Some notes about book 9


What the heck is Koinu singing?

Koinu—a baritone in the school choir, remember?—is singing a couple of arias from Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte, known in English as The Magic Flute. How well is he singing them? He's an enthusiastic bathtub baritone singing two pieces intended for bass baritone, which is below his range. Well enough for bathroom use.

There are sound samples available on line at the Naxos classical music site. The folks at Naxos have been warned that we're linking there, and they're being good sports about it. At the beginning, Koinu's singing # 03, Papageno's aria about being a birdcatcher. Later he switches to Sarastro's O Isis and Osiris, #11.

What is The Magic Flute doing in this book?

The Magic Flute is a looney opera intended for the popular market, written to get Mozart a few bucks. Mozart being Mozart, he wrote a masterpiece. The story is the stuff of comic books, a mishmash of mythology, folklore, and dime novel histrionics. It has a lot of elements we find disagreeable today—racist, sexist—but also some that apply to our story. The hero and heroine find each other, lose hope, she contemplates suicide, they go through adventures and trials and death and finally come together. There is a magic sword (which is what caught Koinu's attention). And there is Papageno, the comic relief—the birdcatcher who does it wrong but still gets the girl in the end. Sound like anybody we know?

Papageno spends the opera carrying a wicker cage on his back, a basket-like cage for holding the birds he catches. And that brings us to:

The Kagome-Kagome Game

We've already referred to the Kagome-Kagome game a few times. It's a circle game everybody knows in Japan—the equivalent of, say, Ring Around the Rosy in the United States. The game is very old—some of the language is much older than the Warring States era. Roughly translated, the words are:

Kagome, Kagome,
When does the bird in the cage come out?
At sunset and sunrise.
Who is behind the one in front
When the crane and the turtle slipped and fell?

(Or see Chris Rijk's translation)

You can hear the music for the game at this website.

You can see a group of children playing the game at this one.

If you go to, say, Babelfish for a translation of an Inuyasha site, you'll see Kagome's name translated as Basket (plus a symbol). One explanation I found of the Kagome game suggests that the game is about a pregnancy. Kago-me would translate as female basket or basket woman—the woman being the container, the basket or cage holding the baby. When does the bird in the cage come out? asks when the baby will be born. The story might a sad one—at sunset or sunrise (do you know what Higurashi means?)—could mean we don't know when or it could mean never. The turtle and crane go together in Japanese folklore as symbols of longevity and good luck. When they fall down, things fall apart, the center will not hold.

With this in mind, you can see that Papageno isn't the only one who carries a basket on his back . . . and you can see how all these undertones are hidden in the story.

A few words about anorexia nervosa

In this issue, Koinu expresses concern that Kagome is suffering from anorexia—by which he means anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that particularly afflicts teenaged girls and young women. Anorexia nervosa is a potentially fatal illness that can be difficult to treat, and most sufferers never entirely recover. It isn't something that can be cured by a single meal of ramen delivered by even the most loving and persistent of boyfriends. That's not what's wrong with Kagome (there will be more about Kagome's situation later in this three-part segment), and I have no intention of suggesting that Koinu's ministrations and storytelling are curing this challenging disorder.

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