Utopia(s)

wp-image-1575460682jpg.jpgAt this moment, my university (KU Leuven in Belgium) and other institutions are commemorating Thomas More’s Utopia. This work, written in Latin and edited by Erasmus, was published by Dirk Martens in Leuven, the city where I study, exactly 500 years ago. (Okay, I started working on this post in 2016, so it’s 501 years ago now.) Utopia is a frame story about a fictitious island. The title, a neologism invented by More’s good friend Erasmus but derived from the Greek language, means “no place”, not to be confused with eutopia, “good place”. Nevertheless, More gives the impression that Utopia really existed, providing the reader not only with a detailed description of the island, but also inserting several letters to his own friends such as Peter Giles, town clerk of Antwerp, who plays a role in the story too. Additionally, the book was furnished with a map of the island, the Utopian alphabet (designed by Peter Giles) and two poems in the Utopian language with translation.

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The work itself consists out of two books: the first book covers discussions and criticism on the “real” society while the second book goes into details about the unknown island of Utopia. A character called More (a surrogate for the author) is introduced by his friend Peter Giles to Raphael Hythloday, the Portuguese explorer that discovered Utopia. They discuss the current political situation in Europe, ethical issues in serving at court, social abuse that leads to theft and other topics. In the second book, Hythloday recounts his journey to Utopia. During his stay of 5 years, he familiarized himself with the remarkable Utopian customs. A description of these customs would take more than one post, so check out this summary if you are interested.

Utopia paved the way for a whole new genre of literature. The ideas the humanist and statesman More (1478-1535) put forward in his book, are still relevant and inspiring today (for example the 6-hour working day Sweden has been experimenting with), and some ideas have even come true. However, not all of the Utopian customs would be considered OK nowadays. Slavery, for example, was still a thing. Moreover, it is wrong to think that Utopia represents the perfect society because this was not More’s intention at all – the difference between “eutopia” and “utopia” is really important here. On the contrary, the author distances himself from some of the Utopian ideals and principles. Therefore, Utopia should be read as a criticism of the society More lived in. Not an easy task, by the way: the danger of critiquing society directly is illustrated by the fact that More was later beheaded because he did not go along with Henry VIII’s plan for the establishment of a Church of England.

Climbing the Utopia-themed stairs to the Japanese collection at the University Library

You are probably wondering what this has to do with Japan. Well, I was curious whether, traditionally speaking, Japanese literature also covers a genre of utopian writings. This has been a question often addressed by scholars, and the usual answer is: no, not in the Western sense of the word (not so strange because the genre was named after More’s Utopia), but yes, Japanese literature includes utopian-ish texts, especially works written during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Apparently, utopian works in the West are characterized by a constant shift in position between reality and the imaginary world. The difficulties the reader is faced with in trying to distinguish between what is fictional and what is real, is precisely the level of ambiguity utopian literature aims for.

It is argued that in Japanese works, this ambiguity is not very present. However, the differences between Western utopias and Japanese literature on a similar topic do not indicate that Japanese works are ‘underdeveloped’ or lacking what their western counterpart have: this would be measuring with a Western yardstick. Imagine if a pasta dish was critically evaluated based on its similarity to ramen, Japanese noodle soup (both are tasty in their own way, right?). Moreover, in the manga, anime and Japanese drama of today, a utopian setting is often used. This has certainly been influenced by the popularity of western science fiction from the postwar period on, but apparently utopian-ish genres date back to the Edo period or even earlier. The length of this post will convince you that comparing both literary traditions is more complex than is often assumed.

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Example of a “kibyoshi” from 1809 – http://www.arc.ritsumei.ac.jp/

Burton (2007) points out that in mid-Edo times, a genre of fantastic travel narratives existed that was also used to critique contemporary society: kibyōshi 黄表紙 “yellow cover books”, the first comic books for adults. Because Japan was isolated from the rest of the world due to a policy of seclusion (sakoku 鎖国) at that time, the Japanese became fascinated by these booklets with their yellow covers that illustrated in words and (lots of) pictures the (imaginative) travels to far, exotic countries and their curious inhabitants. Burton further argues that the Japanese travel narratives were highly influenced by much older Chinese sources, often rooted in Taoist and Buddhist iconography. Such fantastic tales were regularly set in a different time period, to completely mask the fact that they were actually criticism on contemporary society. By doing so, authors could address political or other “forbidden” themes in a satirical way that would be censored otherwise. Although kibyōshi did not stand the test of time and popular authors soon disappeared into oblivion, the idea of a hypothetical world inspired Japanese writers in the centuries afterwards. 

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Japanese translation of More’s Utopia

More highbrow alternatives for  kibyōshi  are Ihara Saikaku’s  “Island of Women” (女護島 nyogonoshima) in which the author criticizes gender inequality, and Yoshitsune’s trip to fantastic islands with half-human, half-animals creatures  in the classic  The Tale of the Heike (平家物語 Heike monogatari). Once Japan’s borders opened up for foreign literature in the second half of the 19th century, the Japanese public became fascinated by Western utopias. For example, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was translated and published in 1880, More’s Utopia the year after that. Moichi (1999) argues that the Japanese imported Western novels as a type of Western technology that had a political purpose. As a result, Japanese utopian-style texts inspired by this Western literature mainly promoted a modern ideology, which they hoped would result in political change in Japan’s near future. Coincidently, the Japanese public gained an enormous interest in writings on the future – eutopian or dystopian (the latter was slightly favored because it could shock the readers more).

I could devote an entire post to the well-established tradition of futurological literature in Japan, but at least an introduction is in order since both genres are often interlinked (stories about other, unfamiliar worlds regularly take place in the future). Drawing on the contents of an interesting class I took last year, I was able to trace the origins of futuristic narratives back to early Japanese history. The genre of miraiki (未来記 “record of the future”) is a literary tradition in Japanese history that has its roots in Chinese dynastic writings. At the start of every new dynasty in China (often established by means of a massacre), the new royal family had to justify why they deserved the “heavenly mandate”  (tenmei 天命) by discrediting the previous dynasty. Hence, they referred to a text that had “predicted” the rightful establishment of a new dynasty (the massacre part of the old dynasty was also slightly downplayed).

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“Prince Shotoku’s secret writings “Miraiki” disclosed”

It is not difficult to guess that this text was written by the new dynasty and not by someone in the past. As a result, we can regard traditional “futuristic texts” more as writings about the past than about the future. Since Japan does not have a dynastic system, their take on futuristic texts was different: most miraiki were attributed to Prince Shōtoku (Shōtoku Taishi 聖徳太子, 574-622) who is said to be capable of predicting the future. Those texts emerged throughout the Heian period and the Japanese Middle Ages. Similar to the Chinese original, miraiki were used in political discourse for refiguring the past. So here as well, miraiki are part of a literary tradition that claims to be futurological in spirit but is actually historical. The reliance on Prince Shōtoku’s authority to introduce certain standpoints clearly indicates the political character of miraiki. 

Miraiki underwent a drastic transformation from the Edo period  (1603-1868) on: they were trivialized and appeared in the form of satiric kibyōshi for the general public (this should ring a bell for attentive readers!). In other words, the genre of kibyōshi is believed to emerge from the tradition of miraiki. Yet, these “new” miraiki differed considerably. Kibyōshi stories are not necessarily set in the future, but those that are, are seen as equally impossible as utopian-ish stories, which results in absurd and comical narratives. This changed, again, with the arrival of Western futuristic works at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912). The future became more approachable, and speculation about it less absurd. According to Kurita (2000: 6), “Japanese during the formative years of Meiji, like the founders of the United States (…) had an unusually keen interest in proactively creating their own future.” Reminiscent of miraiki literature, it is remarkable that, once again, Japan wanted nothing more than to glorify and at the same time rewrite its past: the Meiji Restoration is characterized by a desire to go back to imperial rule and make an end to the power of the shogunate that had been overshadowing the emperor’s leadership from 1185 on. Hence, the future of Japan was envisioned with the past in mind.

anno-2065Kurita further argues that the reception of the Dutch novel Anno 2065; Een Blik in de Toekomst (“A Glimpse into the Future”, 1865) by Dr. Dioscorides aka Pieter Harting in Japan acted as the stimulus to another change in literary perception of the future. Anno 2065 appealed to the Japanese because of its “dream device”. The narrator falls asleep and wakes up in the future. According to Kurita, this inspired many Japanese authors to use  the same dream device in their miraiki. However, it should be noted that the “dream”, or rather, “the magical dream pillow” is a traditional element in Chinese, Korean and Japanese storytelling, and we should be careful to interpret the presence of it in Meiji period miraiki as a mere imitation of Western works that use a similar device. From the 1880s on, the refashioned miraiki integrated a Western notion of utopianism and futurology by not only focusing on the past, but also taking present understandings into consideration. Between 1885 and 1890, more than 100 miraiki were published.

One work in particular, Nijūsannen miraiki 二十三年未来記 (The Year 23: A Record of the Future, 1886) by Suehiro Tecchō 末広鉄腸 (writer’s name Suehiro Shigeyasu 末廣重恭), helped the miraiki genre gain a nation-wide but short-lived popularity (previously published texts, sometimes with the same title, were also influential but Suehiro’s novel was the first one able to break through successfully). The year 23 refers to Meiji 23, or 1890. Not really that far away in the future to count as futurological literature, you would think. Nevertheless, life in 1890 was imagined very differently due to a drastic change: the introduction of a Diet system. In 1881, an edict called into existence a constitution and a National Diet. Since the public was not familiar with these concepts, journalists such as Suehiro wanted to educate people about this new political system and promote it through means of the popular genre of miraiki.

The story in The Year 23 depicts a parliamentary debate in 1890. Again, miraiki mainly played a political role. Yet, they were innovative in combining a Japanese traditional genre with a futurological perspective as introduced through Western literature. They are set in the (near) future, but do also reflect contemporary society mixed with expectations and desires about how Japan should look like (hopefully to be fulfilled in the future). In that sense, these kind of miraiki have a flavor of eutopian utopias, albeit a different one than More’s work evoked in the West. After the second World War, Japanese readers became interested in American science fiction (often in a dystopian setting)  which also resulted in SF novels flooding the market. Today, utopianism is a recurring theme in modern Japanese literature. Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, for example (check one of my first posts on this book here!), or manga such as Akira and  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Enough reading material to feel like you are living in a different world…

 

Old Stories of Madness

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Next up in our “Mental Health in Japan” series is a limited selection of stories on “madness” as recorded in Japan’s classic literature of the Heian period (794-1185), with a special focus on terminology. I have already written several posts on Heian literature, partly because it was by reading these books that I became fascinated with Japanese culture. I am a huge fan of Sei Shonagon (I recommend her Pillow Book to everyone who wants to explore court life in Japan around the year 1000) and, of course, I should mention Murasaki Shikibu, creator of Japan’s biggest playboy ever. Both female writers are featured in this post. If you’re interested in the topic of “madness”, you should also check out part one, two and three of my “Mental Health” series.


Story no. 1: The Great Mirror and Mad Emperors

The Great Mirror (Ōkagami大鏡), a historical account written during the latter half of the Heian period, briefly mentions the “madness” of emperor Reizei (950-1011). Ōe Masafusa (1041-1111) describes in his diary (Gōki江記) the eccentric demeanor of the emperor at a young age: One day, he kicked a football for a whole day without minding his bleeding feet; when a fire broke out in the palace, he was singing songs with a loud voice while fleeing; in response to his father’s letter, he once sent a drawing of a phallus and so on[1]. Reizei’s fits of insanity are explained in The Great Mirror as “an affliction attributed to the angry spirits of his half-brother and disappointed rival, Murakami’s oldest son, and of the mother and grandfather of the unsuccessful Prince, all of whom had died when Reizei was about three years old[2]”. His condition is the result of a curse (tatari祟) caused by the revengeful spirits (onryō怨霊) of the relatives he had allegedly robbed from their imperial title, upon which they had died out of despair[3]. Once acceded to the throne, Reizei was forced to abdicate due to his mental instability only two years later. The curse also had repercussions for the mental health of his offspring, among whom Reizei’s son emperor Kazan is discussed in The Great Mirror as well. Another example is Reizei’s daughter Sonshi. It was rumored that she left the palace and became a nun because of a hereditary mental illness. [4].

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Emperor Reizei’s tomb in Kyoto.

Reizei’s mental disorder is referred to as 御物の怪 (o-mono no ke of which o is a honorific prefix) several times throughout The Great Mirror, a term of which the meaning is linked to religion and spirituality. Another term that is used at a certain point in the narrative, is kurui (狂ひ), which has a more negative connotation. Kurui appears in a dialogue between Minamoto no Toshikata, Minister of Popular Affairs, and the priest Fujiwara no Michinaga. Minamoto is sharing some amusing anecdotes about the eccentric behavior of emperor Kazan with Fujiwara, and attributes his mental disorder directly to his “deficient character from birth”. He adds that “Kazan’s craziness (kurui) is even more difficult to handle than his father’s, emperor Reizei”, after which they both burst out in laughter[5].

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Emperor Kazan, Reizei’s son.

Unlike The Story of Splendor (Eiga Monogatari 栄花物語), in which a metaphorical approach is adopted, The Great Mirror criticizes the mental condition of emperor Reizei and his son Kazan directly[6]. Moreover, it is suggested that they bear the responsibility for their disorder themselves, despite the fact that the pathogenesis is otherwise stated as mono no ke throughout the work. Hence, The Great Mirror further comments that Emperor Kazan was said to be “looking great on the outside, but lacking on the inside[7]”, while emphasizing the latter[8]. From the context in which kurui appears, we can deduce that the two terms used to describe a mental disorder here have different connotations. Whereas mono no ke has a spiritual background and a rather positive nuance, kurui appears to be a means to enhance criticism or mockery towards the possessors of such a mental condition.

Another suggestion is that Reizei was only slightly eccentric, and that the abnormality of his behavior was grossly exaggerated by the Fujiwara clan. As a result of these rumors, Reizei as well as Kazan were forced to abdicate at a young age[9]. Even if the assumed mental disorder of both emperors would be part of  a political set-up, the criticism and mockery, or the fact that badmouthing about the opponent’s mental condition was an efficient way to eliminate them, still shows that the ancient society in Japan was, to a certain extent, prone to stigmatization against people afflicted with a mental disorder.

References: [1] Yawata, Kazuo八幡和郎. Biographies of Successive Generations of Emperors: “National History” You Want to Know as a Japanese歴代天皇列伝: 日本人なら知っておきたい「国家の歴史」(Rekidai tennō retsuden: nihonjin nara shitteokitai “kokka no rekishi”). Tokyo: PHP Research Institute, 2008, p. 895. [2] McCullough, Helen Craig, Tamenari Fujiwara, and Yoshinobu Fujiwara. Ōkagami, the Great Mirror: Fujiwara Michinaga (966-1027) and His Times : A Study and Translation, 1980, p. 346. [3] “Emperor Reizei” 冷泉天皇 (Reizei tennō) in Asahi Encyclopedia of Historical Figures in Japan 朝日日本歴史人物事典 (Asahi nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten) Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Printing, 1994. [4] Groner, Paul. Ryōgen and Mount Hiei: Japanese Tendai in the Tenth Century. Studies in East Asian Buddhism 15. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2002, p. 266. [5] For original text and translation in modern Japanese see appendix 3. [6] Satō, Asano佐藤あさの. “Emperor Reizei in The Great Mirror”『大鏡』冷泉天皇 (“Ōkagami” Reizei tennō) summary graduation thesis, Hokkaido university of Education, Association for National language and literature, Sapporo National Language Research, 17 (2012): 103. [7] Original text: その帝をば内劣りの外めでたとぞ、世の人申し. [8] Tsuji, Kazuyoshi辻和良. “The Appearance of Kazan: Narrative in The Great Mirror”花山の姿 : 大鏡の<カタル>方法 (Kazan no sugata: Ōkagami no ‘kataru’ hōhō) Journal of Nagoya Women’s University, Humanities and Social Sciences, 36 (1990): 304–297, p. 303. [9] Hattori, Toshiyoshi服部敏良. Research Tidbits on the History Medicine in Japan日本医学史研究余話 (Nihon igakushi kenkyū yowa) Kagakushoin, 1981, p. 299.

Story no. 2: The Pillow Book and  Mono no Ke

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Writer Sei Shonagon

Mono no ke is a returning concept in Heian literature, represented in The Diary of Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book, all works written by women. It originated in 8th century China and became a popular term among the Japanese aristocracy during the 9th century. Mono no ke is composed out of the characters物 (mono, meaning “thing”, a substitute out of superstition for writing or saying the word “demon”鬼) and ke 怪, related to気 (spirit) and literally means “the spirit of an evil ghost[10]. It refers to the curse cast either by the ghost of a deceased person or by the vengeful spirit of a living creature. Such a curse took concrete shape in physical or mental illness. Sei Shonagon records in her diary The Pillow Book (Makura no Sōshi枕草子, 1002) under “hateful things” the following item:

Someone has suddenly fallen ill and one summons the exorcist. Since he is not at home, one has to send messengers to look for him. After one has had a long, fretful wait, the exorcist finally arrives, and with a sigh of relief one asks him to start his incantations. But perhaps he has been exorcizing too many evil spirits [=mono no ke] recently; for hardly has he installed himself and begun praying when his voice becomes drowsy. Oh, how hateful![11]

Doctors in the Heian period were called genza 験者, practitioners of esoteric Buddhism or folklore Shintoism, who treated illnesses by exorcizing the evil spirits causing the disease. Shirane explains: “The aim of the exorcist was to transfer the evil spirit from the afflicted person to the medium, usually a young girl or a woman, and to force it to declare itself. The exorcist used various spells and incantations to make the Guardian Demon of Buddhism take possession of the medium. When he was successful, the medium would tremble, scream, have convulsions, faint or behave as if in hypnotic trance. The spirit would then declare itself through her mouth. The final step was to drive the spirit out of the medium[12]“.

Once again, diseases are set against a religious and spiritual background. As the doctor in Sei Shonagon’s story is exhausted from overworking, it appears that sudden attacks of mono no ke were very common at that time. One believed that the most effective way to treat illness was to recite incantations. A failed exorcist session is covered in The Pillow Book as a “depressing thing”.

With a look of complete self-confidence on his face an exorcist prepares to expel an evil spirit [=mono no ke] from his patient. Handing his mace, rosary, and other paraphernalia to the medium who is assisting him, he begins to recite his spells in the special shrill tone that he forces from his throat on such occasions. For all the exorcist’s efforts, the spirit gives no sign of leaving, and the Guardian Demon fails to take possession of the medium. The relations and friends of the patient, who are gathered in the room praying, find this rather unfortunate. After he recited his incantations for the length of an entire watch [= two hours], the exorcist is worn out. (…) “Well, well, it hasn’t worked!” [13]

References[10] Takeguchi, Ryūsuke竹口竜介. “About the Genesis and Social Conditions of Mono no Ke during the Heian Period” 平安時代における物怪発生と社会状況について (Heian jidai ni okeru mono no ke hassei to shakai jōkyō nit tsuite) Journal of Ryūkoku University Graduate School for Literature Research 龍谷大学大学院文学研究科紀要 (Ryūkoku daigakuin bungaku kenkyūka kiyō), 27 (Dec 2005): 328-334, p. 330. [11] Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Abridged ed. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 151.[12] Original footnote in ibid., p. 149. [13] Ibid., p. 149.

Story no. 3: The Tale of Genji and jealous spirits

In order to nuance our definition of mono no ke, it is necessary to look into its use in The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari 源氏物語, early 11th century). The fact that this term appears 51 times indicates its role as a key feature throughout the work. Writer Murasaki Shikibu attributes 18 personae with a spiritual possession, among which the story of Genji’s wife, Aoi, and the spirit of his mistress, the Rokujō lady, is perhaps the most representative.

At Sanjō, Genji’s wife seemed to be in the grip of a malign spirit [mono no ke]. It was no time for nocturnal wanderings. (…) Several malign spirits were transferred to the medium and identified themselves, but there was one which quite refused to move. Though it did not cause great pain, it refused to leave her for so much as an instant. There was something very sinister about a spirit that eluded the powers of the most skilled exorcists. The Sanjō people went over the list of Genji’s ladies one by one. Among them all, it came to be whispered, only the Rokujō lady and the lady at Nijō seemed to have been singled out for special attentions, and no doubt they were jealous. The exorcists were asked about the possibility, but they gave no very informative answers.[14]

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Aoi and Genji, surrounded by anxious court ladies.

Aoi passes away due to an illness caused by the jealous spirit of the Rokujō lady, who is unaware of her own soul’s wanderings. Apart from Aoi’s suffering, Shikibu also emphasizes the mixed feelings of the Rokujō lady, unable to suppress her jealousy and overcome with self-loathing. In this sense, both ladies are victimized by the “madness” mono no ke generates. Other characters described as haunted by an evil spirit, nearly all of them female, are driven mad by love-related conflicts.

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“Aoi no Ue” in Illustrated Book of Monsters (怪物絵本, kaibutsu ehon 1881)

It is clear that the Tale of Genji does not strive to render a realistic image of mental disorders. Shikibu employs mono no ke as a metaphorical tool to liberate women from social restrictions and empower them to express their suppressed feelings. As Bargen argues, “spirit possession and exorcism are understood, on the one hand, as a dramatic, subversive response to social injustice and the psychological repression of women and, on the other, as the attempt of controlling groups to pacify female frustration and rage[15]”. The Tale of Genji already enjoyed great popularity in the Heian period. It should, therefore, not surprise that its influence attributed to the establishment of mono no ke as a dramatic concept in the literature and arts of later periods.

References[14] Murasaki Shikibu and Edward G. Seidensticker, translator. The Tale of Genji. eBooks@Adelaide, chapter 9 “Heartvine”. [15] Bargen, Doris G. “Spirit Possession in The Context of Dramatic Expressions of Gender Conflict: The Aoi Episode of The Genji Monogatari.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 48, no. 1 (June 1988): 95–130, p. 96.

The Perception of Mental Disorders in Ancient Japan

20160623_193344.jpgAs mentioned before, several parts of my Master’s dissertation (“The Stigmatization of People with a Mental Disorder in Premodern Japan: Research from a Cultural Historical Perspective”) will be posted on Nippaku. Click here to check out the first introductory part! Another history post related to this topic that might be of interest to you is this one about the similarities and differences between the Belgian city of Gheel and the Japanese hamlet of Iwakura. Today, we will go as far back in time as the eighth century to discover how people with a mental disorder were regarded and treated during the Nara and early Heian period.


“Madness” as a Privilege of the Shaman

The oldest notion of “madness” can be traced back to shamanism, a spiritual practice that originated in the Paleolithic period[1]. The Japanese form of shamanism, mikoism, was shaped with the diffusion of shamanism in Central Asia, although there are as many differences as similarities[2]. In the hunter-gatherer society, it was believed that the animals they hunted down for food could reincarnate. A Siberian fortune teller, or shaman, descended into the world of the sacrificed animals to predict by means of their bones whether this was the case or not. The shaman also wore animal hair and skin to adopt animalistic features. In order to psychologically immerse himself in the underworld, the shaman drank extracts of poisonous mushrooms, uttered incantations, danced fanatically until he or she eventually fell down on the ground and entered a state of apparent death. The poisonous substances triggered a state of altered consciousness, interpreted as “madness” and today known as a mental disorder caused by narcotics or alcohol. The fact that the character for “mad” (狂) in Japanese has the radical for dog or animal (犬)[3] can be traced back to this shamanistic practice.

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Picture from an article in National Geographic, depicting a Mongolian shaman. The text says “shaman, the one chosen by the spirits” – http://natgeo.nikkeibp.co.jp/nng/article/20121120/331216/

With the emergence of sedentary agricultural societies, shamans continued to play an important role by predicting successful harvests. The harvest was a matter of life or death, and shamans were often appointed as king or queen of newly-formed states. Although they combined a spiritual responsibility with a political role, shamans still carried a strong link with “madness”. During times of war, the king or queen, “raging with anger” would lead the troops. “Anger” expresses just like “madness” a strong affective change[4]. In the shamanistic society, the privilege of being “mad” inferred a supernatural statute, and was only granted to shamans, or kings and queens.

Footnotes[1] Omata, Waichirō 小俣和一郎. The History of Psychiatry 精神医学の歴史 (Seishin igaku no rekishi). Tokyo: Daisan Bunmeisha, 2005, p. 21ff. [2] Fairchild, William P. “Shamanism in Japan.” Folklore Studies 21 (1962): 1, p. 105. [3] Kamada, Tadashi鎌田正and Toratarō Komeyama米山寅太郎 “狂.” (kyō) in New Kanji Forest新漢語林, Taishūkan Shoten, 2011.

Early Accounts of Mental Disorders

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The oldest extant manuscript (眞福寺本shinpukuji-hon) of the “Kojiki” – Wikimedia Commons

The oldest preserved Japanese law documents that gives an account of the treatment of mentally disordered citizens, is the Taihō Ritsuryō (701). According to this premodern law system, mental disorders were divided into three categories[5] based on the severity of the disorder. Citizens suffering from the two most severe disorders, were registered as fukakō (不課口) or fukuwa (不課), and discharged from corvée. The law also stipulated that people with a mental disorder of the most severe type should receive nursing care[6]. Moreover, the punishment for crimes committed by individuals with a mental disorder was slightly reduced[7]. Although it remains unclear whether these provisions were actually realized, we can see that during the eighth century, the law system did not prescribe the proactive banishment or persecution of individuals with a mental disorder but pursued a policy of social integration.

Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki古事記, 712), the oldest literary work in Japan, comprises another description of the reaction to “madness”.

Then His-Swift-Impetuous-Male-Augustness said to the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity: “Owing to the sincerity of my intentions I have, in begetting children, gotten delicate females. Judging from this I have undoubtedly gained the victory.” With these words, and impetuous with victory, he broke down the divisions of the rice-fields laid out by the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity filled up the ditches, and moreover strewed excrements in the palace where she partook of the great food. So, though he did thus, the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity upbraided him not, but said: “What looks like excrements must be something that His Augustness mine elder brother has vomited through drunkenness. Again, as to his breaking down the divisions of the rice-fields and filling up the ditches, it must be because be grudges the land they occupy that His Augustness mine elder brother acts thus.” But notwithstanding these apologetic words, he still continued his evil acts, and was more and more violent. As the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity sat in her awful weaving hall seeing to the weaving of the august garments of the deities, he broke a hole in the top of the weaving-hall, and through it let fall a heavenly piebald horse which he had flayed with a backward flaying, at whose sight the women weaving the heavenly garments were so much alarmed they died of fear.[8]

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Susanoo, here in a sober state, saving a princess from a dragon – Wikimedia Commons

His-Swift-Impetuous-Male Augustness, otherwise called Susanoo, drank too much out of excitement and started to act like a “madman”. His sister the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity, or Amaterasu, forgave him the first time, attributing his vicious behavior to a mental change caused by alcohol. However, when Susanoo threw a skinned horse through the roof, Amaterasu was terrified and hid herself into a cave.

The “madness” here illustrated can be further explained by the hare and ke dichotomy theorized by Yanagita Kunio in A History of the Meiji and Taisho periods: Social Conditions 明治大正史 世相篇 (Meiji taishō shi  sesō hen, 1930). Hare, “the sacred”, refers to something formal, festive, ritual, public and extraordinary whereas ke, “the secular”, alludes to the profane, mundane, private and everyday life. Based on Yanagita’s thesis, the suggestion here is that people who lost the ability to discern between hare, the sacred and ke, the profane, behaved as was only permitted on hare days, and were, therefore, labeled as a “mad”.

Susanoo, for example, was so proud of his accomplishment that he started drinking alcohol and acting violently, this in contrast with his sister and the other women, who were dealing with their daily activities. His actions were seen as “defilement”, kegare, in a ke context, whereas it would have been perceived as a sign of spirituality in a hare context. Although Susanoo was heavily punished for his vicious acts in the end, it should be noted that Amaterasu first shows some mercy regarding his mental condition.

Footnotes[4] Perhaps best illustrated in the English language, where the word “mad” covers those two connotations. [5] Zenshichi残疾, haishichi癈疾 and tokushichi篤疾.[6] Hashimoto, Akira橋本明. The history of psychiatric care in Japan. Were there rights for “mental patients”? – Gleaners in the history of psychiatric care in Europe.日本の精神医療史. “精神病者”の権利はなかったのか?―ヨーロッパ精神医療史の落穂拾い― (Nihon no seishin iryōshi. “seishin byōsha” no kenri ha nakatta no ka? – yōroppa seishin iryōshi no ochibohiroi), 2002.  [7] Omata, History of Psychiatry, p. 48.[8] Chamberlain, R. H. The Kojiki. Seattle: PublishingOnline, 2001, p. 32-33.

“Mad” People and Religion

One way to discover elements of (non-)stigmatization in a certain period in time, is by looking at the terminology used for individuals with a mental disorder and the positive, neutral or negative connotations these words bear. In Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki 日本書紀, 720)[9], Shoku Nihongi続日本紀 (797)[10] and Saimeiki 斎明記[11], the word tabure 狂is used to describe “madness”. Tabure has a double meaning: on the one hand, it is connected with the word tawamure 戯れ, meaning nowadays “jest”, “flirtation” or “joke”, and indicates a deviant social behavior, such as in the story about Susanoo’s ravage. On the other hand, tabure is derived from the phrase tamashii ni fureru 魂に触れる, “to touch the soul”, and refers to spirit possessions, as was practiced in Shintoism[12]. Accordingly, “mad people” were called taburebito狂人. This term appears neutral, even positive in combination with a context based on hare. Notwithstanding, only one word existed to point out “mad people” at that time, so it could in se also express strong disapproval of others’ deviant social conduct.

An example of taburebito used to condemn those not in their right mind, can be found in Veritable Records of Three Reigns in Japan (Nihon sandai jitsuroku日本三代実録, 901). An imperial edict from the year 866 warns that “in the case lunatics would conspire to destroy the state, all deities will quickly resurrect”[13]. This criticism is directed towards the conspirators of the Ōtenmon incident of the same year[14]. Those who would harm the state and therefore also its fundament, the emperor, officially the descendent of the gods, must be crazy. Taburebito is used here to argue that rebellion against the political institution or emperor is pure “madness”[15].

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People running to the burning Otenmon Gate, painted scroll from the 12th century – Wikimedia Commons

Around the Nara period, the Sino-Japanese reading of the character for “mad”, kyō 狂, came into use. Kyō is not as old as the Japanese reading tabure and bears in addition a slightly more negative connotation: it is used to direct social criticism towards people behaving differently from what convention prescribes, especially when the motive or reason for this demeanor is known[16]. In other words, Kyō roughly overlaps with the first meaning of tabure, but has an additional element of criticism.

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Yamabushi – Wikimedia Commons

Another characteristic of “madness” in Ancient Japan lies in the connection between taburebito and the practice of mountain worship (sangaku shinkō山岳信仰). With the development of an agricultural society on the flatland, mountains were held to be the abode of kami and became objects of worship[17]. They were, therefore, forbidden ground for normal villagers. On hare days, kami descended from the mountains to the village, and the “madness” originating at sacred heights was temporarily transferred. People who entered the mountains were thus regarded as “madmen”. Especially on ke days, this kind of deviant behavior represented a breach or escape from everyday interpersonal relations[18].

At the same time, however, mountains were supernatural places where an encounter with the gods became possible, and attracted for that reason people wandering around in search of spiritual enlightenment[19]. Taburebito who used to do so on normal days were regarded as “close to the gods” and gained a special status. Their aberrant conduct was not judged on a personal level but in a religious context, in the sense that their connection with kami was predestined and necessary for a smooth communication with the supernatural world. In the footsteps of shamans and miko, taburebito played an important role in mediating between the two worlds. Considering that “madness” was strongly connected with hare, we can conclude here that an interpretation of non-stigmatization can be applied.

Footnotes: [9] E.g. tabure gokoro no mizo 狂心渠 “the ditch of madness”, an enormous water construction ordered by empress Saimei (chapter 26). [10] E.g. tabure madō 狂迷 “go astray in madness” (16th emperial edict). Frellesvig, Bjarke, Stephen Wright Horn, Kerri L. Russell, and Peter Sells. The Oxford Corpus of Old Japanese. [11] Actually a part of the Nihon Shoki. Saimeiki gives an account of the feigned “madness” (itsuwari tabure) of prince Arima.[12] Oda, Japanese Sources on Madness, p. 15, 17-18. [13] Original text: 若狂人乃國家乎亡止謀留事奈良波。皇神達早顯出給比 (若し狂人の国家を亡さむと謀る事ならば皇神達早く顕出し給ひ).  [14] Although it is unclear who actually conspired against who, the incident started with the main gate of the royal palace (Ōtenmon) burnt down. Several accusations were made, but in the end Fujiwara no Yoshifusa seized the power, executed his political enemies and was promoted as Regent. [15] Dismissing those who rebel against the emperor and imperial family as “madmen” is not only limited to this period, but is a recurring phenomenon throughout Japanese history, also referred to as a side effect of the “chrysanthemum taboo菊タブー(kiku tabū, chrysanthemum refers to the imperial house)”. For an overview of such incidents in modern Japanese history, see Inoue, Shōichi井上章一. Madness and Royal Authority 狂気と王権 (Kyōki to ōken), Tokyo, Kodansha, 2008. [16] Oda, Japanese Sources on Madness, p. 15. [17] Yano, Kazuyuki. “Sacred Mountains Where Being of ‘Kami’ Is Found.” 16th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium: Finding the Spirit of Place – between the Tangible and the Intangible. Quebec, Canada, 2008, p. 1. [18] Oda, Japanese Sources on Madness, p. 27-28. [19] Yanagita, Kunio. Mountain Village Life. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1961.

“Madness” in Buddhism

During the 6th century, Buddhism was introduced in Japan and later adopted as the official religion. The monk Keikai edited 116 Buddhist stories from the Nara period and earlier in the Nihonkoku (Genhō Zenaku) Ryōiki日本(国現報善悪)霊異記 (822)[20]. In this compilation there are several stories dealing with mental disorders, but remarkable is that this “madness” is often reported as punishment for a crime committed towards Buddhism. For example, it is described how one man harbors ill feeling towards Buddhism and tries to lock up a Buddhist monk begging for money. The monk escapes and recites incantations, upon which the man loses his mind and starts running around like crazy.

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The Nihon Ryōiki – Wikimedia Commons

It is likely that the introduction of Buddhism from mainland China via Korea brought along a change in the perception of “madness” in Ancient Japan. In contrast with the positive connotations attributed to taburebito in Shintoism and folk religion, “madness” here is in nothing related to supernatural beings, but perceived as a punishment on a personal level, a prevalent understanding of “illness” as “evil” in several religions around the world. “Mad” people do not contribute to society or gain a special status in a Buddhist context. They are marked with a mental disorder as proof of their “defiant” behavior and categorized as impure together with criminals, debtors et cetera. In such cases, the Sanskrit word ummatta is used to express “insanity”. Nevertheless, there was legal and social consideration towards people with a mental disorder, for example, monks who developed a mental illness were not accountable for crimes against the Buddhist law[21]. On the other hand, religious experiences such as possessions, illusions or hallucinations are not unusual in Buddhism[22]. These experiences are temporary, caused externally and mystically significant, but unlike Shintoism and folk religion in Japan, Buddhism differentiates between experiences with a spiritual connection and other “madness”, or ummatta. This perception views ummatta as devoid of religiosity (hare) and is more likely to encourage the stigmatization of individuals with a mental disorder, rather than the generalizing notion of “madness” in Shintoism does.

Footnotes: [20] This work is translated by Watson, Burton as Record of Miraculous Events in Japan: The Nihon Ryōiki. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.[21] Koike, Kiyoyuki. “Mental disorders from a Buddhist View, especially those within the Nikaya, the Vinaya Pitaka and the corresponding Chinese translations” in Indian and Tibetan Studies Research, 7 & 8, p. 178.[22] Oda, Japanese Sources on Madness, p. 55-56.

Haiku with a Cup of Tea

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First of all, I must admit that I am not a huge haiku fan: I love reading poetry, but I prefer long poems, just like I usually read thick books. That being said, from time to time I enjoy browsing through some haiku collections. Last year I received the Dutch translation of Classic Haiku, a compilation of some of the most famous haiku categorized by master. Among these names, my favorite haiku writer is definitely Kobayashi Yatarō (1763-1828), known by his pen name Issa 一茶. Issa literally means “one (cup of) tea” and refers to the serenity of the Japanese tea tradition 茶道 (sadō) but also to the emptiness of life, as can be observed in the disappearing froth on a cup of matcha tea. Throughout this post, I will visually serve you five haiku by Issa and five types of Japanese tea. Enjoy!


genmaicha utsukushiya nippaku 1

Issa wrote more than 20,000 haiku. His style is characterized by a simplicity and childish admiration for the outside world. “Lower” creatures such as flies, frogs, snails etc. are often the topic of his poems, in contrast to more traditional kigo 季語 (seasonal words) other famous haiku masters employ. Issa introduces the sentimentality and banality of everyday life into his poetry.

jasminetea muddy claws nippaku

Issa was not exactly a lucky man. When his mother died, he was forced by his “evil stepmother” to leave the house, his first two wives and all of his children died, and when he at last managed to secure a part of his family’s property, his house burnt down. Shortly after that, he died in the storehouse next to the house that had survived the fire. Despite his misery, Issa succeeds in capturing the beauty of nature with empathy for every living being. He also often mixes in personal feeling. Therefore, his poetry is considered to be more “humane”.

matcha dragonfly nippaku

Issa’s poetry is often humorous, and in many cases verging on satire. He uses a colloquial tone, plain language and sometimes local dialects. This results in very down-to-earth poetry that is accessible to all kinds of readers.

sencha karasu tilling field nippaku

Similar to Bashō a century before, Issa was the wandering type of poet. After having studied the art of haiku under Nirokuan Chikua in Edo, he became a Buddhist priest and travelled around Japan for about ten years. Apparently, Issa looked like a beggar, was extremely poor and lived off the earnings of others. His situation is reflected in  humorous self-portraits and haiku mocking his own condition. He wrote from the perspective of people at the bottom of society and created a new poetic style that differed greatly from previous haiku masters.

milky oolong milkyway nippaku

Facts for Fun

  • On hot days in Japan, everybody drinks chilled tea and I loved to check out new kinds of tea during my time spent there. My favorite cold tea is jūrokucha 十六茶, a mix of sixteen different teas (the more the better!), followed by hōjicha ほうじ茶 (roasted green tea) and iced barley tea (mugicha 麦茶). The last one is offered for free in many shops. [List of Japanese teas here.] When it is hot in Belgium, I usually make lots of Oolong tea and put it in the fridge. So refreshing!

References

  • Lowenstein, Tom, John Cleare, and Susanne Castermans-Nelleke. Klassieke haiku’s: de mooiste Japanse poëzie van Bashō, Buson, Issa, Shiki en hun navolgers. Kerkdriel: Librero, 2015.
  • Ueda, Makoto, and Issa Kobayashi. Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa. Brill’s Japanese Studies Library, v. 20. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2004.
  • Database Issa poetry [in Japanese]
  • Haikuguy [in English]
  • All translations and pictures are mine. For the translations of the Japanese haiku I chose to stick to the 5-7-5 rule.
teacollectionnippaku

Part of my tea collection: matcha, genmaicha, jasmine tea, Chinese milky oolong tea and sencha.

Japanese Poetry and Nature

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Sakura-themed coffee I enjoyed earlier this spring in Japan.

Japanese culture is often said to have a special connection with nature. Japanese aesthetics are therefore characterized by this “traditional love of nature”[1]. It is true that Japanese people, young and old, participate in several festivals and annual observances celebrating the beauty of nature, such as viewing cherry blossoms in spring or admiring the bright foliage in fall. Daily life also reflects those seasonal associations: cooking, house decorations, clothing and even greetings are systematically adjusted to weather, fauna and flora.  But do the Japanese really have an inherent affinity with nature, more than other people worldwide? For one of my classes at Kobe University, I read parts of Haruo Shirane’s book titled “Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts” (2012). Shirane provides an interesting theory on how this myth was developed throughout Japanese history. In this post, we will look into the connection between nature and poetry.

shiraneThose who know waka 和歌, Japanese poetry, will certainly agree that nature plays a central role in many poems. Haiku 俳句, for example, a still popular poetry genre of poetry nowadays, requires a seasonal word. The connection between nature and poetry is very clear from the fact that “the imagery of Japanese poetry for more than a thousand years was drawn almost exclusively from the natural phenomena of the four seasons[2]”. Hence, nature became a literary device through which human emotions were expressed. To illustrate this, I have tried to closely translate (with the same syllable structure) a tanka 短歌, or short poem, from the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Man’yōshū万葉集), the oldest Japanese poetry anthology. This poem is actually part of a long poem (chōka 長歌) praising Yoshino in spring, a place close to Asuka, the capital at that time.

三吉野乃                            み吉野の                  In fair Yoshino,
象山際乃                            象山の際の              between the Kisa-mountains,
木末尓波                            木末には                  where in the tree tops
幾許毛散和口                    ここだも騒く              you can hear their loud noises,
鳥之聲可聞                        鳥の声かも               the voices of singing birds.
(no. 924 by Yamabe Akihito)

A more poetic translation by Earl Roy Miner[3]:

From among the branches
of the trees upon Mount Kisa’s slopes,
the flocks of birds
fill the lovely vale of Yoshino
with their free and joyous songs.

And a translation by Haruo Shirane[4]:

In beautiful Yoshino’s
Kisa Mountains,
in the tops of the trees
how many, how noisy,
the voices of birds.

Shirane explains that Yoshino symbolized the current political order, but that later on, it would gain fame for its beautiful cherry blossoms and snow scenery. Thus, Yoshino became a place with a poetic essence (utamakura歌枕): only the name of “Yoshino” sufficed to evoke a seasonal association, i.e. spring.

yoshinoscreen

One side of “Folding Screen Depicting Yoshino and Tatsuta”. Although only blossoms and a river are painted on this screen, the scenery can immediately be associated with the poetic place of Yoshino. – 17th century, Museum of Hakone

New for me was Shirane’s argument that the nature embedded in Japanese visual and material culture was not taken directly from primary nature, but was in fact a reference to poetry[5]. In that sense, seasonal associations were originally developed by Japanese poetry and were only then passed onto other genres. As a result, classical paintings with a seasonal theme were not a direct reflection of nature, but rather inspired by the waka tradition that flourished among the urban nobility. Proof is the frequent combination of textual and visual elements, in which an image representing elements from nature or seasonal topics was further embellished by the well-chosen characters from a famous waka poem. From the few characters, a technique called scattered writing (chirashigaki 散書), one could guess what poem was depicted. Examples are clothing designs, paintings and screens, like the one below.

chrashigaki

Painted screen depicting flowers and birds of the four seasons, with scattered writing of waka by Shōkadō Shōjō. – 17th century, http://bunka.nii.ac.jp/

During the Heian period (794-1185), poetry was limited to the nobility, and it is therefore somewhat ironic that the people who barely set foot out of their palaces, wrote thousands of poems about the nature they had isolated themselves from. Moreover, inside they were surrounded by seasonal elements and references to nature’s beauty.

Since Heian aristocratic women rarely went out, screen and partition paintings, decorated with small sheets of waka, became, along with the garden, a surrogate for nature. The women often composed poems not on the actual small cuckoo that they heard in the garden, but on the hototogisu painted on a screen painting or partition. – Shirane (2012), 64.

Shirane calls this “secondary nature” (nijiteki shizen 二次的自然), a culturally constructed nature that resembles in no way the real, raw nature. Hence, it should not come as a surprise that classical poetic motifs were strictly codified. A canon of nature images came into existence: all seasonal elements with their own established associations, set combinations and temporal and physical location. For example, April was represented by the lesser cuckoo (hototogisu ホトトギス) and Deutzia flower (unohana卯の花) in the canonized Poems on Flowers and Birds of the Twelve Months (1214) by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241). Plants, flowers and animals that did not make the waka shortlist were left unsung for centuries. For example, the only four-legged animal was the deer, associated with loneliness, since birds and insects were more fancied among high-class society.

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“Fragment of Rough Sketch of Deer and a Poem” by  Hon’ami Kouetsu – 17th century, Gotoh Museum

Another example is the fact that the most popular seasons to write about were spring and autumn, while in reality summer and winter are the dominant and lengthy seasons. This is perhaps linked to the idea that the Japanese finds identification with nature based on the transience that applies to both man and nature[6]. In that sense, cherry blossoms and bright foliage are representative elements of “fleeting nature” in a “fleeting world”. When poetry diffused to the lower classes during the Edo period, the genre of haikai 俳諧, humorous poetry, gained popularity. Other, even vulgar topics such as cat love (neko-koi 猫恋), were introduced, along with a different perception of the seasons. As a result, new seasonal words were created, greatly varying from the traditional waka-based canon. The focus on nature, however, remained strong, and is still visible in the Japanese culture of today.

In case you would like to know more, I highly recommend the work of Dr. Shirane. Also interesting are two of his presentations on YouTube:


References

[1] Saito, Yuriko. “The Japanese Appreciation of Nature” in The British Journal of Aesthetics 25, no. 3 (1985): 239–51, p. 239.
[2] Asquith, Pamela J., Arne Kalland, Japan Anthropology Workshop, and Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, eds. Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives [Seventh Meeting of the Japan Anthropology Workshop Held in April 1993 in Banff, Alberta]. Repr. Man and Nature in Asia 1. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2004, p. 23.
[3] Miner, Earl Roy. An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. 1. publ. 1968. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press, 1975, p. 68.
[4] Shirane, Haruo, ed. Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600. Translations from the Asian Classics. New York ;Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2008, p. 92-93.
[5] Shirane, Haruo (2012). Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts. New York: Columbia University Press, p. 57.
[6] Saito, The Japanese Appreciation of Nature, p. 248.

Money Matters (2)

You keep it in your pockets every day, you spend it, you worry about it, but what or who exactly is depicted on these bills? Time to find out. This post deals with 5000 and 10,000 Yen, readers who want to know more about 1000 and 2000 Yen should check out my previous post

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This lady is Higuchi Natsuko 樋口夏子 (household name Natsu 奈津), but widely known as Higuchi Ichiyō 樋口 一葉, her pen name. Higuchi was born in 1872 in Tokyo and died of tuberculosis at the very young age of 24. She was one of the most influential writers during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the first woman to make it as a writer in modern Japan. Her work is characterized by an elegant use of language, reflecting Heian literature, mixed with a modern sensibility.

As a little girl, Natsuko loved picture books and she started reading literature at the age of seven. Because her mother considered education unnecessary for girls, Natsuko dropped out of school when she was 9 years old. But Natsuko’s father realised her literary talent and allowed her five years later to take classical poetry lessons at the famous academy Haginoya 萩の舎. There, she also gave lectures as a teaching assistant. Nevertheless, she was treated as a commoner by the rich kids at the academy because of her low rank. Eventually, Natsuko became very introverted and wrestled with an inferiority complex.

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at Haginoya

The Higuchi family - Golddust

The Higuchi family – Golddust

From that point on, the Higuchi family’s life turned into a tragedy. When Natsuko was 19, her father lost everything in a failed business enterprise and died shortly after that. Natsuko became head of the family – unusual for a woman at that time – and she, her mother and her sister desperately tried to meet the ends by doing all kinds of odd jobs, like house-keeping, needlework, weaving sandals and laundry chores. It is said, however, that Natsuko despised this kind of labor and was therefore looking for another source of income. Inspired by a female class mate who published a successful novel, she decided to become a writer.  Natsuko choose “Higuchi Ichiyō” as her pen name and wrote her first novel Kareobana hitomoto かれ尾花一もと (“Withered silver grass”) at the age of twenty.

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Nakarai Tosui

In 1891, she was introduced to journalist and novelist Nakarai Tōsui 半井桃水. Ichiyō became his pupil and with his help and advice, she managed to publish her short stories in some magazines. From her diary, we know that Ichiyō had a crush on the tall, handsome and gentle widower Nakarai, but unfortunately her love was not returned. On the contrary, her mentor turned out to be an infamous womanizer. As a female writer in the male-dominated world of literature, Ichiyō was often the topic of rumours and speculations about her love life. She would never marry, but broke off her engagement due to money problems and turned her ex-fiance down the second time he proposed. 

51Y62QACTHL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Luckily, she had more success with writing. Her break-through came with the publication of Umoregi うもれ木 (“Buried wood”). Ichiyō wrote stories for the famous lit-magazines Bungakukai 文學界and Miyako no Hana 都の花 and her talent was soon acknowledged by prominent Meiji writers. Economically, however, the Higuchi family was not in a good shape and they had to move to the Yoshiwara district, a poor neighbourhood and infamous as a pleasure quarter. This environment served as a setting for one of Ichiyō’s masterpieces, Takekurabe たけくらべ (“comparing statures” often translated as “Child’s play”). Ichiyō opened a variety shop, but closed it the same year, after which the family moved again. Between December 1894 and February 1896, her so-called “14 miraculous months”, she published 10 works of outstanding quality. After that, she only wrote one more work before she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died three months later. Higuchi Ichiyō, the most famous female writer of the Meiji period lived in poverty, but her image will make you rich. Ironic isn’t it?

5000yen_backThe reverse side of a 5000 Yen bill is inspired by a painting on a wall screen by Ogata Kōrin (1658 – 1716). The flowers on the left side are irises 杜若 (kakitsubata). Irises have been considered “classical plants for gardening” since the Edo period and stand out because of their purplish blue color and speckled light yellow interior. The irises screen is a National Treasure of Japan.

Irises_screen_2

Fun Fact The Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari 『伊勢物語』) mentions the prefecture of Aichi as a famous place for irises. The story goes that the protagonist composes the following poem when he and his companions are enjoying the view of an iris marsh from a bridge. The first syllables of every line together form the Japanese word for iris.

ら衣                karagoromo                 I have a beloved wife
つつなれにし   kitsutsu narenishi         Familiar as the skirt
ましあれば      tsuma shi areba           Of a well-worn robe
るばる来ぬる  harubaru kinuru           And so this distant journeying
びをしぞ思ふ   tabi wo shi zo omou     Fills my heart with grief
(translation by McCullough)

References Wikipedia Jp, Wikipedia Eng, Copeland, Rebecca, and Melek Ortabasi. The Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan. Asia Perspectives: History, Society and Culture. Columbia University Press, 2006, Jaanus.

Series_D_10K_Yen_Bank_of_Japan_note_-_front

Finally, we have arrived at the highest bank-note denomination. The 10,000 Yen bill was first introduced in 1957 and portrays Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢 諭吉 (1835-1901), engraved by Oshikiri Katsuzō, since 1984. Japanese people often refer to the 10,000 Yen bill as “Yukichi”. Fukuzawa was a versatile man. He was a writer, teacher, translator, entrepreneur, journalist, liberal ideologist and Enlightenment thinker. He is often called “the Japanese Voltaire” and “one of the founders of modern Japan”. Without doubt, Fukuzawa has played an important role in the transition from the Edo period (1603-1868) into the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan made an end to its feudal system, opened up its ports for foreign trade and underwent a drastic modernization.

FukuzawaYukichiFukuzawa grew up in a low-ranking samurai family in Osaka. From the age of five, he received schooling in Confucianism and Chinese classics. It was soon clear he was a gifted student and at the age of 19, he went to Nagasaki to study Dutch. At that time, Dutch merchants were the only Europeans allowed on Japanese soil, more specifically on Dejima, an artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese were particularly interested in European warfare and artillery, and because they prohibited the Dutchmen to study Japanese, official translators were employed to communicate with and learn about the West (the study of Dutch is called rangaku 蘭学). Although his study in Nagasaki was succesful, his host got envious of his talent and tried to send him away. This attempt failed, but Fukuzawa decided to travel to Edo nevertheless. When he stopped by his family on the road there, his brother persuaded him to complete his study of Dutch in Osaka at Tekijuku 適塾.

doeff halma

The Dutch-Japanese Doeff-Halma Dictionary

In 1856, his elder brother died (his father passed away a long time before) and Fukuzawa became head of the family. Nevertheless, he did not give up studying. To pay his school fees, he successfully translated a Dutch book about fortification as a military strategy and was rewarded free housing and schooling at Tekijuku. There, he mastered the Dutch language in three years and became head teacher at the age of 22. Apart from studying Dutch, Fukuzawa was also interested in the topics introduced in these Dutch books, untill then unknown subjects to Japan such as chemistry and medicine (although he could not stand the sight of blood). In 1858, he was appointed official Dutch translator and sent to Edo (Tokyo today) as a teacher. There, he founded a small, private rangaku school.

The end of Japan’s “splendid isolation” drew near with the arrival of the “black ships” of the American Commodore Perry. Japan signed a treaty with the United States and opened three of its ports to European and American ships in 1859. During a trip to Kanagawa to see the arrival of the foreign ships, Fukuzawa was baffled by the fact that all foreigners used English instead of Dutch. So he started learning English. The same year, he volunteered to be part of a diplomatic mission to San Francisco. The many cultural differences made a big impression on him.

Fukuzawa_Yukichi_with_the_girl_of_the_photo_studio

Fukuzawa with Alice Theodora, the daughter of the photographer, in San Francisco.

Upon his return five months later, he became an offical translator for the Tokugawa shogunate. His first publication was an English-Japanese dictionary, which was actually a translation from a English-Chinese dictionary he bought in America. From that moment on, he changed the subject of his classes from English to Dutch and translated several English works. Fukuzawa embarked on (the first) Embassy mission in 1862, this time via Hong kong and Singapore to France, England, The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Russia. He wrote down his experiences abroad in “Things Western” seiyō jijō 西洋事情, a work of ten volumes that soon became a best-seller. In 1868, Fukuzawa changed the name of his school to Keiō Gijuku 慶應義塾, where he taught mainly political economy. He also brought in foreign professors. Later, Keiō Gijuku would become a university in 1889, the forerunner of today’s Keiō University.

keio

Keio University, then and now.

fukuzawa-yukichi_Fukuzawa authored several works of educational interest, among which An Encouragement of Learning (gakumon no susume 学問のすすめ) is considered one of his most inspiring works. He stressed the importance of education for everyone, and advocated gender equality. Fukuzawa also published critical works and essays, like An Outline of a Theory of Civilization (bunmeiron no gairyaku 文明論之概略) in 1875. As a thinker, Fukuzawa believed that knowledge about the West was essential for the development of a modern Japan and the resistance to European imperialism. Therefor, he introduced many aspects about Western society, like the banking system, postal services, conscription laws, hospitals, electoral systems, parliaments and so on. He established his own newspaper Current Events (Jiji Shinpō 時事新報) in 1882. Thanks to this widely read newspaper, Japanese common people got familiar with the idea of a reformation and modernization in Japan. In 1898, Fukuzawa collapsed due to a cerebral apoplexy. Although he recovered, it occurred again three years later, and eventually led to his death in 1901.

Fun Fact Fukuzawa invented a new letter combination to write the “v”-sound, foreign to the Japanese language. Just like today, it is written as an “u” with two dashes ヴ. So it is thanks to Fukuzawa that I can write my very Flemish name in Japanese.

10000reverse

On the other side of a “Yukichi” we see the Phoenix statue of the  Byōdō-in 平等院 in Uji. This mythological bird represents peace and is the symbol of the imperial household. The Byōdō-in is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan. It was designed as an earthly reflection of the Pure Land Paradise. The main hall is nicknamed Hōō-dō 鳳凰堂 (“Phoenix Hall”) and is actually depicted on the reverse side of a 10 Yen coin. I visited the Byōdō-in during last summer and it certainly is a splendid temple. Can you spot the two phoenixes?

byodoin hoodo

phoenix

References Keiō University, Wikipedia Eng, Wikipedia Jp, Fukuzawa, Yukichi, and Eiichi Kiyooka. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.[Google Books]

Money Matters (1)

You keep it in your pockets every day, you spend it, you worry about it, but what or who exactly is depicted on these bills? Time to find out. This post deals with the 1000 Yen en 2000 Yen bank-notes.

日本1000円札(見本)

On the 1000 Yen bills we have Noguchi Hideyo (野口英世), a bacteriologist who became famous because he discovered the causative agent of syphilis. Noguchi is also the first scientist to appear on a Japanese bank-note.

After his operation. - cao.go.jp

After his operation. – cao.go.jp

As a baby, Noguchi fell into a sunken fireplace, which resulted in a burn and the deformity of his left hand. At the age of eight, he underwent an operation and was so impressed by medical progress that he decided to become a doctor. Noguchi proved to be a very smart kid and obtained his medical license at the age of only twenty. He started working at several hospitals and institutions. As a doctor he distinguished himself by discovering a bubonic plague patient at the quarantine station, and was shortly after that dispatched to Manchuria in order to investigate and prevent the plague that was spreading there.

Noguchi was fluent in Chinese and English, and dreamed of pursuing an academic career abroad. In 1900, he set out for the United States. When his study of venomous snakes proved to be a success, he was appointed an assistant position at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, while working as an assistant for the Carnegie Institution of Washington, he studied for one year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

in Pennsylvania. - cao.go.jp

in Pennsylvania. – cao.go.jp

Upon his return, Noguchi started working at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, Washington. There, he dedicated the rest of his career to bacteriological research. He took a particular interest in yellow fever, and traveled to Central and South America and Africa to do research and develop a vaccine. His findings, however, were heavily criticized and discredited. Next to that, Noguchi had been accused of conducting an unethical human experiment by injecting extracts of syphilis in orphan children. In 1928, Noguchi contracted yellow fever himself and died at the age of 51.

busy with alligators to discover yellow fever - cao.go.jp

busy with alligators to discover yellow fever – cao.go.jp

Despite the fact that later research proved many of his theories false, his findings about syphilis and snake venoms are valuable contributions in the field of medical science. Noguchi was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times and received several honours around the world.

Fun Fact Noguchi was actually born Noguchi Seisaku, but changed his name because of the publication of “Portraits of Contemporary Students” (当世書生気質) by Tsuboichi Shoyo, a novel about a doctor named Nonoguchi Seisaku who lead a life of dissipation and eventually ruined himself.

1000Yen_noteSD_008

The reverse side of a 1000 Yen bill is a cliché representation of Japanese nature: Mount Fuji, lake Motosu and cherry blossoms. It is based on a work of photographer Okada Kōyō (1895-1972). Okada had photographed Mount Fuji for over 50 years and published many Fuji collections. He even established the Fuji Photo Association in 1940. Besides Japan’s most famous mountain, Okada has taken pictures of the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923.

Fun Fact Before 2004, this scenery was actually depicted on the reverse side of a 5000 Yen bill.

References Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, The Rotarian,  Wikipedia, kotobank

P103-2000Yen-(2000)_front

A 2000 Yen bill is rather rare in Japan (some people compare it to the American 2 Dollar bill). I received a bunch of them when I exchanged money back in Belgium, but it appears that Japanese people do not like to use them. They are inconvenient because you cannot use them for vending machines or ATM (I used them without any problem in shops, though) and their unpopularity even lead to concern for the bill’s survival. Which is a pity, because I like the design of this bank-note.

Wikimedia Commons-picture by 663highland

Wikimedia Commons-picture by 663highland

The 2000 Yen bill was only introduced in 2000, to commemorate the millennium and the 26th G8 Summit, held in Nago, Okinawa. For that reason, the obverse side of the bank-note depicts a castle gate in Naha, capital of Okinawa prefecture, namely the Shureimon (守礼門), one of the main accesses to the Shuri Castle (首里城). This castle functioned as the palace of the Ryūkyū Kingdom (15th – 19th century) and was almost totally destroyed during the second World War. Besides its long history, the castle is remarkable because of its architecture: influences of Japanese, Okinawan and Chinese architecture are visible in the use of orange-red, clay tiles and its resemblance to the Forbidden City. The tablet on the gate as well, is in Chinese and reads 「守禮之邦」.When a Chinese delegation visited Okinawa, every Japanese official lower in status than the king had to perform a kowtow in front of the gate to welcome them: three times kneeling and nine times touching the ground with their head.

Fun Fact I The Shureimon was featured in many brochures and guidebooks to attract tourists. The gate, however, did not meet their expectations and got labelled “disappointing landmark”.
Fun Fact II For gamers, the Shureimon may seem familiar. Shuri Castle is the battlefield for the last American mission in Call of Duty: World of War.

2000_Yen_Murasaki_Shikibu

The reverse side of a 2000 Yen bill displays a scene from the Genji Monogatari 源氏物語(The Tale of Genji), and a portrait of a peeking Murasaki Shikibu, the writer of this Tale. In the past, I have published some posts about Genji and his adventures on this blog (here and here). Often called the world’s first modern novel, Genji Monogatari is considered one of the most important works in Japanese classical literature. The tale was written around the 11th century and features a handsome and charming prince, Hikaru Genji 光源氏 (“shining Genji”), leading a life of amorous escapades and political intrigue. The scene depicted on the 2000 Yen bank-note is taken from a handscroll from the 12th Century and is linked to the 38th chapter “Suzumushi” 鈴虫, “The Bell Cricket” of the Genji Monogatari. It is a parallel chapter 並びの巻(narabi no kan), which means that it tells a short story that runs parallel with the main story line. The characters depicted are Prince Genji (right) and Emperor Reizei 冷泉院(left), actually his son, conceived out of an illicit affair with his stepmother.

Genji suggested that the whole night be given over to admiring the bell cricket. He had just finished his second cup of wine, however, when a message came from the Reizei emperor. (…) Even though he in fact had few commitments these days and the Reizei emperor was living in quiet retirement, Genji seldom went visiting. It was sad that the emperor should have found it necessary to send for him. Despite the suddenness of the invitation he immediately began making ready. (…) The Reizei emperor was delighted. His resemblance to Genji was more striking as the years went by. The emperor had chosen to abdicate when he still had his best years ahead of him, and had found much in the life of retirement that pleased him. (translator: Edward Seidensticker)

Now it gets complicated. The calligraphy on the bill does not describe this scene, but is an excerpt of another part of this chapter. It is difficult to read, but this is written in Japanese:

すゝむし
十五夜農遊不
二宮於盤してハ
堂万ひつゝ念珠
あ万支三多ち二
徒るとてなら須
のけはひなとき
いと那三にいそき
流二連いのわ
いとしけく

This is, however, only the half of a “caption” (kotobagaki 詞書), an arranged version of the original text. Compare:

十五夜のゆふ/くれに仏のおまへ
に宮おはしては/しちかくなかめ
たまひつゝ念珠/したまふわかき
あまきみたち二/三人はなたてま
つるとてならす/あかつきのおとみつ
のけはひなとき/こゆさまかはりたる
いとなみにいそき/あへるいとあはれな
るにれいのわ/たりたまひてむしの
いとしけく/みたるるゆうへかなと

with the original text:

十五夜の夕暮に、仏の御前に宮おはして、端近う眺めたまひつつ念誦したまふ。若き尼君たち二、三人、花奉るとて鳴らす閼伽坏の音、水のけはひなど聞こゆる、さま変はりたるいとなみに、そそきあへる、いとあはれなるに、例の渡りたまひて、『虫の音いとしげう乱るる夕べかな』(…),

translated as

On the evening of the full moon, not yet risen, she sat near the veranda of her chapel meditatively invoking the holy name. Two or three young nuns were arranging flowers before the holy images. The sounds of the nunnery, so far from the ordinary world, the clinking of the sacred vessels and the murmur of holy water, were enough to induce tears. Genji paid one of his frequent visits. “What a clamor of insects you do have!” (translator: Edward Seidensticker)

e0131814_21271739The woman in question here is Onna Sannomiya 女三宮, or the Third Princess. She is Genji’s niece and he marries her. Unfortunately, Genji has somewhat lost his youthful charm and his wife gets seduced by a young fellow called Kashiwagi. This liaison results in a baby boy. Onna Sannomiya feels so guilty she enters the nunnery, hence the chapel, holy images and nuns described in this excerpt. The link between these two scenes is the parallel theme of adultery and sons born out of wed-lock (and in my opinion, a hint of incest). Genji recognises himself in the affair his wife was having, blames himself and goes in exile. Maybe the message the Bank of Japan wants to send us by picking out these scenes for their 2000 Yen bank-note, is that you should not spend your money on adultery?

References Wikipedia, The Nation, Genji Monogatari (Eng), summary of Genji Monogatari (Eng), Mixi

Jacob de Zoet: A Dutchman in 19th-century Japan

jacob de zoet bookSome days ago, I finished reading David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. The story is set in Japan at the turn of the 18th century and tells the story of Dutchman Jacob de Zoet, who starts working for the East India Company in order to prove to the father of his beloved Anna that he is a man worthy of her. The intended stay of a few years turns out to be a long and unexpected adventure. Mitchell is beyond doubt a brilliant narrator. His work does not only cover an exciting narrative, it is also built upon profound research. The bestseller was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and received many enthusiast reviews. The story is told from various – Dutch and Japanese – perspectives:

‘David Mitchell told a Japanese newspaper, “My intention is to write a bicultural novel, where Japanese perspectives are given an equal weight to Dutch/European perspectives”.’ (Man Booker Prize)

Mitchell’s background also explains his interest and knowledge of Japan:

‘It is interesting but unnecessary to know that the author has lived in Japan, is the father of half-Japanese children, and has set an earlier novel –number9dream (2001) – in the country. Equally, the fact that this new novel centres on a love story between a European man and a Japanese woman represents no more than the most elementary draw from autobiography. (The Guardian, 9 May 2010)

Underneath the story , ‘dealing with questions of alienation and strangerhood’ (Ching-Chih Wang, 2013), lies Mitchell’s own alienation, experienced as a foreigner in Japan.


The novel creates a setting of Japan during the  Edo period (1603-1868), when it was an isolated country (sakoku 鎖国). No Japanese could leave the country alive, and all contact with foreigners was forbidden. As a result, a united Japan, established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, maintained peace for over 200 years and domestic trade flourished. In 1799, only the Dutch were allowed on Dejima, an artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki.

Nagasaki itself, wood-grey and mud-brown, looks oozed from between the verdant mountains’ splayed toes. The smells of seaweed, effluence and smoke from countless flues are carried over the water. The mountains are terraced by rice paddies nearly up to their serrated summits. (…) Dominating the shorefront is his home for the next year: Dejima, a high-walled, fan-shaped artificial island, some two hundred paces along its outer curve, Jacob estimates, by eighty paces deep, and erected, like much of Amsterdam, on sunken piles. (TAJZ, p.15-16)

Dejima

Dejima

The Dutch were not the first to set foot in Nagasaki. In the 16th century, the Spanish and the Portuguese imported iron weapons, Western cuisine, foreign languages and Christianity (called Nanban “barbarians from the south” trade period). About 130,000 Japanese were converted to this new, humane religion, including many daimyō. With their support, the Portuguese obtained jurisdiction over trade in Nagasaki. The Japanese shogunate felt threatened and Toyotomi Hideyoshi promulgated the first ban on Christianity in 1587. Priests were no longer welcome.

Portuguese ships

Portuguese ships

chrHasekuraPrayerWith the unification of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu at first turned a blind eye towards the foreigners and their Christian mission in favor of trade. Later he realized trade was possible without accepting Christianity and forbade missionaries in 1614. All converts had to be executed, and the Catholics were driven underground (kakure kirishitan 隠れ キリシタン ). The Japanese also disliked that the Pope had divided Oceania among Spain and Portugal, of which the latter would receive Japan. A critical turning point was the battle of Shimabara in 1637, a rebellion of Christian peasants, supported by the Portuguese, against the Tokugawa regime.

fumie

fumie

From that moment, every person related to Christianity was severely punished. In order to unmask practitioners of the Western religion, the shogunate introduced fumie (踏み絵, “stepping on the picture”). Everybody had to trample on an image of Christ or Mary. Those reluctant or refusing to do this, were suspected of Christianity and sent to Nagasaki for torture. When they refused to change their religion, they were executed. The same applied to Dutchmen. Books they brought with the slightest hint to this Western religion were banned – and its owner killed.

I am told,’ says the interpreter, ‘Mr de Zoet brings many books… and here they are…’ he points to the chest ‘… many many books. A “plethora” of books, you say?’ ‘A few books,’ says Jacob, nervous enough to vomit. ‘Or quite a few: yes.’ ‘May I remove books to see?’ Ogawa does so, eagerly, without waiting for an answer. For Jacob, the world is narrowed to a thin tunnel between him and his Psalter, visible between his two-volume copy of Sara Burgerhart. (TAJZ, p. 21)

Only high officials of the Japanese government were allowed access to the Dutchmen on Dejima. The Dutch Chief had the duty to write a yearly report for the East India Company (Oranda fūsetsugaki, オランダ風説書), of which the oldest report archived now dates back to 1675. The Dutch were not allowed to study Japanese, and so they had to communicate via Japanese translators. Every year the Dutch chief of Dejima was summoned to Edo in order to report to the Shogun about the European situation.

ndl.go.jp

Oranda fūsetsugaki – ndl.go.jp

The Hall of Sixty Mats is airy and shaded. Fifty or sixty sweating, fanning officials – all important-looking samurai – enclose a precise rectangle. Magistrate Shiroyama is identified by his central position and raised dais. His fifty-year-old face looks weathered by high office. Light enters the hall from a sunlit courtyard of white pebbles, contorted pine trees and moss-coated rocks to the south. Hangings sway over openings to the west and east. A meaty-necked guard announces, ‘Oranda Kapitan!’ and ushers the Dutchmen into the rectangle of courtiers to three crimson cushions. Chamberlain Tomine speaks and Kobayashi translates: ‘Let the Dutchmen now pay respect.’  (TAJZ, p. 40)

The Japanese imported Dutch wool, textile, cotton, medicine, clock works and sugar. They were also interested in western knowledge, mainly in the positive sciences. Rangaku (蘭学, “the study of the Netherlands”) as a term for the study of western sciences, medicine and technology in particular, and the translation of these books in Japanese, led to the beginning of a modern Japan. In return, the Dutch were mostly interested in copper. They shipped it to Batavia, the capital of Dutch India.

description of a microscope

description of a microscope

Interpreter Iwase translates for Chamberlain Tomine, who arrived with the hollyhock-crested scroll-tube delivered this morning from Edo. Kobayashi’s Dutch translation of Edo’s message is half unrolled. ‘Number?’ ‘What,’ Vorstenbosch’s patience is exaggerated, ‘is the Shogun’s offer?’ ‘Nine thousand six hundred piculs,’ announces Kobayashi. ‘Best copper.’ 9,600, scratches the nib of Jacob’s quill, piculs copper. ‘This offer is,’ affirms Iwase Banri, ‘a good and big increase.’ A ewe bleats. Jacob fails to guess what his patron is thinking. ‘We request twenty thousand piculs,’ assesses Vorstenbosch, ‘and we are offered less than ten? Does the Shogun mean to insult Governor van Overstraeten?’ (TAJZ, p.144)

bergbook.com

bergbook.com

When confronted with Western weapons, technology and ships, many Japanese realized – but only a few dare to utter – that sakoku, Japan’s voluntarily isolation, is an illusion which will soon come to an end. The supremacy of European colonial power is visible in all of Asia, and unconquered Japan is too tempting to leave alone. In order to survive, Japan should start developing a similar military force to handle foreign attacks. In the story of Jacob de Zoet, The English also attempt to extort a trade agreement – and fail, thanks to the resistance of the Dutch.

‘The recent incursions by Captain Benyowsky and Captain Laxman warn us of a near future when straying Europeans no longer request provisions, but demand trade, quays and warehouses, fortified ports, unequal treaties. Colonies shall take root like thistles and weeds. Then we shall understand that our “impregnable fortress” was a placebo and nothing more (…) Dr Maeno clears his well-respected throat and raises his fan. ‘First, I wish to thank Yoshida-san for his stimulating thoughts. Second, I wish to ask how best the threats he enumerates can be countered?’ (…) ‘By the creation of a Japanese Navy, by the foundation of two large shipyards, and by the establishment of an academy where foreign instructors would train Japanese shipwrights, armourers, gunsmiths, officers and sailors.’ The audience as unprepared for the audacity of Yoshida’s vision. (TAJZ, p. 198)

When the Union Jack appears on the frigate’s jack-staff, Jacob de Zoet knows, The war is here. The transactions between the longboat and the greeting party puzzled him, but now the strange behaviour is explained. Chief van Cleef and Peter Fischer have been kidnapped. (TAJZ, p. 365)

Philipp Franz von Siebold watching an incoming Dutch ship at Dejima

Philipp Franz von Siebold watching an incoming Dutch ship at Dejima – painting by Kawahara Keiga

On the last day of 1799, the East India Company is declared bankrupt. Jacob de Zoet, however, stays in Japan and returns years later home as a rich man.

Fischer smiles for a long second. ‘Captain Penhaligon’s orders are to negotiate a trade treaty with the Japanese.’ ‘Jan Compagnie trades in Japan,’ says Ouwehand. ‘Not John Company.’ Fischer picks his teeth. ‘Ah, yes, some more news. Jan Compagnie is dead as a doornail. Yes. At midnight on the last day of the eighteenth century whilst some of you – ‘ he happens to glance at Gerritszoon and Baert – ‘were singing rude songs about your Germanic ancestors on Long Street, the Ancient Honourable Company ceased to exist. Our employer and paymaster is bankrupt.’ (TAJZ, p.390)

It is in 1854 that American Commodore Perry forced the opening of Japan. As predicted, unequal treaties follow, but thanks to the import of Western knowledge, the transition to a modern nation ran smoothly.

markystar.wordpress.com

Kurofune, the “black ships” of the Americans, depicted by the Japanese. – markystar.wordpress.com


Facts for Fun

– Want to read more about this? Goodman, Grant Kohn. Japan and the Dutch, 1600-1853. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2000.

References

– Vande Walle, Willy. Een geschiedenis van Japan van samurai tot soft power. Leuven: Acco, 2011.
– Fragments (TAJZ) from Mitchell, David. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. London: Sceptre, 2010.
– Wikipedia
– Pictures from Wikimedia Commons
– Thanks to Sam for lending me the book!

Japan’s Biggest Playboy

He’s charming, good with the ladies and extremely handsome. He treats his girls like princesses, weeps and rejoices for their sake. He is sensitive, cultured and highly educated. He’s rich, as well as in charge of a high-ranking position. He is smart, musical and very poetical. Who is this great lady-killer?

genjiplayboyxAfter re-reading Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji Monogatari 源氏物語, I can assure you that Prince Genji has deserved the title of Japan’s Biggest Playboy. In this tale, written at the beginning of the 11th Century, a whole range of lovers are passed in review. In the first chapter “Kiritsubo”, our little prince Genji develops a crush on his step-mother Fujitsubo.

Fujitsubo’s beauty was of a younger and fresher sort. Though in her childlike shyness she made an especial effort not to be seen, Genji occasionally caught a glimpse of her face. He could not remember his own mother and it moved him deeply to learn, from the lady who had first told the emperor of Fujitsubo, that the resemblance was striking. He wanted to be near her always.

ukiyoe by Hiroshige "Kiritsubo", the name of the first chapter. I assume the little baby is Prince Genji, in the arms of his late mother.

Woodblock Print “Kiritsubo” by Hiroshige. I assume the little baby is Genji, in the arms of his late mother.

Though Genji’s interest in women matures rapidly, he is not attracted to Aoi, the girl he enters an arranged marriage with. In the third chapter “Utsusemi”, Genji’s teenage adventure with the wife of a provincial lord inaugurates an endless string of affairs. He is so cheeky to enter the lady and her female servants’ bedroom.

Genji was delighted to see that there was only one lady asleep behind the curtains. There seemed to be two people asleep out toward the veranda. As he pulled aside the bedclothes it seemed to him that the lady was somewhat larger than he would have expected. (…) The girl was now awake, and very surprised. Genji felt a little sorry for her. But though inexperienced in the ways of love, she was bright and modern, and she had not entirely lost her composure. He was at first reluctant to identify himself. She would presently guess, however, and what did it matter if she did? As for the unfriendly one who had ned him and who was so concerned about appearances — he did have to think of her reputation, and so he said to the girl that he had taken advantage of directional taboos to visit her. A more experienced lady would have had no trouble guessing the truth, but this one did not sense that his explanation was a little forced. He was not displeased with her, nor was he strongly drawn to her. His heart was resentfully on the other. No doubt she would be off in some hidden chamber gloating over her victory. She had shown a most extraordinary firmness of purpose. In a curious way, her hostility made her memorable. The girl beside him had a certain young charm of her own, and presently he was deep in vows of love.

Young Genji makes his first moves. Again a woodblock print by Hiroshige.

Young Genji makes his first moves. Again a woodblock print by Hiroshige.

As you can see, Genji is very thoughtful to the women he visits. The text is written rather implicit, but evokes explicit images by the reader. In the fourth chapter “Yūgao”, the first dramatic consequence of Genji’s lifestyle can be observed. Genji, though still in love with his stepmother, starts an affair with an older woman (widow of the crown prince) and another affair with “the twilight beauty”. The jealousy of the widow is so strong that her revengeful spirit kills the latter woman. At the same time, Genji has a hard time hiding his adventures from the imperial household. After the death of “the twilight beauty”, the Shining Prince has following conversation with his loyal companion and partner-in-crime Koremitsu:

G: “I am feeling rather awful myself and almost fear the worst.”
K: “Come, now. There is nothing to be done and no point in torturing yourself. You must tell yourself that what must be must be. I shall let absolutely no one know, and I am personally taking care of everything.”
G: “Yes, to be sure. Everything is fated. So I tell myself. But it is terrible to think that I have sent a lady to her death. You are not to tell your sister, and you must be very sure that your mother does not hear. I would not survive the scolding I would get from her.”
“And the priests too: I have told them a plausible story.” Koremitsu exuded confidence.

In the following chapter “Waka Murasaki”, Genji not only succeeds in having an incestuous rendezvous with his stepmother, he also grows slightly pedophile at the view of a 10-year old girl, called Murasaki. He adopts the girl.

Together with Koremitsu, Genji peeps at the young girls in the nunnery.

Together with Koremitsu, Genji peeps at the young girls in the nunnery – ameblo.jp

Genji does not only visit beautiful women, less pretty girls of lower ranking like the Safflower princess (almost) manages to spend the night with our bling bling prince as well. She wins him over to visit her again, not by appearances, but by her excellent playing on the koto. Women were not to be seen in the Heian period. They were always hiding behind screens. That’s why the first time for man and woman to look each other in the eyes, is when they plan to do something more intimate. It’s very unfortunate for the Safflower princess that Genji could not stand her sight.

It was his first impression that the figure kneeling beside him was most uncommonly long and attenuated. Not at all promising — and the nose! That nose now dominated the scene. It was like that of the beast on which Samantabhadra rides, long, pendulous, and red. A frightful nose. The skin was whiter than the snow, a touch bluish even. The forehead bulged and the line over the cheeks suggested that the full face would be very long indeed. She was pitifully thin. He could see through her robes how narrow her shoulders were. It now seemed ridiculous that he had worked so hard to see her; and yet the visage was such an extraordinary one that he could not immediately take his eyes away.(...) It was too awful. He hurried to get his things together.

After failing to seduce his cousin, Genji discovers that his wife Aoi is pregnant. The earlier mentioned jealous spirit of the widow, fallen ill due to an unbearable humiliation at the court, sees an opportunity to haunt for the second time one of Genji’s ladies, Aoi in this case. Genji becomes a good husband for a while.

At Sanjō, Genji’s wife seemed to be in the grip of a malign spirit. It was no time for nocturnal wanderings. Genji paid only an occasional visit to his own Nijō mansion. His marriage had not been happy, but his wife was important to him and now she was carrying his child.

genji-aoi

woodblock print by Utagawa.

Aoi dies, but the baby boy survives. After some time of mourning, Genji’s interest in the girl Murasaki grows. She is still a young and pure girl, though.

It was a tedious time. He no longer had any enthusiasm for the careless night wanderings that had once kept him busy. Murasaki was much on his mind. She seemed peerless, the nearest he could imagine to his ideal. Thinking that she was no longer too young for marriage, he had occasionally made amorous overtures; but she had not seemed to understand.

Het sends her a suggestive poem:

“Many have been the nights we have spent together
Purposelessly, these coverlets between us.”
She had not dreamed he had anything of the sort on his mind. What a fool she had been, to repose her whole confidence in so gross and unscrupulous a man.

In chapter ten “Sakaki”, the widow with the haunting spirit feels so miserable about the fact that she took the lives of two young ladies, that she decides to leave the city. Genji pays his mistress a last visit. This scene reminds me a bit of the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Genji brings a branch of the sakaki tree and hopes so  to keep his mistress from leaving - harvardartmuseums.org

Genji brings a branch of the sakaki tree and hopes so to prevent his mistress from leaving – harvardartmuseums.org

“May I at least come up to the veranda?” he asked, starting up the stairs. The evening moon burst forth and the figure she saw in its light was handsome beyond describing. Not wishing to apologize for all the weeks of neglect, he pushed a branch of the sacred tree in under the blinds.
G: “With heart unchanging as this evergreen,
This sacred tree, I enter the sacred gate.”
She replied: “You err with your sacred tree and sacred gate.
No beckoning cedars stand before my house.”
And he: “Thinking to find you here with the holy maidens,
I followed the scent of the leaf of the sacred tree.”
Though the scene did not encourage familiarity, he made bold to lean inside the blinds.
(…) [s]he was here before him, and memories flooded back. He thought of what had been and what was to be, and he was weeping like a child.

There’s no end to this sorrow, certainly when his father dies. Genji tries to renew some affaires, but in the end he feels himself out of favor at court (the new emperor does not like him very much) and chooses, therefore, a voluntary exile of two years. Up till now, I’ve only discussed 10 out of 54 chapters, but I think you get the picture. If you want to know more about Genji’s adventures, I strongly recommend you to read the Genji Monogatari. Let us finish with a quote Japan’s biggest playboy worth:

Always when he had been with another lady he would think of the lady who was so cold to him.

Genji traveling.

Genji traveling.

Facts For Fun

– As you probably already understood, sexuality in Japan during the Heian period was much freer than it was here around that time. Court ladies could have several affairs. Not only men, but women as well could be picky in their choice of partner. A liaison started with the exchange of letters including poems. After a while, the man could be invited by suggestive poems to come over at night. In the west, sex is seen as the climax of a relationship, where it only marked the beginning of it in Japan. The most important and poetical action was the morning letter the man sent after having spent a lovely night at his lady’s room.  More about this here.

References

– Unless mentioned otherwise, all pictures are from Wikimedia Commons

– I cited the English version of famous translator Edward G. Seidensticker. Full text online here.

Liza Dalby’s summary helped me as well.

Nejishiki: Avant-Garde Manga

nejishiki20131215_002426As I pointed out before in my post about manga in Dutch, manga isn’t exclusively for little kids. Grown-ups can enjoy illustrated stories too (and not just porn). Representative for the avant-garde manga style are Tsuge Yoshiharu‘s works. He has written and drawn some extraordinary manga for people who like to think while reading. You better think about Tsuge’s short stories for example, in order to grasp the meaning hidden behind seemingly non-related drawings, absurd dialogues and symbolic backgrounds. Tsuge’s most famous work is “Nejishiki” ねじ式, or “Screw-Style” in English (sometimes translated as “Screwed”). Because there has been at least 9 movie and television adaptations, a computer game and several parodies, “Nejishiki” is pretty famous among the Japanese people. Even young people know Tsuge’s name.

The original drawing, a movie adaption (1988) and a parody drawing found on Tumblr.

What is “Nejishiki” about? The protagonist, a young man, is bitten by a jellyfish in the arm and an artery is cut in half.  When he enters the village to search for help, he is told that there is no doctor. He meets a whole range of strange characters on his journey. Finally, during a quite sexual operation, a female gynecologist installs a screw in his arm that connects the two loose ends of the artery. He leaves the village on a motorboat. [Scanlation with English translation]

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nejishiki20131215_002410The inspiration for “Nejishiki” Tsuge found in a dream he had on the rooftop of his temporary accommodation, a ramen shop. The dream comic, as a sub genre of the I-comic (watakushi manga), was born.

“Nejishiki” is an absurd, nonsensical story. It is dark, chaotic and reflects a war-time Japan. There are many allusions to the war, like battleships and destroyed buildings. It has however, a strong composition. Revolving around the hallucinating quest of finding a doctor, the main character experiences an odyssey through the obscure landscape of a small fishing-village. Allusions to other art works, like the photograph of an ainu man, and references to realistic places can be observed.

nejishiki214

The drawing of Tsuge is identical to the man in the photo of Kimura Ihei.

Remarkable as well about this manga is the fast development of the story. Every panel is different. The facial expression of the main character quickly changes, going from despair to resignation on the same page. The same goes for Tsuge’s drawing and inking style. Moreover, the accurate and realistic drawing of the female body was without precedent until then, and evoked a lot of criticism.

Of  course, there is no unambiguous interpretation of “Nejishiki”. Symbolic images hint of rural poverty, alienation of the Japanese youth, WWII and the Pacific War and the industrialization. Since its appearance in the famous magazine Garo, “Nejishiki” has fascinated and still fascinates many people, just because of the multiple interpretations.

nejishiki51ysU2-KGhL._AA300_

nejishiki20121107002841On the Japanese Yahoo, someone posted the question: “I don’t understand why Tsuge Yoshiharu’s “Nejishiki” is valued like that. If it because my life experience is superficial?” (つげ義春のねじ式がなぜ評価されるのかわかりません。 僕の人生経験が浅いためか、…) One of the answers explained it this way. 1968, the year “Nejishiki” was published, was a revolutionary year: the first moon landing, student rebellion, the growing belief in Nostradamus’ apocalypse prediction, the Vietnam War… There was the fear for a third world war, in which the world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons. The moon landing and student revolutions stimulated the belief in “a new era”. In the midst of this growing agitation, the Japanese youth sipped coffee in jazz cafes while discussing philosophical works or politics. When “Nejishiki” was published, it was so different from the manga before, that is was promoted as a product of this “new era”, and enthusiastically welcomed by student movements.

The absurdity of “Nejishiki” was seen as a way to evade reality. It was in the first place, more than ideological, artistic or literary, an expression of the psychology, and therefore strongly valued among the Japanese youth. The story of “Nejishiki” is in fact empty. Readers have to fill it with their own interpretations. These led to controversies and discussions, held in the same jazz cafes where eager college students gathered. In this way, “Nejishiki” was spread quickly in the manga circuit. It became a part of youth culture, was supported by student movements and was ultimately used as a cult symbol in the struggle of the established society.

Facts for Fun

– Since the 1980s, the Belgian avant-garde comics scene especially revolved around Franco-Belgian comic artists and was even representative for the genre in Europe. Bart Beaty compares the French and Belgian market to Hollywood, as most publishers are located there (Glénat, Dupuis, Dargaud, Casterman, Delcourt, Soleil and Humanoïds Associés), turn out commercial successes and win awards.

References

Wikipedia

The Walrus Blog

–  Tsuge Yoshiharu reviews

–  Beaty, Bart. Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s. University of Toronto Press, 2007. [link Google Books]

– photos taken from つげ義春. ねじ式, 1995.