Bashõ, Matsuo and the Tohoku region

Matsuo and Miyagi

Matsushima`s views

Who would not utter a-ahs??

Well, on to lighter stuff today (well, in comparison to what precedes this).   I was just thinking about how Japan has been coping since the earthquake and tsunami last year and it appears foreign visitors are still staying away from the Tohoku region.    There is also the issue of asking neighbouring prefectures to incinerate the debris from the tsunami (including any irradiated material), and the fact that reconstruction is going a bit slow.  People are still living in temporary housing.  While spending 150 million yen on saving a tree that survived the tsunami is admirable, they could also hurry up the human preservation project.  People living in this temporary housing have no heating among other things.

These issues remind a person of how little they know about certain regions of Japan.  Myself included.  I would be the first to admit I did not know much about the touristic appeal of Tohoku at all until recently and though I suspected that all parts of Japan have areas of amazing beauty, I was completely clueless about this whole area of Japan before this disaster.  It`s not that I focus on the more well-known places especially ( but actually I have : P) but when you`r e not sure when you`ll return to Japan again you tend to focus on seeing the places that you`ve heard of.  Considering that I have explored a good deal of Hokkaido now (mostly because I lived there for a bit, who knows if I would have otherwise), and have seen various well-known places in Honshu and have them `out of the way` as such, I can focus on other areas next time and I have a long list of places I want to see, including places I neglected the first time or places I`ve just recently heard of.  Tohoku is home to one of the three Great Views of Japan, in Matsushima to be exact (there`s another near Kyoto and another near Hiroshima).  This group of islands did not suffer as badly as other parts of the region and has managed to attract tourists back to it (though not their usual foreign visitors or other foreign visitors).    Well, at least  the Japanese are helping tourism by visiting these places and probably helping to ease the panic factor.   I`ve actually been to see another one of these great views, without realising it was one of the THE three views of Japan, but obviously seeing that it was A great view.

Back to Matsushima, Matsuo Bashõ was apparently left speechless when he came across it.   I first came across this Bashõ character during my undergraduate dissertation-type project on travel.  I still think of the old poet (not just of haiku verse by the way) when I think of haiku, travel and Hokkaido – I try NOT to think of the actual project itself – and have been waiting for an occasion to mention him in my blog.  His work `The Long Road to the Deep North and other Travel Sketches`, which mingled haiku verse with prose (basically) during his travels, was great by the way.  I am so glad I found it and was able to refer to it for my dissertation that time.    Anyway,  the haiku dedicated to Matsushima, and attributed to Bashõ, which I found on good ole Wiki, goes as follows:

Matsushima, ah!

A-ah, Matsushima, ah!

Matsushima, ah!

I think that haiku verse sums up an appreciation of a place pretty well don`t you?  Who needs pretty pictures when you have haiku like that?  Ah well, I`ll add in a picture anyway, courtesy of Wiki again, just to show you what I`m talking about.  I must add Matsushima to my ever growing list of places to see when I return to Japan (soon I hope).  All those little islands you see in the photo are what helped Matsushima avoid the worst of the tsunami so thank god for pine islands – matsu meaning pine(s) and shima meaning island(s)

Of course I`m sure there are other parts of Tohoku as beautiful as this but I just thought I`d kill two birds with one stone and mention Bashõ and Matsushima together.   Bashõ was quite the traveller, at a time when travelling was extremely dangerous. Hardly anyone travelled back then unless it was absolutely necessary, and I suppose pilgrimages were considered ok (and his trip was a pilgrimage).

So here`s hoping Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and the rest of the prefectures in the Tohoku region get their visitors back but more importantly, I hope people are starting to rebuild their lives and that hopefully they get to move out of this temporary accommodation soon (or at least before another winter sets in).

[For linguists out there, I`m using the Spanish tilde for the accent over the o when writing Matsuo Bashõ`s name].

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