Monday, December 3, 2012

Study Guide for Nagai Kafū “The River Sumida” (Sumidagawa, 1909)

“Nagai Kafū’s (1879-1959) The River Sumida (Sumidagawa, 1909) is the story of a year in the life of Chōkichi, a seventeen-year-old boy torn between his obligation to his mother to finish school and his longing to be part of the world of the traditional theater. Most of the events of the story occur during the four seasonal fushime, or periods of seasonal transition. This fact is significant because the work as a whole can be seen as a meditation on transitions, not only of the seasonal type, but of personal transitions from youthful innocence to the realm of experience, as well as of the larger, more turbulent historical transition from the traditional culture of the Edo period to the “civilization and enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) of the modern Meiji period. The story begins at the fushime between late summer and early autumn, and finishes in the early stage of summer.” –Mabel Callahan, a previous post.
Terms/Places/Cultural Particularities

Provide a short description/definition of the following terms. (Note: I have already begun to fill out some of them for you.) Also, spend a day walking around the Shitamachi downtown region of Tokyo (e.g. Asakusa, Sumidagawa, etc.), locating as many of the places mentioned in the work as possible.

1. Sumidagawa 隅田川:
2. Asakusa 浅草: Center of the old shitamachi (downtown), and the major entertainment district of Tokyo until the Taishō period. The area is also known for its various Buddhist temples, the most famous of which is the Sensōji, which is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.
3. Imado 今戸:
4. Koume小梅:
5. Honjo本所:
6. Hikifune Canal 曳船川:
7. Azuma Bridge吾妻橋: “swarming with people” (210).
8. Narihira Bridge 業平橋
9. Inari Shrine稲荷神社:
10. Matchi Hill (Matsuchiyama) 待乳山: Hill above Asakusa.
11.  Imado Hachiman-gū 今戸八幡宮: In the story, where the New Year’s festivities are held.
12. Komagome 駒込: Where Rankichi’s father is currently buried.
13. Yanaka 谷中: Possible new site for burial.
14. Koishikawa 小石川: Site of the Sagamiya pawn shop.
15. Yoshichō芳町: Geisha house where O-ito is to be employed.
16. Sanya Canal山谷掘:
17. Keiyōji Temple 慶養寺:
18. Imado Bridge今戸橋:
19. Chōmeiji Temple長命寺:
20. Yoshiwara吉原:
21. Jikatamachi 地方町: Where O-ito and Chōkichi were grammar school students together.
22. Miyatoza Theater宮戸座: “Regarded by aficionados as the last holdout of Edo-period Kabuki, the theatre was still in business during the Taisho period, though by then it was competing with music halls and motion picture palaces” (Mansfield, Tokyo: A Cultural History, 121).
23. Hashiba 羽柴: The lady who notices O-ito’s beauty is from Hashiba.
24. Matsubaya 松林: Location of the geisha house where O-ito now works.
25. Kaminarimon雷門 (Thunder Gate): The first of two large torii-style gates leading to the Sensōji in Asakusa. First built in the seventh century, it has long since been the symbol of Asakusa. The rokku or “Sixth District” was in particular famous as a theater district, featuring famous cinemas such as the Denkikan.
26. Komagata駒方:
27. Kuramae蔵前:
28. Bakurochō 馬喰町:
29. Asakusa Bridge浅草橋: In the stalker chapter, Chōkichi wanders from Komagata to Kuramae to Asakusabashi to Bakurochō (194).
30. Meiji Theater明治座: Theater in Nihonbashi. First constructed in 1873.
31. Ryōgoku Bridge両国橋:
32. Shinbashi 新橋:
33. Tōshōgū Shrine東照宮: The shrine where Chōkichi meditates.
34. Dōryōji Temple: Where Rangetsu buys a jar of sweets.
35. Awashima Shrine淡島神社:
36. Shintomiza Theater新富座: Also known as the Morita-za 森田座 (or 守田座). One of the major Kabuki theaters of the Edo period. Destroyed in the 1923 earthquake. Located in the Kobiki-chō district of Edo. During the early twentieth century, Ii Yōhō’s (1871-1932) troupe often performed here.
37. Ryūganji 了願寺: Temple in Kameido. Chōkichi and Ragetsu walk during their chat.
38. Oshiage Canal押上
39. Myōkenji Temple 妙見寺:
40. Tenjin Shrine亀戸天神宮:
41. Tenjin Bridge天神橋:
42. Miyako Shinbun都新聞:
43. Tokiwazu School 常磐: Tokiwazu-bushi is generally abbreviated as “Tokiwazu.” Tokiwazu is a school of Jōruri, and originated in Bungo-bushi, founded by Miyakoji Bungonojo. In Kabuki, Tokiwazu is mainly responsible for Degatari (onstage performance) as the accompaniment for Buyō (dance). Tokiwazu group consists of reciters called Tayū, and Shamisenkata (shamisen players). The shamisen used are chuzao (medium-neck). The distinction of Tokiwazu-bushi is that it is slower-paced and more solemn than Kiyomoto music.
44. Ballad of Koina and Hanbei (Koina Hanbei mono 小いな半兵衛物): “A story of violent but steadfast love between a geisha and a man of the merchant class. It is to be found in several schools of Edo balladry, including Tokiwazu” (Seidensticker’s note).
45. Spring Colors: A Plum Calendar (Shunshoku umegoyomi 春色梅暦): A ninjōbon written by Tamenaga Shunsui between 1832 and 1833.
46. Ballad of O-sai and Hachirōbei:
47. The Love of Izayoi and Seishin  (十六夜清心): A (failed) love suicide play written by Kawatake Mokuami (1816-1893) in 1859, included in Kosode Soga Azami no ironui 小袖曽我薊色縫). The play is about Seishin, a Buddhist monk, and the courtesan Izayoi, who in the end tragically take their own lives. In Kafū’s story, the play is performed by theater group at Miyatoza. The scene where Chōkichi is waiting for O-ito is echoed in the play (204: “The singers took up again. . .”). The play is also known as Satomoyou azumi no ironui (four-part Kizewamono style play). For an English translation, see Love of Izayoi and Seishin, a Kabuki Play, translated by Frank T. Motofuji (1966).
48. Nagauta長唄: literally, “long song.”
49. Sanja Festival三社祭:
50. Dōjōji道成寺: Nō play; also, the type of dance that is performed by O-ito in the Sanja festival (189).
51. Otori Matsuri 酉の市 (Tori no ichi): 
52. Senzoku Street 千束通り:
53. Kiyomoto 清元: A style of narrative music, originating in the Tomimoto style, and created by Kiyomoto Enjudayū I in 1814.

Study Questions

Answer six of the following questions. I expect at least one full paragraph for each answer.

1. Citing specific passages that support your claim, describe the mood of the work.

2. Describe the narrative structure of the work (i.e. the narrative perspective, voice, focalization point(s), use of showing vs. telling, etc.).

3. Consider the passages in the work that describe the Sumida River and its vicinity. How do each of these passages relate to the story? Why do you think Kafū decided to include so much non-plot-essential description?

4. Describe the personalities/perspectives/worldviews of the four major characters of the work (Chōkichi, Rangetsu, O-toyo, and O-ito).

5. Describe the two rival worldviews that are presented in the work. Which worldview is each character associated with? Which worldview do you think the author is more sympathetic toward?

6. Can this work be read as an example of “a critique of civilization” (bunmei hihyō), or even “resistance literature” (teikō bungaku)? Explain your answer.

7. Note the passage of time in the work. How does each episode relate to its seasonal setting?

8.  Discuss the relationship (past and present) between Chōkichi and O-ito.

9. Explain the significance of the theater scene. What effect does the play have on the heartbroken Chōkichi? How does the play mirror what he is going through?

10. Discuss Kichi’s role and significance in the story.

11. How does Rangetsu handle the delicate situation regarding Chōkichi? Why does he later regret the advice he gave to the boy?

12. Locate the passages that contrast a beautiful/idealized past with a degraded/ugly present. Discuss the significance of these passages in relation to the two worldviews that are presented in the work.

13. What do you think will happen to Chōkichi? Do you think that he—with Rangetsu’s assistance—will go on to live the life he longs for? Explain your answer.

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