In Basho’s Footsteps: Hiking the Narrow Road to the Deep North Three Centuries Later


Mat­suo Basho (1644–1694) lived his pecu­liar life on the con­vic­tion that art could cre­ate an aware­ness that allowed one to see into and com­mu­ni­cate the essence of expe­ri­ence. Through­out his life he searched for the state of being one with the object of his poems, some­thing he believed a poet need­ed to reach in order to write truth­ful­ly. This life-long search brought Basho to wan­der­ing. He thought that trav­el­ling would lead to a state of karu­mi (light­ness), essen­tial for art. In May 1689, when he was already a renowned poet in Japan, he sold his house and embarked on his great­est trip. Basho trav­elled light, always on foot and always slow­ly, look­ing care­ful­ly and deeply. He sought to leave every­thing behind (even him­self) and have a direct expe­ri­ence with the nature around him, and he saw Zen Bud­dhism and trav­el­ling as the way to achieve this. He walked 2000 kilo­me­ters around the north­ern coast of Hon­shu (Japan’s main island), writ­ing prose and poet­ry along the way, and com­pil­ing it all in a book that changed the course of Japan­ese lit­er­a­ture, The Nar­row Road to the Deep North.

We are Pablo Fer­nán­dez (writer) and Anya Gleiz­er (painter), the adven­tur­ers and artists behind In Basho’s Foot­steps. 325 years have passed since Basho began hik­ing the Nar­row Road.  This sum­mer, we will retrace his trail, in an effort to come in con­tact with Basho’s approach to art and trav­el­ling. We will hike for three months, camp­ing on the way, trav­el­ling as light­ly and aus­tere­ly as pos­si­ble. We will write and paint along the route, and com­pile what we pro­duce in an artist’s book. It will be hard, but art avails no com­pro­mis­es. Of course, apart from the phys­i­cal and men­tal hard­ships, there are finan­cial ones (flights and food for three months, and pub­lish­ing costs). To make the project pos­si­ble, we have used Kick­starter, a crowd­fund­ing plat­form. With Kick­starter peo­ple are able to fund the projects they like, and receive a reward in exchange (we are giv­ing our back­ers copies of our book, silk-screen prints and even paint­ings, depend­ing on the pledge).  This is a great way of cre­at­ing an audi­ence involved in the cre­ation process. We don’t only receive finan­cial sup­port, but also very use­ful feed­back, and we will be able to show our audi­ence how the book is com­ing togeth­er. Because we want our art to reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, we are giv­ing a dig­i­tal edi­tion of the book to every­one who backs the project with more than $5, before the book is acces­si­ble to the gen­er­al pub­lic. Our Kick­starter cam­paign ends on June 4th. It has been a great suc­cess so far: We have already cov­ered the trav­el­ling costs and now we are fund­ing the pub­lish­ing costs. For us, crowd-fund­ing has opened up the tra­di­tion­al obsta­cles between cre­ators and read­ers. This sum­mer, with the help of all our sup­port­ers, we will retrace Basho’s Foot­steps.

Edi­tor’s note: This has been a guest post by Pablo Fer­nán­dez and Anya Gleiz­er. Please con­sid­er sup­port­ing their great project here. Also find trans­la­tions of Basho’s poet­ry in our col­lec­tion, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.