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Japan Book Club: The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Preread

August 28, 2011

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to walking in Basho's footsteps.

I sincerely hope that everyone enjoyed the last selection from our Japan book club – The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck.  While The Big Wave was a fantastic book on it’s own, it was an appreciation for and understanding of the Japanese people that we hoped everyone would take away from the reading.  Many people were understandably nervous about traveling to Japan after the tragic events of the tsunami and earthquake in March, but after reading The Big Wave, we hope that many of your questions have been answered.  As shown in the story, the Japanese people are resourceful and resilient and will rebuild their country quickly, never forgetting the past, but always looking to the future.

Now, for our second book club selection, we’ll turn an eye towards Japans proud history, way back to the Edo Period and a famous poet named Basho. 

Basho was a rock star in Japan before there were rockstars.  He had fame, groupies, hangers on, and couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed by his fans.  Imagine if Justin Bieber had lived 400 years earlier, was a Japanese poet instead of a teenage popstar, and actually had talent – that’s Basho.  If Basho was around today, there’d be 14 year old girls with posters, notebooks, and screensavers of him all over the world.

Even though he became famous for his poetry, Basho’s most popular piece of writing became a travel journal.  Yup, that’s right.  He took a trip around Japan (hey, you know anyone that’s gonna do that?) and sat down every day to write about what he’d seen and done (maybe that’s a good idea).  Okay, maybe Basho’s trip was a little different from what ours will be – he took hardly anything with him and walked his way around the whole country – we’re going to use a bus.

When he was done with his travels, he gave the journal a title – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (sometimes it’s translated as The Narrow Road to the Far Province) and published it.  No matter what the title was, that journal became insanely popular – really it was one of the best selling Japanese books ever, and even though it’s 400 years old, it still is.

One poet said that Basho’s book was “as if the very soul of Japan had itself written it” about itself.  So, while reading The Big Wave was about learning more about the Japanese people, reading Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North will be a chance to learn more about the country itself.

Before we read though, we’re going to take a look at an article from National Geographic Magazine.  In the article, a modern day author decides to follow in Basho’s footsteps, following the same path around Japan that Basho did.  There’s three parts to the article – the first is more of a biography about Basho and what his work means to Japan – the second is a series of photographs taken during his trip – the third part is the really important part – it’s the modern author’s journal, his stories, his thoughts about Japan as he walked in Basho’s footsteps, taking that narrow road to the deep north himself.

Please read all three parts of the National Geographic article and answer the questions below.  Your answers should be complete thoughts.  Some only require a few sentences, while others may take a paragraph or two to answer completely. Every student in our Japan group is required to participate, and your answers must be submitted by Sunday, September 4th.  Don’t miss the last question – it is after the form below.  The last question should be answered in the comments section of this post – after answering the last question, you should return and reply to at least two other student’s comments.  


What did the author of the National Geographic article gain from following in Basho’s footsteps?  How could you ensure you get the same experience while we’re in Japan?


The next book we’ll read as a group will be The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (you can try to get a copy if you want, but I can email everyone an online copy for free next week.  After that, we’ll read The Old Man Mad About Drawing by Francois Place (so start to try and get yourself a copy of that one soon). 


59 Comments leave one →
  1. Blair Tuider permalink
    August 29, 2011 7:31 pm

    The author has no large or small expectations. The author has found his journey in Basho’s footsteps as a portable séance. He knows eternal landscapes and age old shrines can be found along Basho’s path.The author also said that he will now define himself as a ghost to be. I can ensure I will get the same experience while I’m in Japan because I will remember and respect everything I will see there. Some people never get to go to other countries and to be going there is something that you should have great expectations and respect for.

    • Jessica Sherwin permalink
      September 1, 2011 10:46 pm

      When we go to Japan, I hope I could also have as much respect for Japan and for Bacho himself and even the author of the article. Both Bacho and the author showed so much respect as they traveled around, and I also want to be filled with gratitude just like them.

    • Ben Trouvais permalink
      September 2, 2011 4:18 pm

      You’re right, alot of people don’t get to go to other countries. I consider myself lucky as do I think everybody else should. Even though parts of Japan are urbanized and modern, there are still, as the author said, great works of the ancient Japanese culture. These age old shrines help us to be reminded of a simpler time like Basho’s.

    • Bobby cortesi permalink
      September 4, 2011 8:37 pm

      Blair- you are right about how the author expects no little or large because he already knows whats to come but i think the scenery and monuments have a bigger impact then he expected because if he researched it he may no what they look like but to be in person or in front of somethin magnificent its a whole other ball park.

    • DREW BURJEK permalink
      September 4, 2011 11:02 pm

      We all should remember and respect everything we see there because one, we may never go there again, and two, we are lucky enough to go, as most people in the world will never visit japan. When I am in Japan, I want to explore and feel the same as Bacho, I will respect all that is in Japan and bask in the beauty of it.

  2. Tyler Pearson permalink
    August 31, 2011 1:28 pm

    The national geographic author gained a substanital amount of wisdom and knowledge. By traveling his famous trail, Basho became enlightened and wrote his famous journal. The authos, by traveling this trail, he was able to feel what Basho felt, and see what he saw. I would easily be able to feel what he felt.

    • Ben Trouvais permalink
      September 2, 2011 4:15 pm

      You are absolutely right. The National Geographic author did gain alot of knoledge by following the trail. He felt what Basho felt. He experienced the same emotions. I hope that this is what I may feel when we go to Japan.

  3. Ben Trouvais permalink
    August 31, 2011 7:18 pm

    The author of the article seems to know what to expect along the path. He knows that most of the landscape will have changed from the time of Basho. However, he hopes that he gain gain the same experience as Basho where he can savor Earth’s wonders. When he completes the trek, he said that he will become a ghost-to-be just as Basho. When were in Japan I will experience everything with open eyes. I will enjoy every little bit of it seeing that I probably won’t go again. I also hope to see Japan through the eyes of Basho with the feeling of gratitude.

    • Jessica Sherwin permalink
      September 1, 2011 10:37 pm

      I, too, want to see Japan as Basho had once long ago. Though I may not see with the will of writing down everything I see, hear, touch, etc. down onto paper into a haiku. Anyways I agree that I want to try and have as much gratitude as Bacho and the author of the article.

      • September 4, 2011 8:59 pm

        I agree with Ben, but i think that i will definably write and take pitures of everything, but that is just because i want to be able to share it with others, don’t you want them to be able to see, even i its only a small amount, the awesome places hidden within Japan???

      • Mark Burjek permalink
        September 4, 2011 9:54 pm

        When we’re in Japan, I hope to keep my eyes open the whole time. This meaning when something happens to worsen the mood or if I’m not enjoying something, I can stay positive, learn as much as possible, and stay excited for wherever we’re going next. And I especially want to soak everything in, because I will never have any experience like this anymore.

        • Sydney Bebar permalink
          October 6, 2011 7:33 pm

          It will really be difficult to keep positive. But if we keep trying to remember how lucky we are that we are there, we will definitely have a great time. I also want to really learn as much as possible, this is a learning experience with a lot of fun thrown in.

    • Persephone Allee permalink
      September 4, 2011 6:11 pm

      I agree that it’s important we keep “open eyes” when we go to Japan. Things will be extremely different to us and if we want to have a good time when were there, it may be necessary. The author, I’m sure, had to do the same going from his farm in Vermont to Japan’s distinct culture. We must enjoy ourselves when were there and “savor Earth’s wonders”.

    • Lyssette Bedolla permalink
      September 4, 2011 7:48 pm

      I think everyone does want to see what inspired Basho to write all those beautiful poems. Who would not want to witness the scenery and the cultural beauty that is Japan.

    • January 4, 2012 3:17 pm

      When the author says he wants to be a ghost after he’s done visting this path, it kind of scares me. It gives me an image that Basho’s path was drak and musty and cold. When in realitiy it isn’t.

  4. Jessica Sherwin permalink
    September 1, 2011 10:29 pm

    The author of the article gained from following in Basho’s footsteps was a few things. One thing is that the scenery definetely inspired Basho to write magnificient poems. He had also gain wisdom of the japanese literature and religions just by traveling on a famous route on foot. When he completed his travel, the author stated he would be a ghost-to-be just like Basho is. By just reading the journal entries the author had made, I can surely tell I will have similar feelings. Only instead of focusing of Basho and his famous poetry, it would be mostly ALL of Japan. The author’s excitement and urge to go through even if he was homesick and still be able to enjoy Japan ensures me because the feeling of excitement will be very similar.

    • Persephone Allee permalink
      September 4, 2011 6:03 pm

      I also believe the author, Howard Norman, gained some “once in a lifetime” experiences. Not many can say they have gone to Japan, followed the footsteps of a famous poet, and come within 50 feet of a bear. He probably gained a lot of respect for Basho as well.

    • Lyssette Bedolla permalink
      September 4, 2011 7:43 pm

      The author did feel like Basho when he took the trip. He felt what Basho felt on his original trip.

    • Bobby cortesi permalink
      September 4, 2011 8:33 pm

      Jessica- i defiantly agree that the scenery help Basho by inspiring him to write some more poems. Also about how he gained wisom of the japanese literature and religious aspects about there culture.

    • September 4, 2011 8:56 pm

      I agree that the entusiasum that Basho has will definably effect how we react when wesee Japan. As well, i think that even people in Japan get to see their home from different eyes after reading his peotry.

    • Mark Burjek permalink
      September 4, 2011 9:45 pm

      You’re right, we will get to discover much more of Japan then Basho did. And of course we will miss our families, but he did it, so why can’t we?

    • DREW BURJEK permalink
      September 4, 2011 11:17 pm

      The author followed Basho’s foot steps, but after hundreds of years Japan is probably much different. Back then, it must have been extremely beautiful. With the advancements of human society, Japan changed. Now there is a bigger population, destructive natural disasters, and not as clean of air. The author, and nobody at all, could ever understand how beautiful it was for Basho.

      • Shane Chetney permalink
        September 9, 2011 3:26 pm

        I do agree that the world is a much different place than it was back then, but I’m sure we will be able to find some pretty amazing places that Basho himself would have been inspired to write about.

  5. Persephone Allee permalink
    September 4, 2011 5:55 pm

    The author of this article gained many things from following Basho’s footsteps. The main thing was knowledge. He was able too see and experience things Basho saw and view Earth’s marvels. Both, the physical and mental parts of the journey seemed to be trying. It was strenuous and difficult in parts just to continue on. The mental aspect was hard since he became homesick. He also probably gained a great deal more respect for Basho, knowing how it felt to follow his footsteps. He called himself a “ghost-to-be” when done with his quest, in reference to Basho.
    When we go to Japan, I will have an open mind and will keep a positive attitude towards new things. Knowing that this will be a “once in a lifetime” experience, I will respect the Japanese and their country. Of course I will behave, to give myself, as well as others, the best possible learning experience. I have large expectations for this trip and I have no doubt that it will great.

    • tyler webber permalink
      September 19, 2011 9:12 pm

      I agree, he did gain a lot of knowlege. Do you think that it would be a better experience if we got to go to some of the spots that Basho visited on his journey?

  6. Jacob Kosinski permalink
    September 4, 2011 6:15 pm

    The author of this article gained wisdom from his experience. He also got to know what Basho felt on his journey, and see and be part of Japenese culture.

    • Shane Chetney permalink
      September 9, 2011 3:32 pm

      I totally agree. When I was reading about the birds flying through the water into the caves, I had a visual in my head of what it must have been like to be there. The author also wondered what Basho must have been thinking when he sat there so long ago. It got me excited to walk on the trail myself.

      • Jacob Kosinski permalink
        November 15, 2011 6:13 pm

        The author got to go back in time and experience something amazing. After walking on this trail, he probably gained a greater apprication for beauty and nature in the world.

      • Jacob Kosinski permalink
        November 15, 2011 6:20 pm

        From going on the same trail that Basho did, the author got to go back in time and experience something that the kind of Haiku did. I can guess that he also gained a greater appriciation of the beauty in nature.

  7. Bobby cortesi permalink
    September 4, 2011 8:30 pm

    The author was very aware of what to expect on his journey. He learned a lot as well like about the scenery and the Basho museum. While on his travels he visited a school with people of all ages like an elderly women, 10-year olds and highschoolers. The Journey and site seeing inspired Basho to read as it did this modern day author. The author is reading along his way and gains the wisdom Basho had and already knows from his book to look forward took next while on his trip through Basho’s footsteps. There was a difference between both their journeys though. Basho traveled on foot, the author travels by subway and van part of the time while also sleeping in a hotel. Also like everything, the earth changes and may not have been the same way back centuries ago. To ensure that we have the same experience while we are in Japan i think we should have a better understanding of Japan and its culture.

    • Jacob Kosinski permalink
      November 15, 2011 6:26 pm

      I agree with you Bobby, no one will ever be able to relive the exact same experience Basho did. But it will still be amazing to go on this trail, even if it isn’t ancient Japan.

  8. DREW BURJEK permalink
    September 4, 2011 8:51 pm

    The author gain a few things from following in Basho’s footsteps. The author was able to feel what Basho felt and see the places Basho has been. He also gain knowledge on japanese literature and history. The author said he will become a ghost to be just as Basho. In Japan, I will try to experience and learn as much as i can about Japan as I might never go there again. I want to feel the same as Basho on his journey and I don’t want to miss out on anything I don’t need to miss out on

    • tyler webber permalink
      September 19, 2011 9:13 pm

      What are some things that you think you may miss out on while we are in Japan ?

  9. September 4, 2011 8:53 pm

    Based on what the author has written, I think that he has found that there are little things life that can be justas magestic as anything else. Just as Basho took the beauty of Japoan and brought it into the eyes of the people that never noticed, he too hopes that he will be able to find the same hidden ges that Basho saw. We get to do the same when we go, and I am so excited tobe ableto go and see almost exactly the wonders that Basho himselfsaw so lovely, that he felt the need to share it with the world through his words. As most people don’t get to even consider venturing farther than their nation, to believe that we are going to another country is amazing. I hope that we all get to experience Japan as Basho did, andmaybe evenhow th reporter did, because then I think I can die happy.

    • Alyssa Gue permalink
      September 12, 2011 6:28 pm

      I agree with you Jackie, what we are going to do is something not many people can say that they have done. I think we will all see the world differently, and like you said could die happy knowing that.

  10. Mark Burjek permalink
    September 4, 2011 9:40 pm

    This author probably gained many things by recreating Basho’s journey for himself. By walking this path, he probably felt exactly how Basho felt and learned exactly what inspired Basho when he wrote his poems. At first the author didn’t really know what to expect, but he knew that it would be an amazing journey. During the travel, he probably felt like he was inside of Basho’s stories. I still don’t really know what to expect when we go to Japan, but I’m sure it will be like nothing I ever have and ever will experience in my life. And who knows: maybe the journals that we write can become what Basho’s journals have become overtime.

    • Nate Zurawski permalink
      October 3, 2011 2:03 pm

      Mark you are right except for the fact that some of the places Basho went probably changed over time, and the author also said he might ride in cars or stay in inns.

  11. Lyssette Bedolla permalink
    September 4, 2011 9:41 pm

    The author gained so much traveling in Basho’s foot steps. He basically got into the mind of Basho when he was traveling, it was like whatever inspired Basho to write in his journal he encountered on his trip. When he encountered the locals he began to understand how the Japanese thought and worked. He learned so much like Basho’s poems were interpreted many ways be students and scholars. The students were required and loved reading Basho’s poems. It opened his eyes to the beauty and hardship that created The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
    For me if I pay attention thoughtfully I can experience these encounters myself. I can not wait to walk and see what Basho saw at his travel. The landscape and sirens are something I would not want to miss. It is not all the time you get to go to Japan.

    • Hannah Schram permalink
      September 13, 2011 9:13 pm

      I agree, Lyssette. When we go to Japan, I would not want to miss everything that Basho encountered. It would be a great experience to get to observe all that Basho wrote about in his poetry.

    • Elise Vice permalink
      October 24, 2011 8:37 pm

      I agree, the landscape is something I cannot wait to see, all of the plants you can’t find here will be all around us.

  12. Zach Ciko permalink
    September 4, 2011 11:33 pm

    He gained some new knowledge and new experinces he couldnt have learned unless he experinced a similar situation as Basho. The author didn’t experince what basho did becasue he knew some things that would come along with it because Basho took the trip he did. also he gained much wisdom from following the same path Basho did. He also experinced new scenery that is rare to see in some areares in the world.

    • Sydney Bebar permalink
      October 6, 2011 6:40 pm

      I agree you can read books over and over but you can never gain as much knowledge as you could from following his footsteps. The scenery is very uncommon, I am hoping when we are there we will be able to experience the new types of nature too.

  13. Meghan Moreno permalink
    September 8, 2011 6:47 am

    From following in Basho’s footsteps the author gained new experinces and things to check off his bucket list. He got to learn about and see the world in a new way. He pretty much pretended to be Basho and see what he saw wehn he went on his Journey in the 17th centery. The author probably was much more respect for what Basho did. When we go to Japan I hope we can follow in Basho’s footsteps in a way.

    • Elise Vice permalink
      October 24, 2011 8:35 pm

      I agree, he can say that he’s done things that other people haven’t even though of.

  14. Shane Chetney permalink
    September 9, 2011 3:08 pm

    I think walking in Basho’s steps gave the author a new respect for nature and all things in it. The peaceful things that usually go unnoticed around us. The birds, the trees, the moon, the changing seasons. Also, the time spent alone can teach you a lot about yourself.
    I hope that while I’m in Japan I can also take the time to appreciate all the sights around me. To really stop and notice them, not just look at them for a second and move on.

    • Nate Zurawski permalink
      October 3, 2011 2:06 pm

      I hope I could notice and appreciate the monuments and just random parts of cities and nature too.

    • Jacob Kosinski permalink
      November 15, 2011 6:32 pm

      Very well said Shane. I hope that when we leave from Japan, we will all be able to appriciate the beauty in nature. It could make us realize that that all the small things in life count too.

  15. Joy Fink permalink
    September 11, 2011 9:33 pm

    The author was inspired by what Basho wrote in his poems. The author was able to take in all that Basho said on his journey through Japan. He could see the enjoyment and excitement that Basho had during his travel. I think I could I could get the same experience while I’m in Japan because I will be learning something new each and everyday. I mean that’s what this whole trip is about is to see and go to a foreign country to learn about their culture and seeing what people do in another country. You don’t get to see that everyday, the only thing u know is from what you learn in school and it’s not the same thing when you actually get to see what you’ve learned about. Not everyone gets to learn something and then go see it in person, but you should take it in when you do get that chance.

    • Hannah Schram permalink
      September 13, 2011 9:16 pm

      You’re so right, Joy. Not everybody has the oppurtunity to go and discover a different culture in a foreign country. When we all travel to Japan, we will be able to observe everything that Basho did and that will be something that will change our lives forever.

  16. Alyssa Gue permalink
    September 12, 2011 6:26 pm

    I think walking in Basho’s steps will give the author an insight and appreciation for Japan and nature itself. Putting himself in Basho’s mind gave him an insight on what Basho went through on his journey. The author gained a lot of respect for what Basho did and how and why he did it. I hope that when we go to Japan, we can do something similar to gain an insight on life.

  17. Hannah Schram permalink
    September 13, 2011 9:09 pm

    Walking in Basho’s footsteps definitely gave insight to the author. From following in these footsteps, the author gained more detail and a new perspective on the wonders and nature of Japan. The author could clearly see everything that Basho went through and discovered on his journey. Therefore, making the author have more respect and thought on how Basho did things. When we travel to Japan, I will be very inspired to follow along in Basho’s footsteps just like the author so I can see Japan in a new and better perspective. This way, it makes Japan a more unique experience for me and the other tap members.

  18. tyler webber permalink
    September 19, 2011 9:08 pm

    The author of the National Geographic article gained much popularity and credit for writing the parts of Basho’s Footseps. I could ensure that we got the same experience when we’re in Japan by looking where the occorances took place and doing more research on the topic.

  19. Nate Zurawski permalink
    October 3, 2011 2:00 pm

    From reading about Basho himself the author knows exactly what to expect on his journey along the Narrow Road. The author also knows that where Basho went will have changed over the past couple hundred years. He learned not to expect anything too big or too small just like Basho did. The author even said he still does this today.

  20. Kevin Wilson permalink
    October 4, 2011 8:36 pm

    The author gained a few things. One of these things was that he got to experience what it was like for Basho on this journey and what enspiered him to write his book and the many poems he wrote. while i’m in Japan I could make sure i go through the same things by takeing the time to learn about the history of japan. also whrn we get to the areas that Basho gose to i can take in and look at what he talkes about and describes, so i will try to under stand what he was thinking and what was going through his mind when he wrote his book.

  21. Sydney Bebar permalink
    October 6, 2011 6:38 pm

    The author gained mostly knowledge from his endeavor. He was able to come in contact with nature and the animals around him, which gave him spirituality. The author was able to experience the poems that Basho wrote in real life, not many people can say they went the whole path that Basho did. While I am in Japan I will keep an open mind on nature and the culture. I will really try to embrace the natural beauty of the land and cities. I will also try to reread some of his poems where we are going so I can point out if one of his poems were written by us.

  22. Elise Vice permalink
    October 24, 2011 8:33 pm

    Well, the author was able to start looking at life, and the small things in it, in a different way. They could look at thing and think about them, rather than just walk past, thinking they’ll see a million more in their lifetime. They can think about how unique that one leaf is, or maybe even a raindrop on the leaf. We can start looking at things in a different way, I know I will try to.

  23. Tyler Pearson permalink
    November 12, 2011 12:08 pm

    The author had wanted to gain spiritual enlightenment as Basho did while on this path. He also wanted to see how it was like for Basho to walk this path. I, honestly, would want to follow in the footsteps of this famous poet and even get a little exercise and sun while walking.

  24. January 4, 2012 3:11 pm

    The author seem to have known what he was getting himself into. He seemed to be excieted about it and afterwords he seems like he feels to be more wise. To make sure I get the same thing out of my trip, I’m going to become best friends with Google. I’ll also make sure that while I’m there to try to grasp everything while I still can.

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