June 9, 2008

もののあわれ

Props to Jeff for not only reminding me that it was firefly season, but also learnin' me a bit about some fancy nippongo words.
So let me summarize: From Jeff, I learned the word 諸行無常, which is a Buddhist concept of the inevitable impermanence of things. Which reminds one of もののあわれ, the appreciation of the impermanence of things, as illustrated by short-lived fireflies and sakura blossoms (life is short, therefore beautiful--Jeff seemed to contend that this is a depressive thing, but as the Hopeless Romantic, I am inclined to put my sad-is-beautiful spin on it). もののあわれ finds it's origins in The Tale of Genji, whereas 諸行無常 finds it's genesis in the tale of Heike--which is about the Heike and Genji clans' war (they used to have different names, but this is the convention now). By the way, Mr. Heike and Mr. Genji sit in that image on the title bar of this very blog these days.
Now oddly enough, when I went up into the mountains to view fireflies, I met an old lady associate of mine. She informed me then that fireflies, the reminders of もののあわれ, are split into two types: Heike and Genji. Is this a coincidence, or did the bug naming guys have the two tales, concepts, and clans in mind, due to relationships of impermanent sayings? Who knows. Anyways, I thought it was neat.
I was informed that there was going to be a firefly festival in the same spot the next night, so I returned. There was a band and food and everyone eying me as usual--at one point I was forced to dance for the crowd with my old lady friend, this is the wages of easy wages in a foreign land, so no real surprise there.
I mentioned もののあわれ to a guy that was buddying* me, and he seemed impressed, saying Japanese people these days don't know about that. Judging on how people acted that night, I am inclined to agree. During the music and lottery portions of the evening, everyone stayed off to the side of the riverbank, in the lights where one can hardly see fireflies. Some of the children played in the river, but came up for the raffle when it was dark. When the event ended, almost everyone just left. No actual going down to the river to look at the reason why we were there. I was astounded; here we have these little wonders of nature, and nobody cares.
And far be it for me to think I am doing the Japanese thing better than the Japanese do (though sometimes I wonder if that is how the impremanence of this culture is going to manifest: in the hands of a few foreigners). I was just confused why people don't stop to enjoy the sights. After all, our time on this world is fleeting, and therefore beautiful.
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Incidentally, I ran into a barbecue while wandering about the rivers that night, and not only ate strips of, but was given a huge chunk of boar meat. I made boar meat chili with it. Yum. Oddly un-porky.
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*buddying: The process of giving unwanted food, drinks, and 30 years-unused-English-skills to a foreigner who is just trying to enjoy the quiet majesty of nature. Also known as gawk-blocking.