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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