Logic and Emotion in Japanese Culture. Chikamatsu Monzaemon: The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well

_1 Giri (“righteousness”) and ninjō (“affection”)_2 are two Sino-Japanese compounds that are to be analyzed in a broader context of semantic units referring to human relations and mental attitudes as well as in the context of the specific contents and conceptuality of their components (gi, ri; nin, )._3 While in a human being’s mind giri and ninjō could be considered belonging to the semantic nests of decency and kindness mutually related on the principle of soto/uchi (“outside/inside” unity), in the human’s everyday reality these words can often be used to suggest a dramatic conflict between the “logic and emotion”. In the meta-reality of literary representations we could find all – the opposite, complementary and paradoxical employing of the giri/ninjō’s semantic potential revealed in their “real presences” in various texts. It is especially in poems, stories or dramas wherewe can try and discover the true (contextually preconditioned)_4 character of a specific relation between the giri and ninjō contents in all situations presented through particular fragments, phrases or a passages of a given text. Images evoked by an author’s handling of the giri and ninjō would, generally speaking, activate human senses, feelings, souls, bodies, minds and speech._5 Literary works can thus reveal giri and ninjō as expressions implying a variety of meanings situated within the complex frame of human social conditions and mental disposition.

The enormous popularity of Chikamatsu’s shinjū mono or the “love suicide plays” contributed to the awareness by members of the 17th century mercantile society of clashes caused by the disproportion of strength between the obligatory and voluntary bonds. Chikamatsu’s lovers were “caught between the ninjō or human passion that meant so much to a mercantile society that was discovering its values, and the giri or ethical duty owed those to whom one is attached: parents, wives, children, relatives, and masters.”_6 This quotation is just one of the countless examples of the giri/ninjō argument which has been gaining in importance in the popular as well as scholarly discussions about the manifestations of “logic and emotion” in the behavior and thinking of Japanese people (and the storytellers’ characters) ever since the Chikamatsu’s time. Consequently, the interpretation of giri/ninjō phenomenon has become a serious theme and, indeed, a part of the Japanese culture especially because of its relevance to questions concerning the rules for an individual’s right conduct on the one hand and the right to remain true to one’s authentic feelings on the other.

The Japanese word for “culture” is bunka – literally a “change to literacy”. Numerous volumes of bunshō – “Japanese texts” have approved not only of the existence, lives and learning of cultured Japanese people, they have not only revealed the ways, knowledge, views of those people, but they have also played a major role in the continued, dynamic presentation, representation and interpretation of Japanese language. It is the language that makes bunka, the culture, attractive, imaginable and intelligible. Once we agree that language is inseparable from culture, we have to conclude that every single language unit must be thought about as one of this culture’s countless fragments. Thus the expressions “righteousness” or “ethical duty” and “affection” or “human passion” are constituents of the English bunka and we have to turn to their Japanese counterparts giri and ninjō in order to be able to elaborate on how these particular language units participate in building up various meanings within the frame of Japanese culture and what kind of sense they have made to Japanese people. The importance of the expressions “righteousness” or “ethical duty” and “affection” or “human passion” and their equivalents in all cultures has been substantiated especially by their references to those manifestations of human behavior and thinking that would repeatedly result in conflicts.

Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote six plays dealing with the “love suicide” (shinjū) introducing “gentle, weak, and doomed”_7 male characters that seem to be made to fail and finally die with a beloved woman. What kind of “logic” and “emotion” can be found behind the lovers’ decision to commit double suicide? Can an analysis of the giri and ninjō presences in his texts be helpful to answer this question? Do the English words “logic” and “emotion” refer to the same things as their Japanese counterparts?

Apart from the definition stating that “logic” is “the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference (1), The Random House Dictionary of the English language offers another three definitions interpreting “logic” as (2) a particular method of reasoning or argumentation, (3) reason or sound judgment, (4) the consistency to be discerned in a work of art, a system, etc._8 Although we have Japanese words or expressions like ronpō, dōri, or suji ari to suru more or less corresponding with the above definitions, a translation of the English word “logic” could surprise us in sentences like:

The logic of situation makes surrender inevitable.

rendered to Japanese as:

Keisei kara oshite kōfuku mo yamu wo enai.
(situation from pushing surrender [part.] stop [part.] impossible)

Can we learn something new about “logic” from the comparison of the two examples or shall we find out that the translator missed the point? The translator’s perception of the above “English” logic as presented in a particular context has been encoded in the Japanese phrase keisei kara oshite or “being pushed by situation”. While the English sentence is a delarative statement without explicit modality or personal involvement markers, the Japanese sentence, on the other side, lacks an explicit subject and by means of the verbal form oshite implies a “somebody” who is being “pushed” by some presumably forceful conditions of a fight, competition or the like situations. This “somebody” yielded to pressure while unable to avoid an “inevitable surrender”, in other words, to avoid a very unpleasant situation. The translator’s act of rendering the English word “logic” as “being pushed by situation” together with the implementation of an implied subject can be interpreted as a kind of translation (subconsciously) influenced by that part of Japanese tradition that could be called “the culture of oppression”. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any linguistic problem that would cause a translator to ran into difficulties while translating, for example, an English (“dictionary”) phrase “suppressing one’s emotions (kanjō)” as kanjō wo osaeru. Yet, suppressing one’s emotions has, in fact, been a standard, almost obligatory, behavior expected of the well-bred, disciplined Japanese in all kinds of unpleasant situations.

One of Chikamtsu Monzaemon’s most interesting “love suicide plays” (shinjū mono) has been The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well (Shinjū Kasane Izutsu). There the lovers are dying having despaired of ever getting a chance to live together. Such situations involve also other people who surround the lovers and exert force upon them as well as upon each other. All characters thus participate in creating “unpleasant situations”. Consequently, their relations are strained and they behave under “pressure”. The conflicts in Chikamatsu’s plays have been interpreted in terms of a principal clash between giri (“righteousness”) and ninjō (“affection”).

Chikamatsu’s shinjū mono piece The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well is exceptional in that there is no a “villain of the play”, an evil character that would represent the outside strong (dangerous) oppression. The strain is for the most part caused by the outbursts of the characters’ emotions (love, passion, fear, despair), approving of the fact that there is a kind of strong “pressure” originating in a character’s (a human being’s) psyche. In Shinjū Kasane Izutsu Chikamatsu Monzaemon combined the “righteousness” and “affection” in a complicated character of Otatsu, the wife of adulterous Tokubei – the unfortunate anti-hero of the play. After killing his lover Fusa, Tokubei finally ends his life rather paradoxically not by the planned stubbing himself but drowning in a well after having accidentally stumbled over the low wall encircling the well while desperately trying to escape from within the reach of his wife Otatsu who, brokenhearted, decided to chase after him.

Otatsu, who was “right” to marry Tokubei not only because her father needed a son-in-law but, seen from her point of view, because she loved him, had and “affection” for him. This is an aspect of complementation in the giri/ninjō (“righteousness/affection”) relation presented by Chikamatsu in The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well. Tokubei, who was righteously expected to dutifully play the role of an adopted son-in-law and manager of the inherited family business fails to do so and starts a dangerous love affair with Fusa, a prostitute with whom he fell in love expressing a gentle feeling and caring for her. Here, unlike in the above case of complementation, we can see the giri and ninjō standing in sharp contrast. The third, paradoxical, aspect of the giri/ninjō’s relation becomes evident when in a decisive moment of the drama Tokubei makes his “emotional” choice of Fusa while she becomes desperate because of not being able to be true to her “giri”, that is to keep her “logical”, “reasonable”, “right”, “morally good and fair”, “ethically dutiful” etc. promise to her parents. In this case the giri/ninjō’s relation can be interpreted as a clash caused by the violation of giri by both Fusa as well as Tokubei, the former braking the bonds with Otatsu and her family, the latter betraying the trust of her parents. Both protagonists were motivated by the mutual affectionate feelings that were running opposite to giri, understood by both of them as a social imperative.

Before the drama reaches its dramatic ending, there are two turning points in the relations between Tokubei and Otatsu, a married couple caught in the trap of giri/ninjō difficult coexistence. The first turning point comes after Otatsu’s father suggestion to sack the good-for-nothing sonin- law. Otatsu takes Tokubei’s side realizing she wants him remain her husband at any cost. There is a hysterical scene with Otatsu begging Tokubei to sleep with her at least “three nights in a month of thirty nights and days”. In accordance with the typical flow of the jōruri_9 texts, Otatsu’s outburst of jealousy dissolved in submission is followed by a narrative passage in which the “understanding narrator” describes the situation,_10 comments on it and evaluates it in terms of the contemporary morality. In the particular case of The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well, the narrator refers to Otatsu’s mental state saying:

Urging (him) with all (her) heart to stand to reason, she cried pressing (her) claims (on Tokubei).

In Chikamatsu’s original text:

Kokoro ippai ri wo semete, nasake mo fukaku kudokinaku.
heart fully reason [part.] urge feelings [part.] deeply entreated (him) crying

Translated to Modern Japanese as:

Sei ippai dōri wo tsukushite, nasake mo fukaku kudokinaku.
vigor fully reason [part.] exhaust feelings [part.] deeply entreated (him) crying

The translator to modern Japanese renders ri as dōri which means that he replaced the “simple “ri” or “kotowari”_11 – the logic or reason – by a Sino-Japanese compound noun “dōri”_12 where “logic” has been classified by the “dō” (“the way”) thus limiting the broad meaning of “logic” to a certain kind of logic, in this case “the leading logic” conventionally translated as “reason”. The replacement of the Japanese noun “kokoro” (“heart”, “mind”, “soul”) by the Sino-Japanese noun “sei” (“spirit”, “vigor”, “might”) presents a significant shift in the two utterances’ meaning. A comparison of the two phrases, the original Chikamatsu’s kokoro ippai ri wo semete translated as sei ippai dōri wo tsukushite suggests a stronger personal involvement in the kokoro ippai […] (“with all (her) heart“) utterance by the author than the sei ippai […] (“vigorously”) utterance by his translator. Although the initial words “kokoro” and “sei” refer to human psyche, the former (presenting itself in Japanese reading) represents the psyche’s urges incited from within while the latter (presenting itself in Sino-Japanese reading) represents the psyche’s urges initiated rather from outside. The assessment about “what” has been referred to by ri and dōri should not be based on the proportions of the presupposed personal involvements but rather on the proportions of ambiguity. The unspecified ri is a more ambiguous expression than the specified dōri.

Taking into consideration the high frequency of kokoro as an individual wago lexeme_13 and as a frequent participant in the wago compounds, we have to conclude that the original Chikamatsu’s way of describing Otatsu’s outburst of emotions accentuates (1) in “kokoro” a kind of the innermost driving force within the boundary of human body and (2) in “ri”, the “logic”, similarly a kind of strong urging power. The translator has had apparently weakened the inner driving force of the Otatsu’s kokoro in favor of “sei”, the “vigor” thus ascribing to the heroine an amount of reasoning power she might not had been endowed with by the author.

The second dramatic turning point in Shinjū Kasane Izutsu presents itself in a Tokubei’s monologue. He is blaming himself that under the pressure of the previous Ohatu’s outburst – the mixture of her passionate confessions, accusations and desperate begging for at least a bit of his love – he forgot his true love Fusa and her acute, grave problem, the urgent need of money that should be delivered to her parents before the imminent expiry of the settled deadline.

Chikamatsu puts to Tokubei’s mouth following expression:
[…] my wife’s monologue got stuck for the righteousness […]

In Chikamatsu’s original text:
[…] giri ni tsumatta nyōbō no serifu […]

Translated to Modern Japanese as:
[…] girizume ni iū nyōbō no serifu […]

There is a rather consequential difference in grammar when we compare the original text with its rendering in Modern Japanese. The original phrase “giri ni tsumatta” is an “noun + particle + verb [past tense]) construction, here in adnominal branching. This construction was replaced by an idiomatic expression “girizume” which did exist in pre-modern Japanese, but, very probably, did not suit Chikamatsu’s intentions. Having changed the verbal form “tsumatta” to the verbal noun “tsume” in the compound “girizume” the translator distorted the playwright’s semi-vivid, semi-hidden metaphorical expression. While the original expression “giri ni tsumatta” refers to the “righteous logic/reason” as to something very material, a kind of “lump” stuck in Otatsu’s brain preventing her from the righteous reasoning, the translator’s expression “girizume” would suggest that Otatsu was “loosing the righteous logic or reason”. In such case would the literal English rendering of the passage in question read: “[My] wife’s monologue was pronounced () [while she was] exerting the righteous logic/reason.” Using the phrase “girizume ni iū” as a left-branching attribute to nyōbō no serifu (“[My] wife’s monologue”) the translator failed to interpret giri (“the righteousness” or “the righteous logic/reason”) as a kind of room inside the human body (presumably the brain) that will be blocked (by for example negative emotions) to the extend that it fails to function. Chikamatsu, on the other side, managed to evoke a really dramatic psychological moment when the woman’s desperate (“logical”) plea and the man’s (“emotional”) despair resulted in both parties failing to have their “affection” as well as “righteousness” work.

The realization by Tokubei that despite the previous reconciliation with his wife he will not give up his love for Fusa came at the moment when the hero was standing on a crossroad where he eventually decided to follow the path to a licensed quarter where Fusa was waiting for him.

Speaking about the “righteous reason” all characters of the play continually find themselves in “an affective state of consciousness”. By this phrase “emotion” is defined in a dictionary._14 Watching closely the example of a jōruri play The Love Suicide at Double-ringed Well (Shinjū Kasane Izutsu) we could see that, paradoxically, while speaking about giri of which the characters are fully aware, they are living in a constant “affective state of consciousness” being either not aware or half aware of it. What Chikamatsu’s genius revealed for us in his plays is a vivid picture of how the contrasts, complements and paradoxes havebeen intertwined in human kokoro, the supreme concept not only of the Japanese mind, heart and soul but also of the countless inner functions of a human being’s body in the countless everyday situations of human life.


This article presents the text originally read at the Europäische Japan Diskurse IX, Prag – European Japan Dicourses IX, Prague, Insitute of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Charles University in Prague, September 2006.

Other English renderings of the two expressions are for example “ethical duty“ for giri and “human passion“ for ninjō.

See Picture 1.

The term “contextual precondition“ has been limited here to the contexts of literary texts. The term “situational precondition“ in suggested for the “contexts“ of human lives.

The statement is based on a general picture of the basic human demonstrations of life represented by a paradigm of orderly operating human faculties, for example: insight→discernment→intuition→memory→reason→speech. (For similar paradigms see also Zdenka Švarcova: A Dynamic Verbal Image of Human Sensorium. Vesmír v nás [The Universe Within], p. 144).

Miner–Odagiri–Morrell, p. 74.

Miner–Odagiri–Morrell, p. 145.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, p. 787

Chikamatsu wrote his plays for both the puppet theatre (jōruri or bunraku) and the “actors“ theatre (kabuki).

It is typical for the jōruri plays that the text (narrative passages, dialogues and monologues) are recited by the gidayū (reciter), accompanied by a musician playing shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed citer).

There are two ways of reading Chinese characters in Japanese usage – Sino- Japanese reading and Japanese reading. The above “ri“ is an example of the Sino-Japanese reading. “Kotowari“ on the other hand is an example of the Japanese reading of the same character. (Cf. Picture 1).

Miyajima Tatsuo calls the right side element of a nijikango (a Sino-Japanese noun made of two characters) jōigainen or the “superior concept“. The left side element (morpheme) is called genteishi, the limiting or specifying attribute. Some characters are stronger as superior concepts, others as specifying attributes. We can find seventy occurrences of the “logic“ character in the Sphan-Hadamitzky’s Japanese Character Dictionary. There it occupies the position of superior concept in 51 cases. In nineteen cases it occupies the attributive position of the genteishi.

Ie. an originally Japanese as opposed to Sino-Japanese lexeme.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Xxxx Following the lexicographers’ efforts in several dictionaries, we are sometimes able to trace the meanings of particular language units down to the roots of the “word-world” relations. Larger dictionaries have been the kind of books where their authors are bound to, at the same time, present, represent and interpret words, collocations, exemplary phrases etc. They present them in a kind of order, for example alphabetical order, represent them in some explanatory phrases, sentences etc., and they interpret them either by means of the language units of the same language or, as in case of bilingual dictionaries, by means of words, collocations, exemplary phrases etc. of another (foreign, symbolic) language.


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