Over the next six months this website will follow a journey around Japan to photographically portray sites related to ancient Japanese literature - Utamakura. This project was originally devised three years ago in London by photographer John Tran and writer Paul St John Mackintosh. From preliminary work-in-progress an exhibition of 30 images from the Kansai region opened at the Asuka Historical Museum in October.

The history of Utamakura goes back to the first written collation of poems, the Man'youshu or 'Anthology of Myriad Leaves', which was produced in the late eighth century when Asuka was the capital of Japan. Thousands of uta - songs - were written about hundreds of places and this project will only take in a fraction of them. However it is hoped that through this work a portrait of contemporary Japan will emerge placed in the context of its extraordinary and often passionate literary history.

The website will be updated weekly by John Tran and Tamiko Nakagawa.

This project has been made possible with the generous assistance and sponsorship of:
The Asuka Historical Museum
The Asuka Preservation Fund
The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
The Toshiba International Foundation



歌枕 --日本の古歌に詠まれた場所-- を辿って、古今東西の歌が詠まれた空間に身を置いて写真を撮影し、その写真とオリジナルの和歌・俳句等を、このWebsiteで紹介していきます。

今現在の影像と古い歌を通して、時間 の流れや空間の持つ不思議さを少しでも感じとっていただければ幸いです。 そして半年間、私たちと旅をしているようにこのページを覗いて頂ければさらに嬉しいと思います。

John Tran & Tamiko Nakagawa



The first utamakura we have come to is the furthest point north on Basho's Oku no Hosomichi. It's beauty he described as 'lonely but also guilty - as if for some secret evil'.

We have arrived at 6.00am, and the sun is just rising over Mount Chokai, we go to visit the site of Tsukumojima, which in Basho's time was a bay, dotted with 99 tiny islands. An earthquake in 1804 pushed the land up and the islands have become hillocks with the surrounding fields being cultivated for rice. Sora, Basho's travelling companion, wrote a haiku about Kisagata which takes on a strange significance given the change in the landscape;


最初に訪れた歌枕は「奥の細道」最北の地。 芭蕉はこの地の美しさを寂しさに悲しみをくわえて 地勢魂をなやますに似たりと形容している。

現地には朝6時、太陽が鳥海山から昇るころに到着した。目的地の 九十九島は、芭蕉の時代には99の小島の点在する入江だった。 1804年の地震によって入江は陸となり、小島は水田に囲まれた 丘陵とかわっている。芭蕉に同行した曽良が象潟でよんだ句は、 不思議に、後の世の地変を暗示しているようにも思える。
Photo What heavenly sense
Has taught the birds -
No waves rise so high
As to flood their nests?

(Basho - The Narrow Road to the North)



Directly after Kisagata we have travelled on to the port town of Sakata, and we have to spend a few hours killing time before we can check into a hotel. We are in a strange state after only a few hours sleep on the highway bus and when we visited the Ken Domon museum of photography it seemed like a kind of paradise; the sky was a deep blue with a few shining white clouds. Through the pillars and windows of the cool architecture of the museum Mount Chokai is visible with snow on its peak.

Up very early the next morning to take a picture of Mogami gawa. Outside at 5am it is dark and looks very windy, but by 6am it is pouring. Eventually it clears up enough for me to go out and get blown to the place where yesterday we saw thousands of ducks bobbing up and down on the river. Basho had come down the river by boat and wrote this poem about the river in Sakata -


象潟から、まっすぐ港町酒田にやってきたが、 ホテルにチェックインするまでかなり時間があった。 高速バスで仮眠をとっただけという状態でたずねた 土門拳写真博物館はすばらしかった。深い青空に白い 断雲が輝き、博物館の柱と窓ごしに雪をいただいた鳥海山がみえた。

翌日は最上川撮影のため朝早く起きる。5時、そとは 暗く、風が強い。6時強い雨。雨足が弱まるのをまって 強風のなか。昨日たくさんのアヒルが浮かんでいた場所 まででかけた。 芭蕉は船で川を下り、酒田でこの歌をよんでいる。
Photo Drowned deep down
In the river Mogami
Beneath the turbulent waves
The flames of the summer sun.




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Copyright (c) 1995 ASUKA HISTORICAL MUSEUM All Rights Reserved.
Any request to kakiya@lint.ne.jp
Authoring: Yasuhito Kakiya [K@KID'S]