In 936, Ki no Tsurayuki completed the Tosa Nikki, a work of prose written from a female attendant’s perspective that detailed his return to the capital from the Tosa Province. Although Tosa Nikki is the first “diary” of literary value that contributed to the development of nikki bungaku, the tradition of intimate diary-writing that became prominent among woman, Tsurayuki’s work is actually more of a journal (kikō) modeled after Chinese court diaries. In 1694, over 700 years later, this practice of record-keeping during one’s travels was still being perpetuated by another celebrated writer, Matsuo Bashō, in his Oku no Hosomichi, in which he recalls his epic journey into Japan’s deep North. Coming from two separate periods, these journals contain vast differences that reflect the changes of the times.
One thing that seems to have remained constant in Japanese literature even over the span of centuries is the presence of poetry. Both works employ the use of many poems throughout, Tosa Nikki recording the poems written or recited spontaneously by other travelers (but usually not her own) and Oku no Hosomichi containing poems written by Bashō himself and his disciples whenever struck with a beautiful scene in nature or encountering some memorable moment. However, the nature of the poems included is quite different.
Tosa Nikki uses traditional waka, although as much of it comes from common-folk, sailors, and even children, which is rather uncommon in the courtly Heian period. Bashō however, includes a newer type of poetry that he was famous for—haiku. Haiku comes from the first 5-7-5 lines of haikai no renga, a crude and comical variation of linked verse poetry. Naturally, coming from these roots, some of the haiku Bashō wrote in Oku no Hosomichi sound quite outrageous are a stark difference from the solemn, eloquent poems of Tosa Nikki. For example, one would find this poem from Tsurayuki’s work, using conventional elements of nature and elegant confusion: “A wave is but a single thing, we’re told; but from its hue / You’d think it was a mixture—flowers and snow!” (Sargent, 1955) In contrast, Bashō wrote this poem after some uncomfortable lodgings: “Bitten by fleas and lice, / I slept in a bed, / A horse urinating all the time / Close to my pillow.” –a very different feel. (Yuasa, 1966) There are very strange and downright dirty images, such as the fleas and lice biting him, and the image of a horse urinating near the place where he lays his head down to sleep is rather crude and comical. Another example of a humorous haiku in Oku no Hosomichi is one written after Bashō received sandals with blue cording as a gift: “It looks as if / Iris flowers had bloomed / On my feet – / Sandals laced in blue.” (Yuasa, 1966) In this poem, Bashō is admitting that having the color of a flower on his feet may look ridiculous, but he is grateful and has an attitude of not really caring that it looks absurd, he just accepts it and moves on.
This leads in to...