The narrow road to the deep north

<< 2012-08-05 09:50 >>

Gate, Shiogama shrine

Once I'd bought the tickets, the next question arose: where to go? I had one week in Japan, but where to spend it? The last time I was in Japan I'd travelled south from Tokyo, so I figured this time I would go north. I'd really love to see Hokkaido, but with only one week I would have spent most of my time travelling, so I decided to not travel that far. Basically, that meant going to the Tohoku region.

Later, I discovered that the greatest of all haiku poets, Matsuo Bashō, had travelled a very similar route, and written a famous book about it. In English the book is called "The Narrow Road to the Deep North", because when he wrote it in the 17th century, Tohoku was a wild and remote border region. Today Tohoku is still a relatively sparsely populated region with a harsh climate.

Tohoku is probably better known for the March 2011 tsunami and the Fukushima accident than for anything else. For the most part, though, there are no signs of these anywhere. The train took us through Fukushima city, looking just like any other city. Sendai, despite being hard hit by both the earthquake and the tsunami, looked like nothing at all had happened. Later, as we travelled outside the big cities, we started to see more signs of the disaster. I'll get back to that in later blog posts.

We travelled by Shinkansen, perhaps the most painless way to travel that I know. Take the subway to the railway station, find the Shinkansen part, buy a ticket from a vending machine, go to the platform, and you know there will be train pretty soon. Before the train arrives you can find the entrance to your carriage, because the number is painted on the platform. People queue up neatly a little before the train arrives, and once the train arrives people get off and on in half a minute, and that's it. You're whisked off to another city at 200 km/h.

The bigger railway stations usually have lots of shops in the station building itself, so you can buy a bento lunch. Basically, that's a pre-packaged lunch in a box that's divided into little compartments to keep the various bits apart. Craft beer has really started to take off in Japan, so getting some nice craft beer to go with it is also easy.

Bento on the shinkansen

For the first leg of the trip we got a sushi bento and some Yona Yona Ale in Nagoya Station. When we came to Shizuoka we took them out, planning to lunch while watching Mount Fuji passing by. Nature did not collaborate, however, and Mount Fuji was hidden in low, gray clouds. Still, it was a deeply Japanese moment, eating sushi bento on the Shinkansen, while drinking Japanese craft beer.

I did not know it then, but three centuries earlier Bashō had the same experience:

In a way
it was fun
not to see Mount Fuji
in foggy rain.

Mount Fuji in foggy rain

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Motomu Naito - 2012-09-01 09:35:05

They're good sentences of a small touch, aren't they? I feel it's a little similar to a haiku. I like them.

I hope you can go forward from Hiraizumi according to The narrow road to the deep north someday.

martin gottlieb cohen - 2016-07-18 00:21:37

Remembrance: March 2011

ground swell the day moon draws closer

Iwate Prefecture more shadows than March light

Kesennuma among the sunlit wrecks the sounds of gulls

Onagawa snow In an old man night sobs


martin gottlieb cohen - 2019-06-06 04:05:47

only the wake
at the river's bend
autumn light

The Heron's Nest Volume XIX, Number 4:page 9, December 2017

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