Steps of a poet

Steps of a poet

I walk in the isolated north of Japan for five days, my senses awakened as I traipse through whispering cedar forests in misty rain.

It is a quest composed of many little sojourns that reveal the beauty of Japan - a trek on an ancient highway, a cruise around the pine-clad islands of Matsushima Bay, a climb up 2,466 steps to Mount Haguro. It is all very poetic.

After all, I am retracing the quixotic foot journey of poet-wanderer Matsuo Basho, who penned the timeless travelogue Narrow Road To The Deep North in the 17th century.

Written in an era of social turbulence, his classic, a blend of prose and haiku, evokes the Japanese sense of beauty and the transience of life. In middle age, the feted poet sold his house and devoted five months to traverse a 2,000km route in the spring of 1689 with a disciple-friend, Sora.

They were walking on the edge of civilisation in those days, for beyond lay a terrifying terrain of bandits and barbarians who roamed the mountains.

So the north, which includes the tsunamihit prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi, was an unexplored land that evoked mystery for Basho.

Today, this Tohoku region is still remote and little visited by non-Japanese. I barely see foreign faces on my sojourn with a dozen walkers on the first Basho Tour hosted by pioneering adventure company Walk Japan (

A 10-day trip, which starts in Tokyo and ends in Kyoto, costs 418,000 yen (S$5,350, see story on facing page). I ask for a compressed five-day version.

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