Garrity's Japan

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Garrity's Japan Photo: © Hiroshi Uzu

The Open Road

The following is a continuation of Robert Garrity’s story describing his walk across Japan replicating haiku poet Matsuo Bashō’s 1,500-mile journey from Fukagawa, Tokyo to Japan’s northern wilderness as detailed in Bashō’s world-famous travel diary “Oku no Hosomichi.” Robert Garrity began his journey in the summer of 1994 and broke it down into segments, walking different segments each time he returned to Japan.

Sumida-ku: Since I am undertaking this journey alone and cannot read detailed Kanji, I know I will be lost on occasion and perhaps take a different route than Bashō. But that is part of the fun of the journey. The journey is life.

Bashō took some five months to make his journey. I plan to walk it day by day over periods of time on my return trips to Japan. It may take me five years, 10 years or the rest of my life... But what is life about anyway? Life is a journey through time.

Basho wrote in “Oku no Hosomichi”:

The moon and the sun are travelers through eternity.
Even the years wander on.
Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse.
Each day is a journey and the journey itself is home.

“Life is a journey through time.”

If I were to have a memorial service upon my death (I do not want or expect one), this is the only proper issue about my life to address. That is, I was an observer of life and I tried to view each day as a new adventure on the journey of life. The other issue is that I held my curiosity about life until the end.

I encountered another statue in a strange place. In the middle of a large, blue-collar housing project is a statue of Enomoto Buyo. He had something to do with Hokkaido, an elderly lady told me when I stopped to ask. The park is about 10 square meters in the housing project. I must look for him in my Japanese history books. I later discovered he was a famous admiral who led a group to populate Hokkaido.


As I walk through the small streets of Kitasenju looking for the train station, I remember my first visit to this town some 37 years ago when I was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed at a base called Shiroi near Matsudo in Chiba. We used to ride the Jōban rail line to Ueno to visit Tokyo, but occasionally we visited the smaller towns on the line. Kitasenju is on the Jōban Line, and I visited the bars along the train station during my visits.

For me, all cultures are like icebergs: only 20% is above water and visible. The underlying 80% is out of sight, below the surface. Japan is no exception. But many “gaijin,” or foreigners to Japan, confine their activities to the visible 20%, such as tea ceremonies, kabuki and geisha shows, and they form their opinions of Japan based on these theatrical samples of Japanese life. My approach takes me to the underlying 80% of Japan who work long and hard to support the wealthy few.

Throughout Kitasenju I notice people in their Sunday uniforms: suit with a white tie as if going to a wedding, the same suit with a black tie as if going to a funeral. Returning to my earlier comments on bicycling, in Japan they have developed rules of the road that are understood by most people. When a bicyclist approaches you from the back, they generally ring the bell on their bicycle, and once alerted you keep going without changing direction. This is not the case in the U.S., where bicyclists have generally taken an arrogant attitude toward cars and pedestrians. They suddenly appear from nowhere, surprising you as they swerve around to pass you without prior notice, or riding in the dark without lights while expecting you to know where they are. Americans have a lot to learn about courtesy. Walking? Today I walked the entire journey from Hiroo to Fukagawa to Kitasenju in ill-fitting cowboy boots. My feet were sore and had several blisters at the end of the roughly 16-km walk. tj

The complete article is available in Issue #273. 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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