Monday, July 08, 2013

Japanese pearly white identities: Semen, Bukkake, Bodylore

I'm researching the materially of semen in Asia and so far I’ve found out some fascinating connections between semen, ancestry, rice, whiteness, and consciousness.

I begin with Japanese anthropologist Ohnuki-Tierney's impressive Rice as Self, where she charts the many ways white rice stands for the purity and superiority of the Japanese race, the pearly radiance of the skin, the positive energy of deities, money, and the origin of semen and breast milk. She also reminds us how each grain of rice is considered within Shintoism an individual spirit whose consumption rejuvenates humans and gives them a soul. 

Jump to our own tradition: Revelation 21:21: “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl!” In the 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, pearly sphere-gates come out of the ground and, like semen, carry life to its new home. Considering liquids are naturally spherical, pearls appear like drops of semen. Could the materiality of this important fluid influence such revelatory images in our myths and in our popular science fiction? 










Scientific literature and cultural perceptions revealing semen as dangerous, disgusting and dirty are fairly new. When we relax our imaginations and look to our own rituals and to mythologies about semen, we can see how the materiality of the substance becomes a conceptual ground for images of purity, soul, self, and even community. As Janet Carsten (2004) makes clear, concepts of kinship are linked to substances of the body, such as blood, milk, and semen. These become metaphors for unity and sameness.  Semen’s pearly, white, milky, oily, flowing materiality, explains Victor Turner, help it signify achievement, wholeness, flow , self worth, and communitas. Turner argues that within an ethnic identity, homogeneity is sought instead of heterogeneity. “The members of the community are to be regarded, at least in rite and symbol, a unit...seamless...purified from divisiveness and plurality.” Japanese identity centers on white rice not only because it is a staple food and we "are what we eat," but also because of its uniform whiteness. Sentgen (2010) points out that “the most important phenomenological characteristic of substances is the fact that they can be divided without losing their identity.” Rice concretize abstract ideas like ‘imagined communities’, and anchors subjective, imagined relationships in a shared, material substance. Without objects such as rice, the Japanese experience and shared identity would be “as airy as the wind,” as  Michael Serres puts it. “In fact, the objects…stabilize our relationships.” 

The most important characteristics of Japanese rice are its qualities of luster, purity, and whiteness. Tanizaki Junichiro, in his influential novel In Praise of Shadows, explains the beauty of rice succinctly: “Each grain is a pearl.” This is not just an aesthetic pronouncement. For example, in the past rice was used as money in Japan, and rice fields meant status for Lords. The term for cooked rice, gohan, can stand for all food, as bread can stand for all food and money in English. Rice-wine, nihonshu, “Japanese liquor,” remains the staple drink in rituals and ceremonies. At a wedding, rice wine is drunk to consecrate the marriage as white rice is thrown at brides here in America as white bread is placed in the mouths of Christians during communion.



The Japanese origin myths of rice are also quite fascinating. In one, the deity in charge of food is ritually slain and various grains came out of his corpse: “rice emerged from his abdomen, millet from his eyes, and wheat and beans from his anus…”  The eyes, mouth, and anus are all important places in Japanese bodylore, but the abdomen, which houses the fetus, is believed to be the home of the soul. This is why hara-kiri, “stomach cutting,” is the well-known cultural institution of male suicide. Opening the stomach releases the soul.  






Interestingly, within Shinto cosmology, rice is the only grain given a soul. Each grain of rice is a kami named Uka no Mitama no Kami, a spirit-force supporting material life. Unlike most kami who possess both positive and destructive attributes, rice kami are completely innocent, unable to do harm.



After further creations and kami appear, the gods dispatch a grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, to be the first Man to receive the rice and rule Japan with his decedents. The great grandson of Ninigi-no-Mikoto, called Jinmu, was enthroned as the first emperor of Japan, and the imperial sovereignty has to this day remained in the dynasty established by Jinmu some two thousand or more years ago. Japan did not have a Warrior King tradition. The shogun were the warriors. The Emperor was, "the guardian of rice-plants." According to many Japanese historians, the key role of the dynasty is to enact the Onamesai, a rice harvest ritual. Part of the secret ceremony involves the emperor lying on a bed and two women "receive the emperor's soul that is departing from his body and renew it."



This official Shinto story was influenced by the Buddhist one, which had been in Japan for well over two centuries. Within esoteric Buddhism, semen is definitely not just seminal fluid: it is the “vital essence-drop that is spread throughout the body in numerous subtle channels as the supports of life and consciousness.”



In the secret Tachikawa school of Shingon Buddhism, sex is holy, and a student eats his master’s semen as a means for mind-to-mind transmission. Epiphanius, the great Church Father, reports that an early Christian group, the Borborites, also practiced eating semen as a Eucharistic ritual. Like the Shingon Buddhists, they understood semen and menses to be “The Body and The Blood of Christ.” Phenomenologically, these fluids carried with them states of joy, shame, shamelessness, community, and revelation. Here we should be reminded of Raymond Kelly’s discussion of the Etoro people of Papua New Guinea, where boys ingest the elder’s semen, or “penis-oil,” as a rite into adulthood and a way to receive the mind-lineage of the tribe.



In Buddhism, semen is believed to exist in both men and women, metaphorically related to bodhicitta, meaning ‘mind of enlightenment.” In Tibetan, semen is called tigle, meaning literally ‘dot’ or ‘essence.’ Translator Keith Dowman elaborates that refined semen is “stored in the heart center as “radiance”, which produces long-life and gives a shine to the complexion. Unrefined semen is excreted during sexual intercourse and is, of course, procreative seed. The refined semen in the heart center permeates the body as Awareness; “heart center” is here a metaphor for the all-pervasive sphere of essential being (dharmakaya). Loss of semen, by any means, causes life-span to be shortened and causes a pallid complexion.” Clifford: “The brightness and radiance of the face is said to come from the essence of “semen” at the heart…From the years one to twelve the essence of “semen” supports the growth of the body. From twelve to fifty it goes to strength, or during pregnancy, to the breasts for milk. From fifty to one-hundred it goes to maintenance of the body.” 











For the male tantric practitioner of any lineage, withholding semen during real and/or imagined sex is a crucial aspect of spiritual practice. The seventh Dalai Lama describes the feeling:
        
         “The outer consort, in nature fire, melts the life-drops that course through the seventy-two thousand channels,  bringing them into the central channel, giving rise to the four ineffable joys.         Outside, all sensory movement of mind and energy ceases…”

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, semen is used as a metaphor for Vairochana, the Originator of all phenomena, the Cause of all Causes. “As the Universal Father, Vairochana manifests or spreads forth as seed, or semen, all things; his Shakti, the Mother of Great Space, is the Universal Womb into which the seed falls and evolves as the world-systems.”

In Buddhism, we personally experience the eternal “Clear Light Mind” for a brief second at the moment of orgasm. Semen is thus not only a symbol for this mind, but also a physical incarnation of it. Japan is where this esoteric Buddhist view of semen mixes with the shamanic Shinto one of rice.

Beloved Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama uses white polka-dots in her important 1967 film “Self-Obliteration.” 




To better understand how a substance from the body can be so closely related to a substance from the earth, we can look to Etoro’s neighboring tribe, the Bimin-Kuskusmin of Papua New Guinea. They relate semen to oil that comes out of a sacred hole in the forest. This oil makes the entire forest a realm of immense ritual importance and spiritual power linking the living with the dead and humans with spiritual entities. Their bodies are understood in terms of the semen-oil produced by the god, Afek. Tilley reports: “Oil-soaked taro is fed to domestic boars, bamboo tubes of oil are buried to promote the growth of taro, and oil is rubbed on the skin to make it glisten and ensure personal well-being. Shrines throughout the forest are anointed with oil. Oil is conceived to flow under the landscape itself in the realm of the spirit world.” The tribe’s leaders talk of oil as “our blood, our semen, our bone, our heritage from our ancestors…our life.” Oil is to the Bimin-Kuskusmin as rice is to the Japanese.









In Japan, semen is also associated with chthonic forces and mythic origins of the world. According to the most ancient Shinto text, the Kojiki, (A.D. 712), ancestors of all creation, Izanagi and Izanami, Sky-father and Earth-mother thrust down a gifted “heavenly jewel-spear” into the “oily” ocean of chaos. They move it around, pull it out, and drops from the spear’s tip become the onogoro, “self-hardening,” islands of “luxuriant reed-plain-land-of-fresh-rice.” The sexual overtones are obvious, as are the geological, volcanic ones. Vannovsky’s interpretation of the Kojiki, Volcanoes and the Sun argues the mythical penis spewing forth self-hardening semen should be understood as volcano spewing forth magma.


I find it interesting that until recently it was illegal under Japanese law to publish images of human genitals, anuses, and/or pubic hair. Semen, however, could be shown. It is celebrated in anime porn and the recently established bukkake porn. Bukkake, meaning "splash", is a Japanese pornographic invention, usually consisting of a group of men ejaculating together onto someone's face in the center. The pornographic trend has since spread to other countries. 



Reviewing the way Indian religions view semen gives it another possible shape. Swami Narayanananda teaches that within Hinduism, “semen exists in a subtle form all over the body. By sexual desires, thoughts and acts, the gross semen is formed.”  As yogis we are to convert heavy (gross) semen into subtle semen, called shakti, and then keep it from congealing back down through the use of pranayama and seminal retention. In Play of Consciousness, Swami Muktananda compares this important body technique to saving money. “You should preserve your seminal fluid, which is your radiance, as you save money, watching every penny. Never forget that a radiant human being can be formed from that one drop. If you loose it, all the best powders and creams and rouges and lipsticks will not brighten your skin. The radiance of the sexual fluid is the vehicle of Chiti Shakti. Chiti is, as it were, bought with it. It is the means for activating the Kundalini and the highest means of making Samadhi stable. Look carefully and see the condition of the man who has wasted his sexual fluid.” 







Japanese people love shirako, fish semen. The milt resembles human semen. 











 Semen is also the material beginnings of the mythical substance amrita, said to leak down into the yogi’s body via the pineal gland. This “nectar of the gods” is understood in relation to the shakti which rises from the sacrem (the sacred) like a snake up the spine to be transformed into bliss upon entering the brain like semen entering the vagina. Some Vedic philosophers argue amrita is just a symbol for cerebral-spinal fluid. Nevertheless, yogis report amrita is generated by retaining their semen during intercourse, real or imagined. This personal mythology manifests collectively as the most sacred and expansive of all Hindu festivals, the Kumbh Mela, centered around the group obtaining amrita from the Heavenly Ocean of Milk. In Bengal, amrita is specifically understood as Shiva’s semen. The Kumbh Mela is therefore the world’s largest spiritual bukkake scene.


In Indian history there are references to sacrifices of semen becoming an alternative to human sacrifices. This is because the semen is the soul. The female ovum is believed to be the source of blood, meat, and bones, whereas semen is the source of the soul, vital breath, and marrow. David White notes that within Indian culture semen is called saumya (lunar) and is also understood as Soma, the moon deity. This helps the culture connect microcosmic semen to macrocosmic moon. 

Purhapse within a Japanese man the materiality of semen touches the cultural acceptance and celebration of rice-sharing. The “okuizome“ ceremony marks the moment the child, now 100 days old, can eat rice instead of milk. Milky warm rice-wine is drunk by the adults. Soft, white sticky rice-cakes, mochi, are consumed by everyone, offered to every shrine, and made by men coming together in group ritual. Sometimes at new years people get together and drink rice gruel and rice spirits. Every year it’s not uncommon for the sticky ricecake soup, zoni, to kill several old people by sticking to their throats.



Murakami: Lonesome Cowboy (1998)

A perfect bowl of rice may recall images of balls filled with semen. The word for ball, tama, is the same as the word for soul. At funerals, chopsticks are pushed into a heaping bowl of rice and left erect and phallic, further suggesting the rice-semen-testicle complex. The daily offering to the family ancestral alcove continues to be rice, and the rice reeds are still woven together to create shimenawa holy ropes that sacralize houses, temples, trees, stones, and sumo wrestlers, transforming them into places for kami. Shide, white rice-paper lightning bolts zig-zag from the thick ropes and might as well symbolise semen. Now we can see bukkake above every temple doorway, and the sumo wrestler is a version of Murakami’s Lonesome Cowboy. Moreover, the ritual magic wand used by all Shinto Priests, the onusa, is a wooden pole with a bunch of white shide hanging from its tip, sparkling in the sunlight.


















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