Category Archives: Week 1: Shell of the Cicada

All of these posts are from week one of the course.


Songwha Choi

I was standing in front of the cherry blossom tree with holding the sake cup, when I noticed that the petals hang from tree branches was falling down.

Spring blue sky—

Cherry blossom petals hang from tree branches

Falling down in the sake cup


This class gave me special emotional moments. Especially the Hanami celebration was wonderful time for me. This event reminded me of what we have learned and explored in our class. When I watched the cherry blossoms, I felt I could commune with nature. The Japanese music, cherry blossom viewing, warm sake, and beautiful weather made a perfect harmony. It was such a wonderful experience in my life. I could feel the Japanese culture deeply. Learning different cultures are always interesting to me. Since I have a plan to work for Japan, this class was worthy of learning for my future. In this class, I have learned valuable lesson that everything is constantly changing, so nothing lasts. Furthermore, some moments are precious, and sadness is beautiful. “Evanescence and form” brought me a poetic sentiment. This class changed my way of thinking. I was able to fulfill myself through this experience. When I posted my haiku and picture in the class blog, I could interact with our classmates. I could learn the different and interesting views from them. This works were a priceless time. I appreciate that this class gave me these great opportunities during the semester.

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Enjoying the sake and sushi under the cherry blossom trees, outside Bendetson.

Clear sky-

Wind blows

Blossoms scatter


This class may be titled “Introduction to Japanese Culture”, but it really teaches about life, and how to live. The Hanami party really did embody the evanescence that we discussed in class throughout the semester: the sky was clear and the sun was shining, and under the protection of the cherry blossoms it was possible to witness a petal or two fluttering down from the tree. A tree that, throughout most of the year, seems lifeless. Its branches are normally bare, yet in a space of weeks it blossomed into a beautiful being. Sitting under that tree and watching the blossoms fall made me aware that the moment of beauty the tree enjoys is fleeting, yet it makes the most of it. Death gave way to life, which in turn gave turn to death, with the fluttering down of the petals into our sake cups.

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I was sitting on the Bendetson Patio during our Hanami celebration and looked into my sake cup to find the reflection of the cherry blossom tree, which disappeared as a gust of hit the liquid in my cup.

Reflections of the sakura

in a warm sake cup

fade away as the wind blows


This was probably the most unique class I’ve ever taken at Tufts. As a Physics major, my coursework has focused on mathematical proof and logical reasoning. What we learned about evanescence and form throughout the semester forced me to accept the fact that I can’t necessarily grasp everything in life. I did however learn how to appreciate things in the moment. The weekly exercises we did every week strengthened my appreciation of nature, and the world in general by noticing the beauty in almost euphoric moments of strong emotion. I think the most important thing I learned from this class is about balance. I think more so than grasping and appreciating the material, I began to appreciate that in life there is a difference between aiming to be truly happy or successful, or experiencing extreme sadness or depression, and just being “O.K.” There is a lot to be said about the pluses and minuses we face everyday, but I think from now on I’ll try to keep everything at “0.”


Krishna S.

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Cherry Blossoms

During our festival, I talked to my peers, some for the first time.

Sitting under the cherry blossom tree,

Joking with classmates

who once were strangers.


I took this class on the recommendation of a past student after hearing the homework consists of writing a poem and drawing a picture. I thought to myself, “this sounds like something I could do pretty easily.” Man was I wrong. Writing these little three line poems turned out to be as hard as writing any three page paper. Having to be so selective with our words made the process more difficult than I ever could have imagined. But it also made it more rewarding. This class opened my eyes to things that in my Western mindset I overlook. While it sounds cliche, getting a better understanding of Japanese culture also gave me a better understanding of myself (not that I’m Japanese). As we talked in class, I realized that many of our subjects, like lyrical moments or Do (the Way), I have experienced before. However, without a means to properly appreciate them, I dismissed them. This class has allowed me to appreciate these things in a light untouched by Western philosophy. I take particular comfort in the fact that while we are doomed to fail at some point, we will also succeed at other points. Every low has a comparable high. I really enjoyed this course and it has been one of the coolest I have taken at Tufts.

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Final Post

Cherry blossoms fall

Gracefully twirling

Life ends



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.

Thanks, Shawn



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Cherry Blossom

Gently falling blossoms

Drifting like flakes of snow

Winter in the spring



(I couldn’t get my scanner working, so in lieu of a sketch I’m posting this blurry picture I took from under the tree during hanami.)

I took this class as a full credit to round out my semester. I thought it would be an interesting experience, and hey, I hadn’t yet taken a small discussion-based “liberal arts” class at Tufts yet. When I came in to this course, I thought it would be easy, with some general discussion about how weird Japan is…I didn’t really know what to expect. However, the things that I’ve learned this semester have definitely come to shape my view of Japanese culture, but also my view of life in general. The theme of evanescence and form has really come to show me how life is easier when treated as restrained chaos; I know everything I do is impermanent, but also in its small way important in the tiny “form” of the period in which I am alive. While a lot of fatalism has been discussed in the class, I’ve never left Olin feeling defeatist after such a lecture, but rather more motivated to accomplish what I’ve set out to accomplish in the time that I have left (a weird thing to be saying at only 20). I’m very glad I’ve taken this course, and I’m looking forward to another semester with Inouye in the fall.

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Week 7: Powerful Natioalism

Week 7 : The Transcendental Order

By Songwha Choi

I was walking in front of Alewife station in the middle of the night when I noticed that the icicles hang from tree branches was falling down.

Winter night—

Icicles hang from tree branches

Falling down in the snow

      A person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation is called by national identity. People can get a sense of unity when they share strong faith with a group of people in a nation. This week, we discussed the situation of Japan in the 19th century. In the Meiji government, Japan advocated nationalism to defend the country from European and Western invading forces. This nationalism allowed Japan to achieve solidarity. It caused the powerful imperialism in Japanese society. Imperialism in a sense means the extension of one nation’s power over other lands. Imperialism can give a powerful sense of unity to a nation. In Japan, Imperialism had a strong influence on national identity, so it made Japan pursue only one common goal with a single perspective. The emperor tried to control not only Japanese society but also colonies with political power. Japan’s national identity is filled with domination. However, the Kamikaze demonstrates that this powerful rule was being misused to sustain the emperor’s power.  The emperor encouraged the Japanese to sacrifice their lives for the country. The Japanese had to obey the transcendental order because they regarded the emperor as God. The nation was brainwashed by the slogan: “If you die for your country, you can be kami” (Lecture 06/02/13). How did the emperor convince the Japanese people to devote themselves to their counry? Glory was important to the Japanese, hence, the emperor went on to talk about how individual good and individual glory depended on the imperial glory.

      While Kamikaze embraced evanescence and sadness, in Bushido-the Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inaz embraced the victims as the hero.  Their noble deaths are not futile for the country. Even though the dead warriors cannot revive in the current Japanese society, their loyalties can live forever.  Young generations can learn solidarity and patriotism from their ancestors. Inazo emphasizes the soul of Bushido. The Japanese warrior ethos can be Japan’s driving force. The samurai represents the way of Japanese warrior. Samurai had lived with the virtues of Bushido, such as rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. “Life being regarded as the means whereby to serve his master, and its ideal being set upon honour, the whole education and training of a samurai were conducted accordingly (Inazo 93). This idea can be the moral guideline for the Japanese. The Japanese can follow a great cause in order to attain their common goal. It also can make the Japanese mind and body stronger. While Basho enjoyed a natural image, Inazo tried to ake the samurai’s and sakura’s image in order to apply to the national identity. There was a political motivation. He sought a big picture that the nation identity forces individual to the world with invisible idea. As Professor inouye said, “Japanese, we are all samurai” (lecture 08/02/2013). The Japanese national spirit comes from the samurai ethos of what Inazo called Busido. “It is only in the code of chivalrous honour that loyalty assumes paramount importance” (Inazo 82). The Japanese should take to heart the immortal lesson taught by history. It will be a valuable and intensive power in Japanese society. 


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Meiji Period and Japanese Modernization clashes Bushido

I was lying sick on my bed this friday night and I was contemplating how to get up and reach to my water bottle with intense feelings of self-pity…

Dirty bottle,

Stands there everyday,

Never felt further.

-troubles uploading the image , will try again from my other computers -

The well established form and way of living that thrived and set its roots firmly benefiting the isolation and regulation that Tokugawa period enabled Japan faced a challenge after the fall of Tokugawa in 1868 and with the advent of Meiji period which defined itself with Japan’s westernization and globalization.  The west influenced almost every part of Japan’s system but the  strict abidance to form that had set the backbone of Japan’s tradition ensured to keep this power of globalization on the positive side and instead of  ”expelling the barbarians” they chose to ” learn from them” (Lecture 3/6) setting a beginning to face pace age of progress and innovation.  Yet Japanese way of living come to completely contradict or defy the western perceptions of normal at many cases and perceptions of worldly dealings. Even though not all Japanese are Samurai as Inazō wants his western readers to see, Bushido codes a way of living that is unconsciously inherent in Japanese way of living.

In the chapter discussing the value of self-control in a samurai’s way Inazō quotes few lines from a young samurai’s journal in order to show how the western habit of  expressing almost every thought contradicts with the reticence that following Bushido entails…

“Dost thou feel the soul of thy soul stirred with tender thoughts? It is time for seeds to sprout. Disturb it not with speech;”


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Cherry blossoms have just bloomed at Wuhan University, while snow was falling here in Boston.


Cherry blossoms at Wuhan University -

Photo shone on my laptop screen

Snow outside the window.

This week’s discussion is a big step that leads us into Japan’s modern era, with fascism lurking ahead. In the context of the Japanese’s realization of its place “in the world” of competing empires, Japan quickly turned to “learn from the barbarian” and allow the modern transcendental order, progress, to take charge, whereas the contemporaneous Chinese, despite some who came up with similar slogans, were much slower to react (Lecture 03/06, Inouye 110-113.) As I come to think of it, it may in fact be true that the “Japanese appreciation of change actually helped it embrace necessary reforms,” whereas the overall Chinese value seems to appreciate “middleness,” or inaction (Inouye 104.) Then, as Japan began to assert its place on the imperial food chain, several scholars, essentially “nostalgic” toward the “golden age” of Tokugawa Japan, each attempted to discover and re-establish an essence of the Japanese culture and people: thus came Bushidō, Sadō, and Iki (Inouye 120.) The tension that underlies all three theorizations, namely one “between Japan the unique and Japan the universal,” appears to be particularly noteworthy to me (Inouye 114.) It appears to me that, while all three scholars aimed at celebrating the traditional Japan, the impulse they feel to boast it as universal is essentially modern, in its assertion of unipolar correctness. This might be, again, a Japanese response to the imperial assertions from Western countries, once again more rapid than the Chinese’s because of the Japanese readiness for change, and the Chinese belief in “middleness” (as far as my limited knowledge is concerned, no work was done to boast about “the Chinese essence” during the period; this, however, could also be the result of a dragged modern development in the first place.)

- Zesheng Xiong (George)

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Evanescence and Form via Basho

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.

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