Japan, urban, walking

The Basho walk: starting

June 23, 2024

Bashō walked from Sendai to Shiogama where he caught a boat to Ojima Island in the Matsushima Bay. Ojima Island (Oshima Island) is a small peninsular covered in pine trees that juts out to sea and is connected to the mainland by the Togetsukyo bridge. We caught a local train to Kokufu Taga-jo Station, visited the stunning Tohoku History Museum and walked through the remains of Taga-jo Castle and explored the Shinto Shiogama-Jina Shrine which Bashō had visited. The shrine housed (or enshsrined) the various Kami (deities, spirits, forces of nature) were the guardian deities of seafarers, notably fisherman, and of pregnant women.

We then started along the path Bashō took to Shiogama and like Basho we took a boat that wound its way through the various islands to Matsushima. Matsushima was a holiday resort town and very popular with domestic tourists. We had limited time in the afternoon to explore the extremely popular Ojima Island before dusk fell.

Rolleiflex SL66
Ojima Island, Matsushima

It was a history day learning about and gaining a rough grasp of, the history of the emergence of feudal Japan during the Nara period (8th century), the attempts by the centralized government to bring the Tōhoku region of northern Japan under its control, the entry of Buddhism from China, and the central government abandoning direct rule in favor of a feudal system of local warlords or samurai in the 10th century. The samurai era, with the samurai as the ruling political class and its constant civil wars, emerged around 1185 land lasted 700 years until the Meiji Restoration (1868). This officially opened a door for the full-fledged modernization of Japan.

What impressed me during the day was the deep sense of design and aesthetics of the cultural artefacts, the buildings and the clothes. There was the centrality of iki as an important aesthetic category in everyday life in traditional Japan, artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige intentionally eliminating a vanishing point in their ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) and the simplicity, minimalist design style of the architecture.

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