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The Oriental Caravan's 

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April 2002

Dear All,

In 1689, stirred to roam 'by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind' the great haiku poet Matsuo Basho set off on foot to explore the remote Tohoku region of Japan. He recorded the events of this five month pilgrimage in his poetic travelogue 'the Narrow Road to the Deep North', one of Japan's best-loved literary classics.

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Views of Hirosaki Castle


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Views of Haguro San mountain

This spring, in undertaking research for next April's Special tour to Tohoku, The Oriental Caravan set off north to follow in Matsuo Basho's footsteps. Far from the bustle of urban Japan it discovered a world which has, in many ways, remained little changed by the intervening centuries. Just as many of Japan's old rural traditions still thrive so too do many of the temples and landscapes mentioned by Basho remain as he described them. 

Pressing on, by narrow gauge to the deeper north. The Oriental Caravan then skirted Tohoku's rugged coastline to visit the medieval castle towns of Akita and Hirosaki. In a landscape dominated by  striking snow-capped volcanoes these historic towns still retain many of the vestiges of an older Japan.

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Tohoku's rugged coastline

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Lanterns at Toshugu shrine, Nikko

Tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Nikko

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Matsuo Basho began his journey by visiting the great temples of Nikko. While there he climbed into a cave behind a waterfall and wrote the following haiku*...
shibaraku wa 
taki ni komono ya      
ge no hajime
For a little while
I'll shut myself inside the falls-  
Summer's retreat has begun

* In classical Japanese a haiku is a 17 syllable poem (written 5-7-5),often including a reference to one of the four seasons. There is a connection between haiku and the sudden enlightenment of Zen Buddhist practice. Matsuo Basho is said to have become enlightened after hearing a frog jump into a garden pond. The event lead him to pen the following haiku...

A frog jumps 

into a pond-



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The grounds of Motsu- ji (these are also the gardens of The Oriental Caravan's accommodation in Hiraizumi)

Motsu-ji, Hiraizumi

Here Matsuo Basho wrote the following haiku...

natsukusa ya
tsuwamono domo ga
yume no ato
The summer grasses
All that remains 
Of brave soldiers dreams


Here Matsuo Basho wrote the following haiku...

shizukasa ya
iwa ni shimiiru
semi no koe
How still it is here
Stinging into the stones
The locusts trill

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Yamadera temple (in the background on the mountain) with an old Japanese ryokan (guesthouse) in the foreground

Special tour to Tohoku - in the footsteps of Matsuo Basho

Provisional itinerary 2003

27th April Tokyo, 28th April Tokyo, , 29th April 30th April Nikko, , 1st May Yamadera, 2nd May Tsuruoka, 3rd May Haguro San, 4th May Akita, 5th May Akita (Kakunodate), 6th May Hirosaki, 7th May Hirosaki, 8th May Hiraizumi, 9th May Tokyo, 10th May Tokyo 

If you are interested in joining the tour to Tohoku and would like further information please contact The Oriental Caravan

*   *   *   *   *

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Local minstrels entertain  passengers on a Tohoku train

Click here for sound and video of the above singer

Thinking himself safe in small town Japan, but given away by his hat, this  cleverly disguised fugitive from the Hindu Kush still proved difficult to apprehend

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The Oriental Caravan's Chief Caravaneer Phil Colley relaxes with haiku master Matsuo Basho at a temple in Yamadera

A statue of Jizo, the Buddhist saint of travellers and children, at Ganman-ga-fuchi abyss in Nikko

That's all for now! The next e-postcard will be from remote Mount Kailash in the far west of Tibet.

Best wishes from

Phil and The Oriental Caravan

p.s. Please forward this postcard to your friends!

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             Revised and last updated: November 20th 2013. Links