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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 2, June 2019
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Amelia Fielden
Canberra, ACT, Australia

He Held My Hand

crimson maples
around the lonely lake
white row boats
empty of courting couples . . .
mid autumn in Yoshino

Far from Nara city is the mountainous region of Yoshino. This cool blue morning my translation colleague urges me up a long, steep slope in the forest to Yoshimizu Shinto Shrine. Well acquainted with the shrine's chief priest, she has come to finalise arrangements for a tanka concert to be held there on 5th January, as part of the New Year celebrations. Sipping bowls of deep green tea, the three of us settle on the veranda overlooking a valley of breathtaking autumn colours. Clad in scarlet and lapis brocade robes, and a black lacquered headdress in the style of 1300 years ago, the grey-bearded priest is welcoming and talkative. He explains to me that he used to be a police inspector, heading a murder squad in the big smoke of Osaka. At fifty he quit the force and retrained as a priest to perform year-round religious ceremonies, conduct weddings according to the Shinto rites, and pray for world peace.

He gives me a scroll with his favourite saying, "the world is a family," spelled out in Japanese calligraphy. It seems that this man of many parts is also a keen poet, as the conversation veers from world peace to tanka writing. Decrying the frequently sombre tones of much contemporary tanka . . . apparently there is a whole subgenre of “suicide tanka” in Japan now . . . he exhorts us to teach “happy tanka” in our workshops. His tanka philosophy is that the seeking out of bright details to express them in poetry is a necessary counterbalance to the dark side of life.

The morning is advancing and with it other visitors to the shrine. Noriko and I now attempt to take our leave. He sees us to the way out. Then, to my amazement, the Reverend Sato takes my hand and, holding it firmly in his, guides me down the slope lest I fall. This is a culture in which physical contact with strangers is rare, but he held my hand today.

one by one
little golden fans flutter
from gingko trees . . .
holding onto hope
until the very end


Author’s Note: in contemporary Japan weddings are usually Shinto ceremonies, while funerals are conducted in temples by Buddhist priests.

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