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Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

So many books! So many NYT crossword puzzles!

Guess that's what happens when you have a new draft to work on. Some of my reading has not been without purpose, however. I'm working on a Japanese project at the moment, so a few days ago I decided to pick up Bashō's masterpiece The Narrow Road to the Deep North to learn more about the bushido influence on art.

The bushido code is a big part of the character I'm writing and hugely impacts mood I'm trying to convey in the piece, but since I can only watch Le Samourai so many times, I decided to skip bushido-as-depicted-on-screen and go straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak.

It's easy I think for Westerners to lump all Eastern philosophies and ethical codes together, but its important to differentiate between cultural angst, especially when telling another's story; Korean han, for example, does not stem from the same mindset as bushido, just as Americans, shall we say, don't quite have the same social terrors as the British. (Ever seen a Brit 's reaction when an American send a restaurant item back to the kitchen? Priceless.)

While Bashō himself was only of samurai class, his work certainly follows the tenets of bushido, especially in terms of self-sacrifice and frugality. Previously I've only read collections of Bashō's poetry, so this was a new adventure. His famous travelogues (there are 5 in this translation) mix prose and poetry seamlessly, flowing from one to the other with natural ease.

As I was reading, imagine my surprise to discover someone's own travel memories tucked into the pages:

There are also handwritten notes in the margins. Someone was studying with this book, but who? The old woman, or the graduate? Are they in Japan, America, or somewhere else? Is the old woman a tourist, a friend, or an adopted mother? Who took the photo?

I'm reading a first edition (presumably) owned by my grandparents, published 1963. The photo is from the 60's. The library card is from the 80's. I'm not related to anyone in this photo. So what's the story behind the picture? All guesses welcome!

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