The Open Road
As I sit at home in Hawaii, enjoying our short winter, or rainy season as many locals call it, I am reminded of a journey I took in the summer of 1994. At the time I was studying haiku poetry and the life of one of its most prominent icons, Matsuo Basho. It is difficult to turn a page of a book on haiku poetry without running into Matsuo Basho. He usually is the first author a foreigner meets when they begin haiku.
I decided to replicate Basho’s trip to Japan’s northern wilderness as detailed in his world-famous “Oku no Hosomichi.” A fifteen hundred mile journey from his home in Fukugawa, Tokyo to the north country of Hiraizumi, then left to Yamagata and south to Lake Bizen and ending his journey shortly after.
I knew that the path of his journey had changed over the years, but I wanted to be as faithful to his steps as I could. Since I lived in Hawaii, teaching at the University of Hawaii, I did not have a lot of time to devote to this journey. So I broke it down into segments, walking the different segments each time I returned to Japan. I was able to walk as far as Matsushima before the infirmities of age and a minor stroke caused me to end my journey. From time to time, I hope to share with you some of my memories of that journey. All of this journey, as with all my other journeys, was done while walking alone. I did, however, rely on others for directions and maps.
5/29/94: The walking begins...
I began my walk early in the morning at Hiroo, in the Minato-ku section of Tokyo. On Sundays, Tokyo likes to sleep in, and today is no different. It reluctantly wakes up around 8 to 9 in the morning, and lies about until noon.
While walking through Azabu Juban, I noticed a small statue of a young girl with the title “Little Girl in Red Shoes.” I read the inscription and was touched by its sentimental prose. This is a summary of the story inscribed:
The little girl in red shoes has found a permanent home in Azabu Juban. The little girl is the subject of a well-known children’s song “The Girl in the Red Shoes” written by Ujo Noguchi, the famous poet. Her name was Kimi-chan.
Kimi-chan was adopted by an American missionary family, and was supposed to return to the United States with them. Kimi-chan’s mother, believing that her daughter was now living happily in America told her story to Noguchi, who wrote the song “The Girl in the Red Shoes” about a girl that goes off to America to live with an American family.
It later became known that, Kimi-chan, the Little Girl in the Red Shoes, did not go to the U.S. with the American missionary family. Due to illness, she was left behind and lived in an orphanage in Azabu Juban until her passing at the age of nine. A statue of Kimi- chan sits in Azabu Juban with the story above inscribed along with a closing statement that reads, “The statue is the symbol of the strong love between a mother and a child.”
At the end of the bridge crossing the Sumidagawa River into Fukugawa is a small public bathroom. On the outside wall is a “Ukiyo-e” type painting of how the bridge might have looked during the Edo era.
What adventures wait ahead
On the other side?
See what adventures wait on the other side in the Summer 2013 Issue #272 of Tokyo Journal
The complete article is available in Issue #271. click here. to order from Amazon