JOK Notebook

Portal to Another World

Ten years ago today, someone called me at 3:30 a.m. to say that my closest friend had gone into labor and that I should rush to the hospital so I wouldn't miss the kid's arrival. It was imminent, they said; the birth could occur within the hour. I raced through the darkness to a hospital a half hour away, and then we waited ... and waited ... and waited. The estimate was off by about nine hours. Eventually, amid unthinkable pain, extreme noise, and tears of hopeless frustration (shed by multiple people), he emerged from his mother as promised. 

I was asked to be the photographer, and I captured all sorts of images that I've never seen—mainly shots of my friend's genitals up close and very personal. It was a rather strange assignment, now that I think about it! But it was the only chance I'd ever had to witness a birth, and it was powerful and unforgettable, distended genitals and all! 

I went home in a sleep-deprived state and planted several plants that I had just bought. Ten years later, one of them lives on, and as I wash dishes, I take in its lilac blooms from my kitchen window.

The plant has survived a decade in which so much else has died that I can barely tally the losses. Lately, my sense of grief has been particularly acute, and when I came across the following phrase this week, I wrote "YES":

to have a partition around the heart

心 (こころ: heart); 垣 (かき: partition); 巡らす (めぐらす: to surround)

Yes, indeed. Perhaps a partition would protect the aching heart.

This concept reminds me of The Little Prince and the glass globe and screen with which he sheltered his beloved rose from the elements. See, he was a much better gardener than I! It wouldn't even occur to me to do something like that for a plant. Nevertheless, as you know, my plant is doing fine.

Oh, the decade-old boy is thriving, too. He's all legs with a shock of blond hair.

When he was almost three, his grandfather died. A baby brother arrived nine months later. And the boy who is all legs announced that his grandfather was inside the baby. I suppose his statement wasn't provable, but it certainly seemed to make sense, and it gave us chills, along with a few other psychic-sounding statements he made around that time.

I know little about children, but that boy seemed like a portal to another world. Maybe they all do with their unfathomable fantasies. Come to think of it, didn't The Little Prince touch on that theme, with the child's ability to imagine what adults can't begin to comprehend?

In the new essay 2115 on 枕 (pillow; bolster), one word reminded me of the portal-to-another-world idea:

枕返し (まくらがえし: overturning a pillow while sleeping)     pillow + flipping

According to folklorist Noboru Miyata, the Japanese once believed that dreams transported them into another world. In hopes of inducing dreams, people would burn a kind of incense that made them sleepy. (I love that they experimented with altered states of consciousness long before Woodstock and the Summer of Love.) 

Thus, the pillow came to be a special item that would take people to that other world. To put it another way, the pillow was the borderline between the waking world and a different dimension. 

If someone overturned a pillow while sleeping, it was called 枕返し, and it meant that all order had been upended and that things had become strange and undisciplined.

That can also happen thanks to another meaning of 枕返し:

枕返し (まくらがえし: child ghost who flips pillows)     pillow + flipping

Now we're back to the theme of children.

This kind of ghost takes the form of a small child dressed as a monk, a samurai, or a Nio (仁王, におう: a guardian of Buddha) and is known for being a prankster. In particular, a 枕返し will snatch a pillow from under a person’s head, leaving the pillow at the feet. Some 枕返し will flip people instead of pillows or will sit on the sleeper’s chest, squeezing the air out of the lungs. (I think my dog has been taking notes from a 枕返し!)  

As long as I'm doing a dreamlike stream of consciousness here, I'll share with you my amazement about "Nio." This word caught me by surprise because I'd never heard it, or not that I remember. Also, I found it in romaji and couldn't figure out what it corresponded to in kanji (and therefore what it meant). My proofreader opened that portal for me by supplying 仁王 (におう) and some basic information about those guardian statues. 

Just days later I did research for an essay on 柵 (fence with spaced slats), trying in particular to find out about this kind of fence:

金剛柵 (こんごうさく: fence with vertical stakes protecting statues of Nio)

Aha! The definition includes "Nio"!

The fence is called that because the top of each stake resembles a 金剛杵 (こんごうしょ), one deity's mystical weapon. (As I read about the idea behind the shape of the stakes and its various indentations, I marveled for the thousandth time about the endless depth of symbolism in Japan.) You can see the stakes at the last link and to some degree in this image:

Photo Credit: 663highland

Two Nio statues protected by 金剛柵 at Zentsu-ji Temple (Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku).

I also read about the 仁王門 (におうもん), the kind of gate in which Nio statues are housed, and that discussion touched on 楼門 (ろうもん: two-story gate), reminding me of essay 1939 on 楼 (multistory building; tower) and how much fun I had when I stumbled upon a hanzi version of that character in the Las Vegas Chinatown, which I also very much enjoyed discovering ....

Now that I think about it, the Internet itself is a portal to another world and inspires dreamlike trails of transformation and discovery. Who needs incense or clairvoyant kids when we can click on links endlessly and lose ourselves in images of faraway lands with mythical imagery?!

I'm just joking. Of course we need clairvoyant kids. Happy double-digit birthday to Mr. Long Legs. 

And for everyone else, be sure to check out essay 2115 on 枕. Here's a sneak preview:

Have a great weekend!


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