I was walking outside the rain garden by Lewis at night when I looked up and a breeze blew through the cherry trees.
A cool night breeze
Sways dark branches
Petals flutter all around
This class was far from what I expected to be in a very good way. I came into this class expecting to learn more about the day-to-day life of the Japanese people, but came away with a much deeper understanding of why Japan is the way it is. I really appreciated the philosophical approach this class took to the understanding of Japanese culture. Because of this class, I’ve learned to appreciate life’s evanescence and the beauty that comes with not taking everything for granted. I look at things more carefully now and appreciate the beauty that doesn’t last (I appreciate “lyrical” moments much more than I used to).This class has taught me the importance of living in the moment and taking things as they come. I also realized just how Western my view of the world is, if that makes sense. I’ve been looking at things through such an American/Western lens my whole life and this class really helped open my eyes and helped me start thinking about things in a new way. The class was engaging, the work was interesting and thought provoking and so was the material. I feel like I learned a lot and will take this new knowledge with me a long way (even if it sounds cheesy).
I was taking a study break outside Tisch and I looked out over the President’s lawn.
Tall bare trees
Extend countless twisting branches
Into the clear dusk sky
This week we learned about the modernization and westernization of Japan. When Japan was opened to the West, the cultural mentality had to shift from Japan as the world, to Japan in the world (Lecture 3/6/13). I found it very interesting to learn about how assimilating into the world changed everything from perspective, art, government, to even evanescence and form. The most drastic change that occurred was the shift in evanescence from samsara to progress (Lecture 3/6/13). Evanescence as progress differs from samsara in that the change has “a specific direction” (Inouye 105). This change was made to accommodate the fact that Japan needed to modernize to catch up with the rest of the world. Evanescence became linear, change became “either progress or regression” (Inouye 95). I found this concept somewhat contradictory. To me, it seems like form is being imposed on evanescence. We are helpless to evanescence, but instead as accepting it as just change, we categorize it on a linear scale (from regression to progress). I also thought this shift was sad in a way. Before Japan opened up to the rest of the world, its culture evolved in its own unique way. The Japanese were focused on the order of here-and-now, but the influence of the West put sights more on the future and things that are not present. I found this sad because I think that focusing solely on the present was a beautiful notion as the present moment is all we really have. However, even with western influence, Japan still kept much of its uniqueness. Inazo Nitobe tried to explain Japan’s uniqueness to the West in Bushido: The Soul of Japan. In it, Nitobe described bushido or “the way of the warrior.” It emphasized “justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty, practical education, and self-control” (Inouye 115). Bushido remained part of the Japanese mentality even though the country was going through drastic changes. In fact, bushido is still influential in Japan. In this way, I see bushido as a kind of form that resisted evanescence. In the past, all samurai lived by bushido and breaking from this form was looked down upon: “Nothing is more loathsome to him [samurai] than underhand dealings and crooked undertakings” (Nitobe 46). While evanescence itself was changing, the Japanese still recognized the importance of form and lived by a strict code. Overall, Japanese culture is still very different from that of the West. My favorite description of the differences between the West and Japan was Nitobe’s comparison of the rose and sakura. The Europeans find the rose beautiful while it hides thorns “as though loath or afraid to die rather than drop untimely; preferring to rot on her stem” (Inouye 115). The Japanese find sakura beautiful “which is ever ready to depart life at the call of nature” (Inouye 115).
Unfortunately I didn’t have a lyrical moment again this week.
This week, we dove deeper into the concepts of evanescence and form using Basho’s The Narrow Road to Oku. Not only does Basho’s poetry reflect the relationship between evanescence and form, but his style itself exemplifies the concepts. Basho’s style is a blend of evanescence and form in that it respects the old rules of poetry while still being innovative (Inouye 75). However, I must say that I don’t agree with Ueda’s idea that Basho’s poetry is “impersonal.” Basho’s goal was to “‘explore the relationship’ between the world of the road and his inner world of imaginings and memories” (Inouye 78). I understand that Basho was trying to be selfless, but I don’t think it’s possible to look at the world without imposing your own feelings upon it. In the poem on page 77 of Evanescence and Form about loneliness, Ueda claims that the loneliness Basho refers to is not his own, but “an impersonal atmosphere, a mood created by a natural landscape.” Again, I don’t agree with Ueda and I found that loneliness was a recurring theme throughout The Narrow Road to Oku. In the early stages of his journey, Basho visited a priest living underneath a “huge chestnut tree” (Basho 107). Although the tree clearly had a companion (so to speak) Basho wrote a poem of loneliness: “The chestnut by the eaves/In magnificent bloom/Passes unnoticed/By men of this world.” To me it seems that Basho was projecting his own loneliness onto what he saw. In my opinion, the best parts of The Narrow Road to Oku were the ones where Basho was extremely moved by the relationship between evanescence and form. At one of the shrines he visited, Basho found a rock engraved with a memorial to an old castle. Moss had grown over the engraved letters, but the message was still legible and this moved Basho to tears. I related to Basho in this moment. The fact that this small message had withstood “the battering of a thousand years” and “this ever-changing world” is quite beautiful (Basho 113). That small piece of human history had withstood evanescence. Later on his journey, Basho wept again, but for the opposite reason: evanescence had prevailed over the form imposed by humans on nature. Basho came upon the ruins of an old castle and wrote: “A thicket of summer grass/Is all that remains/Of the dreams and ambitions/Of ancient warriors” (Basho 118). Here I can also relate to the intense emotions Basho felt. We are helpless to evanescence, nothing we can do will stop things from ever changing. Overall, I quite enjoyed Basho’s tale. Although I did find it strange that he kept using the singular “I” when he had a companion for almost his entire journey.
By Nina Watts
Nothing this week.
I found this week’s discussion of “the order of here-and-now” to be very interesting. The concept helped me better understand the idea of form. I think form is a kind of “counterbalance” to evanescence (Inouye 62). “The order of here-and-now” stems from the idea that there is an order, or form, that exists in our evanescent world (Inouye 60). This is the idea behind the many Japanese cultural formalities, such as bowing, applied to everyday life (Inouye 61). I really like that the idea is to treat each moment with respect, for “To move through space humbly is to worship, to experience the sacred” (Inouye 56). I think it’s really interesting that the Japanese have incorporated somewhat religious practices into every day life. I thought this reflected the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. I found it sad that many people have lost sight of the meaning of these cultural formalities. People have just accepted them as just shikitari, or “the way things are done” (Inouye 61). The mindful principles behind the formalities become lost “because the formal life that appropriateness supports generates meaning not by insight but by sight” (Inouye 63). I really enjoyed learning about the meaning behind Japanese cultural formalities. I like that they’re spiritual in origin and am still really enjoying seeing how everything plays into evanescence and form.
By Nina Watts
On Saturday after the storm, I looked out my window and saw wind blowing snow flurries around.
Flurries of snow
swirl past my window
and glitter in the setting sun
This week we discussed how success and failure relate to an understanding of evanescence and form. The truth of life is that failure will inevitably follow success and further, success doesn’t last. In other words: “We may be doing well today, but misfortune will strike tomorrow” (Inouye 50). However, an understanding of evanescence lessens the blow of this sad truth. If we understand that everyone is vulnerable to failure, the prospect of failing at something becomes less daunting. Everybody fails at some point. Even so, I feel that a lot of people share my personal fear of failure. I’ve never been in a situation where I felt good about my failures. For this reason, I really appreciate the Buddhist concept of detachment. As Chomei put it: “Buddha taught me we must not be attached” (Chomei 76). We cannot define ourselves merely on our successes and failures. Our dependence on such impermanent things will only cause suffering and in order to relieve our suffering, we must understand evanescence. “Nothing gives the mind stability like an awareness of the world’s radical instability” (Inouye 50). I really like that this concept has been deeply integrated into Japanese society. I’m glad that children are taught not to fear failure. Even so, it’s much easier to understand this concept than to live by it.
By Nina Watts
Sitting at my desk in my room, I looked out the window.
Outside my window
Countless snowflakes slowly fall
And vanish from my sight
The topic that most grabbed my attention this week was the relationship between evanescence, love, and dreams in Japanese culture. During the time of the Heian court, love was viewed as “nothing more than a dream” (Inouye 28). This concept played right into the question I had last week. We live in an evanescent world, and yet the “heart wants otherwise” (Inouye 28). I found the poetry comparing love to dreams quite beautiful and sad. Feelings of love can be fleeting and seem just as real as a dream does while we’re sleeping. My favorite expression of the idea is that “In the end, it becomes difficult to choose (or even distinguish) between a dreamlike reality and a dream” (Inouye 29). Unfortunately, this implies that there can’t be true, lasting love. I’m not sure if I agree with this. I agree with the statement: “By pursuing dreams, we create reality” (Inouye 30). I know this sounds cheesy, but without pursuing dreams or love, there wouldn’t be much going on in this world. This week we also discussed how Buddhism influenced Japanese culture and learned that “pondering anitya heals duhka” (Inouye 31). Duhka is suffering and anitya is “the idea that both the phenomenal world and our perceptions of it are constantly changing” (Inouye 31). I bring up this idea because while I still have many questions about feelings and reality, I still find comfort in the idea that acceptance of change relieves the frustration of our desire for control.
By Nina Watts
I was standing out in the clump of trees behind Latin Way one night when I looked up at the sky.
Cold wind blows
Bare tree branches sway
Moon shines through the clouds
So far this course is much more philosophical than I expected it to be and I like it. I thought the course would be more focused on the external rather than the core of Japanese philosophy. I love the fact that we’re starting with the idea of evanescence and form. In order to understand a culture, the central philosophy on which it was built is essential. I find the idea of evanescence and form beautiful because of its truth. Everything is always changing, but there is some kind of pattern to the change. This is also a somewhat dark philosophy, because how can something like true love exist when everything, including yourself, is changing? There is a lot to think about concerning the idea. My favorite expression of the concept occurred in the explanation of earthquake-proof buildings in Tokyo: “Rigidity invites disaster. Flexibility enhances survival” (Inouye 6). I assume that we’ll be spending time building upon this foundation, but even then, how can one really understand a culture without living it? Professor Inouye addressed this on the first day of class and I really appreciated that insight.