The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho

(Last Updated On: 11/05/2019)
Departure of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Yosa Buson


“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (奥の細道, Oku-no hosomichi) is a travel writing with haiku poems by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).

Check the famous 10 haiku poems by Matsuo Basho.

He departed with the disciple Kawai Sora March 27 in 1689, traveled around Tōhoku region, and reached Ōgaki August 21. The journery finished when he visited Ise Shrine. It took more than 150 days and the walking distance was 2400km (about 1490mile).

This travel writing gets a high-reputation as the finest and perfect among Basho’s travels, and it is considered as one of the best traveling works in the history of Japanese literature. The sentences are so refined. The sentences and haiku poems interact with each other to form a poetic world. In addition, he saw the facts of the journey as a material of literature. In order to aim for completion as a literary work, he developed an idea without sicking to whether it was fact or not.



Learn about the history and format of haiku

Opening sentences







-Translated by Donald Keene

The months and days are the travellers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.

I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold my cottage and moved to Sampū’s villa, to stay until I started on my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:

kusa no to mo
sumikawaru yo zo
hina no ie

Even a thatched hut
May change with a new owner
Into a doll’s house.

This became the first of an eight-verse sequence.



Featured Book!

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

You might be interested in this too

1 thought on “The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho

  • Donald Keene mistranslated the poem (above) about the thatched hut. The “doll ceremony” is an annual transition ritual where people bring their old and broken dolls to throw onto a gigantic communal pyre. The ceremony marks the passage of the dolls from this realm of the living to the next realm beyond, to the “after life” as it were. So the poem saying that the “door of thatched hut/ also changed owner/ at the dolls ceremony” (a more literal translation found on the previous page of this site) implies that the hut’s old owner has also passed on, died.

Comments are closed.