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Although I grew up in Kansas, I’ve had a long interest in Japan with many points of contact along the way. A Japanese history course at the University of Kansas, a two-year Army tour in Okinawa, visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a climb up Mt. Fuji, a sabbatical in Japan studying the Japanese Constitution, and about 20 trips to Japan visiting my wife, Miyo, and taking trips with her in her home country.  But never had we gone to the far or “deep north” of the largest of the four main Japanese islands, Honshu.

Several years ago, I happened upon the excellent travel book by Lesley Downer, On the Narrow Road to the Deep North: Journey into a Lost Japan. 300 years after haiku master, Basho’s, trip to the “deep north,” Downer tried to follow in his footsteps, walking and hitchhiking, eating flowers and sautéed grasshoppers, amongst other things. Before reading her fascinating book, I had not known of Basho. Matsuo Munefusa (1644 – 1694) was the most famous poet of the Edo period (1615 – 1868) in Japan.  His disciples built him a rustic hut and planted a banana plant (basho in Japanese) in his yard. Basho’s disciples called his house the basho house and Basho liked the term so much he changed his last name. Since then, he has been known as Matsuo Basho and his poetry is internationally renowned.

More… “Looking for Basho”

Fritz Snyder, J.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Montana. He has written about the Montana and Japanese Constitutions, the links between great works of literature and the Supreme Court, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He has also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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In 1817, a former forester by the name of Karl Drais undertook an excursion on the paved road from Mannheim, Germany to Schwetzingen, just west of Heidelberg, and back. These eight miles took him just an hour (a stagecoach would have needed about four). Instead of merely walking, he drove himself or rode on a special vehicle he had constructed for himself: the Draisine, or dandy horse, made from wood. The local newspaper didn’t even take notice. We don’t know if Drais was aware of the importance of his vehicle, which we remember today as the prototype of the first bicycle — in other words, the first mechanical individual means of transportation without a horse.

The revolutionary aspect of the Draisine was the fact that it had two wheels in a line rather than next to each other. Drais acquired something like a patent in his home state of Baden, and later in Prussia and France. However, his invention was not yet a bike in the sense that we know today. It didn’t have pedals yet, and was propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with his or her feet. This direct connection with the ground gave riders the feeling of being somewhat in control, while the bike as we know it today requires more trust in the device. It was something the people back then simply didn’t have. More… “Revolution on Two Wheels”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Being a woman of a certain age, I’ve indulged myself in browsing red hats. I’ve resisted the impulse purchase so far, having failed to find the perfect wide-brimmed number to make me feel like a ’40s movie star on the prowl. I haven’t yet fully embraced the notion of being “a red hat lady.” Even so, whenever I come across such a group, I feel an up-welling sisterhood with those women of my age cohort, maybe because I respond to the almost ironic in-your-face quality of the smiling troops wearing red hats. And, yes, I’ve never seen a red-hat-wearing woman who didn’t look happy. But not all women over 60 wear red hats when they go on excursions. Some wear motorcycle helmets with a panache that would do any red-hat lady proud.

 

One such woman, Joyce [not her… More…