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#2511 - Thursday, June 29, 2006 - Editor: Jerry Katz,,3-2247939,00.html

Ancient poems propelling a modern pencil boom  

By Leo Lewis  

MATSUO BASHO, Japan’s most famous poet, has triggered an unlikely revival in the flagging pencil
market more than 300 years after his death.  

A book of his poems has caused sales of the traditional HB and 2H wooden pencils to soar by nearly
a third in the past few months.  

Basho, often dubbed the “father of haiku”, is idolised by the Japanese. His works are drummed into
every schoolchild, his deft observation of the natural world emulated by millions of haiku

A publishing company sought recently to exploit that enthusiasm by creating Enpitsu de Oku no
Hosomichi (Tracing the Narrow Road to the Deep North with a Pencil)
— a book that has tracing paper
between each page so that readers too can copy Basho’s poems as a form of meditation.  

The book has sold nearly a million copies, and the effect on the pencil market has been explosive.
Japanese have been flocking to stationery shops, and pencil sales have soared by about 3.5 million
a month.  

The tracing paper responds best to a proper, old-fashioned pencil — a propelling pencil will not
do. Because readers like to trace the same poem several times, and to keep their pencils sharp,
they get through them far more quickly than the prime consumers of pencils — schoolchildren.  

Readers are also encouraged to compose their own haiku in the same calligraphic style as Basho.
Practising the lettering has further increased the demand for pencils.  

Shiyou Asai, editor of the book, hit on the tracing idea as an antidote to the frenetic lives of
working Japanese. “We always seem to be looking for something we can read quickly or easily while
commuting. We are used to reading things too fast, so I wondered whether people would like to
experience the reverse,” she said.  

Mitsubishi Pencil, which has 50 per cent of the Japanese market, is delighted. Yukako Matsuzaki, a
spokesperson, said: “People are always being rather hasty in everything these days, and people must
have found it good to return to the analogue world. Pencils are made of natural materials so it is
a sort of return to nature.”  


Kane tsukanu Mura wa nani wo ka Haru no kure  

A village where they ring no bells!
Oh what do they do at dusk in spring?  

Yamu kari no Yosamu ni ochite Tabine ka na  

A sick wild duck
Falling in the evening cold
These traveller’s lodgings!    

Excerpt from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, from

Station 8 - Unganji

There was a Zen temple called Unganji in this province. The priest Buccho used to live in isolation in the mountains behind the temple. He once told me that he had written the following poem on the rock of his hermitage with the charcoal he had made from pine.

This grassy hermitage,
Hardly any more
Than five feet square,
I would gladly quit
But for the rain.

A group of young people accompanied me to the temple. they talked so cheerfully along the way that I reached it before I knew it. The temple was situated on the side of a mountain completely covered with dark cedars and pines. A narrow road trailed up the valley, between banks of dripping moss, leading us to the gate of the temple across a bridge. The air was still cold, though it was April.

I went behind the temple to see the remains of the priest Buccho's hermitage. It was a tiny hut propped against the base of a huge rock. I felt as if I was in the presence of the Priest Genmyo's cell or the Priest Houn's retreat. I hung on a wooden pillar of the cottage the following poem which I wrote impromptu.

Even the woodpeckers
Have left it untouched,
This tiny cottage
In a summer grove.

photo: Unganji Temple, the site of Buccho's hermitage.  

~ ~ ~  

The excerpt above is shown in Japanese in the image below:  

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