Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Happy New Year, the Year of the Rat

Christopher Hellman is the author of The Samurai Mind. He is also the owner of the Ichijoji blog.

Today we have an excerpt from an article he posted about the Year of the Rat. The full post may be read here.

2020 is, in the Japanese tradition, the Year of the Rat (or mouse...take your pick – the term nezumi covers both in Japanese). The rat is usually considered a symbol of good luck, being associated with Daikokuten, the god of wealth. This association is usually explained as rats and mice being attracted by wealth (i.e. surplus food), and so signs of rodent activity, particularly nibbled mochi at New Year, were traditionally seen as good luck. It was also believed that rats stored up food for the winter, and this added to their reputation as animals of good fortune.

Kobayashi Issa reflected something of this in the following haiku:
      New Year's shelf –
      from a dark nook
      a lucky mouse

(Toshi-dana ya kurai hō yori fuku nezumi)

Connections with the bushi are, not surprisingly, not particularly common – warriors generally took more powerful animals as their symbols. The timorous mouse seems an unlikely symbol for a class that prided itself on courage. Rats, however, can be bold: Neko no Myojutsu (The Mysterious Skills of the Old Cat) is a well-known story that concerns one such animal. A ferocious rat is wrecking havoc in the house of a samurai, Shoken.

The rat proves too strong for his house cat, and even Shoken himself finds himself in trouble when he confronts it, so he enlists the aid of the local cats, famous for their rat-catching skills. Alas, they are also no match for the rat. whose speed and ferocity prove too much for them.

Finally, much to their surprise, Shoken's final gamble – a famous mouser whose rat-catching days seem long gone – pays off, and the old cat succeeds in catching the rat with ease. Later that evening, Shoken overhears the old cat explain how he was able to succeed where the others failed. This explanation is an account of some of the mental teachings involved in swordsmanship, and is said to have been connected to (or even part of) the teachings of the Itto ryu. For those interested, several translations are available...mine is available here.

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