Monday, February 27, 2017

Takahime (Hawk Princess) Part 1

Thursday Feb 16, I was on board the Super Express Nozomi #4 bound for Tokyo from Kitakyushu. The dignified snow-covered Mt. Fuji showed up in a wintry landscape in 4 hours (see photo). I was in Shibuya by noon, witnessing the world's  busiest scramble intersection in front of Hachiko statue - Tokyoites’ popular rendezvous site.

My objective - meet old Hino friends, receive my reserved ticket, exchange accumulated info over a bite, watch together Celtic Noh at Orchard Hall, Bunkamura. Hino friends chose my favorite Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich which I have missed for so many years. Bunkamura offers great gourmet dining for theatergoers.

Photo courtesy of Masataka Ishida

Celtic Noh? Yes, Noh was brought to Ireland by poet Ezra Pound to the 1923 Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats (WBY: 1865-1932) who produced a number of Noh plays, including “At Hawk’s Well”.  The Hawk’s Well was performed in London in 1916 with Michio Ito as the Hawk dancer. I saw a paper advertisement of “Takahime”, a Japanese version, or Hawk Princess last year performed in Nara to commemorate the centennial performance. At about the same time my friend in Hino, who knew I was a Celtic Noh fan, purchased an advance ticket for me for another Takahime; this performance a collaborative work with the Celtic “Anuna” Chorus.

The WBY’s Noh plays were all based on the Irish mythological and folk hero Cuchulain whom I willfully compare with Susanoo, a Japanese gigantic humanoid in the Kojiki Story.  To WBY, Cuchulain was an inspiration at the time Ireland strode forcibly toward independence since the 1916 Easter Rising, along with the Celtic Revival Drive.

Cuchulain means ‘hound’ of Culann in Irish. Legend has it that a boy Setanta, at a tender age, arrived alone late for a feast at the residence of the smithy named Culann who wasn’t advised about Setanta's coming. The fierce hound was set free for intruders while the feast was going on.  Setanta was attacked by the guard hound. He fought with the dog; grabbing it by the neck, smashed it against a tree, and killed it, as per “Cuchulain of Mag Muirthemni”, written (translated from Gaelic) by Lady Gregory, mentor, financial supporter, Abbey Theatre cofounder of WBY.

The most famous story of Cuchulain is “Tain Bo Cuailinge” (Cattle Raid of Cooley) that takes place during the prolonged war between two countries, Ulster (North) and Connacht (West), caused by bluster and greed of the King and Queen of Connacht.  Competing against the white bull owned and boasted by the King, the Queen wanted to acquire an equally powerful brown bull from neighboring Ulster. War started when Ulster refused to part with its brown bull. When the Ulster troops were cursed immovable under a spell, Cuchulain, off on the spell alone defended Ulster as the sole protector until there was a truce. My favorite Cuchulain’s escapade is his salmon leap, being chased all over Ireland by the formidable witch, around the Loop Head, the rocky seashore in Clare County, just like the famous cliff of Moher.

WBY"s thorough study of the Japanese Noh was impressive. He apprehended Jo-Ha-Kyu, philosophy of Noh, roughly translated to intro, break or develop, and acceleration, all actions or efforts should start slowly, speed up, then end swiftly rising to climax. His keen interests shown in the Noh masks reverberated in his London premier.

The play At Hawk’s Well is set by a dried up well on a desolate mountainside which is guarded by a hawk-like woman. An old man has kept camp there for fifty years, waiting to drink the miraculous waters from the well which occasionally rise up.

A call to the eye of the mind
A well long choked up and dry
And boughs long stripped by the wind
And I call a mind's eye
Pallor of an ivory face,
If lofty dissolute air,
A man climbing up to a place

心の眼もて見よ 泉は古く嗄れ果てて 樹枝は長く風にさらさるるを 心の眼もて見よ 象牙の如き青き面 すさみてもけだかき姿 ひとり登り来るを

Here arrives Cuchulain, knowing by hearsay that the waters bring immortality. The Old Man urges Cuchulain to leave, telling of his wasted lifetime there and how, even when the waters did rise up, he was thwarted by a sudden urge to sleep. Cuchulain, definitely in need, is determined to stay.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Choshu Samurai Aspiring to See Dawn of Meiji

"Trying to reverse a world of boredom and tediousness"

"What allows us to savor life is the richness of human spirit"

(Linked Poem by two, first stanza by Shinsaku Takasugi, second by Buddhist nun Motoni Nomura)

Shinsaku Takasugi (1839-1867) stood out among Meiji Restoration Loyalist Samurais as a theatrical performer, comparable to Ryoma Sakamoto, who mediated the Choshu/Satsuma Clans coalition to demolish Tokugawa Shogunate. Shinsaku, in appreciation, reportedly gave his prized pistol to Ryoma for self-defense later in Kyoto.

However, Shinsaku seemed a man of precise and nimble planning, shying away and keeping skillfully out of trouble, keeping to himself for possible contingency. He didn’t join the so-called Boshin War in Kyoto nor was involved in attacking foreign ships passing through the strait of Shimonoseki. He left his own clan four times without the clan's permission - worthy of crime and punishment - and was recalled instead whenever the weight of his presence was needed; a proof that his talent was highly valued by the clan, as Shoin Yoshida’s favorite disciple.

Takasugi had four enemies to combat: 1) against Tokugawa Shogunate; 2) against the “Deference Party” (faithful to the Shogunate) of his own Choshu Clan; 3) Naval Powers of the U.S., British, French and Netherlands, winners of the Battle of the Straits of Shimoseki; and 4) His own health affected by neglected cold and chronic tuberculosis.

1) and 2) were external and internal (civil) wars to Shinsaku. First he vigorously lead the militia comprising of Samurais, merchants and farmers of just 80, attacked the Deference Party at the Shimonoseki Station and won the internal battle decisively. If 1) and 2) were like a tiger at the front gate, 3) was the wolf at the back gate. Fortunately he had settled it as a clan peace negotiator before cases 1) and 2), disguised under an alias to represent his clan lord. Shinsaku claimed that Choshu bombarded foreign vessels just following the Shogunate directives and Shogunate should be responsible for the repatriations, while Choshu was exempt. Shinsaku stubbornly refused to lease an adjacent island to Shimonoseki to the foreign powers, as he knew how miserable Colonial Shanghai looked during his younger days on a trip to Shanghai. A British Ernest Satow, the translator of the Allied Powers, seemed very impressed with Shinsaku.

The Shogunate forces invaded Choshu at four corner's fronts. Shinsaku tactics were superb. He himself was engaged in two battle fronts, 1)Suwa Oshima in Seto Inland Sea and 2) Shogunate’s watchdog Ogasawara Clan in Kitakyushu. Shinsaku on board the steamship turned battleship (bought in Nagasaki) made a surprise night attack and sank a couple of Shogunate anchored vessels. 2) Shinsaku landed at Moji and spearheaded in front. The Choshu militia, equipped with modern weapons, surpassed mostly Ogasawara soldiers but met stronger Kumamoto soldiers, and seesawed for days. The news that Iemochi Tokugawa died changed the whole picture. All the Kyushu clans supporting Ogasawara retreated. Ogasawara clan who had to fight alone gave up and lit the castle on fire.

Shinsaku was heavily sick in bed fighting the flu linked with worsening TB. He was attended by his wife and a Buddhist nun, Motoni Nomura (1808-1867). Shinsaku hid in Fukuoka care of Motoni when he faced danger from the Deference Party above mentioned. He had to flee Choshu and sought refuge in Fukuoka. It was Motoni who rendered help. Motoni was a Fukuoka poetess but entered into Buddhist nunhood when her husband died. She had traveled to Osaka and Kyoto with her plan to publish her book. During her travel, she observed a new wave among the merchants and publishers to sympathize with loyalist samurai and she herself followed suit, assisting them secretly in her capacity. She was imprisoned by the Fukuoka clan and was exiled to an off-shore island of northern Kyushu. Shinsaku rescued Motoni, sending his friends, and brought her to Choshu, close to his home.

The poem cited at the top was sung between them while Shinsaku was bedridden. Motoni was honored as grandmother (or aunt) of Meiji Revolution along with hero Shinsaku. Her book was published soon after her death by her ardent followers in Choshu and Kyoto. The 150th anniversary of her death was celebrated on November 2016 both in Yamaguchi (Choshu, the site of her death) and in Villa Hirao, Fukuoka, where she sheltered Shinsaku.

Hawaii / Japan Connection

My old friend Hawaiian-Japanese Richard Miyao sent me the latest Hawaiian Newspapers reporting how Izumo Taisha in Honolulu celebrated its 110th Anniversary in October and November. Richard is a Korean War veteran who studied law and commenced practice first in San Diego. He deals with issues regarding immigration and offers other legal counseling. He also helped Japanese expatriates to charter San Diego Minato Gakuen, a Saturday school for our children.

He relocated to Hawaii when his father, Shigemaru Miyao, the Bishop of the Izumo Taisha was at an advanced age. I was amazed and surprised to read about the history of Izumo Taisha in Hawaii - the bishop performed marriages of 6,900 couples, during the early days - girls landed ashore from Japan were all picture brides! Shigemaru’s brother was the first Bishop. Sjhigemaru succeeded him after his brother's death. Izumo Taisha certainly was responsible for a lot of family beginnings.

Hawaii, the U.S. stopover for the Japanese, had ceased its function a long time ago when trans-Pacific flights refueling became no longer necessary. I’m not alone in grieving for opportunities lost to visit. Hawaii used to be the place for a businessman’s breather, particularly on our return trip to Japan, even for an overnight stay.

Today visiting Hawaii is regarded with envy. 
I had more than a dozen visits to Hawaii; my latest one  was 20 years ago.  Before my retirement and return to Japan, (my wife and) I took our last one-week vacation in Hawaii to meet and chauffeur my wife’s sister and her friends. We circled around the Big Island of Hawaii and drove to Lahaina in Maui. The Big Island is half  the size of Shikoku (where I was born). We departed Kailua Kona in the morning, then south to Captain Cook and circled round the southern end of Mauna Loa in a counter-clockwise circle.   We drove to Volcano National Park for an hour's stop and then to Hilo.  After lunch in Hilo,  we headed north to the Kohala mountains, via Honomu, Honokaa and Waipio Valley. It was close to sunset when we rounded the north point to Kohala Coast where the sacred open-air Puukohola Heiau is located. Finally, we  hurried back to our hotel in Kailua Kona before it got dark. 

Yes, “sacred” Puukohola Heiau! The name I almost forgot came back to me when, a month ago, I visited Izumo Taisha, the oldest shrine in Japan.  Annually in October, Izumo Taisha celebrates reunions of thousands of gods from all over Japan as the God Okuninushi (Great Land Master) acts as the presiding god. October, therefore, has been called the month of no gods in Japan, as all gods are congregated in Izumo.  Okuninushi secured this presiding privilege in lieu of his land transfer to Yamato Kingdom as per the “Kojiki”, one of the oldest chronicles of Japan. 

Thousands of gods arrive at Inasa Sacred Beach lit under bonfires and travel to the shrine Izumo Taisha.  I remembered Hawaiian gods gathered at sacred beach venues called “Heiau”.  Gods, either Hawaiian or Japanese, gather to create/renew the connections among them, thus to induce humans to bond together and love one another. Okuninushi is revered as the deity of happiness, good fortune and matchmaking. Izumo Taisha was adopted in Honolulu during the Japanese migration in the early 1900s, and despite WWII hardships, has long been dedicated to Japanese Hawaiian parishioners.  This is their 110th anniversary. 

I visited Izumo Taisha Honolulu perhaps about 30 years ago. It is located on Kukui Street close to the Foster Botanical Garden, and China Town across from  Nuuanu Stream.  Kukui is a Hawaiian word meaning “tree of light” and has a spiritual meaning. It was designated as the Hawaiian State Tree in 1959.  First and foremost, kukui was a canoe plant, whose seeds, roots and cuttings arrived with Polynesian immigrants.  They knew how valuable the tree was as it turned  the kukui into a virtual botanical factory; roast, bake, grind the kukui nut for medicine, dye, food, per the wisdom of their culture.  But, nothing beat the use as  a “torch” or “light”, when an oil-rich kernel of the kukui nut provided them with their primary source of night-time light. Kukui nuts were threaded onto the stiff midribs of coconut leaflets and burned as candles, hence their English name “candlenut”.  Today the main use is for making lie, necklaces, bracelets for Hawaiian custom and ceremonies, and occasionally for children’s spinning tops; also votive offerings of “kukui” wood-carved-pigheads to their Fire-Goddess "Pele" residing on Mt. Kilauea. Seems like Hawaii and Japan are bonded in the mythic connections of gods.