The islands of Matsushima

Wade's Drawing

"Untitled (Morning coffee)," by Wade Wenzel

“Much praise had already been lavished upon the wonders of the islands of Matsushima. Yet if further praise is possible, I would like to say that here is the most beautiful spot in the whole country of Japan, and that the beauty of these islands is not in the least inferior to the beauty of Lake Dotei or Lake Seiko in China. The islands are situated in a bay about three miles wide in every direction and open to the sea through a narrow mouth on the south-east side. Just as the River Sekko in China is made full at each swell of the tide, so is this bay filled with the brimming water of the ocean, and innumerable islands are scattered over it from one end to the other. Tall islands point to the sky and level ones prostrate themselves before the surges of water. Islands are piled above islands, and islands are joined to islands, so that they look exactly like parents caressing their children or walking with them arm in arm. The pines are of the freshest green, and their branches are curved in exquisite lines, bent by the wind constantly blowing through them. Indeed, the beauty of the scene can only be compared to the most divinely endowed of feminine countenances, for who else could have created such beauty but the great god of nature himself? My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice.

“Ojima Island where I landed was in reality a peninsula projecting far out into the sea. This was the place where the Priest Ungo had once retired, and the rock on which he used to sit for meditation was still there. I noticed a number of tiny cottages scattered among pine trees and pale blue threads of smoke rising from them. I wondered what kind of people were living in those isolated houses, and was approaching one of them with a strange sense of yearning, when, as if to interrupt me, the moon rose glittering over the darkened sea, completing the full transformation to a night-time scene. I lodged in an inn overlooking the bay, and went to bed in my upstairs room with all the windows open. As I lay there in the midst of the roaring wind and driving clouds, I felt myself to be in a world totally different from the one I was accustomed to. My companion Sora wrote:

Clear voiced cuckoo
Even you will need
The silver wings of a crane
To span the islands of Matsushima.”

- Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, translated by Noboyuki Yuasa

3 thoughts on “The islands of Matsushima

  1. Deb

    Your photos make me long for the Boundary Waters. Did you pick wild blueberries for the pancakes? And your small flower- Pale Corydalis, which I only know because I identified it yesterday as a weed growing among my eggplants! I didn’t pull it of course.

  2. Greg

    Hi Deb! It was a good trip but I needed something more… hard to describe. It was beautiful up there, three buddies and I spent the whole trip fishing on Saganaga.

    We did indeed pick the blueberries. We didn’t find a super-productive spot so it took us a while to collect enough, but it was still rewarding and made for some delicious pancakes.

    Thanks for the flower ID! That’s pretty funny you just identified it yourself. It’s a beautiful tiny flower and I’m glad yours is still living amongst your eggplants. :)


  3. Lené

    Hey Greg,
    What an interesting post! I began reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North a while back but something must have gotten in the way. Your post will have me hunting around the house today, determined to pull it back out. Thank you for a meditative start to this fine Friday. :)

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