This post assumes prior knowledge of the anime series. Discussions with spoilers after the jump.
What a hermetic show is Kyousougiga [京騒戯画]!
And lest you miss how hermetic it is, the producers of this show even give names like “learning preparation” [予習] and “learning review” [復習] to certain episodes, as if to emphasize that you are supposed to be “studying” it. While some shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion throw around cool-sounding occult terminologies in their dialogues necessarily or unnecessarily, other shows like Kyousougiga are free of occult terminologies but the story itself is nothing less than a soul-drama drawing on different spiritual traditions. Below is just a few points I wish to highlight.
Tetragrammaton and the Divine Family
The four main characters in the story are father, mother, son and daughter. Since both father and son have the exact same name, and the names of mother and daughter are pronounced exactly the same but written differently, to avoid confusion I shall refer to them as:
This four-character setup runs parallel to some esoteric interpretations of Tetragammaton, or YHWH, in which the mysteries of being and existence are said to be hidden. The four letters in YHWH (yod heh vah heh) symbolize father, mother, son and daughter respectively. The occultist Walter Jantschik (1939 – 2013) explains the hidden magical formula in The Formula of Tetragrammaton (1986) thus:
The Union of the Father and the Mother produces Twins, the son going forward to the daughter, the daughter returning the energy to the father; by this cycle of change the stability and eternity of the Universe is assured.
It is necessary, in order to understand the Tarot, to go back in history to the Matriarchal Age, to the time when succession was not through the first-born son of the King, but through his daughter. The king was therefore not king by inheritance, but by right of conquest. In the most stable dynasties, the new king was always a stranger, a foreigner; what is more, he had to kill the old king and marry the king’s daughter. This system ensured the virility and capacity of every king.
In the story of Kyousougiga, Myōeson was born an outsider to Kyoto Mirror City [鏡都], a virtual replica of the city of Kyoto [京都] created by the magic of Myōefather. In addition, Myōeson is filled with the death wish although he possesses the power of creation, whereas Kotodaughter passionately loves life even though she possesses the power of destruction. Kotodaughter cures her brother of his death wish and also rescues her father from his identity crisis. She gives her energy to the males of her family to preserve cosmic balance.
A Note on Names in the Divine Family (I) – Myōe
What is the significance of Myōeson taking on the name of Myōefather in the story? To the premodern Japanese mind, the change of a person’s name embody a unique worldview of how names are assigned to certain social functions, and while the social functions themselves remain more or less fixed in the river of time, the individuals carrying out those social functions themselves are in perpetual flux as individual human beings.
It works like this: A typical individual in pre-modern Japan would change his name at least half a dozen times in his life. Such an individual would be called by a “childhood name” when he is child; he would take on an “adult name” once he has reached adult age; if he is apprenticed to some art or trade, he would take on a name bestowed upon him by his master; once his apprenticeship is completed, he would take on a new name to signify that he is now a master of his art or trade in his own right. If he inherits his father’s craft or business, he may take on the very same name by which his father was known, signifying that he is now taking over. It is convenient to the outside world that he is known by the same name as his father, because he is performing the same set of functions associated with that name.
Meanwhile, for the father who retires, social convention would oblige him to abandon his old name and use a new name for his retirement. When he dies, social convention would again oblige his relatives to ask a Buddhist priest to bestow yet another new name for him in the afterlife.
The “childhood name” of Myōeson was Yakushimaru (you can tell that it is a childhood name by the fact that it ends with –maru). Myōeson becomes “Myōe” by inheriting his father’s power of creation. In the meantime, Myōefather moves on to another world, taking on a new name (“Inari” in this case) as his new identity.
A Note on Names in the Divine Family (II) – Koto
While Myōeson was only a human boy whom Myōefather resurrected from death and adopted as his own son, Kotodaughter was the one and only biological offspring between Myōefather and Kotomother. The names of Kotomother and Kotodaughter require some elaboration. In Japanese, their names are written as:
Kotomother = 古都 = “Ancient Capital”
Kotodaughter = コト = “Koto”
In the story, Kotodaughter is said to be special in the sense that she is the product of a god and a bodhisattva. Her name “Koto” may be a wordplay on the Japanese word koto [こと], about which no fruitful discussion can be carried out without also mentioning the Japanese word mono [もの].
These are used in complex grammatical structures and the simplest rule-of-thumb (but keep in mind that there are always exceptions) to understand them is that mono is used for objects or person which has a concrete physical existence, whereas koto is used for abstractions such as an idea or a concept.
But the thing that makes mono and koto interesting as indicators of the worldview underlying the Japanese language (similar to the way “the” as definite article and “a” as indefinite article embody a worldview unique to English and similar European languages) is that a lot of things and people have a physical aspect as well as an abstract aspect. For example, you have a physical aspect as a person occupying a certain amount of space, but you also have an abstract aspect – for example, as memory in someone’s else mind. Therefore, even when you are referring to the same person, you are obliged to sometimes use mono and sometimes use koto depending on the situation. This is because you both exist in physical presence and as an abstract concept.
In the story, Kotodaughter is entrusted with a hammer called Aratama, which is said to embody the “heart” and “soul” of her divine father. She travels to Kyoto Mirror City [鏡都], where nothing is ever destroyed and no one ever dies – except with her Aratama, which has the power to cause destruction and death. Could her name “Koto” be a metaphysical metaphor that in order to destroy something (or someone), you must first destroy the thing in concept? Once the concept is destroyed, the destruction of its physical existence would naturally follow? Recall that Myōefather‘s power of creation requires him to draw a picture before the object materializes in the physical world. Once the concept is created, its physical existence would also follow.
Myōe, Esoteric Buddhism and Rishu-kyō
In the story, Myōefather has the magical power to make anything he draws materialize. Visual hints suggest that at the beginning Myōefather probably lived near if not right in Tō-ji, a temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto founded by the great Kukai (774–835). Later, Myōefather is forced t0 move away from Kyoto’s town center to Kōzan-ji (a temple that is today ordained with the Shingon sect). Why do I keep emphasizing the Shingon sect? It is because Myōefather‘s experience of earthly love – as endorsed by the bodhisattva in the scroll painting in his room – surely requires some explanation.
A black rabbit named Kotomother, which was created by Myōefather in a drawing, has fallen in love with him. The bodhisattva, in her wisdom and compassion, sees through Koto’s desire and transforms Kotomother as an avatar of herself, so that the latter can develop a relationship with him. “There is trouble in his heart,” says the bodhisattva, “I can see the future with my eyes but not the past. The love you have for him shall be his salvation.”
So Kotomother goes to Myōefather in human form and declares her love for him. In time, he has become fond of her, and together they start a family. At this point, you may ask if a Buddhist priest is supposed to love a woman and have a family with her. The answer may lie in the Tantric text Rishu-kyō [理趣経], which is held in high esteem by the Shingon sect and is to this day recited by Shingon priests and believers alike on a daily basis. The doctrine of Rishu-kyō takes an affirmative stand with respect romantic love, erotic desire and ecstasies attained by sexual intercourse – even equating these to the state of purity and enlightenment attained by a bodhisattva.
One of the scenes in the OP may be a graphical illustration of this point. In it, Myōefather and Kotomother form an ensō – a circle symbolic of satori or enlightenment. The circle may also be interpreted as the Taoist yin-yang symbol whereby the cosmic masculine and feminine principles complement and complete each other. It may also interpreted as the ouroboros signifying the beginning and the end.
Man as the Saviour of God
Some schools of Jewish mysticism hold that man is actually the saviour of God, and that man completes the unfinished world created by God and therefore man and God are equal partners in creation. The Kabbalah of Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) may be one of them.
Isaac Luria believed that when God created the world, something went wrong, and He created man in order to correct his mistakes, to repair the damage caused by his blunder. The act of repairment is called tikkun in Hebrew. According to Gary Lachman’s book The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World (2013):
[Luria] believed that in our lives we encounter those trapped sparks, whether in people, nature, or inanimate things, which we are uniquely qualified to liberate, just as we encounter people and situations that can help liberate our own “sparks”. By doing this, we “repair” the universe.
Gary Lachman further elaborates on this point in this way
We can save the universe, we can repair it, take care of it, redeem it and awaken it from its trance by becoming aware of our creative contribution to reality and by intensifying our consciousness to such a degree that we never lose sight of this fact. […]
Each act of creative consciousness is an act of tikkun, an act of redeeming the universe from pointlessness, and we can perform it any time. In order to save these things from complete oblivion, Rilke said that we must take them into ourselves, and transform them into the furnishings of our interior world. […]
Our task is to stamp this provisional, perishing earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its being may arise again, invisibly in us. […]
By taking the world into ourselves and making it invisible, Rilke tells us that we may actually be creating new worlds, somewhere in the depths of space. […]
When we “complete” the world, when we “represent” the “unrepresented,” when we infuse dead matter with meaning, when we fill the empty forms of reality with the living force of the imagination, we are moving against the tide that is carrying the fallen, physical world into nothingness. Each act of imagination, each moment of creative life stands up to the entire material against the corroding solvents of entropy, dark matter, or whatever else may be dragging the physical world into oblivion.
All of these ideas take a lot of time to unpack, and while I was reading the book, I was especially reminded of the existential crises of both Myōefather and Myōeson when I read the below:
[Max] Scheler came to believe that rather than an omnipotent, omniscient creator God, lording it over the universe, God, or the spirit, was actually weak. As David Lindsay said, speaking of the muspel-fire, it was fighting for its life.
God may actually be very weak and fighting for His life. (The Gnostics also had similar ideas in that they believed whereas the Demiurge is all powerful in this material world, the true Supreme Being is powerless and in any case too distant from the human world.) Myōefather‘s role in the universe is that of a watcher, and yet he also has the power of creation and destruction – which he finds deeply contradictory. He falls into a crisis of self-doubt.
With this understanding, it may seem no surprise that in time Myōeson and Kotodaughter are appointed by their grandfathers (a trio of monkey, rabbit and frog who are the original gods of the universe) as the next generation of gods, taking over the duties and responsibilities of Myōefather.
Some Closing Remarks
Having read this far, you may wonder who is the mastermind behind Kyousougiga. The creation of this story is credited to Izumi Toudou [東堂いづみ], which is the shared pen-name (or “house name”) for the staff at Toei Animation.
It has been two years since I first saw Kyousougiga, and even now I wonder: besides being a showcase for some amazing art direction, what motivated them to produce a show as occult, hermetic and esoteric as this?