Smoke Ascending from Mount Asama

Mount Asama is a volcano mentioned in the eighth episode of the Ise Stories. In this episode, the author wrote that the view of the smoke that was ascending from Mount Asama encouraged the poet to compose the poem. One interpretation of the poem is that it was composed because the poet was amazed at the sight of the Mount Asama…Continue reading

Reality and Sadness in the Poems of Mt. Utsu

Mount Utsu is well known for its mythology and paths of overgrown ivy and maples trees. It is often used metaphorically to contrast a kind of reality within the dream world. Utsu is a play on the word utsutsu, which literally means reality, and has connotations of awakening, and a mountain of sadness…Continue reading


Shiogama Temple

Shiogama Shrine

The Shiogama Temple or jinga, is a Shinto shrine founded before 927 in the town of Shiogama. Shiogama is in the Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan, just as Basho described it in “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”. The shrine is first mentioned in Basho’s travels and it has been preserved just how he describes it, “Its pillars stood huge and majestic, brightly painted rafters sparkled, and stone steps rose up flight after flight. The crimson fencing was dazzling in the morning sunlight” (44). Basho seems to be the only one to mention the temple specially in his travel literature, but Mitsu writes about site seeing in Shiogama, which means that she and her family most likely visited the shrine (Ezaki and Shiba, 45). Today, the Shiogama temple is one of the places on the Basho walking tour remains a popular and preserved tourist site most likely because of the fame Basho has given it.

“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” excerpt on Shiogama Shrine:

“As we came to Shiogama Bay, the evening bell was tolling. The sky had cleared a little after steady rain. Under the faint rays of the evening moon, the island of Magaki could be seen not far from shore. A line of small fishing boats came rowing in. I could hear the voices of the fishermen as they divided up their catch. And I understood now what the poet meant who wrote, ‘It catches the heart – a fishing boat pulled to shore’.

That night, I listened to a blind singer reciting a north-country ballad to the accompaniment of his lute. It was not like the stories of Heike, or traditional dancing songs. He was performing close to my bed, and I found the rustic tones of his voice very noisy. But then I realized how admirable it was that such fine old customs were still preserved in this distant land.

Early the next morning, we visited the Shrine at Shiogama, which had been restored by the governor of the province. Its pillars stood huge and majestic, brightly painted rafters sparkled, and stone steps rose up flight after flight. The crimson fencing was dazzling in the morning sunlight. How wonderful it was, I thought, that in this land of ours, the divine powers of the gods should show themselves even in so remote a place as this.

In front of the sanctuary, there was an old lantern with an inscription on its iron door, ‘Presented by Izumi-no-Saburō in the third year of Bunji [1187]’. It was strange how these words brought back things unchanged for over five hundred years. Izumi-no-Saburō had been a brave and honourable soldier, a loyal and loving son. His fame has lasted to the present day, and there is no one now who does not honour him. How true it is that, if men strive to walk in the way of truth and uphold righteousness, fame will follow of itself” (44).

Works Cited:

“Shiogama”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016.

Ezaki, Motoko, and Shiba, Keiko. Literary Creations on the Road. Blue Ridge Summit, US: UPA, 2012. ProQuest ebrary.

Grass Melting into White Clouds on the Musashi Plains

Jippensha Ikku was the pen name of Shigeta Sadakazu who was a Japanese writer during the late Edo period of Japan. In his introduction to Hizakurige, he describes the Kanto Plain where Tokyo is now located, although it was then known as the Musashi Plain. Prior to the establishment of Edo, the Musashi Plain was a deserted and remote area far away from the old capital in Kyoto…Continue reading

edo castle

Departure and Reunion at Ōsaka Barrier

Poetic pillows (utamakura)are a feature of Japanese travel literature. They were first used by prieststo remember the details of the places they traveled to. Since then, utamakura has become a common literary technique, specifically in poetry. They can evoke certain images and emotions, and they are understood by many readers…Continue reading


Sorrow and Loneliness in Suma

Utamakura are “pillow-words” that have, through centuries of literary convention, come to convey a whole slew of imagery and emotion in a concise package. They often also coincide with meisho—famous places that have come to be associated with certain imagery and themes. And, as far as utamakura and meisho go, Suma is a big one…Continue reading

The Exile of Yukihira at Suma (Kitagawa Utamaro)

The Lake of Omi Province

The Lake of Ōmi (now called Lake Biwa, or 琵琶湖) is situated in what used to be Ōmi province, now known to us as Shiga (滋賀) prefecture. It is the largest lake in Japan, and takes up a large amount of the prefecture. It is mentioned numerous times in the Manyoshu, an anthology of poems compiled sometime after 759 AD…Continue reading