「東下り 小野小町」 (Azumakudari Ono no Komachi)
“Eastward – Ono no Komachi”
Regrets – there is not one person in the world who does not have them. It is human nature to long for things we cannot have, and to always wonder the “what-ifs”, especially at a fork in the road – it is impossible not to wonder about the road not taken, to wonder what waited for them at the end of the pathway they never took. More than Yoshiko’s poem, I find Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken or Nothing Gold Can Stay more apt to apply to this episode, since the two poems both encapsulate the emotions faced by the characters – Narihira and Yoshiko more than Yasuhide. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Yasuhide is an inherently optimistic person; it was evident from last episode that when everything was said and done, Yasuhide was probably a happier person than Narihira was – he may not have had the status and influence his fellow poet had, but in the end Yasuhide walked away with a sense of self-worth and assuredness Narihira lacked; this episode seems to further indicate he has a sense of contentment with his life that is absent from Yoshiko and Narihira.
Age is a frightful thing for many, since not only does it represent physical restrictions and dwindling freedom, it also dampens mental aptitude and brings about an inevitable bout of regret and melancholy. As years pass by, people grow less passionate, as obstacles youth made invisible become clearer than ever with age and experience – it’s no longer so easy to love, or to live without abandon. A wiser, more cautious perspective replaces the previously vivacious one, and without a sense of contentment, firm roots that define their life at this time, people can face an existential crisis as they question their lives. This is particularly true for people who have had to choose between two equally important, great things – people make sacrifices all the time, but some sacrifices are ultimately bigger and hence have more impact.
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Take Yoshiko for example. She is a very divisive character, but she’s definitely an interesting figure in a character study. It is quite easy to take her as a vain woman that just now questions the value of the life she left behind when her beauty and fame can’t carry her any further. I wouldn’t completely disagree with this assessment, as there are some aspects of Yoshiko’s character that do seem a little vain. But the loneliness and the fear she feels are both real, along with her genuine regret and desire for the life she forsook. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say she carried that “what-if” for all of her life even before the mid-life crisis, but it is much more vivid now in a time of vulnerability and sadness – left all alone, what does she have? If she had married Munesada, what would she have wondered instead on this night? She certainly would have been happy if she had chosen Munesada, but then she could have written the same poem, but only in a different context. The flower of her potential would have wilted while she dedicated herself to her husband and family. It’s obvious she can’t have both – everyone who has ever had to choose between something knows this – that’s why it’s called a sacrifice. When faced with one, it’s not simply about which one will make them the happiest, or less sad, because both are choices that would offer equal happiness. It’s about choosing the option one can live with, the option that offers the least amount of regret. Regret is the most fearful thing in the equation, since it’s more powerful than the initial sadness; it tempers with what is to create what might be, something far worse than giving something up. Now they’re left with what could have been, which is completely free to be created by imagination and lingering hope.
The fact is though – and the show does imply this as well – even if she could relive her life, Yoshiko would choose the path of poetry and the palace again. For her, this was the choice that gave her the least amount of regret… or rather, a regret that is easier to live with. She’ll always wonder how a life with Munesada could have been, but in the end, her desire to live her own life would have weighed on her heart more. Yoshiko is a spirited woman, one whose greater happiness comes from making her own choices despite whatever consequence. With Munesada, it’s likely the love could have eventually turned to chains instead, and the life she regrets not having now could just easily be shackles that she regrets having – both her spirits and her love would wither, and that’s a thousand times sadder and heartbreaking to see. At least with the road she took, Yoshiko can look back on her memories with fondness and remember the love she had.
Takaiko will probably always remain in Narihira’s memories as well, and it was bittersweet to know how much he felt for her. He made an equally difficult sacrifice in putting his love aside, and the fact his actions were tied into the consequences of age amplifies the wistful feeling. If only they had met a little earlier, would Narihira have had the courage to see his love through to the end? Their stations in life are obstacles that would have stood in their ways in youth and in age, but with youth comes impulsive courage – that is what Narihira refers to, the ability to “seize the day”, so to speak. Now, Narihira is someone that will probably have a harder time reconciling his decision, as the values and emotions he has as a lover is the closest to those he has as a person. To have given “The One” up means far more to him than it does to Yoshiko, whose happiness lay not in the pursuit of love with another, but love of oneself. But as they say, with love, timing is everything.
To wrap up, I have to say I greatly enjoyed watching Yasuhide, Narihira, and Yoshiko as a trio, as they were three unlikely personalities that came together to create a surprisingly well-weaved camaraderie. I was appreciative of the focus on their friendship, since all three of them needed it in one way or another. The last two episodes might not have gone into excruciating detail about how close they all became, but it offers enough of a snapshot for viewers to surmise they had a significant impact in each other’s lives.
Poem of the Week: Hyakunin Isshu #9 by Ono no Komachi
Color of the flower
Has already faded away,
While in idle thoughts
My life passes vainly by,
As I watch the long rains fall
(Ogura Hyakunin Isshu)
To put it simply, the poem is about beauty fading away with old age. Whether or not that is the true theme is up for debate. Flowers are often used as symbols of beauty, and it’s certainly used in a similar way here, to denote the sheer transience of its color. But they’re also used to illustrate the frailty of life when pitted against time; more often than not, a flower in bloom is used to depict life in full swing, and the its brief lifespan is used to bolster the carpe diem motto (e.g. To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Kerrick). What the flower stands for in this poem however, is a fair question: is it simply beauty, or standing in as a symbol for something bigger, like the concept of life and time? The poem can seem very superficial if the image of beauty is taken at face value – as a flower wilts with time, beauty is but a brief vanity that disappears with age. However, if the idea of the flower’s beauty is to be taken as a person’s identity – what defines them – instead, the poem suddenly gains more gravitas in terms of impact and importance. It really depends on how deep one wants to dig into the poem, and what they perceive the flower’s color to mean.
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The tone of the poem is wistful and melancholy, which is no surprise considering the message it conveys. “Faded away” in the second line suggests the flower’s death was quiet and uneventful, which gives off a pitiful and lifeless feeling. The word “already” dampens the atmosphere even more, as it implies the loss of the flower’s color has occurred even before the speaker has had a chance to notice, to prepare themselves for its disappearance. It reinforces a feeling of invisibility, making the flower seem forgotten and unnoticed as it reaches the end of its days. The choice of diction in the poem in general teeters between bitterness and regret, with words such as “vainly” being strong enough to indicate a sense of dissatisfaction the speaker has with their lives, but words with softer sounds such as “flower”, “long”, “rain”, and “fall” ultimately softening the emotions to portray a strong sense of regret instead. In essence, the latter half of the poem goes from “What the hell have I been doing with my life” to “Where has my time gone” – two sides of the same coin really, with the only difference being one sounds a lot harsher than the other. And the tone strongly suggests it is the latter, as the image of a flower’s color is in no way bold or strong enough to depict bitterness or sheer dissatisfaction. The entire poem is rather subdued and places emphasis on the quiet passing of time, so it’s quite fair to make the assumption the speaker is looking back on the days gone by rather than bemoaning the wasted time.
Full-length images: 2, 9, 10, 12, 22, 31, 34, 36.
Love what you’re doing with the poems, Mochi! Really puts helps to put each episode into perspective. Keep it up! 😉
😀 Thanks so much! Glad you enjoy my rambling XD
Cue lame poem:
If KuroBasu has Kise then Uta Koi has Narihira… maybe we won’t be able to see him again as the 6 Immortal Poets arc is now finished.
you just voiced my biggest concern. i am going to miss Narihira if this is his really really last episode.
while i usually like to see a more chronological timeline, i like what UtaKoi does in showing Narihira in the different phases of his life; we’ve seen Narihira as the lover (ep1), the brother (ep1), the mentor (ep2), the friend (ep4) and lastly, the heartbroken guy (ep5). ignoring whether it’s faithful and true to actual history or not, i do like this liberal retelling/story-weaving of the man who is the main inspiration for Hikaru Genji in Genji Monogatari.
I thought Narihira was the inspiration for the central character of Ise monogatari (The Tales of Ise)?
Nope, glancing at Wikipedia, it seems he was an inspiration for both.
don’t know much about Tales of Ise per se, but from watching every possible adaptation of Genji Monogatari (anime, movie, manga), i would say i see Narihira very strongly in Genji’s character.
You know I really wanted to like this anime especially since I LOVED chihaya furu. But there’s just too much lost in translation for me. After 4 episodes, I think I’m going to drop this one.
That’s unfortunate – sorry to hear that! 🙁
Also, this might be really random, but are you Korean by any chance?? loll
This is a rare romanization for 회이팅 since the usual is Hwaiting. Or maybe he/she fused it to another variation of this word, 파이팅 (Fighting). This is will be the first time, for me, that a Korean (if he/she really is) romanized it into that.
i really liked this episode. It was nice to see that Yoshiko had moments of doubt compared to the episode when she was so determined (and in my opinion, naive as well) about going to the palace and making a name for herself. Seeing her a bit lost really helped develop her as a character and it also made her more relatable since we’ve all felt lost at one point or another. This episode did a nice job of adding some humor into it too. Just when Yoshiko is crying, Narihira attacks her and the ensuing scene is just hilarious! I also enjoyed all of the poems that were in this episode! I thought they were appropriate and fit in nicely with the context of the episode.
Yeah… I feel like this episode went a long way in making Yoshiko a little more sympathizable to me as well.
“The lights… THE LIGHTS!” XDD
This ep reminds me of what I said to a friend earlier today lol
As a human being, we crave for what we cannot have constantly. When faced with a choice we choose road 1 and live with the consequences but eventually somewhere down the road we’ll start wanting road 2. No one wants to admit it but it’s called selfish desire.
Btw at least we know back in ep one when Narihara spoke to Takaiko about poetry being a source for freedom we now know he got it from Yasuhide. lol
Yeah… I think everyone faces that crisis at least once in their lifetime. It’s impossible to avoid wondering “what if”.
What got me the most about this ep has to be Narihira and his discussion of age, though, because it’s so true on so many levels.
Narihira/Yasuhide bromance FTW.
Thanks again Bakamochi.
The poem really resonates with me, while not exactly about ruefully regretting things at old age but reflecting dreams and wishes we had when we were younger before reality hits.
I especially like how they portray how these poets love their art of composing poetry. I wish all those literature and poetry in other cultures would be presented like this, in anime form or similar. What do you all think?
I love this series..the bits of humor, the mood, the characters..everything xD
I was shocked that Munesada became a monk though.
Munesada becomes Monk Henjo as depicted in his poem…
This episode brings laughter (when Narihira sneaked upon Yoshiko), sadness (as Yoshiko dreams about the choice she might had chosen), and melancholy for the regrets as one has in life.
Age really does has an impact in choosing the way we live… and I think Munesada couldn’t bear himself to forget the love he has for Yoshiko than he choose to be a monk (in the last episode, he wasn’t yet a monk, according to the head he had: monks are bald).
Yoshiko and Narihira… the limited choices in life. To choose a life in which they won’t have regrets is hard during the era. I sympathize with them, but then again, we cannot neither choose the era we to born nor to turn back time.