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14 August 2006 @ 08:41 pm
THE LIFE-GIVING SWORD: SECRET TEACHINGS FROM THE HOUSE OF THE SHOGUN, Yagyu Munenori (trans. William Scott Wilson), Kodansha International Ltd. (4770029551)

(Following are direct quotes.)

Cut to preserve space.Collapse )
03 July 2006 @ 12:13 am


((A series of essays written on particular ideas on which modern Japanese culture is based.))

*GAMBARI: Japanese Patience and Determination*
- Gambari/gambaru is the act of doing one's best, hanging on, or working hard to achieve one's goals. After the Meiji Restoration and up to the present day, gambare/gambatte has become a kind of national mantra for Japan, to the point where it is almost overused in all kinds of situations. Personal observation: after reading many examples of instances where people encourage each other to gambare, I think the most accurate translation IMO would be "Hang in there!"
- Note re. this essay: Something that was not made entirely clear was the point at which the gambari spirit became so vital to Japan. All examples given take place in a modern setting; there are none from historical references. To me, this would suggest that gambari was not a fixture of society in the eras that we are primarily interested in.
- It is noted that the single concept of gambari has taken on a variety of subtle flavors, which allows it to mean slightly different things and be applicable in many situations.
- "...To have free time, to do nothing, or not to work gives the Japanese an unpleasant feeling. They tend to think that having free time is wasteful, even shameful, and feel uneasy." (This is contrasted to the Western ideal of enjoying free time and making time for relaxation in life. Indeed, the American and Japanese ideals regarding effort and relaxation are polar opposites.)
- This attitude that one should always have something to occupy one's time has led to emotional problems in retirees (who feel that their lives are empty now that they cannot go to work) and the elderly. There have also been concentrated efforts by parents to ensure that there are always organized extracurricular activities with which to occupy children during their time away from school.
- "Fludity and relaxation enable the Korean people to display their potential power...in contrast, the Japanese tend to show their ability through strain and effort." (?? Check out the Korean attitudes towards this?)
- The essence of gambari is this: that one should try hard with all of one's strength and attention, regardless of the outcome. People will still think well of the Japanese who honestly tries his very best and fails. This is contrasted to the Western opinion that the result of the work determines whether the effort was well-spent; all of one's hard work is considered to be nothing if it results in failure, because there is nothing to show for it.
- Re. rice growing: "It has always been the most traditional and intensive form of agriculture in Japan, ever since it was introduced from China in the Jo'omon period."
- Traditional rice farming requires periods of extremely intense labor at certain times of the year (esp. planting and harvest times), so it is believed that the need for ancient Japanese to encourage one another to continue putting out their best efforts during these times laid the foundation for the gambari spirit.
- Another theory regarding the ancient roots of gambari (one less plausible, IMO) is the dangerous and unpredictable climate and hostile geography of the Japanese islands, which forced the primordial Japanese people to develop restlessness and diligence in order to survive.
- The Edo period class system = shi-no'o-ko'o-sho'o (samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants)
- The third theory of the development of gambari has to do with the educational reforms and abolition of the class system in the Meiji Restoration. Under the new guidelines, any person from any class could theoretically gain any position in the nation by virtue of his hard work and diligence.
- Gambari is understood to be directly related to karo'oshi (death by overworking) and also to wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese, who believed that such acts had to be done in order to prove their desire to work hard for the good of the nation.
- Possible major contribution to the growing problem of gakkyu'u ho'okai (classroom collapse) and absenteeism in schools: "In classrooms across Japan, the future is something most kids would rather ignore. Thanks to a rigorous system of advancement based on tests, about 80 percent of all Japanese students are losers by the age of 15. They are the ones who do not pass exams to enter top-tier high schools. By extension, this kills their dreams of attending a good university and building a distinguished, white-collar career." (Past materials have noted the system of Buddhist religious education, which was based on ability instead of on standardized testing and was technically optional. Believe have also had materials mention that system of education involving standard books and such, which determined one's ability to be employed by the government, was imported to Japan from China...but in those days, those who failed would have jobs inside their class. What was educational system in periods of interest for project?)

*GIRI: Japanese Social Obligations*
- Giri is a nebulous concept: "...Giri involves caring for others from whom one has received a debt of gratitude and a determination to realize their happiness, sometimes even by self-sacrificing..." Additionally, giri can be said to cover three areas:
---moral principles or duty
---rules that must be obeyed in social relationships
---rules that one is obliged to follow or things that must be done against one's will
- Giri is believed to have originated in rice-farming villages, where all members were needed to work hard in order to produce the crop. Apparantly, the desire to make certain that no effort ever went to waste gave rise to the desire to pay back one's debts to anyone who showed goodwill or provided help, and a corresponding expectation that any help given would eventually be returned in kind.
- In modern Japanese society, giri manifests not just on a case-by-case basis of returning acts or gifts in kind, but also in holidays that include traditional gift-giving to everyone with whom one has a favorable relationship.
- Chinese Taoist rituals that influence the development of Japanese gift-giving holidays:
---jo'ogen: January 15
---chu'ugen: July 15
---kagen: October 15
The Tokugawa shogunate adopten chu'ugen (alone among the three?) during the Edo period, and celebrated it together with the Buddhist Bon festival (celebration of the dead) on July 15th. The term ochu'ugen therefore has come to refer to the mid-year gifts sent out during July. The other main gift-giving holiday is oseibo, gifts sent during the middle of December. These holidays create an obligation called okaeshi, where one must send a present in return for each present received.
- While only applying to modern-day Japan: on Valentine's Day, only women give chocolate to their male associates. Giri choko is given to men that they don't have any special attachment to, and is intended simply to help preserve existing relationships. Honmei choko is intended for men that the woman actually has feelings for, such as a boyfriend or husband.
- Also only in modern Japan: there is a holiday called White Day (March 14) that is found only in Japan and seems to exist solely so that men may do okaeshi by giving chocolate to all the women in their lives.
- In the modern day, traditions have also arisen that dictate the sending of greeting cards. One group must be sent out so that they arrive at their destinations on New Year's Day, and are decorated with the animal corresponding to the year's placement in the Chinese zodiac. The second group is intended to inquire after the recipient's health in the mid-summer, and is sent out so as to arrive between July 15 and August 8. The cards are further divided into two designations--those sent out simply for the sake of giri are professionally printed and not personalized in any way, while those sent out privately are handwritten and have genuine sentiment.

*HARAGEI: An Implicit Way of Communicating in Japan*
- Hara = stomach/belly, gei = art
- Haragei is understood as being the ability to read between the lines of a conversation in such a way as to "read minds" and discover a person's true sentiments amid their false or vague speech.
- Haragei is related to amae in the sense that a speaker must trust the listeners to have enough sensitivity to perceive his actual message, even if it is completely at odds with what he expresses verbally. Listeners are expected to be able to sense the truth and react to it, instead of to what is openly expressed. This also relates to the Japanese willingness to rely on time for the solving of problems; if an agreement cannot be openly reached, all those involved will wait patiently for individuals in the group to resolve the problem behind the scenes without open discussion, trusting everyone to work towards mutual betterment.
- Honne and tatemae are also linked to haragei--tatemae is the face put on for the world's sake, while honne represents one's genuine qualities or feelings. Japanese are trained from a young age to use honne and tatemae properly, as this skill is considered vital to proper and pleasant communication that avoids social disturbance. One who is good at honne/tatemae communication is believed to also be good at haragei.
- A concept related to haragei is ishin denshin, which is essentially an intuitive psychic understanding that arises from the close bond shared by the people involved, and which is believed to be something uniquely Japanese.
- On the difference between haragei and ishin denshin: "...Ishin denshin happens unintentionally, while haragei is created by a person's will. Under the influence of ishin denshin, both a speaker and a listener can understand what the other is thinking and wants to say because they have similar experiences and backgrounds. In contrast, when haragei is used, people deliberately try to either transmit or catch hidden messages in conversation. Ishin denshin takes no effort, but haragei is a conscious attempt to communicate underlying meanings."
- Haragei is believed to make sense to the Japanese (and to make no sense to Westerners) because Japan is a "high-context" culture, where substantial amounts of information are contained in the setting, the backgrounds of the people involved, and the situation under which the conversation is taking place. In the "low-context" West, most of the information considered important is expressed directly in the conversation itself or in the actions taken by those involved. High-context cultures apparantly are characterized by a positive view of silence, a lack of inclination towards questioning behavior, and patience towards vagueness. Low-context cultures are characterized by a lack of patience towards ambiguity, directness, and a desire to question in order to make everything clear.
- The Japanese are more willing to take the time to develop their ability to use haragei because they believe that they ought to be able to understand each other nonverbally and prefer not to argue openly; silence or vagueness is therefore evaluated by those involved using their own experience and their abstract sense of the situation or environment.
- In essence: in accord with the belief that what is expressed openly is either completely false or said only for the sake of promoting good feelings or social lubricant, truth cannot be discerned from what a person says. Instead, one must develop the ability (sensitivity) to look around what is made clear in order to understand a person's true feelings.
- Personal note: haramaki = "a strip of woolen cloth used to bind the midsection." More than one character has been seen with these. Context suggests that it should also be considered in symbolic relation to haragei. Look into cultural use of haramaki?
- "Words are the root of all evil." (Japanese saying)

*HEDATARU TO NAJIMU: Japanese Personal Space*
- Hedataru: essentially indicates a separation between things, whether physical or emotional.
- Najimu: attachment or attraction between things.
- Relationships begin in a state where hedatari (noun of hedataru) is maintained. Hedatari is then gradually dispensed with, and the relationship is later deepened by the cultivation of najimu. Restraint and self-control naturally come into play in this sequence as well. In general, Japanese recognize that it takes time, patience, and personal reservation to create any kind of lasting relationship; boldness or pushiness are considered antithetical to this process.
- One example: in ancient times, retainers sitting in the same room as their lord stayed farther than a sword-length away from him. This showed both respect for his personal space and a desire to ensure his security by making it physically impossible to kill him with one stroke. A lord could also display his deep trust in a retainer by asking him to sit a bit closer, thus expressing familiarity and recognizing his follower's devotion by putting himself in a position where he could be killed with one strike. (Note: see similarity to the formalities observed in Hero, taking place in ancient China.) Retainers used a standard of 90 centimeters as the distance to keep from one's lord, in order to avoid stepping on his shadow, which was believed to be a violation of his personal space.
- Until recently, there was also a strict requirement in Japan for wives to show their deferance to their husbands by walking a certain distance behind them.
- Psychological separation is expressed through degrees of physical separation between people; it serves as yet another way of indicating relative status levels.
- The convention of greeting someone by bowing to them at a distance of one meter is considered a friendly gesture in Japan because it serves to assure those involved that they will respect each others' personal space.
- Once hedatari has been established (that is, once people begin a relationship by indicating that they are willing to remain properly distant from each other), then various methods can be used to start eroding the need for hedatari to remain. One simple method is to request that a person should come closer (as in the example of lord and retainer), which indicates physically that one party is willing to accept that the relationship has become closer. Another method is to invite the person over to one's house, engaging a set of concepts called uchi (inside) and soto (outside). "Uchi is a space that indicates one's own world; soto has nothing to do with oneself." An invitation to a person's house therefore also translates as an open door into that person's world or area of concern. The third and most widely-used way is to exchange presents.
- In summary: hedatari is removed by signaling that the other party can move closer or by indicating one's good intentions or hope for the strengthening of the relationship by offering gifts.
- When hedatari has been removed, then the relationship is said to be one of najimu. Najimu can also be deepened in different ways:
---Staying or living together. This method has a long history due to the lack of living space in Japan, which required groups to live and work in a fairly small area. A group is believed to build rapport and trust among its members simply by occupying the same area, since this reminds each individual that they are not alone. Even in these circumstances, privacy is still believed to exist--not physical privacy, but rather mental privacy. "Each person has his or her own privacy even though they are in the same room. They should not know what the others are thinking even though they know what the others are doing."
---Creating situations of physical vulnerability (thus displaying trust) or sharing mutual pleasures of various types. Examples: a group gathered around a heat source in the winter, enjoying its warmth together, and the shedding of personal distance with one's clothing at a hot spring, thus promoting feelings of psychological relaxation and closeness along with the physical enjoyment of the water.
- Going drinking with people is also considered a method for erasing hedatari, partly because the alcohol can be used as an excuse for opening up and expressing true feelings to each other. This has led to the perception among businesspeople that going drinking with one's coworkers after work is part of one's social obligation (to promote the proper amount of closeness in the group).
- Once a relationship has progressed to the point where hedatari has been entirely removed, then it remains in that state regardless of the geographic distance or other distances between those involved. Thus, even if one does not have daily interactions with grade-school friends and other such people, the feeling of closeness and willingness to help does not diminish at all and the connection can still be invoked decades later.

*HONNE TO TATEMAE: Private Vs. Public Stance in Japan*
- These two concepts typically operate on unconscious levels in Japan, despite their importance.
- "Honne is one's deep motive or intention, while tatemae refers to motives or intentions that are socially-tuned, those that are shaped, encouraged, or suppressed by majority norms."
- The difference stated between the Japanese honne/tatemae dichotomy and that of public/private selves in other countries is that the Japanese make extensive use of these two faces in all that they do, since they consider it a virtue if a person can avoid expressing their real feelings and intentions.
- Tatemae is also connected with certain learned micro-rituals in Japanese society that state one thing while indicating another; a person who is familiar with such things will take the hint and act accordingly. Example: If a person overstays their visit and it becomes time for the hosting family to eat dinner, they will ask the guest, "Won't you stay and dine with us?" This is intended to call attention to the fact that it is time for them to eat and is actually a hint that the guest should leave. The proper response to the question would be, "No, thank you, I'm not hungry." These kinds of formulaic Q&A responses can be found in many areas of Japanese life.
- Situations where it would be proper to reveal honne in public appear to be quite rare, as tatemae was developed expressly to fulfill a person's need to interact with society at large in a pleasant and nonconfrontational way. Honne is typically expressed only in one's personal space.
- Westerners typically feel that hiding one's true feelings or intentions is hypocritical and shameful. The Japanese do not see honne/tatemae in this way because they perceive their system as simply reflecting the way that society works. Society dictates that certain types of behavior and certain sentiments are acceptable and good for maintaining order, and so the Japanese act in accordance with these requirements by developing their ability to express tatemae. If one's true feelings clash with those of others or are not of the kind that society accepts, then such things are not to be revealed to society as a whole. This is naturally connected to the way in which Japanese culture is oriented towards supporting the group instead of the individual.
24 June 2006 @ 04:57 pm

((A series of essays written on particular ideas on which modern Japanese culture is based.))

*AIMAI: Ambiguity and the Japanese*
- Aimai is believed to have developed due to the way that communities had to operate back in Japan's ancient history. The fact that the nation is a series of islands, and that its mountainous terrain leaves little habitable land, forced communities to become extremely close-knit. In order to wring the most food out of the little land that they had available, villages recognized farmland as being communal property and all residents pitched in to help cultivate rice (and, presumably, other staple crops). The fact that people could not survive on their own, without a group, made the fear of ostracism (murahachibu) one of the worst to these people; since acceptance by the group meant that one's means to live was secure, the rule of the group was vastly more important than the wishes of an individual or unit within the group. People would therefore ignore their own desires and allow themselves to flow into the roles required by the group to ensure acceptance; this created the state of harmony (wa) among all in the community. Elders were automatically accepted as leader figures due to their believed higher levels of experience, wisdom, and power.
- Ancient Japanese understood that harsh verbal confrontations, strongly stated opinions, and open disagreement created risks of disrupting the harmony that the farming groups relied on in order to ensure their collective survival. Aimai therefore became a fixture in communication (and remains so up to the present day) in order to soften all interpersonal interactions and ensure the continuation of calmness and good feelings among all members of a group.
- Aimai manifests as an extreme vagueness in the expression of one's own ideas and opinions, even when asked a question that demands a clear answer.
- "If a person really wanted to say no, he or she said nothing at first, then used vague expressions that conveyed the nuance of disagreement."
- Japan's social structure is very "vertical" in that people who interact must be aware of the group(s) to which each belongs and their positions within their groups (typically based on seniority)--one's personal traits or qualities are less important. Groups are expected to be extremely tight-knit, and all individuals must focus their energy on the single collective goal. (uchi-soto = in and out; those inside one's group and those outside of it) The group unity is fueled by emotional connections between members; this gives rise to a strong reluctance to openly criticize members of one's group.
- "Japanese conversation does not take the form of dialectic development. The style of conversation is almost always fixed from beginning to end depending on the human relationship. It is one-way, like a lecture, or an inconclusive argument going along parallel lines or making a circle round and round, and in the end still ending up mostly at the beginning. This style is very much related to the nature of Japanese society."
- "The Japanese think that it is impolite to speak openly on the assumption that their partner knows nothing. They like and value aimai because they think that it is unnecessary to speak clearly as long as their partner is knowledgeable. To express oneself distinctly carries the assumption that one's partner knows nothing, so clear expression can be considered impolite." (An argument explaining and supporting the vagueness of aimai.)
- Extremes of emotional expression that might risk making other people uncomfortable or damage personal relationships are avoided--positive sentiments might be seen as arrogant or overconfident, while negative ones may give the impression that one is attacking others or speaking from an undeserved higher position. For this reason, straight answers in general are avoided, and efforts are made to create a cheerful and friendly environment regardless of what people are actually hoping to express.
- Because words themselves are used very vaguely, and because one's true feelings cannot be spoken directly, there is a requirement for people to become very practiced at reading between the lines, divining which of many meanings a person could be suggesting by a vague phrase, reading facial expressions and body language, and listening carefully to tone and inflection. These very subtle methods are used to express the truth, since speech and more obvious forms of action are used to maintain social harmony.
- Even Japanese are not perfect at understanding aimai conversation. They are better at it than outsiders, but they are still fully capable of completely missing the point.
- Social harmony is very important, so aimai is tied to proper good manners in Japan. This is why it is used even though it frustrates the hell out of outsiders whose cultures uphold the belief that honest, direct answers are a sign of good upbringing.
- Emotions come into play more often when regulating Japanese relationships (this is the case even with professional relationships). This is not the case in the West, where disagreements and hardships can arise and work themselves out because of an emotionally-detached pursuit of a common goal. Harsh speech and bad blood among Japanese can create bad emotions among everyone involved, and these are capable of destroying relationships entirely because of the fixation on the emotional quality of one's connections to others.
- Japanese have a positive view of silence--it represents deep thought or consideration. Too much chatter creates a sense of pressure for them and makes them nervous.
- "The Japanese are usually uncomfortable expressing disagreement openly, because it is felt that one's opinion cannot be separated from one's personality, and if you reject another's opinion, you are necessarily rejecting the other person as a whole."

*AMAE: The Concept of Japanese Dependance*
(This is one of the harder ideas to understand. I might be misunderstanding it. Plus, the essay is pretty short.)
- Amae is more accurately translated as "dependance on the benevolence of others."
- "Amaeru" is the verb form of the noun "amae." Some descriptions of its possible meaning: "self-indulgent behavior by an infant of either sex in presuming on the love of its parents," "dependancy on another's affection," and "presuming on familiarity in order to 'make up to' the other, or to behave in a self-indulgent manner."
- What appears to be key concepts in the understanding of amae are trust and the unbreakable quality of certain close emotional bonds. As the third definition in the above point suggests, the idea is that the closeness of one's relationship with a person will, by itself, "pay off" any favors or debts owed or eliminate the need for shame or apologies (due to an understanding that the relationship is such that forgiveness for one's misdeeds is automatically granted). Trust is essential because this closeness must naturally be two-way (or else its automatic qualities could not be assumed), yet the degree of connection between two people cannot be exactly pinned down at any point. Examples of when amae is assumed to be in action: children depending on parents, newbies depending on oldbies, elderly people depending on their grown children for support.
- Other terms relating to the activity of amae: enryo (retraint), giri (social obligation), tsumi (sin), haji (shame).
- Three levels of social awareness and obligation are recognized: inner circle (where amae is present), middle circle (characterized by the presence of giri and enryo), and outer circle (people who are total strangers).
- In the inner circle, typically encompassing one's family, amae defines the types of feelings and actions that take place. With these people, Japanese will actually feel less guilt and a much-reduced impulse to give signs of appreciation or apology. This is due to the aforementioned assumption that those in the inner circle will automatically forgive one's behavior because of their emotional closeness and understanding.
- In the middle circle, behavior and emotion are more strongly defined by giri and enryo. One practices restraint and self-consciousness with these people, and the rules of social obligation must be strictly followed. Lapses of proper behavior will thus give rise to the full force of guilt, and strong efforts will be made to correct these errors and re-establish good relationships. Similarly, other people's gestures of kindness must be returned with the same. This is all because these people do not have the emotional closeness that characterizes amae, so it takes careful monitoring, more difficulty, and more emotional and physical effort in order to secure their good graces; unlike those of the inner circle, one cannot ever assume that forgiveness or understanding are automatic, and so they must be gained with effort.
- It is noted that relationships that begin in the realm of social obligation can develop to the point where they are essentially in the realm of the inner circle (amae) due to the level of closeness achieved.
- In the case of the outer circle (total strangers), one is considered to be unconnected to these people and thus has little need to exercise even self-restraint. (Personal observation: This reflects the way in which the greatest degree of openness can occur between people who are strangers, because they have no obligation to hide or sugar-coat anything in order to preserve the connection between them. In both the inner and outer circles, enryo is absent.)
- Amae is believed to have originated from the original dependance of the infant on its mother. The infant exists in a state of passivity, trusting and allowing itself to be loved and cared for by people whose good intentions are never questioned. Later in life, this same type of relationship spreads to other areas--the wife allowing herself to be passively cared for by her trusted husband, the student to be cared for by the teacher, the patient to be cared for by the doctor.
- The essay did express confusion as to why amae was not present in other cultures when the experience of passive trust towards one's mother was a universal human experience. A possible reason given was the high level of closeness encouraged in ancient Japanese communities, which saw the continuation of amae past infancy as just another way to promote the desired closeness between people.
- Personal observation: Note that amae is characterized also by a lack of questioning--the relationship is always assumed. This naturally opens itself up to abuses, though the innocent quality of it is quite endearing. As far as why abuses appear to not occur...either they are never publicized (in the name of community harmony), they are never perceived as abuse (the abuser is simply trusted to be acting for the good of the abused by everyone including the abused--note the response of Ritsuka and others to his abuse by his mother in Loveless), or this type of relationship is so hardwired into the Japanese mentality by millennia of tradition that no one ever thinks of misusing it (it would be damn impolite and might hurt somebody's feelings, after all :P).
- "...The Japanese have difficulty saying no, in contrast to Westerners... The reason for this is that Japanese relationships, which are based on amae, are unstable...that is, people hesitate to refuse others for fear of breaking this bond."
- (Big question) "...When the Japanese want to be close to someone, they offer a present or treat the other to a meal... As a result, the other is in their debt in a sense, and a relationship based on amae has been arranged between them." (Which party is passive and which acts as the caregiver? Is the gift given to show the other person that you can care for them and it is safe for them to be passive and trust you, or is the sense of indebtedness intended to make them think that they must act as your caregiver in order to pay you back for your generosity??)(Answers may come in the last essay, which is on gift-giving traditions.)

*AMAKUDARI: Descent from Heaven*
(This is actually a system whereby the government and big businesses seek closeness for mutual benefit--retiring bureaucrats can count on getting cushy jobs with big corporations as soon as they leave the government, and in return, they help the businesses that they join to get preferential treatment from the government, using the connections that they made before retiring. Proof has been given that this system is abused, to the detriment of the Japanese people, and the opinion given was that the practice of amakudari should be outlawed. However, the people who would be in charge of outlawing it are the ones benefitting from it, so the issue has been dead in the water even though several major scandals involving it have been uncovered. While I am sure that an equivalent system of inequality was in place in the older periods that have more similarities to fox culture, I have to say that it does not seem immediately important to the events of the story. One can see, though, how this system grows naturally out of amae and social obligation.)

*BIGAKU: The Japanese Sense of Beauty*
(Note on this essay: part of the reason why it was written was to describe the original appeal of Japanese aesthetics both to Westerners and to young Japanese who did not grow up surrounded by a purely traditional culture. The beginning portion is dedicated to describing how Japanese culture is especially good at finding and adopting interesting things from other cultures, and so Western influences have rapidly spread into almost every part of Japanese life.)
- Notes regarding kimonos, incl. personal observations: Apparantly, in modern Japan, this is almost entirely a problem for women... This essay notes that they are not comfortable and are hard to move around in, forcing women to move slowly or remain very still. They have therefore been moved to the position of special formal wear used only to display a person's level of formality and status (and apparantly their cultural pride as well). However, I would mention information taken from the books on geisha, which noted that geisha/maiko become especially adept at wearing kimonos because they have to spend so much time in them; mention was made especially of how agile maiko can be on their tall wooden clogs with their trailing kimonos and long obi tails. A geisha pointed out to a researcher that one way that you can tell if a woman in a kimono belongs to the Floating World is that a normal women will wear her kimono much too tight (in order to create that perfect formal look), and will thus be hampered by it. A geisha will wear hers slightly loosened overall, which permits easy movement. This is because, to them, kimonos are ordinary clothes instead of special outfits for formal occasions only. The modern Japanese take on traditional clothing, therefore, is not especially useful to this project.
- hoogaku = traditional Japanese music. Is noticeably different from Western music in that it emphasizes slow movements and pauses, in order for the audience to perceive the reflection of the player's emotions in the midst of the sound. (It is believed that this style of music is no longer popular because few people have the patience to appreciate it.)
- Traditional Japanese art was originally produced in monochrome, using black ink brushed on paper or silk. Very few strokes were used--just enough to express the outlines or presence of the subject--and it was connected to contemplative practices.
- mono no aware = an aesthetic value system based on feelings/emotion. Contrasts to Western art in that Westerners create beautiful images based on logical decisions that determine what is to be considered "beautiful." Japanese art does not make use of any type of logic to determine its subjects, but instead focuses more on the abstract (what people feel is beautiful, as opposed to what they think is beautiful).
- "Aware is said to be representative of the Japanese sense of beauty, and it is a term of great subtlety, which is quite difficult to understand because it relates specifically to the Japanese feeling of appreciating something that is regarded as worthless." (Examples are here given of how an object at its most perfect is appealing to the Japanese sense, but they are even more deeply moved when the object begins to fade or when its glory wanes--ex. wilting flowers, clouds obscuring the moon.) "Aware is thus connected to feelings of regret for things losing their beauty, and paradoxically finding beauty in their opposite."
- It is noted that the traditional Japanese artistic sense is based on vagueness and subjectivity, and that this primitive, "gut-level" approach to determining beauty is difficult for the recent generation to grasp.
- "The Japanese language is traditionally one that treasures ma, or empty spaces. In these blanks, people find unmentioned, hidden meanings and try to determine the meaning of the speaker or writer through feeling the atmosphere created by the words. For many Japanese, there is great joy in this sense of 'reading between the lines.'"
- The haiku poem style was originally so appealing to traditional Japanese because it forced the writer to use very few actual words; because of this, the primary impact on the reader came from the ma hidden inside the simple packaging.
- "...Ma is an empty space full of meaning, which is fundamental to the Japanese arts and is present in many fields, including painting, architecture, music, and literature."
- Personal observation: And thus is an explaination finally given to why falling cherry blossoms are so often used in dramatic anime scenes. In the traditional aesthetic, it would create a strong emotional kick due to the way that the falling flowers represent the passage of time and the transience of youth, beauty, and life in general.
- Relevant note from elsewhere: Recall from the Book of Tea the story of the tea master whose acolyte spent an entire day tidying the path from the house through the garden to the tea room. When the student could no longer think of any more ways to clean up the path and satisfy his master's insistence that it be made perfect, the master shook a tree branch, scattering leaves across the path, and proclaimed it to be flawless. The aesthetic therefore also includes imperfection and the effect of entropy, as well as a sense and acceptance of the forces of nature and the seasons.
- Personal observations on key aspects of artistic sense:
---Focus is on provoking emotional response, instead of on the quality of lines and forms used (note trad. ink-sketch method of drawing just enough to make an emotional point)
---Existence is imperfect, transient, cyclical--yet the naturalness of it makes it beautiful, though tragic (tragedy is the stronger emotion, thus it is the focus of this art while traditional Western art focuses on simple recognition of what is most beautiful)
---A thought: the fact that all humans experience transience, loss, fading of vitality and perfection = yet another way in which Japanese can feel a connection to one another? Not everyone is perfectly beautiful or flawless, thus expression of perfection or excellence can only be appealing to some. Yet the Japanese artist can reach out and create connection with the audience by expressing this fading or imperfection that everyone knows or will come to know, regardless of who they are. It is an expression of a common experience that can bind any members of the human race together. Perhaps relate this to Japanese value system that places community-forging above individual expression? (Western art often seen today as way of individual expression/communication--even Old Masters art served to express concepts common only among members of one religious group (for example), not fundamental experience of all instances of human life.)
---Negative space just as important as positive space (negative space capable of holding/expressing emotional "context" for objects represented in positive space; reflected also in music)
---A thought: possible reason for spareness in architecture/interior design, apart from emphasis on utilitarianism = if the environment is not so "loud," more attention can be given to things of importance that are invisible to the eye (human interaction, nonverbal expression, etc.)? (note: essay on wabi-sabi comes later)
---Some emphasis on speed or improvisational quality--ink paintings executed quickly and precisely to capture one moment/sensation, poems as snapshot of single action or period of natural existence...? (to capture the fleeting moment before it passes forever)

*BUSHIDO'O: The Way of the Warrior*
- The samurai or bushi had the most political influence and leadership in society from end of the 12th century to the end of the 19th century. In the Heian period, they acted as self-defense groups and protectors of private manors. In the Middle Ages, feudalism ensured that they received protection and land from their lords in return for their loyalty. In the Edo era, they were the most powerful of the four classes (samurai, farmers, artisans, tradesmen/merchants).
- Notes on historical formation of term bushido'o in case of further research: Term refers to ethical system developed among the samurai. Was not in use until Edo period, although system that it referred to had been developed in Kamakura period. System changed somewhat after adoption of Neo-Confucianism in Japan during Edo period and became base of nat'l morality in Meiji Restoration.
- Buddhism was introduced into Japan from China in the 6th century, and the Zen sect became established there in the 12th century.
- Zen Buddhism also influenced the development of tea ceremony (sado'o), flower arranging (kado'o), haiku, and calligraphy (shodo'o).
- While other forms of Buddhism influenced Japanese religion alone, Zen's influence spread farther because of its emphasis on physical discipline, self-control, and the importance of meditation over scholarship. Because of these things, the samurai felt that Zen gave a religious seal of approval to attributes that they had already come to value.
- Personal observation: The essay notes that Zen Buddhism's goal was for practitioners to experience the Buddha-nature, to strip away obscurations that had grown out of human society, and to use the experience of one's own self to discover truth. My question: isn't this the goal of all forms of Buddhism?
- Satori = spiritual enlightenment; mushin = No-Mind.
- The experience of mushin was regarded as key to mastery of both aesthetic and martial arts.
- Zen master Takuan: "When mushin or munen is attained, the mind moves from one object to another, flowing like a stream of water, filling every possible corner. For this reason the mind fulfills every function required of it."
- "...The state of no-mind unites the body with the spirit. Many samurai trained hard to achieve this state through Zen, and this relieved their fear of death."
- Zen master Takuan: "When the opponent tries to strike you, your eyes at once catch the movement of his sword and you may strive to follow it. But as soon as this takes place, you cease to be master of yourself and you are sure to be beaten... Therefore, do not even think of yourself."
- The four principles of Confucianism: "1) jen - humanism, the warm human feelings between people... 2) i - faithfulness, loyalty, or justice... 3) li - propriety, ritual, respect for social forms, decorum... and 4) chih - wisdom..."
- Neo-Confucianism (shushigaku in Japan) differed from the original form in that it primarily emphasized li and jen, encouraging filial piety and loyalty to one's lord. (It received a lot of support from the Tokugawa shogunate due to the fact that it legitimized the feudal structures that were in place at the time.) Because the warrior class provided society's leaders, those in charge saw how important it was for all potential men of power to uphold the correct set of ideals; Confucian schools were therefore established in order to train all retainers the morals considered "correct" at the time.
- Eventually, the Neo-Confucian schools were outmoded in favor of kogaku (ancient learning schools), which went back to original Confucian writings; this was because society had reached a point where Neo-C was no longer working well with everything else. It was taught that a life lived sincerely should be one that permitted others, particularly one's retainers, to experience their own vital spirit. The ideal samurai was seen not only as a master of physical skills but as an example of mental and moral perfection.
- Note mention of Hagakure and the statement that samurai had to live with flawless honor and morality in order to die at any time without regret.
- Loyalty was a defining feature of the feudal Kamakura period; the relationship between lord and vassal was called go-on to ho'oko'o (obligations and service). As was standard in feudal societies, power was mostly decentralized into fiefdoms. The lord guaranteed his servants' land and gave them more land based on their achievements in battle.
- There seems to be different observations on how loyalty actually functioned during this period. A more idealized view sees the granting of land and service as being merely the trappings of a deep emotional connection: "They were tied together with feelings; the lord presented lands to his vassals out of appreciation, and the vassals sacrificed themselves freely for their lord." Another view sees the interaction of lord and vassal as being one of a more businesslike nature with more emotional distance: "When the exchange was not performed equally, the lord applied sanctions, or the samurai frankly requested more rewards." The conclusion given is that the exact relationship varied between different domains.
- Personal observation: This essay does not go into depth about exactly what "honor" entailed, but instead describes what people would do to preserve it. References to Hagakure and other books focusing entirely on bushido'o will probably be necessary.
- Honor appears to have been connected with personal and familial fame, in that one's degree of honor was passed down to his descendants and determined their social standing. Dying with honor could ensure that one's lord would take good care of one's surviving family, and so such a death was fanatically sought after. Great lengths were also taken to be sure that everyone knew what deeds were being performed by whom, in order that they would know who the honor associated with an act belonged to (refer to the practice of shouting one's name to identify oneself to the enemy, and to the retainers who fastened tags to themselves before suicide so that their lord would know exactly who was present when the bodies were found).
- Seppuku (sucide by gutting oneself) was considered the most honorable form of death for a samurai. This was connected to the belief that the soul and emotions were seated in the abdomen, so the cutting or exposure of these parts was a way of displaying honesty.
- Personal observation: The essay notes that samurai expressed honesty and faith by killing themselves with their sword, which was their most prized possession. However, other sources have repeatedly claimed that the disemboweling was performed with the wakizashi and that one's katana was used only if one had the luxury of designating a second to cut off one's head; not everyone could guarantee that this would be the case for their particular suicide. (Frankly, the length of the katana would seem to make it extremely awkward to use for cutting open one's stomach.)
- It was noted that the concepts that began with bushido'o and eventually spread out into the rest of Japanese society were abused after the collapse of the samurai class in Meiji; the government of the time twisted the ideas and used them to produce super-fanatical killers who performed all kinds of atrocities in the name of loyalty to the nation and emperor. Contrast: "...The samurai of olden times observed the proprieties and respected their enemies and one another." The reason for this rampant abuse was that the changes and modernization occurring during Meiji resulted in the loss of the spiritual core of bushido'o, which left it without an internal moral guidance system.
- Remnants of bushido'o remaining today in Japanese culture: the practice of kata in different disciplines for the purpose of attaining No-Mind, the importance of manners, and loyalty and respect towards one's teachers and sempai. Negative remnants: overworking to the point of death (karo'oshi) to prove one's loyalty and dedication to a company, and suicide for the sake of clearing one's sins or as an apology.

*CHINMOKU: Silence in Japanese Communication*
- "[The Japanese] believe that the truth lies only in the inner realm as symbolically located in the heart or belly. Components of the outer self, such as face, mouth, spoken words, are in contrast, associated with cognitive and moral falsity. Truthfulness, sincerity, straightforwardness, or reliability are allied to reticence. Thus a man of few words is trusted more than a man of many words."
- Spaces of silence in conversation are therefore regarded as opportunites to perceive a person's truth, which is why silence has a positive association in Japan and is considered to be "living" space in a conversation, as opposed to being "dead" space, as in Western perception.
- Zen Buddhism is believed to have had an influence on the development of this viewpoint, since it teaches that truth cannot be expressed in words, but exists in a space that defies expression or verbalization.
- The same POV is reflected in various do'o, such as the ma found in traditional music and poetry; the sounds and words are simply meant to enhance the "sound of silence" or that which is expressed in negative space, and are not intended to be appreciated without taking the void around them into account. Examples of disciplines that take advantage of the information or clarity inside silence to encourage understanding or self-development: martial arts, music, poetry, kabuki and noh theater, calligraphy, flower arranging.
- In addition to the use of silence as a medium for transmitting or receiving formless information, Japanese are also inclined to keep quiet as a way of promoting social harmony, due to their group-oriented society. Acts such as boldly stating one's opinion, making a push towards a specific plan of action, or openly displaying one's knowledge of a subject are connected with a variety of negative personality traits in Japan, such as immaturity, thoughtlessness, and selfishness. They will prefer to say nothing rather than risk social upheaval. Also, careful consideration of one's own social standing in relation to those around oneself must be given, as speaking openly to people of higher rank is considered rude.
- When functioning in a situation or among people who make use of chinmoku, attention must be given to when the speaker is silent. Silence may indicate that the person really has nothing to say or no particular opinion. However, partial silence may indicate that the person is verbally expressing only fragments of their actual feelings, and that the rest must be assumed from what they do not say. (This is enryo-sasshi, reserve and restraint.) It is almost a given that any negative sentiments, which carry a risk of creating disharmony, will remain unverbalized and must be picked up instead from a person's varying flavors of silence.
- "Ideas and feelings that might hurt the other person or damage the general atmosphere when expressed are carefully sent back for reexamination in an internal self-feedback process. Only those ideas judged safe and vague are allowed to be sent out through the small exit that functions as a screen filter." (PO: We have one of these!)
- It is not only negative emotions which are expressed only through silence; strong positive emotions are also considered too dangerous to be verbalized, depending on the situation. The primary example given was married couples or couples in love, where the most tender feelings carry a risk of creating embarassment. Nonverbal communcation is thus also used to express such things to avoid the risk of disruption in the relationship.
- As before, it is noted that even the Japanese are not flawless at interpreting chinmoku and can miss the point or get irritated at the vagueness of a situation involving too much active silence.
- As in other cultures, silence can also be used negatively (the Silent Treatment) to hurt other people, ignore them, or force them to keep away.
- One of the bad points to the use of silence in maintaining social harmony is that (as in other cultures) people who see wrongdoing in action will keep quiet and pretend that they aren't seeing anything in order to avoid creating any disruption or calling attention to themselves. Also, silence also serves to protect corrupt bureaucrats and others who are trying to get away with unsavory acts, as they will attempt to avoid the topic altogether so that they will not have to take responsibility for what is happening.
- In essence, silence represents a very wide spectrum of feelings among the Japanese and must be interpreted in context. "...When the Japanese are silent, it may imply a wide range of meanings, such as consideration or sympathy, modesty, agreement, patience, embarassment, resentment, lack of forgiveness or defiance, and apathy."
- Westerners, due to cultural values emphasizing individuality and directness, often see the use of silence or vague speech as a waste of time. Japanese values center more on cultivating interpersonal relationships and establishing social status. Thus, they will sometimes ask questions which, to them, are simply a way of understanding each person's place in the hierarchy (such as wanting to know one's marital status or age); to Westerners, such information is felt to be a violation of one's individual privacy. Thus, both cultures have habits of concealing information which the other considers to be important for proper interaction.
- "In the classroom, there are two types of quiet students--those who do not have their own ideas and do not usually think about issues, and those who are thoughtful and very conscious of their own feelings. Most recent problems in Japanese schools have to do with the latter group, who remain silent until their emotions overflow and cannot be controlled."
- Interesting point, possibly only applicable to modern Japan: "...Although a Japanese man is looked down upon if he talks too much, most people feel that it is all right for women to talk more openly and freely." (Personal observation: This makes sense in that women have a lower social status than men and that, until fairly recently, they were not expected to have any education that might lead to them gaining positions of power in society. If excessive speech suggests immaturity, then women might have a similar status to children, who simply might not know to keep silent and be serious in order to move properly in society. The reason why I think that evidence suggests that this might not have been the case in earlier periods in history is that the social scale was much more rigid, and I expect that women were hardly ever allowed to talk to the men around them at all. The loosening of this absolute rule has created enough elasticity in the social order to allow for more freedom in female speech, even though, in this context, the fact that they are indulgently allowed to chatter without social backlash is not exactly a compliment to their gender.)
- It is difficult for a person to display the extent of their knowledge and abilities in a Japanese company because it is not polite to display one's knowledge openly or to question one's superiors. One is expected to perform the exact duties in one's job description tirelessly and without complaint, even if one is overqualified for the job.
- "In Japan...children are generally shy and do not often know how to speak to adults."
- "In Japanese schools, students are expected to listen to their teachers without interrupting and without asking questions, and they have few opportunities to express their opinions."

*DANJYO KANKEI: Male and Female Relationships in Japan*
- In the distant past, Japan used a matrilineal social structure in which there were many female leaders and women had the right to inherit property. It is believed that, during this time, the genders were considered equally by society on all levels. This began to change during the Nara and Heien periods, when males began to assume dominance; this was much more noticeable among the aristocracy, as normal people maintained gender equality for some time. By the end of the Heian period, male dominance had influenced all parts of society and women's influence was greatly crippled. During the Kamakura and Muromachi (medieval) periods, the ie system was developed--this involved the recognition of distinct societal units made up of an extended family, in addition to the family's servants and other retainers. Under this system, the family's chief male (father or grandfather) had absolute power and all other members of the unit were bound to obey his commands. Women marrying heads of households were expected to bear sons as part of their wifely duties, because the eldest son inherited everything along with his father's position.
- Ie was effective in providing protection for all members of the household unit, and its general structure was reflected among all layers of society.
- Among the samurai and aristocracy, women were primarily useful in binding various family units together through marriage. During wars, they were also expected to support their warrior husbands by running the family properly.
- When Confucianism was introduced in the Edo period, it established the "men outside, women inside" pattern of gender roles that persists to the present day.
- "An old Confucian adage says...that a woman should in youth obey her father, in maturity her husband, and in old age her son."
- "Expressing the term husband in Japanese, most wives use the word shujin, which consists of two kanji meaning 'main person.' On the other hand, kanai, which literally means 'inside house,' is utilized by men as the word for wife." These and other examples serve to indicate how traditional gender roles are enforced by the Japanese language itself.
- Examples of terms used only for females that also indicate proper behavior for the gender:
---otoko-masari: a woman physically, mentally, and spiritually superior to men. Lit. "a woman who exceeds men." Carries the suggestion that such a woman in unfeminine, and such people are therefore shunned.
---otenba: tomboy, young girl so active and healthy that she is hard to control. Otenba are expected to gain socially-correct levels of modesty and humility by the time they become women.
---hako-iri-musume: "daughters-in-a-box," girls who have been brought up carefully in isolation. In the past, such women were valued for their purity.
- The Japanese language also contains terms used to put pressure on single women, pushing them to marry:
---tekireiki: the right age to marry. Mid to late twenties.
---urenokori: goods or vegetables left unsold. Negative expression for women who pass through the proper age range without marrying.
- Sex was viewed much more loosely in very ancient times, which included a belief that it was healthy and natural. But when Edo-period Confucianism gave men a much higher degree of control over women, a double standard emerged on the topic of sexual liberation: women were punished severely if they were discovered having sex with men other than their husbands, while men could openly keep mistresses and visit prostitutes. The reason given for this was that men found it necessary to have access to more than one woman in order to ensure the production of sons, which was the foundation of the ie system. In the Meiji era, the idea that unmarried women should be virgins was brought in from outside, which resulted in women being brought up even more strictly with regard to sexual conduct.
- Arranged marriages (omiai) were originally developed as ways of tying families together, and were decided upon without considering the personalities of the two people involved. Representatives of both families negotiated the marriage terms and the specifics of who would be married in order to create this bond, and the engaged couple would sometimes not even meet until their wedding day.
- ("Love marriages" are much more popular in Japan today, but no information has been found yet on whether all marriages in ancient Japan were arranged, or if such things were more a fixture of the upper classes alone, with the lower classes having more freedom to choose their partners.)
- "...Many single men think of marriage as a social duty, one by which they can gain the trust of others, take social responsibility, or meet their parents' expectations."
- "...A lot of Japanese men still have traditional views of women. Frankly speaking, most of them seem to want a kind of a substitute for their mothers, in order to have wives do their housework like their mothers."
- While modern Japan has changed in the sense that women are not required to display subservience to men in all things, it is still common for men to make all important household decisions. However, women continue to demonstrate a great deal of power in the details of managing affairs inside the home, such as in the areas of child care, finances, and property management. (It is noted that married men seem to often exist just to provide a paycheck to the family, as the wife is the one who manages everything else.)
- Due to their amae-based relationship, it is not common for married couples to show overt affection for each other (especially in public), nor is it common for them to speak well of each other. (It is noted that Japanese couples typically take each others' devotion for granted, while Western couples make sure to express devotion in words and actions to show that they never take each other for granted.)
- Even in modern times, the belief that all work inside and involving the household should be taken care of by the wife remains, such that the woman is expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, etc. even if she also has a job outside the home.

*The DO'O Spirit of Japan*
- The original do'o in Japan was the Tao, which was imported from China in the 5th century BC. Part of Taoism's essence is the expression of the unity of man and nature, and it contains techniques intended to bring heaven and earth together so that humans can bring their actions into accord with the universal spirit (Tao).
- Taoism had a strong influence on the development of Zen Buddhism. It also contains the ideas that the Absolute cannot be expressed in words, that the practitioner must become empty to the point of being mirror-like, and that he must eventually become a vessel for the Tao and gain enlightenment by living eternally in the present. In its original form, Taoism influenced Japan only in bits and parts; its main impact came after it contributed to Zen Buddhism, which was adopted by Japanese society at a later time.
- The directness, lack of hesitation, and immediacy of truth expressed in Zen Buddhism permeated every part of Japanese culture; see previous notes on its effect on social interactions, warriorship, and art.
- "Zen always aims at grasping the central fact of life, which can never be brought to the dissecting table of the intellect." (Note: details of Zen and Buddhism are omitted because they are found in more detail in other books anyway.)
- "...The Buddhist monk Eisai, who founded the Rinzai sect, known for its strict meditational system and use of ko'oans, or enigmatic, paradoxical, nonlogical questions."
- "Based on mondo'os, or brief dialogues between master and disciple, Zen's particular method of instruction entails simply pointing to the truth...without interposing ideas and notions about it. For the Zen master, the best way to express one's deepest experiences is by the use of paradoxes that transcend opposites..." "...Opposites are relational and so fundamentally harmonious."
- Zen schools were noted for being self-sufficient communities, because they recognized the presence of the Buddha-nature in all aspects of common life and thus required its devotees to practice both meditation and daily work.
- "In all forms of activity, Zen emphasizes the importance of acting naturally, gracefully, and spontaneously in whatever task one is performing... The single-mindedness of Japanese martial and aesthetic arts...illustrates the Zen principles of detachment and equanimity, the expanded consciousness beyond the 'me-state' in which each moment flows unimpeded by one's awareness of anything..."
- Characteristics most often associated with traditional Japanese arts:
---keishikika: formalization
---kanzen shugi: the beauty of complete perfection
---seishin shu'uyo'o: mental discipline
---to'oitsu: integration and rapport with the skill
- The steps followed in gaining mastery of a traditional skill:
---The establishment and formalization of the pattern/form (kata): every action becomes bound by rules (keishikika)
---The constant repetition of this pattern/form (hampuku)
---Mastering the pattern/form, which includes the classification of one's degree of skill according to a system of grades or ranks (kyu'u and dan)
---Perfecting the pattern/form, resulting in kanzen shugi
---Unifying completely with the pattern/form (to'oitsu), thus discovering the means to transcend the pattern
- Quietness, obedience, and respect are emphasized in all practices making use of these concepts.
- Zen originally rejected any attempt at organizing or formalizing the arts developed in its temples, but was later forced to adopt such methods after the arts spread to the general public, in order to ensure that they would be passed on properly. This was what prompted the creation of kata, since a teacher only needed to learn the kata in order to pass on the teachings; this allowed for the mass production of arts teachers. Even in simple practices, or in areas that would not normally be considered artistic, kata are still developed and taught to trainees.
- "Teaching is kept simple, inflexible, and strictly controlled, and involves imitating the movements of a master rather than detailed and analytical verbal explainations." The purpose of this, and of the emphasis on kata, is to force the students to achieve no-mind through endless repetition. In no-mind, the essence of the entire system can be grasped, and once that is done, the student has theoretically earned the right to transcend the rigid system of learning and spontaneously create new expressions of the art.
- The essence of the do'o training system is that one's self can be perfected through repetition, discipline, attention to detail, universal aesthetic awareness, etc.--the type of action is itself not important, because every path is intended to lead the practitioner into the same knowledge of no-mind, which creates the same ability to transcend all patterns and limitations. The various paths (the way of tea, the way of the warrior, the way of flower arranging, etc.) are all intended to act as different roads to the same destination.
- A problem with the do'o/Zen method of education (seen in modern Japanese education, and, one would assume, in ancient schools as well) is that rote memorization and adherance to established forms is emphasized so strongly that people too easily lose sight of the point of the method and cling to the forms for their own sake. Thus, people become stuck in pointless repetition without any knowledge of or desire to transcend the forms; this kills creativity and the sense that what one learns is actually applicable to one's life. The forms alone are void of content.
- "The Japanese have always seemed to lean more toward intuition than reason, to subtlety and sensitivity rather than clarity of analysis, to pragmatism rather than to theory, and to organizational skills rather than to great intellectual concepts. They have never set much store by clarity of verbal analysis and originality of thought. They put great trust in nonverbal understanding and look on oral or written skills and on sharp and clever reasoning as essentially shallow and possibly misleading. They value in their literature not clear analysis, but artistic suggestiveness and emotional feeling." (This is basically the blueprint for everything, really.)
27 February 2006 @ 09:43 pm
~ The overall material will be rated PG-13 to NC-17 for various reasons.
~ The flavor of the piece is dreamlike "science-fantasy," meaning that nothing whatsoever is required to make logical sense, unless it does.
~ Most entries will be locked to self. Exceptions will be pieces of writing generated as part of outside writers'-help communities, such as 100originalfics.
~ All names of things, places, people, species, etc. remain up in the air. The ones in use at present were quickly invented just so that we would be able to have a word for things without putting the writing on hold to do research and come up with proper names. We expect them all to change before finalization.
~ The fox species in particular pulls many influences from Asian cultures of this world. They will probably all have object names taken from one or more Asian languages in the end, but in the meantime, most of their names will be left in English.
~ Comments will be disallowed on all entries except this one, but they will be enabled when pieces of writing are posted to communities and the like.
~ Contact email is ebondrake (at) hotmail (dot) com.

The World: (Genesis In Progress)
Straight information thrown down without regard to style or careful organization. Infodumps, notes to self, resource lists, outlines, etc.
Tag: worldbuilding

The Story: (Through These Veins...)
Completed first drafts of actual story material, or fragments thereof.
Tag: story

The Weather Report: (Time for the Weather)
A subtype of story material generated by the "forced march" freewriting that originally created this project--namely, to begin with what the weather is like near the scene and then allow things to flow from there. May be written in an impersonal newscaster style and include other recent events around the world. May be recycled into actual story material later on or used simply as worldbuilding/backstory.
Tag: weather report

The Unicorn: (Gateless Garden)
Scenes or information directly related to the Unicorn creator-goddess, her servants, or parts of the world considered to be under her close watch.
Tag: unicorn

The Dragon: (Devour Everything)
As above, only involving things related to the Dragon creator-god and its areas of influence.
Tag: dragon

The Vulture: (Waste Not)
As above, only involving things related to the Vulture creator-god and its areas of influence.
Tag: vulture

(events listed in vague chronological order)
- The Unicorn's Forest
Weather Reports:
- Flies Over Pillars & the Value of Hermitages
- The Crows from the Earth
- Girl in the Pines & the Emperor's Frozen Dragon
- Public Service Announcement: Starfalling Celebration
- Public Service Announcement: Light Strikes (first section)
- Public Service Announcement: Cheers for the Military
The Story:
- Soldier in the Cold & the Lighthouse Signal
- O-hana's Party
- Crows Escaping Gravity
- No Answer from the Darkness
- Jason Sees the Divine Machine & the Dragon Heals With Murder (2nd and 3rd sections)
- Three Gods Quarrel Over a Dying Cat
- Jason Hears Some Bad News
20 May 2005 @ 11:59 pm
Good morning, citizens of the empire!

The weather today is expected to be partly cloudy all throughout the morning and early afternoon, likely turning to rain at around the negative fourth or fifth hour. The showers will continue for the rest of the week and temperatures will begin dropping in reponse to the arrival of winter clouds on nearby territories.

Lieutenant Jason Amaranth was released from the hospital today with a clean bill of health, to the relief of his faithful fans. Some of those present noticed that he seemed very detached, unlike his normal strong and outgoing self. The empire's military leaders have sent out a press release stating that Lt.Amaranth will be rejoining his unit and will soon be back in peak condition.

Despite the mysterious accident that took place during the latest Starfalling anniversary, military recruiters have reported a record number of new applications in recent weeks. The boost is attributed to the combat shell demonstration given by the Faraway Thunder, who are idolized by people of all ages...
19 May 2005 @ 11:24 pm
It was cloudy outside when they took Jason up to the roof of the hospital in his wheelchair, his body wrapped up in thin blankets. It was not especially cold, and he had no need of a shield against the wind. He suspected that they simply wanted to allow him some fresh air without making his identity clear to the crowd of fans who still gathered in front of the complex. He didn't mind the weather at all, except when the clouds loosed a brief and halfhearted drizzle; the medicine that they continued to inject him with (what was that stuff anyway?) locked away his sight in a crude, patchwork fashion. Sometimes, his eyes would cease to function and he would spend a while entirely blind, although he did not mind it much. Turning off the lights did not change the contents of the room. In general, he saw the world in the way that he did before the accident, but flashes of the great light would strike him, triggered by things outside of him in a senseless pattern. When he looked at the rain, he would often become aware--though he could not see it, on account of the vastness--of all the forces in the universe that had conspired together to form each drop of rain and hurl it down from the sky, perfectly on schedule.

Every second, the work of the universe from the time of its inception was successfully completed. Every second, the universe was created anew and the work began again. The function and lifespan of each drop of water in the weave of all that existed did not end when it merely struck the earth and ceased to be "rain" in the minds of the human observers, after all. More properly, the work of the droplets had never had a beginning, and would never have an end.

He felt that with all of his senses when it rained--each speck of water hit the ground with an invisible force like a bomb exploding. In that light drizzle, thousands of inanimate lives ended each second, only to be instantly renewed in a changed form. Jason's head ached from the pressure as Fate progressed all around him. He closed his eyes against it and wearily rubbed his forehead with trembling fingers.

The nurse behind him (should I ask for another injection before it starts raining again?) patted his shoulder gently and said something soothing that he couldn't clearly understand. The soundless roar of the last of the rain falling down had deafened him against mundane speech. Maybe he would feel better if he went back inside...

He remembered hearing one thing, though. In between doses, a couple days ago, he knew that one of the high military commanders was standing in his room and talking with the doctors, although his vision had been nothing but a complex, chaotic blur at the time. They had been discussing his duties to his thornshell unit, saying that they should work out a plan to bring him back into the army and make him ride armor again...

(General, did you ever see a pile of bones breathing? When they inhale, they take in commands, but when they exhale, their ghosts talk to each other. Did I miss out on this in training, General?)

The clouds overhead parted long enough for a shaft of worldlight to strike the wide streets below him. Inside of it was a diagram that explained how to create a simple circuitboard for use in a computer. The empire had never been able to develop computers (only recording devices), but Jason's head was hurting worse by the minute, and he forgot what he'd seen almost instantly. They were going to make him ride again.

He thought about asking for more of the drug, just to stop the pain in his head, but he found himself unable to form the words because he honestly did not want it anymore. He could not remember much about the light when its contents were blocked out of his mind, but he could not shake the thought that what he had seen did not deserve to be crushed and killed by human ignorance.

Retreat was not an option, as any true enhanced rider knew.
18 May 2005 @ 11:21 pm
The air was cool over the rocky spot on the forest floor where the little cat had gone to die. It was huddled back among the boulders, with the spreading branches of tall pines visible as silhouettes against the dim worldlight, when the three creator-gods found it.

The great Vulture, Its clawed feet buried deep in dunes of otherworldly sand, found it first by following the scent of its fading life. Layers of ancient cobwebs parted across the cold god's face and throat as It leaned over the place, Its shape and consciousness shifting easily out of nonliteral realities. (I and my sons and daughters will possess this,) It said, watching the patterns of a terminal illness as they spread throughout the systems of the body. With every breath, a little less air reached the cat's lungs, and a little less light shone from its eyes.

The Dragon emerged from a howling darkness full of fangs and talons, every jagged edge and cruel barb tugging fruitlessly at Its skin. It lived in places of infinite terror to test Its own fearlessness, and now It grinned mockingly at Its feathered brother across great abysses of conceptual space. [You deserve it, don't you? That part of a person is all that you can ever see, anyway.] The Vulture shifted Its feet in the desert where It stood--the desert of lost time--and did not reply.

Out of the tangle of space between the two gods, a flower of light unfolded and resolved itself into the shape of a maiden clothed in white, Her every feature pale and delicate, as if it had been bleached by the radiance that poured forth from within Her. The Unicorn made no sound as She approached the clearing in the forest. When She alighted on the ground, the harsh edges of the stones scratched the soles of Her feet. When She saw the small animal drawing its dying gasps, She turned away and covered Her face; a red stain appeared on Her dress over Her heart, spreading slowly outward.

The brothers felt Her anguish together, as if a single knife twisted in both of their hearts. The Vulture turned to the Dragon, begging, (Do something! Make her stop feeling the pain! You know how, don't you?)

Sneering, the Dragon stepped out of the otherworld and bathed Its bladed scales in the light of the earthly sky. [And why won't you do anything about that body that's so important to you?]

The Vulture had no answer that would truly satisfy the one questioning It, and so It remained silent, even though none of the creators could hide their thoughts from each other. The Vulture was the Vulture, trapped in a scavenger's role; It claimed no power to heal or transform, but instead accepted Its place among dry bones and withered husks.

Far away, a great and lonely god was feeding upon the garbage of the world.

Red flowed down in a narrow stream from the breast of the Unicorn's robes to their hem, and Her soft hair had fallen forward to hide the hands that covered Her face. (Please,) whispered the great god of the desert, (help her. You know that I can't help anyone. I only seek and uncover and learn--)

[Shut up, then, and learn something useful.] Foul smoke escaped from the devourer's jaws as It leaned down over the cat's trembling body. The massive fangs snapped shut, twisting something loose, and with a quick toss of its head the Dragon swallowed the animal's pain. Breath escaped the corpse one last time, and then all was still. [So,] It said, looking calmly at its brother across the sea of concepts, [I've taken what's been given to me. You may as well take what you claimed first.]

Guilt added the weight of more cobwebs to the Vulture's heavy wings, and It sent out a call to Its children and kindred. Vultures and crows stirred and took flight, roused unnaturally from their nightly sleep, and worms stirred in the earth beneath the forest. But just as Its armies were about to descend on the body, the Dragon lifted a claw and turned to the Unicorn. At that signal, the Vulture froze all the creatures that It commanded, down to the last hovering feather.

[Dearest, won't you look now? There's nothing here to scare you anymore.] The destroyer's voice was a dull, bass rasp, like stones sliding over each other across a layer of clotted blood, but Its tone was always gentle when It spoke to the silent maiden. She trusted It and turned back to the glade without hesitation. The brothers watched Her as the stain that marred Her perfection faded away into the renewed outpouring of Her light, and as She approached the animal and reached down towards it. Pure joy shone on Her face. She lifted the cat into Her arms, leaving its limp corpse lying in the shadows; it opened its eyes and blinked sleepily up at Her as it yawned comfortably. The gods of the desert and the battlefield turned their eyes away from the shining glory as she changed shape. When they knew that it was safe to look again, they could barely see Her in the far distance--a white mare with cloven hooves and the tail of a lion, its one horn glowing with the warmth of thousands of gentle hearts. The cat sat easily on Her back as She ran, leaning forward as it looked eagerly down their path; reality parted, revealing a place that not even the brothers were able to see, and then She vanished.

(So, both you and she have taken what belongs to you. Now all that is left belongs to me.) The scavenger's armies descended on the body, and their god watched them as they polished the bones clean of flesh. It was content with the remains, as always.

[Did you think that the whole point of this was to divide that thing up and stake claims on it? Since when did we own any of this?]

The Vulture blinked Its cold, black eyes. (The Unicorn takes all that is great. You take all that is painful. I take everything that is left over.)

[IDIOT!] The Dragon's claw plunged down into the mass of carrion birds and insects that had gathered in front of It. They scattered in terror as It pulled out the cat's skull, which shone white and smiling in the open air. With a roar, the beast flung the bone at Its brother's face, and the Vulture's leaden thoughts made It too slow to dodge. The skull pierced one of Its great eyes and hung there in the darkness of the god's vision, visible as a tiny speck of brightness against the gleaming black. [You'll carry that with you until you finally understand. That cat had to lose its eyes to see what you never could--you've got two eyes that can see everything and you're as good as blind. Maybe those empty sockets can show you what you're missing.]

The Vulture bowed Its head, accepting Its punishment, and It faded away. The Dragon dove back into Its hell of blades and starving mouths. All that was left was a peaceful forest glade, where the breeze that ran through the pines carried the scent of the coming dawn, and the broken bones of a small cat lay nestled among the grass.
17 May 2005 @ 09:49 pm
Testing, testing...

Citizens of the empire, we apologize for the lengthy delay in our services. Communications were knocked out during the Starfalling festival by an unknown energy source that apparantly struck the ground from underneath, leaving a huge hole behind as it moved across the landscape at an angle. The government is currently investigating the suspicion that this may have been the result of secret attacks by one of the empire's enemies, though civilian sources claim that the damage was the result of the government's own secret weapons testing gone awry. The diplomacy houses are still trying to gather information from the nations on the far side of the Outer World; Crow Jarrow of the high-ranking Creekwater Society house stated that we are standing ready to offer aid to any group that suffered damage from this event. Communications throughout the city, including the broadcast centers of many other transvid and radio stations, are still extremely unstable.

It has been confirmed that Jason Amaranth, the second-in-command of the Faraway Thunder unit, was struck by the edge of the beam while performing aerial maneuvers during the mock shell battle that took place at the end of the festival. His status has not yet been released to the public, although we have received amateur videos that clearly show his shell crashing on the outskirts of the Fish Quarter, trailing smoke. Lieutenant Amaranth's fans are faithfully keeping vigil outside of the Burnstone War Memorial Hospital, where he was taken after being pulled from his armor.

We have been asked to stress the fact that this event was not the result of a malfunction of the weather-alteration machine, which was not even operational when the beam appeared.

And now for the sports news. In enhanced blind-polo today, the Redfangs gained a stunning victory over the Whitecliffs Flying Fish, securing a place in the finals...


(When am I not my I?)

The rain that hammered against the windowpane of Jason's private hospital room was the natural kind, but the clouds above it were being pushed away by a delicate application of the weather-changing engine--just the tiniest nudge to the natural order, no flowers or jelly-pastries or cream soda. It was all that they dared to do with it now, until they knew for certain what had caused that unbelievable burst of force to tear the ground apart. If it had emerged in the center of the city, then everyone who lived there would have been killed, one way or another.

The sunlight was to bring him cheer and speed his recovery, the government memo had said. But the world had wanted to bring him rain. He listened to the white noise of the drops against the glass with one ear. In the other, he dimly heard the sound of carts moving by in the hall outside, and of soft-shoed footfalls. Paging Nurse Alsibet. Nurse Alsibet, please report to station #104. His superiors had put guards at his door so that no one would see what had happened to the master rider-slash-media hero.

(Where have I been? There is not enough gold in these veins.)

Nothing had happened to him. At least, nothing that anyone could diagnose. Here was Nurse Alsibet, lifting his arm with a needle in her free hand, her pleasant talk turning into a formless haze in his mind. Her face was a blur. He could not remember if they had even told him what drugs they were giving him or why. Jason saw the sky through her body; the rays of worldlight formed diagrams explaining the creation of interdimensional gateways by bending at impossible right angles. But he saw no reason why that information might be important to anyone, so he barely bothered to note the details. The walls were crawling with rotting atoms that shed particles as their half-lives fell away.

Days ago, the military police had found him thrown clear of his burning thornshell, having become tangled in the springy branches of nearby trees as the necrotech engine crushed a row of empty buildings. It had stopped sliding only after the cockpit had collapsed inward, the shards of broken bone coming dangerously close to the machine's core.

(I never saw so much light as in those great wings, flying slowly down into the darkness.)

He had cast off the shell because it was useless against what he had seen. When given the option of facing certain destruction inside or outside of his armor, he chose to remove it and stand before the future without any hindrance. The fact that he continued to be very much alive from moment to moment was a source of continual surprise for him. He could still see clearly that vast throat, contracting as it swallowed space and time; it was studded with black barbs the size of planets, pointing down towards that endless, hungry darkness. Rising from the spine of every fang was a vast city built in the name of malice, every window lit with fire and thronged with writhing, indistinct shapes. But all of that had been only a flicker, one small fragment of the vision. Before he turned away from the void, he saw the Unicorn as a speck in the nothingness, rushing out past the cities of hatred; wind and fire alike transformed into light as they touched Her body, so that She coursed amid a stream of brilliance, like a comet.

Only for a second.

(Why am I alive? Do I even have a name anymore?)

He saw a ship like an embryo, its umbilicus trailing away to infinity. He saw atoms shedding particles, crowds of mortals shedding moments of life, mountains shedding grains of sand. Far away, a great and lonely god was feeding upon the garbage of the world. There was a burning tear that fell light years from the eye that was weeping. Cold dust covered it, cold air cradled it, and it became a planet that harbored life.

(Mother, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.)

He felt as if many hands were laboring together to spell out a simple message in simple letters for him, through impulses and thoughts that were laid in a pattern like a symphony's notes. A god was teaching particle physics to an ape. But Nurse Alsibet's drugs had circulated through too much of his system, and his thoughts became dim and muddy. He was left staring at the rain that fell in a regular rhythm against the glass window of his private room, and at the artificial worldlight that filtered through it. Reluctantly, the crowded atoms once again became solid walls. Emergency vehicle arriving at Gate 4. Trauma team, please stand ready at Gate 4. Thank you.

Distantly, he remembered his first coherant thought upon regaining normal consciousness. He had looked over at where his armor was burning in the ruins of the buildings, and felt afraid at realizing that he might never be able to ride a shell again. They said that that technology was made from the bones of the Great Beasts that had been hunted and killed, but he learned then that the machines were far from dead slaves. He saw the invisible breath escaping from the broken hulk and listened to the echo in the bones that gave a confused reply to the light that had passed by.

([I], being equal to the square root of negative one, is only imaginary. It exists conceptually, but never literally. So long as it is placed at the proper point in an equation, it will produce sound results. You must only remember: never look inside the black box.)


The storm of ash that swept down from the volcanoes close to the village was becoming worse. Thankfully, they were far enough away that the people were not in any great risk of being killed, although many were worried about the crops. Already, the plants were more sickly this year than they had been before, and now they had been covered over by huge blankets stretched on the tips of tall stakes, so that the ash would not fall directly on them. They were receiving no sun.

Their shamaness was not one of those heroic practitioners who could speak to and command spirits like those of the volcanoes, but a shaman of that caliber had not been born for several generations. She kept them alive with the secrets that she was able to uncover, but was powerless to stop the storm. Unlike the ancient masters of her spiritual lineage, she could not command the tribe with the words of the gods; instead, she deferred to the chiefs of the people, stating honestly that the situation was not one that she was able to control. They were talking of moving the village to a place much farther away, but that was a drastic move that would likely be opposed by many.

The shamaness sat in her hut, like the others in the village who knew that it was not wise to go outside, and she knitted a ragged length of cloth. A long strip of rhino suede had been wrapped three times around her head and tied tightly to cover her eyes, so she pulled and knotted the yarn however it fell, sometimes using needles and sometimes using her fingers. This was a method of divination that had been taught to her by her master--the knots and tangles were examined later with the eyes uncovered, so that hidden truths might become clear. The shamaness' hair was knotted as well, having been divided up into thick cords that had grown to her waist; each one had heavy knots at regular intervals, and they were each knotted again near the roots every time they grew out enough to handle the strain. The number of knots indicated the length of time that a shaman had practised the art, and she had been at it for a long time.

Outside, a young couple rushed across the open common ground of the village, holding a thick ash rhino skin over themselves to keep the choking wind away. They pushed aside the hide that hung down over the shamaness' doorway, letting themselves in unannounced. Such was the protocol, as the shaman was considered a valued possession of the community as a whole, and his or her time and space were therefore the property of anyone who was in need of it.

These two had come to beg for the life of the young man's father, who was a strong and honorable man of middle years. They had tried the simple remedies that had been passed down to them by their families, but they knew that those medicines could only affect the body and could therefore not be expected to work in the worst situations.

The array of gifts that they presented to her was especially impressive now, when everything was being rationed and luxuries had all but disappeared. There would be plenty left over for her after the spirits had been given their share. She nodded solemnly and repeated the requirements of the ritual--although everyone in the village knew them by heart--and she added a warning, saying that they should be wary of frightening things that might take place during the night.

The people hastily built a small booth next to the shamaness' doorway, stretching heavy skins across pieces of wood that were braced against stones, in the hope that the structure would withstand the wind. While the ash piled up in small drifts around him, the young man sat inside the little shelter and rapidly beat the sacred drum, keeping the instrument propped on his crossed legs. He kept up the same fast rhythm for close to two hours, knowing that his desire for his father's health provided the best guide for the shamaness in her quest. But at last, his exhaustion began to overwhelm him, and the rhythm faltered. At that point, someone else darted out from the covered huts and snatched up the drum so that the beat would not stop for longer than a moment, while others came to help the young man to a bed.

The young woman, who had been watching the feverish and fitful body of her father-in-law, tried to stay awake as long as she could. But the droning beat of the drum and her own sorrow and sense of helplessness finally drew her down into a dark and tangled dream, one from which she started awake shortly before dawn.

The sound that had interrupted her slumber was the wet tearing of raw meat from bones, followed by an unhurried chewing. When she opened her eyes, she saw a huge, winged beast crouched over the sick man, whose eyes were open and glazed in death. His guts had been ripped open and devoured, leaving the ribs and spine showing white through the dark streaks of blood, and his limbs were already tightening from rigor mortis. The monster had a heavy, reptilian head and neck, and curving claws like an eagle, but the darkness hid the details of its shape. It was covered all over in stiff scales that were edged like knives, and when it turned to face her, the light that reflected from its black eyes flashed outwards like streams of fire pouring from its face. Gore dripped from its filthy teeth and strands of shredded flesh hung from its jaws. She screamed and fainted as reason fled from her. When she awoke the next morning, she remained hysterical, and would not believe that her father-in-law had been found whole and well, and could even walk and eat porridge by himself. My father is dead, she wailed, her eyes darting left and right in panicked horror, but if he is doing as you say, then how many other dead men are there in this village, who walk when they should be in the grave?

The shamaness kept herself secluded in her hut, ignoring the rejoicing that surrounded the older man's miraculous recovery. She would likely be called upon in one or two days to go out into the other world and bring back the young woman's mind from the place that it had run to when the Dragon had showed Its face to her. Ordinarily, the attendant spirits kept those close to the patient locked in sleep, but they had somehow failed to do so this time. Or else the Dragon had made Itself known on purpose...but Its reasoning could never be understood, so any speculation in that vein was useless.

She felt ill and weak. Whenever she called on the Dragon to manifest Itself in her body and walk through the walls and shadows of the physical world, she did so in a haze of blind fear--indeed, the Dragon found her to be an excellent vessel on account of her flexible mind, which shattered utterly upon Its arrival and could then put itself back together later on. It was terrifying to take such a powerful disease into herself, one that could kill so easily, but she knew that it had been the Dragon's jaws that had ripped the growth out of the man's stomach, and the fire and searing acid in the Dragon's stomach that had burned it away to nothing. It was a vicious, monstrous god that willingly devoured all that created suffering and misfortune, for the bodies and souls of mortals were weak and could break from hardship, but the Dragon was infinitely strong. Mere disease could not hope to touch It, and every sorrow known to men withered in the face of Its unshakeable will. It proved Its great strength by eating the misery of the living.

The Dragon accepted no gifts, and so her sacrifices had been only to her attendant spirits. It would also not consent to remove what the creator-gods had intentionally set in place, and so It could not be affected by bribes, flattery, or begging. Therefore, there was no reason to offer prayers or thanks. She was only grateful that she had survived.
13 May 2005 @ 12:06 am
The cloud-waves breaking around the curve of the Lighthouse were strong, but they did not reach quite so high as they had before, and their force was nothing like that of the powerful storm that had shaken the tower during the last sending of the message. Those raging, chaotic storms were the mark of the changing seasons--the only one that anyone living in the Lighthouse actually took notice of anymore--and the clouds would likely soon seep out from the Inner World to settle on the Outer, locking it into winter.

The warders looked out of the many windows in the tower, which could be opened when the winds were calm. Some looked at the black seas or the Outer World's continents as part of their duties, while others simply paused at times to stare for a while at the sky. It was like that for a few days after a sending, when everyone held a quiet, unexpressed hope that an answer would somehow return from the long-lost ship of bones.

But the surfaces of the black seas remained undisturbed, and no sign was forthcoming from those who had voyaged beyond the shell of the world so many ages ago.