Daimon Publishers

Dreams, Myths and Fairy Tales in Japan
Hayao Kawai



This book consists of five lectures which were originally given at Eranos Conferences, Ascona, Switzerland, from 1983 to 1988. All are concerned with Japanese culture: Japanese dreams, myths, fairy tales, and medieval stories.

In my youth, I was strongly attracted to Western culture. With my experiences of the Second World War, I came to hate the irrational and constantly vague Japanese attitude toward life. Scientific rational thinking stood as the symbol of the West and always as a creative treasure for me to capture.

In 1959, I came to the United States to study clinical psychology in order to become like a Westerner. The experience in fact opened the way to Jung's psychology, by which I was able to find myself as a Japanese. After my initial years of study in the United States, I went to the C.G. Jung Institute in Zrich, Switzerland, receiving a diploma there in 1965. Interestingly, Western analysts helped me find the values of Japanese culture. Before that, I was of the opinion that the Japanese must make efforts to establish a modern ego, following the European way completely. Then all of the unique features of Japanese tradition seemed for me to be utterly disgusting and unbearable. The old ways of living had to be discarded as soon as possible. However, I began to realize, through my analytical experiences, that European consciousness is not "the best" nor "the only one" for everybody in the world to attain. Jung talked about the importance of Self to which the conscious ego must surrender. If Self is most precious there might be other ways to reach it, other than following the European way with its ego-Self axis.

If Self-realization is understood as a process and not a goal, we can compare the process for Japanese and Westerners, and benefit each other without concern for which is better or worse. Although I still retain my opinion that the Japanese must learn from the modern European way of ego establishment, they do not have to imitate it completely. The Japanese must struggle to find their own way. For my part, I began to investigate Japanese mythology, fairy tales, and old stories because they contain so much knowledge of the unconscious. They were first told by a consciousness which is different from the modern ego. Their features give us hints about the new conscious states of we modern Japanese. Westerners might be interested in these new states, if they too are trying to find a way to go beyond their own modern ego.

In the first chapter, some medieval stories are discussed, especially those having to do with dreams. At that time, the demarcation lines between conscious and unconscious and between human beings and Nature are very thin. With that kind of consciousness, one can certainly have a different view of the world from that of modern people. Medieval persons can acknowledge inner reality much more freely and easily.

The second chapter is about a Japanese priest in the 12th-13th Centuries called "Mye," who keeps a dream diary until the end of his life. With interpretations of some of his dreams, I try to show how his state of consciousness is different from that of modern people. As a result of his dream experiences he claims to attain the state of "coagulation of body and mind." It is a hint for thinking about the difficult issue of the body and mind continuum. It is indeed a different approach from Descartes.

The third chapter deals with Japanese mythology. There I pay attention to gods who are neglected in the Japanese pantheon. The mightiest God is the center in Christianity; a god who does nothing stands in the center of the Japanese pantheon. This remarkable difference is reflected in their psychology and ways of living.

In the fourth chapter, I discuss Japanese fairy tales in connection with the theme of beauty. Japanese fairy tales have a completely different structure from Grimm's tales. We seldom find a Japanese fairy tale in which a male hero attains the goal of marrying a beautiful woman after accomplishing the difficult tasks assigned to him. In this chapter, I try to make it clear that the main thrust of Japanese fairy tales is aesthetic rather than ethical. Japanese fairy tales convey to us what is beautiful instead of what is good.

In the last chapter, I discuss the long medieval story called "Torikaebaya." A boy is raised as a girl, and a girl, his sister, is raised as a boy. The girl herself pretends to be a boy, even eventually marrying a woman. With the exchange of sexual roles, the story implies that the clearcut division between manliness and womanliness is artificial. Human beings have rich possibilities - one can be manly and womanly at the same time. The story gives us suggestions to enrich our ways of life.

In these chapters I compare some characteristics of Japanese culture with those of the West. I am afraid readers may feel I put too much value on the Asian side. In fact I think both are equally important. Until recently I had thought in terms of integrating the two, or of finding a third way somewhere between them. But nowadays I think it is impossible. I now feel that we can be conscious of the state of being we are in and of the advantage and disadvantage of it in detail. It might be better if we could switch from one attitude to another according to the situation.

I shall be happy if this book in some way helps readers in the West see their own way of life from a different angle.

I. Interpenetration: Dreams in Medieval Japan

1. Dreams

A dream is a peculiar product. When I have a dream, I refer to it as my dream, but to whom does the dream really belong? I call a painting mine insofar as it is my creation with which I am free to do as I wish - I can keep it or destroy it. We do not make our dreams and yet we call them our own. To speak of a dream as being "mine" is somewhat like saying, "This is my Picasso." Although Picasso did the painting, I claim it as mine and can do with it as I please. However, there is a problem with this analogy. Where is the "Picasso" who painted my dream? Furthermore, I cannot control a dream as freely as a painting. Sometimes I even feel that a dream destroys me.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that a dream is like a butterfly which happens to fly into my garden. I can see and appreciate it, but the butterfly comes and goes of its own accord. I can catch it and literally pin it down to analyze, but it would have undergone an important change, for then it would already be dead. Some of you may be familiar with the story of Chuang Tzu (ca. 330 B.C.) and the butterfly. Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he had become a butterfly. Upon awakening he wondered whether it was a human being who had just dreamt of being a butterfly, or a butterfly which had dreamt that it had become a human being. Chuang Tzu raises a big question: Can it be that my whole life is someone else's dream?

Most people today assume that their dreams belong to them, but do not feel responsible for what they dream. This contradictory attitude reveals a flaw in the prevalent understanding of dreams. I think it may be more accurate to say that they belong to the cosmos as well as to the human being who sees them.

In this respect people in pre-modern societies had a more suitable attitude towards their dreams. Before I explain what I mean by this, I would like to tell a story about dream experiences in medieval Japan. The following episode appears in the Uji Shui Monogatari (USM), a collection of stories compiled at the beginning of the thirteenth century:

There was a man living with his wife and only daughter. He loved his daughter very much and made several attempts to arrange a good marriage for her, but was unable to succeed. Hoping for better fortune he built a temple in his backyard, enshrined it with the bodhisattva of compassion, Kannon, and asked the deity to help his daughter. He died one day, followed by his wife shortly thereafter, and the daughter was left to herself. Though her parents had been wealthy she gradually became poor and eventually even the servants left.

Utterly alone, she had a dream one night in which an old priest emerged from the temple of Kannon in the backyard and said to her, "Because I love you so much, I would like to arrange a marriage for you. A man I have called will visit here tomorrow. You should do whatever he asks." The next night a man with about thirty retainers came to her home. He seemed quite kind and proposed to marry her. He was attracted to her because she reminded him of his deceased wife. Remembering the words which Kannon had spoken to her in her dream, she accepted his proposal. The man was very pleased and told her that he would be back the next day after attending to some business.

More than twenty of his retainers remained behind to spend the night at her home. She wanted to be a good hostess and prepare a meal for them, but she was too poor to do so. Just then an unknown woman appeared who identified herself as the daughter of a servant who used to work for the parents of the hostess a long time ago. Sympathetic to the hostess' plight, she told the latter that she would bring food from her home to feed the guests. When the man returned the next day, she helped the daughter of her parents' master again by serving the man and his attendants. The hostess showed her gratitude by giving her helper a red ceremonial skirt (Jpn. hakama).

When the time came to depart with her fianc, she went to the temple of Kannon to express her thanks. To her surprise she found the red skirt on the shoulder of the statue; she realized then that the woman who had come to help her was actually a manifestation of Kannon.

In this story we see the free interpenetration of this world and the dream world, a common feature of medieval Japanese stories concerning dreams. What Kannon foretells in the dream is realized in the waking world, and the bodhisattva manifests himself in the form of an actual human being.

Before continuing I would like to say a little more about the sources which I am using. These are the Uji Shui Monogatari, which I mentioned earlier, and the Mye Shonin Yume no Ki, or The Dream Diary of Saint Mye.

During the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods in Japan several major collections of religious stories were compiled. The USM is one of these and contains anecdotes, legends, and records of historical events from India, China, and Japan which Buddhist priests used in their sermons. All strata of society are represented in these tales. Unknown members of the lower classes as well as famous warriors and nobles appear in them. It is difficult to say how and when they evolved; some have been transmitted down to this day in the form of fairy tales and are still being modified. Although they are primarily didactic Buddhist episodes, they are interesting from the standpoint of depth psychology due to the inclusion of dreams and fantasies. Many of them appear in variations or in virtually the same version in several different collections. I have chosen the USM because it contains many outstanding examples of the interpenetration of the dream and waking worlds. The period of its compilation overlaps with the life of Mye (1173-1232) whose dreams I will also discuss.

2. Life and Death

The land of death is easily entered in the dreams of medieval Japan. The following is a typical example:

There was a Buddhist priest named Chiin Kano who failed to keep the precepts and was only interested in worldly affairs. On the side of the road leading up to his temple there was a tower enshrined with an old neglected statue of the bodhisattva Jizo. Occasionally the priest would remove his hood and bow to the statue as he passed by.

After he died, his master said, "That priest was always breaking the precepts. He was so bad he's surely gone to hell," but the master still felt sorry for him.

Shortly thereafter, some people from the temple noticed that the statue of Jizo had disappeared from the tower and thought that the statue might have been taken out for repair.

One night the master had a dream: A priest appeared and said, "Jizo has gone to hell with priest Chiin Kano in order to help him." The master then asked why Bodhisattva Jizo had gone to accompany such a bad priest. The priest in the dream replied, "Because Chiin Kano bowed to Jizo sometimes when he passed by the tower." Upon awakening, the master went to the tower to check for himself and saw that the statue of Jizo was actually gone

After a while he had another dream in which he went to the tower and found Jizo standing there. He asked why Jizo had reappeared, and a voice said, "Jizo has returned from hell, where he had gone to help Chiin Kano. The fire has burned his feet." Upon awakening, the master hurried to the tower and saw that Jizo's feet had actually been charred. He was deeply moved, and tears flowed down his face.

After hearing this story, many went to worship the statue of Jizo in the tower.

Jizo went to hell and returned to this world with actual evidence of his journey. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance were all related in dreams. The USM contains numerous stories in which not only bodhisattvas but ordinary humans also go to and return from the land of death, and a large number of these involve dreams. Whether such stories are "real" is not our concern. What is important is that through them we can learn about the kind of cosmos the people of that period lived in.

What we have seen so far is that their cosmology included the land of death, or life after death. In order to really think about our lives I feel that it is important to take a standpoint which encompasses both this world and the next.

Here is another story about a man who goes to the land of death:

There was a talented calligrapher named Toshiyuki, and some two hundred people asked him to copy the Lotus Sutra, an important Buddhist scripture. (It was customary during that time to have scriptures copied as a means of accruing merit towards an auspicious afterlife.)

One day Toshiyuki became mortally ill, and just as he thought, "I'm going to die," he was caught by an unknown man who took him to the land of death. There Toshiyuki saw two hundred horrible-looking people, all wearing armor and breathing fire from their mouths. Terrified, he asked his captor who these people were. The man told him that they were the ones who had asked Toshiyuki to copy the Lotus Sutra. They were now suffering unexpectedly because he had made the copies with defiled hands: he had failed to purify them after having relations with women or eating fish. Toshiyuki had not actually been fated to die, but was brought to the land of death to suffer revenge. His captor told him that his body would be cut into two hundred pieces, and his mind divided among them to experience the pain. They came to a river flowing with a thick, black liquid, and he was told that it was the ink which he had used to copy the sutra. The copies he had made had to be washed away because they were impure.

When he went before the court of the land of death, he vowed to copy the Suvarna-prabhsa Sutra, a lengthy four-volume scripture, and he was allowed to return to this world. He made this vow because the man had told him that this was the only way to be rescued. Upon returning he felt that what he had just experienced "was like looking into a clear, bright mirror," and he was firmly resolved to copy the sutra. But when he became well again, he forgot about everything and spent his time pursuing women instead.

He died a few years later, and an acquaintance named Tomonori Kino had a dream about him: Toshiyuki looked so terrible that he was hardly recognizable. He told Tomonori, "I came back to life with the help of my vow to copy sutras, but now I am suffering unbearably because I did not fulfill the vow. If you have any sympathy, please find the paper I had set aside for copying, take it to the monk at the temple of Miidera, and ask him to do what I had promised." The dream ended with Toshiyuki crying bitterly. As soon as he awoke he went to get the paper and took it to the monk at Miidera. The monk was glad to see him and said that Toshiyuki had appeared in a dream asking him to copy the sutra on the paper that Tomonori Kino brought.

The monk made the copies and held a service for Toshiyuki. He reappeared in the dreams of both Tomonori Kino and the monk of Miidera, and he looked much better.

Although what he saw in the land of death did not help him change his earthly life, his experiences there clearly mirrored his life in this world. The remarkable synchronicity of events in dreams, this world, and the land of death was not considered unusual.


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