Driving down the highway in New Jersey in the evening, with flakes of snow furiously blown into the windshield.
Illuminated by headlights
Streaks of snow
[No image posted this week]
One of the things that struck me the most about Japan when I first visited was the overwhelming emphasis on appearance – the intricate hand-wrapped packaging, the flawlessly round melons that cost 5000 yen, carefully applied makeup that almost every woman seemed to be wearing, and ubiquitous uniforms. Why is it that in Japan, so much emphasis is placed on imposing formality on evanescence? Or in the phrasing of our discussion this week, why is there such an emphasis placed on ordering the “here-and-now,” which by definition will be gone the next instant? To help answer this question, we turn to the haikai poetry of Matsuo Basho. Haikai poetry, while bound by strict rules and conventions (the 5-7-5 syllable count), represents a “lyrical blending of the poet’s emotions with all elements of [the] context” (Inouye 74). Basho calls this fueki ryuko (不易流行), with the first half of the term referring to the unchanging form of the poetry and the latter half referring to the sincere emotion experienced by the poet when faced with the lyrical moment. As human beings, we have an intense desire to identify with our surroundings and achieve what Basho theorizes as butsuga ichinyo (物我一如) – becoming one with our surroundings (Inouye 76). A few weeks ago we discussed michi in the form of various “michi” or “dō” – jūdō, kendō, kōdō. Perhaps these disciplines are the functionally the same as Basho’s road (michi) in pursuing the state of butsuga ichinyo. So why is it that all of these, from Basho’s poetry to traditional martial arts, emphasize form? This question reminds me of a movie I watched many years ago named The Legend of 1900, about a pianist born on a cruise ship and never leaves. In one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, he eloquently describes the concepts that we have been discussing: “Take a piano. The keys begin, the keys end. You know there are 88 of them and no-one can tell you differently. They are not infinite, you are infinite. And on those 88 keys the music that you can make is infinite…But if that keyboard is infinite there’s no music you can play.”