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Play and Learn

recommended summer reading

by Nicole

Could you drink cha from an empty cup ?

How to spend time when rain falls every day, all day long, during holidays ? My answer in 2011 was READING. I got a thick book (1125 pages!): SHOGUN by James CLAVELL.

The plot is the excuse for describing medieval Japan and Japanese people : who is Geisha, who is Samurai , how they become Geisha, Samurai, what they are allowed to do, what they are forbidden, how they ought to play their part. Every act is codified, every word is formal (marriage, divorce, reconciliation, salutation, seppuku, death-wish, ....).

The purpose of my text is not to plagiarize the book (that will be plainly and fully very stupid) but to share my feeling, my sense of their grandeur and their nobility when they faced up to very difficult situations.

It is about the meaning of the word LIFE for Japanese people. I would like you to participate in my enthusiasm.

I chose two different quotations which I believe to be the most representative of that impression. I wish to share with everybody how beautiful, how powerful and how still valid these thoughts are.

The first quotation is a death-poem.

Yabu, a samurai, had betrayed his lord Toranaga and he had been found out; he had to commit seppuku. Before commiting seppuku, every samurai had to write a short poem which would be his last message.

What was his death poem? Toranaga asked.
Omi (another samurai who supported the condemned man) said :

"What are clouds
But an excuse for the sky?
What is life
But an escape from death?"

The second passage is the sentence I chose for the title of this article.

It shows the strength of will, the mandatory, imperative and binding nature of the decision. Mariko is a catholic but Japanese. She obeys first, her lord, and second, the catholic prior.

Mariko’s lord needs Anji-san alive.The Anji-san’s knowledge about war, ship, sea, trading ... will help the lord to fight against his rivals.

The other feudal lords, some of whom had them been turned to Catholicism, want to kill Anji-san who is from the Reformed Church, and who knows too many things about Portugese priors’ silk trade. The Jesuits too want the Anji-san‘s death, even if they are not allowed to say it explicitly. (If Anji-san pilots his restored ship Erasmus, the Jesuit’s Blackship will be stopped and boarded).

Mariko has to negociate, to convice the Jesuit prior to protect the English pilot from death. She meets the prior on a desert area on the coast, a place where Lord Toranaga promised to allow the building of a cathedral if he becomes SHOGHUN.

"Mariko - Please excuse me, but could you say mass here, Father ?
The prior -There’s no church or altar or vestments or the Eucharist. I could do that in our chapel if you’ll foll-
Mariko - Could we drink cha* from an empty cup, Father ? Please, she asked in a tiny voice. So sorry to ask. There’s so little time.
The prior - Yes, he agreed at once understanding her.

So he walked to where the altar perhaps would be one day within the magnificent nave, under a vaulting roof. Today, the lightening sky was the roof, and birds and the sound of the surf the majestic choir. He began to chant the solemn beauty of the mass and Brother Michael helped, and together they brought the Infinite to earth."

The literary critic of the New York Times summarizes my feeling :
"I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one. It’s irresistable, maybe unforgettable" New York Times

Please, let me know your opinion about those ideas even if you don’t agree with me.

Click here to read explanations about the context of SHOGUN, the plot, and some vocabulary.

by Nicole, published in June 2012


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revised :  26-June / published : 27-June / created : 11-May-2012

Play & Learn = l'anglais pour tous - Franqueville-St-Pierre
e-mail  : playandlearn@free.fr / tel : 06 25 78 80 78

for a summary of vocabulary, the plot, the historical context, click here