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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

雪籠り Yuki Gomori

Updated: Jan 14

雪籠り Yuki Gomori - Seclude from cold snowy winter and stay indoors as wild animals hibernate - a Haiku seasonal word. In snowy regions, people often stay indoors during the winter. They wait for the long winter to end while reading a book under the kotatsu or making preparations for the spring field work by the hearth.

I usually meet up with Tomitsuyu on the 26th of December every year, on her last day of work before the teahouse close for their year-end break. We usually go to the temples and have a couple of memorable photos along the way. The afternoons are usually spent admiring the winter blooms and the zen temple environments. This year is no different. I know I was in Japan barely 3 weeks ago. But my workplace has a 10 day holiday break, so I decided to come back again. I think after the pandemic, we have learnt to cherish each other more...

It seldom snows in Kyoto though, I have only seen it twice during my 31 trips to Japan. Maybe it may not be a bad thing for my geisha friends, because their kimonos are not thick and they can't wear anything beneath it. They are not suppose to put a coat or blanket over their kimonos as well. Winter is a quiet time in Kyoto. Cold temperatures keep most visitors away, but the city actually has plenty of winter charm. The camellia flowers are in full bloom during December and the Apricot and Plum Blossoms in February. It occasionally snows in January and February, and the blanket of white adds a magical quality to the temple grounds. This is also the season where hotels are at their cheapest rates and temples, parks and restaurants and shops least crowded.

This is my favourite geisha photo to date, (although I have still quite a lot more photos yet to be processed...).

The calligraphy behind has bits from the Tang poem 楓橋夜泊 by Zhang Ji 張繼:





While I watch the moon go down, a crow caws through the frost;

Under the shadows of the maple-trees a fisherman moves with his torch;

And I hear, from beyond Suzhou, from the temple on Cold Mountain,

Ringing for me, here in my boat, the midnight bell.

Zhang Ji is a Chinese poet born in Xiangyang during the Tang dynasty. Little is known of his life; his approximate dates are 712–715 to 779; he is known to have passed the jinshi imperial examination in 753. He rose to be a secretary in the Board of Revenue. He is credited with one poem included in the classic anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems, translated as "A Night-mooring near Maple Bridge" (楓橋夜泊) which references the Maple Bridge in Suzhou, China near the Hanshan Temple and its bells, which became famous because of this poem.

Japanese poets used some of his poems for Japanese typical Shigin singing-style poetry.

The poem describes an autumn night when the poet moored his boat to Fengqiao (Maple Bridge) outside Suzhou. The beautiful scenery of the autumn night in Jiangnan Water Town attracted this wanderer with a sense of sadness and made him appreciate a timeless poetic beauty, inspiring this far-reaching little poem. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet's loneliness and sorrow as he is unable to sleep this night during his journey as he fled his hometown during the An Lushan Rebellion.

Why does the poet stay up all night? The first sentence describes three closely related scenes: "the moon falls, the black crows cry, and frost filling the sky". The moon rises early, and by the time the moon sets, it will be dawn, the birds in the trees will also chirp at dawn; the frost of the autumn night is full of soaking chills. The second sentence describes the scene of the water town where ships moor at night. The wanderer faced the frosty night at Maple Bridge with lights from the nearby fishing boats, and there were wisps of light worry. The last two sentences only describe the sound of temple bell reaching the ship from the Hanshan Temple outside Gusu City. This "midnight bell" not only sets off the silence of the night, but also reveals the depth of the night, and the poet's indescribable feelings when he listens to the bell are all unspoken.

The sadness expressed by Zhang Ji in 楓橋夜泊 is a kind of endless implication and lingering sorrow, his worries about the country and the people during the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), also known by many Chinese as the An-Shi Rebellion. Led by General An Lushan, the devastating effect of this rebellion spanned over 3 emperors during its course. It left a lot of deaths as well as lasting political effects. The historical facts of this event in China sparked curiosity in people all over the world.

During the An Lushan Rebellion, as Emperor Xuanzong and his cortege were fleeing from the capital Chang'an to Chengdu, the emperor's guards demanded that he put Concubine Yang to death because they blamed the rebellion on her cousin Yang Guozhong and the rest of her family. The emperor capitulated and reluctantly ordered his attendant Gao Lishi to strangle Yang to death. Some rumours however state that Yang had been rescued - the combined efforts of Gao Lishi and a Japanese diplomat Shino Fujiwara (藤原刷雄), escaped to Japan and lived her remaining life there. In Japan, she is known as Yōkihi. Yōkihi is my ancestral Goddess and is worshipped in Kyoto for her grace and beauty. I make it a point to visit my ancestral Goddess at her temple every time I come to Kyoto, and the Goddess has granted me many miracles. Temples do not usually allow geisha photography within their premises, but I think my ancestral Goddess has helped us again this time.

My favourite part of the photo is the unusual color palette. The combination colors of cyan, orange, black, white and brown is seldom used together. Tomitsuyu was initially worried about the color of her cyan tenugui. But I think the colors bring out the winter theme nicely...

Yuki Gomori is included in one of the Top 101 Portrait Photographs of the Year (Environmental Portrait category) in the 2023 International Portrait Photographer of the Year awards and included in their annual book.

For those interested, you can follow this link to the organiser's webpage and see the flipbook at the bottom of their webpage:

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