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Date: April-June 2000
Publisher: American Oriental Society
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,548 words

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I argued, in an earlier article in this journal (JAOS 117.1) that in his travel writings Matsuo Basho reveals himself to be a participant in the process by which a central cultural regime makes claims on territory--poetic, geographical, and historical. The present paper goes on to consider the more specific way's in which Basho's Oku no hosomichi also figures in the specific discourse of haikai poetics. As one of the "foundation texts" of the Japanese canon, that travel record is today generally read as a document in the history of traditional aesthetics, which is, of course, one way it can be approached. Here it is contended, however, that the text may also be usefully read as a pedagogical guide to Basho's poetic practice intended specifically for students of the genre of haikai.

V. S. PRITCHETT, ONE OF THE MOST PROMINENT of twentieth-century British travel writers, begins one of his most famous books with a telling comment:

I am an offensive traveller. I do not mean that I arrive in a foreign country in a state of arrogance and start complaining about the beds, the plumbing, the food, the transport, the prices. I do not refuse to drink the water; I do not see bacteria everywhere. I do not say: "The country is wonderful, but you can have the people." I do not suspect everyone who speaks a foreign language of being a thief.... By "being offensive" I mean that I travel, therefore I offend. I represent that ancient enemy of all communities: the stranger. [1]

Thus, in tones that should be familiar by now, Pritchett speaks for a whole tradition of guilty, self-conscious, and often self-excoriating travelers who conclude that any outsider trespassing on foreign space is at best an intruder, at worst an invader. And he goes on to say that this is particularly true in the case of writers, whose job is to appropriate what they see through language: "I not only look," he says, "I make notes. I write." [2]

Pritchett wrote these words in the late fifties, in a series of essays produced for Holiday magazine. Forty years later, in the academy at least, we use a different, less-elegant vocabulary that attempts to go beyond the personal to focus on the institutional and ideological forces at work behind discursive practices, including writing, about traveling on "foreign" ground, whether explicitly in travel writing or in the novel. Instead of attacking individual travel writers for personal arrogance, fastidiousness, or condescension, scholars and critics are more likely now to dismiss those writers as agents of a kind of cultural imperialism, as part of an "apparatus for controlling territory by producing, distributing, and consuming information about it." [3]

But is this true of all travel writing, in all historical contexts? And--more to the point here--is it true of writers for whom travel was undertaken with explicitly different motivations and in a radically different discursive context? My purpose in this paper will be to consider the practices of Matsuo Basho (1644-94), perhaps Japan's most famous travel writer, in this light.

In an earlier paper in this journal, I have given a partial answer to my own question by showing that for Basho travel was very much a professional practice that yielded professional rewards, pecuniary and otherwise--a practice that put him in the category of oroshiya, or traveling salesman, peddling himself as a haikai master and his poetic wares. Furthermore, I have argued that his attempt in Oku no hosomichi, the most famous of his travel records, to produce a comprehensive record of the central place of poetry in the life of the north country connects him to an imperial and ultimately imperialistic claim that can be traced back at least to Ki no Tsurayuki (d. 945) and the Kokinshu preface. In this sense, Basho can indeed be seen as a participant in the ideological process by which a hegemonic cultural tradition makes claims on territory, very much in the manner of a Kipling or a Conrad or even a Pritchett. [4]

Yet somehow such a characterization does not suffice. To dismiss so central a document as a history of imperialist appropriation of the periphery by the center is to gloss over its specificity as a document of a particular time and place. Inevitably, a careful consideration of Basho's activities as a traveler and travel writer yields a more complex understanding. This is especially apparent when one considers Oku no hosomichi, the one text among his travel records that has garnered the most attention from scholars and general readers alike. Written as an account of a journey undertaken by the poet in 1689, following a semi-circular route from Edo up the Pacific coast to Matsushima, over to Sakata on the Sea of Japan, and then down the coast and inland to Ogaki, the text of Oku no hosomichi is the longest and most detailed of his six travel accounts, providing a record of his longest and most physically demanding journey. As such, it has long been a fixture in school curricula, a "foundation text" of sorts tha t has inspired countless travelers, beginning with a number of Basho's own disciples, to follow in his footsteps, many of them producing travel accounts of their own. [5]

For all its popularity, however, Oku no hosomichi has long been a notoriously problematic text, especially so since the 1940s, when a companion travel record written by Basho's fellow traveler Kawai Sora was first made available in a modem printed edition, revealing that Basho's work is anything but a straightforward factual account of the journey the two men took through the north country in 1689. Most obviously, Basho's account leaves out a great deal--places visited, people met, etc.-- that Sora leaves in. Furthermore, a careful check against Sora's account also reveals that Basho has here and there strayed from the truth in the ordering of events and in representations of various minor details, particularly the weather, and that he has done considerable revision of poems. In one case--the famous episode involving the poets' "brief encounter" with prostitutes at Ichiburi-- scholars, in fact, have concluded that Basho probably fabricated an entire incident. [6]

One common method of explaining away Basho's lapses and embellishments is to invoke the category of fiction, arguing that in his account the poet is more concerned with an imagined rather than a "real" world. It seems to me a mistake, however, to characterize Basho's travel record as in any useful sense fictional, at least in the modern sense of that term. Clearly his text is meant as a factual account, at some level; and Basho makes no attempt to create a viable imaginative world. Likewise, treating the text as a "work of art" with little connection to the real world would seem to deny it immediate relevance in its own historical moment. Instead of seeing his travel record as in any way a "free-standing" aesthetic artifact, then, I would argue that Oku no hosomichi, along with his other travel writings, may be usefully considered as at least partly a highly "constructed" representation of his professional practice as a haikai poet.

Basho had begun his professional practice--by which I mean his various activities as a licensed master of the art of haikai, including among other things instruction, editing, lecturing, producing various kinds of texts, and serving as master of ceremonies in various venues--years before in Edo. By 1689, he had distanced himself from the more overtly commercial aspects of the haikai trade to serve at the apex of the profession, as a public figure sustaining the enterprise generally, thanks largely to the financial support of well-heeled disciples. However untainted by the stains of literary commerce, though, he was, when he set out on the road in the spring of 1689, still a professional entirely dependent upon his poetic activities for his sustenance and status--artistic, intellectual, economic, and even psychological. And it is in this context that his travel and travel writing--two separate if intimately connected fields of practice--may be usefully considered.

For professional artists of Basho's and earlier times, travel was a useful and lucrative activity, though not in all cases a necessity. For many, it was in fact an established professional practice as routine as taking in students or editing and publishing anthologies. As early as the Muromachi period burgeoning castle towns were as much an attraction to those who wanted to peddle their artistic wares as they were to itinerant salesmen and entertainers--a fact to which the existence of seventy or so extant travel records of the medieval period (ca. 1200-1600) attest. By the fifteenth century, castle towns such as Suo in Yamaguchi and Kawagoe in Musashi were popular stopping places for renga masters such as Sogi (1421-1502) and his many disciples. And the rapidly growing provincial towns of the seventeenth century were obviously an attraction for Basho, who was well acquainted both with the travel records of renga poets and with their professional activities on the road.

One obvious motive behind Basho's travels was a desire to visit acquaintances and to make connections with locals who would become students and, in many cases, patrons. As Sakurai Takejiro has argued, Basho's 1689 trip to the deep north--chronicled in part by Oku no hosomi-chi--may have been quite openly motivated by a need to gain converts to his new style, which had not been welcomed warmly by the Edo haikai establishment.[7] Records reveal a long list of such local supporters, some of whom Basho was acquainted with before his journey and others that he met along the way. During the nearly two weeks or so that he and Sora spent in Kurobane (days 4 to 16, fourth lunar month), for instance, it is clear that his primary host was one Joboji Zusho Takakatsu, who at the time was chief deputy of the absent leader of the small Ozeki han (18,000 koku). Further on up the road, at Toge village in Haguro, where the poets spent ten days (days 3 to 13, sixth month), they were hosted by Kondo Sakichi (also known by his po etic sobriquet, Zushi Rogan), who then turned them over to several hosts in Sakata, including Terashima Hikosuke, Ito Fugyoku, and Imano Kahyoe. In all cases, these local literati, most of whom were wealthy samurai or merchants, knew beforehand of the poet's itinerary and welcomed him in proper style, providing, variously, transport, escorts, accommodations, guides to help them on their trips to local historical and religious sites, gifts, and letters of introduction to other hosts up the road. The Sakakibara family, rulers in the castle town of Murakami where the poets stopped over for just a few days at the end of the sixth month, even presented the poets with a gift of one hundred hiki in cash, donated by local fans. In return for these "kindnesses," Basho and Sora participated in numerous banquets and poetry parties. If in this sense Basho was a traveling salesman, on the one hand, he was a missionary, on the other, seeking converts to his style. Many of those he met on the road went on to become patrons or disciples or both. [8]

Needless to say, wherever Basho stopped he was also directly involved in composing poetry, which meant first of all participation in linked-verse sessions. Extant records of his 1689 journey provide direct evidence of well over thirty kasen (or thirty-six verse renku sequences), with scores of local poets, including the hosts noted above. [9] Haikai was a communal art, after all; and one purpose of going on the road was to construct new communities and to practice the art of composition. The usual pattern was that after arriving at a major stop--a castle town, generally, or sometimes a local hot spring or resort--the poet, sometimes without any rest at all, would be invited to a local literatus' home, where haikai devotees soon gathered. Sometimes a sequence was completed in one sitting, more often in two or three. In such settings Basho acted the role of master--a professional who knew the elaborate rules and conventions of the genre, was expert in the demanding art of linking, and skilled as a master of ce remonies with the ability to keep the sequence flowing and to make sure that no harm was done to the reputations of prominent participants. The largest meeting for which we have a record took place in Kanazawa and involved thirteen participants, including two disciples who had traveled from afar to participate--Otokuni from Otsu and Kasho from Osaka. In Naoetsu the group consisted of eight people, in Sakata seven, while in many other places the session involved only four or five. The real constant, then, is that wherever he went, the poet was involved in linking meetings that were evidently considered to be very much a part of his practice on the road.

Thus an examination of his activities while in the deep north shows that travel was a very practical means of exercising professional skills for Basho, a practice that allowed for contact with new students and patrons and offered him an arena for work in his primary poetic genre. If travel was partially motivated by such practical concerns, though, it was also animated by interests more explicitly ideological, namely, the opportunity to visit famous places connected with the poetic tradition and to affiliate himself with that tradition--an act that Pierre Bourdieu would definitely see as an attempt to gain "distinction." Indeed, the itinerary of Basho's 1689 journey reads like a list of the most famous of places in the far north--Shirakawa, Matsushima, Hiraizumi, the Mogami River, Sado, and so forth. For although he visited places other than poetic and historical sites along the way--indeed, even playing the role of tourist from time to time--records reveal that his journey was clearly organized around famou s sites, his encounters with which were expected by himself and everyone around him to be the primary focus of his efforts. In this sense, the road was again for him a place to display his professional competence and commitment, not only to locals but to the larger public of his readers, past and future. That he was aware of this demand on his abilities is apparent from haibun (a hybrid genre consisting of a prose preface, setting the scene for a concluding hokku) pieces such as this one, on Matsushima, one of the sites he had explicitly set out to see. [10]

Matsushima has the finest scenery in all Japan, people say. From past to present, people of sensibility have put their wits to work on these islands, racking their brains to come up with skillful ways of describing theme. Occupying a space of three li or so square, the islands lie in ingenious shapes, as if the gods had set out to create the most fascinating forms imaginable. On every one, pines are growing, more beautiful and captivating than words can describe.

Islands and islands--

breaking up into pieces

the summer sea. [11]

shimajima ya / chiji ni kudakete / natsu no umi

Whether his attempt to identify himself with precursors who had composed poems at the same site is artistically successful or not is a moot point; but, in terms of the requirements of his profession, it is undeniable that here he is at least claiming to add his name to the list of those who have "racked their brains" to come up with an adequate poetic response to one of the most famous places of his time.

For Basho, then, travel itself--as distinguished from somewhat independent activities such as recruiting disciples and composing poetry with others while on the road--needs to be seen as an arena in which he was constantly called upon to test his mettle against the demands of the landscape and the poets of the past. It is in this sense that I believe travel in the last years was for him such a crucial dimension of practice, as he suggests in the famous preamble to Oku no hosomichi.

The sun and the moon are etemal voyagers; the years that come and go are travelers too. For those whose lives float away on boats, for those who greet old age with hands clasping the lead ropes of horses, travel is life, travel is home. And many are the men of old who have perished as they journeyed. I myself fell prey to wanderlust some years ago, desiring nothing better than to be a vagrant cloud scudding before the wind. [12]

Perhaps too much can be made of this passage. To argue that Basho went out on the road with some sort of naive death wish, for instance, is probably going too far; but not so, I suggest, to insist that one reason he went on the road was in order to join the dead in the form of an elite fraternity of poetic practioners for whom travel was the ultimate professional challenge, and death "on the road" the appropriate reward. (Basho did finally manage to die away from home, at least, in Osaka.) When Basho the traveler writes, then, he does so as one for whom journeying has in a way become the substance of professional life because it so obviously involves all areas of poetic practice--composing poety in many different contexts and sustaining the entire poetic enterprise in all its social and ideological dimensions.

This is a point worth emphasizing, if for no other reason than the way it sets Basho apart from Pritchett's "stranger," who is so often seen as an intruder. For not only was Basho an invited guest wherever he went, but as a participant in a long tradition of travel writing he was also seen less as an outsider than an insider in many ways--one who in a sense knew the local landscape better than the locals, or at least knew better what to "make of it," by virtue of his professional training and expertise. And thus one is not surprised that when he writes, he tends to emphasize his role as a participant approaching sites already familiar--indeed, carefully studied through various accounts of the past--in historical terms, as is the case in his haibun describing the island of Sado.

While on a walking tour along the Northern Road I stopped at a place called Izumo Point in Echigo. And there was Sado Isle, eighteen li off over the blue waves, stretching sideways, thirty-five li from east to west. I felt I could reach out and touch it, so clear was my view of the place, even down to the crevasses and steep cliffs of the peaks and the deepest corners of its valleys. I was thinking how unfortunate it is that now, instead of a place to admire, a real treasure from which much gold had come long ago, the island is known only as a frightening land to which many criminals and enemies of the court have been sent into exile. Then, lost in my revery, I opened the shutters, hoping for some relief from the melancholy of travel on the road. The sun had already sunk into the sea and the moon was a dim blur, but the Silver Stream was there, suspended in the heavens, its stars twinkling in the cold as I listened to the sound of waves carried from the offing, my soul as if torn from its body, my bowels wren ched, my heart suddenly so full of sadness that I could not think of sleep, but stood there, weeping so hard that I could have wrung the tears from my ink-black sleeves.

Across rough seas,

it arches toward Sado Isle--

the River of Heaven. [13]

araumi ya / sado ni yokotau / ama no kawa

Sado was one of the most famous places on Basho's itinerary, the sort of place that clearly demanded a proper response--offered here in the form of the poet's tears--from anyone wishing to claim an affiliation with great poets of the past. Beyond that, Basho's contribution is to see the island in a larger frame that brings in the River of Heaven, across which the Herd Boy and the Weaver Maiden of ancient lore supposedly travel for a brief meeting at precisely the time of year when the poet was visiting-the seventh day of the seventh month. Thus he chronicles the challenges of practice, inscribing himself in a larger world, with a response that displays knowledge and the proper sensibility but is also personal--the record of a personal encounter with a place that in important ways he is well prepared to appreciate. Thus for him the encounter is no haphazard experience but instead one that gives what Bourdieu calls "the pleasure of freely exercising a hermeneutic expertise" and all the status that accrues to t hose who claim that special training. [14] Such displays of competence are demanded of all professionals, as validation of both their individual talents and of the viability of the practices of the profession in a surrounding cultural context.

One by-product of these hermeneutic exercises on the road was of course the production of various kinds of texts, including the two just noted; and this too was a constant feature of basho's work on the road. Sometimes he wrote in reply to explicit demand, as in a famous incident actually recorded in Oku no hosomichi involving a group of monks at Zenshoji temple:

Toward dawn, I heard clear voices chanting a sutra, and then the sound of a gong beckoned me into the dining hall. I left the hall as quickly as possible, eager to reach Echizen province that day, but a group of young monks pursued me to the foot of the stairs with paper and inkstone. Observing that some willow leaves had scattered in the courtyard, I stood there in my sandals and dashed off these lines.

To sweep your courtyard

of willow leaves, and then depart:

that would be my wish. [15]

niwa haite / idebaya tera ni / chiru yanagi

The research of Kon Eizo and others shows that Basho, whose reputation preceded him almost everywhere he traveled, received countless such requests for texts, references to which survive in many forms. In addition, he also presented verses as votive offerings at temples and shrines and carried out an active correspondence with various people while on the road, to whom he sent texts of all sorts. On at least one occasion, we know that, as a gift to a host, he even wrote out in his own hand the full text of a linked-verse sequence he had supervised.16 In this regard, basho was in a very real sense a celebrity, whose autographed texts became treasured family heirlooms. At the same time, however, it is important to note that the bestowal of such gifts was an expected part of practice for the poet, whose signature works also served to cement relationships with students and patrons-fragments that could be (and have been, as many temples and museums in the north country can testify) stored up as both symbolic and r eal capital.

It is of course tempting to think of Oku no hosomichi itself as just another of the by-products of Basho's life on the road, another of those many texts generated rather randomly via practice. Yet, as pointed out earlier, it is here that Oku no hosomichi is problematic, for if there is one thing that scholarship about that text has made clear, it is that it is not a straightforward chronicle of the poet's practice for the period it supposedly covers. To begin with, although a few of their names are mentioned in that record, almost none of the information about people such as Kindo Sakichi and other patrons and disciples is noted there; likewise, many of the places we know from other sources that the poet visited are nowhere mentioned. And, perhaps most significantly, neither the linked-verse sequences nor most of the haibun pieces are to be found in Basho's own primary account of his journey. Clearly, when compared to what historical records yield about his activities, Oku no hosomichi is a highly idiosyncra tic account of Basho's journey and not just a day-by-day record of his activities.

There are many ways to try to account for this fact, including arguments that stress the fictionality or "artistic" nature of the text, as noted above. Another route is to argue that since he did not sit down to write the record until at least four years after his journey, the text is full of lapses resulting from a faulty memory. [17] More convincing to anyone who knows about the set of expectations and constraints within which basho operated, however, is an answer that begins with another hypothesis: that is, that to Basho travel and travel writing were perhaps not the same thing. In this sense, Oku no hosomichi may be seen as the product of another kind of professional practice for which Basho was well prepared, but one that should be thought of independently of his other activities. No one trained as a poet in Basho's haikai tradition or in earlier traditions of Japanese poetry would think of mere transcription as the goal of literary work, after all; for a poet, experience provided a kind of raw materia l, not the finished text.

Among the poets Basho almost certainly alluded to when he spoke of those "men of old who have perished as they journeyed" was Sogi, who had died on the road in 1502. That he was familiar with that poet's work is evident from numerous references. Sogi too, wrote travel records, as had a host of poets before him. And, not surprisingly, his records and the many others that preceded his in the medieval period read like Basho's in crucial ways. First, they tend to suppress the more commercial or in other ways "worldly" aspects of their author's travels, focusing instead on poetic responses to famous places, thus maintaining the illusion of being above the world of trade. Second, they too tend not to record full linked-verse sequences or other textual material that we know to have been generated by their authors during the journeys in question--an indication that earlier poets, too, thought of the writing of a travel record as an independent practice. Finally, they too, upon examination, are revealed to be discurs ive creations rather than simply transcriptions of experience.

If we want a better understanding of Oku no hosomichi as a product and not just a by-product of Basho's professional practice, then, it may be that we should start by seeing that record in terms of its genre affiliations, which connect it back to a long tradition of travel writing by poets in similar circumstances. Certainly all we know about Basho should tell us that as he sat down to record his journey he did so as a poet making claims about himself, indeed, creating an image of himself. Like Pritchett, he no doubt kept notes; but, also like Pritchett, he created his narrative in a specific discursive context. Concretely, this means that Basho's travel record was not intended as a crude record but a representation of the practice of travel for a poet, intended not just for "general readers" but specifically for participants in the world of haikai, for connoisseurs, for patrons, for students. [18] Like all his works as a master, Oku no hosomichi thus does double duty: not just describing but prescribing, qu ite literally telling his readers how to travel. For Basho, wherever he appears, is above all the master, whose primary task is to inspire and instruct.

Of course guidebooks do this too, and we should not discount this feature of Basho's text, which was written before such works had become widely available to tourists. Throughout the record, he gives very specific directions that would have been of great use to those literally following in his footsteps, as in these examples:

There is a waterfall half a league or so up the mountain. The stream leaps with tremendous force over out-thrust rocks at the top and descends a hundred feet into a dark green pool strewn with a thousand rocks. Visitors squeeze into the space between the rocks and the cascade to view it from the rear, which is why it is called Urami-no-take (Rearview Falls). [19]

Asakayama is just beyond Hiwada post-station, about five leagues from Tokyu's house. It is close to the road and there are numerous marshes in the vicinity. [20]

Basho's text contains many such passages, written so clearly that still today connoisseurs attempt to retrace his journey. Nonetheless, it is clear that his foremost concern is not to guide tourists, but poets--and less with telling them how to get to specific sites than with instructing them in how to travel as poets. What above all he wants to create is an instructive image of himself as a poet on the road, responding to challenges, practicing his hermeneutic expertise. One thinks, for instance, of his famous description of Ryushakuji"

In the Yamagata domain, there is a mountain temple called Ryushakuji, a

serene, quiet seat of religion founded by the Great Teacher Jikaku. Urged by others to see it, we retraced our steps some seven leagues from Obanazawa. We arrived before sundown, reserved accommodations in the pilgrim's hostel at the foot of the hill, and climbed to the halls above. The mountain consists of piles of massive rocks. Its pines and evergreens bear the marks of many long years; its moss lies like velvet on the ancient rocks and soil. Not a sound emanated from the temple buildings at the summit, which all proved to be closed, but we skirted the cliffs and clambered over the rocks to view the halls. The quiet, lonely beauty of the environs purified the heart.

Ah, tranquility!

Penetrating the very rocks,

a cicada's voice. [21]

shizukesa ya I iwa ni shimiiru I semi no koe

So well known is the hokku produced there that one must remind oneself that the trip to Ryushakuji was actually a detour for the poet and was nowhere on his itinerary. [22] In that sense, the hokku can be said to have come about almost by accident. Nevertheless, it was Basho's dedication to the hermeneutic enterprise--the challenge of striding out, and of converting the experience of landscape into poetry--that made the accident possible. Without the dedication required in climbing up the long trail to the temple, neither the experience at the top nor the famous poem would ever have happened. We may be skeptical about these claims of hardship, which are at the same time, of course, self-serving claims to distinction; but there can be no doubt that the kind of travel Basho encouraged did demand dedication to artistic praxis.

There are many other prescriptions for the traveling poet in Basho's text. Perhaps the most obvious is that one must go the road alone, or at least as if alone; hence the scarce mention of group activities (one wonders if in some way time spent on the road felt like a consolation to those who were so involved in group activities at every stop) and the tendency to treat experience as solitary even when it was not, as in the following passage:

Sora was suffering from a stomach complaint. Because he had relatives at Nagashima in Ise province, he set off ahead of me. He wrote a poem as he was about to leave:

Journeying onward:

fall prostrate though I may-

a bush-clover field.

yukiyuki shite / taorefusu tomo / hagi no hara

The sorrow of the one who departed and the unhappiness of the one who remained resembled the feelings of a lapwing wandering lost in the clouds, separated from its friend.

From this day forward,

the legend will be erased:

dewdrops on the hat.

kyo yori ya / kakitsuke kesan / kasa no tsuyu

Still in Kaga, I lodged at Zenshoji, a temple outside the castle town of Daishoji. Sara had stayed there the night before and left this poem:

All through the night,

listening to the autumn wind--

the mountain in back.

yomosugara / akikaze kiku ya / urn no yama

One night's separation is the same as a thousand leagues. I too listened to the autumn wind as I lay in the guest dormitory... [23]

Here Basho recounts his sad parting and temporary separation from his primary traveling companion, which Sora's own journal corroborates. What he does not say is that after Sora left he was still not alone. He was in fact accompanied to Zenshoji by Hokushi, a poet-patron from Kanazawa who was no doubt with him in the dormitory. [24] Of course, one can argue that Basho's purpose is simply to create a more poignant scene. It should be understood, however, that behind the desire to make the scene more poignant is a long tradition of treatment of travel as a melancholy topic that by his time had become an element of rhetorical practice.

Another feature of the text that can be attributed to established rhetorical practice is the constant reminder that poetic travel is movement through time as well as space, [25] as Bahso states explicitly in a passage about a stone monument--again something not on his itinerary- in Ichikawa Village, near Matsushima:

Although we hear about many places celebrated in verse since antiquity, most of them have vanished with the passing of time. Mountains have crumbled, rivers have entered unaccustomed channels, roads have followed new routes, stones have been buried and hidden under-ground, aged trees have given way to saplings. But this monument was a genuine souvenir from a thousand years ago, and to see it before my eyes was to feel that I could understand the sentiments of old poets. "This is a traveler's reward' I thought. "This is the joy of having survived into old age." Moved to tears, I forgot the hardships of the road . [26]

As noted above, Basho traveled for a variety of reasons--commercial as well as literary. Any reader of his account, however, comes away with the clear idea that his primary purpose in going on the road was to commune with the dead at sacred places. This, too, was a lesson for his students, who would in time visit their master's haunts in hope of somehow communing with him.

All these things could be equally said of the records of Sogi and other poets of the past, which is perhaps another way of saying that Basho was writing within the constraints of a genre. But there are also lessons in the text specifically for haikai poets, indeed for Basho's own students, who would be primary readers of his record. The most important of these is that the haikai poet should be open to all experience as "literary" in a way that poets of the more courtly forms of the past generally were not. It is for this reason that in Oku no hosomichi we have references not only to historical figures such as Saigyo and Yoshitsune, but also to a host of locals, from Buddha Gozaemon, a forthright innkeeper, to the "stalwart young guide" who helps Basho and Sora over the mountains of Dewa to Obanazawa--to such characters, earlier and more courtly travel records generally would not assign so substantial a role in their narratives. It may also be one of the reasons why Basho includes, along with famous places su ch as Shirakawa and Miyagi Moor, descriptions of more obscure places and their inhabitants:

From Kurobane, I headed toward Killer Rock astride a horse lent us by the warden. When the groom asked if I would write a poem for him, I gave him this, surprised and impressed that he should exhibit such cultivated taste:

A cuckoo song: please make the horse angle off across the field. [27]

no o yoko ni / uma hikimuke yo / hot hototogisu

The cuckoo was, of course, an elegant bird, the subject of many classical poems. For this reason few travel writers of the medieval period would have put the bird and the lowly groom in the same passage, let alone in the same poem. Here again, Basho is making a statement that is not just descriptive but even polemical. "Common" imagery is acceptable, indeed even desirable, provided that it is set in a properly genteel context. Even a nondescript field can be a proper subject for poetry.

Viewed in this light, Basho's travel record correlates well with his role as a poet in a time of urbanization, expanding literacy, and evolving canons, constituting for its author a claim over new poetic space, what we might call poetic mastery over the entirety of the landscape rather than just the elegant scenes of the aristocratic tradition. That his text functions as part of a larger discourse of appropriation going on at the time, however, should not blind us to the specific role of that same text in the discourse of haikai, or, in other words, to its role in ideology writ small rather than large. For a careful consideration of Oku no hosomichi shows that it is the record of a hermeneutic exercise that would have functioned as a guidebook to Basho's many disciples in very specific ways. For them it was not just a record of travel in a general sense but of a particular kind of travel for particular purposes, involving what Bourdieu calls "specific categories of perception and appreciation which are irred ucible to those in common use and which are capable of imposing a specific measure on the value of artists and their products." [28] In order for us to appreciate fully the dimensions of Basho's text, we must therefore remember that for its first readers it was above all a lesson in poetic mastery, i.e., a specific set of practices for which the word "imperalistic" remains too vague a description.

This point is nowhere more apparent than in a passage from midway through the text, where Basho recounts a few days in particularly rugged terrain along the coast of Dewa province:

The road was so little frequented by travelers that we excited the guards' suspicions, and we barely managed to get through the checkpoint. The sun had already begun to set as we toiled upward through the mountains, so we asked for shelter when we saw a border guard's house. Then the wind howled and the rain poured for three days, trapping us in those miserable hills.

The fleas and the lice--and next to my pillow, a pissing horse. [29]

Nomi shirami / uma no ban suru / makuramoto

In a participatory tradition, anecdotes about poets are probably meant as exemplary. No doubt one reason for the presence of this passage in the narrative is, again, to present the image of the poet as a wholly dedicated figure, willing to undergo hardships for his art--and by so doing to reaffirm the poet's affiliations with travelers of the past and to validate him as a subject of veneration in the present and the future. But to Basho's students the poem that concludes the passage--an artifact most likely produced in surroundings much less rustic [30]--must also have registered as a preachment on the new Basho style, which allowed for the inclusion of "vulgar" vocabulary but aimed at returning to the tone of high seriousness of classical poetry. Fleas, lice, and a horse pissing, yes, the master intimates, but only in the context of a scene that is in general melancholy and stark in tone rather than comic or ribald. This is one way to treat even the most common experience in a properly "serious" style, to ap propriate that experience specifically for the field of haikai and not just for a vaguely "hegemonic" central culture.

Of course, Basho's text can be read in many other ways, some of which can make a similar claim as to provenance at the time of its initial publication. One way not mentioned so far is to see it as a linked-verse sequence in prose, as one scholar has argued with some success. [31] To read Oku no hosomichi as a record of and about poetic practice is thus only one option among many. One thing that recommends such a reading at a time when critics are less interested in dogma than in practice is that it shows, as in the last example above, how intertwined those two spheres truly are. For Basho, in fact, might not one argue that practice in many ways becomes dogma, a self-legitimating hermeneutic activity that is ultimately no more than what Bourdieu calls "the collective belief in the game, and the value of its stakes"? [32] Certainly, it was the "collective" community of his disciples, students, and patrons who were his first audience, whose viability as a community of practitioners was "at stake" in the most real of senses. That consumers are still reading his guidebook long after that specific community has died away is a testament to the resilience of a text that can be adapted for use in many games.

Another virtue of such a reading, though, is less abstruse. For it obviously has the effect of bringing Basho, the "eternal traveler" and "scudding cloud" of the record's preamble, back down to earth, to historically "real time" and "real space." Perhaps partly because of the high diction of that preamble, but also because of the supreme position he has attained in the canon of Japanese literature, Basho has become a truly transcendent figure, reified almost to the point of non-existence as a historical being. An account of his actual practice as both traveler and travel writer may help to show him for what he was--very much a human being, involved in struggles political and otherwise, a professional practitioner entangled in discursive negotiations and caught up in the nitty-gritty challenges of life on the road.

(1.) V. S. Pritchett, The Offensive Traveler (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), 3.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993), 17.

(4.) See "On a Bare Branch: Basho and the Haikai Profession," Journal of the American Oriental Society 117 (1997): 57-69.

(5.) One could mention here semi-scholarly accounts such as Yamamoto Satoshi's Oku no hosomichi jiten (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1994) and many accounts by writers, such as Ibuse Masuji's "Oku no hosomichi no tsue no ato." Even one Western writer, Lesley Downer, has made the trek, recorded in her On the Narrow Road: A Journey into Lost Japan (New York: Summit Books, 1989).

(6.) Ogata Tsutomu et al., Oku no hosomichi: minagara yomu Basho no tabi, Jitsuyo tokusen (Tokyo: Gakken, 1989), 82.

(7.) Sakurai Takejiro, "Basho to Genroku haidan," in Basho hikkei, Bessatsu Kokubungaku 8, ed. Ogata Tsutomu (Tokyo: Kokubungaku, 1980), 168u73.

(9.) See Kon, 171u208, for an exhaustive list of his activities.

(8.) See Kon Eizo, Basho nenpu taisei (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1995) and Yamamoto.

(11.) Imoto Noichi et al., eds., Matsuo Basho shu, Nihon koten bungaku zenshu, vol. 41 (Tokyo: Shogakkan, 1972), 481-82.

(10.) In the preamble he speaks of his obsession with "the moon over Matsushima." Helen McCullough, tr., "The Narrow Road of the Interior," in her Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990), 522.

(12.) McCullough, 522.

(13.) Steven D. Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1991), 356-57.

(14.) Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, tr. S. Emanuel (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996), 320 ("...le plaisir de depenser gratuitment une competence hermeneutique").

(15.) McCullough, 548-49.

(16.) Kon, 187. The sequence had been composed at the home of Takano Ichiei, 5.29-5.30.

(17.) The consensus is that basho did not produce the text until at least 1693. Sakurai Takejiro and Ueno Yozo, Basho jihitsu Oku no hosomichi (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997), 114-15.

(18.) It is worth noting here that only handwritten copies of the text circulated before his death, and only among his disciples; the first "published" edition did not appear until 1702, nearly a decade after his passing. The commodification of haikai texts was a later phenomenon.

(19.) McCullough, 526.

(20.) McCullough, 530.

(21.) McCullough, 539.

(23.) McCullough, 548.

(22.) Yamamoto, 306.

(24.) Yamamoto, 442. According to Yamamoto, exhaustive research shows that Basho traveled alone for only about ten Kilometers of the entire journey.

(25.) In addition to famous historical and literary sites, Basho is also careful to mention numerous historical figures of both China and Japan, including Lady Tamamo, Nasu no Yoichi, Yuan Miao, Taira no Kanemori, Kiyosuke, Fujiwara Sanekata, Noin, Ono no Azumbito, Emperor Shomu, Bo Juyi, Izumi no Saburo, Makabe Heishiro, the northern Fujiwara, Yoshitsune, Kanefusa, Jikaku, Nojo, Gan Jiang, Moye, Saigyo, Empress Jingu, Sanemori, Kiso Yoshinaka, Higuchi no Jiro, Retired Emperor Kazan, Teitoku, Dogen, Emperor Chuai.

(26.) McCullough, 534.

(27.) McCullough, 528.

(28.) Bourdieu, 292 ("... de categories de perception et d'appreciation specifiques irreducibles a celles qui ont cours dans l'existence ordinaire et capables d'imposer une mesure specifique de la valeur de l'artiste et de ses produits").

(29.) McCullough, 538.

(30.) Yamamoto, 285.

(31.) Hiroaki Sato draws attention to parallels in his recent translation. See Basho's Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages (Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1996).

(32.) Bourdieu, 276 ("... la croyance collective dans le jeu, et la valeur de ses enjeux").

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A68535764