The Narrow Road to Oku

oku

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply beautiful

“The Narrow Road to Oku” is about as close to perfection as one can get. First you have Matsuo Basho, Japan’s greatest poet, chronicling his hundred and fifty day journey into Oku to visit the grave of his mother, who had died the previous year. Translating this masterpiece is Donald Keene, possibly the greatest modern interpreter and translator of the Japanese mind. If this wasn’t enough, Miyata Masayuki has taken Basho’s poetry and created stunning works of Kiri-e, torn paper art, that provides a visual to match the written imagery.

“The Narrow Road to Oku” was the last of Basho’s five travelogues, and he finally attained the essential balance between observation and inspiration, between prose and poetry. Along the narrow road he and his traveling companion, student Kawai Sora, experienced the highs and lows of ancient Japan. The Tokugawa Shrine at Nikko, the famed Bridge of Heaven at Matsushima and the ancient Ise Shrine were all stops on this fantastic voyage. As well as these wonders, he encountered poor prostitutes and fishermen, giving them equal time to his poetic genius.

Miyata Masayuki, as he has with other books in this series such as “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” and “Love Songs from the Man’Yoshu,” has created delightful and whimsical artwork that enhances rather than distracts from Basho’s musings. There is a hint of Ukiyo-e in his style, but not enough to consider it redundant. The art is fresh and lively. sometimes powerful and bittersweet.

The original Japanese text is preserved alongside Keene’s translation, which I think is essential of a work of this type. “The Narrow Road to Oku” is 100% authentic, and 100% beautiful. Definitely a treasure in my library.

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