I’m reading this book because one of its stories got picked for a Literature Club that I sometimes participate in. I figured I could just read the whole book as it’s only ~35 pages or so. It consists of 10 short stories (each being ~3 pages long), where each describes a dream, and I found them to be really deep so far despite their brevity. So I thought that maybe others might want to join in to read and discuss with me?
This reading group does not have a schedule, so feel free to read whatever whenever and at whichever pace You can leave your comments, thoughts and questions here at any time, but please add a label so that everybody knows which dream your comment belongs to!
I thought this was a really moving story. The dream is that the protag’s wife dies (it sounded to me as if she simply announced this without any warning and then died, and the protag had a hard time believing this?) and as her dying wish she asked him to wait besides her grave for 100 years as she would return to him at some point. So the man digs a grave for her. He uses a large seashell to dig the grave, and every time he digs out some earth, the seashell glitters in the moonlight, and little fragments come off the shell and fall on the ground, and I think this is a very beautiful picture. The man then sits next to the grave and waits while the sun rises and sets, and rises and sets again, and at some point he thinks it might well be 100 years already now. (Either he is a bit uneducated and has no idea about time, or he really waited this long…) Then a white lily grew out of the grave and grew until it touched the man’s heart, and the blossom opened and this was the wife coming back to him in a new shape.
The idea of loving somebody so much that one would be willing to wait for them for 100 years, and the idea of loving somebody so much that one would be willing to return to them after death, was really moving. I also loved the rich imagery, of the glittering seashell, and of course the white lily, a symbol of purity and rebirth, which directly represents the wife that was reborn to her husband.
This story was harder to read for me, or maybe I was just more tired. Looking back now after a week or so, I don’t remember many details, but the plot was this: A samurai visits a temple and starts to meditate for enlightenment. Maybe he did ask for this from the priest? I forgot, but the priest told him that if he had gained enlightenment by a certain time, he was entitled to kill the priest, but if he had not gained enlightenment by then, he should kill himself. So he meditates and meditates and strains to get enlightenment. Then the clock strikes the appointed time, and the samurai all of a sudden knows what to do and jumps up.
I really like that we don’t know how this ended for the samurai. I could imagine both ends equally well, or maybe he opts for a third way out and realizes how futile his forced struggle for enlightenment was? And how would he know that this option is different from the two others?
He has become very clear on what to do, and this is a big relief after the long struggle that he had before, even for me, the reader. I can feel this even now, after a week of reading the story.
Seems really interesting, the stories may be a bit difficult for me but with the audio and the fact that they are not too long, I think I’ll be able to follow along I will try to do at least the first one this weekend!
I read the first dream along with the audio (thank you @pm215), and liked the combination of audio-text so much that I went to youtube in search for the dreams for which there was no audio in the link above. There are multiple readings, of course, but this video has all ten dreams in one (separated as chapters for easy access)
Thoughts on the first dream: Surprisingly easy language for a text that was written in 1908! Gentle, beautiful imagery with some surreal elements as you’d expect from a dream. And full of (still common) onomatopoeia, I think I’ll go add a few examples to the onomatopoeia thread. I particularly liked the star fragments that had fallen to the ground, their sharp corners worn down to a round shape due to their long journey down.
I knew the first story had to be a trap. In fact, I had to read this one twice to kind of get what’s going on. Not that I’m entirely sure now. It took me ages to realize that 悟る meant “reach enlightenment” and not just “realize” (thanks @NicoleIsEnough for your summary, it helped me set some things straight). Then I couldn’t understand what he was doing. He grabbed that sword, felt a power run from his arm to the tip of the sword, wanted to stab. Blood ran to his right wrist, the sword’s hilt got sticky. Why? Did he stab someone? Himself? Was the rest all a dying hallucination?
He’s angry, tries to see “nothing” but sees everything clear as day. He even sees the monk’s head. But he’s left the monk, right? Did he kill the monk after all? Is he just imagining him? He’s in pain (maybe he did stab himself). He’s starting to see things more vaguely, like they are not quite there, but he doesn’t yet see “nothing”. The clock strikes once. The clock strikes twice (is that another hour later?). He reaches for his sword. The end. What am I missing?
I guess I should probably not try to look at dreams too closely, dreams are never entirely coherent or logical.
OMG do you think the difficulty keeps increasing at that rate?
Same here actually… So let’s see if we can piece this together:
My dictionary suggested 悟り to be “understanding” as well as “spiritual awakening (enlightenment)” so I took it from there.
Oh, was it really blood? I thought it just got sticky from the sweat because he strained himself so much…
Oh, I found it: 身体の血が右の手首の方へ流れて来て right? Does this really mean he’s bleeding? Or is it just that the blood rushed to his wrist (internally, in the veins, I mean)?
Because so far he had only pulled out the sword and looked at the sharp tip, I think, so there’s not really anything that would give rise to an injury.
I thought he is just meditating and trying to reach enlightenment. And he’s trying so hard that he hurts, was my take.
Read the first part again, and yes, I think he is alone in the temple, and there is a sliding door with a painting that looked as if it was alive: 広い寺だから森閑として、人気がない。[…] 仰向く途端に生きてるように見えた。
Then he thinks about a conversation he had earlier, I guess? 侍なら悟れぬはずはなかろうと和尚が云った。
And then he thinks about his own plan, I guess? He wants to reach enlightenment until the next hour, and then go to the monk’s room again tonight and kill him? And that he definitely needs to reach enlightenment (to prove his worth to himself and to the monk). If he can’t do that, he wants to kill himself.
I think it’s just two o’clock, as it says first 鳴り始めた and then 二つ目をチーンと打った。
I think that’s the beauty of the story, that we don’t know what he ended up doing, don’t you think? He clearly is determined to do what he thinks is the right thing, but we don’t know what that is. Maybe he just reached enlightenment and goes to kill the monk who insulted him so badly, or maybe he decides he didn’t make it, and kills himself, or maybe he realizes that his striving for enlightenment is especially blocked by his hate for the monk, and declares his attempt to be vain?
What do you think what he did?
It’s totally unclear, as far as I understand. The blood could very well be internal (that’s how I interpreted at first), but with the hilt getting sticky, and his desire to stab, I just wondered whether he left something unsaid.
This is the part I was referring to: 行灯が見える。畳が見える。和尚の薬缶頭がありありと見える。He sees everything that is there clearly. And he also sees the monk('s head?), also very clearly. But the monk shouldn’t be there? Of course it’s a dream, and he also might be losing touch with reality already without realizing.
I thought it was the shadow from the lantern that looked alive, but that’s not important in any case.
That’s very true. And dreams tend to end inconclusively anyway (are they actual dreams of his, I wonder?). He was so angry at everything, and suffering so much, and then when the clock struck, it was like he came to his senses. Did he calm down because he knew the end had come for him? Did he calm down because he knew he had reached enlightenment? (he was supposed to bring proof, no idea how). He’ll use his sword, in any case. Probably.
I took the ありあり in that to be kind of signalling that the list has shifted from things that are really there in the room to something that’s only so clear it’s as if he was really there.
The clock is interesting, because I feel like it’s an anachronism (it is a dream, I suppose). Would a temple in the samurai era really have had a chiming clock? They did exist but were rare and valuable. And what time was it striking? 刻 suggests the old time system (with each 刻 being roughly two hours long but varying with the seasons); wikipedia suggests that if you did have a chiming clock that used that system the hours are chimed 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, though, with no 2…
That’s interesting information I didn’t know about, thanks. Has the clock finished chiming though? It could be any of those hours, and it only took two chimes for the samurai to reach his realization, whatever it is.
Yes. Exactly that. I thought it was really beautiful.
I actually wonder whether a Japanese person would immediately realize what he was up to. I will ask a friend some time.
I must say when I read that my imagination switched from the feeling of being in a temple to being in my grandparents’ living room - that was really spooky…
Thanks for the detailed information about the clock and the time counting system! I had no idea about any of this.
第三夜 (while I was at it )
Uh, it doesn’t really get better… I guess I need to read it once more to discover more interesting bits and pieces, as this is the one I will be discussing on Saturday, and so far I have no idea whatsoever about it… I think now I know why they picked this one.
The story is as follows: A man carries his child on his back. The child looks like a young child but talks like an adult, and also his eyes are “crushed” (would that literally mean they are damaged, or just that he is blind?). He carries the boy but he is very annoyed about that, and so he thinks about getting rid of him by abandoning him in a nearby forest. The boy actually asks him to go to the forest, and at a certain point he seems to know exactly where they are, and reminds the man that he killed somebody in that spot in 1808 (in the 5th year of the Bunka era, a dragon year), 100 years ago. Then the boy turns into a stone Jizou statue. The End.
EDIT: I read a bit about the meaning of Jizou. Turns out he is a representation of Buddha, and a pretty unusual one, with a shaven head and often with the face of a child or even a baby. He accompanies the souls of the dead to the underworld, and especially for the souls of the children, he helps them cross the river (in Buddhism there seems to be the same imagery as in Greek mythology with the river Styx - very interesting!) as they cannot do that alone because they are too small. If you’ve ever been to a Buddhist temple with a huge number of these small statues, they have apparently been placed there by the parents of a child that died young (or was aborted or - in former times - killed right after birth).
I think this deepens the story quite a bit. Did the man really kill his own child there at the foot of the tree? And the dream comes to haunt him for his deed? Or is the dream meant to comfort him - i.e. Jizou now cares for his child?
Both English translations of this dream that I have render it as simply “gone blind”.
My interpretation of this is
it’s about a past life, and the narrator’s murder victim coming to him in a dream to remind him of this past crime. 1808 was 100 years before the publication of the Dreams, too.
Note that the killing is of a blind man, not a child; the victim is just appearing in the form of a child in this dream (probably being carried around by the narrator as a symbol of karma for past deeds being carried around). That’s why the child speaks to the narrator as an equal, like an adult, and appears to be older than his age, I think.
I liked this one a lot, and I thought it was again easier to read. Phew.
I too thought the “child” was a representation of his guilty conscience, even before the story progressed. Not sure why the child was blind, but it certainly added an eerie feeling that he could still sense everything (Eugenia). The child asked “Am I heavy?” and then continued “I’m going to be”. Once you realize what you’re carrying, he probably meant.
I’ve come across mentions of Jizo statues several times in books. They are often found in various states of disrepair along country roads, and they’re supposed to protect travelers (and also to represent dead children). There was some detail in a book I read recently about something gruesome about these statues, but I forget. I’ll report back when if remember it.
One of my English translations has an explanatory note “Some see a connection between the events of this dream and Soseki’s own unhappy childhood” (he was born to aged parents who were too embarrassed by this to bring him up initially and farmed him out to another couple, and then later took him in but pretended to be his grandparents, so “parent thinking about abandoning a child who seems like a burden” is maybe inspired by that personal history).
Oh thanks for pointing this out! I was somehow under the impression that he turned into a Jizo statue. I still find it very intriguing that he mentions Jizou of all things, but it definitely has a different notion from what I thought.
That really is a very interesting background story! Thanks for mentioning it here
Absolutely. I realize it wasn’t clear, but when I wrote “Once you realize what you’re carrying”, I meant that he’d realize he was carrying his murder victim (or representation thereof), not a statue, and the guilt would weigh on him.
No! I think I had vaguely heard of that practice before, but never in such a detail, nor with such dark humour. Anyway, no, it was a legend of some sort, something to do with the form of some Jizo statues, and I don’t even know if it was true or just part of the book, but it won’t matter anyway until I remember details. I may try and look it up later.
Edit: Nevermind, I looked it up and it was nothing important or relevant. There was an urban legend about some Jizo statues with worn-out faces in Kamakura, and that if you saw all three of them you would die, or something similar. I’m not even sure whether the legend was just in the book (very likely) or it existed in real life as well. In any case, it may be a misconception derived from the phrase 地蔵の顔も三度, which basically means that even a mild-mannered person will react if provoked enough, if I understand correctly. Nothing to do with our story here
I interpreted it as her saying, “I’m dying,” because if もう死んでいる is “you are already dead,” then 死んでいる is “to be dead” and 死ぬ would be “to die (in the future)” or “to be dying.” She says, “I’m dying,” and the narrator has a difficult time believing it because she doesn’t look to him like a woman who’s dying. But she says again, “I’m dying,” and asks him to wait for her for she’ll come to see him once more after 100 years. And then she closes her eyes, and true to her word, she dies.
I’m voting the latter. He counts each time the sun rises and sets and eventually loses track of “how many times [he’s] seen the red sun,” […] “but even so, 100 years still haven’t passed.” And then because time doesn’t work the same way in dreams, the lily grows from the grave and he kisses it and he realizes that 100 years have indeed passed.
I also wonder if the wife being buried under the moonlight, the period of 100 years, and the white lily were all chosen deliberately. The moon is white, and so is the lily she’s reborn as (plus she’s described as being pale-complexioned in life—my version at least has a note on 瓜実顔: “瓜の実のような色白で面長な顔,” whereas when I looked it up in Shirabe it just said “oval face (e.g. of a beautiful woman)”). His wife wants him to wait 100 years for her return, and “lily” is written 百合, “100” + “meet” (even if people meeting is usually 会)