Part II

Let’s talk about the key metaphorical element in this part: Her sleeves wet from the rain.

Poems were the most important way of communication during the Heian era, they were used to express all kinds of emotion, but also in games for entertainment. One metaphor you will find in many poems are the wet sleeves. They are alluded to in a number of ways (one of which is rain) but they always expressed only one thing: tears. ( I know it’s pretty cheap) There are probably thousands of Japanese poems in which someone is writing about lost love, making their sleeves drip with tears. There is even a gesture in Nô, a form of traditional Japanese theater, where an actor lifts his arms towards his face, indicating catching the tears with his sleeves. It was perfectly acceptable for men to cry just as much as women, by the way. Not only when their hearts were broken, men could also break into tears just because they looked at a cherry blossom and remembered that all things will pass.

The Heian era was a time so sensible that they even had an expression for the feeling of being touched by something: Mono no aware (ものの哀れ). It was the ultimate feeling and every man and every woman of the nobility had to possess it. People during the Heian time had a Baroque-like sense of memento mori without the redeeming carpe diem to accompany it, so basically just depression. Imagine being locked in dark rooms all your life, without much moving but lots of alcohol, it’s not hard to guess where those feelings came from.


Chocho Monogatari, Part Two

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