“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.”
These are the opening words (translated by Donald Keene) of Oku no Hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North), a prose and verse travel diary written in the late 17th century by one of Japan’s literary giants, Matsuo Basho, who is most famous throughout the world for his haiku poetry. The journey he described in his book is not simply a splendid introduction to the landscape of Japan but it is also a wonderful introduction to the heart and soul of this rich culture.