During Kenny’s Kendo demonstration, I looked up at the cherry blossoms.
The Kendo Shinai’s
clack echoes -
A cherry petal falls.
The Hanami celebration was a time for me to truly feel at one with this class. Never mind the delicious food, sake, music, and absolutely PERFECT weather, for me, this few hours of celebration allowed me to solidify relationships with my peers and feel as though we had all accomplished something together. What we accomplished was a 14-week introduction to our understanding of Japanese culture. Although I believe we all have a long way to go if we want to truly understand evanescence and form, I think we can all come out of this class saying that we’ve learned an awful lot about them. Having such an outspoken class was essential to this process; during our debates and discussions in class, I was often enlightened by one of my classmates’ thoughts, which occasionally swayed my opinion on the subject at hand as well. These thoughts often marinated in my mind for a while outside of class, and I now see the world from a different perspective. I feel lucky that I took this course at such a pivotal stage in my life, and have learned so much about how I want to spend my last year in college and the years beyond.
This past Thursday I was on the t in the morning going to my internship when the train stopped and the lights went out.
The black walls
Of the tunnel.
One idea that captured my interest this week is something Professor Inouye said in class; he said that during the modern period, animism gave rise to or became nationalism (Lecture, 3/6). I believe that this change occurred because “the world beyond Japan mattered in a way that required the Japanese to change their conception of space itself…Japan would become part of (world) space rather than the definition of space itself” (Inouye, 106). This statement might help explain the shift from animism to nationalism; since Japan was now opened up to the world, it needed a way to maintain it’s principles of oneness that stem from animism. As a result, this nationalist movement began. Another example of animism-become-nationalism is the familial structure in Japan; Inazo Nitobe writes in his instructional book, Bushido, “The individualism of the West…necessarily brings into strong relief the duties owed by one to the other; but Bushido held that the interest of the family and of the members thereof is intact—one and inseparable” (Nitobe, 88). It’s this very idea of “one and inseparable” that the Japanese shared with nature and their environment before the modern period, which transformed into nationalism. That same oneness is present in the concept of revenge: “He must perish by my hand; because he shed my father’s blood, I, who am his flesh and blood, must shed the murderer’s” (Nitobe, 114). In the same vein as my previous comments, I think that the idea of revenge through oneness is another example of animism on a different level. These ideas when blown up to the national scale are what made Japan into a nationalistic country during the modern period.
I went indoor climbing on Wednesday night and right as I was about to reach the top of a wall, I fell onto the soft mat below me and stayed there for about 2 minutes before getting back up.
The mat underneath me -
The last grip,
I feel nothing.
As we studied Basho this past week, I am most interested in the way evanescence and form play such an important role in his work. In many ways, Basho combines elements of modernity, and what preceded the modern (Lecture, 2/25). Professor Inouye said it best when he wrote “His haiku were meant to be inclusive without being vulgar, and modern without being dismissive of tradition. They express change as truth and truth as change” (Inouye, 75). I agree with this statement as I read many of his poems and travel stories in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It’s not so much that the subject matter of his poems are novel, but he writes with a certain, for lack of a better word, inclusiveness, which tells the truth but is not “vulgar,” as Professor Inouye notes. For example, Basho writes, “ I am awe-struck / To hear a cricket singing / Underneath the dark cavity / Of an old helmet” (Basho, 134). Here, he is inclusive in that he alludes to the battle of the Minamoto and the death of Atsumori, but abides by the tradition of simplicity in Japanese poetry by not being too descriptive. It’s interesting that within these lyrical moments, when Basho combines the modernity of truth and the tradition of form, Professor Inouye believes that “Basho was a self-concerned poet even as he advocated selflessness” (Inouye, 77). This was a difficult concept to grasp at first, but I love these contradictions that I keep finding within every aspect of Japanese culture. I honestly do believe that in ordered to be selfless, you must first be selfish; the desire to reach a higher state, for example, is technically a selfish desire, yet it’s the only way to retreat from that state and achieve selflessness. Basho achieved this in his poetry and prose, giving us insight into how we can potentially follow this same journey.
I was walking up the library steps on Saturday night when I witnessed paper lanterns with beautiful calligraphy on them being lit and released into the sky.
The writing on paper lanterns
Fades from view
As they ascend.
The idea of Hedonism is one that I struggle with but relate to on a daily basis. This “pursuit of pleasure” (Lecture, 2/20) in my opinion doesn’t always have to be a pursuit. Aren’t the lyrical moments that we encounter from time to time moments of pleasure? To me they are. To me, these moments stimulate feelings that border ecstasy. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the point is that I don’t actively pursue them, unlike the protagonist of Ihara Saikaku’s novel. The essence of Hedonism is captured in the song that the old woman hears near the Kiyomizu Temple: “How cruel the floating world, / Its solaces how few– / And soon my unmourned life / Will vanish with the dew” (Saikaku, 172). Having lived a privileged life, I find it hard to see the world as cruel, but I can understand the song’s sense of urgency, as our lives are so evanescent. This song’s message led her to a life as a cortesean, the ultimate pleasure seeker. She found herself in the same dilemma that’s described in Professor Inouye’s book when he writes, “Whether then or now, the buoyant exhilaration of the pleasure industry is hard to separate from the melancholy pull of anitya, the impermanence of all things” (Inouye, 71). I agree with how difficult it is to distinguish between the two, but the following reasoning comforts me a bit: “A: Life is evanescent and, as a result, sorrowful. / B: Sorrow heightens the beauty of things. / C: Therefore evanescent life is beautiful” (Inouye, 85). I couldn’t agree more. That is why the old woman in Saikaku’s novel did not commit suicide and instead chose a life of meditation and redemption.
This week, I did not experience a lyrical moment, so I do not have a poem to post. As a result, I feel a bit more stressed than I normally do, which could be the reason why I didn’t have a lyrical moment in the first place.
Yet again I see interesting contradictions in the readings and lectures for this week. Though I cannot say that I completely understand the idea of nothingness, I can get that it is something we all share (Lecture, 2/13). What I think I understand is that nothingness is similar to the lyrical moments that we all experience; the same way we can all experience the beauty of the sun, we can all encounter nothingness, which then makes everything nothing and nothing everything. Another example of contraction is in Merton’s book when he mentions “the desire for Nirvana” (Merton, 83) and yet “desire cannot stop itself from desiring” (Merton, 83). If we desire Nirvana, how do we achieve it knowing that Nirvana is a state of no desire? I believe that these contradictions make sense because life is so full of contradictions. So often we feel two competing emotions and we cannot choose between the two. Such is the case in Atsumori. Kumagai no Naozane states in the play “I have left my home…because of my grief at the death of Atsumori, who fell in battle by my hand” (64). I understand the contradiction between evanescence (his grief at Atsumori’s death) and form (the fact that he by practice had to kill the young man). I think Professor Inouye captures these paradoxes well when he writes “perhaps it is possible to assert a different order that exists within the physical world” (Inouye, 60). Here he combines two contradictory ideas of the physical and the metaphysical and the way I understand it, they are found within each other. These ideas are inseparable; you can’t have one without the other. I have come to accept and agree with these paradoxes, and I think once you do, these topics are much easier to understand.
I was walking home from rehearsal late on Wednesday night when I saw some street lamps illuminate the snow that was falling around them.
Illuminated by street lamps,
Drifts into darkness.
During the past week, what has fascinated me the most is the rise of the samurai, who originated as the sons of people in the Heian court (Lecture, 2/4). From this came our discussion of Kamo no Chomei, who practiced shukke, which we defined as leaving the world (literally, leaving the house) (Lecture, 2/6). Shukke is a way to rid ourselves of the struggle that comes with success and failure in life. Chomei says it best himself, “I struggled on for thirty years / in this unkind world…Therefore, / in my fiftieth spring / I retired from the world” (Chomei, 60). Though failure can be the reason for much of this struggle, “if it is the case that failure follows success, then the converse of this statement must also be true. Success follows failure. You cannot have one without the other” (Inouye, 50). This is the answer to the question that many of us were thinking: Why go through life if it’s going to be full of failure after success? Chomei’s contemplations in his book are wonderful because they occasionally contradict themselves, for example, “Buddha taught / we must not be / attached. / Yet the way I love this hut / is itself attachment. / To be attached / to the quiet and serene / must likewise be a burden (Chomei, 76). This contradiction is in large part the beauty of his writing and of the ideology that inspired it.
I was walking to Braker Hall on Wednesday afternoon when I looked up to see one layer of clouds that was stationary and one underneath it which was moving across the sky quickly.
Two layers of clouds –
The other moving.
This week, I learned that the ideologies of Japanese Buddhism are a lot like the Japanese people themselves, diverse and conceived from many different backgrounds (Lecture, 1/30). Though Buddhism began in India, then spread to China, Korea and finally Japan, I understand the transition from hakanasa to mujo, both pointing to the fact that nothing is constant (Lecture, 1/30). I learned that “love was associated with dream…[and] the Buddhist implication is clear (Inouye, 28). This idea was a major theme in As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, written by an unknown woman of high status during the Heian period of Japan. He poems touched me, for instance: “The hazy springtime noon- / That is the one I love / When light green sky and fragrant blossoms / Are all alike enwrapped in mist” (As I Crossed, 84). That poem is a great example of how she captured the beauty of love, spring, and dream; her simple image of the hazy springtime noon made me see the haziness when there is mist in the air, making everything dreamlike. I look forward to learning more about the differences between Buddhism and Animism, as Buddhism is more symbolic and Animism is non-symbolic.
I was riding the train to my internship on Friday morning when I crossed over the Charles River and saw the Boston skyline.
Buildings alongside the river
Through the train’s windows
I am interested to find out how the two main concepts of this course, evanescence and form, (Lecture, 1/16) apply to every aspect of Japanese culture. For example, I enjoyed the connection between Japanese poetry and baseball (Inouye, 15). Form dominates both. Making connections like this will be an integral part of learning about Japanese culture as well as I can. There are things I agree with. For example, I agree that sadness is a beautiful thing (Lecture, 1/23). My favorite films all have incredibly sad endings, but there is something that is so beautiful about it and I am keen to learn more about how Japanese culture frames this idea. While learning about kami (Kitagawa, 44), my favorite aspect of religion in Japan is that “the past, present, and future [are] not mutually exclusive” (Kitagawa, 54). This is a difficult idea to grasp. My interpretation is that our lives are an amalgamation of the cycle that our ancestors have lived through and we endure every day. I suggest that this is because of the nature of evanescence and form and how the paradox of these two ideas blends together our past, present, and future.