Saturday, 25 June 2011

Yosa Buson

Landscape with a Solitary Traveller by Yosa Buson via Wikimedia

I didn’t anticipate this blog being dominated by Matsuo Bashō but he seems to have made himself very much at home here. I was captivated by the story of Bashō’s hard won achievements as a poet and his honesty in looking loneliness in the face and I’m finding it hard to move on to new writers. But before I wrench myself away from the world of darkening skies, of birds calling in the melancholy dusk, and serene days spent in a ramshackle house buried in a tangle of wild persimmon trees, I wanted to point you in the direction of Yosa Buson’s illustrations of Bashō’s work. Buson (1716-1783) was a poet and painter who (like many others) had followed in the great master’s footsteps, visiting the landscapes of his travelogue and illustrating the poem.

The Yamagata Museum of Art has an excellent image of Buson’s very appealing illustrations – click here and zoom in to see
Bashō and Sora in action!

Now, on to tackle the tottering tbr pile and find out what other discoveries are round the corner.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Thin Line

Matsuo Bashō by fellow poet and painter Yosa Buson via wikimedia


The Narrow Road to Oku surprised me. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the travelogue as much as I did and one aspect that I found fascinating was the figure of Matsuo Bashō himself. Having read the story about his arduous trip to the north of Japan, told with such grace, I wanted to know more about this figure. Who was he, what prompted him to set out on such a journey and to write about it in the way that he did?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Oku no Hosomichi

The Falls at Nikko (Urami-no Taki by Hiroshige, via One of the early stops on en route for Bashō)
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 read, and I too for years past have been stirred by sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming. (p.19)
(all quotations taken from Donald Keene’s wonderful translation The Narrow Road to Oku (Kodansha International, 1996)
Thus begins Matsuo Bashō famous travelogue Oku no Hosomichi, variously translated into English as The Narrow Road to Oku or (more alluringly) The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It seemed an appropriate place for me to start but Bashō’s beguiling prose and delicate haiku and soon ensured that this volume was picked up more for enjoyment than what it could reveal about the geography of Japan.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Next Page

If St. Augustine is right when declaring that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” then I am hugely looking forward to reading what will be the next page for me. Exquisitely illustrated in pen and ink perhaps, or inscribed on wafer thin leaves of hand crafted paper, I am turning the page onto a wonderful trip to Japan later this year.
Tragic events have put Japan firmly in the spotlight this year and it has been difficult to think about planning a tourist trip amidst the turmoil and the suffering that has unfolded in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. But alongside those stories, I have been uncovering others in guidebooks and anthologies, poetry volumes, and collections of short stories. As a lifelong literature addict, books and writers are never far from my mind when thinking about any trip (or anything at all really). My speciality has always been English literature so it is with great excitement (so many new writers to discover!) and a large amount of trepidation (I know so little!) that I have put this blog together as a place to record some of my discoveries. I hope very much that you’ll stop by, say hello, and (if you are very kind) perhaps point me in the right direction.
I began my discoveries by falling under the spell of the great haiku poet and travel writer Matsuo Bashō...