Of Place and Wind 4: Fascination with the moon

Tetsuya Kaida indulges in his fascination with the moon and explores its symbolism.

For some reason, speaking of duality makes me want to write about the moon. About sensitivity and motherhood.

The moon floating in the night sky irradiates an indefinable gentleness and purity. Yes, gentleness and purity.

How about you, the reader of these words? What do you feel when watching the moon at night?

In Japan, we associate the moon with silence, purity, cleanliness, innocence. Anime is just one of the media that makes use of this symbolism. Since ancient times, the moon has been considered an indirect expression of human inner beauty and has inspired poetry, music and painting. Having lived surrounded by such cultural perceptions of the moon, I am mystified by the Western idea of the full moon as a power source engendering werewolves, vampires and other evil creatures.

Come to think of it, I remember one night when I was driving in the south of England and a splendid full moon was bathing the deep green forests of the hills in its glow. For some reason, what I felt at that moment was not purity, but a bewitching charm that reminded me of witch legends and the movie The Underworld (laugh). And I say this with no disrespect to England.

Just as Japan is an island country located to the east of the Eurasian mainland, the United Kingdom is an island country off the northwestern coast of Europe. It is tempting to compare them: the similarities and contrasts between their cultures and social traditions, their spirit of eccentricity and independence are endlessly interesting to me. England and Japan are also the only two countries where taxi drivers treat their customers with special dedication and courtesy, making them feel pampered and cared for during the ride. At least among the countries I have visited.

Once again, it seems that I have gone too far. I hope that taxi drivers from other countries will read lightly through the previous paragraph and then forget it, as it conceals no particularly deep meaning. After giving the issue more thought, I realize that it must have been in Rome that I was once so impressed with a taxi driver’s speed in getting me from the hotel to the airport, that I could not stop thinking for a while that he was a man of extraordinary genius.

I have been to England several times to prepare and hold a few somewhat unusual performances at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. On several occasions, I had the pleasure to speak with Lady March, the wife of the Earl of March who hosts the Festival. As I replay our conversations in my mind, I realize they revolved around such otaku-ish topics as ‘the power of the moon’, ‘previous life and reincarnation’, ‘Shinto and foxes, the messengers of the gods’ and ‘Ghibli animation’. Later, Lady March confessed to me that, as she was taking a walk with her dog right after our conversation, she saw a fox for the first time since she had come to live at Goodwood. She was thrilled. It occurred to me then that the Countess of March either had a special connection with the world of the supernatural, or may have been Japanese in a previous life.

It was for reasons related to this conversation that the following day I was approached by a woman with an enigmatic allure whom I had never seen before. At a loss for what to talk about, I brought up the subject of the moon. It suddenly sparked off vivid memories of her past. “When I was a child, I would watch the moon and feel something like a soul that I didn’t know about awakening deep inside me. I opened my heart and sang to the moon at the top of my voice”. To my embarrassment, it was only later that I found out that the young woman was the singer Rihanna, who had just risen to fame with her single Umbrella. I believe she asked me to keep this a secret, but I can always blame it on my poor English. Apologies, Rihanna. And, to be forgiven, I think I should invite her to see the Japanese moon.

We can conclude, therefore, that the moon also acts as the vehicle of fateful encounters (laugh).

Back on topic. It is well known that the moon does not emit its own light. It just reflects and pours down on us the light of the sun that falls upon it from various angles. It makes no big statement by itself, using instead just a tiny bit of the power of the giant star that is the sun to reveal its own existence in a most reserved manner.

Unlike the sun, which moves across the sky from morning to sunset, the moon does not abide by set rules. Because you never know when it appears and when it will set and because it grows and then fades away, it seems to be there just for the sake of the momentary realization that occurs when you notice its presence. It is there for you to feel it when you feel it. In this sense, it somehow resembles the cherry blossoms so symbolic of Japan, which only stay in bloom for a brief few days every year. I believe I am not the only one who perceives an extreme beauty in the moment when the cherry blossoms are swept away by a gust of wind. At the end of the movie The Last Samurai, as the dying hero watches the cherry blossoms stream like a snow storm above him, he whispers one word: “perfect”. I must admit though that, for a Japanese like me, there was something just too convenient about the scene.

The moon marks the cadence of the months to which it gives their name. It controls the unseen rhythms and forces inside the bodies of the living beings, just as it rules the rise and ebb of the tide. It is deeply connected with the principles of the universe and with some sort of maternal spirit that nourishes plants, animals and humans. Recent space science, which describes the universe and everything it contains as the ‘workings of life’, reflects this view.

There is a certain parallelism and complementarity between the rhythms of the sun and the moon. My thanks to the moon for its many wonders.

By the way, the nature of the moon has been captured in the beautiful classical Japanese expression kachōfūgetsu ‘flowers, birds, wind and moon’.

Japan’s ancient imaginary engendered one more unforgettable archetype of the moon: that of Princess Kaguya in the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Japan’s oldest tale from the tenth century.

On a night of full moon, in a bamboo grove deep in the mountains, a baby girl was born out of a glowing bamboo stalk. She was taken home by an elderly childless couple who raised her with the loving care deserved by a miraculous gift of the gods. In just three days Princess Kaguya grew into a woman of unworldly beauty. Many young noblemen came to ask for her hand in marriage, but, for some reason, the princess rejected all their requests. Finally, she revealed to her adoptive parents that heavenly escorts would come from the moon on the next harvest-moon night to lead her back to the lunar realm. Princess Kaguya accepted her fate and parted sorrowfully from the elderly couple, returning to the moon. It is a tale impregnated with unique sensitivity and feminine spirit.

I should also pay here my respects to the great minds of the past who have woven their fascination with the moon into such a beautiful narrative.

As I glanced for a moment at the sky over the hills of Western Mikawa, the moon smiled coyly back at me.

By Tetsuya Kaida

(This article originally written and published in 2010.)

Subscribe to the GLOBIS Insights Newsletter