Here’s this month’s poetry column from our friend Keiji Minato…
Kobo-san (弘法さん) is the popular name of Toji Kobo-ichi (東寺弘法市; Toji Kobo Market), the monthly fair that takes place at Toji Temple. On the 21st every month, hundreds of stalls occupy its huge precincts and alleys all around and sell a wide variety of goods from food and drink through accessories and clothes to plants and flowers. The most interesting to see are numberless curios, some of which cannot be found in our modern life and make us wonder what on the earth they are for. (See this website for visual images of the market: http://www.touji-ennichi.com/)
Fantasy at a Fair (縁日幻想) by AMANO Tadashi
In the middle of the crowd at Kobo-san,
I turned around feeling tapped on the shoulder by someone
who quickly disappeared between boxes on which combs were lined up.
The quiet old lady beside me
gave off the smell of incense from her whole body,
and it was already dark,
and somewhere an electric lamp
turned on as if throbbing.
It was so dark, but, around there
must be a kobore-ume stall,* I thought,
and kept walking
dragging my heavy feet
and realized that the one who hided
was no other than my father.
He was ten years younger than I am when he died.**
* kobore-ume: the lees of mirin (a Japanese sweet seasoning) with the moisture squeezed out, eaten as a snack
**The original poems in Japanese are posted at the end of this article.
Amano Tadashi (天野忠; 1909-1993), a Kyoto poet, came to fame in the 1970s, in his later years. He published books of poetry since 1932, but living in Kyoto, which was away from Tokyo, the center of the Japanese publishing culture, made it hard for his works to be widely recognized. His poetry humorously takes up scenes from daily life and somehow turns them into something like dreams. This style does not belong to the main-stream post-WWII Japanese poetry, which is generally highbrow or socially critical. In “Fantasy at a Fair,” the speaker walks with his old wife among stalls at Kobo-san, and meets his dead father, who shyly (or playfully?) hides himself. The father’s playful shyness goes so well with the feelings you get from Amano’s works.
Antiques（古物) by Amano Tadashi
On an alley where gloomy winds pass through
is an old antique shop.
It is cramped with heaps of bric-a-brac.
Some look still useful,
and others utterly useless.
Some will break down
sooner or later.
From time to time a small old man visits there
staggering on his walking stick.
He went to the same school as the owner of the shop.
Small talking among the bric-a-brac heaps
the two men look like
the most valuable curios
in the shop.
They have no price tags.
In this poem, perhaps, either of the old guys is an image of the poet himself. (He ran a secondhand book shop for some time, so the owner of the antique shop in the poem might be built on that experience.) If you walk around Kyoto City you will encounter a lot of antique shops. Some are well-managed and sell really valuable antiques at exorbitant prices, but many are like the shop described in the poem above lazily leaving heaps of bric-a-brac buried with dust. The latter might not be significant in any sense of art and history. However, as leftovers from the past, they give us a sense of nostalgia that no museums and galleries could do.
Toji Temple is a 20-minute walk from JR Kyoto Station (or 5 minutes on foot from Toji Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line). If you have a chance to stay in Kyoto on the 21st I strongly recommend you visit there. That would be quite an experience. Other popular old fairs in Kyoto City include Tenjin-san (天神さん), which is held on the 25th each month at Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮), and Chionji-Tedsukuri-ichi (Chionji Temple Handmade Goods Market), which takes place on the 15th at Chionji Temple (知恩寺). See: http://www.kitanotenmangu.or.jp/ennichi/index.html and http://www.tedukuri-ichi.com/. Each market has a different feel, but I am sure you will enjoy them with their relaxing atmosphere.
* Amano Tadashi, Amano Tadashi Shishu (Gendaishi-bunko 85). Shichosha, 1986. [天野忠『天野忠詩集（現代詩文庫８５）』思潮社、1986.]
This text and translations by Keiji Minato. Keiji writes a guest blog for Deep Kyoto once a month introducing Kyoto’s poets and poetry. You can find fomer articles by Keiji Minato here. Here are Amano Tadashi’s original poems: