Birds don't usually stand so still for a photo. This crow surely knew what an important day it was - our first day back in Japan, and Robert's birthday. Such a knowing look in its eye.
In Scottish folklore, the crow has 27 different cries,
each cry for a different event,
such as the coming of good fortune or important guests.
In China and Japan, tales describe
a three-legged crow
who lives in the heart of the sun
The crows triggered in me a dormant appreciation of haiku. I used to write a lot of haiku, but haven't for years. However, inspired by both my son Steve (who on the odd occasion tweets a haiku - extremely good ones) and the crows, I decided to also write some haiku (and tweet the results): The first haiku that came to me was after hearing a crow somewhere on a roof above us as we walked along the famous alleyway, Ponto Cho - one of my favourite places in Kyoto. The place seeps ancient history as you walk down the narrow street cramped with historic shops, cafes and bars.
In the city of Kyoto
above crowded Ponto Cho
the caw of a crow
red, winter berries are a popular symbol used in the new year decorations we saw in every doorway and gateway
Another highlight was seeing the house of a student of Basho, the famous haiku poet. As we stood outside the gate of the small, thatched house, I again sensed history and timelessness. I was able to feel that permanence of place and time is possible and to accentuate all that, or so it seemed, was the sound of a cawing crow.
In mythology, it is believed that one of the crow's abilities
is to divine the future
and dismantle the past
Here where Basho once visited
the caw of the crow
Another time as we walked to the railway station to catch a train for my granddaughter's swimming lesson, once again I heard a distinctive and loud 'Ark Ark Ark'. I asked my daughter-in-law what the Japanese word was for crow. Karasu, she said. She described a story, or fable, about the crow (it was maybe Aesop's fable about a greedy crow). She explained that in Japan, crows aren't seen as endearing birds. This is due I'm sure to their scavenging habits. I said that we don't have crows in New Zealand, but that seagulls were looked upon with some disparagement too because they scavenge. She said she remembered when travelling in Europe that she was so excited to see seagulls and thought them lovely, but the locals thought she was crazy for liking them.
In Irish mytholgy, the battle goddesses,
Morrigan and Badbh,
regularly took the shape of crows.
A few days before we left Japan, we travelled by train with our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren to visit Kanazawa (Robert was keen to see the place as he teaches students who come from that city). From there we went on to Toyama, on Japan's west coast, where Steve lived when he first came to Japan. I find it amusing that while he was living there, he was often mistaken for a Russian. (A lot of Russians visit Toyama, as it is relatively close to the mainland of Russia).
The crow is sometimes seen as a bird
of parental devotion
and is thought by some to have magical properties
Again, crows featured. Especially in Kanazawa where in the Gardens there, just on dusk, we saw dozens of crows descending on to patches of deep snow. Unfortunately, due to poor light, we couldn't get a good photo of this. There was also a full moon around the time we were there and captured through the bare branches of trees, it was another 'haiku moment' - but this time, one committed to camera and memory rather than to words.
We stayed in an Onsen Hotel while in Kanazawa. Onsen is a public bathe in a natural, hot-spring pool wearing nothing but your skin. The baths are segregated and as Steve put it, "It's more or less just like a public swimming pool, except you leave off your swimming togs".
Actually it's hotter, steamier and bubblier than your normal run-of-the-mill pool. Also, you shower before you get in, ensuring clean bodies in the pool. I found it surprisingly relaxing and after my evening plunge, decided to make the most of our stay there and go for an onsen first thing in the morning as well.
Toyama was cold, misty, grey and rainy the day we were there. We almost had to just imagine the range of bright, rugged mountains it is possible to see from the city on a sunny day.
Steve worked in this city almost ten years ago now. I remember at the airport crying because he was leaving. "Don't worry Mum," he said, "I'm only going for a year". Well, it's been about 8 years now ... and counting!
According to the mythology of crows, they teach human beings
how to mix love, humour