Saturday, October 20, 2007

the mysterious east

Okoma, daughter of Shobei, proprietor of the Shirokaya timber store, is perplexed because her father has decided without her consent to marry her to Tsukudaya Kizo, a rich merchant, from whom Shobei borrowed a lot of money when his house was destroyed in a fire. As she is brooding in the front room of the house, Johachi, chief clerk, woos her, falsely assuming that she hates Kizo because she loves Johachi.

Saizaburo, a hairdresser, who is in love with Okoma, arrives, having been called by Shobei to arrange his hair. He is shocked to hear from a maid that Okoma is going to marry Kizo that very night. When he meets Okoma he accuses her of her faithlessness whereupon Okoma asserts that she has no intention of marry anyone but Saizaburo.

Shobei, who is half blind, now enters and, while having his hair arranged by Saizaburo, tells Okoma that Shobei was adopted by her late grandfather and married his daughter (Okoma`s mother), that he is responsible for maintaining the timber business to which he succeeded upon his foster fathers` death, and that in order to do so he has to agree to Kizo`s demand to marry Okoma because he owes much money to him. Saizaburo advises Okoma to agree and Okoma reluctantly says she will do so.

After Shobei, Okoma and Saizaburo have withdrawn to an inner room, Kizo comes to make a formal claim on Okoma as his bride. Kizo, who has stolen a precious teapot from a samurai`s house in conspiracy with Johachi, secretly hands the teapot to Johachi, implicitly asking him not to disclose his crime.

After Kizo has entered an inner room, Okoma reappears. Johachi, seeing that Okoma is in agony, suggests that she kill Kizo by offering him poisoned sake in the nuptial cup. Johachi goes out to buy poison for her.


Okoma is now under arrest and has been sentenced to execution at Suzugamori for the murder of Kizo. She is about to be put to death, being watched by her parents and many spectators staying outside a bamboo fence, when Saizaburo appears with Johachi, who is tied with cords. He says that it has become known through Johachi`s confession that Kizo and Johachi have conspired to swindle the teapot. He then shows to the execution officials an official letter of pardon for Okoma. Okoma is immediately released to the joy of all those present [particularly those in the audience -- ed.]

--program notes from Koi Musume Mukashi Hachijo, (The Love-Inspired Murder), Kokuritsu Bunraku Gekijo, Osaka

Monday, October 01, 2007

a thousand and one bodhisattvas

The wife arrived from the States and we went to view the Kannons at Sanjusangendo. After an hour trudging in our stocking feet through the freezing temple, I was reminded of the old saying: `When you`ve seen one pagan idol with 11 faces and a thousand arms, you`ve seen them all.`

All those new wave European Shinto revivalists who are currently dissing Seidensticker and Morris (may peace be upon them) for calling Heian religion `an incoherent mishmash` likely haven`t visited this temple, meditated on all the detailed descriptions of the 28 guardian kings who come straight out of the feverish imagination of some wild-eyed naked Hindu fakir, and tried to make a chart.

In a sudden burst of illumination, I realized why Chinese Confucianists were so hostile to the importation of Indian Buddhism and why the T`ang emperors took the trouble to burn down the monasteries in the ninth century. Sublime stuff indeed, but any religion that frees up the menfolk to go madly singing in the mountains, leaving the women to change the diapers and endeavor to raise up the kids with some modicum of filial piety and cultivate in them at least marginally civilized behavior would strike Confucians as a selfish, antisocial cult concerned primarily with individual salvation and pie in the sky by and by. I mean, anyone who`s looked into the matter realizes that Buddhist ethics are about as hazy as the misty moon in the month of June.