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Ihara Saikaku’s This Scheming World is a classic of Edojidai Japanese literature. The book is a series of vignettes, all centered around New Year’s Day. In Tokugawa-era Japan, New Year’s Day was the major occasion for settling debts, much as Michaelmas traditionally was in England. Every story shows chonin, the urban merchant class, scrimping for money, begging for money, scamming for money. In story after story, Saikaku lightly shows how the need for cash overcomes all else, twists every aspect of human life, causes people to lie to themselves and each other.

Wait a second-a witty, urbane voice with a decidedly cynical viewpoint? That reminds me of a band!

This Scheming World
(to the tune of The Smiths’s ‘This Charming Man‘)

Empty moneysleeve
And my future’s desolate
Will fortune make me beg for rice yet?

Poor in this scheming world
This scheming world

How can I thrive
Financially
When silk costs so much per half
hiki?

I would go out tonight
but I haven’t got a
mon to spare
My landlord
is outside
He’s intent on getting his share

A broke-ass chonin boy
With a valuable
koto
He says “I’ll hock the strings”
It costs too much to buy my things
It costs too much to buy my things

Quite a long time ago, I did my senior thesis on the era of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the thick of it, I would find myself making up little songs, such as this one, about the first of Japan’s unifiers Oda Nobunaga, to the tune of Phish’s “Golgi Apparatus.”

I look into the Sansom book
just to check my saga (saga!)
I look into Azuchi times,
I see Oda Nobunaga

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

They call him daimyo-man
’cause he told them to
If you served the Oda clan,
you’d do it too

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

I SAW YOU
With the shogun’s head in your lap
I SAW YOU
With the shoguns’s head in your lap!
I SAW YOU

Run through Japan,
Get to the can,
Couldn’t get it wrong,
So I’ll have to-

Look into the Sansom book
just to check my saga
I look into Azuchi times,
I see Oda Nobunaga

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

 

 

In my youth, I was promised a future in which Japan would take over the world.

In its stead, I received a future in which Japan is dying.

That’s OK. The Japan that would have taken over the world was not that Japan that I wished would have. It’s better this way.

It occurred to me I could post Japanese poetry on this blog.

 

When the floating bridge

Of the dream of a spring night

Was snapped, I awoke:

In the sky a bank of clouds

Was drawing away from the peak

 

-Fujiwara no Teika. From the Shinkokinshu collection, early 13th century