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Category: Essays (page 1 of 2)

ワイン王国、オレゴン州

ポートランド近郊で暮らすということは、米国有数のワイン生産地の中で生活するということにも当てはまりますが、それはワイン愛好家にとってどんな意味があるのでしょうか? ポートランドは、米国のワイン生産地のうち、それぞれ2番目と3番目の規模を誇る、ワシントン州とオレゴン州のほぼ中間に位置しています。この機会に他では味わえない、この地ならではの体験を満喫してみてはいかがでしょうか?

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Oregon Wine Country

Did you know that living in the Portland area means you’re in the middle of one of the largest wine-producing regions in the US? This unique area is located virtually at the center of Washington State and Oregon, the 2nd and 3rd largest wine-producing regions in the US, respectively. What does this mean for you as a wine-lover?

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Israeli Tail Wags American Dog

This piece by Gwynne Dyer is one of the best assessments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I’ve seen. Far from the standard pap you get from the US media, a fiction foisted on us almost daily in which the persecuted and outnumbered Jews fight bravely against a savage horde of crazed Arabs bent on their singular destruction, his essay casts a refreshingly honest illumination on events as they actually are, where the Israelis and their “settlers” are the terrorists, and the Palestinians are the victims in an invasion that finds them ground further and further under the heel of an American-made boot.

First you’ve heard of it? Well, read on…

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Katakana Revolution

The Japanese language is in trouble. The arrival of the Digital Age finds it increasingly at the mercy of the media and the marketplace, each better equipped today than at any other time in history to shape society, culture, and the modern vernacular. The rush towards globalization and eager pursuit of the technological tools that facilitate it have created in Japan an environment of indiscriminate assimilation, where the foreign appellations for emerging technologies are cut-and-pasted from English directly into the various Japanese media. The language of Nippon is being subtly transformed through a reckless frenzy of linguistic borrowing, and rather than enrich the language, this katakana revolution will ultimately only dilute and pollute it.

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Yoshida Kenkou and the Tsurezuregusa

Yoshida Kaneyoshi

was born sometime around the year 1283 into a family of hereditary

Shinto diviners. His considerable facility with poetry led to

an early position in the Kamakura court, where he served as a

steward to Horikawa Tomomori. Later, around 1313 and for reasons

unknown, he opted for the life of a Buddhist monk and changed

his name to the more religious-sounding Kenkou. An active poet,

he belonged to the traditional and conservative Nijou school

of poetry, and was later praised as one of the “four

deva kings” of the Nijou

school. It is not, however, his poetry for which he is best well

known, but rather a collection of essays known as the Tsurezuregusa,

or Essays in Idleness.

Tsurezuregusa

is a collection of zuihitsu, or “random

jottings,” and is considered

along with Sei Shonagon’s

Pillow Book to be one of the earliest examples of this

uniquely Japanese literary genre. The essays themselves, numbering

243 in all, vary considerably in length from a single sentence

in some cases to a handful of pages in others. They cover a broad

range of topics, and include anecdotes, observations, and reflections

on nature, humankind, and the path to enlightenment. His comments

on etiquette and style have especially endured, and he is credited

today with defining or elucidating much of what is considered

“Japanese.”

Most importantly, the work not only provides the reader with

a glimpse of life in medieval Japan, but also into the mind of

the author himself.

The work reveals a sensitive and

refined man who, though bound on the one hand by his status as

a Buddhist monk to lead the solitary life of a recluse, finds

it difficult to truly separate himself from the court and his

contemporaries, for which his interest is keen. Instead of leaving

the capital and all of its worldly trappings behind to live high

in some mountain retreat, he chose instead to reside on the fringes

of Heian-kyou, where much of society and his previous existence

was readily accessible to him. Kenkou delights in relating amusing

stories about court figures and their antics. In many cases,

though, perhaps to imply that there was in fact some distance

between himself and the actual participants or events he details,

he qualifies the anecdotes with a trailing “I

am told” or “…it

is said”. It is clear,

however, that he was in fact very active in some court circles,

especially those related to poetry, and that much of the information

he imparts could have been obtained first hand.

Similarly, he demonstrates an interest

in the endurance of court protocol and custom, and numerous essays

are offered almost as reminders of how something or other had

been traditionally done, and therefore should be done.

These pieces are sometimes accompanied by laments that the people

of his day no longer remembered the proper method or precedent

when dealing with particular situations. He wrote:

Nobody is left who knows the proper

manner of hanging a quiver before the house of a man in disgrace

with His Majesty. Formerly, it was the custom to hang a quiver

at the Tenjin Shrine on Gojou when the emperor was ill or when

a general epidemic was rampant.

Kenkou existed in a world of great

political flux, and the nostalgia that he feels for earlier, perhaps

more stable times often through. He seems particularly vexed

by the evolution of conventional speech away from forms he considered

traditionally appropriate. This was especially true in cases

where ritual speech had been corrupted into truncated, less formal

forms. An active poet since his youth and a member of the conservative

Nijou school, it should come as no surprise that innovation

and novelty held little appeal for him.

His knowledge of court customs was

thorough, and numerous essays are simply informative commentaries

on specific court practices of the time. Examples of this type

include detailed descriptions of the orientation of bed and pillow

in the emperor’s bedchamber,

the manner in which cords should be attached to loops on boxes,

and the means by which a person should be restrained prior to

being flogged. One has to wonder what purpose these were intended

to serve, if other than only to illustrate these practices for

the benefit of subsequent generations. If nothing else, they

represent Kenkou’s fascination

with such matters and perhaps reflect his belief that the world

was in a state of decay (mappou). As this degeneration

seemed to him to be characterized by the neglect of ritual and

tradition, it is possible to conclude that his transcription of

the customs of his time and those of previous generations had

an archival objective.

Kenkou’s

preoccupation with the court and worldly pursuits is quite at

odds with his status as a monk and recluse, and he seems unwilling

to fully embrace the ascetic lifestyle as, for example, Kamo

no Choumei did decades earlier when he became a priest. One

wonders why he took the tonsure in the first place if the hermitage

was not a way of life he personally favored. Even in his essays

about other monks he speaks of them more as an outsider than a

kinsman, and only a handful of his essays can be described as

expressing singularly Buddhist principles. The answer may be

found in some of the pieces, though, where he indicates that the

transition from public life to one of solitary contemplation of

The Way is incumbent upon men in their twilight years, and that

it is unseemly for the aged to mingle with the young, or priests

with society. Kenkou’s daily

rounds, conversely, brought him often into contact with other

people and the noteworthy events of their lives. This kind of

contradiction is not at all uncommon in the work, and some scholars

contend that the format itself, short essays written over an indeterminate

period of time, lends itself to such inconsistency. I am inclined

to agree with that assumption simply because doing otherwise requires

one to ignore the fact that our opinions evolve with time and

are wholly relative to the situation at hand. Still, reading

in the same hour two passages that begin “Nobody

begrudges wasting a little time”

and “A man who wastes

his time doing useless things is either a fool or a knave”

may give one pause for thought about the capriciousness of his

ideology.

In addition to his observations

of the court and customs, much of Kenkou’s

work could be said to serve as a guide to gentlemanly behavior.

The collection is punctuated with essays that describe in varying

degrees of detail how a man was expected to act under certain

circumstances or in general, and many attempt to define in no

uncertain terms the kinds of ambitions that were meritorious.

He seems especially critical of those who pursued monetary gain:

What a foolish thing it is to be

governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one’s

whole life without a moment of peace. Great wealth is no guarantee

of security. Wealth, in fact, tends to attract calamities and

disaster…It is an exceedingly stupid man who will torment himself

for the sake of worldly gain.

Equally denigrated are the uneducated

and boorish, whose antics provide Kenkou with ample examples of

what the “well-bred”

man should never do. He paints a picture of the ideal man as

being quiet, self-effacing, generally sober, and, most of all,

a person of refined tastes. Though less harsh in his treatment

of common people than was Sei Shonagon in her Pillow

Book, Kenkou does not afford them much in the way of leniency.

They seem as caricatures, propped up idiotically in front of

the reader to serve as an antithesis to Kenkou’s

idealized, elevated man:

The man of breeding never appears

to abandon himself completely to his pleasures; even his manner

of enjoyment is detached. It is the rustic boors who take all

their pleasures grossly. They squirm their way through the crowd

to get under the trees; they stare at the blossoms with eyes for

nothing else. they drink sake and compose linked verse; and finally

they heartlessly break off great branches and cart them away.

When they see a spring they dip their hands and feet to cool

them; if it is the snow, they jump down to leave their footprints.

No matter what the sight, they are never content merely with

looking at it.

I think these entries may ultimately

add to the popularity of the work because they serve as a kind

of handbook for proper behavior and etiquette, which it may be

argued are given a great deal of importance in Japanese society

relative to others. The Japanese reader is presented with very

clearly articulated ideas about what it is to be properly Japanese.

In some cases Kenkou eschews metaphor or example completely and

simple describes what is appropriate when, for example, calling

on someone at their home: “It

is most agreeable when a visitor comes without business, talks

pleasantly for a while, then leaves.”

In the same direct fashion he cautions the gentleman in numerous

essays not to indulge in ostentatious displays of knowledge or

ability:

A man should avoid displaying deep

familiarity with any subject. Can one imagine a well-bred man

talking with the air of a know-it-all, even about a matter with

which he is in fact familiar? The boor who pops up on the scene

from somewhere in the hinterland answers questions with an air

of utter authority in every field. As a result, though the man

may also possess qualities that compel our admiration, the manner

in which he displays his high opinion of himself is contemptible.

It is impressive when a man is always slow to speak, even on

subjects he knows thoroughly, and does not speak at all unless

questioned.

There are numerous entries of this

sort, and they stand out from the rest, I think, because they

are so utterly timeless. The passage above is just as true today

as it was in his time, and it is this quality that makes the work

endure. As such, even the contemporary reader can find in the

Tsurezuregusa much that can be applied to his or her life

today. In this area Kenkou’s

brilliance is clearly displayed, and his place in Japanese history

as a gifted philosopher justified.

More than simply an authority on

matters of etiquette and grace, though, Kenkou is also regarded

as having had much to do with the development of the Japanese

for nature and artistic style. The importance he attaches to

an awareness of the impermanent, the incomplete, and the irregular

have shaped the Japanese collective consciousness more than we

may ever know. The Tsurezuregusa shows us that for him

the suggested was superior to the conspicuous, and beginnings

and endings to the central experience. The natural world was

his favorite canvas for ruminations of this kind, and the examples

he uses are vividly drawn in images familiar to any Japanese.

It is interesting to note that it is here that Kenkou’s

Buddhist ideology is best represented. So much of beauty lay

in its ephemerality, he reminds us, and this perception has as

its roots the Buddhist concept of mujou, or impermanence.

Cherry blossoms are loved for their brevity, for example, and

for how they suggest the finite nature of our own existence and

that of all things. Surely this way of looking at the natural

world existed in Japan long before Kenkou put his brush to ink,

but his words offer a unique expression of its fundamental ideas.

It is therefore regrettable how few of the pieces in the Tsurezuregusa

are devoted to observations of the natural world, but from those

available we do find that he had cultivated the recluse’s

eye for nature even though he had not put any great distance between

himself and the urban hub of Heian-kyou.

Yoshida Kenkou became a monk and

set his feet upon The Way, but his path was one that never carried

him too far from the society and company of others he loved so

much. Somehow he was able to fuse the courtier and the recluse

into a single entity that found in that union a keener insight

into the world than either might have achieved alone. That he

was generous enough to record his thoughts we can be grateful,

and in the pages of his legacy we find a window into his heart,

his mind, and his world.

The Tsurezuregusa is a classic of Japanese literature. It is a collection of zuihitsu (lit. random jottings), a genre unique to Japan, and was written in the early part of the 14th century. This paper discusses it and the author, Yoshida Kenkou.

The Sensual World of Ihara Saikaku

Ihara Saikaku (1641-93) was born

Hirayama Tougo in Osaka to a prosperous merchant family. Little

is known about his early life, but his wife died young and his

only daughter shortly thereafter. Rather than enter the priesthood

as might have been expected under the circumstances, he began

traveling extensively and writing. He was recognized initially

for his skill as a haikai poet,

and is credited with being one of the most prolific renga

(linked verse) poets of all time. Late in life, however, he turned

his attention instead to writing novels, and it is for the brilliant

literary works of this period that he is best known today.
The Japan of the late seventeenth-century had existed under the

stern yet unified rule of the Tokugawa shogunate for nearly a

century before the publication of the literary classic The

Life of an Amorous Man. The work was the first novel

by then forty-one year-old Saikaku, and in its pages he recounted

the life and exploits of the ridiculously amorous hero Yonosuke

(lit.- man of the world), a rake who devotes most of his life,

from early youth till death, to pursuing and enjoying the intimate

company of women and, some cases, young boys. The work was an

important one for two fundamental reasons: first, it was the first

literary work to emerge in Japan that treated sex and sensuality

with a candor hardly before seen in Japanese literature. So influential

was it, in fact, that it produced an entire genre of fiction that

would become characteristic of the period, Ukiyo-zoushi,

or “tales of the floating world.”

The term “floating world”

was used to describe the environs of the pleasure quarters and

theater districts that were becoming popular at that time. Moreover,

the typically short passages that make up the work provide the

modern reader with an unobstructed (but decidedly masculine) view

into the brothels and pleasure quarters of feudal Japan.
The pleasure quarters (yuukaku)

were government-sanctioned districts, mostly urban, where men

could purchase the favors of the demimondaine.

In some cases, like that of the expansive Yoshiwara

district in Edo, the licensed quarters were active on a rather

grand scale. The insulated world of Yoshiwara

and other districts like it provided the writers of the time with

a world of superficial dazzle and ritualized pleasure populated

with rogues and hypocrites of all descriptions. “There

were devious merchants, scheming courtesans, fallen or slumming

samurai, slimy sycophants, lecherous monks, horny nuns, vainglorious

actors, ludicrous fops and fey spendthrifts.”

[Bornoff, 174] Saikaku used these figures, often drawn as caricatures,

as inhabitants of his own literary “floating

world.”
In his richly drawn portraits of life behind

the scenes in the world of recreational sex, Saikaku never treats

the reader to excessively explicit detail. One does find, though,

that although prostitution was very much present in current sense

of the word, the male patrons were highly selective of the partners

they chose to spend time with, and that a fulfilling “evening

of pleasure” may have included

little more than food, drink, and pleasant conversation. This

is wholly apart from what we might think of as prostitution today,

where services purchased and anticipated are almost exclusively

within the realm of physical, sexual gratification. For the characters

in Saikaku’s world a woman’s

manner and grace were as important or more so than her physical

attributes, and this reveals her to having been more than simply

a sexual object.
In addition to exploits in the yuukaku,

Saikaku wrote on other areas of the sexual spectrum. One theme

that received particular attention was that of same-sex love,

or more specifically, love between men and boys. This type of

affection was referred to as nanshoku,

or “male love,”

and it contrasted with joshoku, “female

love.” In Saikaku’s

day homosexual love among men had none of the stigma attached

to it today in Japanese society or that of our own. In fact,

the contemporary view of the rugged, lethal samurai might find

itself sharply at odds with the reality of the commonplace nature

of male love and its pervasive acceptance in medieval and Tokugawa

Japan.
Saikaku writes about nanshoku

at great length in his book Nanshoku Oukagami

(The Great Mirror of Male Love). In it he depicts male love as

it existed around the samurai tradition, as well as in the other

arena in which it was most predominant, the kabuki

theater. The short stories that make up the work are evenly divided

between the two types.

Nanshoku existed exclusively

between men and boys, and the age of nineteen was the point at

which a male would assume the role associated with the former.

Prior to that time he was exclusively a member of the latter,

and known as a wakashu. The

men who practiced homosexual love were divided into two categories:

onna-girai and shoujin-zuki.

Onna-girai (”woman-haters”)

were those men that dallied exclusively with wakashu, and

by contemporary terminology might be called “gay.”

Shoujin-zuki were those who continued to have sexual relations

with women in addition to their liaisons with boys, and in many

cases even had wives and families. Nanshoku Oukagami was

made up entirely of the former, however, and some critics argue

that it is for this reason that a discernible misogynistic bias

exists in many of the stories. Paul Gordon Schalow says:
Because he adopted the onna-girai’s

extreme stance toward female love rather than the shoujin-zuki’s

inclusive position, Saikaku was obliged to write disparagingly

of women in the pages of Nanshoku Oukagami. But Saikaku’s

misogynistic tone, which many readers of this translation will

find offensive, is directed not so much at women as at the men

who loved them. [Schalow, 4]
The status and perception of women had seen a noticeable decline

Japan in the Middle Ages and into the feudal period. Tokugawa

society, with its strict class divisions and clearly defined societal

roles, was inhospitable to women to such a degree that the fruits

of their artistic and creative pursuits, having reached their

apogee in the Heian Era, were now being stifled in almost every

quarter. One glaring example of this practice was the barring

of women from performing on-stage by the bakufu

in 1629. Although initially allowed to perform in the blossoming

kabuki theater, the role of women

had slowly shifted from that of performer to prostitute. This,

it was feared, would turn performance halls into brothels, and

women were summarily excluded from further participation in hopes

of averting the progression. Curiously, however, those selected

to fill the now-vacant female roles on the kabuki

stage (i.e.- young, feminine boys) soon experienced the same evolution

of role, and in like fashion became ready bedmates for enthusiastic

spectators. It is noteworthy that this form of the theater, called

wakashu kabuki, was subsequently

banned as well.
If anything, Saikaku only echoed the kind of biased, subjugative

view of women already well-established in Japan in his time.

One particularly apropos example is his treatment of the main

characters in the two works The Life of

an Amorous Man and The Life of

an Amorous Woman. In the former case the protagonist,

the ever-infatuated Yonosuke, progresses through his entire lifetime

experiencing successes and failures but ultimately achieving great

prosperity after many years spent in the familiar embrace of the

pleasure quarters. The heroine in Amorous

Woman, however, enjoys a wonderfully auspicious existence

in her youth, but experiences a steady, inexorable decline which

finds her a gnarled and pathetic wretch at the end. The same

similarly unpleasant yet inevitable fate seems to await many of

the female characters in Saikaku’s other works

as well, and the dual underlying messages seem to be that promiscuity

and licentious behavior are the bailiwick of men alone, and that

women are of little worth once their looks and sexual appeal have

waned.
The rake, the Lothario who demonstrates masterful skill in seduction,

holds a certain appeal for Saikaku. His protagonists are overwhelmingly

attractive, clever men who, much like the famous

poet Ariwara no Narihira, entice the objects of their fancy,

be they young women or wakashu boys, with carefully chosen

words and cultured manner. The ploy for luring widows regularly

used by Yonosuke’s elderly confidant

in The Life of an Amorous Man sounds so appealing to the

young dandy that employs it himself at the first opportunity [41].

It is known that Saikaku was an active patron of the pleasure

quarters himself, and one must wonder if his characters were the

product of his own self-image. Whatever the case, the sensual

world held great interest for him, and he traversed its broad

expanses with a keen eye and vigorous pen.
It is important to note that Saikaku’s works,

though often quite erotic, were not oblivious to the realm of

the heart, and some of his pieces relate tales of ardent love

by common people, not unlike the works of his contemporary, Chikamatsu.

Saikaku wrote of lovers who experience great depth of emotion

and caring. These figures are often torn between the love they

feel for one another, and the duty that conspires to keep them

apart. An example of this type is the first story in Five

Women Who Loved Love where, much like Chikamatsu’s

The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, the leading figures are

doomed to be separated against their will, deceived, shamed, and

decide eventually to die gloriously together. Although in Saikaku’s

work the ending finds the couple as somewhat apart from the “models

of true love” that die together,

the mettle of their devotion is nonetheless tested under dire

circumstances, and is found to ring true. I think it is these

works which must have led to his great popularity because they,

along with the stories of the bunraku and kabuki

stage, gave new voice to the lives and dreams of commoners and

townspeople.
Ihara Saikaku is described as “one of

the most uninhibited writers who ever published a tale”

by translator Kengi Hamada. His unabashed, straight-forward style

of writing may not seem to the modern reader to be especially

sensual or otherwise erotic, but for his time it was a new direction

in literature, and it launched an entire genre. In his characters

we can find a little of the author himself, his views of women,

and his love for the sensual world.

Works Cited

 

Saikaku, Ihara. The Life of an Amorous

Man. Trans. Kengi Hamada. Rutland, VT: Charles E.

Tuttle Company, Inc., 1979.

 

Saikaku, Ihara. Five Women Who Loved Love.

Trans. Wm, Theodore de Bary. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle

Company, Inc., 1956.

 

Saikaku, Ihara. The Great Mirror of Male

Love. Trans. Paul Gordon Schalow. Stanford, CA: Stanford

University Press, 1990.

 

Bornoff, Nicholas. Pink Samurai: Love,

Marriage and Sex in Contemporary Japan. New York,

NY: Pocket Books, 1991.



An essay about the life and works of 17th century Japanese author Ihara Saikaku.

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