Monday, 16 May 2011


Ima no Musashino/Musashino was written by Doppo Kunikida in 1897, after he and his wife, Nobuko Sasaki, divorced he rented a cottage there, at it's opening Doppo tells us that after reading about the historical Battle of Kotesashi,  that took place in what was Musashi Province,  a desire to visit the place had welled up in him. Musashino is read like a multi layered piece of reflective writing, at first he describes his initial attraction and preconceived impressions of the place, and then he refers back to his notebook entries that he wrote during his visit. A striking feature of the piece is the differing length of the passages and entries Doppo uses, in his introduction the translator David Chibbett points out that Musashino is written in the tradition of zuihitsu, (random jottings), within his piece Doppo quotes passages from a short story by Turgenev, (translated into the Japanese by Futabatei Shimei), called Rendezvous. These longer passages are a contrast to Doppo's own shorter entries, in them he notes his observations of the weather, wind , rain and recalls midnight walks amongst the forest with an almost haiku like simplicity, there is not much reference to his frame of mind until an entry from 24th November 1896; - Not all the leaves have fallen yet. When I look at the distant mountains, my heart is filled with yearning and longs to vanish into them. Doppo charts the labyrinthine network of paths that criss-cross the woods, following them he finds old gravestones deep within them. Subtly he contrasts the woods of the birch trees descibed in Turgenev's piece with those of his native Japan, noting the absence of the oak tree from Japanese literature, autumn seems to be his favourite season and he notes the  re-appearance of greenery as the seasons change. Doppo a reader of Wordsworth and the Romantic poets writes in their style but his stories and writing are filled with characters from Japanese history, Yoshitsune, Rokudai Shojiki, also including a passage from the poet Kumagai Naoyoshi, (1782-1862). Musashino is filled with descriptions of the sounds of the woods and the plains, observations of the shadows of clouds drifting across the fields, although at it's heart the piece has a certain melancholy silence to it, and for it's descriptions of the winds and movement, a certain feeling of stillness is also felt. Nearing the end of Musashino Doppo recounts a walk with a friend, marvelling at the sight of the sun setting over the shoulder of Mt Fuji and describes an impromptu chance of tsukimi , but Musashino for Doppo, at it's ending is infused with the sights and sounds of life glimpsed in the present leaving us with an impression of the eternal.  

Musashino can be found in the collection River Mist and Other Stories translated by David Chibbett, published by Paul Norbury, 1983, Chibbett also included an interesting biography of Doppo, drawing on biographies by Fukuda Kiyohito and Sakamoto Hiroshi, Musashino stands out in this collection being the only non-fiction piece which also includes a number of Doppo's prose poems. Another excellent resource I came across while looking online about Musashi Province and the Kozuke-Musashi Campaign was The Samurai Archives Wiki.

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