A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Nancy James


Autumn: Momiji

West of Kyoto, the banks of the Hozugawa slip like a diorama past day trippers twenty to a boat. On the hillsides crimson maple leaves, momiji, glow rare as rubies sewn on green silk kimonos.

No motorís cough roughens the crystal calm; only the riverís current fuels the boat. The steersman sits backward in the prow, operates the rudder without watching his route. His passengers, women on holiday, chatter, gossip, laugh at his jokes. From time to time: Ahhh!

No blazing forestsó
random splashes of color
astonish Japan.

For safety, tour boats glide in pairs. Today the second boat floats a party of businessmen, their leaf-viewing pilgrimage a corporate outing. They sit upright, row by row of brown or gray suits. Their pilot studies the river while their company guide stands in the stern.

A concession boat putt-putts upstream to meet these two weathered vessels. Aproned vendors exchange rice-paste balls or fried octopus on sticks, cans of warm green tea or sake for the ladiesí yen. In the boat behind, the men vote on what to order.

When the current glides flat and slow, one woman persuades the boatman to let her try the rudder. A grin crinkling her face, she poses for her friendís camera. One by one, her companions take their turns. Meanwhile, the salary-men keep their hands away from errant splashes.

Along the sixteen-kilometer route, picnickers, anglers, young couples on shore wave back to the boat in the lead.

Red flecks on wateró
momiji trapped in the wake
or cascading free.

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