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- Week 1: Shell of the Cicada
- Week 2: From Hakanasa to Mujo
- Week 3: Failure, Success, and Leaving the World
- Week 4: Nothingness
- Week 5: Hedonism, Mono no Aware, Monstrosity
- Week 6: The Order of Here and Now
- Week 7: Bushido and the Transcendental Order
- Week 8: In the Chaotic Margins of Formal Space
- Week 9: New Kind of Nothingness
This week, when Professor Inouye talked about the word “shashin写真”, I suddenly realize that it’s a very interesting word. I’ve already known that it means photographs, but when looking at the two kanjis, I can imagine a person performing drawings very carefully to mimic the beauty of nature through his own emotion. Later, when I was reading Haikus by Basho, I felt like his haikus and paragraphs are also different kinds of “shashin”. I was traveling with him and looking for the beauty of most fundamental things in different ancient places. He had great observation to connect natural and living things, such as saffron blossoms and lady’s powder puff (Basho, 92), summer grass and brave soldiers (Basho, 84). At the time you are trying to record the moment of nature beauty, you “hide” your own understanding and emotion into the art you did (either drawing and writing). These art forms not only help you understand nature (object) and yourself (subject) better, people who see your art forms later will also gain their own valuable thoughts. That’s the magic of “shashin”.
Yesterday afternoon, I was on the Red Line T passing over Charles River.
Sunlight on the river
You are different－
In this week’s lecture, Professor Inouye talked about the role of prostitutes in Japanese culture. These women were in a special social position in ancient Japan: They traveled a lot, frequently got in touch with strangers from various places and with different occupations. It was a new form of social interaction at that time. Some well-known courtesans in history lived such a dramatic life that even nowadays people are curious about their stories. But from their own perspective of their life, they were fragile and pathetic like cherry blossom. They got the feeling of “floating world” more deeply than any other people (Saikaku, 212). They met several thousand of men in their career, but it was much harder for them to find love compared to normal women. They had to fight for love. That was partially the answer that why their love stories are intricate and touching. Men were judged by society to take these girls off the shelf, while these outstanding girls were picked out with the greatest care before and desired men’s mercy (Saikaku, 210). In this evanescent world, everything changes with time, especially, women’s beauty.
In Basho’s journey, when sorrowful changes happen–drama of seasons, illness and separation from partners— he is always calm and faces them frankly. Basho’s attitude towards evanescence is based on his acceptance and understanding of form. Basho’s journey is like the path to truth, experiencing bitterness and moving along through the way of Justice and attempting to achieve the truth, or kata. During his journey, after resting poorly in an old hut, he and Sora keep the journey on and he writes the following:
“I felt uneasy over my illness, recalling how far away our destination was, but I reasoned with myself that when I started out on this journey to remote parts of the country it was with an awareness that I was risking my life. Even if I should die on the road, this would be the will of heaven” (Basho 62).
This monologue shows that Basho has realized the possibility that he might die on the road to Oku. Nevertheless, he accepts this realization fearlessly, because he admits that death is one of the forms he has to follow. Basho shows that, while people learn to accept and follow kata by embracing evanescence, they are not afraid of evanescence anymore, though sorrow remains. In the last several pages of the book, Sora has to stop the journey with Basho because of stomach illness. Before Sora leaves, he writes a poem for Basho:
All through the night
I listened to the autumn wind
In the hills behind (Basho 57)
and Basho writes, “Though but a single night separated us, it was as if by a thousand miles. That night I too lay sleepless in the priest’s study hall listening to the autumn wind” (Basho 128). Knowing and accepting that they must part, two men have a silent farewell. Evanescence does not disturb them so much, but brings more sorrow into their lives. It is not so sad to know what change is coming, but it is sad to realize that you cannot do anything to change that situation. Because people cannot change the fact of evanescent life, after they know the truth, they go back to the secular life and live with that sorrow and calmness. Basho and Sora, two men who understand and accept kata and evanescence, find sorrow in their heart, but are able to continue the journey.
After reading Bushido, I highlight several reasons why Bushido vanished during the modernization of Japanese society. Firstly, I think samurai’s loyalty limited their ability to assimilate into the new world. Each samurai is loyal to his master. As mentioned in the text, this loyalty is like the “bone that gives firmness and stature.” (Nitobe 37). It is this loyalty that makes samurai a samurai. However, as the society is modernized, as people need to face more and more strangers, a samurai’s loyalty only makes him personally defensive but not open to the new world. Some of the ways of samurais show their loyalty are also unacceptable from a modern aspect, for example, the story of Michizane, who sacrifices his own son to serve his master. Moreover, although Bushido emphasizes on rectitude, which is similar to the idea of Justice we claim in the modern society, the concept it gives is quite vague. In the text, it said, “Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when it is right to die, to strike when to strike is right.” (Nitobe 37). However, this definition does not give a clear statement about when is right to die and when is right to strike. Rectitude is based on feelings such as consciousness and instinct, whereas in modern society, we need to clearly distinguish between does and do nots. So we invent laws and policies to define such an edge, using terms instead of feelings to make judgments. Apart that lack of distinction, Bushido still has several elements that are practiced in modern society. The calmness, the system of education and individualism are all precious values that were inherited from Bushido’s history and will continue to influence Japanese society in the future.
After reading the The Nō Plays of Japan, I watched the Noh Theater video again because I thought I can could have a different feeling and maybe deeper understanding of the play after I read its script. The second time of watching does its work. I realize that, compared to presenting the story to audiences, the Noh Theater is much more focused on the kata of its play. The steps, singing and even those small gestures like tilting of the head are presented in certain forms. So here I have a question: why does the Noh Theater shows the nothingness? How can nothingness have a form? In Evanescence and Form, it said, “The fixed leads to the brilliant fluid” (Inouye 66). This gives me a hint to think about the fluidity of the Noh Theater. I think the futility does not mean physical movements or visible expressions. In the play, the climax is still and silent. There is no physical movement but the audience’s heart and mind are working. When everything is still, it gives the empty space to the mind to move on. The repetition of the form settles everything on the stage down (even something that are not on the stage). The form fixed the movement. The still and silence give the nothingness.
Doing homework inside, the sounds and sights of the rain
This week we talked about the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan that ended World War II, and both what led to and followed these events. I was really interested in the fact that we learned that few Japanese people spoke of the bombs for a long time after they were dropped—that there weren’t any words for what happened, and that when there were those who spoke, there weren’t always the right words to explain. In your book, you quote Takenishi Hiroko’s The Words that Hiroshima Makes Us Say in regards to this phenomenon:
I felt and learned these words that substituted for the name of limitless things, that they had a greater expansiveness. At times I am angry that the words that speak of Hiroshima are so very insufficient. Don’t even I use such words when speaking about things other than Hiroshima? When I do, I must anger others. Does that mean that I, so rebuked, can tolerate those works that speak of Hiroshima? No, it does not. This contradiction, this problem, this anger, this helplessness—I believe there can be no possibility of my deepening the knowledge of Hiroshima, no possibility of sharing it with others, without enduring my use of such things (Hiroko, 101/Inouye, 149).
Rather than switching between transcendental and here and now as had happened in Japan’s history before, the Japanese seemed to lose believe in anything. After a long time, however, people began to talk about what had happened and Japan began to return to the lyrical, here and now Japan of the past. They were forced into the postmodern faster than the western world due to the bombs, and evanescence returned. As the hibakusha you talked about who visited Tufts said, “All you can do is stay happy. You eat something good. And keep trying” (Inouye, 151). While no words can describe what happened accurately, just a few words can describe what the Japanese did to move on.
Walking through New York City in the cold, I suddenly feel warmth.
This week, we talked about Rape of Nanking and the fundamental shift of Japan moving from Japan as the world to Japan in the world. When I read the Rape of Nanking, I felt awful, trying to understand why such atrocities happen in the world. Things have definitely changed since these times, but what could have caused the Japanese soldiers to do these things? I struggled to even find a single sentence or paragraph that stood out amongst the rest as the most horrifying, but any of them will do. “Perhaps one of the most brutal forms of Japanese entertainment was the impalement of vaginas. In the streets of Nanking, corpses of women lay with their legs splayed open, their orifices pierced by wooden rods, twigs, and weeds.” I realized that these acts may have come from the shift in ideology that accompanied the modern shift that had recently occurred in Japan following western influences. The idea of Japan as the world had come crashing down, and the Japanese people realized that they were just a small piece of a larger world. This horrifying act reminded me of the day in class when you mentioned to us that Japanese beaches are filled with trash; that while everybody makes sure they take off their shoes when they enter a home, they don’t care at all for the beach because it’s everybody’s beach and therefore is nobody’s beach. It is the only explanation I can find to explain why the Japanese soldiers would have committed this heinous act: the world that used to be theirs had become their beach. It wasn’t theirs, so they didn’t care about it. As you have said many times, “manners don’t matter when you’re on the road.”