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Days Meme: Day 12

day 12 → whatever tickles your fancy



1

If you mention ‘the Nose,’ that high-ranking priest from Zenchi Temple, you won’t find a soul in Ikenō who doesn’t know the name. Five or six inches long, it hung down from above his upper lip down to the bottom of his chin. Its width was the same from top to bottom. To get a good picture of it, imagine someone with a long, thin sausage dangling casually down the middle of his face.

This Buddhist priest was now in his fifties. From the time he was an apprentice in the inner hall, climbing the ranks, even until the present day, he was constantly worrying about his nose. Of course, during all this time, he continued to pretend that he didn’t care about it in the least. It wasn’t just that as a monk he should’ve been completely focused on the Pure Land awaiting him in the afterlife, it was that he didn’t want other people to know he was so concerned about his nose. Nothing terrified him more than the idea that someone would bring up his nose in conversation.

There were two reasons why he found his nose to be so burdensome. The first was that a long nose, practically speaking, was not very useful. He couldn’t even eat breakfast by himself. If he tried to eat alone, the tip of his nose would poke into the middle of the food in his bowl. So the Nose had one of the apprentice monks sit a few feet across from him and hold up his nose.

2
But eating this way was no simple task, not for the Nose, and not for the assisting apprentice. One time, a temple pageboy was substituted for the usual apprentice monk, and when this young man sneezed, he accidentally shook his hand, and the Nose’s nose ended up thrust into the middle of his rice gruel, at least according to the rumor going around Kyoto in those days. Still, in spite of all that, that’s not what really bothered the Nose. What really worried him was the damage to his self-esteem.

As for the people in Ikenō, they maintained that they were happy to have someone with such a nose, such a holy priest at Zenchi Temple. This was because with that nose, they thought no girl would marry him. Between themselves, they reasoned that his nose was the only reason he became a monk in the first place. But for the Nose, the mere fact of being a monk didn’t make him feel any less burdened by his nose. He felt like he was married to the strain this nose had placed upon him, and this was a delicate situation for him. Because of this, he tried passively, actively, to restore his damaged self-esteem in any way that he could.

The first thing that came to mind was to find a way to make his nose look shorter than it really was. When nobody was around, he’d sit in front of the mirror, experimenting with various lighting schemes, zealously laboring to hold different poses. No matter how he tried positioning his face, he was never satisfied, sitting there with his head propped on his hands and his fingers on his chin, spending hours peeking diligently into the mirror.

3
However, he never once found a way to make his nose appear shorter. At times, it worried him to the point where he thought his nose actually looked longer. Shutting away his mirror in a box, he’d breathe a heavy sigh and go reluctantly to his sutra-reading desk and read Kannon’s prayer until he fell asleep.

From this point on, he was constantly aware of other peoples’ noses. The monks at the temple in Ikenō often begged for alms, had lectures, and so on. The temple interior was connected directly to a bathhouse, and the monks boiled water everyday. Consequently, many kinds of monks could be seen there, coming and going. The Nose patiently scanned the faces of the various people. He wanted to find someone with a nose like his own, thinking this would put him at ease. Because of this, in his eyes, people weren’t wearing navy blue robes or white morning kimonos, not to mention things like orange hats or dull priests’ robes. He was accustomed to seeing these things, but it was all the same to him; he didn’t see people, only their noses. However, even though he saw hooked noses, he didn’t see a single nose that resembled his own. Not being able to find another nose like his, this weighed heavily upon him, and once again, he became despondent. While talking to people, he would aimlessly pinch the tip of his own nose, blush as if he’d forgotten his age, and then feel supremely unhappy about his own behavior.

Finally, he decided to search through the mounds of Buddhist and non-Buddhist literature, to try and discover a personage with a nose like his own, which he thought would lighten his spirits somewhat.

4
But it turned out that there was nothing in the sutras concerning whether Maudgayayana and his ilk, or figures such as Sariputra had long noses. Naturally, Nagarjuma and Asvaghosa, bodhisattvas, were furnished with nice, ordinary noses. When the Nose heard that Liu Xuande, founder of the Shu-Han dynasty in ancient China, had had long ears, he wondered if it were his nose that was long, would his own feelings of helpless have been lessened at all.

While part of him was feeling this passive anxiety, another part of him was actively trying to find ways to make his nose shorter, almost too many to mention here. To this end, he tried everything he could. He’d tried drinking a boiled concoction from a snake gourd, he tried rubbing rat piss onto his nose. However, no matter what he tried, he’d be damned if his nose wasn’t the same as ever: five or six inches long, hanging down from above his upper lip.

But one autumn, the apprentice monk helping the Nose had gone on a visit to the capital, where he learned from an acquaintance of his, a doctor, a method for making noses shorter. This doctor, he came over from China and became a monk in Chōrakuji Temple.

The Nose, acting disinterested as usual about anything having to do with noses, did what he could to pretend he didn’t want to run out and try this new method. Then someone else, in a carefree tone, mentioned that it must be a burden for the apprentice having to help the Nose every time he ate, and this was a terrible blow. Of course, the young monk wouldn’t say so, but he, too, was eager to try out the method. This young monk, and the Nose as well, it’s doubtful that either one was unaware of the baiting that had occurred.


5
However, more than his opposition, more than avoiding this obvious trick, there was the fact of the Nose’s sympathy for this poor apprentice who had to hold up his nose. The apprentice monk, as the Nose expected, blurted out his opinion that they try it out. So the Nose, as he’d known all along that he would, eventually gave in and decided to follow the recommendation that was so enthusiastically proffered.

The method in question, put simply, was to boil the nose with hot water and then have someone stomp on it. An extremely simple procedure, so to speak.

Every day, hot water was boiled in the temple’s hot bath. From there, the apprentice brought back a bucket filled with water too hot to even dip a finger in. But they both feared that if the Nose were to dip his nose right into it, his face would be scalded by the hot steam. So they decided to bore a hole into a wooden tray and use it to cover the bucket. The Nose could stick his nose into the hole. Just dipping his nose into the hot water, it wouldn’t be so bad.

“Let’s start right away,” said the apprentice monk.

…let us cut to right after they boiled it.

The Nose gave a bitter smile. Having heard only about his nose, he felt that soon nobody would recognize him. With his nose soaking in the hot water, it was as itchy as if it were being eaten up by fleas.

When he pulled his nose out from the hole in the bucket’s cover, it was still dripping from the steam. The apprentice began stomping on it hard with each of his feet. The Nose was lying on his side, with his nose protruding out onto the floorboards, watching the apprentice’s feet go up and down in front of his eyes.

6
The apprentice monk, casting a pitiful glance down upon the Nose’s bald head said:

“It probably hurts, doesn’t it? The doctor blames the stomping for that. Anyway, it probably hurts.”

The Nose shook his head as if to say it didn’t hurt. Anyway, he didn’t shake his head like his nose was being stomped on. Then he looked up at the apprentice’s cracked feet and said, angrily:

“I said it doesn’t hurt!”

In reality, the apprentice was stomping on the spots where his nose itched, so rather than hurting, it almost did feel good.

After being stomped on for a while, before long, spots that looked like grains of millet started to appear on the nose. It looked like a bird whose feathers had been plucked and was now ready for roasting. The apprentice stopped stomping and said, as if to himself:

“He said to pluck these out with tweezers.”

The Nose puffed his cheeks as if he were short of breath, and waited silently for the apprentice to continue. Of course, it wasn’t that he couldn’t tell that the young monk was trying to help.

7
He knew that. But it was his nose that was being manhandled, so he was forced to focus on his own discomfort. The Nose made a face like a patient who doesn’t trust the doctor doing surgery on him, and he watched as pus oozed from the pores in his nose being squeezed open by the tweezers. The pus looked like the quills of bird feathers, and almost one-fourth as long.

After a while, when this part was finished, the apprentice monk heaved a sigh of relief and said:

“And now, we boil it again.”

The Nose looked battered. With his nose still in a boomerang shape, he nodded.

Then, after they boiled it a second time and took it out of the water to check, it had, in fact, become shorter than it was. It didn’t look so different from an ordinary hooked nose. Stroking his nose, the Nose peered bashfully into the mirror that the apprentice produced.

That nose—the one that before had hung down past his chin—he couldn’t believe it was this short, the idea that he would’ve had to live the rest of his life without self respect seemed like a lie. Still speckled here and there, this was probably just the aftereffect of having been stomped on. Make no mistake, people won’t sneer at a nose like this. The face of the Nose in the mirror shot a satisfied wink at the Nose outside of the mirror.

8
Nevertheless, that same day, he grew uneasy, wondering if his nose wouldn’t grow long again. To that end, while reading the sutras, even while eating, in every spare moment, he would pull out his hand and gently touch his nose. But, his well-mannered nose was settled into place above his top lip, giving no indication that it was going to return to its previous dangling state. After that, he slept through the night, and waking up early the next morning, the first thing he did was touch his nose. It was as short as it was before. With that, he felt as elated as if he’d spent years copying the Lotus Sutra and accumulating good karma.

Still, over the next two or three days, the Nose made an unexpected discovery. It started with a bureaucrat visiting Ikenō temple, who, even more than before, made a strange face upon seeing the Nose. He was rendered speechless, his eyes transfixed on the Nose's face. Outside the lecture hall, the Nose walked past some temple pageboys familiar with the rice gruel incident. As he walked by them, they looked down and restrained themselves, but finally, a laugh escaped. The second-rate teachers called for order, talking to the Nose respectfully, but as soon as he turned away, they also burst into laughter. This happened more than just once or twice.

At first, the Nose reasoned that they behaved this way because his face had changed. However, this explanation only satisfied him for about ten minutes. Of course, what caused the pageboys and the crummy teachers to laugh was his face, no two ways about it.

9
Still, even though they laughed before, when his nose was long, the way they laughed was now somehow different. While they were used to seeing his nose long before, now they were more amused by his ridiculous short nose. But it still seemed like there was something more to it.

—they didn’t laugh like that before.

The Nose finished reciting his sutras, and while tilting his head to one side, he would sometimes mutter to himself. The Nose, who should love everyone, when things got like that, without thinking, he stared at the figure of Samantabhadra on his white elephant, and, remembering the long nose he’d had four or five days before, he said, “People who fall from grace long for the days of their former glory,” and he shut his mouth. The Nose regretfully reached an illuminating conclusion:

In the hearts of people, there are two conflicting interests. Of course, anybody can sympathize with the misfortune of another. However, when another person can somehow overcome his misfortune, we feel unsatisfied. To exaggerate just a little, we wish for that person to regain his misfortune once more. We usually feel ambiguous about this, but, on occasion, they embrace a certain animosity towards that person.

The Nose, still not knowing the reason why, felt perturbed. He realized the Ikenō monks’ behavior was nothing more than a reflection of their own selfishness.

10
After that, the Nose’s spirits grew darker each day. Surrounded by irritating gossip, he was nastily scolding everybody. Finally, he overheard that the very apprentice monk who’d helped with his treatment was saying, “The Nose is committing the sin of jealousy.”

Another thing that upset the Nose was something one of the temple pageboys did. One day, the Nose heard a dog howling. He strolled out to investigate and saw a pageboy, brandishing a twig about two feet long, running around chasing a skinny, shaggy dog. He wasn’t just chasing it; “Hit you with my nose! Hit you with my nose!” he shouted as he ran. The Nose plucked the stick from his hand and smacked him across the face with it. It was the most disgusting-looking stick imaginable, from a rotting tree.

The Nose was resentful. Not that his nose used to be long, but because it was now short.

One evening, after the sun had set, the wind started blowing, causing the bells in the pagoda to ring fiercely, and the monks to toss and turn atop their pillows. What’s more, the wind was remarkably cold, and the Nose, old man that he was, he tried to sleep, but sleep just wouldn’t come. He stared up from his bed, and after a short while, he realized his nose was itching. Touching it with his fingers, it felt moist and started to swell a little. There was nothing he could do; it seemed he’d caught a fever.

Making my nose short is probably why I got sick, he muttered, touching his nose as reverently as if he were offering incense in front of a statue of Buddha.

11
The next morning, the Nose woke up early, as usual, and the gingko trees and horse chestnut trees covering the temple grounds had all dropped their leaves overnight. The yard was bright, as if someone had carpeted it with gold. This was probably due to the frost covering the rooftops nearby. In the thin morning light, the rings adorning the zenith of the pagoda shined brilliantly. The monks of Zenchi Temple lifted the shutters covering the porch, and deeply inhaled the morning air.

This is when, as if he had forgotten, he first realized that a certain sensation had returned.

The Nose, in confusion, lifted his hand to his nose. The thing he touched, it was not the short nose of the night before. From above his upper lip to the bottom of his chin, four or five inches long, it hung down. It was the long nose he’d had before. In the course of one night, his nose had returned to its former length. He felt just as cheerful as he was when his nose became short, he felt that his nose had come back to him.

—after this, I’m certain nobody will laugh, is what the Nose felt in his heart. His long nose was blown about by the first winds of autumn.


day 01 → your favorite song
day 02 → your favorite movie
day 03 → your favorite television program
day 04 → your favorite book
day 05 → your favorite quote
day 06 → whatever tickles your fancy
day 07 → a photo that makes you happy
day 08 → a photo that makes you angry/sad
day 09 → a photo you took
day 10 → a photo of you taken over ten years ago
day 11 → a photo of you taken recently
day 12 → whatever tickles your fancy
day 13 → a fictional book
day 14 → a non-fictional book
day 15 → a fanfic
day 16 → a song that makes you cry (or nearly)
day 17 → an art piece (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.)
day 18 → whatever tickles your fancy
day 19 → a talent of yours
day 20 → a hobby of yours
day 21 → a recipe
day 22 → a website
day 23 → a YouTube video
day 24 → whatever tickles your fancy
day 25 → your day, in great detail
day 26 → your week, in great detail
day 27 → this month, in great detail
day 28 → this year, in great detail
day 29 → hopes, dreams and plans for the next 365 days
day 30 → whatever tickles your fancy

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