A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
The wallpaper on this page is shown courtesy of
Shu Suehiro at
It is a glorious and
rich site for anyone interested in plants both Japanese and otherwise.
The Wittlesbach-Graff diamond is
being used to mark
additions from September 1 to
December 31, 2017.
The Jakuchu parakeet was used
from May 1 thru September 30,
The photo of the geese on the lawn
at the Bloedel Reserve was
as a marker from January 1 to
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan, Koma,
Komono, Kōmori, Komugi, Komusō,
Kongara Dōji and Seitaka
Dōji, Kongōsho, Konjaku monogatari,
Kōro, Kōshi, Kōshijima, Koshimaki, Koshimino,
Kotatsu, Kote, Koto,
Kōwaka 幸若 こうわか, Koyasugai,
Kujira, Kumagai Jirō Naozane, Kumihimo,
Kuri, Kurogo, Kurowatsunagi, Kuro yuri,
Kuruma, Kuruma bin, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, Kushi, Kushōjin
笄, 河骨, 黒蠅地獄,
国立国会図書館, 独楽, 紅毛,
小者, 蝙蝠, 小麦,
矜羯羅童子 & 制た迦童子,
金剛杵, 香炉, 格子, 格子縞, 腰巻, 腰蓑, 庚申塚,
籠手, 琴, 琴柱, 小鼓,
熊谷次郎直実, 組紐, 位星, 黒子,郭繋,
草薙の剣, 櫛, 倶生神
One more note about this
page and all of the others on this site:
If two or more sources are
cited they may be completely contradictory.
I have made no attempt to
referee these differences, but have simply
repeated them for your
edification or use. Quote anything you find here
at your own risk and with a
whole lot of salt.
Click on the yellow
to go to linked
"Long hairpins used
for traditional Japanese hairstyles. Originally, kōgai were used
by both men and women for parting and styling the hair, as well as for
scratching the scalp. During the Edo period (1600-1868), they also
functioned as women's hair ornaments, varying in size and decoration. Kōgai
were made of wood, bamboo, metal, glass, tortoiseshell, or the shinbones of
cranes and were sometimes decorated with gold and silver lacquework." Quote from:
vol. 4, entry by Hashimoto Sumiko, p. 246.
"An ornament made
of shell, worn by married women in the hair; also, two iron rods carried in
the scabbard of the short sword, used as chopsticks." Quote from: A
Japanese and English Dictionary with and English and Japanese Index, by
James Curtis Hepburn, published by Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1991 edition, p.
The photograph on
the bottom has been sent to us by a particularly good friend who has a
collection of such things. Notice the difference between the this kōgai
and the detail from the Kunichika print above it. Obviously these are
considerably different. However, when I tried to find an example in print
form like the one on the bottom I was stumped although this is the standard
type shown when searched on the Internet. Hmmm?
(See also our entry
"...a flattened rod about
six to eight inches with flared, and sometimes elaborately decorated ends.
Hair was wrapped around the plain center piece. In the Heian period
(795-1185), kōgai were used by both men and women of the imperial court in
imitation of Chinese styles. By the Edo period, styles had changed enough
for both men and women that kōgai were used exclusively by women." Quoted
Material Culture, essay by Martha Chaiklin, p. 45.
"In the third month of 1789,
the shogunate mandated that 'Gold should never be used for combs, kōgai
or kanzashi. Those of silver and tortoiseshell should not be large
and the buying and selling of worked, expensive pieces should cease
immediately'. Apparently not finding this effective, six months later the
following directive was issued: 'Gold combs, kōgai or kanzashi
are of course prohibited, and not only should production of silver and
tortoiseshell worked goods of high value be halted, but combs should not
cost more than 100 silver pieces and kanzashi and kōgai should
only be of low cost'..." Ibid., p. 50
"Even something seemingly
easily available domestically, such as the leg bones of cranes, which were
used for kōgai, were a luxury item. Cranes were eaten but only
by elites and even then, restricted to special occasions such as New Years
banquets. Commoners were not supposed to kill cranes because they were
favored prey for hawking, a sport reserved for the warrior class. One crane
leg bone could make four kōgai but there couldn't have been
large quantities of crane bones available to craftsmen." Ibid., p. 54
spatterdock motif used occasionally for family crests or mons. John W. Dower
in his The Elements of Japanese Design (p. 78) speculated that
variations of this pattern were used because they closely resembled
the more prestigious hemlock or aoi motif.
The choice of
coloring is all my own and not taken from any traditional usage.
The photos of the kōhone are provided by Shu Suehiro at
"A perennial water-grass growing in ponds, swamps, and brooks. Rootstocks
trailing in the mud at the bottom of kô or kawa (the water)
look line hone (white bones); hence the name."
futa-moto saku ya
ame no naka
In the dreary rain,
unexpectedly, not one but two kô-hone
are blooming. - Buson (蕪村: 1716-84)
There is a strained bean paste cake dyed the color of the kōhone
tsubomi ririshi ya
The buds of kô-hone
look dignified even though they have just emerged from the water.
Both of the two quotes above
come from Chado the Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac.
"The thick horizontal root-stocks of this plant, which are rich in starch,
are used as an article of diet. They are first cut into small pieces
and scalded, and then either cooked with millet or rice, or put into a soup.
The root-stocks are also dried and kept for winter use, and are said to be
very delicious." Quoted from: Transactions of the Asiatic Society of
Japan, Volume 21, 1898.
There are also kô-hone
with red buds and flowers.
The Black Rope Hell -
"...the second of the eight hot hells... of the Buddhist cosmos. In
this hell, the henchmen of YAMA tie the unfortunate denizens to the ground
with hot iron chains; then, marking lines on their victims' bodies with
black string, they use those lines as guides to cut the body into pieces
with burning saws. After the bodies of the denizens of this hell have been
cut into pieces, they are made whole again and the process is repeated."
Quoted from: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, pp. 407-408.
"Murderers and robbers are
destined to the Hell of the Black Whips (kokujō jigoku 黒縄地獄 ) where they
must lie down on a flaming iron ground, and suffer the lashes of the fiends,
iron whips. Their flesh is cut by axes, swords, and saws along the marks
left by the whips, until the sinners, bodies are reduced to a thousand small
pieces of flesh. On both sides of this hell there stands a huge iron
mountain crowned on the top by many iron poles. On each connecting set of
two poles is a chain under which is located a big boiling pot. Sinners must
walk on all fours on the chains with heavy weights on their backs, until
they inevitably fall into the pot, thus being immediately boiled. Four doors
lead from the main hell to sixteen minor hells where those who committed
suicide without paying attention to their duties find their punishment."
Quoted from: "The Development of Mappo Thought in Japan" by Michele Marra in
the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1988, pp. 42-43.
In Sanskrit this is referred
to as kālasūtra.
Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan
The National Diet Library: The
Britannica says of this instituton: "...the national library of
Japan, formed at Tokyo in 1948 and combining the libraries of the upper and
lower houses of the Diet (national legislature) with the collections of the
former Imperial Library (established 1872). The library’s building opened in
1961, adjacent to the National Diet Building. It is organized on the system
of the U.S. Library of Congress, serving legislators and the nation at large
through various major divisions and 35 branch libraries."
The image to the left was
posted at Wikimedia.commons by Tsu.
The top appears to
be native to Japan and may be like so many other things which were invented
independently in many different places. It was already popular by the Heian
period. Eventually it came to be one of those 'games' played by boys during
the New Year's celebration.
What puzzles me,
and many things puzzle me, is why, when and how the top became a family
crest or mon in Japan. What family would pick it if they weren't top making
specialists? When I lived in the Midwest a local university needed to choose
a name and mascot for its men's basketball team. They decided on the
kangaroo shortened to roo. I understand that they chose it because of that
animal's legendary ability to jump and leap, but I couldn't help thinking
that it seemed a little silly for a Missouri school to opt for an
herbivorous, leaping Australian marsupial which normally could only be seen
in American zoos -- unless, of course, one was lucky enough to travel down
under and then get off the beach or out of the pub.
Koma asobi (独楽遊び
a game played by boys.
In a children's book, Spinning Toys by Dana Meachen Rau (published by Compass Point Books,
2004, p. 6) the author states: "Tops first came to Japan from China about
1,200 years ago. [Of course this contradicts what I said at the top of this
entry.] They were not children's toys. Only very wealthy people played with
Foreigner(s) - literally
'red hairs' meaning the Dutch, but by extension all Westerners. Originally
it was meant as a derogatory term. Also referred to as komojin (紅毛人 or
"Prior to the 1630s, the
western foreigners were referred to as Seinanbanjin (Barbarians from
the Southwest), Nanbanjin (Southern Barbarians), or Kōmō
(Red Hairs — a term with frightening and negative connotations)." Quoted
from: Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women,
1543-1900 by Gary Leupp, p. 9.
Ian Buruma in his Inventing Japan, 1853-1964 says: "The popular image of the Dutch was
that of exotic beasts, who lifted their legs, like dogs, when they relieved
themselves. Their hair was red and their eyes a devilish blue."
A young person; a petty
servant; an errand boy of a samurai family; a person of a lowly status; a
The image to the left is from a
Kuniyoshi print based on the Chūshingura. It shows the servant Jinzaburō, a
retainer of Shikamatsu Kanroku. To see the full image click on it. Several
members of the league of 47 warriors were known to have employed komono.
Henry D. Smith II wrote in a footnote to a scholarly work on the Chūshingura:
"The most famous of these servants, both in fact and legend, was Jinzaburō
甚三郎, the servant-retainer of Chikamatsu Kanroku 近松勘六 (1670-1703) who brought
oranges and rice cakes for the rōnin after the attack on Kira."
Bat - a commonly
used motif. See our entry listed under
fú. There are two other readings of these
characters which also mean bat: kawahori (かわほり) and henpuku (へんぷく). All of
these also mean 'opportunist'.
Several sources refer to a komori-gasa or bat umbrella. These were
the Western umbrellas imported into Japan during the Meiji restoration.
i.e., Triticum aestivum is wheat and is the source of the flour used
to make udon noodles. We discussed soba and udon noodles on one of our
Toyokuni I pages.
(小麦粉 or こむぎこ) is the term used for wheat flour.
Also, go to our entry
udon noodles on our
Yakata-bune inedex/glossary page.
According to A
Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients and Culture by Richard Hosking (p.
82) komugi is also used in making soy sauce and miso.
THE MYTHIC ORIGIN OF
WHEAT (AND SERICULTURE): In the Kojiki (古事記 or こじき), as translated by
Donald L. Philippi (p. 87), Book I, Chapter 18, Susa-nö-wo approaches the food goddess
and asks her for sustenance. "Then Opo-gë-tu-pime took various viands out of
her nose, her mouth, and rectum, prepared them in various ways, and
presented them to him./Thereupon Paya-susa-nö-wo-nö-mikötö, who had been
watching her actions, thought that she was polluting the food before
offering it to him and killed Opo-gë-tu-pime-nö-kamď./ In the corpse of the
slain deity there grew [various] things: in her head there grew silkworms;
in her two eyes there grew rice seeds; in her two ears there grew millet; in
her nose there grew red beans; in her genitals there grew wheat; in her
rectum there grew soy beans."
In the Nihon shoki
(日本書紀 or にほんしょき) the version is somewhat different. In that one the Sun
goddess is angered by the Moon deity who slays the food goddess. From the
head comes cattle and horses, but wheat still originates in the genitals.
The entry on wheat and
barley by Hoshikawa Kiyochika in the
(vol. 8, p. 251) gives an alternative source to the ones mentioned above:
"Both of these grains were introduced to Japan at nearly the same time in
the 3rd or 4th century AD from China."
The images to the left
are being shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
We would urge you to
visit that valuable site.
mendicant Buddhist Zen monk of the Fuke subgroup of the Rinzai (
臨済 or りんざい) sect. They
wear large sedge hats, tengai, which hide their identities and play
the Japanese flute or shakuhachi. Always dressed in their priests
robes and large hat this became a favorite disguise for lovers, spies and
criminals as was frequently portrayed in the kabuki theater.
According to the Dictionary of Japanese Culture by Setsuko Kojima and Gene A. Crane (p.
185) these strolling priests made their first appearance during the
Muromachi period (1336-1568). One of the later give-aways that the monk was
not really a monk, but a disguised samurai was the sword they carried at
Mock Joya states
that the monks head was completely covered because they were not allowed to
show their faces outside of their monasteries. The reason so many samurai
adopted this costume came about from the fact that they had fled to the Fuke
monasteries for protection and chose to dress like the monks when they went
out into the world. Although the Fuke sect was dissolved by the Meiji
administration near the beginning of its term this didn't totally stop
beggars from wearing the same guise because the public continued to feed and
support them. (Source: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p. 545)
The image to the
left above is a detail from the Gyōsho Tōkaidō series by Hiroshige. Here
two kamusō are encountering a peddler. Below that is a detail
from a photo posted by Tarourashima at commons.wikimedia. It shows that kamusō
are still active.
In Edo Culture: Daily Life
and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868 by Nishiyama Matsunosuke (p.
122) it states that "...the shakuhachi-playing monks called komosō...
[were later called komusō]..." On page 124 the author says: "These
monks formed an association that functioned as a kind of relief organization
for masterless samurai. The way of the komusō was an honorable
calling. As a member of the warrior class , a komusō might
theoretically be summoned to rout an enemy. Komusō were thus
granted freedom to travel anywhere they pleased. They were given the right
to use ferries free of charge and even attended the theater without paying
admission. Komusō often misused their privileges, however, and
were known to wreck havoc on the road or in the villages through which they
passed. The bakufu responded to such behavior by repeatedly issuing various
prohibitions. [¶] Komusō were required to tour either alone or
in pairs; no large groups of komusō roamed the land during the Edo
period. Moreover, komusō were not allowed to stay at a location for
longer than a day; nor did they have the right to use horses or palanquins.
The komusō were, however, never required to remove their basketlike
hat. No matter how exalted a presence they might encounter on the road or at
an inn, they were not obliged to show their faces. Hence on both the roads
and at inns, komusō were highly conspicuous. [¶] Over one hundred
komusō temples existed throughout Japan." Their sect was 'abolished by
law' in 1871 after the Tokugawa government fell, but they were reinstated in the
middle of the Meiji period.
Komuso literally means "monks 僧
of empty 虚 nothingness 無"
The komusō is used twice
in two different acts of the Chushingura, i.e., 'The Tale of the 47
Loyal Retainers'. In Act VI Gōemon and Yogorō disguise themselves by wearing
wicker hats. In Act IX a mother agrees to kill her daughter. At the same
time there is a komusō playing his flute nearby. Every
time she is about to strike the fatal blow someone yells "Stop!" The mother
doesn't know if this is meant for her or the komusō. At this point
Ōishi, the wife of Kuranosuke, the leader of the 47 men, enters carrying a
small tray, compliments the mother and daughter on the sacrifice they were
willing to make. Then she demands that the head of Honzō be placed on the
tray in exchange for a dowry to an agreed marriage. Oishi declares: "I want
Honzō's white head on this stand. If you refuse, my husband and I will put
other heads there, it doesn't matter whose." Implying that the heads of the
mother, Tonase, and that of her daughter, Konami, would serve just as well.
At this point Honzō makes his presence known. "I offer you the head of
Kakogawa Honzō. Please take it. NARRATOR: "The komusō who had been
standing at the gate removes his hat and throws it down. He silently walks
inside. KONAMI: Father! TONASE: Honzō, what are you doing here? And in
that disguise. I don't understand. What does it mean." Below are two image
of Honzō. The one on the left is from a print by Hokusai and the one on the
right is a detail from a triptych by Toyokuni III.
A. C. Scott wrote in 1955 in The Kabuki Theatre of Japan that "The name komusō was that of the
follower of the Buddhist priest Kakusha, who returned from China in A.D.
1254, and was said to have introduced the shakuhachi from there, his pupils
after that carrying it when preaching Buddhism. In the Tokugawa era lordless
samurai, seeking vengeance, began to adopt the komusō costume
as a disguise, often carrying the flute made of much stouter bamboo as a
weapon." [So far this is the only information we have found on Kakusha and
can not as yet corroborate this story.]
We now have an answer to the
problem posed above: "Kakushin [覚心 or かくしん], who studied under Fu-yen in
China, founded a mendicant form of Zen Buddhism, usually referred to as komusō
(community of nothingness)." (Quoted from: Religion in Japanese History by
Joseph Kitagawa, footnote 85, p. 123)
The Fuke sect was founded in
1255. "...Fuke was founded by Kakushin who... went to China in 1249 and
received Zen training under Fu-yen (Butsugen), a great teacher of the
school. On his return home he founded the school of homeless mendicancy,
commonly called 'community of nothingness,' in which the members were said
to be 'lying on dew and feeding on air.' " (Quoted from: The Essentials
of Buddhist Philosophy by T. Takakusu, p. 169)
"Despite his great gifts,
Shinchi Kakushin... (1207-1298), a contemporary of Enni, did not play as
important a role in Japanese Zen history, for he loved solitude and after an
exciting apprenticeship took up permanent residence on a remote piece of
land in his native region." His sojourn in China lasted six years.
In Edo Culture...., a
book cited above, the author said that travel for the komusō was
unrestricted. However, Constantine Vaporis in Breaking Barriers: Travel
and the State in Early Modern Japan twice throws doubt on this claim. On
page 131 he lists a number of types who "...were prohibited from entering
numerous domains." Komusō were listed among them. Later (p. 147)
Vaporis notes that komusō with legitimate passes could travel
freely. However, komusō without permits would be questioned
thoroughly and only if they were deemed acceptable, i.e., non-threatening
could they continue. It should be noted that women needed permits -
especially if they were traveling westward from Edo. They didn't need them
if they were heading into the shogunal capitol. Among others, like women,
who needed travel permits were "...prisoners, the wounded, decapitated
heads, corpses, and the insane..."
Konbu (or kombu)
A type of kelp used in food
preparation. Also referred to as the devil's apron and any kelp from the
"The importance of this
seaweed in Japanese food life can scarcely be overestimated. It is essential
for making dashi stock and is used in innumerable other ways in cooking.
Konbu requires cold water and grows off the coasts of northern Japan,
especially Hokkaido, where rausu konbu 羅臼昆布, for making dashi, and
rishiri konbu 利尻昆布, for general use, are cultivated and harvested in
vast quantities at the end of summer. The konbu is dried and cut into
lengths of 1 m or more for sale. Specialist shops sell it in such lengths,
but supermarkets have to sell it in shorter lengths or folded up. Shredded
konbu can be fried and eaten as agemono or itamemono, and shaved
konbu, previously soaked in vinegar, is used for making tororo konbu and
oboro konbu. Konbu tsukudani is very popular and o-shaburi
konbu is chewed, a traditional alternative to gum. Konbu is
enormously rich in mono-sodium glutamate..." Quoted from: A Dictionary of
Japanese Food: Ingredients & Culture by Richard Hosking, pp. 82-3
Kongara Dōji and Seitaka Dōji
Fudō Myōō, one of the
five wise kings of Buddhism, is almost always shown as with his two
attendants Kongara and Seitaka, at least as far as ukiyo prints were
involved. There are several references in certain esoteric Buddhist sutras
which mentions a total of eight attendants. In fact, there were sculptures
of the Kamakura period (1192-1333) created for temples which showed Fudō
Myōō amidst this larger grouping.
The images to the left and
above are from an 1851 Toyokuni III triptych in the Lyon Collection.
the Japanese word
for the vajra which is a symbol of esoteric Buddhism used by the Shingon and
Tendai sect. It is a physical representation of the Diamond or Thunderbolt
Realm which is one of two forms of Buddhist reality. Originally an
Indo-Aryan thunderbolt weapon it eventually evolved into a single, double,
triple or even five pronged object. In the image to the left the vajra is the handle of a bell.
"The Buddhist vajra
embodies the incisive power of wisdom to disarm hindrances to enlightenment.
A five-pronged vajra, employed only by the chief officiant, is associated
with five kinds of wisdom of the Five Great Dhyani Buddhas...as well as with
the five elements...the five senses, and many other sets of five. A
three-pronged vajra is linked to karma and its manifestations in body,
speech, and mind." (Quoted from:
of Japan, vol. 1,
entry by Jane T. Griffin, p. 196)
An alternate name
for the kongōsho is toko.
It is also known as a kongō rei (金剛霊 or こんごうれい) or ritual bell.
It is also referred to
as a gokorei (五鈷鈴 or ごこれい) whenever it
has five prongs which generally converge at the top .
Robert Beer in his book The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs
published by Shambala in Boston in 1999 (pp. 233-4) says of the vajra "As
the adamantine sceptre of peaceful divinities and the indestructible weapon
of wrathful deities, the vajra symbolises the male principle of
method or skilful means. It is held in the right or male hand [in Tibetan
iconography]. When coupled with the ghanta or bell - which symbolises
wisdom and is held in the left or female hand - their pairing represents the
perfect union of method and wisdom, or skilful means and discriminating
"...the vajra, the
Diamond Thunderbolt, was also taken over into Buddhism and there became one
of its pre-eminent symbols and the very foundation of the doctrines of the
Vajrayāna, the Way of the Vajra. The vajra is a multivalent
symbol: clear and transparent like water, it is taken to represent the
Void...; it is the pounder or pestle of Knowledge... that crushes the
defilements of ignorance and passion so as to reveal the eternal and
immutable reality of the many dharmas; it is a weapon hurled to
destroy the hindrances that block the attainment of Enlightenment, used as
Indra did to destroy the Serpent; it is the lightening flash of Awakening;
it is the diamond, indestructible, permanent and shining like the Dharma.
'Lying beyond words or thought, depending on nothing, showing no dharmas,
without beginning, middle, or end, inexhaustible, transcending all
imperfection, immutable, incorruptible - Knowledge of the Real is like the
vajra, which surpasses three surpassing qualities: it is
indestructible; it is the most excellent of jewels; and it is the foremost
of weapons'. 'Even when buried in the mud... for innumerable aeons Knowledge
is not decayed and never loses its ability to crush the passions; in the
same way the diamond, even though buried in the earth for millennia still
remains undecayed and unharmed, and is still capable of crushing the
encrustations of lust and anger'."
Quoted from: Symbolism of
the Stupa, by Adrian Snodgrass and Craig J. Reynolds, originally
published by Motilal Banarsidass (in 1992), 2007, p. 174.
Vajras are normally held in the
right hand while the left hold a bell. (Ibid. p. 175) What is important
"...is that each [vajra] is an axial symbol, homologous with the Cosmic
Pillar." (Ibid.) "The shaft of the vajra defines the axis of the
world or, its equivalent, the axle of the Wheel. The Wheel of the Dharma is
frequently shown with vajra spokes, thus identifying the vajra with
the radii that connect our plane of existence... with the Void-point at the
hub." (p. 176) Snodgrass notes that Coomaraswamy [a great scholar] had
pointed out that often the spokes of the Wheel of the Law are composed of
"The [kongōsho] thunderbolt
symbolizes the wisdom that vanquishes delusion, while the bell was rung to
call deities to the altar and celebrate their approach." (Quoted from:
Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview, by Tsuneko S. Sadao and Stephanie
Wada, published by Kodansha International, 2003, p. 134)
The two photos of the
vajra/kongōsho are shown on this site courtesy of Jnn at http://commons.wikimedia.org/. And boy are
"(Tales of a Time That Is Now
Past). A collection of more than 1,000 short tales said to have been
compiled at a retreat in Uji, southwest of Kyōto, by a nobleman,
Minamoto no Takakui (1004-77), from tales told him by passers-by. This
tradition has been discredited, partly because the work contains references
to events after 1077 but mostly because the work contains references to
events after 1077 but mostly because, although many of the tales are
evidently based on oral tradition, others derive from literary sources
including Buddhist scriptures, Chinese histories, and secular Japanese
works. (One of the sources seems not to have been brought to Japan until
1120.) ¶ Possibly the work was never completed. It is divided into 31 books:
5 are about India, mostly concerning the Buddha and the growth of Buddhism;
5 about China (1 not extant), including some non-Buddhist as well as many
Chinese Buddhist tales; and 21 about Japan (2 not extant), approximately
evenly divided between Buddhist and secular themes. The Japanese Buddhist
tales contain among others, legends about Prince Shōtoku (574-622), famous
priests, the founding of temples, miracles brought about by the Lotus Sutra
or by Kannon or by Jizō, and instances of rebirth in Amida's Paradise. The
Japanese secular tales deal with such varied subjects as the Fujiwara
family, famous warriors, tales about poems, ghosts, or criminals, but
include also many humorous or gossipy, often bawdy or even grotesque
anecdotes about the lives of both the nobility and the common people.
Notably, the tales include no myths, and Shintō themes play a very small
part.¶ The title is derived from the opening words of each story, the same
'Once-upon-a-time' used in fairy tales, though in the Konjaku monogatari
it is used indiscriminately for stories remote and near in time. Moreover
the stories are told as legends, describing actual events, not as fairy
tales. Konjaku tales can be described as 'popular' because they are
earthy, prosaic narratives devoid of the refined qualities (suggestiveness
and understatement) of Heian court literature. They depict all classes of
society, high and low alike, but they are not 'folk literature.' We do not
know how the collection was compiled, whether by one man or by several... or
why (it may have been a promptbook for preachers, though some of the tales
are hardly edifying)." Quoted from: Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan,
vol. 4, pp. 270-1, entry by Douglas E. Mills.
An incense burner. The
smoke itself if referred to as kōen (香煙 or こうえん). Below is an incense burner from
the Walters Museum in Baltimore. We found it online at commons.wikimedia. It
is from the Edo period, ca. 1775-1800, and is decorated with the crest of
the Tokugawa clan, the
aoi. Magnificent, isn't it?
Latticework - this
is at the front of the house of prostitution facing the street through which
the courtesans can be viewed by prospective customers. This hardly
differs from a visit to the red-light district of Amsterdam in the late
1960s where the 'ladies' displayed their goods in the street level windows.
Of course, these were geared toward the individual girl and not a whole bevy
of beauties. Perhaps they still do that today, but haven't seen this for
myself in decades.
See also our entry on
on our Kutsuwa thru Mok index/glossary page.
Plaid: Plaids in
Japanese prints are a special interest of mine. I have asked several
questions of several scholares about their history, but have yet to get a
satisfactory response. Anyone interested in Scotland (香港仔 or すこっとらんど) knows
that the Scots are famous for their plaid tartans. Patterning may be
natural to every culture on earth, but as best I can tell only the Scots and
the Japanese raised it to the level of an art form. Question: Could the
importation of Scottish patterns have influenced their development of plaids in Japan
or can someone show me examples that pre-date Japanese contact with the
West? Surely there is someone out there who is versed well enough with the
history of Japanese textiles who could tell me the answer.
benkeigōshi (弁慶格子 or べんけいごうし) and benkeijima (弁慶縞 or べんけいじま) are also words
is an underskirt or undergarment worn beneath the kimono.
The image at the
top to the left shows a beautiful woman who is probably applying her makeup.
Below that is an enlarged detail of the place where her bare leg appears.
When the red
koshimaki appears ruffled it is said to be reminiscent of labia. The
color emphasizes that allusion.
The two top detail
images to the left are from a print by Kunisada.
What Japanese Words Say About Women by Kittredge Cherry published by
Kodansha International in 1987 on page 26 there is an entry entitled ko
itten: A Touch of Scarlet. "When a lone flower blooms brightly in the
foliage, Japanese admire it for adding 'a touch of scarlet' (ko itten).
The same phrase denotes one woman in a group of men."
with women "...seems commonsensical to the Japanese. Red is 'pretty', an
attribute females are supposed to seek." It can also be the color of a happy
celebration. However, it is the undergarments which are really the subject
of this entry. "The undergarments worn beneath kimonos by Japanese women
traditionally have been red, a color thought to ward off menstrual pain and
keep the female reproductive system running smoothly. Men considered a
glimps of this red underwear to be very erotic." Remember Cole Porter said
"In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking..."
And that was said about Western society in 1934.
The image to the
left at the bottom is a detail from a print by Yoshitosh showing the
disheveled courtesan Shiraito of the Hashimoto house published in 1886. The
red undergarment is clearly visible from her right shoulder down to her
feet. Take a fresh look at some of your prints or images in books or on-line
when you get a chance and perhaps you will see them in a new light - that
is, if you didn't already know this stuff.
Ko itten is
紅一点 or こういってん.
A clearer sense: In Kosode: 16th-19th Century Textiles from the Nomura Collection by
Amanda Mayer Stinchecum it states that the koshimaki is "Literally
[a] 'waist wrap'.... Worn slipped off the shoulders and held only at
the waist by a separate sash."
A grass apron worn
by cormorant (ukai) fishermen. Koshi (腰) means 'hip' and properly
mino (蓑) means
but in this case a
protective straw apron.
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Eisen.
See also our
entries on ukai and mino.
A pointed stone
stele which was thought to be imbued with the spirit of a god or kami
travelers. Frequently carved with the image of the three monkeys.
For a full view of
the whole print by Yoshiiku click on the number one in the column to the
right. For more information about koshinzuka click on the number two
to the right. That way you will also see the full triptych by Kunisada.
Tissue used during the Edo
period for blowing one's nose. In the Shikidō Ōkigami (色道大鏡 or
しきどうおおかがみ) or 'The Great Mirror of the Erotic Way' from 1678 it states:
"Tissue for blowing the nose should be restricted kosugiwara paper.
Some men say that kosugiwara paper is, of course, proper for women
but too elegant for men, and they wonder is if they should use kobanshi
paper. This would not be right. For nose tissue in the demimonde, both men
and women must always use kosugiwara paper." (Quoted from: "She Loves
Me, She Loves Me Not: Shinjū and Shikidō Ōkigami" by Lawrence
Rogers, Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 49, no. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 32-3)
Kobanshi (小判紙 or
こばんし) means small banshi. Banshi was the most popular paper
used during the Edo period.
The image shown above is by
Kunisada. The bijin, i.e., beautiful woman, holding a roll of tissues
in here mouth. We are in no way implying that these are kosugiwara.
It has been said elsewhere that images such as these were/are considered
erotic on more than one level. This may do as much with their connection
with the lips and mouth as with the fact that prostitutes were said to have
used such tissues to clean themselves after intercourse.
In point of fact, kosugiwara
may be a corrupted version of sugihara (杉原 or すぎはら) with ko
(小) meaning small. "The ritual exchange of gifts of a bundle of paper with
either a fan or a roll of silk was popular in the Heian Period, and is often
described in detail in the diaries of nobles of that time. This practice
couaght on among the samurai of the Middle Ages, and Sugiharagami was
the paper they favored. Sugiharagami was so widely used in medieval
Japan that it could easily be called the representative paper of the era..."
(Quoted from: Tesuki WASHI Shuho: Fine Handmade Papers of Japan, by
Yasuo Kume, published by Yushodo, Tokyo, 1980, vol. I, p. 68.) In 1116 the
first reported gift of this paper was made to the Imperial Court. In time it
was made in different locations, but its production was stopped by the late
In 1966 a monument was raised
"...to commemorate the birthplace of Sugiharagami at Kami-machi, and in 1972
the town established the Sugiharagami Research Institute..." to revive the
production of this papaer. (Ibid., p. 69) Below is a selection of these
posted at commons.wikimedia.org by Tomomarusan.
The oldest book on Japanese
papermaking, the Kamisuki Taigai (紙漉大概? or かみすきたいがい), written in 1784
A charcoal brazier in a well
in the floor with a table at floor level often draped with a large thick
quilt to retain heat.
The description of the kotatsu in the Smithsonian 1917 bulletin
differs somewhat from what we know of it today. "In Japan there is in use a
brazier called kotatsu, a pottery vessel set in a square wood frame. It is
placed in the center of a sleeping room in very cold weather, and people
sleep with feet against the kotatsu, over which is spread a quilt."
Where charcoal was used in the past electricity is used today.
"...the irori [i.e., hearth] is more central within the house and is
used for both heat and cooking. A fire is always kept burning in the irori
(the smoke keeps insects out of thatched roofs and helps preserve the wood
structure.) ¶ Historically in cold weather a wood frame could be placed over
the irori and aquilt thrown over the frame to trap the heat and warm
people's feet. This became known as a kotatsu or okigotatsu,
which eventually transformed into the movable kotatsu (...a table
with a brazier attached under the top surface, usually with a quilt over the
top) and the horigotatsu (a“dug out” kotatsu —a sunken space
around the irori to allow people to sit on the floor as if sitting in
a chair and have their legs warmed by the heat of the hearth." Quoted from:
Traditional Japanese Architecture: An Exploration of Elements and Forms
by Mira Locher, 2013.
An amorous couple warming
themselves by the kotatsu.
This print is attributed to
Eisen and comes from the Lyon Collection.
protective sleeve worn on the forearm of a warrior. According to one
informative site only the left arm was covered until the 12th century. This
was done to keep the armor robe away from the bowstring. From the 12th
century on the kote was worn on both arms.
It was common to
decorate the sleeves with the family crest or mon.
The first character
means 'basket' or
'cage' and the second character
手 means 'hand.'
The details to the
left are from a print by Yoshiiku. To see the full print click on the number
1 to the right.
While researching information about
Bishamon I ran across a couple of terms for
samurai armor which I found particularly interesting. The first was for a
Bishamon-gote (毘沙門籠手 or びしゃもんごて) or a sleeve designed to look like that worn
by this guardian god. The second was the Bishamon-sune-ate (毘沙門脛当て or
びしゃもんすねあて) or like shin guard.
The source for this
information comes from Oriental Armour by H. Russell Robinson (published by
Courier Dover Publications, 2002, p. 223 - originally published in 1967).
"The Forty-Seven Ronin's
arms were protected by wearing a pair of kote, the usual form of
sleeve armour, which was a cloth bag with mail on the outer surface
reinforced with lacquered iron plates at the elbows, forearms and hands.
Over these and the padded jacket was worn a loose haori, a
shortsleeved cloth outer jacket not unlike a judo suit. The jacket was
pulled in at the waist with a stout belt, into which were thrust the
scabbards of the two swords that indicated their status as samurai. The
sleeves of the haori would be tied back to allow freedom of movement when
the wearer went into action by using a
a crossed-over cloth band." Quoted from: The Revenge of the 47 Ronin -
Edo 1703 by Stephen Turnbill, n.p.
A popular Japanese
zither usually made of paulownia wood with 13 strings which are plucked with
small plectrums on the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.
According to The
Shogun Age Exhibition (cat. entry #254, p. 242) the "koto (also
called the sō) is a musical instrument of Western origins that came
to be used in China in about the eighth century, B.C. The koto used
at the beginning of the Christian era had five strings, but it is thought
that the change to the present-day thirteen string model occurred sometime
in the fifth or sixth century, A.D."
To the left is a
family crest or mon using the bridge of the koto as the basic design. A
different design motif was used for the bridge of a shamisen.
A small hand drum -
There are two kinds of hand drums: the ōtsuzumi (hip drum) and the
kotsuzumi (shoulder drum). We know that musical instruments were used to
accompany the Noh plays of Zeami, but unsure if these types of small drums
existed at that time.
"The versatile drummer and
playwright Miyamasu Yazaemon (d. 1556) authored several texts on music,
among them Collection of Oral Secrets for the Shoulder-Drum (Kotsuzumi
kudenshū)..." Quoted from: The Ethos of Noh: Actors and Their Art
by Eric C. Rath, p. 84.
"There are three types of drums used in noh: the kotsuzumi,
ōtsuzumi, and taiko. The kotsuzumi, though the smallest of
the group, is the most important drum in noh and is one of the unique
Japanese contributions to the world of music.... ¶ All the noh drums
consist of five basic parts: a wooden body (do), two skins (kawa),
and two sets of ropes (shirabe) which hold the skins to the body...
The body of the kotsuzumi is made of cherry or zelkova (keyaki)
wood. Like a good violin, this wood must come from just the right tree
growing in just the right place. The inside of a good drum is carved by hand
with special patterns called kanname, which are deemed very important
for the tone of the drum. The lacquer outside may make a drum a work of art,
but it is the carving inside that makes it a good or poor musical
instrument. The skins of the kotsuzumi are made of horsehide. These
are stretched over iron rings and then stitched with hemp thread, which is
covered by the inner black lacquer circle one sees on the face of the drum.
The back of the skins is built up with clay so that the body will fit snugly
onto the center of the skins. The only major difference between the back
skin and the playing skin is that a small patch of deerskin is placed in the
inside center of the back skin. This controls the reverberation of the skin
and hence the tone. Control is also exerted by small patches of paper that
are applied to the outside of the rear skin immediately opposite this inner
patch. This paper, called chōshigami, this paper is newly applied at
each performance and has an amazingly significant effect on the tone of the
drum. The number of patches applied depends on the weather, the tension of
the ropes, and the sonic preferences of the player. The wetting and
application of this paper is a puzzle to many a newcomer to a noh or
kabuki performance; it has the look of a private conversation between
the musician and the drum. ¶ One set of the kotsuzumi ropes holds the
two heads against the body while the other is looped loosely around the
drum. By squeezing this encircling rope, tension is created on the skins,
which raises the pitch. The manner of holding these ropes varies with the
school of drumming, as does the exact method of tying the ropes.... ¶ The
five basic sounds of the kotsuzumi are onomatopoetically named pon,
pu, ta, chi, and tsu. Pon (notated as
po) is produced by striking the center of the head. Two to four fingers
of the right hand are used, depending on the school of drumming followed.
The ropes are held loosely until the moment of impact when they are squeezed
quickly to produce a lovely liquid waver to the tone. The coordination and
perfection of this technique is the piece de resistance of Japanese
drumming. Pu is similar to pon but lighter and played
with only one finger. Ta has a wonderful crack to it and is produced
by hitting the edge of the head. with two fingers while exerting maximum
tension on the ropes. Chi is a lighter version of ta played
with the ring finger. Tsu (also called pe ) is executed by
leaving the hand on the front head and allowing the rear one to produce the
tone; it is traditionally limited to use in the ritual dance, 'Sambasō.' "
Quoted from: Traditional Japanese Music and Musical Instruments, Volume 1
by William P. Malm, pp. 137-139.
The image to the left above
is from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. We found it
at commons.wikimedia. It dates from the 17th century. The dancer below is
from a print by Natori Shunsen showing Bandō Shūchō III as Shizuka Gozen
Before kabuki there was the
puppet theater and before these there were nō and kōwaka, a
form of dance performance often based on military themes.
Cowrie - "The well known
cowrie-shell, koyasugai, a porcelain-snail, generally known to primitive
peoples of South and East and by them used as currency — in China it was
abolished by the 'First Emperor' in about 220 BC in favour of copper coins,
used ever since — is also one of the takaramono, the precious things,
from the bag of Hotei (Chin. Pu-tai), and therefore also called takaragai
[宝貝 or たからがい]
or treasure-shell. ¶ The koyasugai served as an amulet for expectant
mothers. The bond between pregnant woman and shell is derived from popular
etymology. Ko means child , yasu means easy and kai (in
compounds -gai) means shell. Together in koyasugai, they spell
easy birth. Because of the form of its opening it moreover has an erotic
meaning, that goes back to the most ancient times and for this the
cowrie is also called Venus-shell (see Clam). ¶ Triturated it formed the
principal ingredient of the face-powder so freely used by Japanese women."
Quoted from: The Animal in Far Eastern Art... by T. Volker, pp.
The image to the left is a
South African cowrie shell which was posted at commons.wikimedia by Jan
Neck wrestling: There is a
kyōgen (狂言 or きょうげん) - a short play or skit performed as comic relief
between acts of the more serious Noh (能 or のう) theater - entitled
Kubihiki. Kyōgen are divided into a number of categories and
Kubihiki is one of the Demon Plays. Theme: Minamoto no Tametomo
(1139-70: 源為朝 or みなもとのためとも), was "...said that he was 7 feet high and of a
Herculean strength", neck wrestles with demons and wins. Tametomo encounters
a major demon and his daughter and is told that he is to be eaten, but he
challenges them to a contest. First up is a demon princess, but she finds
Tametomo too powerful. Then all of the demons band together but are unable
to defeat our hero. It is still performed today.
Now here is the truly
fascinating part: It is a known fact that Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598:
豊臣秀吉 or とよとみひでよし), the unifier of Japan, had an incredible passion for Noh
theater. "Once secure in his position, he felt that he must prove that he
was not culturally inferior to the nobles and priests; the best way he
decided, was to study Nō.... [and]...became passionately fond of the art,
and other daimyos were obliged to study Nō in order to stay in Hideyoshi's
good graces. In 1593, while Hideyoshi was in Kyushu waiting for the start of
the invasion of Korea, he spent his time learning Nō, memorizing fifteen
roles in the course of fifty days; before long he was confidently performing
them before the public. On receiving word of the birth of his son, Hideyoshi
hastily returned to Kyoto, and as part of the festivities himself performed
for three days before the Emperor Go-Yōzei... [And here is the kicker]
Tokogawa Ieyasu performed Nonomiya, and on the second day joined with
Hideyoshi in a newly composed farce, Kubihiki."
Quoted from: Nō ; And,
Bunraku: Two Forms of Japanese Theatre, by Donald Keene and Keizō
Kaneko, Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 38
Is there any question as to
which part Hideyoshi played and which Ieyasu?
The above image was sent to us
by a generous, but anonymous contributor. It is a kanemono or clasp for a
tobacco pouch showing the King of Hell, Emma-O neck wrestling with what
appears to be a man casually smoking his pipe while totally unperturbed.
Emma-o is backed up by a two oni or devils who don't seem to be
having much effect. The point of this piece is clearly meant to be humorous.
In the British Museum there
is a Kano school painting showing Asahina (朝夷 or あさひな) in Hell. Known for
his great strength he vanquishes the demons who compete with him - one in
neck wrestling. Then he is made the honored guest of Emma-O and all of the
demons are made to serve him.
Source: Descriptive and
Historical Catalogue of a Collection of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in
the British Museum, by William Anderson, published by Longmans & Co.,
1886, p. 313.
Sally E. D. Wilkins notes in
her Sports and Games of Medieval Cultures (published by Greenwood
Publishing Group, 2002, p. 77) "...that the people of the artic in North
America played almost this identical game."
Neck pillory or
Kuchiki literally means
'decayed tree' or 'decayed wood'. Here it has been used a title cartouche
motif on a set of print from 1838 by Kunisada.
The above image is from the
In Chapter 49 of The Tale of
Genji, the 'Ivy Chapter' (Yadorigi), Kaoru writes to the aged nun
Ben no Kimi of his sadness in leaving his old home. She writes back in which
she refers to herself as a kuchiki or 'a rotted stump'.
Kuchiki no moto o
Hodo no kanashisa
Still to remember
Lodging by a tree that now
Is a rotted stump -
A sad thing for the ivy,
And for travelers in the night.
This translation and quote is
taken from A Waka Anthology: Grasses of Remembrance by Edwin A.
Cranston, p. 945, 1993.
jasminoides or kuchinashi: In an appendix to Roger Keyes'
catalogue of the Ainsworth collection at Oberlin College dealing with
Japanese colorants the authors note "...that the dyeing of cloth was a fine
art when the first prints were made and, hence, the colorants used in
treating cloth were likely to have been employed initially in
printmaking..." That is true of this particular warm yellow dye.
Hiroshi Yoshida in
his Japanese Wood-block Printing (p. 72) concurs. He notes that
kuchinashi was probably used formerly, but is rarely used today.
Yoshida adds "Good yellow is difficult to obtain."
Stinchecum in Kosode: 16Th-19th Century Textiles from the Nomura
Collection: 16th-19th Century Textiles from the Nomura Collection (pp.
202-3) provides considerable information about this plant and its use.
A low, evergreen
shrub which can be found in south-central Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū. While
the flower is strikingly beautiful and remarkably fragrant it is the fruit
pod which counts when it comes to making the dye. Harvested in the fall the
seed pod contains crocin (a carotenoid). Boiled in water the end product
requires no mordant. Light sensitive this dye has been used since the Nara
The main colorant is
It would appear that the
Chinese characters used for this plant, 梔子, can also be used by the
The picture of the
bloom above was taken by Jon Suehiro at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden
on April 29, 2006. The shot of the pods was taken by Sue Suehiro at the
Botanical Gardens Faculty of Science Osaka City University (大阪市立大学付属植物園
December 7, 2003. Sue operates a large web site at
well worth a
tangential bit of information: In 1761 the gardenia was named in honor of
Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-91).
I did not know that.
is mentioned here in reference to a yellow colorant it is mentioned for its
red properties in the Kokinshu:
If only I could
secure blossoms of the silent
gardenias that grow
upon Earless mountain to
dye my robe with love's
However, yellow is the focal
point of another poem in the same collection. This one is by Sosei (素性 or
そせい: fl. ca. 859-923) and makes a pun on the term 'no mouth' [口無し] which is
homonymous with the term for 'gardenia', i.e., kuchinashi.
Who is your owner,
robe of kerria yellow?
Your color has come
from the 'no mouth'
and so you do not answer.
To read more about kerria or
yamabuki go to this link:
Or, our entry on yamabuki at
In chapter 31 of The Tale of
Genji the prince visits a part of the garden where Tamakazura had lived: "A
clump of yamabuki grew untrimmed in a hedge of Chinese bamboo, very
beautiful indeed. 'Robes of gardenia, the silent hue,' he said to himself,
for there was no one to hear him.
The yamabuki wears
the hue of silence,
So sudden was the parting of
This quote is from
Seidensticker's translation - 1992 edition, p. 536. He adds in a footnote an
anonymous poem which must have formed the frame of reference:
I shall put on robes of
gardenia, the silent hue,
And let them speak of my
love with words of silence.
adds: "A yellow dye was made form the seeds of the gardenia, which the
Japanese call 'the mouthless flower.'
We found this image of the
whale by Kuniyoshi at Pinterest.
Kumade, literally 'bear forepaw
or hand'. I would like to thank our ever vigilant contributor Eikei (英渓) for
reminding me of this.
In 1960 U. A. Casal in his "Lore of the Japanese Fan" published in the Monumenta
Nipponica (p. 101) wrote: "Kumade, bamboo-rakes sold at certain temple
festivals and taken home to procure wealth, are behung with
imitation coins, with sake-cups, the image of the phallic goddess
O-Tafuku [阿多福 or おたふく] and with fans."
Notice also the small
braided rope or
shimenawa strung right below the mask.
See also our entry on
no ichi on our
Tengu thru Tsuzumi index/glossary page.
Kumagai Jirō Naozane
Character from the
play Ichinotani futaba gunki
A braid or plaited cord - "The
term kumihimo means intersected threads. It refers to any type of
braid executed using the loop-manipulation method (which does not require
equipment) or any number of stands ." Its tradition goes back as far as
the Jomon period (8,000 to 300 B.C.) ."Over the centuries, kumihimo became
an integral part of the Japanese culture, where it assumed uses that ranged
from the functional (such as ties for prayer scrolls or as lacing devices
for the samurai armor, which required nearly three hundred silk braids) to
the decorative (such as embellishments for Buddhist statues and rosaries as
obijime, a narrow braided belt that holds
the much wider obi in place). Quoted from: Kumihimo Wire Jewelry:
Essential Techniques and 20 Jewelry Projects for the Japanese Art of
Braiding by Giovanna Imperia, p. 9.
"Kumihimo was first made in
the Nara Period (710-794) and was mainly used for sword belts, wrapping for
sword hilts, trim for amulet cases, ritual banners and priestly vestments.
It was also used for lacing, trim, shoulder straps and belts in armor. In
the Edo Period, samurai made kumihimo for their own armor in their spare
time. Kumihimo was rarely used as obijime at this time, and came to be used
by geisha for their kimono only after the Meiji Era." Quoted from: The Japan
Times, 'Twisted tradition that knotty but nice' by Mami Maruko, March
A saddle -
To the left is an Edo period
kura in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. Above is a
saddle mounted on a wooden horse in a surimono by Hokusai from 1822. It is
in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, but we found it at
"An aristocrat's black
'stars of rank' (kurai-boshi, used only in Kabuki to denote courtly rank)
painted on [the] forehead."
Quote from: The
Actor's Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, Timothy Clark,
Osamu Ueda and Donald Jenkins, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 207.
The image to the
left shows Ichikawa Kuzō as Fujiwara Shihei dated 1894. Shihei was a 9th
century court figure.
Chestnut: Makikoh Itoh wrote in
Japan Times in October 14, 2016 that "Chestnuts... have been
consumed here since prehistoric times. Charred chestnuts that are more than
9,000 years old have been found in and around the archaeological sites of
Jomon Period (10,000-200 B.C.) settlements. ¶ At the 5,500-year-old Sannai-Maruyama
site in Aomori Prefecture, evidence of large-scale cultivation of chestnuts
has also been discovered — as well as a huge chestnut tree in the center of
the settlement that was probably used for religious rituals — indicating
their importance as a food source in the days before rice cultivation became
widespread. The chestnut wood was valued as building material as well as
firewood. Chestnuts are still used in Shinto rituals in some parts of the
country, and they’re an important osechi (New Year’s holiday cuisine)
dish: a concoction of mashed sweet potatoes with kuri no kanro-ni,
chestnuts cooked in sugar syrup. Chestnuts cooked with a crushed gardenia
seed are supposed to bring good financial fortune and help make you a winner
The photo to the left is
from the site run by Shu Suehiro at botanic.jp.
Roger Keyes stated:
"In kabuki, black is a non-color. The ubiquitous hooded stagehands called
kurogo, or 'little black men,' who run on and off stage during performances
placing and removing properties, arranging costumes, prompting, and helping
with effects are theoretically invisible to the audience and seldom appear
in prints. Playwrights or close relatives of the actors were often appointed
to the job."
Quote from: The
Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, by Roger S. Keyes and Keiko Mizushima,
Philadelphi Museum of Art, 1973, p. 116.
The image Keyes was
discussing was that of a Shigeharu print showing the actor Onoe Fujaku III
'glaring' at a butterfly which has landed on his left sleeve. A kurogo in
the lower right is manipulating the butterfly prop on a stick. "Very few
Osaka artists drew stage properties..." "Stage butterflies are dangled on
lacquered poles in the theater to this day."
The detail to the left
is from a Yoshitaki print illustrating a bunraku or puppet
performance. Since I am not an expert in such things I cannot swear that the
black hooded figures integral to puppetry are called kurogo, but
until I find out otherwise I will use this image as an example. Click on the
number one to the right to go to the Yoshitaki page for further comments.
A decorative motif of
interlocking rings. I have no idea exactly what this term means nor do the
experts, supposedly. If I find out I will let you know later.
This image to the
left is a detail from an Eizan print.
There is a story of a
jealous lover killing the woman he loves. She comes back as a black lily.
This seems to be a common motif in many cultures. Of course, it isn't always
jealousy which gives us beautiful flowers. Sometimes it is an accidental
event or just plain overwhelming lust. All one has to do is think of the
tragic loss of Hyacinth or the self-absorption of Narcissus who was too good
for any woman - or man, for that matter.
Click on the image to the
left to see the whole print of the warrior holding the bamboo container with
the black lilies.
"When a tea-master has
arranged a flower to his satisfaction he will place it on the tokonoma, the
place of honour in a Japanese room. Nothing else will be placed near it
which might interfere with its effect, not even a painting, unless there be
some special aesthetic reason for the combination. It rests there like an
enthroned prince, or the guests and disciples on entering the room will
salute it with a profound bow before making their addresses to the host."
Quote from: The Book of
Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1986, pp. 100-101.
"The guests at a tea
gathering should not only appreciate the flowers for their beauty, but
should also sense the transience of human existence as they contemplate the
flowers' short life."
Quote from: Chado: The
Japanese Way of Tea, by Soshitsu Sen, Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1979, p. 38.
These photos are used
courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
It is a great site. You
should visit it. Make sure you have lots of free time to do it justice. By
the way, Shu says "The flowers have bad odor."
In 1918 Walter Weston in his
The Playground of the Far East (p. 204) described this Alpine plant
as rare and having a "delicate fragrance".
Among the Ainu this plant is
called anrakoro. According to Basil Hall Chamberlain "The Ainu eat the bulb
of this plant. It is dug up in the summer, brought home, washed, and
boiled. When well cooked the bulbs are mashed and mixed with the fat of
animals, or mixed with rice."
Like the Ainu the native
peoples in Alaska, the west coast of Canada and the northwest coast of the
United States all ate these bulbs either cooked in stews or raw. One group,
the Hanaksiala, were said to wear the flowers in their Indian New Year's
Flower Dance. (Source: Native American Ethnobotany by David Moerman)
Izumi Kyōka (1873-1939), the
quintessential Meiji author, filled his novels and stories with elements of
the supernatural. Jean Funatsu in the Kodansha Encyclopedia
of Japan (vol. 3, p. 365) noted that "More than two-thirds of his 300
works incorporate a supernatural element of some kind." Donald Keene tells
us in his Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era
(Columbia University Press, 1998, p. 203) that "In an age when Western
rationalism seemed to be unconditionally triumphant, Kyōka remained
convinced that the visible world was surrounded by the supernatural. He
lived in mortal dread of dogs and lightning, and was so devout that whenever
he passed before a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple he would bow in worship,
first removing his glasses so that nothing would stand between himself and
the divinities." His novel Kuro Yuri from 1899 was filled with
the supernatural. Once the heroine "...has secured the lily [she] is
menaced by swarms of white butterflies and eagles." "Only the purity of the
heroine, Oyuki, enables her to succeed in the quest for absolute beauty that
takes her from this world to the mysterious realm of the supernatural."
In Chado the Way of Tea:
A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac (a translation of the Japanese "Sado-saijiki"
originally published in 1960, but here cited from the Tuttle edition, 2005)
lists numerous flowers appropriate for the tea ceremony month by month. The
author noted that many of the flowers continue to bloom for several months,
but only one is chosen. Also, the location is important since plants
flower at different times in different climes. For that reason this list all
refer to plants of the Kinki district which includes Kyoto, Osaka, Nara,
etc. ¶ The kuro yuri (Fritillaria camschatcensis or Kamchatka lily)
is listed for May. "A few long oval leaves circle the stem, and cute dark
purple six-petalled flowers in the shape of bells grow on top of each
stalk." (pp. 250-251) "The encounter of Yodogimi and Kita no mandokoro over kuro-yuri of Hakusan, Etchū, is well known."
Yodogimi (1567-1615: 淀君 or
よどぎみ, a concubine, was the only woman who bore Hideyoshi (1536-98)
children and Nene (Kita no Mandokoro) was his wife. Above is Natori
Shunsen's image of Yodogimi from 1925-29. NOTE: I haven't the slightest what
the "well known" story about her, Kita no Mandokoro and the kuro yuri on Mt.
Haku is. If anyone out there does know please let me in on it. Until then I
will keep searching.
Fritillaria is from
the Latin word fritillus or dice box because of the markings on the
petals. One source calls them
Kamchatka Mission Bells while others call it the Kamchatka lily or the
chocolate lily - although there is another Fritillaria known by that
specific name. Others call it the rice-root and still others black sarana.
"The interchangeable use of the term 'rice' for rice-root is due to the
white bulblets that form around the bulb of Fritillaria and
that resemble rice grains. (Quote from: Keeping It Living: Traditions of
Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America by
Douglas Deur) This plant was also called
Indian rice. "In Haida, rice was called 'Fritillaria teeth'..."
(Source and quote from: Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples by Nancy J. Turner) "The presence of northern
rice-root (Fritillaria camschatcensis) pollen at Cape Ball suggest
that the starch-rich bulb of this plant, which was widely eaten by coastal
peoples in British Columbia, was already available in the late glacial
period." (Quoted from: Haida Gwaii: Human History And Environment from
the Time of Loon to the Time of the Iron People in an article by Terri
Lacourse and Rolf W. Mathewes)
The wheel motif is
used in several variations both for decorative effects and as a family crest
or mon. One is the Buddhist sacred wheel - not shown here - and another is
the Genji-guruma which is. There are also pinwheels and waterwheels.
A particularly spectacular
kabuki wig - "Perhaps the most spectacular of the male wigs is that of
Gongorō from Shibaraku. The wig, which incorporates a small hat and
bow tied under the chin, has its forelock of hair parted in the middle. A
hugely exaggerated stiffened paper bow called chikara gami, or
'strength paper,' sticks up at the back of the wig and is a symbol of his
physical power, while the sidelocks have been separated out and stiffly
oiled like the spokes of a wheel. This gives the wig its name of kuruma
bin — literally, 'wheel locks.' " Quoted from: A Guide to the Japanese Stage: From Traditional to Cutting Edge by Cavaye, Griffith and Senda, pp. 76-77.
The image to the left is a
detail from a Kunichika print.
One of the three sacred symbols
of Imperial regalia - The "Grass-cutting Sword" - In the Kojiki
Amaterasu punished her brother by banishing him to Izumo province in the
worldly realm. While there he fought and killed an eight-headed serpent. In
its tail he found a sword, Ama-no-Murakumo-Tsurugi, which he gave to
his sister as a peace offering. In time it came to be known as Kusanagi no
tsurugi and along with the sacred mirror and jewel were enshrined at Ise as
the symbols of god-given power.
There are quite a few legends centered around Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. One is
related to the battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185 when the imperial forces were
defeated and the young emperor Antoku, aged 7, was drowned when his
grandmother threw herself off their ship while holding still holding the
emperor in her arms. In some accounts she is also holding
"The Gukwanshō (before 1225) tells us that Itsŭkushima no
Myōjin (厳島ノ明神, the goddess of the island Itsŭkushima in the Inland sea)
was according to tradition a Dragon-king's daughter, reborn as Antoku Tenno,
the unhappy Emperor who was drowned in his seventh year in the battle of
Dan-no-ura (1185). His grandmother, Nii-no-ama, Kiyomori's widow, jumped
over board with the little Emperor, when she saw that the battle was lost.
So the Dragon-king's daughter returned to her father. ¶ Details of this
legend are found in the Gempei seisuiki (about 1250), which
relates that this goddess was a grandchild of Amaterasu, the Sun-goddess,
and the daughter of the Dragon-king Sāgara. The same work gives, in another
passage, the reason why the dragon was reborn as Antoku Tennō. The retired
Emperor Go-Shirakawa, thus we read there, sought in vain the Kusanagi sword
one of the three treasures of the Imperial family, which Susanowo no Mikoto
had found in the tail of the eight-headed serpent Yamato no orochi. After
having prayed for seven days in the temple of Kamo, he received a divine
revelation in a dream, to the effect that the sword was to be found at the
bottom of the sea at Dan-no-ura, and that two female divers of that place,
Oimatsu and Wakamatsu, a mother and her daughter, were to be ordered to seek
it. In consequence of this dream Yoshitsune was despatched to Dan-no-ura,
and the two women were told to dive for the sword. They obeyed and remained
under water for a whole day (!) Then they returned to the surface, and the
mother said that down there was a very strange place, which she could not
enter without Buddha's powerful assistance; therefore she wanted the
Nyohō-kyō, a sūtra, to be copied and wound around her body. Immediately
a large number of venerable priests assembled and copied the sutra; the
woman wound this round her body and dived again. This time it lasted no less
than one day and one night before she came up, without the sword. Yoshitsune
asked her what she had seen, but she answered that she could tell only the
Emperor himself. So he took her to Kyoto, where she reported the following
to the Emperor. She had entered the gate of a magnificent building,
apparently the Dragon-king's palace, and when she had told that she came as
a messenger from the Emperor of Japan, to ask for the precious sword, two
women led her into the garden, to an old pine tree, where from under a
half-raised blind (sudare) she could look into a room. There she saw
a big serpent, twenty shaku long, with a sword in its mouth and a child of
seven or eight years within its coils. The monster's eyes were large and
glittered like the sun and the moon, and its red tongue incessantly moved up
and down. The serpent said to the woman: 'Tell the Emperor, that this sword
does not belong to Japan, but to the Dragon -palace. My second son driven
out of my palace on account of some evil deed, changed into the eight-headed
serpent of the head-waters of the River Hi in Izumo (the Yamato no orochi),
and was killed by Susanowo, who took the sword out of the snake's tail and
gave it to Amaterasu. Under the reign of the Emperor Keikō (71— 130 A. D.),
when Prince Yamato-dake subjected the barbarians, Amaterasu handed over the
sword to Utsnki no miya, who gave it to the Prince. Then my second son
assumed the shape of a big snake, ten shaku long, and lay down in Yamato-dake's
way at the foot of Ibukiyama (in Ōmi province), in order to frighten the
Prince and take back the sword. The Prince, however, was not afraid of the
snake and stepped over it, thus frustrating my son's design \ Finally, the
latter reincainated himself as the Emperor Antoku and jumped into the sea
with the sword, which he returned to me. This child here is my son in his
human shape, and the sword which I am holding in my mouth is the one yon.
ask for. But I cannot give it to the Emperor". On receiving this message. Go
Shirakawa was very much distressed and thought the precious object was lost.
This was, however, not the case, for the real sword was preserved in the
Great Shrine (Daijingu) at Ise, and Antoku's sword was only a counterfeit.
How strange that the Dragon-god did not know this!" Quoted from: The Dragon
in China and Japan by M. W. De Visser, pp. 197-99.
Comb - "...combs could be used
to tell the future by standing at a crossroads, singing an incantation three
times, scattering rice, sounding the prongs of a comb three times, drawing a
line, and then listening to the words of the next three people to cross the
line. It was a common enough practice that fortune tellers would set up shop
at popular crossroads. Additionally, a thrown comb was a curse... Combs were
even considered bad luck to give as gifts because the Japanese word,
kushi, is a homophone for disaster and death." Quoted from: Asian
Material Culture, essay by Martha Chaiklin, p. 41.
"In Japan, the origins are
ancient; lacquered wood combs from the Middle Jomon period, some five or six
thousand years ago, have been excavated. These ancient combs were often
lacquered red, to serve as sort of a protective talisman..." Ibid., p. 44
"Combs for holding back hair
and those for neatening it existed long before the Edo period but combs of a
purely ornamental nature did not appear until the early seventeenth century
and spread with the changes in hairstyle. Shapes could vary from crescent to
square." Ibid., p. 45
The historian Kitamura
Nobuyo (喜多村信節 or きたむら.のぶよ: 1784-1856) said that courtesans did not start
wearing combs until the 1680s. Other women did not begin to use them until
the 18th c. "...but it is apparent that ornamental combs were not only in
use, but considered essential by a much earlier date." Ibid.
Above is a lacquered
Japanese comb posted at commons.wikimedia by Kayopos.
Birth companion deities -
"...pairs of Buddhist deities that affix themselves to a person’s right and
left shoulders at the time of a person’s birth and then record the person’s
good and bad deeds upon 'good' and 'bad' tablets throughout the person’s
life. When the person dies, the deities report their findings to Enma 閻魔,
the king and judge of the afterworld." This is from footnote 30 in an
article, The Tale of the Fuji Cave, by R. Keller Kimbrough. It was
published in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies in 2006.