Sun Wukong

So today I am going to be writing on a figure that is incredibly prevalent throughout Chinese mythology, but is also big in modern culture as well. Sun Wukong is one of the four spiritual primates that basically are the only beings not categorized in the universe. He is the monkey of stone and is said to be born out of a magic stone. Being pure stone he is incredibly durable and is capable of fantastic feats of strength. If that was not enough he also acquired legendary items throughout his journey such as cloud walking boots and a golden chain mail shirt. His most well-known item is a staff that he has that supposedly weighs around 8 tons. However, that is not the craziest thing about it, as he usually has it shrunk down so that he can carry it behind his ear. Using these items, his natural strength, and other fantastic abilities, he causes chaos throughout the heavenly kingdom. He is not evil, but rather a trickster who enjoys chaos. After causing chaos, and essentially cheating death, the Jade Emperor, who is the emperor of the gods to put it simply, invites him to heaven so he can give him a post in order to better control him. Wukong is given the post of stable master, and for a time this keeps him satisfied. However, he eventually realizes it is the lowest post in the Kingdom Of Heaven, causing him to release the horses and cause chaos once again. He then fights and defeats all the celestial figures in Chinese mythology, and is eventually defeated and imprisoned by the Buddha. We saw one version of how he is released with Journey To The West, though again he is not as evil as the film made him out to be. The headband that we see him wearing at the end is also important, as it allows Xuanzang to control him on their journey to obtain the sutras. Throughout the journey, he learns what it is like to do good, and at the end of it is granted Buddhahood. That is the end of the main story about him, which is Journey To The West, but there are many more stories about his other adventures.

In modern culture, there are various representations of him in video games and movies. We already saw one of the more modern versions of him in the film we watched, but there are many more. There are also representations of him in plays and other forms of theater. Even video games are starting to have representations of him, especially internet ones. Overall I think the actual story behind him is really cool, and I’m glad I got to read about him. Taking into account how the legend has grown, and how he is represented has changed over time is also just incredibly interesting.


The Invisible Man

Today was a good day four productivity and overall for our project. Not only did we finally finish a rough outline for our podcast, Thomas was also able to work some magic with Audacity allowing us to record and edit some basic audio! For this post, I’m going to be giving a summary of one of the tales that we are going to be using for our podcast aka The Invisible Man. This story is about this completely ordinary guy who was coming home from the temple after praying to his favorite god Kannon. Unfortunately, it was a little late, and as we all know demons roam the night and will bring misfortune to anyone they come across. The man gets caught by these fiends, but gets off with only being spat upon. He thinks himself lucky and goes home unconcerned. However, when he arrives he realizes that he is completely invisible when his family takes no notice of him and then becomes concerned about where he is at. Being invisible in this story doesn’t mean that people are unable to see him, rather no one seems to notice him at all, such as when he talks to his wife or take food from temple goers. Realizing that he is in quite the fix, the man proceeds to go back to the temple of Kannon, and prays to him for some days hoping to become visible again. Kannon hears his prayers and instructs him in a dream to obey the first person who sees him. The man wakes up and is seen by an ox herder who then tells him to follow. The ox herder takes the man to a gate with a tiny gap in the middle and orders him to go through it. Disbelieving due to the size, the man hesitates at first, but in the end goes through. This leads them to a courtly mansion where a young girl lies sick. The ox herder gives the man a mallet and tells him to beat the head and hips of the girl, causing her to rise in agony. Thus, a famous Buddhist healer is called in, and he starts to recite first the heart sutra, and then the flame sutra. The man’s clothes catch on fire with the flame sutra, and he is revealed to the family in the room, and the girl is healed. At first the family believes the man is the cause of the daughter’s possession, but the healer reveals that the ox herder was in fact the cause, and that the ox herder was persuaded by his god to do so. Thus, the man is absolved of any crimes and he returns to his family, and they all lived long and happy lives. All of this is thanks to the God Kannon and the man’s devotion to him. For our podcast, we are going to use the Buddhist undertones and classic Japanese culture and then talk about them. Also, I think we are the last group to do this, but we finally managed to get a group picture.

Kubo and The Two Strings

Since we spent most of the day talking about films and how they re-tell stories or bring stories to life I wanted to throw one of my recent favorites into the pot. Kubo and The Two Strings is certainly more of an adventure film than a horror film, but this stop-motion journey from the studio that created Coraline is steeped in Japanese mythology and imagery. Kubo and the Two Strings, set in late-ancient Japan is, at its core, a story about family. It just so happens that Kubo is a descendant of the Moon King, and in that lies the conflict. Kubo’s mother wants for her son to live the life of a normal human, experiencing the feelings of humanity for better or for worse. Kubo’s grandfather wants to bring Kubo into the family business of ruling over the heavens in a cold, dispassionate eternity. When the Moon King finally gets wind of where Kubo and his mother are hiding he begins an arduous search which thrusts Kubo into a journey helped only by a monkey and a samurai beetle. Not to mention Kubo’s own magic powers which he channels through his trusty shamisen (pictured below). For fear of giving away the rest of the story that is where I will end my summary.

Given the setting of late-ancient Japan, the story is rich with the ideas, practices, and mythologies of the Japanese around this time. Ancestor worship, Yokai, and magic play a major role in the plot. There are many scenes in which characters of varying importance speak about the importance of honoring ancestors and conversing with those that have departed. Also, the outcome of a climactic scene is directly impacted by the bonds of the characters and their ancestors. As for Yokai, the giant skeleton that is represented on our syllabus is a key antagonist, as well as dragons and sea monsters. Most importantly the magic shamisen that Kubo plays is almost a character in its own right. This shamisen is the vessel of Kubo’s magical power which creates a very interesting dynamic and an even better soundtrack. The creators of the film showed care and attention to detail when crafting this tale and its setting. So much so that I was able to watch it and pick out points that we explicitly went over in class.

Overall, Kubo and The Two Strings is a very good film with a lot of heart and excitement. It is a gorgeous film that is very easy and enjoyable to watch, while also keeping the mind engaged about how we understand storytelling in our modern age. Also, it gives wings to the words and lectures we read and hear in class, driving the points just a little bit closer to home. Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is great viewing for anyone who likes adventure and has enjoyed the class so far. Stay tuned for more updates from Shudan Borei on the podcast and other interesting posts.



By Ryukei at the Chinese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Group 2: Monday Update

It was another great day of group work. We picked a topic and even started finding some stories that go along with it. Our topic at this point is:
“Buddhism as influential in both Chinese and Japanese tales and how each culture intertwined Buddhism with existing ideology.”

The time periods we will be focusing on are the Tang Dynasty (China): 618-907 c.e. and Japan: 700-1300 c.e. Some ideas for subtopics also include the Asuka period and Soga clan sponsoring Buddhism. Emperor Tenmu and banning of eating certain meats. The Nara period and the actual intro of Buddhism. Some possible tales that we can use are:
-“The invisible man” Japanese tales 99
-“Dyeing castle” Japanese tales 102
– “Journey to the West” Chinese Tale
-“Dragon Kings Daughter” Chinese Tale
We are beginning to plan and outline our script for the podcast. This is still a work in progress but we are confident that we will be able to get some audio recorded this week. A lot of progress was made today and the project is coming along nicely.