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Issue 43 - Walking in a great poet's footsteps (Sendai)

Whisky Magazine Issue 43
October 2004

 

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Walking in a great poet's footsteps (Sendai)

Dave Broom travels to the Sendai Distillery near Tokyo

We all have our obsessions. Some have more than others. One of mine is always carrying a number of books, no matter how short the trip. They're not necessarily read, but they act as a sort of comfort blanket.

The selection usually comprises a novel, some non-fiction and a volume of poetry. Something to cover different moods. In Japan, part of the portable library was a translation of Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North which was to prove strangely apposite.

Basho was Japan's greatest haiku poet, the man who liberated a heavily-mannered style of verse, creating in its place one where the human and natural world became one.

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn of the bamboo...” he wrote. “Your poetry issues of its
own accord when you and the object have become one.”

The nature of haiku is one of concentration. We tend to think of it in terms of rules, whereas it is a form which in a deceptively light fashion shows the beauty found in the everyday and the mundane, though as Basho's work demonstrates, this apparent simplicity actually hides a deeper, spiritual truth.

The Narrow Road is his greatest way book, part travelogue, part haiku diary, and today we were travelling in his footsteps, to Nikka's Sendai distillery situated in the foothills of the mountains which lie a 45 minute drive west of the city of the same name, itself a two hour bullet train ride north east from Tokyo.

Basho arrived in Sendai on ...

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