Tag Archive | Culture of Japan

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa – Yasunari Kawabata

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa

 

Beggars are people too……Crazy people are women too……” Fallen women” were once naïve young girls……Men who indulge in ‘flesh trade’ aren’t called “fallen men”……As I scribble these words, my pen comes to a grinding halt. The notebook laid there crammed with the vestiges of my thoughts. The flux of my words was at the mercy of an inaccessible sheet of paper. No matter where landing stage of the wordy compositions deviates, words always appear to be imperfect when expressing the inexpressible. The voyeur within me now precedes Kawabata’s voyeuristic world attempting to comprehend human incidents through an impartial lens, the accomplices to my silence aiding to unearth the truth veiled in the allusive reflection of the transient beauty. The unassuming moon silently floating on the water mirrors the unreal within the real; the reflections on the windows ceasing to exist upon a whiff of wind, the window opening into a bargained emptiness. A tiny drop of water is competent to epitomize the reflection of the moon and the window oblivious to its crystalline pictorial pushes forward committing perjury. Life is a mingled yarn of all things echoic and nonechoic , pure and impure, sincerity and deceit ; the vitality of a perishable life holding onto the wispy filaments of pure longing. The world of nothingness steadily awakens with the melodious sound of the bells of the Senso Temple, the rhythmic choreographed long legs tapping to the blues of the jazz, the murmur of the piano from the dimly lit geisha house, the chatter of the rickshaw pullers, the tranquility of the Sumida River colliding with the exhilaration of the Casino Foiles ; the fragrance of the camellia oil soothing the incoherence of the streets of Asakusa.

“Asakusa is Asakusa is for everyone. In Asakusa, everything is flung out in the raw. Desires dance naked. All races, all classes, all jumbled together forming a bottomless, endless current, flowing day and night, no beginning, no end. Asakusa is alive…….”(Azenbō Soeda)

Akin to the many and various algae proliferating on a summer’s day stretching put a lush emerald carpet over the stagnant waters of the Gourd Pond, Asakusa comes alive with the vibrant hustle and bustle on the streets. The lyrical verses of Soeda resonates the wonders of Asakusa. A home for the homeless, a love for the loveless, a source of food for the famished; a world of leftovers of leftovers. Asakusa, a melting pot to amalgamating all races and classes equating to any thriving city on the face of this earth and yet, Asakusa finds distinctiveness in the allure of its design. How or rather who creates the infrastructure of a city? How are places resurrected from their own ruins? People nurture the land and the land in turns fashions the prevailing communities. Among the elderly delinquents of time, Asakusa was a “young punk”. It exudes an energetic charm seeking the genuine vitality of life, positivity through the purity of wild. Asakusa was a lost piece found through its very own people.

Kawabata generates a fascinating dais for Asakusa as a “human market”, attracting all and sundry from hobos , prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, geishas, shop girls, flappers, vagabonds, artists and the entire artistic shenanigans rough plays where the ornate dressings rooms of the “ero-queens” are as amusing as the man feeding wheat crackers to the carp in the pool while munching on few of from the pack.“But essentially Asakusa is like a specimen in the Bug House …… something completely different from today’s world, like a remote island or some African village led by a chief , a whole net of time-honored codes over it”

Originally published as a miscellaneous series in news dailies, the Asakusa chronicles finds it titular derivations in the wanderings of the Scarlet Gang. The self-christened theatrical group – The Scarlet Troupe publicized their hope of performing something spectacular in the kitschy votive stickers plastered all over the vacant walls in the city. Over the years, embarrassed by this modernist work of his, Kawabata once had said, “All I did was walk. I never became acquainted with any of the young delinquents. I never addressed a word to the vagrants either….. but I took notes…”. A young man with a baggage of just a pen and a notebook wayfaring through the heart of Tokyo in the aftermath of the 1923 The Great Kanto Earthquake investigated lonesome demimonde lives existing on the societal periphery. Kawabata being a silent flâneur preserves a certain sense of objectivity and distancing in his reportage, and yet ironically the acute perceptions are cryptic evaluation in their abstractions. The trajectory of the narrative rocks back and forth amid three distinct articulations accompanied by multifaceted active and passive vocalizations. Kawabata takes the reader along with him through the alleys of Asakusa. Kawabata devotedly address ….”Dear Reader….just take a walk along the alleys…”…..”Dear Reader…..as you knows”……” …..” what would you do if you were in their place……”……. The subtle prod eventually turns the reader into a loyal companion to the narrator. The “I” of the reader dissolving in the “I” of the narrator.

With its evenly matched pictorial illustrations denoting the aspects of materialistically cultural grandeur capturing one of Tokyo’s fascinating socio-cultural era of history and social relationships; this book registers a certain ‘pop-fic’ ambience . Nevertheless, Kawabata the literary master that he is stays true to his art, astutely conveying the philosophical totality of mono no aware allying the quintessence of transience beauty with the subsequent sadness. The melodrama budding within the printed pages leaps through the loops of subtle humour, economic recession, resistance to convention and the idea of love mingled with eroticism and vengeful crudity encumbered with the emptiness of longing. The dregs of Asakusa. But as long as she can still run, she’s still a woman. Because most of the bums are no longer human enough to run………… The weathered folks no longer talk. They live amid the hustle and bustle of the commercial district without saying a word. The malleable “taste of the backstreets” was sexy and absurd. The impish labyrinth of Asakusa is an inconclusive world of nothingness, but it is not nihilistic.

“When I’m with a man, I’m always sizing myself up- weighing the part of me that wants to become a woman against the part of me that is afraid to. Then I fell miserable and even more lonely” The yen for fulfilling the ideals of womanly dwells within the fragile beauty of Yumiko and Oharu. Yumiko’s desire to be viewed as a man pulsates through the memories of her being the fateful “daughter of the earthquake”; the vengeance of the kittenish arsenic kiss sailing on the Sumida River. Umekichi’s confessions of love residing the idea of love on the lips of a middle-aged woman. The radiance of red and purple sashes blending in the fated hues of the “fallen women”. The transparency of Ochiyo’s lunacy contrasting the rouge of the Okin on the bank. The emptiness offalseness of the varied protagonists is forged ahead surviving the customs of their incompleteness.

 
Asakusa had perhaps been for him (Kawabata) as it was for me – a place that allowed anonymity, freedom, where life flowed on no matter what, where you could pick up pleasure, and where small rooms with paper flowers were rented by the hour. ( Donald Richie , Afterword)

Wading through an interminable picturesque lattice of memories and dewy-eyed faces ; the rawness of dreams drifting though an endless ebb and flow of desires and pleasures strewn with snippets and snapshots floating in a stoic air , this chronicled narrative resembles a fragmented puzzle. And, you find yourself plucking these coquettishly naïve and seductively sinister wanderings, assembling it piece by piece into a significant portrait, an art illuminated in its own abstraction by its own peculiarities. Richie’s accuracy in his noteworthy inferences about Asakusa being a pathway of anonymity to an uninterrupted freedom resonates in the sensory perceptions captured amongst the echoes of “dear reader”. The human flow aggressive in survival and passionate in expression pulsates throughout my cerebral silence bringing Asakusa alive within the spiritless walls of my room; an absurd persuasion enticing me to seize the floating moon amid the nimble watery ripples. The yearning to obtain the unobtainable. The need to discover the sincerity and beauty in the depths of nothingness. Luminescent in the aureate sun, the urge to grab the ephemeral beauty of a piece of glass before it being engulfed by the shadows of the passing day; is how Kawabata’s Asakusa chronicles captivates me. And, I certainly do not need a new notebook for my words as my thoughts are no longer at the mercy of neither the pen nor the paper.

4/5 ****

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Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World – Kamo no Chōmei

Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World

Below the crimson skies shivers the last leaf,
Sings the blue bird, songs of a lonely tree
I wonder where, swallowed by the spring rain,
Floats the leaf, to claim a spotted grave
The sounds from Hojoki deeply permeate,
Heart of a one-room hut, poetry and music rhyme
Nestled within an early bud, what do I see?
Glimpses of Lotus Sutra, one man’s pilgrimage.

Five deciding elements of nature persuading the humble origin of the supreme fruition of man conceptualising the ephemeral life, the sensibility of man imparting the teachings of the universe from a ten foot square hut attuned to the immortality of a poet’s soul. All things are imperfect. All things are incomplete. The image of Amida dwelling among the sanctimonious mountains, the Law of Buddha shinning through the soft cerise lotus petals and the bloom of the lotus in the murky waters spiritualizing the beauty coaxed through the ugliness of stagnation defining the modest truth of the nature. The inevitable cosmos emerging from nothingness, accepting the transient inhabitation weaved into a metaphysical web of turbulence, isolation, hazards and tranquillity, devolving towards the exquisiteness of human totality fading into the depth of nothingness. Humanistic traditions expanding the sensory ambivalence of nature in the spirituality of the mind; the inevitable extinction evocating the aesthetics of existence in tender solitude of nothingness in the core of simplicity. The ‘wabi-sabi’of the universe, in its purest form.

A house and its master
are like the dew that gathers
on the morning glory.

Which will be the first to pass?

Sometimes the dew falls away
while the flowers stay.

More permanent than the emergence of birth is the oblivion of death and the fleeting journey in between is something called life; the ultimate pioneering grace of music and poetry. The inception of bloom and lush, the dew on flowers awaits the morning sun falling then into the decay of the dusk? A wasted beauty it is not, the man who builds a house for warmth only to die out in the cold comprehending the transitory nature of man and his dwelling.

Of the four elements,
water, fire, and wind
often cause great damage.
Earth does not so often
bring catastrophe..

Earth is forever metamorphosing into the permanence of deathly grave a respite for the victims of impermanence. And, when fearsome earthquakes engulf the vanities of the world, nature becomes the supreme equalizer of mankind. You can’t control nature, simply learn from it, the greatest educator.

Sinful times!
That I should witness
such a dreadful thing!

Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216) was the second son of a Shinto priest in Kyoto. One of the leading poets of the late Heian Period at the imperial court, Chomei’s powerful intensity in the poetry and music engaged the phenomenon of nature with the intricacies of human life. The notion of the universe destructing and constructing concurrently progresses the comprehensive system of ‘nothingness’ embedded in the Chomei’s poetic verses. The elegance of Chomei’s well-crafted text mirrors the world he survived whilst recognising the legitimacy of nature and its association with man.

the fire destroyed
sixteen noble houses—
who knows how many more?—
I heard one third
of the entire capital.

In this famed Japanese literary marvel deriving its titular inspiration from the ‘tiny hermit hut’ built by Chomei himself during his pilgrimage in the mountainous towards the divinity of solitude spinning the , Kamo-no-Chomei scripts through various brush strokes the devastation of famine(1180), the Kyoto fire (1175 CE) , the great earthquake(1185), deaths, floods, whirlwinds, political upheavals in the imperial court , yearning to banish materialistic hierarchy and in the end his pilgrimage to acquire a peaceful mind and the pristine beauty of simplicity nurtured in solitude.

In 1204, Chomei adhered to the teachings of Buddhism and lived a life of a recluse monk in the foothills of Mount Hino. The path to enlightenment disentangles the dilemma of possessing an “impure heart” dwelling in the woods of discipline and retribution. The enjoyment of simple company and by the means of mind and body as the only trustworthy entity for health and strength depicts the philosophy of Buddha and the wholesomeness of “shunya” (zero). An “old silkworm spinning its last cocoon”, Chomei contemplates on the benevolent beauty of rural life endowed with materialistic emancipation and minimalism achieved through remoteness from the burdensome world. On the road to achieving tranquillity, Chomei expresses:-

Fish do not hate the water.
But then, none can know
the happiness of the fish
unless he is one….

A quiet life is much the same.
How would anyone know it
without living it?

The four metamorphosing seasons equating the four defining phases of human life, ceaselessly flow like the river reverberating vanity of time concealed beneath the watery whims of impermanence. From the tenderness of glorious spring to the culmination of frosty snow, the poetic immortality of Kamo-no –Chomei defies the reluctant nature meditating through ethereal silence the transitory passage of man and the phenomenon of nature.

The flowing river
never stops
and yet the water
never stays
the same.

Foam floats
upon the pools,
scattering, re-forming,
never lingering long.

So it is with man
and all his dwelling places
here on earth
.

5/5*****

Confessions of Love – Uno Chiyo

Confessions of Love

“I wonder where I should start…” The dense sentiment of Yuasa Joji’s words lingered as I embarked on this literary documentation. My perishable deliberations fleeted from the quirky passionate adventures of Joji to the resolving core of Uno Chiyo’s audacious vibrancy. What, if I was a man? Would I be able to brazenly shove my penis into a vagina that voluntarily opened in front of me , without the repercussion of societal prejudices? My masculinity measured by the depth of my promiscuity reasoning the democratic sexual vulnerability. Would the sentiment of ‘love’ be on the tip of my penis, vanishing at the very instance of my sexual fulfilment? Or would I crave for the precise emotional upheaval of a woman’s dilemma? My aspirations of desiring to be a man are solely for the sense of sexual freedom. Why is it that when a woman seeks sexual pleasure for reasons other than “love” is defined through despicable labelling? Is it the sole responsibility of a woman to construe the lucid characterization of ‘love’ through her marriage and sexuality, whilst the puzzlement of the said sentiment becomes a prerogative of a man? What if I articulated through a man’s voice elucidating the woes of both the genders? Will I achieve the sense of freedom experienced by Uno Chiyo, herself? The wishful contemplation remains to be seen.


“Had I ever once been in love? Never. That was because I wasn’t the type of man who falls in love, was I?……………. I had in fact become nothing more than a scoundrel who had cleverly learned his lessons while abroad. It was just now my expertise had developed further and I was able to put on a show of falling in love.”

The far-reaching panorama of love confessions recounting the romantic experiences of an apathetic Western-style artists challenging the traditionalist perception of women ; experimenting on new found liberation of woman’s sexuality and financial independence. Uno Chiyo ardently scripts the attention-grabbing lifestyles or to be truthful, life choices of three audacious female protagonists associated with the progressive picture of the Japanese “modern girls”- modan garu or ‘mo-ga’. The steady rise in urbanisation brought a plethora of social changes with young women replacing their reams of kimono with much vibrant and fanciful Western-styled clothing, aping the Westernized philosophies the modernized youth culture engaged in a bohemian existence scandalous to the yet traditionalist Japanese society. Chiyo, herself being at the helm of such restructured image led an outrageously audacious life with her preference for vibrant make-up and chic dressing and for her democratic approach to social and personal demeanour. The idea of love and sex etched by the irrational imagery of “good wife” or “good girl” smothers the women in this manuscript by constant ethical validity. The knotty lives of the four women enmeshed with Joji’s capricious oddity reflect Chiyo’s own asphyxiation when experimenting with the new found freedom, the men in her life and the matrimonial hypocrisy.

If Joji can mull over the probabilities of genuine love with a pardonable defence, why is the same self-exploring conduct of Takao or Tomoko’s experimentation seen as scandalous and wayward act? When the act of sex weighs more towards the lure of lust than love, can’t it be enjoyed with gusto,equally by both men and women without the latter being embellished with unflattering terminology? The concept of love is not as vacillating as the male protagonist, seeing that the sentiment of love does eventually flourish to a fanatical climax.


“This what a home was supposed to be and in a home it made no difference what the husband thought or what was on the wife’s mind, just as long as one lived peacefully, wrapped in great warmth.”

The onset of Taisho democracy conveyed a fresh libertarian attitude in the 1920s Japanese society enlightening a myriad of political philosophies persuaded by Westernization. The establishment of the democratic environment split the war prone Japan into two communal doctrines. The exertion of challenging the old while embracing the new, mislaid a sense of belonging within the populace, especially the youth. Uno Chiyo delineates similar dilemmas wrestled by the befuddled characters in this ‘shosetsu’. Yuasa Joji’s predicament of fitting into two polarised world sympathizes with the likelihood of him accustomed to the European life-style while study art in France. His yearning and frantic search for a “comforting home” exposed the alienation endured by Joji in both his social and private life. A forlorn domestic front, impassioned sexual affairs and high susceptibility to the female exquisiteness generates an erratic yet sympathetic persona to Joji’s entirety as a man perpetually stuck within its own isolation. Parallel conjectures are also detected in the lives of Joji’s women. Takao’s feral sexual prowess and obstinacy for exploring sexual and emotional freedom like a man; Tomoko’s self reflection on her burdensome marital life and the subsequent extra-marital expedition with Kurota; Matsuyo’s intense yearning for a divorce freeing her from the monotony of a passionless marriage and then Tsuyuko, whose life weighed down by the eternal fight against the desolation of love and the repressive familial milieu.

Each of Chiyo’s illustrated women was jammed between the explorations of emotional, sexual and social independency carving their own niche in the society yet, somehow restricted by financial dependence due to hierarchical and gender chauvinism. Uno Chiyo steadily gives a commonsensical depth to Yuasa Joji comparing the daunting visibility of ‘modan boi’ or rather an ‘urbane man’. Joji’s quest of a ‘warm and peaceful home’ diminishing within Tomoko’s residential domesticity was a momentary respite for his neither his or Tomoko’s heart could find a permanent refuge in this materialistic solace.


“I had Tsuyuko’s love the way a baby searches for a mother’s breast, but no matter how long I journeyed I still found no refuge where my heart could came to rest.”

The dissection of the romantic crescendo culminating in suicidal brouhaha sharply cuts through the biographical narration of the Parisian nurtured artist- Seiji Tōgō and Chiyo’s life with him. Togo known for his contemporary art as well as his flamboyant love –life and a vastly publicised act of lover’s suicide, had encountered Uno Chiyo on of her attempts to write a novel encompassing the romanticism of a ‘love suicide’. Intriguing as it replays, the bizarre episode of Chiyo spending a night with Togo on the same blood-stained futon recapping Tōgō’s fruitless suicide attempt , possess an sinister eroticism that Chiyo brings into her prose. The ‘watakushi shosetsu’(I-novel) overpowering the confessional fictionalized account of Seiji Tōgō is a road to liberalism collapsing into nothingness when bent towards a controversial Japanese society still shackled within the burrows of conventional dogma inundated with volatility and misapprehensions.

Not to be easily dismissed as a romantic fluff from the 1920s literary era, the archetypal Japanese hero, a charismatic man weakened by female sexuality, fabricates a sense of coherent evaluation when scrutinized through the concave disposition of the desperation and vagueness of sexual rendezvous and the chaotic ideological consumption of three women crammed in the bohemian allure of modernisation. The warmth of a mother’s breast, the passion of a lover’s body and the draughtiness of the heart misplaced in uncanny temperament of love shatters the lives of those involved in Yuasa Joji’s lyrical portrayal of love marred by reckless sexual vulnerabilities and the calamitous progression towards romantic emancipation.

3/5***

Five Modern Nō Plays – Yukio Mishima

Five Modern Nō Plays

Hanako : I wait.
Jitsuko : I wait for nothing.

Songs of a lonely heart flying from the gentle folds of the fan signalling the melancholic air to chant sermons of an unrequited love ; the capricious love muffling the voices of a damask drum ; the viciousness of love nurtured by the obstinacy of the heart spilling its vengeance in a haunted soul ; the arrogance of beauty nestled in narcissistic love humbled by the aloofness of a gravestone and the nothingness of love dissolving into a philosophical profundity dreaming the richness of love on a mystifying Kantan pillow. The shadows of human emotions expressed by the beauty of Noh travelled through the dainty pages in my hand nailing rock solid boundaries within my sanity. The spirituality of Japan’s oldest theatrical art echoed from contemporary adaptations mirroring and validating Mishima’s elegant testaments of Noh.


“But only human beings really change. Even after eighty years a daisy will still be a daisy.”

Time flies, decades overturn, centuries churn history, and humans evolve, yet, the deep-ingrained emotions unaltered dwell in their primitivism. Love births varied sentiments flooding the human diasporas with colours of jealousy, poignancy, rage, solitude, ecstasy and the vastness of fickle nature. Industriously, Yukio Mishima sieves the 14th century theatrical art through decades of modernity, diminishing the elitist barricades bringing Zeami Motokiyo’s art of limitless world bringing the artistic finery to the classes and masses. The prologue states an intriguing anecdote of Ulysses Grant pondering on the fate of the Noh art. Noh, the oldest Japanese theatrical art form conceived by Kan’ami Kiyotsugu and Zeami Motokiyo, the father-son duo was strictly dramatised for the elite Shogun during 14th century supremacy. Mishima meticulously amends the literary imperatives keeping the supernatural elements integrating Western modernism and cultural system. The crucial Noh mask no longer physically veils Mishima’s actors transmitting the shadows of the mask onto the chaotic blend of mystical sentiments and commonsensical situations. The stately prince and princesses are replaced by the naked faces of ordinary people, the outwardly paranormal experiences embody internal spiritualities and class segregations juxtapose aging unsightliness. For even after eight years as the daisy remains a daisy, the tears of agony flow with every heart break, vengeance pursues jealously and even when hindered by incessant blankness, the heart does not stop loving. The five masterfully illustrated Noh plays is Mishima’s dexterous assimilation of surrealism of the ancient art with the incisive technicalities of modernity, comprehending indigenous vague sensibilities through a metaphoric democratic lens of naturalism.


“A man who’s once gone to war reminisces about the war all the rest of his life.”


Sotoba Komachi

Legend has it that Ono no Komachi, a renowned Japanese poet of the Heian Period was famed for her exceptional ability as a poetess as well as her astonishing beauty. The arrogance of her youth and beauty steadily vanishes with the ugliness of old –age leaving 99 yrs-old Komachi reminiscing the long lost beauty ironically near a gravestone. Sotoba Komachi translating into “Komachi at the Gravestone”, initially scripted as an enlightening dialogue between Komachi and the Buddhist priest. Mishima tweaks the dramatization by interchanging roles, placing the deliverance act in a park filled with young lovers. The Buddhist priests are replaced by a young drunken poet questioning a haggard old-lady (Komachi) as she collects cigarette butts off the ground. The heartless Komachi who once neglected her devoted suitors priding in her tantalizing beauty mitigates the harsh effects of aging justifying the inbred narcissism confessing how a beautiful woman always remains beautiful irrespective to the hideousness of age. Mishima tactfully places the woman on an urban park bench surrounded by young lovers making out, shifting the Noh play away from its fabled ambience and providing a realistic imagery depicting brutality of time and lunacy of self-love. The bench become the critical emblematic gravestone of youth and its arrogant beauty. The memories of a war ceaselessly thrive within a veteran devoid of any path to salvation. Beauty is a war in itself, the aftermath scarring even the most supercilious souls gifting nothing but perplexed loneliness.


“Love’s not that sort of thing. It’s something that shines on the one you love from the mirror of your ugliness.”


The damask drum (Aya no Tsuzumi)

The gardener makes way for a 70yr old janitor- Iwakichi, the princess trade places with an elite client of a chic couturier and the downtown city law office replaces the grandeur of the Asakura Palace. Ninety-nine uniform beats of a drum, the 100th beat resonates the sound of eternal love. “Our loves begins from the tongue” ; Mishima deciphers the convoluted emotion of love acknowledging the humble metaphorical embryonic beginnings. The “tongue”, a benign fleshy bodily apparatus naively harbours an immense affinity to the first likeable flavour. The tongue, like the human heart polarizes the monochromatic tones of love, exhibiting natural modesty to either black or white. Mishima , unambiguously asserts the the fellow-feeling for the greyish tone is purely an admission of the human mind and communal prejudices, whereas the tongue cannot distinguish between “original” and “genuine”, simply falling in love with the commonality of the taste.. The beating of the heart, the cry of an unrequited loved hushed by the fraudulent damask drum, the inability to love vibrating through the silence of the drum. The ceaseless thumping of the damask drum teasing the despair of a love-torn phantom weakens in bitterness of the unreciprocated love letters clinging onto the optimism of a drum sound. Hanako, the “princess of laurel” waiting for the 100th beat.


“There’s no way to make a madman like you understand the futility of human existence.”


Kantan

‘The Pillow of Kantan’ , the Noh play as it famously documented; dramatize the bizarre chimerical allure of dreams and the consequential reality. A will to live entrenched in the nightmarish pessimism. Dreams on a pillow rendering the entire factual world futile, delineates the kaleidoscopic revelations of Jiro enlightening the importance of living in the moment, the glory of the present is far better than the trickery of an enthralling future. The song sung by the Kantan pillow melodiously counsels its occupant, “The pillow is blameless, and the pillowed head is to blame……….” Life is nothing but a dream, there are some people who live for their dreams and then there are some who live in dreams. The futility of human existence enhanced by the immorality offered through dreams is best left on the pillow for true salvation comes from the mortality of the present, alike to Kiku’s garden that finally blossomed on one fine morning beautifying the heroism of trying to live.


“My flowers are invisible. Flower of pain is what they are.”

The Lady Aoi

Indisputably, one of the most famous Noh, ‘Aoi no Ue’ finds a place in Mishima’s collection. The wrath of a woman’s jealousy; the emotion most feared for its malevolence and its vulnerability rising from the sinister depths of treachery and seclusion. As the celebrated chronicle goes retelling the tale of a malicious spirit of Lady Rokujo tormenting the a pregnant Lady Aoi- the wife of Prince Genji ; the insufferable illness leading to a subsequent exorcism of the troublesome spirit. Mishima transmits the archaic supernatural thriller to a 1950’s metropolitan hospital scenery bringing plethora of contemporary trappings. Unlike, in the classic, the absence of Prince Genji is filled with the presence of a masculine-figure signifying Aoi as a wife of a businessman- Hikaru Wakabayashi. The dramatization prominently taking place in a psychiatric ward veers toward sexual complexes. The “ghost of libido” afflicting Aoi tosses the eerie fascination into intense sexual psychoanalysis stylishly mirroring the root cause of Rokujo Lady’s malice towards Aoi.

Keeping intact the spirituality and the paranormal potency of the original Noh, Mishima floats the crudity of sex being one of the derivates of Rokujo’s suffering. The sinister background of the hospital and the inclusion of a coquettish nurse diagnosing the mental illness demarcate Mishima’s capability to engage the vagueness of exorcism through the precision of medical analysis. Mishima’s unmasked actors deduce the possibility of the supremacy of hate and love, pain and joy equating to the cyclical motions of day and night, the root of it all stemming from Rokujo’s sexual ecstasy with Hikaru.


“Don’t they say that human beings go on living by waiting and making other people wait? If you gave your whole life to waiting, how would it be? Am I unshut window? An unshut door?


Hanjo

In one woman’s eternal wait lies another woman’s eternal destination. The lively Hanjo fans sway through loneliness of a tragic love, beseeching lingering shreds of sanity. *[As the story goes, ‘Hanjo’ was the name of an ancient Chinese Court Lady whose embellished fans were celebrated in inspirational poetry] The universal element of ‘waiting’, consumes the artist and her muse. The women – Jitsuko and Hanako, deserted by love, dreaming to be loved thrive patiently in the horror of unrequited love; time being the cherished decoy for the delusional heart. Mishima, recreates one of the most outstanding love stories and a heart-rending classic in Noh theatre with dominant allusions of the dilettante love harbouring no prejudices, flourishing through lengthened waiting interludes encumbering the aimless trenches of lunacy. The inclusion of a flagrant homosexual approach to the Noh play is Mishima’s way of enlightening the impartialness of love disregarded by the prejudicial fundamental of the society. Two women looking into the future of waiting, annulling and acknowledging the presence of love evokes the sensation of human fortitude and stratagem of time capturing the nakedness of a helpless love.


“The essence of yūgen is true beauty and gentleness – Zeami Motokiyo

The Zen term yūgen (幽玄) lays the aesthetical foundation for the art of Noh. Yūgen connotes the idea of a mysterious, sophisticated beauty. The shadows of leaves floating in the tepid waters of a serene lake, the song of a cuckoo filling the morning sky, the beauty when you discover an old childhood souvenir; the profundity originating from the nuances of the bewildering ways life turns out to be. The purpose of Noh is the expression of such unfathomable beauty imperceptible through the naked lens of mankind. The moralistic pillars of the narrative are swayed by the graceful movements of the actors disseminating into theatrical metaphor interpreted by the sentient art and its audience.

The shiny sly needle eagerly searched by a pair of frantic eyes slashing the morbidity of an arid haystack, harnesses the allure of a clandestine beauty among aggravated repulsiveness. Human emotions get ugly, the incidental narcissism veiled behind a placid mask, stories are fashioned, moralities escaped from the tucked seams and yet , when the aloof shadows of a Noh mask drift on the skin of its performing possessor , the magnanimity of its beauty imbibes the magnetism of the steely needle peeking through the myriad straws of hay. The clandestine beauty of human life.

4/5****

Woman in the Crested Kimono: The Life of Shibue Io and Her Family Drawn from Mori Ogai’s Shibue Chusai – Edwin McClellan

Woman in the Crested Kimono: The Life of Shibue Io and Her Family Drawn from Mori Ogai's Shibue Chusai

The energetic bow gently caresses the nimble strings of the erhu weaving the genius of Jia Peng Fang ; the melodious rendition of ‘Furusato’ bustling through my ears trickling into a vaporous trance clouding my hunt for split-ends at the stroke of midnight. With a couple miserable strands of hair in my palm, I childishly pondered on the ways Shibue Io must have done her hair, embellishing it with handsome ornaments. As fascinated as I stand by the enigmatic life of Io, my mind wanders on similar wavelengths of the author (McClellan), nascent colours canvassing my imaginary portrait of Shibue Io. The pallid silence around me began embellishing itself with myriad shades of Io and her survival during the Tokugawa civilization. Walking through my several analytical wanderings about the chronological Edo era , I let out a transitory thought bewitched by the pen of Ogai Mori; a man whose literature being mostly influenced by General Nogi’s honorable life had being mesmerized by much genteel Shibue Io. Although, Ogai’s motivating literary sketch of Shibue Io was through the incessant channels of her son’s nostalgia and her husband’s archives, still what Ogai brought was the spring of a long lasting cultural memory, solidifying in the company of every imminent year.

“ She was an astounding sight to behold. Naked except for a loincloth tied around her waist, with a large dagger in its sheath clenched between her teeth, she was just bending down to pick up two wooden buckets……………..filled with boiling hot water……………. “Thief !!”…….

The charming personality of Io could be seen through a rather intriguing episode involving brash nudity. The imperative crisis had called on Io to act immediately and although the audacious act took momentous courage, the modest upbringing would bring sheer coyness to Io with the slight mention of the amusing event. Born in 1816 as Yamanouchi Io, was Shibue Chusai‘s(1805-1858) fourth wife. Having acquired “tomboy” traits owing to her intensive martial arts training and other academic privileges, the life journey of Shibue Io is not only captivating but memorable. From being the young ‘churo’(female attendant) in the daimyo family of Lord Todo’s mansion to capturing the ash-throwing “demon” in the castle corridors and then later as the esteemed wife of ranked Shibue Chusai, Io showed grace and integrity when she rejected dependency from Hirano Sadakata ( Chusai’s brother-in-law) in her days of widowhood. Elucidating further on Chusai and Io’s life revolving within familial boundaries and external acquaintances, McClellan elaborates on socially notable customs of “adoption of male heirs” to either stabilize a declining family name or for motives of reputed upgrading. The belligerent atmosphere of social stratifications and hierarchical ranking with the Lords or ‘daimyo’ being the supreme elite followed by the ‘samurai or warrior class viewed Io’s boisterous personality being confined to modest refinement and customary obedience. The benevolent Shibue Chusai, who appeared to have been much liberal for his times and contrasting the persona of a “true bushi”, was an ideal outlet for the survival of Io’s obstinate and sometimes aggressively unfeminine personality.

Out of the many ironies in Io’s life, one that gained prominence was the striking similarities between the fierce personalities of Io and her least favoured daughter- Kuga. Kuga’s aspirations for a liberated , independent and furthermore for desiring a venerable subsistence in the institutional hierarchical conventions equated mindful possibilities of Io’s sovereignty and superiority establishing new avenues , if only, not being restricted by the recognizable generation demarcation. Io’s relationships with her progeny and step-children dwell within the limits of human tendencies of approval and valid disapproval. However, besides Tamotsu, Io’s bond with her step-son Yajima Yutaka was tightened by empathic responses to the adverse matrimonial and personal circumstances endured by Yutaka.

“Usually a biography ends with the death of the subject. But in honouring a man of the past, one cannot but ask what became of those whom he left behind…………. It is my wish then, to continue this narrative and to describe the fate after Chusai’s death of his offspring, his wife and relation, his colleagues and friends.

Appreciative as I am, thanking the prospects of Ogai Mori not being able to put his pen down and continue penning the chronicles of the Shibue family long after Chusai’s demise. Ogai bestowed Io, her rightfully deserved place in Japanese literature and historical heritage. Accentuating on Ogai’s rewarding merit, McClellan perfectly asserts , “ Io was not in the ordinary sense a distinguished or a famous person; so that had it not for Ogai’s chance encounter with her, we would never have know about this remarkable woman; so brave and so proud.” How true and commendable!

McClellan referring to Ogai’s scrupulous notes Shibue Chusai illustrates well defined and methodical sequential records of life and times of the Chusai family who were the daimyo retainers of the Tsugaru contingent during the establishment of Tokugawa Shogunate period and their political and social capabilities through the turmoil of the Meiji Restoration(1868) with the newly constructed prefectures (ken) and abolition of a domainal (han) society.

However, the crucial foundation of this manuscript pioneers on the domestic grounds depicting a cerebral, tomboyish yet coy, merchant class woman marrying a scholarly doctor (Shibue Chusai) of the daimyo class and her ordeals in the course of the altering Japanese society. McClellan evocatively raises Shibue Io from the mundane and incessantly extensive conjugal workload bequeathing her existence with justifiable significance beyond the universality of domesticity. The layered biographical sketch of Shibue Io peels the outer chauvinist layers of a patriarchal society demeaning the industrious lives of women through markers of possessing “feeble bodies” and devoid of any significance beyond the matrimonial walls of a household. The unconventionality of Shibue Io in a despotic conventionality separated from domestic humdrum achieving credence in the public domain reveals the inner quintessence of a woman, passionate and brave with a strong heart, vital to her family’s survival in changing times. Shibue Io certainly lived with some sort of feminist panache even through her penurious years. And, then I quietly contemplate over the fates of Kuga, Miki, Tetsu, Shibue’s ex-wives and other related female counterparts their precious lives fading with little or no recognition at all.

“What Io might have thought about women’s rights as such, one is not told, nor it is imagining what she might have thought……….. Perhaps she was born too long before the advent of even limited democracy in Japan to have any advance views on the question.”

It is quite fitting for me to proclaim that I did not merely read a book. In fact, I cherished the fragmentary reminiscences of the spirited and wilful Io. Along the path, I reckon I got bit greedy. I yearned to know more beyond Tamotsu’s recollections of his mother, the articulacy of Ogai Mori and the edifying script of Edwin McClellan. Maybe, deep down in my feminine despairs I secretly hoped for a feminist conqueror. My eccentric self adhering arrogance ignored the veracity of women in the 19th century Edo who were conventionally indoctrinated to feel inferior. Was I being selfish and expecting the unexpected from the life of Shibue Io? After all, Io was a vivacious woman who taught herself the English language while in her maturing sixties. Nevertheless, in the end I was undoubtedly glad, not only for having a split-end free hair, but for being able to comprehend the life of a woman who took pride in her family’s crest of ‘three oak leaves’, a resourceful mother, a filial daughter and a sophisticated wife who had the balls to thrive in the patriarchal 19th century Edo era with gumption, while some men thriving in the esteemed domainal society were still trying to grow a pair for themselves.

3/5***

During The Rains & Flowers In The Shade: Two Novellas – Kafū Nagai

During The Rains & Flowers In The Shade: Two Novellas

It has always been a shaky ground when ventured into an unknown territory of a new author. The subtle yet curious exploration marks its validity through either germinating skepticism or a blank slate of hope. The naturalism trail to Nagai’s Edo had been doubtful, the sui generis framework a bit vague, the dark alleys of Ginza blurred by the energetic one-yen cabs and the swarming trolley. The dutifully employed imagination had betrayed my senses. Heavily crushed underneath incessant yawns, there lay rousing alertness succumbed to lethargy. And, then I stumbled onto the following string of cornered words. “From downstairs, abruptly, a phonograph started playing. This was a sign that it was five-thirty. Those waitress who’d been resting since three now freshened their make-up and went on duty. Upstairs and downstairs, the lights came on…….. there was a nightime liveliness.” There it was, in the midst of these myriad sentences, Ginza coming alive bustling through my sleepy senses, the empty glasses being clunked in crowded cafes, Alcoholic mouths slurring in their dampness at the nimble sensuality of waitresses and geishas, habitual patrons flirting for a lustful night at the assignation house. The colourful lights of Ginza flickered, some dim and some bright, but in the end all of them sparkled like little fireflies bringing clarity to the Kafu Nagai’s imaginatively elegant world and essentially to my dreary stupor.


“There is illusion and there is actuality. When a thing exists, it naturally casts a shadow. According to time and circumstances however, the opposite sometimes happens and the thing is created by the shadow, matters will be peacefully settle of their own accord…”

The shadows of the floating world disseminating in the corporeal poignancy of Ginza cafes ,its fetching pieces carried by waitresses, geishas and unlicensed prostitutes in the clammy moonlit rooms of the assignation houses where lovers and patrons dwell in remnants of its past and covetousness of current sexuality. The illusionary mirage of heavenly lust, love, trust, hypocrisy ,obeisance and opulence of present time is eliminated to reveal the actuality of betrayal, exploitation, revenge, honesty ,shame, fear and the burdensome shadows of the past shackling the present and the looming pessimism of human life. Kafu’s literary world of women thriving on the margins of society is lonesome yet sincere. Kimie’s audacious sexual venturing into a threesome with an older patron; a radical event leading to concoction of a revenge plot by one of her lovers, depicts the exact sentiment that Kafu plans to put forth signifying the stark disparity in the code of loyalty between an adulterous man and a unlicensed prostitute. Kimie’s capricious demeanour cast an ugly shadow of immorality and indolent embedding the element of fear in Kimie alternating between the embarrassment and brazen scandalous liaisons. It becomes rather interesting to view the changing circumstances of a sloppy and eccentric waitress working in the pleasure district into a vulnerable woman fearing the shadows of the past and the recurrent realism.

During the Rain, fluently illustrates two impressively characteristic women, even though existing on either side of societal extremities, they are plagued by the impossibilities of their past and the pragmatic possibilities of their present. Tsuruko – the academically prudent common-law wife of Kiyooka, signifies the shifting cultural mores of Japan being solely looked as a land of samurais and geishas. Yet, the salacious presence of Kimie portrays the traditional emphasis on the pragmatic societal reality of the 1920s-30s Japan. Traces of patriarchal insolence are observed through the imminent demeanour of Kiyooka, who later on becomes an ironical victim of love and loyalty.

The remnants of Nagai’s beautiful Edo (former name of Tokyo) are delicately sewn through dramatic passages, reminiscing the vestiges of a fading city heritage with evolving times. The constant appearance of the Imperial Palace moat develops into a sturdy heritage figure that has a “touch of Edo” and the remembrance of the glorious past firmly rooted in the altering city. Nagai astutely signifies the magnitude of the past and its obstinate presence everlasting even through the constricted alleys of human ignorance. Similar to Nagai, who with his extensive travels abroad was rooted in the modernity of individualism while still restoring his beliefs in conventionality; the female characters in this manuscript depicted such societal malleability. It is a familiar misconstruction of geishas being prostitutes. There is however, a significant boundary between a cafe waitress and a geisha. Amusingly, Nagai bends the contrasting margin (which I suspect is due the impoverished economical conditions prevailing during the 1920-30s decade) by asserting the impressionable,
“These days, what with geishas becoming waitresses and waitresses turning into geishas, there’s no difference anymore.”

Kafu Nagai’s acute interest in the exotic sensual world of geishas, cafe waitresses and prostitutes, streamed from the sincerity that he highly valued the ingenuous outlook of the ‘pleasure’ profession. The numerous unlicensed prostitutes ; daily entertaining their patrons as hostess further carrying their pleasurable acts in the nightly rented assignation house in a cutthroat profession , maybe erratic or even slight materialistic thriving at the bottom of the societal abyss, nevertheless they are least hypocritical and unlikely entities to join the phony masquerade of societal reverence and scathing prejudices. Although, I have a fault-finding opinion about the indolence of Jukichi, his words do ring with accurate notes easing O-Chiyo’s burgeoning quandary. “In Jukichi’s eyes, the lives of respectable people seemed absurdly constricted and somehow hypocritical. By, contrast, a lewd, indolent existence such as his seemed the happiness of life, without its pretense.” The willful thoughts of a perpetual male concubine resigning himself in the sediments of humiliation and monetary liability with a peculiar dynamism found in the emotional freedom of an aging prostitute’s affectionate simplicity and promiscuity.


“If there is just one time in one’s life where one has enjoyed oneself, it’s worth having been born. And when the time comes to give it up, you’ve got to resign yourself.”

Not only finding it tricky to let go of his own past but that of his beloved cultural metropolis metamorphosing to modernization of Taisho, Nagai’s both novellas – ‘During the Rains’ and ‘Flowers in Shades’ vividly captures emotional sketches and myriad shades of people either on the verge of leaving their agonising, forlorn past behind for an affable future or aching to abandon their arduous present to revive a particular worthy moment of their past to soften the harshness of their future. Through the vibrant strokes of the waning pleasurable districts and aesthetics of Ginza cafe culture and the glorious colours of Edo’s legacy and its visually captivating citizens, and when the woman in her ochre tinted make-up tossed a banana skin onto the sidewalk while shoving the oozing fruity pulp back into sticky mouth; I realized that my fondness for Nagai and his literary work grew a little more.

3/5***

Kusamakura – Natsume Soseki

Kusamakura

“And when its difficulties intensify, you find yourself longing to leave that world and dwell in some easier one- and then, when you understand at last the difficulties will dog you wherever you may live, this is when poetry and art are born…”

For the very first time on a murky morning, I saw a set of colours come alive on the wall of my living room. The orderly row of comatose crayons suddenly sprang like a newborn foal twirling on the pasty canvass. Amid the angry voices of my parents I giggled as I indulged in my very first act of vandalism. The fiery red miraculously transformed into a royal shade of purple with the touch of blue, the yellow gave birth to orange when it embraced the stylish red. I was captivated by this odd-looking rainbow and then from that day onward, I scribbled and drew on every empty space found on paper, walls and even on my bare palms. The razor sharp pencil became a tyrant and I a lawless anarchist, each forming and defying the norms on their own terms. Over the years, common sense shackled my fearlessness and creativity became another tomb in my life. Soseki’s words made me realize that until now I had failed to distinguish the art that always shaped in front of me. It is not mandatory to entrust one’s thoughts to paper; art is right in front of you. In the assorted colours of your world, let your eyes be the naked canvass in which an artist’s creates a masterpiece, as you conjure the beauty of the world the mouth will sing a poet’s song and let your heart be the camera that garners and captures every purest sentiment from this sullied world. Art begins and ends with life. Life imparts art and nature embraces both of these elements. So, don’t be a pampered child who throws tantrums when things don’t go as planned, find a way where your sorrows simply melt in the abyss of happiness. Happiness had always been a ruthless stranger, thus do not drive it away for it rarely knocks on the door without any sorrowful repercussions. And, when no words seem to emerge or the brush trembles on the sight of the ghostly canvass, one is still the wealthiest of person, as he can view the human life through the eye of an artist in the realm of magnificent purity. After all “human world is not an easy place to live in.”

A young artist
Beauty flirts
On grass pillow………

The novel opens up in the midst of a philosophical exploration establishing an artist’s vocation in the quest to attain serenity and beauty in the evolving art. A young artist pointlessly walks into an isolated hot-spring village of Nakoi, to perceive a world that is detached from human sentiments that adulterates the purity of art. Soseki, stays true to the words of the artist when experiences are recorded first-handed and the magnetism of the attractive Nami-(the divorced daughter of the hot-spring inn establishment), somehow entices the young artist to evaluate his observations of life, art and its vulgarities.

“I’m a human and belong to the world of humans so for me the unhuman can last only so long no matter how much I enjoy it.”

Salvation from the vulgar world; it is actually possible? Will the mind ever obey the words of the mouth? As the young artist seeks salvation from the human world debating on ways to achieve a “non-emotional” and “unhuman” state that will not contaminate the pristine splendor of his art, Soseki carries out a literary experiment inferring that it is rather impossible to break away from the muddled emotions of humankind. Life eventually touches you irrespective to the resistance. The “smell of human” at end reeks from every pore of one’s body. Loneliness maybe an artist’s blessing, for the mind is more imaginative and powerful when silent, yet the darkness that follows the recluse may bring crudity in terms of excessiveness resulting in the death of beauty. Soseki emphasis how plays (Noh), poetry, novels, painting become alive with human feelings. A book is loved when its characters come alive in one’s room when every new sensation is attached to the dried ink making it flow through plethora of budding thoughts. A Noh drama has its own sensitivities emitting through the immense layers of make-up, amalgamating in to a perfect blend of raw human emotions and tranquility. For a solitary traveler, detachment from the human world could be blissful, but would this kind of non-attachment create an exquisiteness of an art. The painter who roamed the streets of the picturesque Nakoi desired to stray away from worldly emotions yet somehow the shadows never left him. To the artist’s surprise the echoes of the ongoing Russo-Japanese war was heard among the icy solitary mountains of the village. The air brought the metallic smell of the blood that was being spilled hundred miles away and the voices of guns being fired became stronger with the whistles of the steam engine, roaring to go, carrying one of its important passengers –Kyuichi, as he volunteered during the war. That is life and this very debate of detachment v/s attachment to human presence, portrayed Soseki’s melancholic quandary about changing times. Life had even touched Nami’s portrait and the cloistered Japanese culture.

“The artists is the one who lives in a “three cornered world” in which the corner that the average person would call “common sense” has been sheared off from the ordinary four-square world that the normally inhabit.”

Soseki asserts that artists are madder and foolish as they romanticize nature with human affairs. Art mellows the severity of the human world. Soseki illustrates the paradigm of a heartbreak becoming the subject of an art. For an average man, Soseki asserts, heartbreak brings nothing but skepticism and agony, but for an artist who forgets the soreness and perceive the objectiveness of the heartbreak, encompasses the moments of empathy and wretchedness through literature and art. Thus, bringing a sort of emancipation to the heart that is suffering. Similarly, the process of penning a ‘haiku’ brings a sense of enlightenment. The 17-syllable marvel may look uncomplicated and dainty, yet it withholds the clandestine stories of several tears and pleasure. Fascinatingly, Soseki compares writing a poem or rather a haiku, to the tedious process of mixing the arrowroot gruel by chopsticks. Initially when the gruel is a mere liquid, the circular strokes of mixing seem rather effortless , but as the stirring continues and the two substances become viscous with each movement , the gruel transforms into a thick glue that ends up sticking the chopsticks together. That is how a poem is formed. Numerous loose emotions, thousands of blurry images stringing together, glues compactly the syllables into one solid picture. Isn’t Soseki a magnificent artist? He certainly speaks the language as his prose talks about every form of art, be it poems, prose, painting or music. Soseki questions the true obligation of a poet; he refers to Greek sculptures, the works of Oscar Wilde, compares the faces of old women to the mountain crone of Nagasawa Rosetsu’s painting, the prose of Tristram Shandy and the poems of the Orient to conclude that the obligation of an poet (or artist in general) is “to dissect his own corpse and reveal the symptoms of its illness to the world.” In a world where an artist is classified by their subjective and objective approach towards art, imparting life and translating the external mood onto the canvass, which is then designated as a “true artist”? Is it a person who resembling the Abbot of Kankaji views life without hindrance and fetches beauty from the most trivial situations in life or is it someone akin to the protagonist who has to take refuge in an isolated land where his poetry can sing the song of a skylark without fearing the deep crimson strokes of the camellia oozing out from the painting like blood on an icy wintry slope. Is it possible to be artist in a true sense without being subjected to the menace of detectives who tend to count people’s “farts”?

Why do we always read books from beginning to end? Why must the prologue always be read first? Why can’t the story begin from the middle and instead of comprehending the plot first, we appreciate the characters and then revolve the narrative around them? Art is formed in this haphazard way. It never begins with a preamble, it just needs one perfect emotion, one stroke, one note or one word and a whole world is build around it. Art is formed when the artist can ultimately say, “Ah, here it is! This is myself!” Art has always freely flown in the narrow lanes of the mind and heart that is the place where creativity flourishes in its embryonic stage. Nonetheless, as the world modernizes eradicating human slavery, the art in turn becomes a slave to prejudicial judgments, defending its freedom at every step in the society. If creativity has to be justified at every corner then is the artistic community committing a crime by exposing art to political scavengers? If every brush stroke, every poetic syllable, every written word is interrogated, then will art succumb to being a mere regulated display behind the glass door forever waiting for a stamp of approval? Soseki was troubled as his melancholy viewed the changing world through a glass door questioning whether Japanese traditions will be lost in the chaos of modernization, and true art will be lost among the malodorous farts.

“The world where falling in love requires marrying is a world where novels require reading from beginning to end.”

Life changes, old familiarity bring new lonesomeness as beauty is transient. If our shadows can bear the pain of its disappearance as the night falls only to find joy the next morning, why does man fear change and prefers to dwell in the shadows of an haunting past rather than embrace the joy of future? Although, Natsume Soseki spent several of his studying years abroad (London), his heart belonged to Japan and it’s embedded culture. Soseki came from a world where books were read from the middle and random passages. Akin to the novel’s protagonist, Soseki was apprehensive about the onset of the 20th century. The author’s derision to modernity can be unmistakably seen with his dismissal of nude art for lack of dreamy innocence that is perceived in the artistic depth of the Geishas and the annoyance for the train describing it to be “a serpent of civilization that comes slowly writhing along the glittering tracks, belching black smoke from its jaws.”

Reading these thoughts of the author, I infer that more than the advent of modernization (since Soseki did bring in quite a Western influence in his prose), he was skeptical about the state of the preservation of Japanese traditional art. I wonder what Soseki would think in today’s world where artists are thrown in jail or labour camps (Ai WeiWei) or have to resort to clandestine Banksy performances. Were Soseki’s inferences accurate when he concluded that “modern civilization gives each person his little patch of earth and tells him he may wake and sleep as he pleases on it, only to build iron railings around it and threaten us with dire consequences if we should put a foot outside this barrier?”. Has the modern world shackled the essence of art? Is a pure emotion of ‘pitying love’ susceptible of being exposed to the vulgarity of its world? Has art become so vulnerable that it can only sustain pristinely in a secluded atmosphere without being tainted by the human world? In the chaos of modernization and the ambivalent relationship to aged traditions, where does Soseki’s literary naturalist grass pillow stand among the terrains of human entanglement and realism? At a time when Japan was tumbling into a new world whilst being haunted by it traditional past, Natsume Soseki expressively penned the quandary of a country and its people trying to find a concrete place in between the two worlds.

“My aim on this journey is to leave behind the world of common emotions and achieve the transcendent state of an artist’s….”

In Japanese, the word ‘Kusa’ = grass and ‘Makura’ = pillow; resting on the aesthetics of nature in this haiku-style philosophical zephyr, Soseki’s prose(which he wrote in a week’s time) embodies a journey that not only encapsulates beauty of a timeless past but also an memorable experience of appreciating modernity and traditional complexities of art that stood on the periphery two entirely different centuries along with its artist.

Shadows of life
Three-cornered world
Soseki dreams…..

5/5*****