Society in news nishikie

The cauldron of humanity

News nishikie reflect the full spectrum of human behavior. Crimes of all kinds -- but especially murder, and suicide often in conjunction with murder -- may have made the most spectacular stories. But most of the stories were about other incidents, events, and happenings that stirred human interest.

There were stories about ghosts, monsters, and aliens. About natural disasters, accidents, and rescues. About family relations, high romance, and necrophilia. About sumo and kabuki. About leprosy and loyalty. And about many other incidents, events, happenings, matters, and developments -- mundane, curious, deviant, perverted, serious, comical, delightful, sad, tragic, shocking, horrifying, gross, disgusting, sickening as the case may be -- that made Meiji Japan just another cauldron of the human condition.

Click any story and indulge. (WW)

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Social themes

Forthcoming.

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Monsters, beasts, and critters

Sitings of things unusual, strange, large, fearful, or simply curious -- that walked, crawled, flew, or swam -- have always been cause for tales short and tall. Some things seen were real as in "real", others real as in "imaginary". (WW)

TNS 445

The ghost of a fox becomes a three-eyed demon.

KSZU 3

Killing habu on Oshima.

YHS 832

Shimofusa whale.

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Fires and other calamities

Fires, floods, plagues, and earthquakes, among other calamities and disasters, have always been reportable. Stories about such events in another valley give us pause to vicariously suffer with people we might not know, and remind us of our common vulnerability to human carelessless and natural forces. They give us both cause to worry when the gods that cause such things will vent their displeasure on us, and reason to feel lucky that we are still alive in their good grace. (WW)

TNS 111

Sumo wrestlers help put out a fire.

YHS 1155

Sukiyacho fire.

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Entertainment

People amused themselves in many ways depending on where they lived or travelled. Towns of any size would have places to eat and drink, gamble, carouse with women. Larger cities would also have theaters for various kinds of performances, and the biggest cities, like Tokyo and Osaka but also other major centers of urban life, would have kabuki stages -- kabuki still being a popular form of entertainment, unlike its somewhat elite survivor today. (WW)

ONS 9001

Osaka theaters in Soga battle.

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Castaways and drifters

Travel, whether over water or land, was at the mercy of the spiritual and human elements. Weather was controlled by the gods, evil spirits ran amok in the woods and mountains, robbers lurked in the shadows, and maurading armies and armadas of pirates could suddenly appear on a road or horizon.

But travel by boat, whether hugging a coast or on the open sea, was always the most risky. Even if the hull remained sound, any number of other problems, from loast oars or rudders to damaged rigging, sails, or masts, meant drifting on seasonal currents until overwhelmed by waves, exposure, thirst, hunger.

Some castaways were lucky enough to be picked up by a passing ship or drift ashore. Life could turn out to be very different if the ship or shore flew a foreign flag. (WW)

KMK 22

Kosome drifts on ship to Hawaii then studies in America.

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Foreigners

For believers in UFOs, nothing is more exciting, next to an actual siting, than a tale of a siting. When you hear that barbarians have sailed into your waters, and are coming ashore in ever greater numbers, it is hard not to want to see what one really looks like. And when you finally do see one, it's like your first time at the zoo.

Imagine living most of you life only hearing that foreigners are ugly, mean, dangerous animals. Then one day you see some news nishikie with foreign men -- one courting a woman, one kicking a woman, two raping a woman, one shooting a kabuki actor with a camera, two shooting themselves with firearms. The first thing you do when you spot a living specimen is plan your escape. (WW)

TNS 571

Foreigner kicks prostitute he claims stole his watch.

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Graves and ghosts

People don't die. They pass away. They fade in the memories of some, but live on in the memories of others. What is more poignant than a mother who has departed this world but comes back to nurse her child? Or or a young man who feels the presence of a brother who went off to war but never came back? (WW)

TNS 445

The ghost of a fox becomes a three-eyed demon.

TNS 1009

A man disinters, then rapes, a woman's corpse to cure his impotency.

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Health and welfare

People deal with illnesses by attacking symptoms with medicine, religion, or both. Or they tough out the pain and discomfort, and prepare to die if their condition looks fatal.

People inflicted with fear-inducing diseases like leprosy, though, have typically been ostracized from the mainstream. Some are abandoned by their family and friends. Other are not forgotten, as we see in a nishikie about a woman who Nurses Her Leper Husband. (WW)

YHS 566

Loyal wife nurses leper husband.

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Heroic acts

Everyone likes a rescue story and has fantasies about saving someone's life. Few of us get a chance, but when we do, we discover how hard it is not to help another human in distress. Guilt is the price we pay for turning a cheek out of apathy or cowardice.

Numerous news nishikie celebrate the actions, usually of men, who pull drowners, mostly women, from seas, rivers, and canals, where they've fallen, been thrown, or thrown themselves. Or the actions, again usually of men, who fight fires, including these Sumo Fire Fighters. (WW)

TNS 431

Boatmen resuce a girl who was thrown into the river by robbers.

YHS 532

An officer rescues a woman who was thrown into a river by her brothers.

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Marriage and divorce

News nishikie reveal a lot about love, marriage, parents and children, and other aspects of family life. They are interesting not because they depict unusual aspects of sexual and family affairs in Japan, but because, contrary to popular exceptionalist expectations that the human condition in Japan is somehow different, the news nishikie show it to be very ordinary.

The things that delighted and saddened people in early Meiji Japan, have delighted and saddened people everywhere for as long as there have been people. The news nishikie bear out the almost anti-anthropological cliche -- that people are people.

People everywhere marry, have children, die natural deaths, and are happy if they live long enough to see their grandchildren. Despite the hoopla that all societies have to some extent made about romantic love, marriage has mostly been for bearing and raising children.

During the Meiji period, most marriages were arranged, or at least they had to be approved by the families concerned. It was not usually the prerogative of individuals to freely decide their mate. Romantic relationships ran the risk of disapproval, and strong objections could plunge them into tragedy.

News nishikie featured a number of tragic stories with poignant endings at once sad and happy. Like the story of the couple who, unable to marry in this world, left it and were Married in the next world.

TNS 862

Lovers who have killed themselves are married after death by the families that rejected them.

TNS 885

An old man who has been having an affair gets pounced on by his wife and daughter.

TNS 1015

A pharmacist presents his talented wife to her lover, a border at his home, and sends them packing.

YHS 650

Three generations of two families marry.

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Children and family

Children do not choose the conditions of their birth. They are somehow conceived and born, usually one at a time, helpless. But older children too are at the mercy of their parents.

News nishikie are mirrors of the conditions that children have had to face from time immemorial. Two celebrated the rarity of triplets. Another reported the birth of a baby to children who, having become parents, can no longer be blamed for doing what came natural to them. Yet another takes joy in the good fortune of a baby who had lost its mother but discoverd that Grandma's got milk. (WW)

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Joy expressed when farmer's wife gives birth to triplets.

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A 12-year-old girl gives birth to a baby fathered by a 16 year-old-boy.

ONgSw 10

A grandmother has breast milk for a grandchild whose mother has died.

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Sexual relations

Nothing in human life is more important than sex, since humans would not exist without it. Every child comes into this world as the result of intercourse between the man and the woman who are its parents, at least biologically.

The purpose of sex may be procreation. Yet human sexuality invites behaviors that are mainly driven by expectations of pleasure and gratification. The thrills that come with new attractions seem to be heightened when they violate morals or break taboos -- at the risk of ruining a marriage or family, or becoming the victim of another lover's murderous jealousy. (WW)

TNS 1009

A man disinters, then rapes, a woman's corpse to cure his impotency.

TNS 1043

An impoverished former samurai catches his wife making love to an older man she thinks is him.

ONSs 21

A 12-year-old girl gives birth to a baby fathered by a 16 year-old-boy.

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Death and afterlife

People who die continue to live in the minds of the living who knew them in this world -- which they continue to affect from their life in the next world. (WW)

TNS 862

Lovers who have killed themselves are married after death by the families that rejected them.

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Social classes

All societies have notions of class if not also caste, which define each persons place and set limitations on mobility from place to place.

The early Meiji period began with a legal redefinition of places, which amounted to a total overhaul of the conventional distinctions. Farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and outcastes became simply commoners. The warrior caste too was disbanded and deprived of its customary tokens of status -- the topknot and sword.

The higher ranking and more accomplished samurai received posts in the new governments, local or national, or became officers in the new national army or navy, which recruited commoners. Among these, the highest ranking were given titles of nobility.

Lower ranking, less accomplished retainers were simply disenfranchised. In compensation for losing their jobs and stipends, they were given a small amount of money with which to make a new life for themselves -- as shizoku, a newly created title that nominally distinguished them from commoners.

For many shizoku, however, the title was more a stigma than an honor, meaningful mostly as a cause for hurt pride when they met with disrespect or found themselves broke and hopeless. A number of news nishikie stories involve shizoku who resorted to murder and suicide when things didn't go well in a world that no longer had a place for them. (WW)

TNS 1043

An impoverished former samurai catches his wife making love to an older man she thinks is him.

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