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September 2007 Archives

The Story of Aoyagi is an ancient folk tale taking place in 15th century Japan. It has popular appeal on several levels.

First, the hero of the tale, Hatakeyama Yoshimune is given an incredible amount of biographical information, making him a nearly touchable historic figure. We are told of his position, his home town, his devotion to his parents, and his samurai valour.

Second, this is an animistic tale which demands reverence for Nature. Here, Japan's highly utilitarian bamboo is the source for something both beautiful and wonderful. The tragic end of the story involves human consumption/destruction of this god-given plant.

After reading this, give intentional consideration to the possible intent of this 600 year old tale. Ponder the meaning of this sad and wonderful tale.

One persistent element of Japanese superstition which reemerges continuously is the notion that the final thought or emotion of a dying person determines his or her eternal fate. While this seems in some ways tied to buddhist principles of Karma, in Japanese tales it most often involves Shinto notions of lingering ghosts whose last breath in anguish results in terrorized hauntings. This notion, for example, is the backbone of the JU-ON (呪怨) tales of a dreadful curse caused by a sudden, malicious death.

The following tale as told by Lafcadio Hearn in his 1904 Kwaidan provides an early example of the reliability of this superstition.

The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto (神道), the "Way of the Gods". The central text of Shinto is the Kojiki (古事記), which outlines the ancient mythology whereby Japan's ancestral gods and lands were born. If you've ever taken a course in World Religions, you know how crucial myths are to any culture. Core myths explain why we do what we do; why we live like we live. For example, the Judaeo-Christian Creation story explains such things as why humans differ qualitatively from animals, why there is evil and death in the world, and why we get weekends off from work to sit around watching Japanese movies. Similarly, the Japanese creation story, contained in the Kojiki provides the central ancient explanation as to why Japanese do what Japanese do, etc.

It should be no surprise that contemporary publications of the Kojiki include manga versions aimed at educating and entertaining Japanese youth (and cartoon-loving gaijin). The following are scans of a manga version I picked up in Ikebukuro.

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