Basho's Journey North from Saitama

A stroll with splendid views of Soka Matsubara

By Yoshiko Okamoto    - 3 min read

In Saitama Prefecture's Soka City, famous for Soka senbei (rice crackers), are wonderful views of Soka Matsubara. The views are mentioned in Oku no Hosomichi, a famous literary masterpiece written by Matsuo Basho on his way north towards the Tohoku region of Japan. It is often translated as ''The Narrow Road to the Deep North'' in English. When walking the area you can imagine an earlier time. In 2013 the area was nationally recognized and named.

''Soka Inn'' is located on the north side of Soka Matsubara. It is considered the staging point to The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Since the Edo period, the area has been known as ''Senbon Matsubara'' or ''Thousand Pines'' for its numerous pine trees. It is located along the Nikko Kaido, a road which stretched from ancient Edo to Nikko.

Basho begin his journey to Okushu (historical Tohoku) on 1689. He moved around by ship and on foot. From the Edo Fukugawa River, he made his way to Senju Inn (千住宿). Saying goodbye to those which accompanied him, he started his adventure north.

As a reflection of this important beginning is the Soka Matsubara promenade at Fudaba-gishi Park. Taking one more look back towards the safety of the Senju Inn where he stayed the night before, the bronze Basho statue bids a reluctant farewell to his disciples and friends. Basho's facial expression leaves an impression on you. As you begin to envision The Narrow Road to the Deep North, you soon find yourself at the bridge resembling the shape of two taiko drums.

First of all, let's recall that the first sentence of Matsuo Basho's masterpiece (月日は百代の過客にして..) refers to traveling through generations (百代) or perhaps back in time. This is the origin of the naming of Hyakutai Bridge. Furthermore, Basho then described starting his long walk at Yatate to the cries of birds and tears of fish during spring (行く春や鳥啼き魚の目は泪、これを矢立の初めとして…). This reference was used to name Yatate Bridge. Both bridges provide great locations to see the pine trees around the park from above.

Currently, there about 600 trees, including some very old trees, planted along the Nikko Kaido. The 1.5 kilometer promenade is lined with continuous pine trees. Enjoy the scenery while walking or jogging and you'll be able to understand why this area is loved by locals.

If Basho saw today's Soka Matsubara, what would he think? Feel the past and the present for yourself with this stroll of scenic beauty.

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Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai.   Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.

Original by Yoshiko Okamoto

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Elizabeth S 7 months ago
Basho walked 2,400 km in his journey to the north, traveling this route. When I was in Hiraizumi where Basho passed through, I was so in awe of the stone memorial where he wrote “Summer grass - all that’s left of warrior’s dreams.” Modern people think his journey was historical, but he was searching for Tohoku’s history and making it, too.
Sleiman Azizi a year ago
I walked that path during hundreds of evening walks over many years of living in Matsubara Danchi.
Justin Velgus Translator 5 years ago
I really enjoyed translating this. I had no idea this place was the starting point of Basho's journey north. I have been to some places Basho visited as I live in Tohoku, but I hope I can visit this place one day!
Yoshiko Okamoto Author 5 years ago
Thank you for translating!