Garrity’s Japan

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Basho Memorial Hall Basho Memorial Hall Photo courtesy of Elmo Rainy Day

The Open Road Part II

The following is a continuation of Robert Garrity’s story describing his walk across Japan replicating Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho’s 2,500 kilometer journey from Fukugawa, Tokyo to Japan’s northern wilderness, as detailed in Basho’s world-famous “Oku no Hosomichi”. Robert Garrity began this journey in Summer of 1994, and broke it down into segments, walking the different segments each time he returned to Japan.

Basho Memorial Hall:
On the other side of the Sumidagawa bridge and down the street several blocks on the river- side is the Basho Memorial Hall, on the site of Basho’s original home. There is a banana tree in front that marks the hall.

As I walked through the hall and adjoining outside gardens, my thoughts turned to the enormous undertaking I have begun. First, it is obvious to me that I cannot trace Basho’s journey step by step because of the natural and man-made changes that have occurred over the past three hundred years. But my intent is the same as Basho’s: to explore the outer reaches of Northern Japan and the personal inner reaches of my mind. What will I learn from this journey?

I have been told that the translation of “Oku no Hosomichi” could mean “journey to the interior.” I choose that definition because I am undertaking two journeys at once. The first is to explore the interior of Japan. The second is to explore the interior of my mind, specifically to recall almost 40 years of association with Japan.

One lesson I want to explore in my mind is to take life one step at a time. It seems that most of my life I have been in a hurry to nowhere. Very often I miss what is in front of me, emphasizing the motion of the journey, rather than its substance. Maybe I can learn to slow down and appreciate life.


Basho began his journey from his home in present day Fukugawa and took a boat up the Sumidagawa to Senju, about 8 km. I will walk that distance on Kyosumidori, a road parallel to the river.

An interesting thing about Japan that I have noticed, from a Western viewpoint, is that beauty and ugliness coexist side by side. Who is to say which is which? Amid a squalid shelter with garbage as the main decorating effect, a small, beautiful flower blooms.

Beauty in life
Found in hearts
not outside gardens

I passed the Edo-Tokyo Museum. From the outside it is very beautiful. I must return to visit it someday.

In Sumida Park, I wonder, “What is life about?” Are we fully enjoying what is given to us? As I look around, I see blank faces. What motivates them? What are they thinking about? Sometimes when I look at Japanese faces I feel as if I am looking at a surrealistic painting by Picasso. What motivates the faces?
I wonder if Basho ever had thoughts like this.

As I complete my walk through Sumida Park I note the large number of families out for Sunday bicycle rides, and I recall how important bicycles were and still are as transportation in Japan. The bicycle will always have a place in Japan.

Two drunks staggering down the street behind me, noisy and rowdy, come to an intersection and abruptly stop because the sign says, “Don’t walk.” They stand obediently and when the signal changes, they begin staggering across the street. This reminds me of the degree of “conditioning” that takes place
in Japanese society.

One thing that Basho did not have that I have is access to vending machines. I vaguely remember that Japan has about one vending machine for every 40 people, while the U.S. has one for each 60 or so. Certainly in the metropolitan area there are enough vending machines so I do not need to carry a large
backpack of food or drink.

Maps are another item available for those who know where to look. There are lots of maps throughout Japan to help people find their way through the quaint but totally inadequate street and house numbering system. The address system seems designed to prevent people from finding a place on the first try, and
when coupled with Japan’s “compartmentalization” complex, it’s a wonder that anybody finds anybody. Thank goodness for the fax machine
and the common sense of people to send maps to first-time visitors. tj

The complete article is available in Issue #272. click here. to order from Amazon

Written By:

Robert Garrity

Robert E. Garrity has had a 50-year love affair with Japan. He is the Tokyo Journal Editor-in-Chief, founding President of the Japan- America Marketing Institute, professor on Japanese business, man- agement and marketing, and an authority on Haiku. He is a member of the International Haiku Association, and the first American to present at the Association's convention. He has written two books and published over 30 articles in Japanese. For a number of years he was a regular contributor to magazines in Tokyo including Bonjour magazine, in which he was published monthly. He is a student of the writings of such renowned Japanese poets as Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa and Masaoka Shiki.


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