16 May, Seiichi Morimura

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Narrow Road to the Interior: A Journey in Search of Bashō


I’ve often thought of Matsuo Bashō, whose perambulatory journey to Ōgaki in modern-day Gifu Prefecture was famously chronicled in

Narrow

Road

to

the

Interior

, a timeless travelogue blending prose and haiku. Curiously, no sooner had Bashō laid down his walking stick to rest momentarily in Ōgaki than he set off once again, bound for the eastern coast in Ise, accompanied by his loyal disciple and traveling companion Sora Kawai. Bashō was surely an archetypal wanderer who required no set destination, and saw the journey itself as his avowed home.
  The moment Bashō penned his anthology’s closing poem, he anointed the start of a new chapter in his travels. Such journeymen are fated to live in perpetual search of a higher truth with one foot on the road, and the other in eternity.
  I wonder what Bashō would make of the modern age. What would transpire if the Japanese Bard, he who polished the poetic essence in the ether of wanderlust, were resurrected in present-day Japan? Where could he possibly roam?
  A few years ago, I was inspired to retrace Bashō’s footsteps, and embarked on a journey of my own through the interior’s narrow backroads. I wanted to viscerally experience for myself, both mentally and physically, the ethos that compelled Bashō to continue his eternal travels. I wanted to feel in my bones what is meant by the adage, “the end of one road is but a new beginning.”
  The unknown is inherently infinite. I see Bashō as someone akin to the insatiable hunter, in tireless pursuit of the eternal unknown.
  

The

Narrow

Road

to

the

Interior

opens with an entry dated March 27th, 1689 (May 16th in the solar calendar), as a restless Bashō departed from his hermitage in the Fukagawa neighborhood of Edo along with Sora, on an epic journey that would wind from the Tōhoku to Hokuriku regions. The collection concludes on September 6th (October 18th), as Bashō left Ōgaki, and continued his travels onward toward the Ise Shrine.
  Bashō spoke to me as he sang the praises of the changing seasons, the mercurial moods of the weather, and the fluid passage of the months and days as he stood at the proverbial fork in the road, a self-styled “wayfarer of a hundred generations,” simultaneously straddling the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Moreover, I was overcome with an acute appreciation for Bashō’s lifelong pursuit of the distant dream that awaits just out of reach, beyond the uncharted horizon of the unknown.
  Midway on my travels, I stood atop the summit of Mt. Haguro, both arms extended up toward the clear sky overhead, the pure blue peeking between my fingertips. The infinite narrow stone steps snaking up from the foot of the mountain seemingly stretched into thin air, like a fine thread interweaving the summit with the fabric of the cerulean sky. As if becoming one with the heavens, I felt the blue seep down, inhabiting my fingers. The horizon was dotted with mountain peaks near and far, each one beckoning the traveler to climb and learn her secrets next.
  Upon arriving in Ōgaki, I composed a haiku to commemorate the culmination of my journey, and envisioned nearly crossing paths with Bashō, a figure perceptible only from behind in passing, as he receded swiftly into the distance.

  Sky and sea, two paths
  converge at one horizon
  now memories past

  For those who are at home on the road, a voyage has no true end. The traveler knows no finish line on life’s eternal journey.


Translated by Daniel González/Arranged by TranNet KK

Seiichi Morimura
Born in Saitama Prefecture, 1933. After graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University, he worked as a hotel worker for nine years before becoming a full-time writer. He won the 15th Edogawa Rampo Prize for

Kōsō

no

shikaku

(The high-rise blind spot), the 26th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for

Fushoku

no

kōzō

(The structure of corruption), the 3rd Kadokawa Novel Award for

Ningen

no

shōmei

(Proof of being human), and the 45th Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for

Akudō

(Evil ways) . Other bestsellers include

Akuma

no

hōshoku

(Demon’s gluttony) and

Yasei

no

shōmei

(Proof of being wild), among others. In 2004, he won the 7th Japan Mystery Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement, establishing a firm foundation in the world of sociological detective stories.

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