With many forms of literary work, there is bound to be similarities among them. The Japanese in particular are no exception. For example, they honor past literary works by commissioning literary pieces in their name. To the Japanese, imitation is regarded as a form of flattery. In particular, it is no surprise that Matsuo Basho’s traveling diary, Oku no Hoso Michi, shows any resemblance to Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa Nikki.
Unlike any other works of its time, Tosa Nikki is a fictional travel diary written by Ki no Tsurayuki’s point of view as a woman. At the beginning of the diary, he clearly states he is a woman, as “diaries are things written by men.” However, through Tsurayuki’s notes, people were able to deduct his actual gender. This is somewhat groundbreaking in Japanese literature at the time as he is not only one of the first to do this, but one of the first great pieces to be written in kana prose, a writing system that was created by the Japanese based off of Chinese kanji. Between Tsurayuki and Basho’s time, about six centuries have passed. By then, kana has become more of a commodity in Japan. It is actually Basho who writes differently from others of his time.
As one of the first known literary diaries, Tosa Nikki retells of events day by day. It is easy for readers to follow along, as events are linear. Events in diaries such as Kagero Nikki and Murasakishikibu Nikki are not as easy to follow along as diaries evolved over time to be more of a personal collection of thoughts and memories than a literal recollection of events. Unlike Tsurayuki, Basho approaches Oku no Hoso Michi as a diary than a journal; however, his thoughts are easy to follow as he recalls dates and his location throughout the diary.
Coincidentally, both Oku no Hoso Michi and Tosa Nikki are both traveling diaries. Tosa Nikki retells from the point of view of a woman as she travels with a governor from the province of Tosa up to the former capital of Kyoto by boat. To the 21st century mind, it does not sound like such a difficult journey, however, it is quite the opposite when one reads Tsurayuki’s character’s recounts. They “offered prayers for a calm and peaceful voyage” and her companions show “signs of anxiety,” particularly over the weather. They even worry about pirates ransacking them. Tsurayuki does not go into detail of the gruesome facts that occurred during the journey, however, by the end of the diary, he states as a matter of fact that not everybody survived the journey.
Like Tsurayuki, Basho’s journey was not without danger. Basho had great desire to witness the areas or sceneries famous poets and artists told through their works about Japan. At the beginning of Oku no Hoso Michi, Basho prepares for his long journey by mending his pants, strengthening his legs, getting a strap for his hat, and even sells his hut. The route that he takes is also peculiar as he goes along the east coast as far as Iwate prefecture. From there, he crosses over to...