Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Study Guide: Ishikawa Jun “Moon Gems” (Meigetsushu, 1946)


“There are moments when the radical gesture is to do nothing”–Slavoj Žižek, March 14, 2007 interview with Soft Targets.

Terms/Cultural Particularities

1. Hachiman 八幡: “One of the most popular Shinto deities of Japan; the patron deity of the Minamoto clan and of warriors in general; often referred to as the god of war. Hachiman is commonly regarded as the deification of Ojin, the 15th emperor of Japan. He is seldom worshipped alone, however, and Hachiman shrines are most frequently dedicated to three deities, the emperor Ojin, his mother the empress Jingo, and the goddess Hime-gami” (Schadé).

2. Hachimangū 八幡宮。A Shintō shrine dedicated to the gods of war; in this story, probably the Tomioka Hachiman located in the blue-collar Fukagawa district of Tokyo. One of more than sixty Hachiman shrines in Tokyo, the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine 富岡八幡神宮 was built around 1625, and is dedicated to the war god, Hachiman. Many of Japan’s major cities— especially cities that have served at the headquarters of the bakufu military government— have shrines to Hachiman.

3. Firebombing of Tokyo 東京大空襲: A total of sixty-seven Japanese cities were firebombed by US forces during WWII. The firebombing of Tokyo began in early 1945 and continued up through the final days of the war. The worst damage was suffered on Mach 10, 1945, when approximately 100,000 civilians were killed and over 1,000,000 homes destroyed. Other than the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the March 10 Tokyo air raids proved to be the deadliest single attack on the Japanese mainland by US forces. The bombing referred to in this story is the infamous March 10 bombing.

4. Kyōka 狂歌: Mad poems. Waka with a humorous or witty cast of language or thought,” and goes on to note that “word plays involving several meanings were especially popular” (PCJL, 287). The genre, it points out, was intended to “appeal to a popular audience” (287). Among the major collections of kyōka, which is said to begin with the Gyōgetsubō’s Sake Hyakushu in the early 14th century, is the joint work of Ōta Nampo and Akera Kankō, titled Manzai Kyōkashū and compiled in 1783 (361).  The PCJL also notes in the same entry: “Kyōka – ‘mad waka’ – were composed from fairly early times, as early as the Kamakura period. But at that period waka was so highly esteemed that ‘mad waka’ was a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. That fact explains why kyōka really developed in Muromachi, and chiefly in Edo, times. Given the cultivation necessary to effect difference, and the desire to write poems that made the difference, it will be clear that the practice was chiefly that of the warrior aristocracy and of learned townspeople (360).

5. Ōta Nanpo 大田南畝 (1749-1823), aka Shokusanjin 蜀山人:  a late Edo writer of kyōka and kyōshi poetry, who also wrote kokkeibon, hanashibon, kibyōshi and other kinds of prose. He is best remembered though for his seminal works of poetry, most notably Shokusan hyakushu 蜀山百首 (1818), Manzaishū 万歳集 (A Thousand Centuries of Kyōka, 1783), and Neboke sensei bunshū 寝惚先生文集 (Professor Sleepy Head’s Poems, 1767) (PCJL, 216). According to Tyler, he was “the grand master of the kyōka coteries,” and was both a “samurai bureaucrat and a literary light” (188). He was to twentieth-century writers Ishikawa and Kafū the supreme model of Edo culture and elegance, admired for his “anti-establishment stance and iconoclastic humor, his cultivated air of aloofness, his uncompromising adroitness at playing the game of public versus private personae (omote/ura), his disdain for personal revelation, and his ability to generate fictions or fabrications that have an artistic integrity independent of the author’s life” (189). In a time when the I-novel dominated literary salons, “Ishikawa surely found Nanpo’s ‘shadowless’ transparency to be enviably cool” (189).

6. Epiphany: “A Moment of sudden insight. With an upper case ‘e’, Epiphany is a Christian festival that celebrates the appearance of Christ in this world to the Magi, and is celebrated on January 6. In a literary context, it retains a sense of higher, sometimes mystical awareness of how the world actually is (a form of subjective truth). There are many authors, such as George Herbert and William Wordsworth, whose poems seem to contain epiphanic moments. But the term is specifically associated with James Joyce, who used the term himself, and whose characters (particularly those in Dubliners) undergo moments of epiphany. Joyce thought it was the writer’s task to record these flashes of truth when they appear” (Auger, 100).

7. Transcendent Impulse: My term for the impulse (toward transcendence or some sort of mystical experience) that is discernible in many of Ishikawa’s narrators. Needless to say, this impulse is always thwarted by the conditions of reality.

8. Emperor Mu of the Zhou Dynasty (周穆王; circa 985-907 BC) and the Eight Stallions:  “The Eight horses of Emperor Mu was a popular decoration on porcelain from the Transitional into the Yongzheng period (1723-35). The story originates from a historical romance, the Mu tianzhi zhuan (An Account of Emperor Mu), which describes the journeys of the fifth emperor of the Zhou dynasty (1023-983 BC) during which he met Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, at Yaozhi (the Jade Pond).
During these travels the emperor’s chariot was pulled by eight horses named after the color of their hair. Another account, the fourth-century book the Shiyiji (Researches into Lost Records) has it that the horses’ names reflected their unusual talents; Number 1 gallops without touching the ground; Number 2 runs faster than birds; Number 3 goes especially fast at night; Number 4 goes as fast as the shadow of the sun; Number 5 is especially well-groomed with a splendid mane; Number 6 runs so fast that one can see a row of ten images of him; Number 7 rides on a cloud; Number 8 has wings.
The Eight Horses of Wang Mu became a popular subject among later poets and artists and a symbol for the vehicle or journeys of any emperor (Gotheborg).

9. The Toribeno Cemetary 鳥辺野: the customary site for cremation and burial in Kyoto, in the western slopes of Higashiyama. It appears in Genji monogatari and is referred to in the Hōjōki.

10. Bunjin 文人: Literati; Japanese term equivalent to the Chinese wenren, designating those who devoted themselves to studying literature and the arts” (Frédéric, 91).

11. Superfluous Man (or lishny chelovek in Russian): “a character type whose frequent recurrence in 19th-century Russian literature is sufficiently striking to make him a national archetype. He is usually an aristocrat, intelligent, well-educated, and informed by idealism and goodwill but incapable, for reasons as complex as Hamlet’s, of engaging in effective action” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Though Watashi gives us no clues regarding his family’s social status, he certainly fits the rest of this description.

Study Questions
Answer all of the following.

1. Describe the narrative structure. Where is the narrator situated temporally in relation to the events he is describing?

2. Give a concise summary of the story.

3. Discuss the symbolic significance of the bicycle. Discuss Watashi’s interaction with it.

4. Describe the character referred to as “Boots.” What ideas/institutions does he embody? How is he a marked contrast to Watashi?

5. Describe the persona of the narrator. Is he a comic or tragic figure?

6. Discuss the epiphany-like scene on page 48. Consider it in relation to the following scene in which Watashi has his first successful ride.

7. Discuss the significance of the title. What do the moon, moonbeams, etc. represent to the narrator? Identify and discuss other associated images in the work.

8. Describe the young girl and her relationship with Watashi. Why does she say “we won” (52) after the bombing raid?

9. Can this story be read as an allegory? Explain.

10. Explain the significance of poetry/kyōka in the story. Why is Watashi able to compose comic verse again by the end of the story?

11. Discuss the character Gūka. What is Gūka to Watashi?

12. Discuss the ending. Why is Watashi now ready to give away the bike?

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