Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道, originally おくのほそ道, meaning
"Narrow road to/of the interior"), translated alternately as The
Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Narrow Road to the Interior, is
a major work of haibun by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, considered
one of the major texts of Japanese literature of the
The text is written in the form of a prose and verse travel diary and
was penned as
Bashō made an epic and dangerous journey on foot
Japan of the late 17th century. While the poetic work
became seminal of its own account, the poet's travels in the text have
since inspired many people to follow in his footsteps and trace his
journey for themselves. In one of its most memorable passages, Bashō
suggests that "every day is a journey, and the journey itself
home". The text was also influenced by the works of Du Fu, who was
highly revered by Bashō.
Of Oku no Hosomichi,
Kenji Miyazawa once suggested, "It was as if the
very soul of
Japan had itself written it."
1 The text
1.1 Opening sentences
2 Philosophy behind the text
4.1 English translations
4.2 Critical works
5 External links
Bashō's introductory sentences are the most quoted of Oku no
English translation by Donald Keene
The months and days are the travellers 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
Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned
to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the
year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the
air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. 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.
I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To
strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By
then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold
my cottage and moved to Sampū’s villa, to stay until I started on
my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:
kusa no to mo
sumikawaru yo zo
hina no ie
Even a thatched hut
May change with a new owner
Into a doll’s house.
This became the first of an eight-verse sequence.
Bashō by Buson.
Bashō (right) and Sora (left) parted at Yamanaka Onsen
Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi Handscroll
Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi was written based on a journey taken by
Bashō in the
late spring of 1689. He and his traveling companion Kawai Sora
(河合曾良) departed from
Edo (modern-day Tokyo) for the northerly
interior region known as Oku, propelled mostly by a desire to see the
places about which the old poets wrote in an effort to "renew his
own art." Specifically, he was emulating Saigyō, whom Bashō
praised as the greatest waka poet;
Bashō made a point of visiting
all the sites mentioned in Saigyō's verse. Travel in those days
was very dangerous, but
Bashō was committed to a kind of poetic ideal
of wandering. He traveled for about 156 days altogether, covering
almost 1,500 miles (2,400 km), mostly on foot. Of all of
Bashō's works, this is the best known.
This poetic diary is in the form known as haibun, a combination of
prose and haiku. It contains many references to Confucius, Saigyō, Du
Fu, ancient Chinese poetry, and even The Tale of the Heike. It manages
to strike a delicate balance between all the elements to produce a
powerful account. It is primarily a travel account, and
relates the unique poetic essence of each stop in his travels. Stops
on his journey include the Tokugawa shrine at Nikkō, the Shirakawa
barrier, the islands of Matsushima, Hiraizumi, Sakata, Kisakata, and
Etchū. He and Sora parted at Yamanaka, but at Ōgaki he briefly met
up with a few of his other disciples before departing again to the Ise
Shrine and closing the account.
After his journey, he spent five years working and reworking the poems
and prose of
Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi before publishing it. Based on
differences between draft versions of the account, Sora's diary, and
the final version, it is clear that
Bashō took a number of artistic
liberties in the writing. An example of this is that in the
Senjūshu ("Selection of Tales") attributed to Saigyō, the narrator
is passing through Eguchi when he is driven by a storm to seek shelter
in the nearby cottage of a prostitute; this leads to an exchange of
poems, after which he spends the night there.
Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi a tale of him having an exchange with
prostitutes staying in the same inn, but Sora mentions nothing.
Philosophy behind the text
Bashō's hut on Camellia Hill. No. 40 of the One Hundred Famous Views
Nobuyuki Yuasa notes that
Zen meditation under the
guidance of the Priest Buccho, though it is uncertain whether Bashō
ever attained enlightenment. The Japanese
Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki
has described Bashō's philosophy in writing poetry as one requiring
that both "subject and object were entirely annihilated" in
meditative experience. Yuasa likewise writes: "
Bashō had been casting
away his earthly attachments, one by one, in the years preceding the
journey, and now he had nothing else to cast away but his own self
which was in him as well as around him. He had to cast this self away,
for otherwise he was not able to restore his true identity (what he
calls the 'everlasting self which is poetry'"). Yuasa notes "The
Narrow Road to the Deep North is Bashō's study in eternity, and in so
far as he has succeeded in this attempt, it is also a monument he has
set up against the flow of time."
Bashō 1996b: 7.
Bashō 2000: 3. See also Norman 2008.
^ Heinrich, Amy Vladeck (1997). Currents in Japanese Culture:
Translations and Transformations. Columbia University Press.
p. 176. ISBN 9780231096966.
^ Norman 2008.
Bashō 1996b: 18
Bashō 1996b: 19
^ a b
Bashō 1996b: 13.
^ Keene 1999a: 311.
^ In his Oi no Kobumi, "The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel". See
Bashō 1966: 71.
^ Keene 1999: 681.
^ Shirane 1998: 20.
^ Shirane 1998: 225. Keene 1999a : 313-315.
^ Keene 1999: 772. Keene 1999a: 313.
Bashō 1966: 27.
^ Suzuki 1980: 72-73.
Bashō 1966: 29-30.
Bashō 1966: 37.
Bashō, Matsuo. The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel
Sketches. Intro. and trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa. London: Penguin Books
(Penguin Classics), 1966. Print. ISBN 978-0-14-044185-7
Bashō, Matsuo. "The Narrow Road Through the Provinces". Japanese
Poetic Diaries. Ed. and trans. Earl Miner. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1969. Print.
Bashō, Matsuo. "The Narrow Road to the Interior". Classical Japanese
Prose: An Anthology. Ed. and trans. Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1990. Print.
Bashō, Matsuo. Narrow Road to the Interior. Trans. Sam Hamill.
Boston: Shambhala (Shambhala Centaur Editions), 1991. Print.
ISBN 978-0-87773-644-8 (Presentation)
Reedition: Bashō, Matsuo. Narrow Road to the Interior and other
writings. Trans. Sam Hamill. 2nd ed. Boston: Shambhala (Shambhala
Classics), 2000. Print. ISBN 978-1-57062-716-3 (Presentation)
Bashō, Matsuo. Back Roads to Far Towns: Bashō's Oku-no-hosomichi.
Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu. 2nd ed. (1st ed. Grossman,
1968.) Hopewell: Ecco Press, 1996. Print. ISBN 978-0-88001-467-0
Reedition: Bashō, Matsuo. Back Roads to Far Towns: Bashō's Travel
Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu. Buffalo: White Pine
Press, 2004. Print. ISBN 978-1-893996-31-1 (Preview on Google
Books) (Review of the book at Modern Haiku)
Bashō, Matsuo. Bashō's Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages.
Trans. Hiroaki Sato. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press (The Rock Spring
Collection of Japanese Literature), 1996a. Print.
Bashō, Matsuo. The Narrow Road to Oku. Trans. Donald Keene. Tokyo:
Kodansha International, 1996b. Print. ISBN 978-4-7700-2028-4
An earlier and slightly different partial translation appeared in the
same translator's 1955 Anthology of Japanese Literature.
Bashō, Matsuo. A
Haiku Journey: Bashō's Narrow Road to a Far
Province. Trans. Dorothy Britton. 3rd ed. (1st ed. 1974.) Tokyo:
Kodansha International, 2002. Print. ISBN 978-4-7700-2858-7
Chilcott, Tim. "Bashō: Oku no Hosomichi". Tim Chilcott LITERARY
TRANSLATIONS. August 2004. Web. Consulted on 13 November 2010.
Keene, Donald. Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest
Times to the Late Sixteenth Century. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1999. Print. ISBN 0-231-11441-9
Keene, Donald. Travelers of a Hundred Ages. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1999a. Print. ISBN 978-0-231-11437-0
Norman, Howard. "On the Trail of a Ghost". National Geographic.
February 2008, 136-149. Print.
Online version: Norman, Howard. "On the Poet's Trail". National
Geographic. February 2008. Web. Consulted on 13 November 2010.
Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the
Poetry of Bashō. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Print.
ISBN 0-8047-3099-7 (Preview on Google Books)
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. The Awakening of Zen. London: Shambhala,
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Narrow Road to the Deep North.
"Matsuo Bashô: Oku no Hosomichi", featuring 9 different translations
of the opening paragraph
Oku no Hosomichi
Oku no Hosomichi road map from the Ishikawa Prefecture
(in Japanese) Original Japanese text of Oku no Hosomichi
(in Japanese) Listen to Oku no hosomichi at librivox.org
Manuscript scans: 1789, mid-
Edo period, mid-
Edo period from the Waseda
Poetry works and collections
Japanese poetry anthologies
Individuals and groups of Japanese poets
Japanese poets (category list)
Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry