Category Archives: haiku

Winter Renga

img_2959Feathers in the Basket

 

Through my sunglasses

the world’s turned copper and blue

a wild year’s last roar

 

flotsam of ice washed up

in the ash trees’ shadow

 

dotted along the verges

domes of fine earth

lifting my mood

 

shredded honesty

mooncatchers

 

mirrored swans

harmony

on surface tension

 

make time for what matters

the cover of John’s notebook

 

amid the canter of horses

I see my father again

blurred by years of warm sunshine

 

when your mind goes blank

enjoy the silence

 

Hotbank, Harnham, Holy Island

Whin Sill outcropping

still resonant volcanic flow

 

her cello

stays at home

 

at the Blacksmith’s

ordering tea in Italian

swearing in English

 

the rabbit managed ten holes

during my absence

 

so much of our days

is this – hands opening

and closing

 

grey meets white

a line carefully not drawn

 

would you cut the wood?

would you chop the wood?

would you burn the wood?

 

feathers in the basket

flightless

 

a mouthful of mint

like swallowing

the moon

 

imagine Kusala conservatory

full of scented hyacinths

 

Nanna always said

the days get longer

by the stride of the cock

 

two months’ news fast

relief for the heart.

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A genius loci renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 28th December 2016.

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

Celebrating Capability Brown

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John Cobb as Capability Brown in ‘The Eye Catcher’ at Kirkharle Courtyard

 

Making the Lake

 

This far north

dips and hills

unpredictable as summer

 

outside the tent

tall grass waves westwards

 

making the lake

a long lead time

different machinery

 

capability shifts landscape

in the mind

 

chittering swallows

twist in flight

white-blue-white

 

on the ridge of his horizon

a skeleton tree

 

pegs show contour

banks woodbound

piles driven level

 

bring me a basket of bread

for the road to Cambo

 

moon in his eyes

will he be hunter

gardener or poet?

 

wheelbarrow stands in sunlight

casting a dark green shadow

 

these rattling meadows

our ancestors

our hope

 

a spider runs between cracks

in the dried earth

 

for this place, this day

a necklace of beads

of heat, mud, honey

 

where is the boundary to be drawn –

planned and unplanned?

 

begin with an outline

a structure, a framework

anchor it then overlay

 

Kirkharle – eight hours from Newcastle

on dirt roads

 

harsh edge of roofs

gives way to

serrated larch against the sky

 

the price of a line of beauty –

twanging muscles, calloused hands

 

looking north, new energy

beyond the oil route

wind turbines, wood

 

when the wheel stops

it starts all over again.

 

 

A renga in celebration of Capability Brown

on 17th August 2016

at Kirkharle, his birthplace three hundred years ago.

  

Participants:

 

Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Michelle Caulkett

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Rosie Hudson

Lesley Mountain

Diana Smith

Tony Smith

Clara May Warden

Liz Wilkinson

Margaret Williams

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On Nasturtium Street

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On Nasturtium Street

 

July, behind the school

no one enjoys

the shade of the chestnuts

 

white house

conversations in the garden ­–

the past is inside

 

a wall of crooked stones

supports a line of box

my aching back

 

no cry of cicadas

just the sound of a baby

falling asleep

 

the only bloom

on next door’s patch –

an abandoned parasol

 

concrete tiles, concrete bricks

a shoot of ivy on a trunk –

is it strong enough?

 

Linda tells us

about 24 hour poetry

the plot of the clouds thickens

 

new grass comes in squares

slugs and ladybirds

not included

 

trees in the yard

nature constrained –

a human soul in the world.

 

 

A 9-verse ‘simultaneous renga’

in the Literature & Translation House,

Latinka Street, Sofia,

on 27th July 2016.

 

Participants:

Boris Deliradev

Linda France

Yana Genova

Stefan Ivanov

Zdravka Mihaylova

Margarita Peeva

Yana Punkina

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Unusual to work with a group of folk for whom English isn’t their first language writing in English in their own country – hence the impromptu/simultaneous nature of this renga and the three-line verses throughout.  Everyone responded to the space and wrote their own verse and then we worked on the editing of the whole piece together.  It was a great chance to share the renga form in a country where it is unknown and a lovely way to get to know more people there interested in writing and poetry.

Also, a sort of blessing for the Literature House, which is in the middle of renovation and expanding into its wonderful role as a sanctuary and resource for writers and translators from all over the world.  It’s on Latinka Street, which means Nasturtium in English!  We also had in our midst a Geranium (Zdravka) and a Marguerite (Margarita)…

NASTURTIUM LATINKA

Photo by Zdravka Mihaylova

 

 

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New Moon Renga

IMG_0233Today, as part of the Northern Poetry Library Project, a small group of us gathered in Hexham Library to make a 12-verse renga sparked by our ‘food’ theme – which even after six months seems inexhaustible.

The first verse, or ‘hokku’, is a version of one by the Japanese master, Basho.  It seemed like a good place to start – him knocking back the saké on the day of the new moon (and an auspicious Spring eclipse).

Fennel, Saffron, Silver

 

No blossoms, no moon,

the Master’s drinking saké,

see, all on his own

 

dried fruit sweetens the mouth

picked on a sunlit day from the slopes

 

autumn unfolding

chewing the passing year

bitterness of loss

 

ginger wine, ginger biscuits

home-made, Gran’s spice against cold

 

quickly the mushroom

strives for light under the door

a hint of decay

 

looking down on Crag Lough

we stop to munch dark chocolate

 

who knew such longing

could be poured into a bowl

of apple crumble?

 

my love and [garlic]

a conflict of interest

 

red seeds on your tongue

fennel, saffron, silver

perfumed breath – mukhwas

 

leek, onion, potato, simmered

into soup that opens each cell

 

Café de l’Opéra

coffee and croissant

splash of traffic

 

table, the first noun learnt

in a new language – we eat around it.

 

 

 

A junicho renga

at lunch time

in Hexham Library

on 9th March 2016.

 

Participants:

Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Matilda Bevan

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Simone Silver Path

Margot Waters

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Your Origami Life

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Last year ended with my travels in Turkey, where one of the many highlights was a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose above the astonishingly beautiful valleys of Cappadocia.

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Back in the North, the new year began as usual for me at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Yesterday a group of us gathered there for one of our occasional renga sessions.  In the chilly winter conservatory we saw the light fade as we worked our way through a new schema, with the additional rigour of conforming to the traditional 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllable count throughout.  After five hours of finger-tapping and head-scratching, the odd spat of wrangling, we’d created this seasonal renga catching the year as it turns.

IMG_0195May 2016 be peaceful and fruitful for us all.

*

Your Origami Life

Hungry now, the jaws
of winter are snap-snapping –
the upstart year prey

a row of unruly ash
gesture to the rain-washed sky

jackdaws crowd the field
sodden silent monitors
a message in black

as if the moon were patched silk
shredded honesty, falling

across Bolam Lake
a raft of male goosander
white bodies, hooked beaks

you didn’t need to say it
but what a difference it made

will this be the year
she sorts through those old boxes
clears her path of dust?

we are all responsible
and me more than anyone

pruned raspberry canes
twigs, bits, dry in the greenhouse
ready for burning

so how many paper folds
in your origami life?

telephone cable
insulated conductor
sways to wild weather

bullfinches chase their redness
through my thicket of slow thought

sweet, sharp, dangerous
licking honey off the knife –
well, that’s how it looked

the lilt of a saxophone
curling towards the ceiling

in the quiet morning
we pass windblown oak and pine
part sawn, cleared quickly

Forties, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher
storm force 12 rarely forecast

here in old tough grass
waiting for the miracle
of winter snowdrops

every day the sun climbing
higher above layered cloud.

 

 

A han-kasen renga
at Harnham Buddhist Monastery
on 2nd January 2016.

Participants:
Ajahn Abhinando
John Bower
Holly Clay
Linda France
Geoff Jackson
Linda Kent
Eileen Ridley
Tim Rubidge
Christine Taylor

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The Edge of Summer

photo

The Edge of Summer

Housed in the heart

of the sycamore

we’re recycling its green

*

loosening ties

to the ground below

*

a power tool

not a woodpecker

drills unseen

*

axis and rotation

halfway to full

*

all that buried life

bramble and dock

swelling spores

*

but how to write good verses

without a pot of oolong?

*

in the still air

flycatchers

dance their frenetic jizz

*

through the canopy

greying clouds and a chill

*

when this ash grows

past that sycamore

would you speak of win and lose?

*

fistfuls of Burnlaw berries

that never reach the bowl

*

our perimeter

protected with flames

and burnt sandalwood

*

oh to be a jaguar

slumbering in these boughs!

*

bark as skin

and like all skin

its own fragrance

*

on a cooler evening

easier to dream of woodsmoke

*

worry – a temptress

worry – a truthteller

impossible to say in the dark

*

caught in the lake

the bounce of borrowed light

*

to grow roots

or go and reinvent yourself –

the weight of choice

*

the spread of heather – August

woven purple into the hills

*

while there’s still light

we move inside

for warmth

*

the edge of summer

in reddening rowan.

 

Treehouse Renga

at Burnlaw,

22nd August 2015.

 

photo 2 

 Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Anne Marron

Tim Rubidge

photo 3

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Winter Renga

photo 4Yesterday we had one of our winter rengas up at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Just a small group this time, but the renga unfolded over the course of the afternoon as usual.  We decided to ring the changes by creating the schema with verses inspired by the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, another one of the lists Buddhism is fond of, interspersed between the traditional season, moon and love verses, with some left open.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are Mindfulness (sati), Investigation (dhamma vicaya), Energy (viriya), Joy or Rapture (pti), Tranquillity (passadhi), Concentration (samadhi) and Equanimity (upekkha).  You may or may not spot these verses but it was interesting to notice this renga naturally seemed to lean towards the light, suitable for our theme and for the season.

Warm wishes for a light-filled and kind 2015.

L

x

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Half Moon Plantation

*

Facing north

frost on the roof tiles

another short day

*

the flock’s breath

rises beyond the hedge

*

all our words

flow past

riverine, brackish, Anglo-Saxon

*

we walk in the dark

to the Half Moon Plantation

*

wait!

there are more of us

than I counted

*

Bulgarian Daniel asks

of Pali in English

*

even though the details

don’t matter

all there are are details

*

chisel marks in stone

how much arch is air?

*

startled grey heron

struggling upward

such awkward beauty

*

the last miles in mist and then

to climb out of them

*

he gave up

deciphering nature

orchid, begonia, geranium

*

the gift of green tea

much more than its flavor

*

a hut under attack

splinters, blood and excrement

left by an obstinate crow

*

no words come

success

*

after breakfast

they discuss

fire extinguishers and assembly points

*

food for the lion

longevity for the gazelle

*

borrowed light

does not warm you

but shows the way home

*

on the shore of the lake, gorse

bright yellow in December

*

to hold on like Philae

saving energy

getting closer to the sun

*

close your eyes

collect the sparks.

§

A ‘Seven Factors of Enlightenment Renga’

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on Saturday 27th December 2014.

 

for Peter Angelucci and Melanie Cook

 

 

Participants:

 

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

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DISENCHANTMENT

New Year’s morning –

everything is in blossom!

    I feel about average

From After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa

By Robert Hass

IMG_7191The poet I’ve started the year with is Robert Hass, my interest piqued by an essay on him in Tony Hoagland’s fascinating Real Sofistikashun (Graywolf Press, 2006).

…Hass might be described as a speculative describer who has made a tender tentativeness part of his style.  Even moving through his own mind, it seems, he has the delicacy of an ecologist who wants to record an environment without disturbing a leaf.  At the same time that Hass is tonally tentative, he is also resourcefully inquisitive, ever probing into other sources and pockets of consideration.  It is the paradoxical blend of these qualities – gentility combined with a probing persistence – that best describes his poetics.  His ability to register and collate the subtleties of subjective and objective is exceptional.

That overlapping of subjective and objective is a tricky thing to pull off – anchoring the imagination in the real without getting its feet wet – but it lies at the heart of everything we perceive and might write about.

All knowledge rests on the coincidence of an object with a subject.

Coleridge

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I was immediately drawn to one of Hass’s poems called ‘The Problem of Describing Trees’:

The Problem of Describing Trees

The aspen glitters in the wind

And that delights us.

 

The leaf flutters, turning, because that motion in the heat of August

Protects its cells from drying out.  Likewise the leaf

Of the cottonwood.

 

The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem

And the tree danced.  No.

The tree capitalized.

No.  There are limits to saying,

In language, what the tree did.

 

It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

 

Dance with me, dancer.  Oh, I will.

 

Mountains, sky,

The aspen doing something in the wind.

 

I recognize that struggle of saying ‘what is’ without adding or subtracting anything, while still holding true to the I/eye’s response.  I particularly like the line:

It’s good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

I seem to keep coming across talk about the need for ‘re-enchantment’, based on the idea that we have lost our sense of the mystery of things.  While that may be true, it is also possible to look at our current situation another way:  that we are burdened by too much enchantment, bewitched by the media and the material world so utterly we have lost any sense of what’s underneath all the glitter and hunger.  Despite its capacity for truth-telling and clarity, poetry (as an expression of our cluttered, foggy, polluted minds) can also tell it so slant that it tells it wrong.  Just so much more smoke and mirrors.

Coleridge again, in 1796:

Poetry – excites us to artificial feelings – makes us callous to real ones.

IMG_7362We mistake words for the things themselves and hold onto them only inasmuch as they serve our particular view of things.  The words don’t care – they’re only words.  Aren’t language, views, poems all just our own open questions?  On a good day we hear them singing and can dance.

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Iowa, January

In the long winter nights, a farmer’s dreams are narrow.

Over and over, he enters the furrow.

RH

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Chokushi-Mon

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freed from all fear of man

You are lost
until the gate
is found

under the Chinese Nettle tree
spangled shade

gravel
raked
just so

island of white
a single stone

king of the garden
a peacock
cloaked in terrible eyes

shining paths
lead up and down

on a gentle rise
shades of pewter
and lichen

grandfather pine
the tallest tree

all of us wishing
for the same thing
I toss in my silver

the only colour
five-petalled mauve

are they flowers
or seeds dusting
the master’s haiku?

cast in bronze
letters I can’t read

the carved bird
forever on the brink
of flight

sprinkled awake
by the circling spray

facts speak
for themselves
no one listens

always stone
that takes us home

pruning the yew
a line of string
precisely level

enough work
today dreaming

may we all live
in houses stronger
than earthquakes

on the Atlas Cedar
new cones ooze resin.

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A nijuuin renga at Chokushi-Mon,
Kew Gardens
on 18th July 2013.

The title is a line from Kyoshi Takahama’s haiku set in the Japanese Landscape at Kew. He composed it there on May 2nd 1936 and it was installed as a feature, in English and Japanese, by his daughter 43 years later.

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There are actually two peacocks although I couldn’t tell the difference between them.  One is called George – presumably after George III, in whose reign so much of Kew as we know it now was established.IMG_5931

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Cherry Blossom in Tokyo

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a 15-minute walk away from Shinjuku Station, the busiest in the world.  I was staying halfway between the two.  The 144 acre green space belonged to a feudal lord of the Emperor in the Edo period (16th/17th centuries).  In 1879 it was officially named a Botanic Garden, primarily concerned with experiments in fruit, vegetable and orchid cultivation.  Even though it is now used more like a park (opened to the public on 21st May 1949, redeveloped after most of it was destroyed in a World War II air raid), there are still many different varieties of trees (20,000 specimens) and shrubs, a French formal garden and an English landscape garden, a traditional Japanese garden and several tea houses and pavilions, as well as a splendid greenhouse (just finished last year) with some wonderful tropical plants and its own rock-hewn waterfall.  It has been a favourite place for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) since 1917.  All these layers played a part in my choosing to make Shinjuku Gyoen my base while I was in Tokyo.

tokyo

It was my friend Alec Finlay who suggested I make a renga while I was there.  I loosened the form to allow me to write it as more of a journal, a record of my impressions.  The sections (divided by asterisks) represent the passage of the days.  The final part was written more formally at three different locations over the course of my final afternoon.  Fortuitously, the whole thing fell naturally into 108 verses, auspicious in Buddhism – the number of beads on a mala, used to count the reciting of mantras, or prayers.

Sakura is what the Japanese call the cherry blossom and this covers all the varieties, flowering at intervals throughout Spring.  I arrived just past the peak – they opened unusually early this year – but there were still plenty in bloom and people out watching, and picnicking when the weather was fine.  Ordinarily there is much carousing at a hanami party but this being a State garden, bringing in alcohol is forbidden and bags are searched on entering.

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Cherry blossom is associated with clouds – a teaching on impermanence.  Watching the petals fall – hanafubuki – is thought to be even more beautiful and special.  If a petal lands on you, it is supposed to bring good luck for the rest of the year.  As far as I could see, it was impossible not to be covered with petals when a breeze blew.

Sakura marks the beginning of Spring and a New Year in Japan: this is the start of the academic and financial years.  The shops are full of diaries that begin in April and there is a wonderful sense of freshness and excitement that winter is finally past.  The whole family goes to see the cherry blossom – walk, eat, drink and take photographs.  To me it seemed like some sort of natural phenomenon and I was very happy to be part of it.

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My journey started in January with the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, talk of Spring and images of cherry blossom everywhere.  It seems fitting that it ended in April with my getting to see the Real Thing.

reflections

Sakura Renga Journal

From the train
bamboo
and wild cherry

the sight of a pagoda
announces my arrival

in back gardens
trees pruned
cloudwise

flatlands
agricultural, rectilinear

already blossom
breaking
my heart open

an ‘accident’ creates delays
no mention of suicide

a deep bow
from the buffet guy
at the end of the carriage

spiked trees
pollarded, leafless

*
woken by rain
my first thought
cherry blossom!

even wet and jetlagged
my meridians lift

the umbrellas
of Tokyo
precision choreography

enormous black crows
raucous against pink

falling rain
makes the garden
more beautiful

lawns, ponds, stones
everything just so

for the first time
I see how dark
the bough is

the downpour easing
only the occasional petal

as many blossoms
as people
on these islands

paths dredged
with sugar pink

close-up
three, four or five flowers
on each stem

branches’ entrechats
a dancer’s grace

as soon as you walk in
voices call out
to greet you

the most photographed trees
in the world

in Restaurant Yurinoki
even the cake
is floral

soundtrack of cool jazz
unexpected, perfect

a man smuggles
whisky in
with his bento box

hanafubuki
cherry blossom blizzard

because we can’t talk
I offer what I hope
are my best smiles

ancient trees
swaddled and propped

stems are shedding
their petals
I’m not wearing enough clothes

wrapped in plastic
guards patrol the avenues

daffodils dying
a different spring
closer to the bone

no sense of the city
briefly elsewhere

*
the pergola roof
a bird’s nest
of clipped vines

boulders strewn with petals
spring snow

puddles echo
the outline of the ponds
or vice versa

ginkgo majestic
in its original home

stepping stones
invite you
to approach the water

so much on the ground
still so much on the trees

branches bow low
they so want to touch
us, the earth

reflections in the ripples
pixelated pink and green

crows cawing
command
the park’s four corners

no fresh clever way
to talk about sakura

a gap in the rain
the space
between two trees

like the traveller
it comes and it goes

a bottle
of hot green tea
soothes my hands

the crackle of my poncho
the keening of sirens

in the minority
western faces
wear their own lostness

always another view
to be discovered

there are the trees
and what the trees
make possible

in the absence of rain
everything changes

a spring
like no season
I’ve ever seen before

speckled membrane
skimming the ground

because it’s new
no one knows
what’s about to begin

the rain stops
the people appear

why’s it easier
to love away
better than home?

below a certain temperature
the mind seizes

if I sat here
long enough
I’d start talking Japanese

wind picks up
blossom lets go

a discipline –
staying faithful
to the cherry blossom

everyone still
watching the storm of petals

what falls
is only what’s necessary
to fall

the luxury
of not belonging

this garden
owned by a government
given to the people

one encounter
one opportunity

bearing the cold
for the pleasure
of warmth later

the colour of trust
unfolding

hooped railings
alongside the paths
are also clouds

dramatic and subtle
simultaneous

blossom
baby soft
just born

all the girls gorgeous
round-cheeked and straight-backed

4pm and a ringing of bells
a woman’s voice
the park is closing

the tannoy’s last tune
Auld Lang Syne!

*
the return
of the sun
an old friend

the garden alive
with voices, laughter

cherry blossom
in sunlight
universal happiness

the trees’ shadows
still in full bloom

that pink
darker, rosier
from a distance

a million moths
petals flying

sakura
and the people
are one society

my pages blessed
with the petals’ luck

stripped sepals
clustered tufts
flushed

the smallest children
already enchanted

two ants
forage
among the scatterings

the only response
joy, rapture

turtles bask
on the margins
of stone and water

carved from granite
the sunlit lantern

throats warmed
high-pitched birds chatter
hidden in the maples

billows of box, yew
fringe the pond

paper boats drifting
petals float
under the bridge

a single pine
on the peninsula

the tiniest blue tits
acrobats
on the tallest branches

grateful for the veil
of latticed shade

east meets west
the poet
is photographed

the pavilion roof
flows down, flicks up

out of nowhere
a white egret
alert, inquisitive

a shoal of fat carp
mouths agape

a pause between
two bridges –
where we live

old ladies painting
in sunhats and pinnies

sprays of yellow
compete with the pink –
pink wins

the heat summons
all of Tokyo’s insects

a fetid smell
the opposite
of sweet

a pale grey caterpillar
dangles from my hair

some trees
kept neat
a cherry hedge

her red kimono
embroidered with blossoms of gold

not a place
to be alone in
asking to be shared

meeting the sakura
a heart’s wedding

the leaves
will come later
irrepressible chlorophyll

clear-eyed this is
what hope looks like.

A 108 verse renga
from Tokyo,
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden,
1 – 4 April 2013.

LF

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