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Narrow Road to Oku (Illustrated Japanese Classics) Paperback – 1 Apr 1997
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This bilingual edition of "The Narrow Road to Oku" features a translation by Donald Keene and original kiri-e illustrations by Miyata Masayuki.
About the Author
Translation: DONALD KEENE U.S. scholar, and translator of Japanese literature, Donald Keene was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University, where he received a PhD in 1949. He studied Japanese literature at Cambridge University, in England and Kyoto University. Keene's scholarly works include The Japanese Discovery of Europe (1952; revised edition, 1969) and a series of volumes on the history of Japanese literature which began with World Within Walls (1976) and continued with Dawn to the West (2 vols, 1984). His translations of Japanese literary works include The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori monogatari; tr. 1956), Essays in Idleness (Tsurezure- gusa; tr. 1967), The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon chushingura; tr. 1971), and fiction by Mishima Yukio and Dazai Osamu. Keene became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. The Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture was established at Columbia University in the same year. Illustrations: MASAYUKI MIYATA (1926-1997) Masayuki Miyata was born in Akasaka, Tokyo in 1926. He was discovered by the distinguished writer Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, and he went on to create his own distinct realm in kiri-e (cut-out illustrations). His cut-out pictures, made with mere sheets of paper and a cutting blade, and their exceptional accessibility to people from all countries, have won admiration. In 1981, his work Japanese Pieta was selected for the modem religious art collection in the Vatican Museum-he is only the fourth Japanese artist so honored this century. In 1995, the bi-centennial anniversary of the UN, Miyata was selected from contemporary artists worldwide to be the UN's official artist, the first Japanese to hold the post. His masterpiece, Red Fuji, was reproduced in special limited edition in 184 countries around the globe. Miyata continued to be actively engaged in international art circles as the most prominent kiri-e artist in Japan until his death in 1997. His representative works include illustrations for Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to Oku), Taketori monogatari (Tale of a Bamboo-Cutter), Man'yo koi-uta (Poems of Love from the Man'yoshu), and Hana no Ran (Passion in Disarray).
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Anyway, it's a sumptuous edition of this classic piece of literature with beautiful contemporary-style illustrations and a pleasure to read and handle.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
What might surprise the reader is that The Narrow Road to Oku is more prose than poetry, as it is essentially a travelogue and journal. In rather succinct and yet evocative prose, Basho captures many emotions that will be familiar to the traveler and likely to inspire wanderlust: sorrow at parting with friends, excitement at setting out on the road, admiration of sights seen on the road and acquaintances made, contemplation of ages past, and joy at returning home. Basho's haiku serve almost to both summarize and elevate the prose. For me, I found his reflections on nature and on "mono no aware" (the pathos of impermanence) to be the most compelling. Personally, I found the passage where Basho finds himself weeping, unaware (and unconcerned) about the passage of time as he considers the famous battle by the Koromo River and composes a pair of haiku ("The summer grasses ..." and "In the verbena ...") equal to the famous poem by Tu Fu ("Countries may fall ...") to be among the most gripping. Perhaps because he is capable of such moving passages, one is even more struck by the range of his observations, which are not always so lofty--Basho's haiku about the horses urinating, perhaps because it comes right after the deeply profound passage I mentioned before, is particularly striking. As enjoyable as Basho's prose is (the opening passage--"The months and days are the travelers of eternity"--in particular), the poetry is simply fantastic--at the risk of sounding greedy, I was left wishing that Basho had included even more haiku poems.
Note, however, that this work will not be for everyone. Basho and his intended audience are steeped in a culture, history, geography, and set of literary allusions that is quite removed from our own--as Donald Keene alludes to, this can be a barrier for a modern Japanese reader, let alone a Western one. Moreover, the haiku themselves vary in their accessibility: some feature wordplay that is difficult to capture in translation, and most rely on a particular poetic, geographic, or historical allusion, limiting some poems' universality to some degree. Keene does an admirable job translating these poems, but especially for those of us who can read Japanese, it is easier to see that despite his best attempts something is still lost in translation at times. Some of this is due to the nature of the work (although, there were a number of times where I wished that the footnotes were a little bit more copious), others are due to the translation. Keene is a master translator, and overall his translation is quite good--my quibbles are mostly minor, and deal more with style than substance. For example, Keene seems to have a tendency to add words to Basho's haiku ... which often provide more context but sometimes with the drawback of changing the flow and focus of the poem a bit (especially when he chooses to add verbs--most of Basho's poems have just one verb, if any at all--Keene often will add another verb or two to try and clarify the action, although sometimes this adds "action" where there is none in the original). Sometimes word choices are a little strange (if I could not read Japanese, I admit I'd have had to consult a dictionary to understand what the "staling" horses were doing), and he can be a bit inconsistent when deciding whether to translate (versus simply romanizing) place names; again, though, this is a very difficult task--as a place name often has at least one "meaning" in addition to simply being the name of a place, and that meaning is often key to understanding what Basho is writing about. Keene also must make some difficult decisions in translating Basho's prose, which tends to be very succinct and almost a little terse--yet, it can also feature rather long sentences made up of these short phrases. In English (and even modern Japanese) these would be run-on sentences, so Keene often creates many more sentences than Basho has in the original (e.g. the opening passage, "The months and days ..." is but 4 sentences in the original; I count 15 in the translation!). Again, I do not envy Keene this difficult task, and overall I think he does a great job in his translation. However, I think he probably also has left the door open for improved translations in the future.
Although I nitpick a bit in the preceding paragraph, this particular version has much to offer. I love the fact that this is a bilingual version--if you are a student of the Japanese language, it is great to be able to compare the translation with the original (and again, despite Keene's best efforts, Basho--like most poets--is still best appreciated in his own words). If you are competent in modern Japanese, reading Basho in the original is actually not too difficult most of the time (especially once one gets accustomed to the old kana usage, and the kireji such as "ya" and "kana"), and is quite illuminating. If you cannot read Japanese, it goes without saying that the bilingual aspect will not be of much value, other than perhaps aesthetic value. Speaking of aesthetics, regardless of your language skills, the beautiful kiri-e (collages) by Miyata Masayuki will be appreciated by all.
Overall, this is a loving edition of a Japanese masterpiece. The original work is outstanding, the ability to refer to the original is invaluable for the student of Japanese, the translation is expert, and the collages are the whipped cream and cherry on top. All in all, while not quite perfect, it is still most likely the version to beat. Moreover, this is a work that, although short, should be lingered over and also re-read. Despite the reader's remove from Basho's time and place, it remains a pleasure to read today; especially if you are interested in haiku and/or the Japanese culture and literature, definitely pick it up.
you will love it
The book arrived in mint condition, was packaged well, and was delivered earlier than the due date of which I am happy about. It was an all around pleasant experience.