[OWLS] Why Bother Walking Towards Failure?
This blog was supposed to be on hiatus, but then I read a book! Actually, I’m still on that blogging break but I knew I wanted to talk about something that wasn’t anime this time around for OWLS, especially since I haven’t watched anything new, and now you’re all here thanks to Irina who posted before me
But if you’re new, you’re probably wondering what I’m blabbering about
What is OWLS?
OWLS is a group of content creators who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc. We believe everyone deserves respect, kindness, and acceptance, and every month we emphasize this through online tours where we discuss real-world topics, share personal experiences, and analyze pop culture, literature, and/or other media
And for November our topic is “Failure”
One of the best ways we can learn is through failure. This month we will be talking about the failures of our favorite characters in pop culture media and what we can learn from them. We will also reflect on our own mistakes and failures and how those experiences have allowed us to grow as human beings.
Failure is something that’s common across all media. In fact, failure and success are the foundation in all the stories we are told. We saw this throughout the tour this month like when Matt talked about the battles that Ichigo lost on his quest to save his friends, Hikari touched on Asta and his initial failure to harness magical abilities, and YumDeku talked about how Natsuki sought failures after he gained his revival abilities (for the greater good of course). We also had some posts where it was hard to determine if a character failed or succeeded at what they wanted, like Pinkie’s post on Ash and Fred’s on Devilman Crybaby. We even had some personal posts like Irina’s and Megan’s where the story is in the present. And the thing that most of these posts had in common was that there wasn’t a “bad ending” (…). Failure was just a temporary mishap and, eventually, these experiences would lead to “success”
Then I wondered, what can I possibly talk about that hasn’t already been said? I guess this is one of the cons of going towards the end of the tour. Then I read Snow Country and I had an idea. There are spoilers incoming as this is an in-depth post!
Snow Country is a short novel by Yasunari Kawabata and it tells the heartbreaking story of Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante, and Komako, a hot-spring geisha. The two meet one day when Shimamura decides to visit the “snow country” (which is never named but that we know is in the North) and asks for a geisha to entertain him. Since all the local geisha were too busy entertaining others because of a local celebration, Shimamura was left to be entertained by “the girl who lived at the music teacher’s.” We don’t learn her name during this trip as Shimamura gets into the habit of calling her “the woman” but when Shimamura returns to the snow country a second time, we learn that her geisha name is Komako
The relationship between these two characters is ambiguous
During their first meeting, Shimamura tells the woman that he doesn’t want to ruin what they have, that he wants them to stay as friends. If they keep what they have as a simple friendship, then Shimamura’s attention (fascination) will stay on the woman and when he comes to the hot spring village with his wife (he doesn’t), the woman and she can be friends as well. This is why he calls for a “geisha” who will satisfy his “longing for a companion”. It will only be “an affair of the moment, no more.” While Shimamura claims this, we later have a scene where he is “seduced by the mountain, strong with the smell of new leaves. He started climbing roughly up it.” Since the beginning of the book, we see this juxtaposition between the mountains and women, so we can infer that the mountain that seduced him was “the woman”
On his last trip to the hot spring, Shimamura contemplates his left hand, specifically, the forefinger which “seemed to have a vital and immediate memory of the woman he was going to see.” And as they continue to interact, we see that Komako, who is a geisha and in love with Shimamura, spends her nights in his room
“No one forces a geisha to do what she doesn’t want to.”
It is unclear as to what happens during those nights but it’s obvious that Komako isn’t being forced to do anything, she is willing, and often the one seeking Shimamura out. Are they just talking? Are they being intimate? The text isn’t specific, but it doesn’t really matter because what they are doing is connecting emotionally
But the part that makes this relationship ambiguous is that Shimamura’s feelings are kept (mostly) hidden up until the last scenes of the book, which is interesting as the book is written from his perspective. It’s clear that Komako is emotionally invested in him, but for the most part, Shimamura only comments on Komako’s beauty.
The relationship between Shimamura and Komako is a doomed one from the start
We know this mainly through literary devices. Shimamura boards a train that leads to a snow country that is distant and not always accessible because of the large amounts of snow. The snow cuts these villagers off from “reality”, which gives everything a dreamlike or fantastical element. Snow is beautiful and “pure”, but it is also the culprit of slow deaths. Komako lives in this village that is slowly dying. There isn’t any future. Even people who weren’t born in the snow country come to die there (the teacher’s son with tuberculosis)
She is also a geisha and while it seems she has some freedom to do as she wants, the truth is that her status in society is precarious and she lives her prime years paying off debts
The hot-spring geisha must go on enetertaning week-end guests, and the pretense that she is an artist and not a prostitute is often a thin one indeed.
Additionally, Shimamura already has a wife and the choice between both women has already been taken. We see that Shimamura breaks his promise to Komako about visiting on February 14, which was the day that her village had a festival. He also had “not written to her, or come to see her, or sent her the dance instructions he had promised.” Whenever he does visit, time becomes distorted. For him, nothing has changed, but Komako is stuck between phases. She tries to move on from her feelings but when he comes back, it’s like she’s gone back to the past
Komako knows all of this, has seen the tragedy that “love” can bring to a geisha, thanks to a fellow geisha she knows who lost everything when she chose to follow her heart.
So why does she continue to walk towards failure?
Komako keeps holding onto these feelings for Shimamura because she has nothing and little control of her surroundings and desires control
She knows that Shimamura won’t choose her, but decides to confess her feelings for a man she’s been faithful to for years (Shimamura). This faithfulness has brought pain for her. Shimamura and the reader see this when she drinks too much at parties and comes to Shimamura’s room in distress. We hear it in her singing and shamisen performance. She tells us this during her tug of war proclamations: she wants to go home but never leaves, she wants Shimamura to leave and not come back but always holds onto him, and if only for a minute, she comes to see him, even when she’s confessed she will be too busy
These are all memories that she will be able to look back on. Many will be sad but there will be many that she will hold onto with fondness, such as all the talks she had about her interest (like theatre) with Shimamura, the walks they would take around the village, and the nights they shared in companionship. Komako will be able to say that she had no regrets. She lived her life to the fullest given her situation. She found success in failure. Shimamura describes these actions and feelings as “wasted effort” and notices the “loneliness” in Komako but I’d argue that these are strengths. Komako isn’t afraid to pursue something that will end in failure
Even a guaranteed failure is better than holding onto nothing
We live in a society filled with expectations and it’s easy to fall into a mindset of failures and achievements, but we should also be enjoying the journey. Besides, it only makes us sick to get angry or worry about things that we can’t control. We should pay more attention to what we can control
Let’s take attending university as an example. The goal is to enter college right after high school and to graduate after four years with a Bachelor’s. In my case, I did enter college after high school, but it took me much longer to graduate. Does this invalidate everything I’ve done? No. It does upset me sometimes, but then I think about the things I experienced because my education was delayed and I realize how lucky and thankful I am. I wasn’t able to control how much of a financial burden attending university was and how that would make it hard to finish in four years, but I could control how I handled and saw these experiences
I got to meet some of my favorite professors only after I returned to school and I went to Japan with some people I can genuinely call friends, people I wouldn’t have met if I’d graduated in four years. I had the chance to volunteer in my community and meet so many new people, which was something I hadn’t done before because I was too busy living in the classroom. I had let the world and life pass me by. I was rejected from my dream job, to which I am still stubbornly applying to but with new experiences under my belt, again, thanks to these “failures”
It’s frustrating to not get things right during your first try. Perhaps things may never be “right” because everything we do can alter our end goal, but something we can do is take a breath and live in the moment. A diploma, a car, a house…these things are all items that hold little value in the grand scheme of things. Experiences and memories are the things that will follow us in life and it’s best that we do everything in our power to lessen the burden of regret
Welp, that pretty much wraps up this post. Thanks for stopping by! Let me know what you think about my take on failure. Did I succeed? Was this an epic fail? Have you read this book? What did you think about it?
Enjoy your Thanksgiving with loved ones