japonisme: 3/30/08 - 4/6/08

05 April 2008

let evening come

'Twas such a little -- little boat
That toddled down the bay!
'Twas such a gallant -- gallant sea
That beckoned it away!

'Twas such a greedy, greedy wave
That licked it from the Coast --
Nor ever guessed the stately sails
My little craft was lost!

© 2008 Emily Dickinson

Adrift! A little boat adrift!
And night is coming down!
Will no one guide a little boat
Unto the nearest town?

So Sailors say -- on yester- day --
Just as the dusk was brown
One little boat gave up its strife
And gurgled down and down.

So angels say -- on yesterday --
Just as the dawn was red
One little boat -- o'erspent with gales --
Retrimmed its masts -- redecked its sails --
And shot -- exultant on!

© 2008 Emily Dickinson

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

© 2008 Jane Kenyon

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03 April 2008

The Book of Tea : 茶の本


Tea began as a medi- cine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism — Teaism.

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentiallya worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste. 1

thus begins 'the book of tea,' written by Kakuzo Okakura in 1906. known to many as a scholar, particularly when it came to japanese art, it is perhaps not surprising that he wound up in boston.

as okakura was also a scholar of english, his life took some very interesting turns in the early years of the explorartion of japan by americans (usually from boston!): "Kakuzo Okakura, the connoisseur, curator and cultural historian mentored by Ernest Fenollosa, the Tokyo philosophy professor instrumental in shaping Japanese fine arts policy, mentors in turn John La Farge, the painter most responsible for bringing Japanese aesthetic ideas and methods to American art.

La Farge makes a pivotal trip to Japan in the company of Henry Adams, whose lifelong friend John Hay was later responsible for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Fenollosa's own obsession with Japan had been inspired by Edward Sylvester Morse, a principal Western figure at Tokyo Imperial University, who in 1881 delivered a seminal set of lectures in Boston on Japanese folkways.

Also fired by Morse's lectures were Isabella Stewart Gardner, who founded a museum of her own, and the astronomer Percival Lowell. Gardner became Okakura's intimate friend and probable lover during his years as curator of the Japanese collection at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Lowell's writings on Japan became a major source for his sister Amy's Japanese-inflected poetry. Amy Lowell and Ezra Pound, who disputed control of the Imagist movement in poetry, met in Paris in 1913, the same year that Mary Fenollosa, Ernest's wife, altered the course of Pound's career -- and of 20th-century poetry -- by giving him the notes her late husband had made while studying Chinese poetry with Kakuzo Okakura."

The story of Okakura, who emerges as something like the book's hero, embodies still other ideas. Having had a thorough education in both the new Western learning and the traditions of old Japan, he became his country's leading cultural ambassador -- but not before La Farge had taught him how to ''be Japanese'' for American audiences, how to suggest, through a certain sad charm, the wisdom of the East.

And after learning to perform an identity he already possessed, he went on to write a series of books -- most famously, ''The Book of Tea,'' whose explication of the principles of the tea ceremony had a pro- found impact on, among many others, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wallace Stevens and Martin Heidegger -- in which he explained Japanese culture to the West, and in so doing explained it to himself, discarding received ideas about the imitativeness and femininity of Japanese traditions in favor of notions of creativity and vigor. 2

(from a review of the wonderful book,
THE GREAT WAVE: Gilded Age Misfits,
Japanese Eccentrics,
and the Opening of Old Japan
by Christopher Benfey.

(with thanks for inspiration
to the floating bridge)

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02 April 2008

she may be princess of haiku but she's also the queen of the mums


kaizan wa bashô-sama
nari kiku no kana

the sect founder
is Great Basho...

Issa describes the devotion to chrysanthemums -- raising and admiring them -- as a Buddhist sect, whose "founder" (kaizan) is none other than the great haiku poet, Matsuo Bashô.

Translation © 2008 David G. Lanoue

My eyes which had seen all came back,
 Back to the white chrysan- themums.

Issho (ca. 1688)

Translation © 2008 Asatarō Miyamori

(comb from the wonderful barbaraanne's comb blog)

So deep into autumn
their fellow flowers
are all gone—
if the frost would only hold off,
leave me the incomparable chrysanthemums!

Saigyō (1118–90)

Translation © 2008 Burton Watson


I built my hut beside a traveled road
Yet hear no noise of passing carts and horses.
You would like to know how it is done?
With the mind detached, one's place becomes remote.
Picking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge
I catch sight of the distant southern hills:
The mountain air is lovely as the sun sets
And flocks of flying birds return together.
In these things is a fundamental truth
I would like to tell, but lack the words.

T'ao Ch'ien [or T'ao Yuan-ming Ch'ien T'ao ] (365–427)

Translation © 2008 James Robert Hightower

I built my hut in a zone of human habitation,
Yet near me there sounds no noise of horse or coach.
 Would you know how that is possible?
A heart that is distant creates a wilderness round it.
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze long at the distant-summer hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day:
The flying birds two by two return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
Yet when we would express it, words suddenly fail us.

T'ao Ch'ien [or T'ao Yuan-ming Ch'ien T'ao ] (365–427)

Translation © 2008 Arthur Waley


Fortune and misfortune
 have no fixed abode;
This one and the other
 are given us in turn
Shao Ping working
 in his field of melons
Was much as he had been
 when Lord of Dongling.
Cold and hot seasons
 follow one another,
And the way of man
 will always be like this
The intelligent man
 sees that it must be so.
Having gone so far
 he will not doubt again,
But from that moment
 every day and evening
He will be happy
 holding a cup of wine.

The Tao has been lost
 nigh on a thousand years
And people everywhere
 are misers of their feelings
Though they have wine
 they do not dare to drink it,
And think of nothing save
 keeping their reputation.
All the things that make us
 care about our lives —
They are surely compassed
 within a single lifetime
And how much can that life
 amount to after all —
Swift as the surprise
 of pouring lightning,
Fixed and circumscribed
 within a hundred years —
Hemmed and bound to this
 what can we hope to do?

I built my house near where others dwell,
And yet there is no clamor of carriages and horses
You ask of me. “How can this be so?”
“When the heart is far the place of itself is distant.”
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
And gaze afar towards the southern mountains
The mountain air is fine at evening of the day
And flying birds return together homewards
Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words.

In the clear dawn
 I hear a knocking at my gate
And skirt on wrong way round
 go to open it myself
I ask the visitor
 “Pray, sir, who may you be?”
It is an old peasant
 who had a kindly thought,
And has come from far away
 bearing a jug of wine,
Because he thinks I am
 at variance with the times
“Sitting in patched clothes
 under a thatched roof —
This will never help you
 to get on in the world!
All the world together
 praises that alone,
So I wish, sir, that you too
 would float with the muddy stream”
“Old man, I am deeply
 grateful for your words,
But your advice does not accord
 with my inborn nature.
Even if I could learn
 to follow the curb and reins,
To go against one's nature
 is always a mistake
Let us just be happy
 and drink this wine together —
I fear my chariot
 can never be turned back.”

T'ao Ch'ien [or T'ao Yuan-ming Ch'ien T'ao ] (365–427)

Translation © 2008 William Acker

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30 March 2008


That girl at twenty --
her black hair ripples
through the comb
in the pride of spring --
such beauty!

(sono ko hatachi kushini nagaruru kurokami no ogori no haru no utsukushiki kana)

A thousand lines
Of black black hair
All tangles, tangles --
And tangles too
My thoughts of love!

(Kurokami no sensuji no kamino midaregami katsuomoi midare omoi midaruru)

Yosano Akiko

"Buy me a Kyoto comb, yes,
a Kyoto comb!
Yes, a Kyoto comb
to make my hair sleek!"
"I've bought you a comb.
Comb your hair, girl.
Your hair, longer than you're tall,
your long hair, look! as you walk
it gets tangled in your sandals."

Anon., tr Hiroaki Sato,
Burton Watson

I will not comb my morning hair:
Your loving arm, my pillow,
Has lain under it.

Anon. tr Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai Committee

A dreary feeling

in a spring night

It's hard to shake off

I comb my long hair

Until my heart�'s content

Yosano Akiko

today's post was inspired by a very inspiring blog i happened across yesterday, leafed through from "cover to cover," and then went off doing research all day (when i wasn't photographing dragonflies). it's comprehensive, it's fascinating, and it's here.


A Jap- an- ese comb is about much more than just styling hair. Four hundred years ago, Japan took the simple comb and transformed it into an elegant beauty accessory that became a work of art. Japanese kushi (combs) and kanzashi (hairpins) became expressions of a woman's character, social class, religion, and even what neighbourhood she lived in. They also revealed whether she was married or not, her age, and whether she had any children. According to an ancient Japanese proverb, �'A woman�'s hair is her life,' (Kami wa onna no inochi) and from the early 1600�s until the beginning of the modern era, decorative combs and hairpins have been an important part of Japanese fashion.

Western style jewelry such as rings, necklaces and bracelets was not worn in Japan until the modern era. Instead, women decorated their hair. Hair ornaments became important family heirlooms that were handed down from generation to generation, and in Kyoto, when a comb eventually wore out or was broken, it was saved until the Kompira Kushi Matsuri (Kyoto Comb Festival) and taken to a temple where prayers were said for its spirit, after which it was burned in a purifying ritual fire. 1

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