Of All the Wild Sakura: The Journals of Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder

My first stay in Japan was from May of ’56 to August ’57. I left to get a change of air, to reflect on my Zen practice, and to earn some dollars. With my seaman’s papers and NMU card I got an engine room job on an American tanker, the USNS Sappa Creek, out of Yokohama, and was tramping around the Pacific and Indian oceans for nine months. After a spell back on the West Coast, I returned to Kyoto in March of ’59 by passenger-freighter.


10. III. 1959 Tuesday Coming in to Yokohama

Dreamed I was climbing a steep railway embankment with an old hobo: he talked funny, dipthongizing certain vowels — / hwa: yeyus / “why yes” / — I realized that was how Ed McCullough talked at Warm Springs Logging Camp A; I said to myself, Now I know what hobo-dialect is.

A ship passes us, outward bound; a light gray drizzle & a warmish south wind. Six hours from Yokohama.

And now, again, Japan —

Passing the two lights and the breakwater of Yokohama, I can see where the Sappa Creek was anchored a year and a half back. The “roads” of Tokyo Bay. Fuji’s white dome above smoggy haze. Later: a clear day: waiting in Yokohama Eki for the Kyoto train. Another walk up the stairs to Immigration. The scene is people: warm, noise of it all; I feel quite at home.

And down the Tokaido. That big mountain east of Biwa-ko: I recall the time I came back from skiing here with Shimizu; and the arrogant young sumo apprentices on the train.

Red plum blossoms out now — one in the dark shade of farm gully.


14. III. 1959 Rinko-in [Rinzai temple in Shokoku-ji]

Back at Rinko-in — “Tadaima” — Later to see Philip Yampolsky, and Will Petersen; Ami-ko looks like an Indian — beautiful skull and black black hair.

Will P. now worrying about painting, “oil painting and Buddhism don’t go together” he says — his paintings are rich, and I don’t see what he worries about.

Last night it snowed a little. & this morning 5 AM. riding with Walter Nowick to Daishu-in, it snowed more, thick and wet.

Goto Roshi [Walter’s teacher and the teacher of Oda Sesso Roshi] dark-faced & funny. White hills around the edge of town.

(The time T. & I went to the summit of Grizzly Peak to make love: full moon, a brush fire north, and surprising another couple in the warm grass — September 1955).

(— thinking back on Crater Mt. Lookout: I was the last one to ever sit in Crater Mountain — built in the thirties — abandoned after my year, ’52. A photo of a woman hung on the window; [Lisa Fonssagrives] her nipple just poking Mt. Challenger, Mt. Sourdough by her thigh. Shave-headed, bearded, reading, melting last winter’s snow to make my tea.)
Boys, he said, “don’t mourn for me, meditate.”
sit down & fly.

— Last night dinner at Pete’s with the recently-arrived-from-Europe Cid Corman. Stories of poverty in Southern Italy.

leavetaking (copied from ship-board notebook)
It’s not real until the
gap between the ship and the dock
gets too wide to jump — Pier 9 Saturday
afternoon at 5 o’clock, the twenty-first
of February 19 hundred fifty-nine.

All of Berkeley hills curved out behind the Bay — the strange suburban view — lot homes — that flash back, a brutal orange sun-glare at the eye
Clarity of spring: Mt. Diablo can be seen (I never went there). Regrets that quicken as the ship backs off Potrero Hill — ah, San Francisco is my home.

23. III. 1959 Monday Rinko-in

Preparing to leave Shokoku-ji and move to the Kitano river valley. The last few days cleaning the little house I’ll rent at Yase, “Eight Sandbars.” Yesterday Petersen and I were out there taking up all the tatami, peering under the floor, shoring up busted boards. Dust everywhere from the road. Yesterday it rained; smoking and sitting on the porch-edge; the white puffs of cloud on the hillsides almost too oriental. Dust and cobwebs, old sake bottles. Today I finished the job, beating the tatami in spots of sun between showers, reading an old Mainichi as I laid them out with bug power.

Mrs. Ishiguro brought bancha for lunch. No dreams since I got here. The big old Rinko-in tom disappeared. & now a brindled male kitten roams about looking for food and warm spots. The temple family rise at 5:30, dust the shoji, cough and piss and talk — barefooted on chill floors, splashing cold water on the face. Camellia blooms / cherry begins / tombi sails over the hinoki tops slowly, twisting and angling his wide flat tail feathers.


24. III

Cid Corman tearing into much of Myths and Texts [just-then published book of poems by GS], it isn’t “real” he says of “Io” and other borrowings from Occidental sources. The Native-American-derived stuff he thinks makes it. Digs the concrete and directly experienced portions — finds the language not compressed or sharp enough often. He’s a very scrupulous critic but not always right.

Kerosene stoves, gasoline stoves, propane.


28. III. Saturday Yase

— Living at Yase. Sunlight from over Hiei; rice cooking in the kamado and kai on the konro. The house feels too big and the road is terrible dusty; perhaps I won’t be able to make it here. But will see. Yesterday Pete brought Glen Grosjean out — looking young, chapped, red-faced, & more relaxed. He is moving to a new job up at Sendai — says he couldn’t do decent sanzen with his roshi because he didn’t respect him. Only stayed till 11 am. Afternoon Corman came — we climbed the hill in back, talking poetry as we crashed through the underbrush.


29. III.

& last night dinner with Mrs. [Ruth Fuller Everett] Sasaki: She seems much less inclin’d to arrogance. & I much less inclined to be annoyed with her simply because she has money and is of the middle class. Today — chilly dusty — I come to recognize the tombi that works up and down the river — the sense of the place is growing.

What one has to do to fix up a house to live in the country:
I had to order 2 wooden well-buckets (oke), buy a rope, two short chains, a coil of copper wire, hook it all up over the sheave and seize the eyes with wire — to get water out of the courtyard well.

Had to buy a dustpan, a broom for tatami, & a broom for the daidokoro [niwaboke]

The gardeners came & trim’d the poor pine trees.

The electricity man — upon request — came and put up a meter. There seem to be no fuses. Then bought: friction tape, coat-hangers, scouring powder, laundry soap, a mirror, a wire to broil fish on, a basket for sumi, a chopping block, a kitchen knife, a nata, a sugar can and 2 kilo brown sugar, kitchen scrub brushes, a pair of zoris, a knife sharpening stone, & hibachi.

Walter gave me a shichirin to cook on. Complete. & a huge stack of Rinko-in plates, bowls, etc.

Had to order a shikibuton made at cost of ¥3,000 in a fine dark unsui blue.

Ordered a personal han. & bought a basketload of sumi, & six bundles of firewood, from a little old local woman with horny hands.

Bought US mountain white gas stove at the surplus store.

Took all the mats out, beat them, & swept the under-flooring with Pete. Wiped off everything. Hired a 3-wheel truck to bring me & all my goods out — stopping on-route at Pete’s to get desk & all that cost ¥600.

Now there remains much cleaning yet to be done.

The complicated and numerous objects one requires even for simple life.


30. III

Workman came into Sakyo-ku yakusho; seat stoutly patched & sewn in square spirals of classic design.

Literary Languages:
Far East: Chinese / Japanese… Tibetan, Mongol, Korean
India: Sanskrit into: Bengali / Hindi / etc. Also Tamil, off on its own.
Islamic: Arabic / Persian / Urdu etc.
Classical: Greek / Latin
Romance: French / Italian / Spanish
Ancient: Coptic, Zend, Hebrew etc.
Others are — Germanic, Slavic, Celtic. The three root traditions are Graeco-Roman, Sanskrit India, & China.

/ April

Last night Yampolsky and I ate out and wandered a bit the bars. I feel weird. As though the Sappa Creek and San Francisco knocked all the shit out of my head.

It starts all over again..
am I young &
this time clear.
ears, nose, eye, skin,
mind, mouth.

3.IV. Yase

The taste of iron and vinegar. Those fools.
irony [L. G. dissimulation, pretence.]
clinch [beat back the end. cf./clench/]
buxom [AS bu-an, “bow] flexible, yielding, gentle]
blithe, comely,
as per girls [vigorous, good-tempered] plump.
dint — a blow or stroke, cf. dent, by dint of; by
force of.

Re / my dusty road, [kanji]

quoth Peterson

Modern psychology is just beginning to recognize the existence of creatures and images of the mind that Buddhism learned to exorcise as illusion long ago.

12. IV. Sunday

Today at Kawamura Nogakudo, with Ami and Will Petersen, Corman. Program was Tadanori, Uneme, Sumidagawa, Kantan. Sumidagawa gets absolutely hair-raising when the kokata (this time actually a little girl of four) quavers out “Namu amida butsu” from the tomb. The whole of Kantan is superb. And riding home at night in April rain. Soaking wet.

22. IV.

A butsudan needs:
1 sentatte (incense holder)
2 rosokutatte (candle holders)
2 kabin (vases)
3 buppon or bukki(to hold rice) 1 chatoki (for tea)
— Yoshida the butsuguya-san. Ordering a few items for Marin-an Zendo, below Mt. Tamalpais in California. & riding my new Honda Dream 250 motorcycle everywhere. Joanne Kyger says she will come to Japan.

Wa! Spring! By the river.
frogs all creaking
bugs begin to fly in at night to
bang on the light-bulb.

seeking the light! pow! like me.

Poverty and appreciation of the mind, in the far east.
& though it may take years to make a man wise, he cannot put off the necessity right now for dealing with the problems of himself and people. The woes of the world. & it is at that point we judge.


30. IV. Yase I Jinchu-an /Hermitage in the Dust

“Well, do you think you’ll ever amount to anything? — 1st Engineer USNS Sappa Creek sd to me.

And start regular sanzen interviews with Oda Sesso Roshi [Monastic Roshi and Kancho of Daitoku-ji]. Rain at 3 A.M. Teisho at 9. Koan received: Hear the sound of a single hand. “Sekishu no onjo wo kike koyo.” — Hakuin.

(The question I must pose, to myself or someone: can Zen Buddhism bless a marriage, or merely consider it a second-rate expedient. If not, then not really a religion; but a psychological discipline, sect, or cult.

A religion must, as one of its functions, serve to relate and define the individual in relation to his wife, his family, and society, as well as the metaphysical absolute. Existenz.)

8. V.

29 years old this morn — and this morning after sanzen, took a ride up Northwest of the city and into the hills — what green jumbled and twisty mountain views. Gunning the cycle around steep gravelly curves and bouncing on the ruts & boulders. Frogs & birds. Turned back at a roadhead in an unexpected high hamlet. But electricity everywhere. This place, the quad tells me later, was Himuro, “Ice House.”
10.V.Installation of the new Abbot of Shokoku-ji

Shokoku-ji ceremony installing — “joza — climbing into the chair” for Otsu Roshi as new Kancho. Jan the Dutchman [Jan-Willem Van der Wetering], Paul Wienpahl [Philosopher from Santa Barbara, Spinoza-specialist], & me.
Hatto I Dharma Hall

Otsu Roshi sits in a chair on the floor before the high platform. Monks start beating the two drums on each side of the hatto. 2 blows each, alternating – / -/ – — gradually speeding up. The Shokoku priests file in from North door. Rhythm gradually speeds up, then breaks and starts slow again. Builds up.

Audience is older men and women. The women talk a lot. The men are in suits, a few in swallow-tail coats and morning pants. Old Kyoto women — with a certain sneaky humility.

Drum-beats shift to alternate single beats on center of drum. Great reverberation. Hitting the drum with both mallets at the same time. Builds up to a low roar on both drums, then starts slow again.

The walls open, sunshine outside, a huge system of hanging pennants over the platform limply moving.

Oda Roshi comes in. Other priests keep coming in. Four tall candles in 6 foot high holders on the floor before the platform. A green pine-top on the west side of it, on top.

The high hall, wood pillars, dragon, and thunder-drum.

Drums stop. Otsu Roshi climbs the stairs to the top of the platform and the joza in big Chinese slippers. With lots of young monks help, gets in the chair and carefully adjusts his robes. His kesa is magnificent stiff gold brocade. All the priests, row by row, come and bow before him. He acknowledges each with a gassho. Then monk hands him his hossu, he swishes it about.

He sits up and starts to yell in a weird voice — Chinese goroku chanting voice I think. Incomprehensible to everyone. But a spectacle. Outside some little kid with a voice like a magpie shouts.

Now he takes his staff, with what looks like a frog gig on the bottom, thumps it, and chants out again in the Chinese Voice. Vowels drawn out, strange rises and drops, breaks, falling to a growl and other times rather high and clear.

Then from Chinese Voice to sutra chant.
He gets down from his chair, comes back to the floor, walks out, all the other priests following him.

28. V.

The fourth good day in a row, and I burned the rest of the leaves and limbs from when the trees were trimmed; cleared weeds and turned over the soil — Jan the Dutchman and Walter N. came at 9:00 with seeds and plants, and we put in cucumbers, eggplant, 3 kinds of beans, spinach, radishes, and dill.

Then had tea and strawberries, and John and Walter returned. Napped in the sun, and afternoon made a jar of strawberry jam; a shelf in the shoebox, and Spanish rice. How nice the sun. I sit here below Mt Hiei, alongside the Kitano river, Kyoto city just downstream, working on a koan, recalling friends, and gazing across the steep mountain slopes. I should write friend Valery about Japanese gardens.

(The woman planet. Naked Greek Athletes. How.)

— of all the wild sakura,
one small tree alone on the far hill,
surrounded by dark straight sugi
is best.

kyoto journal logo red


Gary Snyder

Author's Bio