Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) (奥の細道)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a travelogue written by Basho MATSUO in the Genroku era. It was published in 1702. It is the leading travelogue among Japanese classics and was also the best known work among the books written by Basho MATSUO. The original title 'Oku no Hosomichi' was written mostly in hiragana except for 'michi' at the end which was written in kanji and the authorized textbook used for Language Arts in the middle school in Japan conforms to that notational convention. Numerous haiku poems are included in this book.

The easy-to-read editions have been published by Iwanami Shoten Bunko, the Sophia Library of Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd. and the Academic paperback library, Kodansha Ltd.

On May 16, 1689, Basho and his pupil Sora KAWAI left Saitoan (Basho's hermitage) in Fukagawa, Edo (presently Koto Ward) to begin the journey to north and on his departure, Basho composed the poem reading, 'The spring is passing – the birds all mourn and fishes' eyes are wet with tears.'
It took approximately 150 days, with the total distance covered being approximately 2400 kilometers traveling the Tohoku and Hokuriku districts and Basho returned to Edo in 1691.
Oku no Hosomichi chronicled Basho's journey up to his arrival in Ogaki around October 4, 1689 (when he composed the haiku that says, 'Like a clam ripped from its shell, autumn is deepening now.'
It begins with the preface which goes, ''The days and months are travelers of eternity ….'


Edo - the Journey begins

In the spring of 1689, in preparation to begin his journey, Basho vacated the Bashoan (the hut, in which Basho lived) near Sumida-gawa River.

Even this grass hut could for the new owner be a festive house of dolls

At dawn of May 16, 1689, Basho and Kawai left by a boat from Saitoan (Basho's hermitage). They got off the boat at Senju and Basho composed the following haiku.

Yatate no hajime (the beginning of a travel journal)
The spring is passing – the birds all mourn and fishes' eyes are wet with tears


May 19, 1689, composed in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture
How holy a place green leaves, young leaves, and through them the sunlight now bursts

Kurobane, Ungan-ji Temple, Komyo-ji Temple

May 22, 1689, Basho visited Kurobane, Otawara City, Tochigi Prefecture and stayed with the Jodaigaro (chief counselor of a castle) of the Kurobane Clan Takakatsu JOHOJI whose haigo (the pen name of a haiku poet) was Tosetsu.

May 23, 1689, Bacho visited his former zen instructor Buccho-osho, the resident priest of Ungen-ji Temple in Otawara City, Tochigi Prefecture.

Even woodpeckers leave the hermitage untouched in the summer trees

May 27, 1689, Basho was invited to Shugenkomyo-ji Temple in Otawara City, Tochigi Prefecture where Basho viewed the training hall for practitioners.

In summer mountains we say prayers before the shoes --- journey now begins

Nasu, Onsen-jinja Shrine, Sesshoseki (the murder stone)

June 6, 1689, to commemorate NASU no Yoichi, visited Sesshoseki (the murder stone) at Onsen-jinja Shrine (a shrine to the god of hot spring) in Nasu City, Tochigi Prefecture.

Turn the horse's head towards the plain; pull there now! A cuckoo's calling

Shirakawa no seki (the Shirakawa barrier station)

June 7, 1689, wrote in Shirakawa City, Fukushima Prefecture
Day after day had passed in vague uneasiness, but now we approached the Barrier at Shirakawa, and, for the first time, I felt that our journey had truly begun.'

Taga-jo Castle

May 20, 1689, it was said that, at the sight of Tsubo no ishibumi (stone monument) (or Tagajo hi, an old stone in Tagajo City, Miyagi Prefecture), shedding tears, Basho said, 'This is the travelers' reward, the joy of having lived so long.
I forget the hardships of the road and am moved to tears.'


June 25, 1689, at Utamakura (place names used in Japanese poetry, where a kind of code with a special meaning, mood, season or other reference to history is implied) Matsushima (Matsushima Town, Miyagi County, Miyagi Prefecture), Basho did not compose a haiku saying, 'What painter or writer could ever capture fully the wonder of the masterpiece of nature?'
The legend that Basho composed the haiku that reads, 'Matsushima, Ah! Matsushima! Matsushima,' is a fabrication concocted by modern people.


June 29, 1689, visited the ruins of the three generations of the Fujiwara:
The glory of three generations of the Fujiwara passed as if in a dream. Their Great Gate lies in ruins, two miles this side of the castle.'
Composed in line with Shunbo, a poem by Toho that reads, 'The country is destroyed; yet mountains and rivers remain and spring comes to the castle; the grass is green again.'

Mounds of summer grass - the place where noble soldiers one time dreamed a dream

So the rains of spring fall and fall, yet leave untouched this bright Hall of God

Risshaku-ji Temple, Yamagata area

July 13, 1689, composed at Risshaku-ji Temple (Yama-dera Temple, Yamagata City).

The utter silence …, cutting through the very stone a cicada's rasp


July 15, 1689, revised the first line of the haiku composed at the river port of Mogami-gawa River Oishida (Oishida in Yamagata Prefecture).

Gathering the rains of summer, how swift it is - Mogami-gawa River

Dewa sanzan (Three mountains of Dewa)

July 21, 1689, composed at Haguro-yama Mountain.

Such lovely coolness … palely now the crescent moon on Mount Haguro

July 22, 1689, composed at Gassan Mountain.

How many cloud peaks have come tumbling down upon the moon's own mountain

July 23, 1689, composed at Yudono-san Mountain.

I cannot speak of Mount Yudono – yet see how west my sleeve is now


July 26, 1689, composed in Tsuruoka.

Arrived in Dewa Province after traveling in the mountains for days, how lovely the color of early eggplants.


July 30, 1689, composed in Sakata.

The blistering sun is gathered in the sea by Mogami-gawa River

From Atsumi-yama Mountain all the way to Windy Bay - the cool of evening


August 1, 1689, arrived in Kisagata which was well known as an utamakura (a place famed in classical Japanese poetry) for its superb views taking a place beside Matsushima. On Kisagata, 'It reminded me of Matsushima but there was a difference. Whereas Matsushima seemed to smile, Kisagata had a gloomy, bitter air. The lonely, melancholy scene evoked a troubled human soul,' described Basho.

Kisagata rain - Seishi lying asleep with wet mimosa flowers
Seishi is the name of a beautiful woman in the Chunqiu period in China.

Crossing of the tides … a crane, its long legs splashing - ah how cool the sea

Izumozaki, Echigo Province

August 18, 1689, composed in Izumozaki

Billow-crested seas! Flowing towards Sado Isle heaven's Milky Way

Ichiburi no seki (the barrier station of Ichiburi)

August 27, 1689, having cleared the grueling path along Oyashirazu (Oyashirazu beach in Niigata Prefecture), Basho stayed at an inn in the town of Ichiburi

Beneath this same roof prostitutes were sleeping too – clover and the moon

Nagonoura, Ecchu Province

August 28, 1689, composed after crossing countless rivers.

Scent of early rice - to the right, as we push through, the Ariso Sea


Between August 29 and September 7, 1689, distinguished people in the castle town held Kukai (haiku meets) on several occasions. Learned about the untimely death of Shomon (a pupil of Basho). Sora was unwell.

The grave mound should move! My crying voice is echoed in the autumn wind
The cool of autumn - our hands are busy peeling melon and eggplant
Leaving this place, composed on the road
The red, blazing red, of the pitiless sun - yet autumn in the wind


September 8 to September 10, 1689, returned from Yamanaka-onsen Hot Springs and September 19 and 20, Basho extended his stay at the request of his host but no mention of Ataka no seki (the Ataka barrier station) was made.

What a lovely name - the wind blows through young pines, bush clover, pampas grass

Katayamazu (Katayamazu in Ishikawa Prefecture), Kaga Province

September 9, 1689, commemorated the Battle of Shinohara and Sanemori SAITO mentioned in Heike Monogatari (The tale of the Heike) (Volume 7) and Genpei Seisuiki (The Rise and Decline of the Minamoto and Taira clans). Composed at Komatsu.

The pity of it….trapped underneath a helmet a cricket chirping

Yamanaka-onsen Hot Springs

September 10 to 18, 1689, it seems that Basho was relieved to have come so close to Ogaki, he and Sora stayed at Yamanaka-onsen Hot Springs in Kaga Province for 8 days. Basho subsequently sent Sora who was suffering from stomach trouble home first whereby they went separate ways from this point. Basho stayed at Izumiya (inn).

At Yamanaka, no need for chrysanthemums - the scent of hot springs
From this day the words inside my hat will vanish with the dew of tears
Onwards I must go - if I should fall, let it be amidst bush clover' by Sora

Natadera Temple, Komatsu

September 18, 1689, on the way back to Komatsu, composed while viewing rocks of unusual shape in the area.

Whiter far than all the stones of Ishiyama - the autumnal wind

Daisho-ji Temple and Zensho-ji Temple, Kumagaya-yama Mountain

September 20, 1689, Sora also stayed at the family temple of Izumiya overnight. Basho swept the yard of the family temple of Izumiya as a token of gratitude for their hospitality.

Let's sweep the garden then leave – in the temple the willow leaves fall
Throughout the long night, listening to the autumn wind in the hills behind

Yoshizaki, Arawa City, Fukui Prefecture

September 22, 1689, Basho did not compose any poem saying that in his single poem, Saigyo crystallized the essence of the scene of this place. Composed (by Saigyo) in the locality of Yoshizaki Gobo associated with Rennyo.

Throughout the long night, the waves are lashed by a storm, that drives them to shore - and moonlight drips from their boughs, the pines of Shiogoshi' by Saigyo


Around September 27, 1689, arrived in Tsuruga. Unfortunately, with the weather of the northland being uncooperative, Basho was unable to view the full moon.

Beach of Tsuruga in the beautiful autumn moonlight has the atmosphere of a surreal tale, compelling me to call it by its old name Tsunuga.
Pure light of the moon glistering on the grains of sand brought by the pilgrims
Night of the full moon – the weather in the north land so often changes


Around October 4, 1689, arrived in Ogaki. Basho's pupils gathered in appreciation for his long arduous journey.

October 18, 1689, Basho set out to view Ise no sengu (the temporary removal of the object of worship from The Grand Shrine of Ise) by a boat.

Basho composed the concluding haiku of this travelogue.
Like a clam ripped from its shell, autumn is deepening now

[Original Japanese]