Poetry / June 2017 (Issue 36: Writing Japan)

From "Dead Cat Soushi" (after Makuranosoushi's The Pillow Book)

by Chan Lai-kuen, translated from the Chinese by the author; photography by the author


I stayed for a few days in a small wooden house along Takasegawa river of Kyoto. I found myself shrouded by trees as I opened the papered sliding doors. With flowing water under my feet, the house seemed to be floating. The sun painted bright dots on the corridor and shapes of tree shadows on the balcony, where two clay birds stayed at an obscure distance to each other. One night, my eyes suddenly opened and found the closed papered doors had transformed into a dark ink painting of tree shadows.


On the way to school from my rented apartment, I would take a detour into a broad street corner if there was time. I remember the road was flat white under the noon sun, stone railings were white, sakuras in full blossom were also white. Black were the sakura branches and the wooden house that was an antique shop.

There was a monument to the memory of a certain royal figure. Ignoring the nobleman, mothers eat bento with their children. It was this white light that came when memory of Kyoto came to me, much sharper than memories of famous temples and sight-seeing spots.


Upon seeing strings of weeping cherry (shidarezakura, prunus pendula) and wisteria blossoms for the first time, it finally dawned on me what the dangling hair ornaments on the heads of maikos (young geishas) meant. I have always read, with greedy eyes, these artifacts which use I knew nothing about, through the glass windows of traditional shinise old shops.


I came to this southern town to see the shrine with statues of foxes, but found the hill packed with people. I entered the tunnel of vermillion torii gates. I walked on and on until I was tired, but I found that I was only half way into the endless path of torii gates. All kinds of languages loudly pierced my ears, especially that one with a rolled back tongue. I escaped into a tea house with a worn out facade and a placard saying "This is Not a Free Resting Space." I stepped on the tatami and slid all the way into a seat at the back of the shop. If I fell from the railings I would be dyed green. The sun painted strokes of light onto the empty cushion and wooden table opposite me. They look like kanten (agar) jelly. A group of western guys were busy ordering their ramen. The owner, an old lady, was busy tending two separate shop spaces, but she would never forget to collect your bill.

Translated from the book Kyoto that Cannot be Reached 《不能抵達的京都》by the author.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.