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Oku no Hosomichi

File:Basho Journey 5.jpg

I am just reading again in the “Oku no Hosomichi”, Matsuo Basho’s description of a hike through the north of Japan in 1689, a beautiful text sprinkled with haiku. In one place Basho writes that he and his companion Sora “turned right at Nihonmatsu and looked into Kurozuka cavern and stayed over in Fukushima.”

I cannot read this again without thinking of exploding nuclear power stations. It is as if the text of the book has been contaminated with radioactive fallout.

Basho and Sora
You slept in Fukushima
Unsuspecting town

Despite this – what a very beautiful book!

(The picture is from

7 thoughts on “Oku no Hosomichi

  1. My mother sent me a comment by email which I want to share here. First the German text, then in the next comment my translation:

    “…Contaminated with radioactive fallout…
    Hallo Andreas, hier kannst Du gerade sehr gut sehen, wie ein Symbol entsteht und wie es wirkt.
    Weltweit sind jetz Tschernobil und Fukushima Symbole für Vergiftung und Verstrahlung und werden es sein, solange sich jemand daran er-innert. Nur die Erwähnung des Namens Fukushima hat die Wirkung, daß die Verse (Dir) contaminiert sind. (Gefühle des Bedauerns oder der Trauer werden ausgelöst.)
    Zum Symbol kann nur werden, was einmal mit einer bedeutsamen Erfahrung verbunden war.
    Wer die Erfahrung kennt, erkennt das Symbol. (Spürt seine Wirkung)
    Ein Symbol stirbt, wenn niemand mehr diese Erfahrung kennt. (Es ist dann nur noch ein Bild)

    Ähnlich ist es mit Ritualen.”

    • Translation:
      “…Contaminated with radioactive fallout…
      Hello Andreas, here you can just see very well how a symbol emerges and how it works. Worldwide now, Chernobyl and Fukushima are symbols for poisoning and radioactive contamination and they will remain so as long as somebody remembers it. Just mentioning the name Fukushima has the effect that the verses are contaminated (for you). (Feelings of sadness and regret are being evoked).
      Something can become a symbol only if it was once connected with an important experience. If you know the experience, you recognize the symbol (feel its effect).
      A symbol dies if nobody again knows this experience (it is then only just an image).

      This applies in a similar way to rituals.”

  2. May I copy your mother’s explanation of a symbol to my computer. If Carl Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections) explained the meaning of a symbol this well, I missed it. I’m new to haiku. As a visual artist, thinking in the medium of language is difficult.

  3. Pingback: The Playground | The Asifoscope

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