It's been two weeks! Here's a quick translation of a poem called Gaitō 街頭 ("Street"), by Susukida Kyūkin 薄田泣菫. I like this for its almost sestina-ish cycling imagery, its unusual (for Kyūkin) device of ellipsis, and of course because it features a kokyū. The original is basically in 5/7 meter, but I haven't made any attempt to reproduce that here.

A thoroughfare — the sun wells up with tears...
At the beggar-child's kokyū, its scraping,
Sobbing sound... from somewhere,
The faint scent of roasted chestnuts...

Coming and going, the people turn and —
"Ha!" — laugh... the kokyū's lament...
A cloud of dust swirls suddenly,
Flames roll off the chestnuts as they sweat.

The charred nuts, thickly smoking,
Burst open... ah, this hunger!
The chestnut-peddler sneezes,
Her face twisting... the kokyū's weakening...

Coins fall — ah, the kokyū player
Smiles, and proudly
Fills his mouth with chestnut, and he speaks,
A sense of straining at his temples...
The chestnut girl is deaf.

That "beggar-child" is in the original 乞食児, with the furigana かたゐこ. Kata(w)i or kattai is an old Japanese word for "beggar", so old that it has a range of related meanings, like "traveling musician" and even "leper", all deriving from the basic meaning of being poor and reliant on the charity of others.


Hosokawa on ma

The Japanese National Theater has a series called Nihon ongaku sōsho 日本音楽叢書 collecting essays from the programs of past stage productions into themed books. One of the books is called Reigaku 伶楽 (a neologism that basically means "contemporary works for gagaku ensemble"), and it contains an essay by Hosokawa Toshio about Tokyo 1985. It starts off with some discussion of lines, space and ma that I thought might be of interest to a couple of readers. Here's a quick and dirty translation because I have to go return the book now:

The line is a metaphor for a range of forms and lives, and a line that can be seen suggests a world that cannot. If the line did not exist, we could not see the shapes of things or sense the unseen world.

Could we not take the sound, too, as a line that is formed within the negative space that is the atmosphere? By replacing lines spatially with sounds, I came to think of the sound as like the line [...] in possessing an unseen, unheard matrix domain. [...] Sounds do not have meaning in and of themselves, but only recover their vitality by involvement with the place (topos) where they are created and the people in that place. In modern European music, interest has concentrated around the domain of sound as the result of an all-too-audible sound creation process and the domain of the visible écriture on the staff; the unseen, unheard domain of shadows has been discarded as part of this development.

The ma that is often spoken of in the context of traditional Japanese music is the tension-filled space-time from the void to the paper when creating a line; it is most certainly not a "silence" in the form of a vacuum of homogenous space from which meaning and direction have been stripped. It is a space dense and polysemous with meaning and directionality, a creative matrix space.

Hosokawa also has a note about that "silence" thing:

Since the 1983 premiere of my orchestral work Hi no kūkan 否の空間 [I think this must be the one known in English as "Pass into Silence" --Matt], I have released a number of works concerned with meaning-dense and directional "ma." However, partly due to the ambiguity of my vocabulary, my work has received from critics ambiguous labels such as "aesthetics of silence." What I thought of as "silence" is not a space that has lost meaning (R. Barthes), but a space inaudible to the ear as a densely meaningful place (topos) ; I realized this only after encountering several books by Nakamura Yujiro. After that, I began using the word "matrix space" instead of "silence" to describe this concept.



So I was reading Tamamura Takeji's 1978 anthology of Five Mountain literature (Nihon no Zen goroku 8: Gozan shisō 日本の禅語録八:五山詩僧) when I came across this one by Sesson Yūbai 雪村友梅:


A monk driven west of Hángǔ pass,
Wasted down to yellow skin and sticking-out bones.
At times I sit atop the rocks in dark and hidden places,
But there I lack even the friendship of 空生.

So the issue is how to translate 空生, kūshō in Japanese, literally "emptiness + create/life". The Iwanami Dictionary of Buddhism has no entry for it, and neither does the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten. Charles Muller's Digital Dictionary of Buddhism has it as an alternate title for Subhūti, and Subhūti was known as "解空第一", "Emptiness understander number one," so that would make sense. But Tamamura has a more exciting proposal: maybe it's Shunnyata-shin 舜若多神! This literally means "God of Emptiness" and appears in the Canon as a personification of sūnyatā, notably in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra:

T0945_.19.0123b29: ... 阿難汝豈不知。今此會中阿那律
T0945_.19.0123c01: 陀無目而見。跋難陀龍無耳而聽。殑伽神
T0945_.19.0123c02: 女非鼻聞香。驕梵鉢提異舌知味。舜若多神
T0945_.19.0123c03: 無身有觸。如來光中映令暫現。既爲風質其
T0945_.19.0123c04: 體元無。...

"... Ananda, didn't you know? Among those gathered here are Aniruddha, who has no eyes but sees; the naga Upananda, who has no ears but hears; the Goddess of the Ganges, who is noseless but smells; Gavampati, who is odd-tongued but tastes; and the God of Emptiness 舜若多神, who has no form but feels. A temporary projection in the light of the Tathagata, it has the nature of wind but no original body...

Tamamura offers absolutely no justification for his reading, and it conflicts with other reliable (I assume) sources, like the Dictionary of Five Mountain Literature Terminology (Gozan bungaku yōgo jiten 五山文学用語辞典), which not only glosses 空生 as Subhūti but also mentions this particular poem as an example of such usage. So it probably isn't wise to take Tamamura's theory too seriously. I'm posting this mainly because I did not know that sūnyatā had been personified like that. Seems to undermine the metaphor a bit.