The Poetry of Tosa Nikki and Oku No Hosomichi

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The origins of kiko, or travel literature, in Japan spans to well over 1000 years ago. One of the earliest examples of kiko is Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa nikki, a diary which Tsurayuki wrote most likely in 935 during the Heian period of Japan. Another important example of kiko, which is similar in ways yet also very dissimilar to Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa nikki, due in part to the many years that the two are separated by in terms of when they were composed, is Matsuo Basho’s Oku no hosomichi, or Narrow Road to the Interior/Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was written in the late 17th century during the Edo period of Japan.

Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa nikki describes Tsurayuki’s return to his home in the capital after having completed his post as governor of the province of Tosa, which is on the Island of Shikoku just south of Kyoto. The Tosa nikki marked the beginning of what would become a great tradition of diary literature in the later periods of Japan. In the piece, Tsurayuki records his journey through the alleged perspective of a female companion in his company. By doing this, as well as by writing in vernacular Japanese characters (kana) and interspersing poetry (waka) throughout, he was further able to convey many of the emotional aspects of his journey from Tosa.

Matsuo Basho’s Oku no hosomichi details the journey of Basho from Edo far to the north into territories of Japan that were considered rather dangerous to go to during his time, but Basho had always dreamed of seeing, perhaps greatly in part from Basho’s desires to emulate Saigyo, whom he considered to be the greatest waka poet. Basho visited many of the places that Saigyo mentioned in his verses along his long journey to the north, as well as places that ot...

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...el as well as diary literature that was written in Japan later on, including Oku no hosomichi. And with Basho, the beginning of a different approach to a style of writing that mixed both the classical culture of Japanese poetry, like in Tosa nikki, and the new popular cultures, of haikai especially, during his time.

Works Cited

Clark, Steven H., and Paul Smethurst. Asian Crossings. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008.

McCullough, Helen Craig., and Tsurayuki Ki. Kokin Wakashu: the First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry: with Tosa Nikki and Shinsen Waka. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

"TOSA NIKKI (THE TOSA DIARY)." Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
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