Narrow Rails

Narrow Rails


On my way to Sonjoji temple, I sit on the Tokyo subway with dour-faced salarymen.

To reach the forest temples of Nikku, I hurtle 200 miles an hour across Honshu.

Click by click, a cog railway bears me to sacred Koya-San amid its mandala of mountains.

In search of ancient Japan — its Zen temples, manicured gardens and Buddhist priests muttering prayers in black robes — I find myself on trains.

On this afternoon, I am leaving Tokyo and its ultra-modernity for Takayama, an ancient town in the countryside. I travel by shinkansen. They call it a “bullet train,” and I wonder if that’s only because of its speed.

I pull out my notebook, and my copy of Narrow Road to the Interior, a tiny book by the poet Basho. In 1689, he set off on Japan’s mountain trails, recording his thoughts and writing haiku. Those who remain behind watch the shadow of a traveler’s back disappear,he wrote.

I read a few pages, and as the shinkansen glides beyond the city, I try my own.

Slanted rooftops line
Terraced hills by bamboo groves.
I go with the train.

Read the full essay at Nowhere Magazine Longform.