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Matsuo Basho, Haiku and Yamagata


奥の細道 松尾芭蕉

Oku no Hosomichi (“Narrow Road to the Deep North”)

On May 16, 1689 (the 27th day of the 3rd lunar month), the haiku poet Matsuo Basho and his disciple Kawai Sora set off from Edo on a journey that would take them to the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions of Japan. Through this journey, Basho desired to trace the footsteps of Saigyo, a poet he greatly admired, and to visit the famous places depicted in waka poems from the days of old.


Five years later, in the year of his death, Basho completed the Oku no Hosomichi (“Narrow Road to the Deep North”) travel narrative which chronicled this journey. A careful comparison of this work with the notes taken diligently by Sora throughout their travels reveals many discrepancies. It is believed that this is not because Basho’s memory of actual events was at fault, but because he intentionally chose to blend fiction with parts of his narrative in order to create a more meaningful work of literature.


Oku no Hosomichi is one of Japan’s most beloved literary masterpieces, and a work that is unfailingly included in the school curriculum of Japanese junior high school students today. This work has been translated into English, Italian and a host of other languages, and continues to exert an influence on literature around the world.

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