All That We See or Seem

When Bashō, following Zen, implies again and again that life is a dream, something in me rebels. His entire practice was to capture concrete, sensory details of the physical world, so “dreamlike” seems like a contradiction. Yet even his final hokku, dictated as he was dying, and partial because his assistant did not hear the […]

‘Yamato’ Means ‘Great Harmony’

Fifteen miles down the rail line from Hiroshima, City of Peace, is the Kure Maritime Museum, more commonly called The Yamato Museum, a paean to the greatness of Japan’s navy in WWII. The Yamato, largest battleship ever built, was completed at Kure Dockyard the week after Pearl Harbor and was sunk by the US in […]


As the site of the world’s first atomic-bombing, and a consequence of suffering its horrors, Hiroshima calls itself “City of Peace” and promotes nonviolence and nuclear disarmament. But it is also a normal, mid-century-ugly city, with 1.2 million inhabitants, a diverse modern economy, a symphony, museums, parks, a pro baseball team, and irritable cabbies who […]


It was hot in Kyoto, with the Gion Festival underway, and it would stay hot. Globally it was the hottest month in recorded history. In a week, 57 people died in Japan and another 18,347 were taken to hospital for heat injuries. There was a high-pressure front, the news said. The Gion Festival originated in […]

How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?

I was caught off-guard, in Matsumoto and then Yamanaka Onsen—the middle of Honshu—to find Bashō again. That was only because I had personalized his journey through northern Japan by walking a small part of it myself. But I knew he returned home by walking down the western coast and across the width of Japan again. […]

Daio Wasabi Farm

At the train station announcers called, Matsumooootoooooo, over and over again, as a Japan Rail employee issued tickets to Hotaka, with Japan’s largest wasabi farm. It was overcast in Nagano Prefecture, hot and muggy despite the elevation of what are called the Japanese Alps. Hotaka, now part of the bigger city of Azumino, is on […]

Yokota, USA

It was a full day of trains and walking to get from an ancient mountain town to the coast, then down to Yokota Air Base, on the western edge of Tokyo. I was meeting one of my oldest friends there, a retired US Army sergeant-major named Frenchy, who was my boss in military diving. We […]

Hijiori Onsen to Sendai

The man who ran the bodega in a back street of Hijiori Onsen served me three cups of coffee, each in a new cup, with new saucer, when nothing else in town was open. It was seven a.m., and I had been up since five. He looked older than I think he was. I told […]

Akakura Onsen to Hijori Onsen

It was a gorgeous morning, cool and sunny, and I would be under conifers much of the day to cross the Natagiri Pass. Basho and Sora had hired a young man for a guide, who wore a short sword and carried an oak walking stick that could no doubt serve as a cudgel, to cross […]