Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyRetracing the footsteps of 17th-century wandering poet Basho, whose The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a classic, Downer set out to discover a traditional, preindustrial Japan hidden beneath that country's modernized exterior. A Londoner who spends three months of every year in rural Japan, she meticulously records her impressions of provincial villages where native gods are still worshipped, and where many people had never met a foreigner before. She visited Shinto shrines, wrote haiku in Japanese, sojourned by sacred mountains and along Japan's coast, constantly comparing her own experiences with those of Basho in a way that often intrudes on the narrative flow. There is little left of the past in modern Japan, according to Downer, and this self-conscious attempt to draw close to Basho in spirit, though at times monotonous, will be read with interest by students of Japanese culture. ( July )
Library Journal - Library JournalThree hundred years ago, in 1689, Japan's renowned poet Matsuo Basho embarked on a journey through northern Honshu. Guided by Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Downer duplicates his journey, searching for the yamabushi , ``the hermit priests of the northern mountains.'' Along the way she encounters a rural and remote Japan, generally inaccessible to foreigners--foreign even to many Japanese. Downer (who has also written books on Japanese cooking) teaches much about the culture, history, and geography of the land she traverses. Her literary account is seasoned with frequent use of Basho's own words and haiku . Although a map would have been helpful, On the Narrow Road is an enlightening and delightful experience for readers at all levels.-- Kenneth W. Berger, Duke Univ. Lib., Durham, N.C.
- Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
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