I’ll be applying to medical school this year, despite finishing college next year. It’s something that I haven’t found easy to come terms with: getting ready to move onto the next stage with my life. Worse, this movement is a process that is formatted into pieces of paper and writing. Called the AAMCAS application, the form is eighteen pages long – a daunting and even confusing task. There are the courses I have to list down, the letters of recommendation, and the extracurricular activities. Each takes approximately a day to complete, and even then, it’s a process that will take many reviews and edits. But perhaps the one thing that I’ve been held up on is the personal essay section, which asks me the most simple question: Why do you want to be a doctor?
Well, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? To heal people. To make them happy and live satisfied lives. But there is another secret tied in with my desire to blog about anime as well. It’s something I’ve pondered about, and I’ve concluded that I want to tell stories. I want to see stories, experience them, and pass them onto others. To be both a doctor and a storyteller, as reflected in the stories of Mushishi.
Ginko is a Mushi master, a forager, a traveler, a nomad, a doctor. But he is primarily a storyteller. Mushishi is a glimpse of his life pieced by photographs, and each episode is a single frame of his meetings with other people. Whether it be child, teenager, or old man, Ginko walks from village to village, offering his knowledge and guidance toward those who need it, in a strange world where spirits and humans often meet at the wrong junctures.
Each installment of Mushishi thus focuses on his interactions with strangers. The format of the episodes stay relatively the same; a patient is presented with symptoms relating to the Mushi and is either forced to call Ginko or wait for his arrival, Ginko inspects the case and investigates further, and presents an unnatural but simple remedy while explaining the nature of the mushi. As the patient heals, Ginko reminisces further, and then leaves. Rinse, lather, and repeat for nearly 30 + episodes. The lifestyle reminds me of my own father’s day-to-day schedule, treating patient after patient in his office and repeating the process until his appointments are done and then retiring for the day.
You could say that this lifestyle applies to anyone who works hard, and as someone who works in the lab nearly every day, I understand this argument. But there is one significant difference – a clear and decisive one, which separates a scientist, pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake in a laboratory – from a doctor, who is a humanist and pursues for science and the nature of people. Ginko is primarily the latter, as his medicine is not just scientific, but verbal as well. Ginko is ultimately a person who tells stories, and Mushishi is a story about the stories in his life – the ones he collects and keeps as valuable memories regarding mushi, but people as well. In other words, Mushishi is a story about stories. Yes, by every episode, Ginko tends to have a remedy for the Mushi that ails people, but what makes his medicine work is the fact that he gives and receives. He is a mouthpiece for both Mushi and people, and to make sure they keep to their separate and distinct worlds, he must travel and absorb every experience he has.
This can be seen in Episode 9 of the first season. Ginko meets a village which has yearly harvests but to an unusual degree, and at a terrible price – one must die for these bountiful harvests, and is shown to grow a tooth in their mouth right before. The reason for this is that a seed is grown into the ground, which creates the harvest, and then is returned via the death of a person through the “tooth” that was in their mouth. The current priest was told this story, as was the priest before him, and so on, delegating the responsibility – and the burden of the secret – to the successor. The current priest, having heard this story, bears the guilt of using the seed but at the cost of his own wife losing her life. Using it a second time, he plans to absolve himself of this problem by being the one to die, thus ending the cycle and passing down a story that finally has its own conclusion to the next generation via his apprentice, Sane.
And yet, Ginko refuses to let him die, seeing that his life – his story – has its own ending. Ginko feels sympathy for the head priest after hearing his story, and sees the potential of the head priest becoming immortal, passing down the tales of his own life and tragedies in the hopes to guiding his village to a different kind of prosperity. With his medicine, the head priest ends one cycle of stagnation, but begins another of his own, using his own life as as fertilizer, cultivating a garden of words and rich memories to enrich the people after him. Ginko moves on as well, having gained a valuable experience.
Mushishi too, is a kind of fertilizer in its own way. It takes its own medicine to heart, and us, the audience, take it to heart as well. Many of the people I know who watch Mushishi watch it at night, as a way to end the day and go to bed. This isn’t to say that Mushishi’s content is always soothing – at times, it is nearly frightening – but in every episode is always a message that stays with us until we close our eyes. There is a universal truth in each surreal interaction, and because of this, Mushishi makes us ponder about our lives, reevaluate our point of view and choices in life, and think about consequences. Whether it be about the small things – our sight and hearing – or the larger things in life – our relationships with other people – Mushishi is always there, steadfast and honest in its deliverance of stories, revealing truths we had never considered before.
And isn’t that a form of healing as well?
Perhaps what we need isn’t necessarily a physical medicine, but a verbal one as well. Maybe stimulation of the soul and heart is the best remedy at times; a kind of story that makes us pause for a second and think about our lives. By hearing and listening to stories, we allow ourselves to understand ourselves better and give us the chance to move on from our past and into the present. And by passing these stories – the weight of other’s languages and mouths – and refolding experiences into more stories, we gain the capacity to connect with others and give others the ability for self evaluation as well. Ginko understands this deeply, and this is why his medicine is the best one in Mushishi, as narrative allows for empathy, self-reflection, and therefore, better diagnosis and a multifaceted patient-doctor relationship. This is also why Mushishi itself, as a show, is a medicine for us, nurturing our thoughts and self-awareness.
These last few days before application time, I volunteer at nearby hospitals, grabbing patients’ hands and listening to their slow stories. From young to old, each person is different, wrapped up in their soft blue blanket, molded not by their disease, but by their past. Sometimes patients tell a lifetime of unbelievable tragedy, but in the same conversation they have also described their capacity for love. People continue to forge on and search for joy in their lives despite astounding odds, – both in fiction and in reality – and this is what moves me. Every time I walk out of a room, taking off my gloves, I feel something new. I’ve made a connection. I’ve made a story. Maybe I won’t see that patient ever again, but I know their tales and maybe that’s just enough for the both of us.
Because perhaps, in the end, that’s all we really are – stories, waiting to be told and passed on to the next generation. And that’s okay.