Modern Times: In paths less travelled

First winter rain –
I plod on,
Traveller, my name
Basho (1644-94)

Matsuo Kinsaku was a compulsive traveller. Japan’s greatest poet enjoyed his own company, lived an austere life, had few possessions, and focussed his mind on the beauty of the world around him. He spent his life wandering across the country in search of new sights and experiences. In contemporary times, do we travel for intellectual stimulation or is it merely a break from the demands of modern life? Travel should be encouraged at every opportunity. It bene fits the economy, brings relaxation and enhances wellbeing in a way that the material consumption does not. It is easier and cheaper to travel now than at any other time in history, but this reality may have diminished the spiritual and intellectual value of exploring new frontiers. At a young age, Kinsaku adopted the sobriquet ‘Basho’ after the wide-loaf banana tree rare to Japan. Basho embraced the solitary life, devoted to aesthetic, artistic and spiritual discovery. “I wandered on,” he once re flected, “a cloud in the wind, wanting only to capture the beauty of the owers and birds.” Basho applied the beauty he discovered to his art, allowing him to challenge the rules that had for a generation rendered haiku a stagnant form of poetry. Several of Basho’s now famous contemporaries also journeyed far in search of understanding and perfection. Japan’s most famous warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, also lived at the dawn of the Edo Period (1603 to 1867). He left home in 1603 to embark upon musha shugyo, a pilgrimage in which warriors perfected themselves through a series of duels. e warrior pilgrimage was inspired by the ritualistic, aesthetic wanderings of Zen monks. Musashi ultimately fought 60 duels without once tasting defeat, before retiring to a mountain cave from where he wrote the seminal Book of Five Rings. Musashi and Basho, as well as painters, potters and other artists, travelled widely – in spite of the opposition of the government of the day. Free travel was discouraged by the Togukawa Shogunate, due to the military government’s strong preference for institutional and regional segmentation. It is the great irony of globalisation that limits are increasingly placed on the movement of people at a moment when the free movement of capital is encouraged. Tourism, unlike migration, is more accessible than ever. Basho’s solitary lifestyle and commitment to perfection would today be considered peculiar, but journeys abroad can bring intellectual and spiritual stimulation if our eyes and minds are open to such possibilities. Writers, architects, athletes, journalists and the political class would gain much from time spent considering how things are done elsewhere, and what application this may have on their work. Such journeys would also help cultivate for the traveller a global network of talented acquaintances who have similar interests but di fferent backgrounds and experiences. The compass of the modern traveller should lead them to seek out new and the di erent experiences. e inclination of modern traveller to gravitate to people who share their language, habits and culinary tastes diminishes the value and beauty of any journey. In this modern era of diminishing diversity, it is possible to travel extensively without altering one’s diet, attempting another language, or buying locally made products. Michael Wesley, former Executive Director of the Lowy Institute, once stated that Australians are “insular internationalists” who travel widely but ignore the world. A journey overseas does not bring a guarantee of new experiences – they must be identi fied and sought. The era in which we live has increased the ease with which we can venture to foreign lands but limited the opportunities to experience that which is truly di fferent. Opportunities remain to be grasped by those who understand the beauty and intellectual stimulation that travel can bring. @AndrewHunter__  

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