Monday, May 31, 2010

Do not think of football as a secular game.

It is often remarked that to the Japanese mind, every thing is "holy," or at least potentially so. Having no concept analogous to The Fall, the Japanese view the natural world as perfect in and of itself. Far from something to be transcended, nature is to be carefully observed and emulated. Anything worth doing is worth doing perfectly, and any given activity is an opportunity to bring one's life into accord with nature, with the way things are. Still, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across the following description of an ancient Noh drama entitled Mari, or The Football, which in addition to illustrating this kind of Shintō pantheism, is freaking hilarious

(The Football)

A footballer died at the Capital. When the news was brought to his wife, she became demented and performed a sort of football-mass for his soul. "The eight players in a game of football," she declared, "represent the eight chapters in the Hokke Scripture. If the four goal-posts are added the number obtained is twelve, which is the number of the Causes and Effects which govern life. Do not think of football as a secular game."

The play ends with a "football ballet."

The Journal of the great twelfth century footballer, Fujiwara no Narimichi, contains the following story: "I had brought together the best players of the time to assist me in celebrating the completion of my thousandth game. We set up two altars, and upon the one we placed our footballs, while on the other we arranged all kinds of offerings. Then, holding on to prayer-ribbons which we had tied to them. We worshiped the footballs.

That night I was sitting at home near the lamp, grinding my ink with the intention of recording the day's proceedings in my journal, when suddenly the football which I had dedicated came bouncing into the room followed by three children of about four years old. Their faces were human, but otherwise they looked like monkeys. "What horrid creatures," I thought, and asked them roughly who they were.

"We are the Football Sprites," they said. "And if you want to know our names--" So saying they lifted their hanging locks, and I saw that each of them had his name written on his forehead, as follows: Spring Willow Flower, Quiet Summer Wood, and Autumn Garden. Then they said, "Pray remember our names and deign to become our Mi-mori, 'Honourable Guardian.' Your success at Mi-mari, 'Honourable Football,' will then continually increase."
And so saying they disappeared.

Excerpted from Waley, Arthur, The Nō Plays of Japan.

A moderately persistent Googling reveals that the game itself is called not mari but 蹴鞠, kemari, and came from China in the 7th century C.E. Read the wikipedia entry here . Once again I'm astounded and amused by what can be found by even a cursory look into Japanese history and culture. Thank you Arthur Waley!

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