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The Narrow Road to Oku (Illustrated Japanese Classics) Paperback – April 15, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Japanese (translation)
Original Language: Japanese

About the Author


Translation: DONALD KEENE
U.S. scholar, and translator of Japanese literature, Donald Keene was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University, where he received a PhD in 1949. He studied Japanese literature at Cambridge University, in England and Kyoto University. Keene's scholarly works include The Japanese Discovery of Europe (1952; revised edition, 1969) and a series of volumes on the history of Japanese literature which began with World Within Walls (1976) and continued with Dawn to the West (2 vols, 1984). His translations of Japanese literary works include The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori monogatari; tr. 1956), Essays in Idleness (Tsurezure- gusa; tr. 1967), The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon chushingura; tr. 1971), and fiction by Mishima Yukio and Dazai Osamu. Keene became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. The Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture was established at Columbia University in the same year.

Illustrations: MASAYUKI MIYATA (1926-1997)
Masayuki Miyata was born in Akasaka, Tokyo in 1926. He was discovered by the distinguished writer Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, and he went on to create his own distinct realm in kiri-e (cut-out illustrations). His cut-out pictures, made with mere sheets of paper and a cutting blade, and their exceptional accessibility to people from all countries, have won admiration. In 1981, his work Japanese Pieta was selected for the modem religious art collection in the Vatican Museum-he is only the fourth Japanese artist so honored this century. In 1995, the bi-centennial anniversary of the UN, Miyata was selected from contemporary artists worldwide to be the UN's official artist, the first Japanese to hold the post. His masterpiece, Red Fuji, was reproduced in special limited edition in 184 countries around the globe. Miyata continued to be actively engaged in international art circles as the most prominent kiri-e artist in Japan until his death in 1997.

His representative works include illustrations for Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to Oku), Taketori monogatari (Tale of a Bamboo-Cutter), Man'yo koi-uta (Poems of Love from the Man'yoshu), and Hana no Ran (Passion in Disarray).
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Product Details

  • Series: Illustrated Japanese Classics
  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA; 1 edition (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English, Japanese
  • ISBN-10: 4770020287
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770020284
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.7 x 5.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #979,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
"The Narrow Road to Oku" is about as close to perfection as one can get. First you have Matsuo Basho, Japan's greatest poet, chronicling his hundred and fifty day journey into Oku to visit the grave of his mother, who had died the previous year. Translating this masterpiece is Donald Keene, possibly the greatest modern interpreter and translator of the Japanese mind. If this wasn't enough, Miyata Masayuki has taken Basho's poetry and created stunning works of Kiri-e, torn paper art, that provides a visual to match the written imagery.

"The Narrow Road to Oku" was the last of Basho's five travelogues, and he finally attained the essential balance between observation and inspiration, between prose and poetry. Along the narrow road he and his traveling companion, student Kawai Sora, experienced the highs and lows of ancient Japan. The Tokugawa Shrine at Nikko, the famed Bridge of Heaven at Matsushima and the ancient Ise Shrine were all stops on this fantastic voyage. As well as these wonders, he encountered poor prostitutes and fishermen, giving them equal time to his poetic genius.

Miyata Masayuki, as he has with other books in this series such as "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" and "Love Songs from the Man'Yoshu," has created delightful and whimsical artwork that enhances rather than distracts from Basho's musings. There is a hint of Ukiyo-e in his style, but not enough to consider it redundant. The art is fresh and lively. sometimes powerful and bittersweet.

The original Japanese text is preserved alongside Keene's translation, which I think is essential of a work of this type. "The Narrow Road to Oku" is 100% authentic, and 100% beautiful. Definitely a treasure in my library.
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By A Customer on March 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
If anyone adores the simple beauty and truth of haiku, this is the text to own. Not only are the Japanese characters printed alongside the inquisitive English translations, but the accompanying collages are breathtaking interpretations of the works. The entire book is a work of art.
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The Narrow Road to Oku is one of the classic works of Japanese literature, and Basho is one of the masters of the haiku poetry form. Although haiku is known in the West primary for its "5-7-5" pattern of syllables, it is considerably more nuanced and rule-bound than this (ironically, however, the 5-7-5 "rule" is occasionally broken). For this reason, I would recommend reading about haiku a bit first, if this is one of your first forays into the genre. I personally wish the introduction had spent some time discussing this form of poetry, as even just a brief discussion of such key features as kigo ("season words") and kireji ("cutting words") would have been very enlightening (especially for people familiar with Japanese, given that this is a bilingual edition).

What might surprise the reader is that The Narrow Road to Oku is more prose than poetry, as it is essentially a travelogue and journal. In rather succinct and yet evocative prose, Basho captures many emotions that will be familiar to the traveler and likely to inspire wanderlust: sorrow at parting with friends, excitement at setting out on the road, admiration of sights seen on the road and acquaintances made, contemplation of ages past, and joy at returning home. Basho's haiku serve almost to both summarize and elevate the prose. For me, I found his reflections on nature and on "mono no aware" (the pathos of impermanence) to be the most compelling. Personally, I found the passage where Basho finds himself weeping, unaware (and unconcerned) about the passage of time as he considers the famous battle by the Koromo River and composes a pair of haiku ("The summer grasses ..." and "In the verbena ...") equal to the famous poem by Tu Fu ("Countries may fall ...") to be among the most gripping.
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The main reason to purchase this version of the great Japanese haiku poet Basho's account of his journey's to the north of Japan is for the gorgeous illustrations provided by the late 20th Century artist Masayuki Miyata. As you hold this modest tome in your hands and flip through its sturdy, colorful pages, you feel like you are handling a rare museum manuscript, with handsome illustrations doting every other page. The text itself encompasses Basho's account - abridged perhaps - of his pilgrimmage to what is now the Tohoku region of Japan's main island of Honshu, along with haiku he composed at various stages of the journey. The echoes of his words pull the reader back through history 3+ centuries and Miyata's illustrations harken us to a magical world encountered by the master. My only qualm was that, despite my own journeys through Oku - Toh/oku - and intimacy with Japanese geography, I would have liked a map to indicate just where each of these places that Basho visited are located.
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This is essentially the nonfictional journal of a man as he journeys through fuedal Japan, as he logs his experiences, and writes haikus. It is both fascinating and sometimes confusing trying to decipher what he is experiencing. I don't believe that this is the best translation in existance, but for various reasons it is difficult to capture a translation from this era because some of the traditions and symbolism is lost, as described in the book. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
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