Scribbled in Miyako¹

by | Jan 31, 2021 | Poetry

Published in Echoes 2019: Writers in Kyoto Anthology #3, available from Amazon

scribble | Shimenawa | Scribbled in Miyako¹

Short poems written at notable places in Kyoto.

At The Sanjo Bridge²

long after sunset
I wait for you at Sanjo
counting stars as they appear

At Daitokuji

the chanting monks have ceased
but silence does not come
it seems the Zen cicadas
have a sutra of their own

At Okazaki Park³

seduced, the cherries
offering their secrets up
to autumn’s slanted sun

At Nishi Honganji

mid-summer downpour
rushing out to save my shoes
no wonder they wear geta₄ here

Scribble 1 | Shimenawa | Scribbled in Miyako¹

At Nanzenji

dozens of schoolboys
hurry past the Sanmon Gate₅
fingering their phones

New Year’s Eve in Kyoto

temple bells unrung
orange and yellow banners blaze
year’s dying glory

Three Days Later

nine by twelve they rang
crowds departed, icy breath
emptiness restored

At Kitano Temmangu₆

This visit I could bring
No finely crafted verse

Will you accept these scraps
I scribbled in Miyako
As offering to your spirit?


  1. Miyako, (lit. “capital”) is an ancient name for Kyoto, dating back to the time when Kyoto was the imperial capital.
  2. Kyoto’s Sanjo Bridge has been a rendezvous point for lovers for over a thousand years.
  3. In the fall of 2018, many parts of Japan saw cherries blooming amid unseasonably warm weather.
  4. Geta are wooden sandals set atop descending wooden slats, used for walking in wet or muddy terrain without getting one’s feet wet.
  5. Nanzenji’s Sanmon Gate (lit. “triple gate”) is an imposing three story structure that represents the primary landmark of this temple.
  6. Kyoto’s Kitano Temmangu shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane (845AD – 903AD), who is revered in Japan as the deity of scholarship and poetry. Students often visit his shrines pick up an amulet and pray for success in their exams. This poem is patterned after Michizane’s own poem in the Hyaku Nin Isshu anthology, which can be translated as:

this visit I could bring
no gaily colored flags

will you accept these rusted leaves
I gathered on Tamuke
as offering to your spirit?

About Mike Freiling

Mike’s interest in the connections between different cultures and their philosophies began during his year as a Luce Scholar (1977-1978) at Kyoto University, when he first learned the meaning of the shimenawa and translated the Heian Period poems of the Hyaku Nin Isshu into English. In 2020, he founded Shimenawa no Michi to leverage his experience as an investment advisor into a broader initiative to help people navigate the challenges of life, love, and the search for transcendence. Mike also holds a PhD in artificial intelligence from MIT and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation from the CFA Institute.