Saturday, April 09, 2005

Kurahashi Yumiko

Currently Reading
The Woman With the Flying Head and Other Stories (Japanese Women Writing)
By Yumiko Kurahashi, Kurahashi Yumiko, Atsuko Sakaki
The Kurahashi book above is somehow disturbing. I'm reading through it because I thought it might be a good way to end my Dark Romantic Japanese literature studies this semester.

Definitely worth reading, but some of the stories are just... disturbing. It makes me wonder if some of the stories in, say, the Konjaku monogatari were disturbing to their audience in this way. You take your average lay Japanese person at the end of the Heian period, tell them a story about a man carrying a box of penises and gouged eyeballs for a ghost, and I think you could compare the reaction with that of an international audience in the 1960's (or the early 2000's) reading about a boy and girl sharing a living being in order to commit incest. The difference is, of course, that Kurahashi invented this story, whereas the Konjaku Monogatari stories were supposed to be true.

Honestly, I think Kurahashi has more in common with the Konjaku and Nihonryouiki than does Akinari or Kyoka. While Kyoka and Akinari use their tales of the supernatural to immerse the reader in the luscious world of the past, Kurahashi is, like the two Heian collections, more concerned with the overall story and the implications than elegance and poetic imagery.

Still, disturbing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Continuing JET...

Continuing from last time...

I really felt a sense of relief when I processed the JET news. Not so much that I probably won't go, but that now I'm forced to think about what I'm doing, whether this is the best thing.

Ah, well, I won't waste space thinking it out here. But it'd definitely be a good idea to look into other options. I want to go to Japan, I think I have to to improve my language skills, but there may be a better way than teaching a subject I'm not absolutely thrilled about.

More important than job prospects - literature!

I've been studying Japanese "gothic" literature, and I'm really wondering, when you get down to it, what is the draw? In both Japan and Europe, there was a "genre" we can now call gothic, or better, I think, "dark romanticism". Both center around two things: old, decaying civilizations succumbing to nature, and a deep sense of horror. They seem to go hand in hand in both European and Japanese DR, and I find that fascinating. Why is, for example, the snake woman of Akinari's 蛇性の婬 found in a decrepit building that destroyed by weathering? Since Walpole's Castle, the ancient castle has played its role in Gothic fiction in much the same way. But how do evil, antiquity, the natural, and the supernatural all intersect here?

Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the roots of Gothic literature in Europe, but I've read some of the sources and influences on Akinari and Kyoka in Japan, so I know that really the connection between evil and the supernatural was not new to them.

One of my favorite stories (admittedly because of its raunchiness) is the story of the man who runs into a woman's spirit on his way homewho asks him if he will carry a box to another town for her and deliver it to another woman who will be waiting on the bridge. Reluctantly he takes on the task, and then forgets to deliver the box, going straight home instead. His wife, thinking it is a gift for some lover her husband is keeping, looks in the box to find gouged-out eyes and chopped-off penises.

Not exactly gothic, but still fun. And it starts this idea of shocking the audience into thinking about what is going on. What do these two women want with gouged-out eyes and male parts?

And the interesting thing is neither the two spirit women (they aren't called spirits here, but they have spiritual powers, so I'll call them that) nor the husband are condemned for their parts in the whole business - it is the wife who is scolded for being jealous! It's okay to traffick in body parts and forget to do a favor, but jealousy is too much! Imagine what the wife thought when she saw these things in the box. What...what exactly does my husband do all day? Did I marry the wrong man here?

Well, didn't get very far...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Just found out I'm an alternate for JET today. JET= a government sponsored program to bring English speakers from all over the world to Japan to work in elementary, junior, and high schools as English language teachers. Alternate = as of now, I won't go, but if someone that was chosen decides not to go, I may be chosen (there is a waiting list).

Not particularly inspiring. On the one hand, I'm not good enough for the "regular" program. On the other, I'm not outright rejected, so I can't just forget about it. I may have to wait until as late as August. And that sucks.

But it has made me think. Do I really want to teach English in Japan? I want to teach, yes, I want to be in Japan, but honestly I wonder if I want to be in the middle of nowhere, teaching a subject 95% of Japanese students could care less about and that, honestly, I'm not sure I would want to learn about. I'm not saying I don't - it could be good experience, and if I were in a good situation, it could be fantastic. But for 3 years, really, I have been looking to JET as a way to get to Japan, but when it really comes down to it, I'm not COMPLETELY certain it is what I want to do.

More later...

Monday, April 04, 2005

Intro and why fireflies and snow?

Quick introduction and explanation:

My name is Jesse Bethel, student living in San Francisco. I'm studying Japanese and Comparative Literature, and should graduate this summer.

Why fireflies and snow? It comes from a Japanese compound, 蛍雪, (keisetsu), which is made up of the Chinese characters for fireflies and snow. It refers to scholars before electricity (and apparently candles) reading by the light of fireflies reflected in the snow. It means diligence in studying, and I thought it was a nice image.

Waiting for the executioner to call... Tomorrow I should hear whether or not I will be going to Japan through the JET program. I have basically been betting my entire future on this one program, and I am really going to be thrown for a loop if I don't get in. Just have to wait until tomorrow.

I'm enrolled in a special study of Japanese Gothic literature this semester. I'm still getting my feet wet, though I'm over half way through the semester. But I've decided to do a research paper in another class about Gothic literature and Romanticism in English, so I'm going to get to do a little surreptitious comparison this semester. Nice how things like that work out.

Found out recently I've been chosen as "Comp. Lit. honoree" for this year's commencement. Had no idea I was being considered and I don't really know what that means, but happy to get it.

Well, that's it for now. I imagine things will get more exciting as time goes on.