“Twenty-fourth day: The provincial overseer of religion arrived to give us a farewell party. Every one, high and low, old and young, was fuddled with drink. Even people who have never learned to write the figure one were merrily dancing figures of eight.”
Note: Reading the Tosa Nikki (Tosa Diary), the Japanese poet and diplomat Ki no Tsurayuki’s sea voyage account from 936 AD two nights ago, and then remembering it in last night’s freezing cold weather, reminded me how comforting a little brandy (and a little more) would be.
The poet’s anonymous/heteronymnous work has this surprising beginning as he dons his mask:
“Diaries are written by men, I am told. Nevertheless I am writing one, to see what a woman can do.”
Immediately above is a calligraphic excerpt from the Tosa Nikki. Ki no Tsurayaki’s portrait appears below. The strikingly beautiful photograph at the head of this post shows a contemporary bridge in Kōchi prefecture, the modern name for ancient Tosa.
The Tosa Nikki is in all its remarkable details a bridge across millennia and only apparently different cultures. I would like to meet Ki no Tsurayaki, drink saké with him and my wife, and introduce him to my daughter Jane. We canceled our Japan trip several years ago at what then seemed like the height of the Troubles. Perhaps it’s time to reschedule before it’s too late.
Excerpt from the Tosa Nikki, trans. G.W. Sargent, included in Donald Keene (ed.), Anthology of Japanese Literature, New York, Grove Press, Inc., 1955.