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Narrow Road to the Deep North

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[[Image:Chusonji_Basho_Statue.JPG|150px|thumb|Statue of Basho, [[Hiraizumi]]]]
'''The Narrow Road to the Deep North''' (奥の細道 ''Oku no Hosomichi'') is the title of famed haiku poet '''Matsuo Basho''''s most famous work, a poem-filled travelogue through [[Japan]]'s remote northeastern region of [[Tohoku]].
{{infobox|Matsuo Basho|Born Matsuo Munefusa in 1644 in the town of [[Ueno]] near [[Kyoto]], Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉) is generally regarded as Japan's greatest ''haiku'' poet, largely responsible for creating the art form with its sparse 5-7-5 syllable structure.  His pseudonym Bashō means "banana tree", chosen after a fruitless tree near his hut.  He achieved a modest degree of fame during his lifetime with gems such as this:
: 古池や (''Furuike ya'')
: 蛙飛び込む (''Kawazu tobikomu'')
: 水の音 (''Mizu no oto'')
: An old pond!
: A frog jumps in—
: the sound of water.
Dissatisfied with a sedentary life, in 1684 he embarked on the first of his many trips, traveling to [[Mount Fuji]] and [[Ise]].  His art reached its greatest form during his five-month trip to the Deep North in 1689, during which he wrote his masterpiece ''The Narrow Road to the Deep North'' where he developed his concept of ''sabi'', the identification of man with beauty of nature.
Basho died in the summer of 1694 shortly after leaving Kyoto on another trip, and is interred in the town of [[Otsu]].}}
One of the most famous travelogues ever, the Narrow Road continues to inspire Japanese art and visitors to [[Tohoku]], and each of the places Basho visited continues to revere his poems and observations.
In Basho's day, the land of ''Oku'' (奥), literally "Within", was the back of beyond in Japan, where farmers eked out a meager living and bandits and hermits roamed in the mountains.  Well aware of the dangers awaiting him, Basho fully expected to never return, selling his house and preparing a will.
When reading Basho's work, it is important to note that he takes more than a few poetic liberties with the exact route chosen and the sights seen.  Fortunately, he traveled for most of the way with fellow poet Sora, whose more factual diary has allowed the reconstruction of the route.
: 予もいづれの年よりか、片雲の風にさそはれて、漂泊の思ひやまず、海浜にさすらへ
: ''There came a day when the clouds drifting along with the wind aroused a wanderlust in me, and I set off on a journey to roam along the seashores...''
Back in 1689 Basho walked the entire distance, starting in late spring and taking over five months (156 days, to be precise) for the entire journey.
Even with the assistance of modern transportation and perfect scheduling (public transport is sparse in this neck of the woods), it would take a month for a whirlwind tour of all visited sights.
Due to Basho's predilection for mountain climbing, a faithful copy of the itinerary can only be done in summer, after the heavy snows of the Sea of Japan coast have melted and the mountains are accessible.
==Get in==
The starting point of the trip is [[Tokyo]], the capital of Japan.  As the first stretch of the trip has been largely absorbed into urban sprawl, many choose to head straight for [[Sendai]] (Stage 18) and start their trip there (with a possible detour to Nikko).
<div style="float:right; margin-left:15px; margin-right:15px; width:200px; text-align:center">
[[Image:Nezu_Facade_Color.JPG|thumb|135px|Old house in downtown [[Tokyo]]]]
[[Image:Toshogu_Detail.JPG|thumb|180px|Carvings in Toshogu, [[Nikko]]]]
[[Image:Matsushima.jpg|thumb|180px|Pine islands, [[Matsushima]]]]
[[Image:Motsuji_Lake.JPG|thumb|135px|Pure Land Garden, [[Hiraizumi]]]]
[[Image:Onuma_Roten_Night2.JPG|thumb|135px|Outdoor bath, [[Naruko]]]]
[[Image:Hagurosan_Bridge.JPG|thumb|180px|Trail to Hagurosan, [[Dewa Sanzan]]]]
Basho's original itinerary is as follows, with modern placenames or major nearby cities in parentheses where applicable.
* Stages 1-2: [[Tokyo/Toshima|Sugamo]] ([[Tokyo]])
Basho starts off from the heart of downtown (''shitamachi'') Tokyo, bidding farewell to [[Tokyo/Ueno|Ueno]] and [[Tokyo/Taito|Yanaka]] &mdash; both well worth a visit.
* Stage 3: [[Soka]]
* Stage 4: [[Muronoyashima]]
* Stage 5: [[Nikko]]
Intriguingly, Basho does not even mention Nikko's largest tourist draw, the extravagant Tokugawa mausoleums.  Instead, he climbs Mt. Nikko and visits Futarasan Shrine, dedicated to the mountains' guardian spirits.
* Stages 6-9: [[Nasu]] (Kurobane, Unganji, Sesshoseki)
* Stage 10: [[Shirakawa]]
* Stage 11: [[Sukagawa]]
* Stage 12: '''Asaka''' ([[Fukushima]])
* Stage 13: [[Shinobu]]
* Stage 14: [[Sato Shoji]]
* Stage 15: [[Iizuka]]
* Stage 16: [[Kasajima]]
* Stage 17: [[Takekuma]]
* Stage 18: [[Sendai]]
Sendai is the largest city in Tohoku, home to few attractions but a pleasant enough place to rest for a few days.
* Stage 19: '''Tsubo no Ishibumi''' ([[Ichikawa]])
* Stage 20: [[Shiogama]]
Matsuo's chosen route of boarding a boat here for Matsushima remains very popular today.
* Stage 21: [[Matsushima]]
The craggy pine tree islands here are considered one of the [[Japan's Top 3]] scenic spots.
* Stage 22: [[Ishinomaki]]
The island of [[Kinkazan]], while not visited by Basho, makes an interesting detour from here.
* Stage 23: [[Hiraizumi]]
Once a capital that rivaled in [[Kyoto]] in splendor, today's Hiraizumi has little left except two famous temples &mdash; and some famous haiku lamenting the loss penned here by Basho.
* Stage 24: '''Dewagoe''' ([[Naruko]])
At this point Basho abandoned the original plan to head all the way north to [[Aomori]] and instead decided to head across the mountains.  Naruko is now popular hot spring resort.
* Stage 25: [[Obanazawa]]
* Stage 26: '''Ryushakuji''' ([[Yamadera]])
The temple of Ryushakuji is quite literally carved out of the mountainside: hence the common name ''Yamadera'', "Mountain Temple".
* Stage 27: [[Oishida]]
* Stage 28: '''Mogami River''' ([[Yamagata]])
* Stages 29-30: '''Hagurosan''' and '''Gassan''' ([[Dewa Sanzan]])
The three holy mountains of Dewa Sanzan are the center of worship for the Shinto-Buddhist Shugendo sect and its mountain-climbing ''yamabushi'' ascetic monks.
* Stage 31: [[Sakata]]
* Stage 32: [[Kisagata]]
* Stage 33: '''Echigo''' ([[Niigata (prefecture)|Niigata]])
The province of Echigo is now [[Niigata]] prefecture.  A worthwhile side trip here is [[Sado Island]], once a harsh place of exile known for its gold mines, but now home to a yearly music festival that draws people from around the country.
* Stage 34: [[Ichiburi]]
* Stage 35: [[Kanazawa]]
* Stage 36-37: [[Komatsu]]
Near Komatsu, Basho visited Natadera, a famous temple still visited by many Japanese (but few foreign tourists).
* Stage 38: [[Daishoji]]
* Stage 39: [[Matsuoka]]
* Stage 40: [[Fukui]]
* Stage 41: [[Tsuruga]]
* Stage 42: [[Ironohama]]
* Stage 43: [[Ogaki]]
==Stay safe==
The roaming bands of Ainu bandits that Basho feared (but did not encounter) are long since gone.  Now the riskiest parts of the trip are inclement weather and the mountain ascents.
==Get out==
The ending point is [[Ogaki]], which is 30 minutes by rail from [[Nagoya]], a '''Tokaido Shinkansen''' stop. Nagoya is home to the [[Chubu Centrair International Airport]]. Ogaki is also not so far from Kansai, and it is only a few hours back to Tokyo.
You might also wish to detour to [[Otsu]] on the shores of [[Lake Biwa]], where Basho died in 1694.  He is buried in that city at the small temple of [[Gichu-ji]].
* ''[ Narrow Road to the Deep North]'', translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa
* ''Narrow Road to the Interior'' ISBN 1570627169
*(Spanish) (Japanese)[ Oku no Hosomichi]''
[[WikiPedia:Oku no Hosomichi]]

Revision as of 10:22, 14 July 2008