Haiku for Ben


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Winter Always Comes

winter always comes

we wait, and we remember

winter always goes

Winter in Japan, while not as cold as winters in my Canadian home, can be a miserable time. I once read in a book on the Edo period that winters and summers in Japan were seasons only to be endured. The Japanese winter, at least in this quiet corner of Japan is invasively damp, and the cold is hard to escape. Japanese houses and schools are not well-equipped to repel cold, and people rely on electric heaters, kerosene heaters, heated carpets and the wonderful and seductive kotatsu – a heated table with a blanket that you can tuck yourself into on a cold night, and never leave.

Despite the cold weather, I like winter here. The snowfalls are gorgeous. As the temperature is rarely much below zero degrees celcius, the snowflakes are fat and fluffy, and fall with slow grace. In my thick coat, gloves and hat – overdressed by Japanese standards – I am warm and cozy as I walk. The snowy nights are peaceful. Snow only briefly stays in this city, so I enjoy its ephemeral beauty.

Still, I look forward to the spring, and warm spring days to come.


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School Festival

One of the schools I teach at is a commercial high school. This is the second year it has hosted a gigantic market both inside and outside of the school. The first year, about 8,000 people came, and this year almost 10,000 people came through the gym doors.

Pictures are from the two festivals – last year’s, and the first one two years ago.


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Season’s End

yet these leaves linger

clinging through bright days, chill nights

till the north wind comes


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Daily Bread

An easy walk or bike ride from my apartment is a plain, inconspicuous street of modest little shops. There’s a ramen shop, about three years old, which I’ve eaten at a few times. Green’s Baby, a restaurant/bar with a hand-made, eclectic decor, serves up Mexican and Thai food – and possibly the only burritos in town – along with a local beer. A shop with big windows sells Buddhist altars for the home, and white paper lamps for summer’s Obon festival. The ancient cobbler, Ishikura-san, still fixes shoes in his tiny booth, and I can fancy he’s been doing it for sixty years.

Next to Ishikura-san is Carre, a French bakery. It’s quite new. The shop is simple: a counter, a few shelves, the large oven, and a small kitchen tucked away at the back. Takashi, the baker, travelled to France and to Ireland, so I can chat with him in English if I drop in. He has a new family now, so he keeps busy.

Although there’s no shortage of bakeries here, I like his the best. I will stop in after work for his pan du champagne, although often I’m too late and he’s out of it. I can make do, if I must, with his crusty bread, rolls, quiche or sweets. I rarely leave empty-handed.

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Posted by on 19/01/2014 in Images, Japan


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Autumn Haiku

feet wander, not far

for the days grow shorter now

places I know well



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Tomb Cat

I’ve often entertained the notion that the cats I’ve encountered in Japan are the spirits of the dead returned to earth. My favorite temple houses the lichen-covered tombs of nine former lords of this castle town – and a host of wary, feral cats. I’ve tried to count to see if there were nine cats, but the darn things won’t stay still.

This cat found a comfortable and dry resting spot on a damp day in a small cemetery shrine. I wonder who it was, before…

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Posted by on 16/01/2014 in Images, Japan


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Guns of January

During the New Year’s holiday, I made my way to the garden of the history museum not far from my house to catch a performance by the local rifle troop, the Teppo-dan. The members of the troop are armed with hinawaju (matchlock rifles), a firearm dating from the Edo period. The gun uses a short length of burning rope to ignite the gunpowder in the gun. Curling feathers of smoke drifted up around the faces of the shooters as they aimed into the sky.

This troop includes a number of women of varying ages, wearing striking white hakama and crimson tunics. The costumes all the members of the troop wear are beautiful recreations of Edo-period garb. They can often be seen – and heard – on the castle grounds, where they perform every month.


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On Track, Going Places

This year I’ve often found myself in trains. Having no car, it’s the easiest way to travel city to city, or town to town, for short distances. Although Japan’s railway system is justifiably famous, here in the northwest countryside, it can seem a bit antiquated. The trains are small, sometimes just one car, and they rattle past the sea and into the mountains, through stone bridges, dusty towns and golden fields of rice. I watch the people on the trains – high school students in school uniforms or sportswear cluster together or sit alone checking cellphones, older folk gossip or doze or gaze out at the world sliding by – a quick glimpse, and gone.

lullaby rhythm

all these familiar places

here, then left behind


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North Moat and Stone Bridge

The homes in my neighbourhood are old and weathered. The community has been here four hundred years, as long as the castle on the hill. Many of the people are old, as well. On a pleasant fall day, while the air is still warm and the sun is shining, it’s good to roam the quiet streets. But change is coming, and the old buildings fall, leaving gaps between houses. I treasure what is left, and preserve with pictures what I can.

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Posted by on 11/01/2014 in Images, Japan, Japanese culture, Nature


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