The Open Road
The following is a continuation of Robert Garrity’s story describing his walk across Japan; a journey replicating haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s 1,500-mile journey from Fukagawa, Tokyo to Japan’s northern wilderness, as detailed in Basho’s world-famous travel diary, “Oku no Hosomichi.” Garrity began the first leg of his journey in the summer of 1994, and continues walking different segments each time he returns to Japan.
From Tokyo to Soka:
I passed a French restaurant that has tables lined along the front of its outside area. The problem I see is that the tables are set in such a manner that all the people sit side by side, looking out. It is as if they are in a theater watching a film. They are, in fact, watching pedestrian and automobile traffic rather than paying attention to each other. This offers no perspective on life as far as I can determine. Why take your partner to an expensive restaurant only to sit side by side watching the people on the street? Rather than enjoying each other, they are watching cars go by and breathing in fumes and dirt.
Basho, at the beginning of “Oku no Hosomichi” states:
“The moon and sun are travelers through eternity. Even the years are also voyagers. Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse. Each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
The road is my home
the wind my companion
each day a new beginning”
Tora-san and Basho
A chapter in Japan’s rich cultural heritage closed with the untimely death of veteran actor Kiyoshi Atsumi, known more popularly as Tora-san.
The “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” movie series was described in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest continuing series, beginning in 1969 and continuing through its 48th episode this year.
What created such an interest in Tora-san? Was it his manners? His remarkable beauty? His class? His ability to get the girl at the end of the movie?
No. It was his sense of portrayal of what is commonly called Nihonjinron. He played the model Japanese man. That was his attraction.
Anybody who has ever seen a Tora-san movie has seen them all. The movies usually open with a scene of Tora-san and his family in a lower-class ward in Tokyo. There was usually some disagreement with his Shibamata family with Tora-san leaving to go back on the road. While travelling, he would meet some young attractive lady in distress and spend a great deal of time attempting to help solve her problem, yet all the moviegoers knew he would invariably fail in his relationship. The tragedy of his failure would bring tears to the eyes of his audience.
In many ways, Tora-san reminds one of another famous Japanese Nihonjinron: Matsuo Bashō, the master of haiku. Torasan created visual poetry, and had Bashō ever watched Tora-san, he would have applauded Tora-san’s misadventures.
Whereas Bashō sought the meaning of life in natural creations, Tora-san searched for the meaning of life in human relations.
Both searched for their answers in epic journeys. Bashō through his “Oku no Hosomichi” and other travel diaries, and Tora-san through his “Otoko wa tsurai yo.” Both were storytellers who gained their inspirations from their journeys.
Now Tora-san is free to join Bashō as members of an elite group of Japanese who really make a difference, if only for a few hours twice a year, in the lives of Japanese. Tora-san’s movies, like Bashō’s haiku, will only get better as time goes by.
They are timeless.
Lights come on
This is a brief tribute to Bashō and Torasan at the end of their respective journeys. tj
To be continued in the 2014 Spring Issue of Tokyo Journal
The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.