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The Narrow Road to the Deep North (3)

By Nobuyuki Yuasa

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is the author of the Haiku Japanese poem. We are pleased to offer the translation of his trip to north Japan in the same year he died, as he himself described it as, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

The poem was translated into English by a Japanese academic researcher specialized in Haiku and Japanese culture, called Nobuyuki Yuasa.

Basho was born in Iga-ueno near Kyoto. He spent his youth as a companion to the son of the local lord, and with him he studied the writing of seventeen-syllable verse. In 1667 he moved to Edo (now Tokyo) where he continued to write verse. He eventually became a recluse, living on the outskirts of Edo in a hut.

When he traveled, he relied entirely on the hospitality of temples and fellow-poets. In his writings, he was strongly influenced by the Zen sect of Buddhism.

Station 3 – Soka

I walked all through that day, ever wishing to return after seeing the strange sights of the far north, but not really believing in the possibility, for I knew that departing like this on a long journey in the second year of Genroku I should only accumulate more frosty hairs on my head as I approached the colder regions. When I reached the village of Soka in the evening, my bony shoulders were sore because of the load I had carried, which consisted of a paper coat to keep me warm at night, a light cotton gown to wear after the bath, scanty protection against the rain, writing equipment, and gifts from certain friends of mine. I wanted to travel light, of course, but there were always certain things I could not throw away either for practical or sentimental reasons.

Station 4 – Muronoyashima

I went to see the shrine of Muronoyashima. According to Sora, my companion, this shrine is dedicated to the goddess called the Lady of the Flower-Bearing Trees, who has another shrine at the foot of Mt.Fuji. This goddess is said to have locked herself up in a burning cell to prove the divine nature of her newly-conceived son when her husband doubted it. As a result, her son was named the Lord Born Out of the Fire, and her shrine, Muro-no-yashima, which means a burning cell. It was the custom of this place for poets to sing of the rising smoke, and for ordinary people not to eat konoshiro, a speckled fish, which has a vile smell when burnt

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