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Week 5 posts.

Week 5: Hedonism

Week 5: Hedonism, mono no aware, and monstrosity

No moment this week


The fifth week, we mainly discussed the value of Hedonism which is a different response to evanescence. Our lives are fragile and weak, so the hedonism that we embrac in our youth is valuable. We might die or get in an accident tomorrow. Even though we are working hard now, if there is no future, it does not matter at all. So why don’t we enjoy our lives more than now? I lived a very ascetic life. I was swinging between the twin poles of hedonism and asceticism. However, after I went to the last lecture, I realized that the only thing that is valuable is pleasure and all things are means to a pleasurable end. Let’s enjoy, we do not know what is going on tomorrow (Lecture 02/20).We should not consider pure passion for sexual desire as a sin. We have to accept that human’s sexual instincts and needs are inevitable.

In The  Woman Who Loved Love, the lives of five women are bold because they try to seek their love and pleasure aggressively. However, their lives end up sad and poor. In The Musical and Dancing Festivities, the gentleman also tries to have a physical pleasure with women dancers. “Thus the gentleman’s feelings were deftly stirred” (Saikaku 161). The man is stirred by women’s temptation. However, those women want to get money from man, not love. So there is no real love. “The average man was unaware of it, but all these girls were after the same thing” (161). They use their music and dance to make the gentleman lose control. “We can take advantage of all the noise and excitement… (161). In Hedonism, it could be that there is no pure love. It might be sad, but we cannot always seek a platonic love. In Mono no aware, Kenneth said that “I have a feeling that Japanese people are living with a somewhat strangling notion of uneasiness” (Norinaga 14). To release our extreme uneasiness and stress in the world, sometimes we need to enjoy a physical pleasure.

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I was in Boston on Saturday night when I noticed how nice the street lamps could look at night.

Bright lights

in a row

illuminating life


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.

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Alas, no moment this week.

The concept of constant change and evanescence is in a way, relatively depressing. We are all essentially powerless and like leaves in the wind, subject completely to the whims of something we have no say in. Continuing these thoughts only ever really ends in the acceptance that life in of itself, is sad. Norinaga, in his conquest to define the Japanese identity, ended with a similar conclusion: mono no aware, or “the sentiment of sadness which has formed the core of the identity of the Japanese (Takahito, 2). During the Tokugawa period, this sense of a changing world consistent only in its sadness, or ukiyo took a surprising turn—the lower classes in a way, found a way around this problem by simply indulging in pleasures (Inouye, Lecture 2/20/13). They found a “tasteful admission of one’s powerlessness” (Inouye, 86).

Personally, I can totally understand and visualize ukiyo and like the lower classes, I don’t particularly enjoy entertaining the thoughts. So, why think about them? Why not just live for pleasure and enjoy things before “my soon forgotten life will vanish with the dew”? (Saikaku, 172). I can never really answer that definitively. There is totally a valid point in acting as the lower classes did during the Tokugawa period. It certainly isn’t a sustainable way of living, but I think that is kind of the point—it isn’t meant to be. What it is meant to be is thoughtless pleasure, disappearing into the desires of biology and forgetting about the troubles of psychology and thinking. Hedonism is absolutely a short-term win, while on the other hand it completely forgoes long-term repercussions. A particularly poignant example can be found in The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love, which as the title suggests describes one such women. In the end she succumbs to delirium at living such a life, and like many other writers in history she embraces religiosity giving herself up “wholly to prayer to meditation” (Saikaku, 217). Perhaps this is actually the way to avoid the turbulences and sadness of life; it just takes getting jumbled on the way there to make people realize it.


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Ukiyo Redefined

By Michael Chu

I was releasing the first sky lantern on Friday night for my lantern festival event at the Tisch Rooftop.

Ignited lantern
Past the tip of my finger
Into the sky

Ukiyo has a different meaning to the Japanese now that we have moved to talking about the modern era. This new perception of ukiyo made more sense to me as it refers to “an awareness of limitation that leads to action and enjoyment” (Inouye 71). I should show my parents this chapter on Hedonism to justify why I at times prioritize fun over work. I am always on the look out for fun in order to escape the constant pressure and the failures that emerge. Everything in the world is sad, and in order to liberate ourselves, we need to embrace the concept of mono no aware (Lecture 2/20). I like the idea of mono no aware because if “we all suck,” then both failure and the pursuit of relief seem more acceptable. We need to constantly find temporary relief to make the most of this depressing floating world (Inouye 85). It is pessimistic to think that the world is full of sadness, but this is what also makes the fun and happy things so much more beautiful. In fact, mono no aware expresses a sentiment of “sadness that is constantly evolving towards gaiety” (Takahito 11). Life is inevitably filled with happiness and sadness. As the heroine in The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love puts it, “Thus I lived, drifting down the muddy stream of the floating world” (Saikaku 205). This sentence stood out to me because the word “drifting” expresses the powerlessness in the floating world. To empower ourselves, we should think that we are all significant details of this big picture that is this realistic world (Lecture 2/21). We are all part of something bigger, but we suck. This paradox of optimism and pessimism perplexes me. Perhaps embracing such “muddy stream” full of pessimism and optimism would help us understand the realistic world and make the most out of it.

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I suck. You suck. We all suck. This post sucks?

I went on a long run with a friend to the other night and saw the sunset over the ice-covered Mystic Lakes.

Sun setting

Frozen lake cracks

I catch my breath

A true monstrosity.

Why not pursue the pleasures in life before all else? How can the fact that everybody sucks be a relieving reality of our human existence? We focused on these ideas of hedonism and mono no aware this week. During Japan’s Tokugawa period, a strict social hierarchy developed whereby the emperor, shoguns, daimyo, and samurai carried the majority of political power while peasants, artisans, and merchants lived on the low end of the spectrum. However, samurai were often forced to borrow money from the merchants, giving society’s lowest class a great deal of wealth. Since virtually no social mobility existed at the time, merchants did not need to worry about saving money to move up the social ladder; rather they could spend it on immediate sources of enjoyment (Lecture, 2/20/13). As Inouye puts it, these hedonistic tendencies were just another way to respond to life’s evanescence with a “sense of urgency to the pursuit of pleasure” (Inouye, 70). To me, Saikaku’s use of a prostitute as a protagonist in The Woman Who Loved Love exemplifies this shift in Japanese society. While we have specifically written our poems with as little detail and description as possible, Saikaku goes over the top with images of ideal women and courtesans in the pleasure quarter (Saikaku, 166). Though the story also harks back to evanescence and the impermanence of success as the protagonists quickly falls from the high ranks. He gives the readers paradigms and symbols that they understand, like the cherry blossom, the floating world, and life’s impermanence, but adds a modern twist. I was also able to grasp the concept of mono no aware through Saikaku’s protagonist. Though I am still working to internalize this “sadness of things,” I can easily understand the relief that comes from knowing that we all suck. Just as Saikaku’s prostitute falls from grace, so too do we all fail at points, but that fact should be a beautiful component of life and should not bring us sorrow. I don’t think I can fully buy in to living life in a purely hedonistic way, but occasionally giving up consequences and living life to the fullest right here and right now can easily resonate with anyone, myself included. I look forward to exploring these ideas more in the coming weeks.

~Ezra Dunkle-Polier

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I was on the bus from New York to Boston on Saturday night, and saw the trees and unmelted snow in the dim light.

Fleeting trees

Illuminated by the snow

Stretching into night sky


Last week we talked about hedonism and mono no aware, the sad nature of things. The fact that the former concept puts so much weight on pursuit of short-term pleasures makes me feel like it’s a desperate attitude towards life at first glance, but I became more comfortable with the idea after knowing more about its historical background through the readings. According to Norinaga, mono no aware is the core of modern Japanese identity, a “priori” condition of Japanese people’s thought. (Norinaga 1) To me, both mono no aware and hedonism are rooted from the realization of evanescent nature of life. A Buddhist solution to this sadness is to forgo our desires and to do good deeds so that we can suffer less in our next life, whereas hedonism asks that if we are already so powerless, why bother inflicting more pains on ourselves? Why don’t we go out and have some fun? As we discussed in the class, with money but no political power in their hands, merchants and other citizens don’t have the legal rights to determine their own livelihood for themselves. (lecture 2/21) (Norinaga 10) Given that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the bourgeoning of hedonism from this choking insecurity and powerlessness. Also from Saikaku’s reading, we see the life of a beautiful, fragile woman, who devoted her life to love but ended up becoming a wilted blossom (Saikaku). I also found the description of her relationship with men interesting. Whether she liked the man or not, she treats them as “fellow-passenger on a ferry boat before it reached the opposite bank. (Inouye 73)”

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Pursuit of Pleasure

Sarah Marakos

Unfortunately, I did not have a lyrical experience this week.

Most of our discussion this week was about living life in pursuit of pleasure.  This concept of Hedonism sounds pretty good to me- who doesn’t like to feel good? At first, this idea seemed to contradict what we had been learning so far about the world constantly changing. How can you lead a life of pleasure if nothing lasts? However, after reading The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love, I began to understand where the evanescence of the world fit into place with this concept of Hedonism. The woman in the story lives a life of pleasure, but that pleasure is fleeting. Since the world is always changing, the good things can’t last. She ends up in poverty and has nothing left but sorrow. “How cruel the floating world, its solaces how few—and soon my unmourned life, will vanish with the dew,” (Saikaku 172). Just as the pleasures she once experienced do not last, neither will the misfortune and poverty she encounters. I think it is important to fill your life with pleasure seeing as every day could be your last, but it The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love teaches us that these pleasures are not permanent, “In this floating world anything can happen,” (Saikaku 185). But even when the woman is left with nothing but sadness, isn’t that the beauty of life? According to the ideology of mono no aware, there is sadness in all things, which is what I think leads to the pursuit of pleasure in the first place. If we all suck, then we are all on the same lowest level. “We become the denizens of a floating world of pleasure tinged with sorrow, temporarily finding reprieve,” (Inouye 82). This corresponds to Saikaku’s idea of mono no aware “a sadness that is constantly evolving toward gaiety,” (Inouye 84). In my mind, if this evanescent world is always going to be sad and we all suck, why not enjoy ourselves and feel good even if the pleasure might not last?

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Sea Waves

I was walking downhill through President’s Lawn one day when I felt I saw glistening sea waves that turned out to be reflections from the melting ice that covered the lawn. 

Sea waves

Glistening -

On President’s Lawn

This week our discussion starts off with a new type of reaction to evanescence, namely hedonism, that thrived in the Edo period (Lecture 2/20.) Ihara Saikaku’s Woman Who Loved Love no doubt captures the sorrowful pleasure of such a society; further, as Professor Inouye points out, the work also pinpoints the prostitutes of the time as prominently modern, whose become acutely aware of the issue of their identity as they are set against the traditional expectations of women (Inouye 71.) I read this work last semester, but even as I revisit it, the unnamed lady’s ironical discovery at the temple strikes me nonetheless: the sadness of her hedonistic life begins with her innate beauty, develops with her involuntary involvement with the pleasure quarters, and culminates here with this failure of finding salvation even in the Buddha (Ihara 213-217.) The next point of discussion is mono no aware, which can help explain the Edo period hedonism. This “national consciousness” of “the sadness of things” fledges in the Edo period despite its much earlier origin, because during the political oppression and economic prosperity of the Tokugawa era, the masses developed “a sense of fated acceptance” (Momokawa 2; Inouye 81.) To me the situation seems totally imaginable, although it also makes me think what mentality the contemporary Chinese developed during a similar “close-the-country” policy imposed by the Qing government. It is also intriguing to know in advance that mono no aware would establish itself as the Japanese “national consciousness” and live till this day; I cannot wait to see how this comes by. The third point of discussion is the “shifting point of view” of the Japanese (Lecture 2/21.) This lack of perspective comes as no surprise to me, for in the Japanese film class I took last semester, I have seen numerous examples of early Japanese films that refuse to use visual depth to signify perspective, and rather create flat shots where every element within is treated equally and with intense attention.

- Zesheng Xiong (George)

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Snowed-in at the Loj

I went to New Hampshire with a couple of my friends this weekend and enjoyed the snow illuminated by the lights of our cozy cabin.

Snow dances

through pools of light–

The fire crackles

Drifting away from the here-and-now and the lyrical moments of life, the rapidly modernizing Japan turns towards a more transcendental view, where our sense of self keeps us firmly anchored to the realism of the modern world. To observe this first hand we turn towards the art and architecture of the time. As western perspectivalism is introduced, the Japanese struggle to ameliorate their styles with these new influences, leading to art like Okumura Masanobu’s which tried to emulate perspective with mixed success (Lecture 2/21). Originally Japanese art depicted scenes where every person is the same size, where it was not from a particular view, but rather all completely separate views. You see the painting bit by bit. This is not true with the transcendent nature of perspective, which consolidates the infinite view of the world to a single perspective. Here we see this conflict between the here-and-now and the “big picture.” In class we also compared the gardens at Katsura Detached Palace and the garden of Versailles. In Versailles “the space we see seems to conform to us, to our point of view” (Inouye 96). The gardens of Katsura instead offers you the picture piece by piece, just like the painting prior to the introduction of perspective. From my westernized perspective, I don’t quite understand the necessity of showing only a little of something at a time. In “The Woman Who Loved Love” a lord describes his perfect woman through many small traits.  “A face slightly rounded, the complexion of a cherry blossom…the nape of the neck should be slender” (Saikaku 166). Would I rather see the elbow, the eye, the ear of a beautiful woman or her entirety? If something is beautiful, I would prefer to see it at its most beautiful and complete than bit-by-bit. I find myself unsatisfied by, as Professor Inouye put it, “the smallness of the Japanese picture” (Lecture 2/21).

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Hedonism, mono no aware

Chilling with a friend on Capen street at night, when it was snowing.

Snow falling-

Smoke rising-


The main focus this week was Hedonism, which I found very interesting. Personally, I find the ideas make total sense. I’d like to clarify that I don’t mean give yourself up to a crazy, 24/7 haze of pleasure, but that without any pleasure, life can be can be a life not lived.  A very important point for me was “If work is not fulfilling, why take it so seriously?” (Inouye, 69). I passionately agree that work should be enjoyable, and not the root of stress. If you are going to dedicate your life to something, then do something you enjoy, something you can get pleasure out of. Wasting away in a profession that is not enjoyable for the sake of money/future comfort is something I cannot process. Life, as Saikaku put it, “will vanish in the morning dew” (Saikaku, 172). If life is fleeting, and unpredictable, why not enjoy the flow of it, rather than strive for some sort of permanence? I don’t agree in doing things without ever thinking about some of the consequences, but to hold back completely, to withhold from any sort of pleasure, makes no sense to me. The question, however, of “who does not feel sad about dying” (Inouye, 83), left me to ponder for a while. Personally, I don’t feel sad at all about dying, because it doesn’t really mean anything. The only tangible meaning to it is that I will not be living in this current body anymore. Death is just a part of me as is life, for I can’t be a complete being if I’m not going to die. So I really don’t understand what there is to be afraid or sad about; Alan Watts said “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” I don’t know what my consciousness will be like after I leave this body, but why should I fear that, why try and ground myself in ‘this’ life, when that effort will eventually be fruitless? To quote Walt Whitman, “The smallest sprout shows there really is no death, and if ever there was it led forward to life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it…all goes onward and outward, nothing collapses…and to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier”. The very fact that I know I’m going to die, but can’t do anything to prevent it, is liberating. I don’t know, however, when I’m going to die, and that’s exactly what is exciting about life: everyday is another breath of life, another day to experience living. That’s why I think a certain amount of Hedonism in everyone’s life would do no-one harm, and everyone good. “This place is a dream, only a sleeper considers it real. Then death comes like dawn, and you wake up laughing at what you thought was your grief” (Rumi). This sentiment is echoed in the writings of Chuang Tzu, “Not until we wake do we know that we were dreaming. Only at the ultimate awakening shall we know that this [world;life] is the ultimate dream. Yet fools think they are awake, so confident they know what they are…How do I know that we who death are not exiles since childhood who have forgotten the way home?” Time and time again, at different points in human history, sages/philosophers/holy men have come to this conclusion about death. Knowing it to be true, what is there to fear or be sad about?

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