Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 8: Learning to let go

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Ibuki’s mother heard that his ship had sunk, yet when she sees her own son, these are the first words to come out of her mouth: “You made it back alive.” Yes, she ended that sentence with a period. If you listen to her tone of voice, you’ll notice that she’s… eh, somewhat taken aback by her son’s sudden appearance? Even so, there’s no hint of happiness in her voice whatsoever. She doesn’t exclaim, “I’m so glad!” Nor does she say, “We feared the worst!” She simply states, “You made it back alive.” How utterly cold for a parent, much less a mother. Afterwards, she mourns the fact that Ibuki won’t be paid now that his ship had sunk: “My goodness. This is trouble. What am I going to feed the children?” I’m not vilifying the woman for wanting to feed her kids. And obviously, if Ibuki can help his family out, he should. Nevertheless, her kids are ultimately her responsibility, aren’t they? He didn’t bring them into the world, did he? That sounds cold, yes, but she’s making it sound as though it is Ibuki’s fault the kids won’t get to eat. She’s the parent, so it’s her job to raise her own children. But that’s the independent streak in me speaking.

Certainly, I can understand the importance of familial ties. And of course, if my family has helped me out, I will do everything I can to help them out in return. When your own mother doesn’t even seem to care whether or not you’re alive, however, it’s simply time to let go. I know this is tough, though. People talk as if family should always be the most important thing in our lives, and who can blame them? After all, most people have had great families. Most people do come from households that are full of warmth and happiness. So of course, they will speak as though family always comes first. It is thus difficult for these same people to fathom why anyone would do something so drastic as to cut his or her own family out of the picture forever. But take some time to walk a mile in Ibuki’s shoes. It’s obvious he’s been seeking his mother’s approval all his life: “If I tell her I’ve become a full-fledged sailor, she’ll be proud, won’t she?” He even spends too much of money buying his mom a pretty, little trinket. She predictably rejects it and thus Ibuki’s feelings as well.

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So think about it. We all know that family is important. This concept is practically drilled into our heads. I’m not even saying it isn’t true. As I’ve said, for most people, it is a fact of life. Now imagine hearing that same spiel everyday, then coming home to a mother like Ibuki’s. At best, it must be confusing, no? At worst, however, Ibuki has probably asked himself, “What is wrong with me? All the other mothers love their sons. Why doesn’t my mother love me?” It’s even worse when you consider the implications of his words to Ginko: “That woman… has never been a mother to me.” We look at Ibuki now as a grown man, and we thus judge him now as a grown man. He’s trying to kill his own mother, after all. Therefore, how utterly horrible of him! This is the worst crime any son can commit! But like Ibuki said, his mom “has never been a mother to [him].” It’s very likely that he’s had to deal with his mother’s rejection even as a child. You don’t seek your mother’s approval one day, then wake up and decide to kill her the next day. Her coldness to his apparent survival is simply the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

But look, I’m not excusing the guy’s actions, and neither is Mushishi. If Ginko had not stepped in, Ibuki would’ve murdered his mother, no ifs and buts about it. And that’s why Ginko stepped in: “It’s up to you what manner of man you will become.” As they say (probably not Buddha but he’s often attributed to this quote), “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.” Ginko thus warns Ibuki that if the latter continues to use mushi selfishly, he will end up destroying himself in the process as well. Perhaps not literally, but at the very least, Ibuki will become a murderer, and this would be a stain on his conscience until the day he dies. I know Ibuki’s tired of it all. He’s especially tired of being blamed for everything. Even when he nearly died, his mother implicitly blames him for her children’s lack of food. Even when he’s calling forth the bird-like Torikaze in order to drive out the snake-like Yobito and thus save his mother’s life, his father comes by to scold him: “Ibuki, why are you whistling at a time like this? Your mother’s very sick, you know! You ungrateful wretch!”

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In the end, Ibuki does his best to swallow his hate. He continues to whistle despite his father’s harsh words. He knows what he has to do even if he’ll be blamed for it. Ibuki’s actions ultimately serve as both his mother’s salvation and his retribution against her. He saves her life, but it is as if the Torikaze had carried his anger and sadness along with them. A torrent of wind comes crashing through his parents’ home, thereby ridding them of the Yobito, but nearly destroying the house in the process as well. With that, Ibuki wipes his slate clean and walks away. He cuts his ties from his family for good: “After that, the boy was never seen in the village again.” It isn’t that family is bad. Rather, Ibuki had a bad family. Sometimes, the wisest thing you can do is to just walk away. Like everything else, family is what you make of it. His mother was never there for him, so she isn’t really family. If he walks away now, he might even have a chance to start his own family. For family-centric cultures like Japan where multiple generations can end up living under the same roof, this can be a tough pill to swallow, but at times, it’s a necessary pill nonetheless.

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