Noilly Prattle: The Meandering Road to the Deep North

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Meandering Road to the Deep North

Matsuo Bashō
Bashō's best known haiku:
an old pond-
a frog jumps in-
the splash of water
     For 265 years the Edo Period (1603-1868) brought stability to Japan and effectively cut off the country from most foreign contact. It was a period of flowering in the arts: painting, wood block print, theater, music and dance, writing and poetry. The renowned haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō, lived in the earlier years of Edo (now Tokyo) and in 1689, some five years before his death, undertook a journey of 150 days on foot with an apprentice student to the northern part of Honshu. He wrote a travel account of this trip in his (奥の細道) Oku no Hosomichi translated as the "The Narrow Road to the Deep North". In his opening remarks he gives us one of the finest definitions of the urge to travel that I have ever read.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Matsuo Bashō
     The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

     Last year...when spring came and there was mist in the air, ... I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.

        Our upcoming trip to Hokkaido this summer is not, strictly speaking, a “getting reacquainted” with Japan getaway since neither Road Buddy nor myself have ever traveled to the “deep north” of Japan. For a number of complicated reasons we decided to buy a new car last June. We had been talking about taking a trip to Yunan Province in China this summer before deciding to buy the car, a Mazda Demio 1.3 liter, but changed our plan to a road trip to northern Japan to break in the car (and hopefully keep cool as well) instead. Yunan is being postponed until the winter of 2016.

        While in no way trying to emulate Bashō, our winding road will take us to some of the points that he visited during his journey to northern Honshu but we will part company with the poet after visiting the 12th Century Chūson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi. Whereas he turned west towards the Sea of Japan, we will proceed to the northern tip of Honshu and take a ferry to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago.

Map - Our approximate route

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