This is the first anecdote in Yanagizawa Kien 柳沢淇園's 1843 Unpyō zasshi 雲萍雑志, mentioned in my last post. (Point of order: The book may not actually be his work; even the introduction only claims that it was compiled from his writings.)

When Great Buddha mochi/manjū were popular in Kyoto, among the many shops where they could be bought was one called Ōmi Jōmi in Shijōnawate. One day a beggar arrived at the store. "Ten manjū, please," he said.

The shopkeeper emerged from the back. "We do not serve non-persons (hinin)," he said.

"I am a person, just like you are," complained the beggar. "Why will you not sell me your wares when I have the money to buy them? I demand an explanation."

The shopkeeper had returned to the back of the store without even bidding the beggar to be on his way, but the beggar complained in such forceful terms that he came back out again. "Very well; I will explain to you my position. Let us talk in private," he said.

Facing the beggar, he said, "I told you that I do not serve the likes of you because the impropriety of a beggar presuming to eat manjū like these is simply beyond words." He pulled the cloth from the beggar's head and threw it on the floor. "Pointless as it may be, if you have ears, listen well. My manjū are not made like any other. They are sweets of the highest grade, suitable for persons of quality. As such, they are not for eating by beggars and their ilk. If you wish to eat the sweets here, come back for them after you have become a person on par with those around you. Is it right that you should eat the finest sweets while still pitied by others and precariously eking out a living from one day to the next, just because you have the money? You are a shameless wastrel indeed! Now get out of my shop at once and begone!"

He scolded the beggar so soundly that the beggar ran away clutching his head.

The beggar believes in the most radically meritocratic promise of capitalism: that it makes equal consumers of us all, differentiated only in relation to specific transactions: can we buy X or not? If we want to live on the street spending all our money on designer sweets, we can.

The shopkeeper will not have this. He grants that social status can be improved by wealth and success, but insists on its prescriptive role nonetheless. You can't just pick and choose the luxuries you want to enjoy; you have to buy in to the right level of the system to even qualify.

It's the logic of sumptuary laws, which played a major role in the social order of Edo. (And not always for the benefit of the ruling samurai class; part of the reason the chōnin became so wealthy was because samurai were obliged to spend so lavishly — not to mention the fact that it was chōnin who controlled the process of exchanging samurai wages paid in rice for actual money in the first place. Those stories about samurai chewing toothpicks to give the false impression of having eaten aren't evoking Franciscan virtue.)

Incidentally, I'm not sure if 大仏の餅饅頭 in the original means "Great Buddha mochi and manjū", two different kinds of Great Buddha-related sweets (and "Great Buddha mochi" were certainly a famous snack), or "Great Buddha mochi-manjū." (Does it make sense to mix mochi and manjū? Not really, but it makes no more sense to mix caramel and salt, and yet people still do it.)


Kanji and cats

Here's a sign I saw in Matsumoto, Shinshū:

The character for mountain is shaped like a mountain — to a greater extent than usual, I mean — the character for town is shaped like a house. And the character for, uh, "[fancy or religious] hall," now liberally applied to restaurants and bookstores, is shaped like... the right shape to counterbalance the mountain on the left. Well, maybe it's supposed to be some kind of fancy hall. I see a roof with shrine-like decorations, a grand staircase out front...

Also, something I came across in Yanagizawa Kien 柳沢淇園's 1843 Unpyō zasshi 雲萍雑志 ("Cloud-and-duckweed [i.e. capriciously drifting] miscellaneous essays"):

Most people who keep a cat as a pet do not know how a cat should be raised/maintained (やしなふ). They put dried bonito and meat in its food. [But] cats who eat nothing but rich food do not catch mice. Cats should be given boiled wheat with miso soup. No other food should be given to them. If you allow them to get accustomed to eating meat, when there is no meat they are sure to go to other houses and steal the fish or meat there. The same applies to raising/maintaining people.


Boat night

Here's a poem by a Chinese Buddhist nun called Haiyin 海印 that I found on page 273 of Tōdai no joryū shijin 唐代の女流詩人 ("Female poets of the Tang period"), by Yue Shuren 楽恕人. My translation is inevitably influenced by Yue's yomikudashi although I do differ from him on some points (e.g. he has the boat following the moon rather than the other way around).

A night on a boat
The color of the water, then of heaven
The sound of wind beneath the sound of waves
The traveler is grieved by thoughts of home
The fisherman starts from far-roaming dreams
Raise the oars: the clouds are there already
Row the boat: the moon brings up the rear
The song is sung, the poem at an end
The mountains sprawl as distant
        as they were when we began

According to Yue, Haiyin was renowned as a poet in her time, but this is the only poem of hers that survives. Nothing in the original justifies messing with the meter in the last line like that. I'm sorry, Haiyin. It's 1 AM and I give up.

For another take on the poem (and some related materials), see Wendi Adamek's "The Literary Lives of Nuns: Poems Inscribed on a Memorial Niche for the Tang Nun Benxing", which quotes a translation from Wilt L. Idema and Beata Grant's anthology The Red Brush.