By Laura Sabia
Unable to sleep, I waited alone through the first hours of the morning in the guest bedroom of my friend’s house in New Jersey.
I lie awake-
New day’s first light
Breaks through my window
We begin the semester with a major contradiction, one that will remain with us throughout our study of Japanese culture. Professor Inouye tells us that the main object of our studies will be to understand this paradox: the interaction of form and flux (Inouye 2) or “evanescence and form” (Lecture 1/16). Evanescence (hakanasa and mujo) is the concept that “all things [change] all the time.” (Inouye 17) Form (kata) refers to a certain shape or pattern of all things in life (Lecture 1/16). The intersection of these two elements leaves us with a bit of an oxymoron- organized chaos? I can’t say this is idea is easily grasped, but nonetheless, I like it. The Japanese have basic conclusions about reality: that the world is both restrictive- filled with rules and obligations- and fleeting. (Inouye 22) I can’t help but feel a little frustrated about all this. On one hand, I’m anxious to run through life trying to take everything in, but on the other hand I’m held back by the molasses that is ‘form’. Maddening to be sure. So how to make manifest an intimate relationship with the world while remaining within the boundaries of form? Challenging. The Japanese attempt by writing waka: brief, lyrical poems about direct experience in the world. (Lecture 1/23) I’m thrilled with this idea, although equally as frustrated by the limitations of the art. My favorite line of the few poems we’ve looked at so far is Ōtomo Yakamochi’s “I know well/That in this cicada-husk world/there is no permanence…” (Inouye 13) This image of the cicada shell is central to the Japanese worldview and I believe it echoes of everything we’ve discussed this past week: form (in this case a physical shape) and change (an insect’s metamorphosis). Both exist concurrently in this tiny vacant husk. How strange and wonderful!