Mike Keith

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Nine Anagrammatic Views of Mt. Fuji
(with Kanji)

Original text in yellow, anagram in pink.

The starting text for this anagram is a section from the essay on Mt. Fuji in Exotics and Retrospective by Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish writer who spent his last 14 years in the late 1800's living in Japan, and is well-known for his writings about that country. This is from section 6 of the essay "Fuji-no-yama" (whose entirety can be found here) and tells the story of one particular couple's adventure with the mountain, in the context of the tale of Hearn climbing the mountain himself.

Below that is an anagram of this text into nine poems (one, #4, being a short retelling of Hearn's story) inspired by nine images from Hokusai's famous series of woodcuts, the Views of Mt. Fuji. Each poem is shown with its accompanying image.

Squatting by the wood fire, I listen to the goriki and the station-keeper telling of strange happenings on the mountain. One incident discussed I remember reading something about in a Tokyo paper: I now hear it retold by the lips of a man who figured in it as a hero.

A Japanese meteorologist named Nonaka attempted last year the rash undertaking of passing the winter on the summit of Fuji for purposes of scientific study. It might not be difficult to winter upon the peak in a solid observatory furnished with a good stove, and all necessary comforts; but Nonaka could afford only a small wooden hut, in which he would be obliged to spend the cold season without fire! His young wife insisted on sharing his labors and dangers. The couple began their sojourn on the summit toward the close of September. In mid-winter news was brought to Gotemba that both were dying.

Relatives and friends tried to organize a rescue-party. But the weather was frightful; the peak was covered with snow and ice; the chances of death were innumerable; and the goriki would not risk their lives. Hundreds of dollars could not tempt them. At last a desperate appeal was made to them as representatives of Japanese courage and hardihood: they were assured that to suffer a man of science to perish, without making even one plucky effort to save him, would disgrace the country; - they were told that the national honor was in their hands. This appeal brought forward two volunteers. One was a man of great strength and daring, nicknamed by his fellow-guides Oni-guma, "the Demon-Bear," the other was the elder of my goriki. Both believed that they were going to certain destruction. They took leave of their friends and kindred, and drank with their families the farewell cup of water - midzu-no-sakazuki - in which those about to be separated by death pledge each other. Then, after having thickly wrapped themselves in cotton-wool, and made all possible preparation for ice-climbing, they started - taking with them a brave army-surgeon who had offered his services, without fee, for the rescue. After surmounting extraordinary difficulties, the party reached the hut; but the inmates refused to open! Nonaka protested that he would rather die than face the shame of failure in his undertaking; and his wife said that she had resolved to die with her husband.

Partly by forcible, and partly by gentle means, the pair were restored to a better state of mind. The surgeon administered medicines and cordials; the patients, carefully wrapped up, were strapped to the backs of the guides; and the descent was begun. My goriki, who carried the lady, believes that the gods helped him on the ice-slopes. More than once, all thought themselves lost; but they reached the foot of the mountain without one serious mishap. After weeks of careful nursing, the rash young couple were pronounced out of danger. The wife suffered less, and recovered more quickly, than the husband.

The goriki have cautioned me not to venture outside during the night without calling them. They will not tell me why; and their warning is peculiarly uncanny. From previous experiences during Japanese travel, I surmise that the danger implied is supernatural; but I feel that it would be useless to ask questions.

The door is closed and barred. I lie down between the guides, who are asleep in a moment, as I can tell by their heavy breathing. I cannot sleep immediately; - perhaps the fatigues and the surprises of the day have made me somewhat nervous. I look up at the rafters of the black roof - at packages of sandals, bundles of wood, bundles of many indistinguishable kinds there stowed away or suspended, and making queer shadows in the lamplight. . . . It is terribly cold, even under my three quilts; and the sound of the wind outside is wonderfully like the sound of great surf - a constant succession of bursting roars, each followed by a prolonged hiss. The hut, half buried under tons of rock and drift, does not move; but the sand does, and trickles down between the rafters; and small stones also move after each fierce gust, with a rattling just like the clatter of shingle in the pull of a retreating wave.


Fuji's perfect outline points heavenward
  near the river's mouth.
The firm peak in the warm sky
paints across the lake an odd reflection,
  with dirt draped in snow
  rather than brown land almost up to the top.

Perhaps the elder pedagogue of Edo
  is making a subtle point.
The old boatman of Kai
  rowing to the tranquil village there
And the middle-aged Buddhist
  who once pined for youthful times
Endorse this bitter truth:

Seen on reflection, things are often changed.


Summer at midday.
The deck of a tea house on the tan road to Kyoto
  is almost full of men and women.
Two brusque men work on their master's carriage.
Two others pause for a nap.

A courtesan demands her favourite drink,
  adding quite haughtily
"That you are tired does not matter to us."

Only one heeds with kind regard
  the voluptuous plain,
  Mount Fuji on the horizon,
  the cities beyond.

A group which imitates the leaders
  of certain nations today.


The gifted artist devoted this panel to a scene
  that evokes the refined tea-house tableau
  but is, we deduce with careful study,
almost the opposite.

The building is bigger, grander:
  not a house of commerce and commotion
  but a noiseless temple of silent sanctuary.

Nearly everyone is staring at the fine view of Fuji.

The small girl, her view of the vista blocked,
  ponders the old riddle:
If a peak dwells in the distance
  but is hidden, does it exist?


Footsteps go east.
Two sufferers, a weatherman and his wife,
  hunker down to run through hueless snow
  on the dead, lifeless, ice-bound turf
back to their little hut on the dew-fogged top
of Edo's storied mount.

Inside, a buttercup flower
  in a kettle on a naked table:
  the third thing in danger
of being dead before the cherry blossoms break.

Death before dishonor
is their shared motto.

(If politicians followed that rule
only about seventeen
would remain breathing today.)


Gray-tinted clouds befogging the base
  are fouled with piercing zigzags of pure white
as heavy rain runs down slopes to the basin below.

The peak tries hard to stay unspoilt,
  but it may or may not;
The mountain does not speculate,
  nor the awful deluge.

Hidden from view,
a wealthy samurai bows his head,
  rebukes in gruff tones
  the rough path his feet walk upon
  then thinks a while.

The round ruddy sun sets,
painting his mountain's profile fiery red.


A large conifer claims its dominance
  in the center of this oddly phallic vista.

Below, curious men attempt to measure its girth,
  encircling its woody body beneath
  the dense timber and rugged matter,
  even as protruding pine needles and offshoots
scratch and hurt them.

Up there in the heated canopy
  blue birds live with the quail
  in nests made of new shoots;
Chaos, pain, weapons, or mythological dragons are not found.
While at the severe woodland's leafy bottom,
  everything is weighty.


The tired fisherman perches there
on the cramped rock, holding four lines
  in the turgid updraft of water
  that lashes and breaks unto the shore.

A small figure (son or daughter, perhaps)
holds a basket of surf clams, tuna, damp cereals:
  their nutriment for the coming days of heavy work
  with plow and web and cogged wheel.

So in accord with nature are the widower and kid
  they fail to notice how often their tableau
  imitates that renowned formation,
  Mount Fuji.


Going west on Tokaido Road
  seven humpbacked travelers are beset
  with a sudden gust of wind
  that sweeps down the highway,
scattering papers here and there
under gray leaves which fly through the air like dead fowls.

Outwitted and confused by
  the drama of streams and currents taking place there
no one even notices this:

The papers that hold the weighty writings of
  The Great Teacher,
once believed to be so classic and essential,
are blank as the face of Fuji.


Pinnacles are rarely reached easily.
Ever since the master drew this great water scene,
  all waves are expressed
  (knowingly or not)
by how they match
its rugged nucleus of foam and fluid.

Mad men in miniature schooners go by,
Heaved on fat swells high up in the air
  then (ebb inevitably pursuing flow) earthward.
Shipmates cast off dire hopes.
Quiet pervades the peak.

As dusk falls like a knitted blanket
  we apprehend Fuji's rueful theme:
Summits easily reached rarely are pinnacles.

In addition to being an anagram, the construction of these poems (each having exactly 81 words) was governed by another constraint, which is revealed by applying this procedure to each of the nine poems:

  1. Arrange the poem's 81 words in a 9x9 square, in the obvious way: by writing the words, in order, in 9 lines of 9 words each.
  2. Make a 9x9 grid of numbers, Grid D (for Divisibility), where each cell has the number "1" if the sum of the letter values in the corresponding word (using A=1, B=2, C=3 etc.) is exactly divisible by 9, or "0" if it is not.
  3. Make another grid of numbers, Grid L (for Length), with a "1" in each cell if the corresponding word has exactly nine letters, or "0" if it does not.

(Note that the rules for Grid D and Grid L are both based on the number 9, in keeping with the theme of nineness.)

For example, here are the grids for the final poem:

GRID D (the 1's mark the locations of the words with letter-sum divisible by 9)
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0
0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
0 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

GRID L (the 1's mark the locations of the 9-letter words)
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1

Next, form Cube D and Cube L by stacking the grids for the nine poems - poem #1 on top, #2 directly under it, then #3, and so forth. Imagine building Cube D and Cube L (each being a 9x9x9 arrangement of 729 small cubes) out of physical materials, with the following rule: a small cube labelled "0" is made with transparent glass, a "1" cube with solid wood.

Now for the final step. Suspend Cube D and Cube L in a room and shine four beams of light at them: from the top and right onto Cube D and from the front and right onto Cube L. The shadows cast by the cubes on the walls and floor are shown in the picture below, which was created using a computer graphics model of the two cubes:

The shadows make reasonable renderings of four Japanese Kanji characters which are especially pertinent to the anagram:

The red shadow is the symbol for fire.
The green shadow is the symbol for mountain.
Put together, these make the compound Kanji symbol ("fire-mountain") for volcano.

The white shadow is the symbol for wealth, pronounced FU
The blue shadow is the symbol for samurai, pronounced JI
Put together, these make the compound word Fuji, the name of the mountain.

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Updated: May 10, 2016


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