The Hokusai Anthology of the One Hundred Poets

Son gave self the above-named book for Christmas! A new translation by Peter Morse and printed by George Braziller. Self dropped by Books Inc. in Mountain View with son last week and saw the book on display. After picking it up and glancing briefly through it, self put it back when she saw the price: $50. She didn’t even notice son watching her, he usually heads straight for the science fiction section and she is sure she didn’t spend more than five minutes looking at it. Son has the most uncanny intuition about what she would like for Christmas!

(Last year, he gave self a beautiful bound journal with blank pages and a nice Mont Blanc pen. Self uses up journals so fast that she gets the cheapest kinds, the ones that cost $5 from Target. But this journal was absolutely the most beautiful notebook self had ever owned. She’s saving it up for when she goes on that grand European tour and wants to jot down impressions. And she uses the pen when she has to sign books.)

So, self loves the Hokusai book so much. She remembers a story from her childhood about a fishing village in Japan that built their houses facing away from the sea, because the sea had taken so many lives, and the accompanying woodblock print was by Hokusai. That was how she first heard of him.

Now, perusing the book slowly, self comes across the print for a poem by Fujiwara no Atsutada (904 to 944). The print shows a woman standing before a mighty tree, a hammer in one hand, a nail in the other, a second nail held firmly between her teeth. On the woman’s head are three guttering candles. This is how the text explains the image:

. . . the ceremony of Ushi no Toki Mairi (Praying at the Hour of the Ox — i.e., two o’clock in the morning) is a means of casting a spell on an unfaithful lover. Only women could do it. The woman wakes, dons a white robe, and puts a metal tripod on her head, holding three lit candles. She wears a mirror on her chest and carries a straw doll in her left hand, representing the lover. Her hair is left loose; in her right hand she carries a hammer and nail to attach the straw figure to one of the trees surrounding the temple. She goes to the Shinto temple . . . at two in the morning, nails the figure and then prays to the gods for vengeance . . . It is supposed to be repeated several nights in succession for best effect.

Fascinating, just fascinating . . .

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