I’ve just finished reading In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami. It’s ten months since I left Japan and I’m missing it. I’m finding that reading Japanese fiction is a great way of taking my imagination back there - this book is set against the backdrop of the sex industry in the area around Shinjuku called Kabuki Chō, a sort of red-light district in Tokyo (not that I actually spent any time there myself). It’s also a book about Japan’s relationship to outsiders (one of the things it shares in common with the UK is its rather insular, island mentality) - the gaijin, the non-Japanese, manifest in the character of Frank in this book, an American sex tourist who hires a young Japanese guy called Kenji to show him around.
However, one of the most interesting things the book has taught me about is the New Year tradition of the 108 bells. Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells 108 times on New Years Eve and people gather on bridges and cram into shrines to listen to them. The 108 represents the Japanese concept of bonno, or the 108 human sins/defilements of man, and the act of listening to the bells purifies us of all of the worldly sins gathered over the previous year. In case you’re wondering what those 108 defilements are exactly, here’s a list:
Ostentatiousness, grudge, gambling, ingratitude, dipsomania (make that 109 bonno if you don’t know what dipsomania is), ambition, dominance, faithlessness, manipulation, stinginess, pessimism, hostility, abuse, debasement, sexual lust, sarcasm (I’m not touching that one!), humiliation, jealousy, gluttony, unruliness, hurt, cruelty, unkindness, obstinacy, envy, indifference, negativity (in case you skipped pessimistic), furtiveness, sadism, enviousness, derision, falseness (think that includes teeth?), high-handedness, know-it-all, rage, aggression, rapacity, effrontery, disrespectfulness, hard-heartedness, power hungriness, lying, insidiousness, self-denial (really?), inattentiveness, contempt, wrath, haughtiness, greed for money, seducement, vindictiveness, insatiability, voluptuousness, excessiveness, censoriousness, dissatisfaction, egoism, ignorance, hatred, greed, impudence, imposture, cursing, imperiousness, lecherousness, callousness, malignancy, torment, intolerance, blasphemy, shamelessness, irresponsibility, obsession, prejudice, arrogance, violent temper, garrulity, dogmatism, presumption, intransigence, oppression, prodigality, lack of comprehension (like, for example, this list?), obstinacy, pride, conceitedness, delusion, quarrelsomeness, self-hatred, violence, vanity, hypocrisy, stubbornness, baseness, pretense, mercilessness, disrespect, ridicule, masochism, tyranny, capriciousness (oh, nooooo!), deceit, anger, discord, calculation, unyielding, desire for fame (say it ain’t so!) and deception.
(source Japan Times: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2011/01/01/our-lives/your-108-misleading-karmas/#.URpsZqXPaJV)