so some of their activites tend to merge. So it was that on October 26th Mewby and I took part in a joint Hailstone/PTO hike along the Rice Buyers’ Way between Mizuo and Saga, in Ukyo-ku, Kyoto.

Says Stephen,

The Komekai no Michi 米買の道 was the route taken by citizens of Heian-kyo and their horses and oxen when they went off to buy cheaper, more delicious rice from Mizuo, Koshihata and the province of Tamba beyond. The journey involved climbing at least two passes (there is a third on the way to Koshihata/Kameoka). With an early start and a brisk pace, the buyer’s mission could possibly have been accomplished in a single strenuous day… Few people pass this way nowadays, but the trail is still pretty good…

However, unlike the rice buyers, we would walk in only one direction and not there and back again. Meeting up at Hozukyo station at 9am, we boarded a mini-bus for Mizuo. From here we would hike back to Kyoto. Here are some pictures from our walk.

IMG_0033 (Medium)

The view from Mizuo. This little mountain village was once the home of the Emperor Seiwa (清和天皇, Seiwa-tennō, 850–878) and it was here he passed away.

IMG_0042 (Medium)

Stephen and Mewby tree hugging at Enkaku-ji, Mizuo.

IMG_0049 (Medium)

Here Mewby inspired me. “Look at the spider web shining! Doesn’t it look just like a CD!” she said. And, “Did you know that in experiments spiders change the shape of a web according to the music they are played?”

to what tune
does the spider spin
this disc that snares the light?

IMG_0051 (Medium)

On our way…

IMG_0056 (Medium)

Much of the route is sign-posted.

IMG_0063 (Medium)

Stephen Gill – upstream

IMG_0080 (Medium)

東の田んぼ跡 – The east rice field ruins. Hard to believe this was once farmland.

IMG_0089 (Medium)

Another source of inspiration, this fungus is called サルノコシカケ or Monkey’s seat. Surprisingly it can actually take quite a bit of weight.

a fungal seat –
each in turn, we try to prove
we are monkeys

And Okiharu Maeda’s translation:


Our troop

Our troop

IMG_0094 (Medium)

大岩 – The big rock

IMG_0099 (Medium)

Climbing 大岩

IMG_0100 (Medium)


IMG_0107 (Medium)

Kunugi is a type of oak, but there was no kunugi to be seen here. Maeda-san explained that there must have been one in times past, that was used as a landmark to help people find the way…

for the ghost of the tree,
that pointed the way,
now stands a simple sign

IMG_0124 (Medium)

Mr. Gill in reflective mood

IMG_0126 (Medium)

「アメンボ!」 says Mewby 「見て!」

water strider –
back and forth he stakes a claim:
this rock is mine

IMG_0165 (Medium)

At Kiyotaki

IMG_7111 (Medium)

The Hozu River Gorge

IMG_7113 (Medium)


IMG_0171 (Medium)

IMG_0182 (Medium)

IMG_0185 (Medium)

IMG_7119 (Medium)

IMG_0194 (Medium)

IMG_0196 (Medium)

IMG_0199 (Medium)

One of PTO’s main activities is collecting rubbish that has been illegally dumped on Mount Ogura. Maeda-san and Stephen were scouting out an area in need of work along the way…

IMG_0206 (Medium)

IMG_0224 (Medium)

The return to Saga

Having returned to Saga, those that still had energy visited a Balinese eatery and there over our drinks and just desserts, we shared our haiku. You can read some haiku from the other walkers here: Of Michio, Toshi and the Village of Mizuo

IMG_0229 (Medium)

A reward at journey’s end.

Many thanks to Stephen Gill for organizing a very enjoyable day.

If you would like to join in the activities of the Hailstone Haiku Circle or PTO then please visit the websites below.

Autumn Poetry Reading from Kyoto Journal at Be-Kyoto; November 16th

Here’s an up-coming event hosted by the good folks at Kyoto Journal.


An Autumn Reading
Sunday November 16th.
2pm~3:45pm at Be-Kyoto (
Entry: ¥500
RSVP: feedback[at]

Be-Kyoto is just west and north of the Imadegawa/Karasuma intersection.

About the Poets
MARGARET (MAGGIE) CHULA has been writing and teaching haiku, tanka, and haibun for more than thirty years. Her seven collections of poetry include: Grinding my ink; Shadow Lines (linked haibun with Rich Youmans); Always Filling, Always Full; This Moment; The Smell of Rust; What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps (with quilt artist Cathy Erickson) and Just This. Margaret serves as President of the Tanka Society of America. Having lived in Kyoto for twelve years, she now makes her home in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, gardens, swims, and creates flower arrangements for every room of the house.

LINDA RUSSO ( is a creative-critical writer. Poetry works include Mirth (Chax Press), and picturing everything closer visible, an excerpt of a walk-in poem (Projective Industries); Meaning to Go to the Origin in Some Way (Shearsman Books) is forthcoming. Born in New York, she lives in the Columbia River Watershed and teaches at Washington State University.

GREGORY DUNNE is the author of the recently published critical memoir on Cid Corman: Quiet Accomplishment, Remembering Cid Corman (Ekstasis Editions, 2014). He is also the author of two collections of poetry: Home Test (Adastra Press, 2009) and Fistful of Lotus (2000). He lives in Japan and teaches in the Faculty of Comparative Culture at Miyazaki International College.

Pictures from Sanka’s Autumn Ritual by Ensō Watt


I am now officially a fan of Ensō Watt! Last Friday’s performance was excellent and I enjoyed every minute of it. With musicians posted in various corners of Urbanguild, and Yannick Paget both conducting and performing with hypnotic percussion from the center, we were fully immersed in a landscape of sound. Simultaneously the live video art of Andy Couzens and Masato Tokumaru cast images upon the walls while poet Chris Mosdell cast images in our minds. I really was quite lost in it all, and am looking forward to their next Winter performance. Long live Ensō Watt!


Samuel André (Soundscape, Field recording)


Ryotaro (Accordion & effects)


Chris Mosdell (lyricist/poet) gave a stirring reading…


Yuki Nakagawa (Cello & effects)

IMG_6961 (Medium)

Taisuke Enami (piano & synth effect)


Yannick Paget (conductor, composer and percussionist)





For more details on this performance please refer to the previous post: Sanka’s Autumn Ritual by Ensō Watt
Follow Ensō Watt on Facebook or on their website here:

Sanka’s Autumn Ritual by Ensō Watt – Mixed Media Experimental Event @ UrbanGuild; October 10th

Well, this looks like something…

ensō Watt Sanka’s Autmn Ritual from PollenRec on Vimeo.

Thanks to Marguerite Paget for sending the following information:

Kyoto Experiment Fringe program 2014 presents the artist collective: Ensō Watt at UrbanGuild from 7.30 pm, October 10th

Initiated in 2014 by the sound designer Samuel André, the Ensō Watt artist collective is born in Kyoto from the encounter of artists coming from different countries and raised in entirely different artistic universe, from classical music to electro, improvisation and sound design.

For Kyoto Experiment Fringe program 2014, Ensō Watt ensemble

A hundred years after Stravinsky’s revolutionary “Rites of Spring,” the members of this artistic collaboration pursues the experience-cum-experiment by focusing on Japan’s seasonal cycles, especially celebrated by the little-known mountainous tribe, the Sanka.

SANKA, can be translated from Japanese by “Mountain Cave” or “the one who
come down the mountain”. They are a mysterious, some say magical group of
people, who retreated, wandering in small bands through the mountainous regions of Honshu when the rice farmers arrived from the Asian continent in the third century. The Sanka are sometimes called the Japanese Gypsies. Little is known of their history. Although they are mentioned in Japanese chronicles from the 11th century, much of the information about them is vague.“Being a secluded community their cultural development grew far outside the social framework of the rest of the country. They developed their own language
based on natural sounds ie: the hum of the cicada, and their daily lives became dominated by rituals and esoteric rites.” Chris Mosdell

For SANKA’S AUTUMN RITUAL, Ensō Watt celebrates, autumn season in three acts. The music is inspired by the poetry of Chris Mosdell; it navigates between improvisation and conducted improvisation live by Yannick Paget, based on scored music’s elements. The performers, positioned in the audience, generate an immersive, musical surround-experience (broadcast on 4 speakers). More than just a musical experiment, the event is also shot live via a series of 6 cameras, and is processed and projected on 2 screens during the performance.

The exploration of the season’s cycle started this summer with the SANKA’S
SUMMER RITUAL (2014 July 18th at Urban Guild) :
Act I : rites of dragon fly, driving the dream machine. Act II, rites of the hundred
wind chimes, rites to refresh the earth, rites of the great fire dance. Act III the insect « hum » of humanity ritual, dance of the sacred peach.

Ensō Watt will conclude the cycle next year with winter and spring. A cycle that is meant to continue through years…

Why Ensō Watt ?
Ensō: 円相, in Zen Buddhism, an ensō is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics.

えんそう (演奏) means also in Japanese: concert or performance

Watt: reflects the electric energy impulsed by the musicians and the artists of this collective.

Ensō Watt is a space of experiment and overture where frontiers between
musics, classical, electro or sound design melt, where scored music meets
improvisation, where arts (music, image and poetry) enters a free dialogue, where the melting pot of culture is a strength. And so what? with this unique spirit breathed by Kyoto city everything’s possible, isn’t it?

Ensō Watt collective’s members are:
Samuel André (Soundscape, Field recording),
Yannick Paget (classical music conductor, composer and percussionist),
Taisuke Enami (piano & synth effect),
Yuki Nakagawa (Cello & effects),
Ryotaro (Accordion & effects)
Chris Mosdell (lyricist/poet),
Andy Couzens ( live vidéo),
Masato Tokumaru (live vidéo)
Hirisha Metha (Sanka’s Symbols Design)

For more information:
Press contact: Marguerite Paget: mgtpaget[at] / 090 6556 1974
Event coordination: Samuel André: sandre.constellation[at]

Honke Owariya with Sean Lotman

2014-06-15 15.25.25 (Medium)
On Sunday Mewby and I had the pleasure of lunch with writer/photographer Sean Lotman. Sean’s wife manages the Honke Owariya soba noodle business, a family company which is pretty famous in Kyoto.  The business actually dates from 1465, though they “only” started making noodles Sean told me about 300 or 400 years ago, as they were originally a confectionary business.  They still make confectionary but it is the noodles that have made it famous. We met up with Sean at the main branch of Honke Owariya, a delightful old traditional Kyoto building for a stimulating lunch of hearty food and good conversation in beautiful surrounds. Continue reading

Blue Sky – An Excerpt from Deep Kyoto Walks



Today I am posting another in a series of short excerpts from our ebook Deep Kyoto: Walks. In Blue Sky, the poet Stephen Henry Gill acts as a guide to the Saga & Arashiyama area for a young visitor who has come to learn more about the conservation NPO, People Together for Mt. Ogura. Stephen whimsically names his visitor Blue Sky, because that was the first thing he saw that fine autumn day. We join them mid-way through the tour…

On our left is a tilled field, in which the raggedy, nondescript greens are straggling. Going down this near side of the field, we soon come to the rustic gate of Rakushisha, the ‘House of Fallen Persimmons’, the thatched cottage once owned by Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704), and where his haiku master, Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), once stayed. Here, Bashō wrote his Saga Nikki, the ‘Saga Diary’. Another story for Blue:

One day in autumn, a merchant from Osaka passed the house, which was then located in an orchard of persimmon trees. He went in and negotiated with Kyorai to purchase the entire crop, paying him an advance and telling him he would come back the following day to harvest the glowing orange-coloured fruit. Kyorai went to bed feeling pleased with himself, but awoke in the night as a storm set in and proceeded to shake all the fruit down onto the ground. The crop was ruined and, the next day, when the merchant finally appeared, Kyorai had to hand back the deposit he’d received. From that day on, he would refer to himself ironically as ‘The Master of Persimmons’.

Continue reading

ECHOES: Painting & Poetry Exhibition at KICH – February 25 ~ March 2

ECHOES is an upcoming poetry and art exhibition organized by the Hailstone Haiku Circle, and featuring the conservation efforts of PTO (People Together for Mt. Ogura). Click on the flyer below for details!
H a i g a c o l l a b o r a t i o n
Hailstone Haiku Circle is an international group founded in 2000 by Stephen Gill and centred on Kyoto. Its main activity is to compose, share and publish English language haiku, but recently it did so based on paintings brought to the meetings. Each poet took home one of these paintings and wrote a haiku to accompany it. Many of these collaborations are displayed in this exhibition. Haiku seems like an entirely new art when written in English, and, fortunately, many of the poets are also fine artists!

M t. O g u r a c o r n e r
In summer 2003, Stephen Gill spent 16 hours walking about Mt. Ogura in Saga, Kyoto. His objective was to write poems celebrating the mountain, but inadvertently he discovered many environmental problems, including a huge amount of rubbish tipped there. The following year, he met Okiharu Maeda of the NPO ‘ACE’ (and more recently, PTO) and, ever since, together they have been clearing the rubbish and attracting to this beautiful mountain many volunteers, both Japanese and foreign. There will be a small section of the exhibition devoted to artworks and poetry made on or for Mt. Ogura.

4 min. from Keage Station on Subway Tozai Line. Here is a MAP.
Dates: February 25 (Tue.) ~ March 2 (Sun.) 11:00~19:00
First day opens 12:00, reception 18:00~ 20:00 last day closes at 18:00
Admission Free!
Enquiries (K.I.C.H.): 075-752-1187
HAILSTONE HAIKU CIRCLE (Stephen Gill): 075 865 2773
Hailstone Haiku Circle: