Cherry blossoms fall
This class has been different from almost every other class I have taken in my life. I have never been much of an in class talker, and am still not, however I think this class has helped to change that some. I believe that the thing I took most from this class was to appreciate what was immediately around me. The class coincided perfectly with the coming of spring, and thanks to it I catch myself looking at the nature around me all the time. I would like to thank all of you students as well as Professor Inouye for all of your varying insights on the topics we covered and I wish you all the best going forward.
I left my dorm room this after noon and realized how it was beginning to feel a lot like spring.
spring is coming
I still need to upload picture
The period of change under the transcendental order was one of, if not the biggest change in Japan’s culture and society to date. Due to Japan shutting down its ports in recent years they had become an isolationist country. Now, however, Americans were forcing their way into the country, bringing with them the modernized world. This forced entry by the United States left Japan with one option, adapt or be colonized. Japan naturally chose the former. In order to adapt, Japan needed to move away from the narrow vision of here and now and broaden their gaze to the entire country; they needed a national identity. One way that Japan began to nationalize was the “Cloud Scraper” building. The building was, “designed to be a showcase of world space, the tower introduced the Japanese masses to a larger, international context” (Inouye 109). The building allowed the Japanese to purchase goods from across the world and view the surrounding area in an all-at-once style as opposed to the previous one thing at a time style. Another, more drastic, movement of nationalization was the involvement of the emperor. He began to make public appearances and, “Upon seeing him in the flesh, they were able to identify him as their leader, a point of commonality” (Inouye 111). This drastic change from invisibly to the public eye gave Japan a central point of government and nation. With Japan’s nationalization also came their need to be legitimized and understood by the large countries of the world. Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido is a prime example of this need to be noticed. The book was written in English as a way to explain to the outside world who the Japanese were. However, when viewed more critically we see that Inazo refers to Western thinkers and rulers very often to explain Japanese concepts. This was undoubtedly done to make the concepts more easily understood, but it also has a tone of “see we’re like the French, and we’re like the Spartans.” Inazo seems to be making the point that the Japanese are just as worthy of respect as the Western world and should be treated that way. Regardless of whether Inazo’s teachings were immediately grasped Japan was now Japan, a nationalized country like it had never been before.
This past weekend I exited a friends apartment and saw how beautiful the city looked at night during a light snow.
A light snow
in the city
One of the concepts we covered this week, the Bodhisattva cycle, was hard for me to understand until I spoke with both teaching assistants after class today. I was having trouble with the aspect of sorrow which is at the top of the cycle. It was not until Basho’s journey was pointed out in relation to this cycle that I began to understand that top aspect. Basho goes on his journey in order to see the various beautiful sites around Japan. In doing this he was attempting to get away and find enlightenment; this is where the concept of sorrow came into play. Basho, while on his journey, mentions loneliness a number of time. One example of this is when he says, “The loneliness at dusk was overpowering,” (Basho/Keene, 171) which is then followed by a poem expressing this loneliness. I believe that this loneliness that he felt was the sorrow of his Bodhisattva cycle. The loneliness Basho feels during his journey forces him to return home, hence coming back down. As we see in Inouye’s Evanescence and Form, “We wish to be something higher. Yet this is precisely why we must eventually return to the low.” (Inouye, 79) Basho achieved his transcendental experience while out of the road, connecting with all the beautiful sites. However, for his experiences and poetry to be legitimized, he has to return back to his normal life. Only when we return back down to our normal life can we truly know what we have gained. At the end of The Narrow Road to Oku we see the Basho is going back out for another journey, “…I left on the sixth of the ninth month to witness the renewal of the Great Shrine at Ise.” (Basho/Keene, 175) By ending the story in the manner Basho leaves us with a concept of the Bodhisattva cycle to ponder. When one has climbed the mountain and returned to the valley does he stay in the valley, or find another mountain to climb?
I was in Boston on Saturday night when I noticed how nice the street lamps could look at night.
in a row
This past week’s readings and lectures showed us a change in the way the Japanese dealt with the Evanescence of life. The Japanese people moved from the idea of nothingness to the pursuit of pleasure or hedonism. A main idea that didn’t change was the importance of form and order in Japan. We see this attention to order in the Saikaku reading when she says, “A courtesan shaves her eyebrows and paints on thick black ones,” and continues to list off how a good courtesan dresses and moves. We see it again in the Inouye reading when it’s talking about people’s place in society and says, “the parameters of the established order was both strongly enforced.” This strict social structure is what caused the Japanese to begin seeking out physical pleasures that could make their lives more enjoyable. Compared with the previous responses to evanescence I like the hedonism approach the most. I feel that this response is the most honest. If the world is truly always changing and out of our control, enjoying every day seems to be the only reaction that makes sense. I have often considered this style of day to day pleasure seeking life and do not see much wrong with it. As long as we have enough money to live off of and are enjoying our lives, what is wrong with that? The only reason I think many people have a problem with it is because of the constraints of what society expects of us. If society and mainly our parents did not expect anything of us I believe a large number of people would live their life in a hedonistic way.
Nothing this week
The idea of nothingness, to be honest, still doesn’t hold much water in my mind. The thought of, “everything is nothing, nothing is everything” (lecture 2/11) is very hard for me to grasp because it is so contradictory in itself. I think I began to understand the idea in a sense that if you let everything go you will gain everything, but even as I say that I have no idea what it means. In Noh theater it is said that, “Noh’s emptiness is that quality of form that allows the possibility of all other forms to come to mind” (Inouye 68). This is another example that makes no sense to my Westernized mind. How does being sparse and empty allow for all other things to happen? Wouldn’t that then fill that emptiness blocking out all other things? This seems lead to you having nothing and everything all at the same time. However, I don’t think that is possible as they are polar opposites. The idea of “nothingness” has become a paradoxical puzzle that I can’t seem to figure out. I believe I understand what it is saying, but I don’t understand what it means. In Atsumori do the priest and Atsumori achieve peace because they both gave up everything and looked to Buddha for salvation? The idea that letting past quarrels go to achieve peace makes sense to me, but again “nothingness” is a mystery.
by Shawn Power
I was watching the snow fall on Friday evening when I realized how deserted the world looked.
Seemingly an apocalypse
The component of this week’s discussion that I found the most interesting was the rise of the samurai. Prior to speaking about it in class I had never really thought about where they had arisen from; I just thought of them as having been there. The fact that they were essentially the unwanted sons of nobles came as a complete surprise (lecture 2/4). The amount of time that they dominated from was also amazing. When you think of a 700 year time period, it’s pretty absurd. The idea of shukke was also very interesting to me. I have often thought that if everything went wrong I could simply pack up, move to some island, and serve drinks at some bar. This idea of shukke, or walking away, seems to coincide with that. Shukke, however, had more uses in Japanese culture than simply getting away. It could be used to as a way to resign from office, or a way to continue working without as much pressure or influence (Inouye 40). Shukke was not looked down upon in Japanese culture which insinuates that the Japanese were not against retreating or stepping down. This is very different from other cultures I have studied, such as the Ancient Greeks, who viewed surrender as the ultimate shame.
by Shawn Power
This past weekend I was in the locker room in between periods with my hockey team when I looked around at my teammates.
One period to play
This past week we began to talk about Buddhism in Japanese culture. The main Buddhist notion that we spoke about were anita, duhkha, and anatman (lecture). The concept of anita was easy to understand because we had already talked quite a bit about how the Japanese believe that life is always changing. The concepts of duhkha and anatman, however, were somewhat more difficult to understand. The line in “Evanescence and Form” that clarified it for me was, “We suffer because we desire the impossible and unobtainable” (page 31). I guess I understand it now as life is suffering because we are always trying to obtain more and are unable to be sated. The notion of anatman was somewhat confusing for me as well. I began to understand it when I looked at it in relation to anita. Thinking of how the world is always changing, which means we are always changing, makes the concept of there being no “self” easier to understand. This past week we also read “As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams”. The thing that stuck out the most for me was how the story was told in a very similar style to how we write our blog poetry. The story essentially set up the details, in depth, of the poem that followed. It was also interesting how they sent poems back and forth to each other as a way to communicate.
Nothing the week
The idea of evanescence and form, or structure, in Japanese culture has been somewhat confusing for me. I guess the only way that I understand the concept is through the line, “In Japan, formality affirms the potential chaos of evanescence..” (Inouye 1). To me this seems to say that the relationship between evanescence and form is a balancing act of sorts. The way I understand it is that the Japanese embrace the “fleeting …unpredictable” nature of life and counteract the lack of control they have over things with rigorous form and tradition. I also had some difficulty understanding the concept of animism. I only came to fully understand the “non symbolic readings of symbols” (lecture 1/24) when I spoke to professor Inouye after class. The way I came to understand it is that a cross is a symbol the represents Christianity whereas a sacred tree does not represent anything other than itself. The tree is sacred; it is not representing something greater than itself. Being a Catholic this concept is very foreign to me because nearly everything in Catholicism is representing God, Jesus, or something of greater importance.