Wednesday, June 28, 2006

with all deliberate lack of speed.

The Times June 29, 2006

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 enthusiasts.

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,” he 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.”

BASHO'S LINE OF BEAUTY

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!

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