Bereavement and Consolation

Bereavement and Consolation: Testimonies from Tokugawa Japan

Harold Bolitho
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bereavement and Consolation
    Book Description:

    Death came early and often to the people of Tokugawa Japan, as it did to the rest of the pre-modern world. Yet the Japanese reaction to death struck foreign observers and later scholars as particularly subdued. In this pioneering study, Harold Bolitho translates and analyzes some extraordinary accounts written by three Japanese men of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries about the death of a loved one-testimonies that challenge the impression that the Japanese accepted their bereavements with nonchalance.

    The three accounts were written by a young Buddhist priest mourning the death of his child, by the poet Issa, who recorded his father's final illness, and by a scholar and teacher who described his wife's losing struggle with diabetes. Placing their journals in the context of contemporary religious beliefs, customs and literary traditions, Bolitho offers provocative insights into a previously hidden world of Japanese grief.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14997-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-30)

    One way and another, we know quite a lot about the Japanese of the Tokugawa period (1600–1868). Collections of laws, essays, memorials, diaries, and letters from all corners of the Japanese islands, together with the impressions of a small number of foreign observers, all supplemented by a wealth of paintings and prints, have made us familiar with much of their world. We know what they paid for their rice, their sake, their beans, their books, and their entertainment. We know, too, something of their intellectual life, for they have left extensive written records dealing with problems in government and...

  5. 1 Zenjō the Priest
    (pp. 31-60)

    Jōdo Shinshū, the True Sect of the Pure Land—or, more familiarly, the Ikkō (single-minded) Sect—was one of several new forms of Japanese Buddhism to emerge over the course of the thirteenth century. Its founder, Shinran (1173–1262), like others before him, had been persuaded by Amida’s vow to refuse enlightenment until all mankind was assured of Paradise, and his promise that they could achieve it by invoking his name. Shinran had taught that anyone reciting thenenbutsuphrase—Namu Amida Butsu¹ or “Hail to the Buddha Amida”—was assured of eternal life in the Pure Land, Buddha’s Western...

  6. 2 Issa the Poet
    (pp. 61-102)

    Along with Matsuo Bashō and Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa is one of the three towering figures of the seventeen-syllablehaikaiform, and, of the three, arguably the best known. His verses, more homely and accessible than those of his peers, are to be found incised into rocks and stone slabs all over Japan, and, in translation, on shelves all around the world. Of the three he was also by far the most prolific. Against Bashō’s two thousand or so poems, and Buson’s three thousand, Issa easily outstripped them, leaving more than twenty thousand.¹

    Issa is famous now, but in 1801...

  7. 3 Kyokusō the Scholar
    (pp. 103-162)

    In Edo, at the beginning of 1844, an obscure provincial scholar welcomed the New Year with a verse in Chinese, the language he preferred for poetry.

    Now, for the very first time, at the age of thirty-eight,¹

    I greet the New Year in this vast city.

    The castle gate, guarded by willows, hides its secrets,

    So too, brandishing their pines, do the mansions of the lords.

    Free of distractions, my thoughts turn fondly to my family.

    Fervently, facing west, I pray they may be safe.²

    It is a dejected poem, and no wonder. Hirose Kyokusō, its author, was indeed stranded...

    (pp. 163-188)

    To Francis Hall, scrutinizing, with mounting incomprehension, the behaviour of Japanese mourners, it must have seemed that consolation was the very last thing they needed. Their attitudes, at least as he interpreted them, ranged from indifference at one extreme to positive hilarity at the other. Overt signs of grief, of a kind he would have recognized, were simply not there. Elsewhere in the world, where mourners rent their garments, tore their hair, raked their flesh, wailed and sobbed, or, in more inhibited societies, at the very least shed discreet tears, bereavement was signified quite unambiguously. But not in the urban...

  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. 189-190)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 191-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-226)