Catching up on Chihayafuru: Poems 142-153

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I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I last blogged the Chihayafuru manga. Why did I stop? There would have been a range of reasons—the break that Suetsugu took, the two anime series that took over my life, and certain other issues that I will not bring up here—but I honestly didn’t think I’d be gone for that long. In translating those two interviews over the last month, I was trying to gear myself up to dive into the manga again, and so here I am. Obviously, this won’t go into as much depth as some of my earlier reviews did, and since the chapters have already been translated, I won’t be summarising them either. But in trying to catch up to where we are now, let me muse on some of the things that caught my attention.

Arata’s efforts to develop his karuta club

It was wonderful seeing Arata, long the expert in karuta who has useful advice for those who are chasing him, take on the role of a beginner. But of course, one of major themes from Poems 142 and 143, where he takes his team to play against Fujisaki under Sakurazawa’s watchful eye, is the idea of what makes a karuta team. It really brings home how amazing it was for the Mizusawa HS karuta club to win the national championship in just 17 months after its creation, with Chihaya as its driving force, and Taichi as its strong foundation. They also had Kana-chan as its heart, and Komano as its brain…is there a role for Nishida? In any case, I hope Arata succeeds in setting up those support systems for the club that he’ll soon have to leave. And it was heartwarming to see the Matsubayashi twins try to back him up as well.

But of course, the major question on everyone’s lips is ‘why?’ Why has Arata decided to create a karuta club in his final year of high school? We, the readers, know…or do we? Given the most recent chapters, there might still be something to it that we have yet to learn. But here, Arata himself realises that creating his club allows him to give back to Taichi and Chihaya something that they once gave him: someone who’s waiting for them to return.

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“I’ve made a karuta club! Let’s meet at Omi Jingu!”

The lesson Chihaya learnt

The message from Arata—that he has created a karuta club—does give Chihaya hope. Whilst she still isn’t ready to return to the clubroom, she manages to start playing again at the Shiranami society, carving the heaviness and coldness of the cards, and the pain that they cause, into her heart. I did find it funny that Harada (and Tsuboguchi later) needed only one guess to hit on the reason behind Taichi and Chihaya’s problems, but beyond that, it shows just how dense Chihaya was: everyone knew, except her.

Chihaya finds that her club has managed to move forward without her and Taichi. And as she sits out there, Fukusaku-sensei comes across her just as his favourite poem, “Yo wo komete” (#62) is read. He likes it because it shows not only the wonderful wit of Sei Shonagon, but also tells of the culture of the Heian era. Was he going to suggest that Chihaya should create some kind of pretext that will allow her to return to the club? Chihaya’s response takes him aback—she tells him that she’s come to the conclusion that only the sounds matter: 6 syllables, 5 syllables, 4… (the cards shown in this panel are of the cards with those sounds). Perhaps that is indeed the meaning that the card has: creating a pretext to return. However, was that indeed the right lesson to learn…?

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Although, still wrapped in night,
the cock’s false cry
some may deceive,
never will the Barrier
of Meeting Hill let you pass. (Mostow)

The first round of the Tokyo Prelims: the new Mizusawa Karuta Club

Although Chihaya turns up on the day of the prelims, she finds herself completely out of the loop. The format has completely changed because there are now too many schools taking part. Instead of the traditional team matches, each of the school’s five team members will be matched randomly to another player. There will be no ’empty cards’, the cards will be read more quickly, without the usual rhythm, and players can’t sweep the cards away—they can only press down on them. The top four teams will proceed to a round-robin tournament two weeks later, where they will battle to be one of two teams sent to the national competition.

Whilst I don’t play karuta myself, I can’t imagine what that must be like to people like Kana-chan. The sound of a poem is so important, and that’s not only in terms of the separate sounds that make it up, but they way they are joined together in a particular rhythm. For that to be lost, even if only for the first round, seems sacrilegious. Perhaps they should consider splitting the schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area into two tournaments, as is done in the baseball summer tournament, with each sending one team to the national competition?

Back to the team, though: Kana-chan, Komano and Nishida have decided that they will go with the already-determined order even if Chihaya (or Taichi) shows up. Chihaya is left in a support role, but they manage to clear this round, on the back of three wins from the first year ‘ace’, Tamaru Midori. However, the cracks in the new team that had merely been covered over start to surface again, as the other first years reveal to Tamaru that they dislike how she fishes for praise from them. The final win comes when praise from Komano and Nishida give her a boost in confidence…but then Komano reveals that they did it to teach her a lesson, that she’s easy to manipulate. So even though Miyauchi-sensei asserts that the Mizusawa Karuta club has become something that should continue even without its original driving force and foundation, such an outcome is still uncertain.

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The second round of the Tokyo Prelims: the hole that Taichi left

As it turns out, the format of the Tokyo Prelims gave the Mizusawa Karuta Club two more weeks before they learned just how important Taichi was to their club. Although Sudou mentioned it to Chihaya in an off-the-cuff remark, it quickly becomes obvious as Mizusawa falls to a 2-3 loss to Houmei. The disruption in the team is not helped by Chihaya winning quickly, and amplified due to the negative effect of Komano’s lesson to Tamaru. One thing that’s interesting about the way Suetsugu presented just how detached the team had become is that, in Poem 148, all of the poems that are read during the match describe negative emotions: the cruelty of unrequited love, loneliness, grief.

Learning from that loss, Chihaya starts focusing on trying to fill Taichi’s role. Together, bit by bit, the team starts to come together again, and they defeat Tomihara West 3-2. Most importantly, Chihaya’s frank support gets through to Tamaru, who realises that she’s actually the one with the least faith in herself, which is why she can be swayed so easily. It turns out that Tamaru was named Midori after Sakurazawa-sensei, as her parents both looked up to her when they played karuta themselves. And in their match against Hokuo, we see the vestiges of the indefatigable teams that Mizusawa was the year before, as Komano and Nishida set up the ‘Fatal Game’ to give their team the best chance of winning. Unfortunately luck is not on their side this year, and Hokuo takes the match 4-1. However, Mizusawa still squeaks through to the national tournament based on the 4th tie-breaker. The final card called is “Se wo hayami” #77, the poem that speaks of friends parting ways but coming back together. This is what Chihaya tells Taichi in her message to him after the match.

What was really interesting about the match, however, is that Hyoro was the one who shows us just what Taichi meant to the team. This is the weakest that Hokuo has been in years, with none of the seniors able to carry the team based on their strength. Instead, Hyoro is the core of the team because he has taken the younger players under his wing, helping them find reasons to play and ways to improve, and guiding them away from negativity and confrontation. He turns his own frustration into energy to take his team to the top, enduring defeat after defeat to ensure the best chance for them to succeed. But even then, Hyoro has never given up on himself. He’s always looked for something for himself to gain, a small win of some sort. And that is the core strength behind his team—his never-give-up spirit. And they rise up to the occasion because they want to win for him. As the master of ceremonies tells the students at the end, strength comes not from being able to win by a wide margin, but rather from one’s ability to perservere through hardship. And that is what Hyoro and Taichi have always done.

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The strong and those who chase after them them

Another important theme that runs through the second round of the Tokyo prelims is the relationship between ‘the strong’ and ‘the weak’. In Poem 147, we learn that those who are strong—Suou, Shinobu, the Mizusawa team—have inspired more people to follow in their footsteps—it is their responsibility to live up to that. For Shinobu, this connects to the final scene of Poem 153, where her grandmother tells her to become a karuta pro.

This theme is also echoed in a couple of things that Hyoro tells Chihaya. When he plays her in the Hokuo vs. Mizusawa match, Hyoro remarks that Chihaya has never looked at him, she’s always looked ahead. One of the reasons he wants Taichi to come back is that “it’s lonely being at the side of those who are strong.” At the end of the match, however, he realises that Chihaya has always been looking ahead because she want so relieve the loneliness of those who stand alone at the top. Does this desire not square with the idea of playing in a team? Chihaya, moved by Hyoro’s words to her, seems determined to show that it is not.

What’s interesting, however, is that Taichi has found companionship in being at the side of one of those people. Having left the club (and Chihaya), he is now finding karuta fun, for the first time in his life, so his inner thoughts say. But the cards in that panel speak of heartache (#90), deep longing (#27), nostalgia for the past (#100), never-ending love (#49) and hearing the sounds of the village from afar in a cold autumn (#94). It would seem that Taichi’s heart still lies with his friends in that karuta village that he has distanced himself from. How much longer can he resist its call?

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Some other little notes on various chapters

  • Poem 149: I loved getting some more insight into these three mothers! Take note, kids, it’s really really hard to hide something from your mother when she is the one who does your laundry!
  • Poem 150: Suou’s words about what a genius is—someone able to light a fire quickly. But that does not guarantee that the fire will burn brightly, nor for long. This is obviously something that’s particularly relevant for Suou himself…but does it also apply to any of the other characters we’ve met?
  • Poem 151: The seme/uke misunderstanding is hilarious—Oh Hyoro! I like how it was painted as ‘Tanbi’, however, instead of ‘BL’ or ‘yaoi’—the literary style it represents is incredibly fitting for the cultural side of karuta!
  • And last but not least, movement on the Komano x Kana-chan front? Woohoo!
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“Because you are my sun and my moon, I can keep going.”

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

15 Responses to Catching up on Chihayafuru: Poems 142-153

  1. thacyline says:

    It’s wonderful to hear your thoughts on Chihayafuru again.

    Like

  2. romy says:

    I truely missed your reviews and thanks for pointing out those poems when Taichi was thinking he was having “fun”………..i seem to always miss some of those little important details……

    Like

    • karice says:

      Well, they’re not easy to look up unless you know how to type in Japanese, and even then, it’s really time consuming! First, you have to find out what number in the 100 poems each one is, and then you look for translations and try to see if there’s any pattern to them…so I can’t really blame people for not doing it. Not wanting to do it was one of the other reasons it took me so long to return!

      In any case, I thought they might be important, so I was glad they were. ^^

      (Btw, are you using a different handle name now?)

      Like

  3. sasayan sou says:

    I just stumbled upon your chihayafuru a few days ago and it was really fun reading your reviews. You clearly point out the things that I’ve missed especially with the symbolic ones and it’s a delight reading unbiased and expressive thoughts about chihayafuru.

    Also, I just noticed that your just got back after a long time since your last blog, have fun catching up and cant wait to know about your thoughts on the latest chapters.

    Like

    • karice says:

      Thanks! I doubt anyone can be completely unbiased, but I do try to at least see things from the different povs that the characters all have. Getting stuck into the poems and other parts of the Japanese culture is all part of that.

      Catching up on the manga should indeed be fun, since it’s taken an interesting turn. Thanks for dropping by and commenting — and look forward to seeing you around ^^

      Like

  4. Miyu says:

    I missed your review. I am glad you are back.
    Btw. in your Point of view… with what’s happening lately.
    Who do you think stand more chance to be with Chihaya? Arata or Taichi?

    Like

    • karice says:

      I haven’t read the most recent chapters properly yet.
      And to be honest, even if I had, that’s not a topic I want to comment on. I’m just not a shipper–sorry (^_^)

      Like

  5. Pingback: For the record: かるたしよっさ | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  6. kaye says:

    i loved the part where Hyoro is reminded of how Taichi was able to make the Mizusawa team strong. he was able to relate to Taichi so that’s what he did as well for his team. Taichi inspired him to work hard despite the fact that they both dont have the gifted talents in playing karuta like Chihaya. thanks for the enlightenment 🙂

    Like

    • karice says:

      I was really impressed with how well Suetsugu-sensei used Hyoro here. He’s always been something of a slapstick character, someone whom the people he saw as his rivals didn’t even have in the edge of theirs. Even now, he’s still a B-Class player, if I’m not mistaken. But he really shines here–and more so in the chapters I’ve yet to cover!

      Btw, thank you for dropping by and reading and commenting. You didn’t have to comment on every single post, you know!

      Like

      • kaye says:

        yes he is still a class b player.
        oh please allow me because i really have fun reading your insights.. i enjoy every thing you have written and shared for us to read. thank you.

        Like

        • karice says:

          Of course, if you want to comment, I’m happy for you to do that. I just don’t really have the time to reply to every single comment, especially about the older chapters that I haven’t reread recently…so as long as that’s ok with you… (^^;;

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  7. As somebody who discovered the series mere days before, I loved the clarity your comments brought in as I progressed through the post anime chapters. Chihayafuru is certainly not to be taken at face value; the depth it has is astounding. I admire how objective you’ve been in your analysis. I’m afraid I tend to be more emotionally driven in my perceptions, so your unbiased comments helped shed a light on the things I’d otherwise ignoring.

    I must admit, past chapter 153, I have found myself missing your insights… even though I haven’t been with Chihayafuru for long. I do hope you will cover the rest of the chapters!

    As for 142-153, I loved seeing the other five step up to stabilize the karuta club. Kana x Tsukue-kun was another high point for me (and for everyone, to be honest). Hyoro was amazing here. Suetsugu showcasing the amount of work he’s put into building his current team really paralleled what Taichi had been doing with the Mizusawa team so far. And any focus on Shinobu is wonderful, so here’s to her lofty goal of becoming a karuta professional.

    It was interesting seeing Chihaya so disbalanced in the wake of Taichi’s departure… which leads me to ask – up until the latest chapter (165), do you think that Chihaya has grown emotionally? I was pondering over the raws of 165 (spoilers beyond this point, in case you haven’t caught up), specifically the moment when Taichi left without saying anything. If Taichi had stayed, I can’t for the life of me predict how it might have gone. Mostly, I fear that she might have reduced Taichi’s return to karuta as him being over her, which makes me doubly glad that he left. In terms of Arata, though, I’m again unsure of how she’ll respond but I am hoping that she gives him a proper answer (finally).

    Ah, nothing to do but to wait. Again, I hope you come back to the series. 😀

    Like

    • karice says:

      Hi, and welcome to the fandom!

      Thank you for your generous comments. Chihayafuru is certainly a story that I enjoy analysing (when I find the time!), so I’m glad you’ve found these posts helpful. I am planning to continue my chapter analysis next week, though I may have to see how I go with RL stuff first…

      which leads me to ask – up until the latest chapter (165), do you think that Chihaya has grown emotionally?

      I haven’t actually read the last couple of chapters yet (in fact, after 153, I think I’ve only briefly looked over them), so I can’t really comment, I’m afraid. I’m hoping that she has grown emotionally, but as I suggest above post, I’m not entirely sure that she has learned the lessons she should have learned from the fallout to Taichi’s confession…

      Like

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