Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō
Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 18
Men have cast their fishing nets from the prow. All day, they pull up nets of emptiness, over and over and over. All this hard work in harsh light, and all they catch is sunburn. They will return home at the end of the day, once again, with nothing to show for their efforts. It is not easy catching the nothingness.
On the shore, workers are tiny and insignificant, raking the flats for salt. Some have already gathered the salt, and now they are carrying their bags to the kilns. Inside the kilns, water boils to keep the salt. These workers will have much to show for their efforts. It is not easy boiling down a day into a single moment.
None of them care that they are close to the Tōkaidō highway. That road could take them far from all of this salt and lack of fish and pull of oars. The road is always there, yet these people always stay performing the same tasks as their ancestors. Small details persisted. The more they struggled, the more they failed, like sunlight, like heartbeats, like salt trying to avoid crystalizing in a kiln, like birds circling uncertain where to land, if to land. It is not easy to be so near a road that can take us elsewhere, and stay doing the same meaningless task.
Mount Fuji is always in the background, always with snow on its peak, always below the setting sun. The sense of Always is the only constant we have in this world. Even that is temporary, dissolving like water in the kiln. It is not easy being temporary.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sun is in a net,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .taken to the kiln to bake,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .turns to salt in heat.
Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poem (prose and haiku) tells a straightforward story, or so it seems, but the persistent energy of the images resonates with the woodblock print, creating more layers of meaning than is immediately obvious.
Image by Katsushika Hokusai