Sunday, 25 March 2012

Crows in Japan

Info. re crows are from bits and pieces I read about crows from various on-line sources.

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. 

One of the features of our second visit to Japan, was hearing the caw of crows wherever we went. More often than not it was a single crow, its cry a haunting call echoing off grey stone and bare trees.

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

I tweeted another haiku:

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
and playfulness.


Anonymous said...

I love to listen to the crows here in Palm Harbor, early in the morning as the light comes! Caw, Caw, Caw!

Haikus are so finding a little savory nut to eat...all the goodness in one small package!

Enjoyed your intertwined with the crow!

Kay Cooke said...

Thanks Theanne - Here in NZ, depending upon whereabouts we live, we wake up to magpies or sparrows or native birds (tui, korimako ...) or all of the above! Not crows however. I think their calls are very poetic - or at least they inspire ME to write poetry .. Thanks for your kind comments. :)

susan t. landry said...

i loved this post, kay. absolutely loved it.

i am fascinated by crows and all the members of the corvus family. here in maine, we are proud of our home-state biologist, bernd heinrich, who has intensively studied and observed ravens, the larger, wilder relative of crows. his book Mind of the Raven is wonderful...

thank you for these evocative photographs and your fine haikus. (i espec love the photograph of the sleeping mats covered with soft comforters! so enticing!)

Kay Cooke said...

Suasan - Thank you for your kind comments. I must keep an eye out for that book. I seem to have some sort of affinity with the sound of crows.

Lydia said...

Kay, this is one of the most enchanting posts ever. Your photograph of the crow and of the full moon are outstanding, and I love the bits of wisdom about crows scattered about. When I walked my dog yesterday near the middle school we encountered a crow on the grass who just watched us. I told Bonbon (dog) that the crow probably recognized our faces, because we heard some in the trees on the grounds the day before. Read just recently about a new study on how it is that crows recognize faces.

Your haiku here are perfect. I'm glad you are writing haiku again (and it was interesting to see the different spelling on the Basho sign).

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