Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Asama-yama, 6

At breakfast, before driving you back to the train and Tokyo, Tomoko gives you a present. It is a postcard, a blue woodblock print of Asama-yama puffing smoke, seen through a vista of trees so skeletal and sketchy that they look like kanji. Above it is printed what seems, from its layout, to be a poem.

It is Kitahara Hakushu, Tomoko tells you, a famous Japanese poet. He stayed here in Karuizawa, wrote this poem about the karamatsu, those are the pine trees that drop their leaves. It is the very forest you trudged through on your way up the valley.

Karamatsu, you discover, means Chinese pine – what in English we would call larches. What is printed on the postcard is only one stanza of a longer poem; here is your first stab at translating it:


       Deep in the forest of China pine

       also a road of my own I took –

       a road to pass the misty rain

       a road to take the mountain wind


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