Basho and Shiki


In November/December 2010 the Smithsonian Institute in Washington published a few paintings of the Kiso pass and Kiso valley in Japan, by hand of the painter Hiroshige.

The Kiso valley once used to be a section of the old Nakasendo Highway, one of Japan’s historic transport arteries joining Kyoto with Edo, present-day Tokyo.
Japan Visitor  has a most lovely series of photographs in which we see what “highway” meant in the 16th-17th. century. (

In the year 1688 the poet Basho, then 49 years old, travelled the old Kiso road and penciled down a few haiku, or haikai, in commemoration of this road. These poems are totally unsuitable for this time of year since they speak of chestnuts and autumn. One of Basho’s haiku still is to be found chiselled in stone among the remaining section of this Kiso road once to be travelled in 69 stations.

Another left behind haiku in stone, now by Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) runs:

These white clouds evoke
memories of my long walk
under fresh green leaves

Even when we don’t undertake long walks we can still enjoy the imagery behind these words: white, green. In short, unspoiled nature.

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