1968 : Yasunari Kawabata
“for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind”
June 14, 1899
Place of birth
April 16, 1972
Place of death
Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan
Nobel Prize in Literature 1968
1899 (Meiji) – June 14, Yasunari Kawabata, the second child of a prosperous and cultured family, comes into the world in Osaka. Born premature at seven months, he remained frail throughout his life. Yoshiko his sister is four years older. His father, Eikichi, a physician in Osaka did his medical studies in Tokyo. End literate, amateur Chinese poetry and painting, he died of tuberculosis in January 1901. His mother, Gen, born Kuroda, (previously married to the brother of her husband) comes from a wealthy family. After the death of her husband, she returns to her birthplace in the village of Toyosato in Osaka suburb with her two children but died of the same disease in January 1902. In three years, Yasunari is an orphan. Separated from his sister that is collected by her aunt, he was raised by his paternal grandparents who lived in the village of Toyokawa, another district of the Osaka region. They tried to overcome the traumatic emotional vacuum caused by the death of his parents. His grandfather Sanpachiro Kawabata, notable local avid science telling and a time of Chinese medicine manufacturer, had sold his land to invest in investments that caused its collapse. 1906 – Yasunari enters primary school in Toyokawa where he will make a brilliant school despite his poor health. 1909 – Death of Yoshiko. It will not be attending the funeral of the sister he has kept “at the bottom of my heart no image” his family wants to avoid inflicting once again test a funeral ceremony but prevent it from to the real grief of the girl. His grandmother died in September. 1912 (Taisho) – In April, he entered the college Ibaraki remote five-kilometer walks that walk. He decided that year to become a writer and now spends his free time to reading and his first attempts at creative writing. Remained alone with his grandfather, very close links be forged between the small son and the old man during their eight years of cohabitation. 1914 – Weakened and become blind, it dies in May in its sixty fifteenth year. Yasunari is then collected for six months by an uncle of his maternal family in the village of Toyosato. He says this year is his first literary opus “Jurokusai no Nikki” (Journal of my sixteenth year) which will be published eleven years later (1925) and then edited in “Shonen” (The boy) in 1948. From an early age, Yasunari was therefore faced with the hard early disappearance of his family and this painful experience which will meet later in his writings appears to be a key to its report to obsessive solitude and death (Picking bones , 1916; subscriber funerals, 1923; The feelings of orphans, 1924; The face of the dead, 1925; car funeral, 1926 etc.).. 1915 – Yasunari as a Pensionary between the school in Ibaragi in January (it will remain there until the end of his studies in 1917). Great reader of literature and classical contemporary Japanese and Western literature, it sends short essays in various newspapers and magazines. Some texts will be published. 1916 – He was appointed head of the Chamber which places under its authority Kiyono, a young female companion to the decision. Complexed and obsessed by a physical he considered ungrateful, convinced of its ugliness, Yasunari nourished a passion without carnal outlet to the seductive Kiyono he calls himself “my homosexual love” (in “The youth”). 1917 – In September Yasunari rises to the capital and managed to enter Prime Tokyo High School (English literature section) necessary to integrate the Imperial University. This separation generate an epistolary correspondence between two friends until 1921. 1918 – In a trip to the Izu peninsula, Yasunari meets a traveling theater troupe that is changing a great dancer. The emotion aesthetics of this meeting and the enchantment of the place are born in psychology in love with the young man of 19 years, a new erotic desire which is juxtaposed with that experienced Kiyono. This experience will be significant source of his first novel “Izu no Odoriko” (The Izu Dancer, published in 1926). Since then, for ten years, he returned to Yugashima, one of the main spas Izu. This episode shows that the writings of Yasunari are inspired by real facts and sometimes autobiographical, in the case above, other stories will refer more or less explicitly in this episode: “Memories of Yugashima” 1922, “The roar of the mountain 1949-1954, “Lake” in 1954, “The beautiful sleeping” 1960-1961. 1919 – Yasunari and his friends formed a circle free of modern literature. Il.publie the new “Chiyo (Chiyo) in the journal of society friendly Prime High School in Tokyo. At that time he befriended the future writer Toko Kon (1898-1977) whose father introduced him to spiritualism. 1920 – In July he graduated from Tokyo First High School enabling it to join the Imperial University of Tokyo, Faculty of Literature, English Literature section. It will move the following year for the Japanese Literature. Desiring with other comrades to launch the sixth round of the journal of the circle of the university, Shinshicho (New Thought), he met about this writer Kikuchi Kan who would become his protector. 1921 – In February launch of the sixth round of Shichincho where it will be successively more important news including “Shokonsai ikkei (Table feast in honor of the dead soldiers) and” Abura (oil). Through Kikuchi Kan he met Yokomitsu Riichi (1898-1947) which will remain a faithful friend and companion on the main route modernism. It also meets Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1883-1927), Masao Kume future and a few other writers of his generation. At a meeting of students in a cafe near the school to higher Ichiko Hongo, Yasunari made the acquaintance of Ito Hatsuyo, young 14-year-old waitress who leaves first indifferent. Shortly after that meeting coffee ceases trading and share Hatsuyo live with his adoptive parents in Gifu a temple located in a mountainous area in the center of the island. Led by one of his friends, Miake, he continues to see the girl and, against all odds, decides to marry him. Very surprised her friends are preparing for marriage. Yasunari made his intentions father Hatsuyo and submit its draft to his patron Kikuchi Kan which offers good heart over 200 yen. This large amount is used to rent accommodation for the bride. About a month after this decision sends a letter Hatsuyo incomprehensible to break the engagement (in “The extraordinary” or “The fire south). In the eyes of Yasunari Hatsuyo represents the ideal woman, and despite the tragic end of their short relationship, the shadow of the young bride long haunt the mind of the writer. His imprint is detectable in many female characters that dot his work.
Selected books in Japanese:
Kanjo soshoku – Tokyo : Kinseido, 1926
Izu no odoriko – Tokyo : Kinseido, 1927 (1926?)
Boku no hyo honshitsu – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1930
Hana aru shashin – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1930
Asakusa kurenaidan – Tokyo : Senshinsha, 1930
Kinju – Tokyo : Noda Shobo, 1935
Yukiguni – Tokyo : Sogensha, 1937 – Rev. ed. 1948
Tampenshu – Tokyo : Sunagoya Shobo, 1939
Aisuru hitotachi – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1941
Sembazuru – Tokyo : Chikuma Shobo, 1952
Yama no oto – Tokyo : Chikuma Shobo, 1954
Meijin – Tokyo : Bungei Shunju Shinsha, 1954
Mizuumi – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1955
Nemureru bijo – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1961
Koto – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1962
Utsukushisa to kanashimi to – Tokyo : Chuo Koronsha, 1965
Kataude – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1965
Utsukushii Nihon no watakushi – sono josetsu – Tokyo : Kodansha, 1969
Kawabata Yasunari zenshu – Tokyo : Shinchosha, 1980-84 – 37 vol.
Translations into English:
The Izu Dancer and Others / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker and others – Tokyo : Harashobo, 1964. – Republished as The Izu Dancer, and Other Stories – Tokyo & Rutland, Vt. : Tuttle, 1974
Snow Country / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Knopf, 1956
Thousand Cranes / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Knopf, 1959
The Existence and Discovery of Beauty / translated by V. H. Viglielmo – Tokyo : Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1969
House of the Sleeping Beauties, and Other Stories / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Kodansha International, 1969
Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself : The 1968 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Kodansha International, 1969
Snow Country ; and, Thousand Cranes : the Nobel Prize Edition of Two Novels / translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Knopf, 1969
The Sound of the Mountain / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Knopf, 1970
The Master of Go / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – New York : Knopf, 1972
The Lake / translated by Reiko Tsukimura – New York : Kodansha International, 1974
Beauty and Sadness / translated by Howard Hibbett – New York : Knopf, 1975
The Old Capital / translated by J. Martin Holman – Berkeley, Cal. : North Point Press, 1987
Palm-of-the-Hand Stories / translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman – San Francisco : North Point Press, 1988
The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories / translated by J. Martin Holman – Washington, DC : Counterpoint, 1997
First Snow on Fuji / translated by Michael Emmerich – Washington, D. C. : Counterpoint, 1999
Tales With Two Souls : a Variety in Time and Culture / translated by Peter Metevelis – Pittsburgh, Pa. : Dorrance Pub. Co., 1999
The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa / translated with preface and notes by Alisa Freedman – Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, 2005
1968: Nobel Prize in Literature.
Presentation Speech by Anders Osterling, Ph.D., of the Swedish Academy.
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the Japanese Yasunari Kawabata, was born in 1899 in the big industrial town of Osaka, where his father was a highly-cultured doctor with literary interests. At an early age, however, he was deprived of this favourable growing-up environment on the sudden death of his parents, and, as an only child, was sent to his blind and ailing grandfather in a remote part of the country. These tragic losses, doubly significant in view of the Japanese people’s intense feeling for blood ties, have undoubtedly affected Kawabata’s whole outlook on life and has been one of the reasons for his later study of Buddhist philosophy.
As a student at the imperial university in Tokyo, he decided early on a writing career, and he is an example of the kind of restless absorption that is always a condition of the literary calling. In a youthful short story, which first drew attention to him at the age of twenty-seven, he tells of a student who, during lonely autumn walks on the peninsula of Izu, comes across a poor, despised dancing girl, with whom he has a touching love affair; she opens her pure heart and shows the young man a way to deep and genuine feeling. Like a sad refrain in a folksong the theme recurs with many variations in his following works; he presents his own scale of values, and with the years, he has won renown far beyond the borders of Japan. True, of his production only three novels and a few short stories have so far been translated into different languages, evidently because translation in this case offers especially great difficulties and is apt to be far too coarse a filter, in which many finer shades of meaning in his richly expressive language must be lost. But the translated works do give us a sufficiently representative picture of his personality.
In common with his older countryman, Tanizaki, now deceased, he has admittedly been influenced by modern western realism, but, at the same time, he has, with greater fidelity, retained his footing in Japan’s classical literature and therefore represents a clear tendency to cherish and preserve a genuinely national tradition of style. In Kawabata’s narrative art it is still possible to find a sensitively shaded situation poetry which traces its origin back to Murasaki’s vast canvas of life and manners in Japan about the year 1000.
Kawabata has been especially praised as a subtle psychologist of women. He has shown his mastery as such in the two short novels, “The Snow Kingdom” and “A Thousand Cranes”, to use the Swedish titles. In these we see a brilliant capacity to illuminate the erotic episode, an exquisite keenness of observation, a whole network of small, mysterious values, which often put the European narrative technique in the shade. Kawabata’s writing is reminiscent of Japanese painting; he is a worshipper of the fragile beauty and melancholy picture language of existence in the life of nature and in man’s destiny. If the transience of all outward action can be likened to drifting tufts of grass on the surface of the water, then it is the genuinely Japanese miniature art of haiku poetry which is reflected in Kawabata’s prose style.
Even if we feel excluded, as it were, from his writing by a root system, more or less foreign to us, of ancient Japanese ideas and instincts, we may find it tempting in Kawabata to notice certain similarities of temperament with European writers from our own time. Turgeniev is the first to spring to mind, he, too, is a deeply sensitive storyteller and a broadminded painter of the social scene, with pessimistically coloured sympathies within a time of transition between old and new.
Kawabata’s most recent work is also his most outstanding, the novel, “The Old Capital”, completed six years ago, and now available in Swedish translation. The story is about the young girl, Chieko, a foundling exposed by her poverty-stricken parents and adopted into the house of the merchant Takichiro, where she is brought up according to old Japanese principles. She is a sensitive, loyal being, who, only in secret, broods on the riddle of her origin. Popular Japanese belief has it that an exposed child is afflicted with a lifelong curse, in addition to which the condition of being a twin, according to the strange Japanese viewpoint, bears the stigma of shame. One day it happens that she meets a pretty young working girl from a cedar forest near the city and finds that she is her twin sister. They are intimately united beyond the social pale of class – the robust, work-hardened Naeko, and the delicate, anxiously guarded Chieko, but their bewildering likeness soon gives rise to complications and confusion. The whole story is set against the background of the religious festival year in Kyoto from the cherry-blossom spring to the snow-glittering winter.
The city itself is really the leading character, the capital of the old kingdom, once the seat of the mikado and his court, still a romantic sanctuary after a thousand years, the home of the fine arts and elegant handicraft, nowadays exploited by tourism but still a loved place of pilgrimage. With its Shinto and Buddha temples, its old artisan quarters and botanical gardens, the place possesses a poetry which Kawabata expresses in a tender, courteous manner, with no sentimental overtones, but, naturally, as a moving appeal. He has experienced his country’s crushing defeat and no doubt realizes what the future demands in the way of industrial go-ahead spirit, tempo and vitality. But in the postwar wave of violent Americanization, his novel is a gentle reminder of the necessity of trying to save something of the old Japan’s beauty and individuality for the new. He describes the religious ceremonies in Kyoto with the same meticulous care as he does the textile trade’s choice of patterns in the traditional sashes belonging to the women’s dresses. These aspects of the novel may have their documentary worth, but the reader prefers to dwell on such a deeply characteristic passage as when the party of middle-class people from the city visits the botanical garden – which has been closed for a long time because the American occupation troops have had their barracks there – in order to see whether the lovely avenue of camphor trees is still intact and able to delight the connoisseur’s eye.
With Kawabata, Japan enters the circle of literary Nobel Prize-winners for the first time. Essential to the forming of the decision is the fact that, as a writer, he imparts a moral-esthetic cultural awareness with unique artistry, thereby, in his way, contributing to the spiritual bridge-building between East and West.
The citation speaks of your narrative mastery, which, with great sensibility, expresses the essence of the Japanese mind. With great satisfaction we greet you here in our midst today, an honoured guest from afar, on this platform. On behalf of the Swedish Academy, I beg to express our hearty congratulations, and, at the same time, ask you now to receive this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature from the hands of His Majesty, the King.
December 12, 1968
Japan, the Beautiful and Myself
“In the spring, cherry blossoms, in the summer the cuckoo.In autumn the moon, and in winter the snow, clear, cold.”
“The winter moon comes from the clouds to keep me company.The wind is piercing, the snow is cold.”
The first of these poems is by the priest Dogen (1200-1253) and bears the title “Innate Spirit”. The second is by the priest Myoe (1173-1232). When I am asked for specimens of calligraphy, it is these poems that I often choose.The second poem bears an unusually detailed account of its origins, such as to be an explanation of the heart of its meaning: “On the night of the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the year 1224, the moon was behind clouds. I sat in Zen meditation in the Kakyu Hall. When the hour of the midnight vigil came, I ceased meditation and descended from the hall on the peak to the lower quarters, and as I did so the moon came from the clouds and set the snow to glowing. The moon was my companion, and not even the wolf howling in the valley brought fear. When, presently, I came out of the lower quarters again, the moon was again behind clouds. As the bell was signalling the late-night vigil, I made my way once more to the peak, and the moon saw me on the way. I entered the meditation hall, and the moon, chasing the clouds, was about to sink behind the peak beyond, and it seemed to me that it was keeping me secret company.”There follows the poem I have quoted, and with the explanation that it was composed as Myoe entered the meditation hall after seeing the moon behind the mountain, there comes yet another poem:
“I shall go behind the mountain. Go there too, O moon.Night after night we shall keep each other company.”
Here is the setting for another poem, after Myoe had spent the rest of the night in the meditation hall, or perhaps gone there again before dawn:”Opening my eyes from my meditations, I saw the moon in the dawn, lighting the window. In a dark place myself, I felt as if my own heart were glowing with light which seemed to be that of the moon:
‘My heart shines, a pure expanse of light;And no doubt the moon will think the light its own.’ ”
Because of such a spontaneous and innocent stringing together of mere ejaculations as the following, Myoe has been called the poet of the moon:
“Bright, bright, and bright, bright, bright, and bright, bright.Bright and bright, bright, and bright, bright moon.”
In his three poems on the winter moon, from late night into the dawn, Myoe follows entirely the bent of Saigyo, another poet-priest, who lived from 1118 to 1190: “Though I compose poetry, I do not think of it as composed poetry.” The thirty-one syllables of each poem, honest and straightforward as if he were addressing the moon, are not merely to “the moon as my companion”. Seeing the moon, he becomes the moon, the moon seen by him becomes him. He sinks into nature, becomes one with nature. The light of the “clear heart” of the priest, seated in the meditation hall in the darkness before the dawn, becomes for the dawn moon its own light.As we see from the long introduction to the first of Myoe’s poems quoted above, in which the winter moon becomes a companion, the heart of the priest, sunk in meditation upon religion and philosophy, there in the mountain hall, is engaged in a delicate interplay and exchange with the moon; and it is this of which the poet sings. My reason for choosing that first poem when asked for a specimen of my calligraphy has to do with its remarkable gentleness and compassion. Winter moon, going behind the clouds and coming forth again, making bright my footsteps as I go to the meditation hall and descend again, making me unafraid of the wolf: does not the wind sink into you, does not the snow, are you not cold? I choose the poem as a poem of warm, deep, delicate compassion, a poem that has in it the deep quiet of the Japanese spirit. Dr. Yashiro Yukio, internationally known as a scholar of Botticelli, a man of great learning in the art of the past and the present, of the East and the West, has summed up one of the special characteristics of Japanese art in a single poetic sentence: “The time of the snows, of the moon, of the blossoms – – – then more than ever we think of our comrades.” When we see the beauty of the snow, when we see the beauty of the full moon, when we see the beauty of the cherries in bloom, when in short we brush against and are awakened by the beauty of the four seasons, it is then that we think most of those close to us, and want them to share the pleasure. The excitement of beauty calls forth strong fellow feelings, yearnings for companionship, and the word “comrade” can be taken to mean “human being”. The snow, the moon, the blossoms, words expressive of the seasons as they move one into another, include in the Japanese tradition the beauty of mountains and rivers and grasses and trees, of all the myriad manifestations of nature, of human feelings as well.That spirit, that feeling for one’s comrades in the snow, the moonlight, under the blossoms, is also basic to the tea ceremony. A tea ceremony is a coming together in feeling, a meeting of good comrades in a good season. I may say in passing, that to see my novel Thousand Cranes as an evocation of the formal and spiritual beauty of the tea ceremony is a misreading. It is a negative work, and expression of doubt about and warning against the vulgarity into which the tea ceremony has fallen.
“In the spring, cherry blossoms, in the summer the cuckoo.In autumn the full moon, in winter the snow, clear, cold.”
One can, if one chooses, see in Dogen’s poem the beauty of the four seasons no more than a conventional, ordinary, mediocre stringing together, in a most awkward form of representative images from the four seasons. One can see it as a poem that is not really a poem at all. And yet very similar is the deathbed poem of the priest Ryokan (1758-1831):
“What shall be my legacy? The blossoms of spring,The cuckoo in the hills, the leaves of autumn.”
In this poem, as in Dogen’s, the commonest of figures and the commonest of words are strung together without hesitation – – – no, to particular effect, rather – – – and so they transmit the very essence of Japan. And it is Ryokan’s last poem that I have quoted.
“A long, misty day in spring:I saw it to a close, playing ball with the children.”The breeze is fresh, the moon is clear.Together let us dance the night away, in what is left of old age.””It is not that I wish to have none of the world,It is that I am better at the pleasure enjoyed alone.”
Ryokan, who shook off the modern vulgarity of his day, who was immersed in the elegance of earlier centuries, and whose poetry and calligraphy are much admired in Japan today – – – he lived in the spirit of these poems, a wanderer down country paths, a grass hut for shelter, rags for clothes, farmers to talk to. The profundity of religion and literature was not, for him, in the abstruse. He rather pursued literature and belief in the benign spirit summarized in the Buddhist phrase “a smiling face and gentle words”. In his last poem he offered nothing as a legacy. He but hoped that after his death nature would remain beautiful. That could be his bequest. One feels in the poem the emotions of old Japan, and the heart of a religious faith as well.
“I wondered and wondered when she would come.And now we are together. What thoughts need I have?”
Ryokan wrote love poetry too. This is an example of which I am fond. An old man of sixty-nine (I might point out that at the same age I am the recipient of the Nobel Prize), Ryokan met a twenty-nine-year old nun named Teishin, and was blessed with love. The poem can be seen as one of happiness at having met the ageless woman, of happiness at having met the one for whom the wait was so long. The last line is simplicity itself.Ryokan died at the age of seventy-three. He was born in the province of Echigo, the present Niigata Prefecture and the setting of my novel Snow Country, a northerly region on what is known as the reverse side of Japan, where cold winds come down across the Japan Sea from Siberia. He lived his whole life in the snow country, and to his “eyes in their last extremity”, when he was old and tired and knew that death was near, and had attained enlightenment, the snow country, as we see in his last poem, was yet more beautiful, I should imagine. I have an essay with the title “Eyes in their Last Extremity”.The title comes from the suicide note of the short-story writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927). It is the phrase that pulls at me with the greatest strength. Akutagawa said that he seemed to be gradually losing the animal something known as the strength to live, and continued:”I am living in a world of morbid nerves, clear and cold as ice… I do not know when I will summon up the resolve to kill myself. But nature is for me more beautiful than it has ever been before. I have no doubt that you will laugh at the contradiction, for here I love nature even when I am contemplating suicide. But nature is beautiful because it comes to my eyes in their last extremity.”Akutagawa committed suicide in 1927, at the age of thirty-five.In my essay, “Eyes in their Last Extremity”, I had to say: “How ever alienated one may be from the world, suicide is not a form of enlightenment. However admirable he may be, the man who commits suicide is far from the realm of the saint.” I neither admire nor am in sympathy with suicide. I had another friend who died young, an avant-garde painter. He too thought of suicide over the years, and of him I wrote in this same essay: “He seems to have said over and over that there is no art superior to death, that to die is to live,” I could see, however, that for him, born in a Buddhist temple and educated in a Buddhist school, the concept of death was very different from that in the West. “Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide?” With me was the knowledge that that fellow Ikkyu (1394-1481) twice contemplated suicide. I have “that fellow”, because the priest Ikkyu is known even to children as a most amusing person, and because anecdotes about his limitlessly eccentric behavior have come down to us in ample numbers. It is said of him that children climbed his knee to stroke his beard, that wild birds took feed from his hand. It would seem from all this that he was the ultimate in mindlessness, that he was an approachable and gentle sort of priest. As a matter of fact he was the most severe and profound of Zen priests. Said to have been the son of an emperor, he entered a temple at the age of six, and early showed his genius as a poetic prodigy. At the same time he was troubled with the deepest of doubts about religion and life. “If there is a god, let him help me. If there is none, let me throw myself to the bottom of the lake and become food for fishes.” Leaving behind these words he sought to throw himself into a lake, but was held back. On another occasion, numbers of his fellows were incriminated when a priest in his Daitokuji Temple committed suicide. Ikkyu went back to the temple, “the burden heavy on my shoulders,” and sought to starve himself to death. He gave his collected poetry the title “Collection of the Roiling Clouds”, and himself used the expression “Roiling Clouds” as a pen name. In his collection and its successor are poems quite without parallel in the Chinese and especially the Zen poetry of the Japanese middle ages, erotic poems and poems about the secrets of the bedchamber that leave one in utter astonishment. He sought, by eating fish and drinking spirits and having commerce with women, to go beyond the rules and proscriptions of the Zen of his day, and to seek liberation from them, and thus, turning against established religious forms, he sought in the pursuit of Zen the revival and affirmation of the essence of life, of human existence, in a day civil war and moral collapse.His temple, the Daitokuji at Murasakino in Kyoto, remains a center of the tea ceremony, and specimens of his calligraphy are greatly admired as hangings in alcoves of tea rooms.I myself have two specimens of Ikkyu’s calligraphy. One of them is a single line: “It is easy to enter the world of the Buddha, it is hard to enter the world of the devil.” Much drawn to these words, I frequently make use of them when asked for a specimen of my own calligraphy. They can be read in any number of ways, as difficult as one chooses, but in that world of the devil added to the world of the Buddha, Ikkyu of Zen comes home to me with great immediacy. The fact that for an artist, seeking truth, good, and beauty, the fear and petition even as a prayer in those words about the world of the devil – – – the fact that it should be there apparent on the surface, hidden behind, perhaps speaks with the inevitability of fate. There can be no world of the Buddha without the world of the devil. And the world of the devil is the world difficult of entry. It is not for the weak of heart.
“If you meet a Buddha, kill him. If you meet a patriarch of the law,kill him.”
This is a well-known Zen motto. If Buddhism is divided generally into the sects that believe in salvation by faith and those that believe in salvation by one’s own efforts, then of course there must be such violent utterances in Zen, which insists upon salvation by one’s own efforts. On the other side, the side of salvation by faith, Shinran (1173-1262), the founder of the Shin sect, once said: “The good shall be reborn in paradise, and how much more shall it be so with the bad.” This view of things has something in common with Ikkyu’s world of the Buddha and world of the devil, and yet at heart the two have their different inclinations. Shinran also said: “I shall not take a single disciple.””If you meet a Buddha, kill him. If you meet a patriarch of the law, kill him.” “I shall not take a single disciple.” In these two statements, perhaps, is the rigorous fate of art.In Zen there is no worship of images. Zen does have images, but in the hall where the regimen of meditation is pursued, there are neither images nor pictures of Buddhas, nor are there scriptures. The Zen disciple sits for long hours silent and motionless, with his eyes closed. Presently he enters a state of impassivity, free from all ideas and all thoughts. He departs from the self and enters the realm of nothingness. This is not the nothingness or the emptiness of the West. It is rather the reverse, a universe of the spirit in which everything communicates freely with everything, transcending bounds, limitless. There are of course masters of Zen, and the disciple is brought toward enlightenment by exchanging questions and answers with his master, and he studies the scriptures. The disciple must, however, always be lord of his own thoughts, and must attain enlightenment through his own efforts. And the emphasis is less upon reason and argument than upon intuition, immediate feeling. Enlightenment comes not from teaching but through the eye awakened inwardly. Truth is in “the discarding of words”, it lies “outside words”. And so we have the extreme of “silence like thunder”, in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. Tradition has it that Bodhidharma, a southern Indian prince who lived in about the sixth century and was the founder of Zen in China, sat for nine years in silence facing the wall of a cave, and finally attained enlightenment. The Zen practice of silent meditation in a seated posture derives from Bodhidharma.Here are two religious poems by Ikkyu:
“Then I ask you answer. When I do not you do not.What is there then on your heart, O Lord Bodhidharma?””And what is it, the heart?It is the sound of the pine breeze in the ink painting.”
Here we have the spirit of Zen in Oriental painting. The heart of the ink painting is in space, abbreviation, what is left undrawn. In the words of the Chinese painter Chin Nung: “You paint the branch well, and you hear the sound of the wind.” And the priest Dogen once more: “Are there not these cases? Enlightenment in the voice of the bamboo. Radiance of heart in the peach blossom.”Ikenobo Sen’o, a master of flower arranging, once said (the remark is to be found in his Sayings): “With a spray of flowers, a bit of water, one evokes the vastness of rivers and mountains.” The Japanese garden too, of course symbolizes the vastness of nature. The Western garden tends to be symmetrical, the Japanese garden asymmetrical, and this is because the asymmetrical has the greater power to symbolize multiplicity and vastness. The asymmetry, of course, rests upon a balance imposed by delicate sensibilities. Nothing is more complicated, varied, attentive to detail, than the Japanese art of landscape gardening. Thus there is the form called the dry landscape, composed entirely of rocks, in which the arrangement of stones gives expression to mountains and rivers that are not present, and even suggests the waves of the great ocean breaking in upon cliffs. Compressed to the ultimate, the Japanese garden becomes the bonsai dwarf garden, or the bonseki, its dry version.In the Oriental word for landscape, literally “mountain-water”, with its related implications in landscape painting and landscape gardening, there is contained the concept of the sere and wasted, and even of the sad and the threadbare. Yet in the sad, austere, autumnal qualities so valued by the tea ceremony, itself summarized in the expression “gently respectful, cleanly quiet”, there lies concealed a great richness of spirit; and the tea room, so rigidly confined and simple, contains boundless space and unlimited elegance. The single flower contains more brightness than a hundred flowers. The great sixteenth-century master of the tea ceremony and flower arranging, Rikyu, taught that it was wrong to use fully opened flowers. Even in the tea ceremony today the general practice is to have in the alcove of the tea room but a single flower, and that a flower in bud. In winter a special flower of winter, let us say a camellia, bearing some such name as White Jewel or Wabisuke, which might be translated literally as “Helpmate in Solitude”, is chosen, a camellia remarkable among camellias for its whiteness and the smallness of its blossoms; and but a single bud is set out in the alcove. White is the cleanest of colors, it contains in itself all the other colors. And there must always be dew on the bud. The bud is moistened with a few drops of water. The most splendid of arrangements for the tea ceremony comes in May, when a peony is put out in a celadon vase; but here again there is but a single bud, always with dew upon it. Not only are there drops of water upon the flower, the vase too is frequently moistured.Among flower vases, the ware that is given the highest rank is old Iga, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it commands the highest price. When old Iga has been dampened, its colors and its glow take on a beauty such as to awaken on afresh. Iga was fired at very high temperatures. The straw ash and the smoke from the fuel fell and flowed against the surface, and as the temperature dropped, became a sort of glaze. Because the colors were not fabricated but were rather the result of nature at work in the kiln, color patterns emerged in such varieties as to be called quirks and freaks of the kiln. The rough, austere, strong surfaces of old Iga take on a voluptuous glow when dampened. It breathes to the rhythm of the dew of the flowers.The taste of the tea ceremony also asks that the tea bowl be moistened before using, to give it its own soft glow.Ikenobo Sen’o remarked on another occasion (this too is in his Sayings) that “the mountains and strands should appear in their own forms”. Bringing a new spirit into his school of flower arranging, therefore, he found “flowers” in broken vessels and withered branches, and in them too the enlightenment that comes from flowers. “The ancients arranged flowers and pursued enlightenment.” Here we see awakening to the heart of the Japanese spirit, under the influence of Zen. And in it too, perhaps, is the heart of a man living in the devastation of long civil wars.The Tales of Ise, compiled in the tenth century, is the oldest Japanese collection of lyrical episodes, numbers of which might be called short stories. In one of them we learn that the poet Ariwara no Yukihira, having invited guests, put in flowers:”Being a man of feeling, he had in a large jar a most unusual wistaria. The trailing spray of flowers was upwards of three and a half feet long.”A spray of wistaria of such length is indeed so unusual as to make one have doubts about the credibility of the writer; and yet I can feel in this great spray a symbol of Heian culture. The wistaria is a very Japanese flower, and it has a feminine elegance. Wistaria sprays, as they trail in the breeze, suggest softness, gentleness, reticence. Disappearing and then appearing again in the early summer greenery, they have in them that feeling for the poignant beauty of things long characterized by the Japanese as mono no aware. No doubt there was a particular splendor in that spray upwards of three and a half feet long. The splendors of Heian culture a millennium ago and the emergence of a peculiarly Japanese beauty were as wondrous as this “most unusual wistaria”, for the culture of T’ang China had at length been absorbed and Japanized. In poetry there came, early in the tenth century, the first of the imperially commissioned anthologies, the Kokinshu, and in fiction, the Tales of Ise, followed by the supreme masterpieces of classical Japanese prose, the Tale of Genji of Lady Murasaki and the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, both of whom lived from the late tenth century into the early eleventh. So was established a tradition which influenced and even controlled Japanese literature for eight hundred years. The Tale of Genji in particular is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it. That such a modern work should have been written in the eleventh century is a miracle, and as a miracle the work is widely known abroad. Although my grasp of classical Japanese was uncertain, the Heian classics were my principal boyhood reading, and it is the Genji, I think, that has meant the most to me. For centuries after it was written, fascination with the Genji persisted, and imitations and reworkings did homage to it. The Genji was a wide and deep source of nourishment for poetry, of course, and for the fine arts and handicrafts as well, and even for landscape gardening.Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, and such famous poets as Izumi Shikibu, who probably died early in the eleventh century, and Akazome Emon, who probably died in the mid-eleventh century, were all ladies-in-waiting in the imperial court. Japanese culture was court culture, and court culture was feminine. The day of the Genji and the Pillow Book was its finest, when ripeness was moving into decay. One feels in it the sadness at the end of glory, the high tide of Japanese court culture. The court went into its decline, power moved from the court nobility to the military aristocracy, in whose hands it remained through almost seven centuries from the founding of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192 to the Meiji Restoration in 1867 and 1868. It is not to be thought, however, that either the imperial institution or court culture vanished. In the eighth of the imperial anthologies, the Shinkokinshu of the early thirteenth century, the technical dexterity of the Kokinshu was pushed yet a step further, and sometimes fell into mere verbal dalliance; but there were added elements of the mysterious, the suggestive, the evocative and inferential elements of sensuous fantasy that have something in common with modern symbolist poetry. Saigyo, who has been mentioned earlier, was a representative poet spanning the two ages, Heian and Kamakura.
“I dreamt of him because I was thinking of him.Had I known it was a dream, I should not have wished to awaken.”In my dreams I go to him each night without fail.But this is less than a single glimpse in the waking.”
These are by Ono no Komachi, the leading poetess of the Kokinshu, who sings of dreams, even, with a straightforward realism. But when we come to the following poems of the Empress Eifuku, who lived at about the same time as Ikkyu, in the Muromachi Period, somewhat later than the Shinkokinshu, we have a subtle realism that becomes a melancholy symbolism, delicately Japanese, and seems to me more modern:
“Shining upon the bamboo thicket where the sparrows twitter,The sunlight takes on the color of the autumn.””The autumn wind, scattering the bush clover in the garden,sinks into one’s bones.Upon the wall, the evening sun disappears.”
Dogen, whose poem about the clear, cold snow I have quoted, and Myoe, who wrote of the winter moon as his companion, were of generally the Shinkokinshu period. Myoe exchanged poems with Saigyo and the two discussed poetry together. The following is from the biography of Myoe by his disciple Kikai:”Saigyo frequently came and talked of poetry. His own attitude towards poetry, he said, was far from the ordinary. Cherry blossoms, the cuckoo, the moon, snow: confronted with all the manifold forms of nature, his eyes and his ears were filled with emptiness. And were not all the words that came forth true words? When he sang of the blossoms the blossoms were not on his mind, when he sang of the moon he did not think of the moon. As the occasion presented itself, as the urge arose, he wrote poetry. The red rainbow across the sky was as the sky taking on color. The white sunlight was as the sky growing bright. Yet the empty sky, by its nature, was not something to become bright. It was not something to take on color. With a spirit like the empty sky he gives color to all the manifold scenes but not a trace remained. In such poetry was the Buddha, the manifestation of the ultimate truth.”Here we have the emptiness, the nothingness, of the Orient. My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West. The spiritual foundation would seem to be quite different. Dogen entitled his poem about the seasons, “Innate Reality”, and even as he sang of the beauty of the seasons he was deeply immersed in Zen.