Ukiyo-e Prints


Port Townsend, Washington

The wallpaper on this page is shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm.

It is a glorious and rich site for anyone interested in plants both Japanese and otherwise.





Kōgai thru Kushōjin




The photo of the Trolly Drive In is by the great

Kansas City artist Bob Travaglione. It was used

as a marker until December 31, 2018.

The photo of Frank being Frank
was used from January 1 to April 30, 2018.







Kōgai, Kōgan, Kōhone, Kokkeibon, Kokujō jigoku,

Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan, Koma, Kōmō, Komono, Kōmori, Komugi,

Komusō, Konbu, Kongara Dōji and Seitaka Dōji, Kongōsho,

Konjaku monogatari, Kōro, Kōshi, Kōshijima, Koshimaki, Koshimino,

Koshimoto, Koshinzuka,  Kosugiwara,  Kotatsu, Kote, Koto,

Kotoji, Kotsuzumi, Kōwaka 幸若 こうわか, Koyasugai,

Kubihiki, Kubikase, Kuchiki, Kuchinashi,

Kujira, Kumagai Jirō Naozane, Kumihimo,

 Kura, Kurai-boshi, Kuri, Kurogo, Kurowatsunagi, Kuro yuri,

Kuruma, Kuruma bin, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi,

Kusazuribiki, Kushi,  Kushōjin



 笄, 睾丸, 河骨, 滑稽本, 黒蠅地獄, 国立国会図書館,

独楽, 紅毛, 小者, 蝙蝠, 小麦, 虚無僧, 昆布,

矜羯羅童子 & 制た迦童子,

金剛杵, 香炉, 格子, 格子縞, 腰巻, 腰蓑, 腰元,

庚申塚,  炬燵, 鯨, 籠手, 琴, 琴柱, 小鼓, 幸若,

子安貝, 首引, 頸枷, 朽木, 梔,

  熊谷次郎直実, 組紐, 位星, 黒子,郭繋, 黒百合,

車,  車鬢,  草薙の剣, 草摺引, 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 numbers

to go to linked pages.




"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: Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, 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. 218.


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 on kanzashi.)

"...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 from: Asian 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







Testicles - "Having conducted dozens of intimate examinations on actual tanuki statues, I can state with authority that it's not the testicles (kogan) that are oversize; it's the scrotum (inno)."  Quoted from an article on tanuki in the Japan Times from July 15, 2008.




Cow-lily, 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 http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm.

"A perennial water-grass growing in ponds, swamps, and brooks. Rootstocks trailing in the mud at the bottom of or kawa (the water) look line hone (white bones); hence the name."


Kō-hone ne

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 flower.


Kō-hone ne

tsubomi ririshi ya



The buds of kô-hone look dignified even though they have just emerged from the water.  -  Enzan


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.







Humorous or comic books

Kokujō jigoku



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 or こまあそび) is 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 tops."




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 こうもうじん).


"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 menial.


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 . 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'. 1


Several sources refer to a komori-gasa or bat umbrella. These were the Western umbrellas imported into Japan during the Meiji restoration.




Komugi, 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.


Komugiko (小麦粉 or こむぎこ) is the term used for wheat flour.


Also, go to our entry on udon noodles on our U thru 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 Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan  (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 http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm. We would urge you to visit that valuable site.




A wandering 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 their side.


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 genus Laminaria.



"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.




Kongōsho is 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: Kodansha Encyclopedia 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 awareness." 1

"...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 vajra themselves.


"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: Discovering the 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 we grateful.




Konjaku monogatari



"(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 magaki 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.


Note that 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 for 'plaid'. 1, 2, 3







The koshimaki 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.




In Womansword: 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."


The association 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 'straw raincoat',

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.




Chamber maid, female servant - often a character in a kabuki play.


The 1808 image by Toyokuni I to the left is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It shows the koshimoto Okaru.




A pointed stone stele which was thought to be imbued with the spirit of a god or kami

which protected 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. 1, 2




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 19th century.


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 mentioned Sugiharagami.






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.






(or 小手)



A reinforced 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. 1


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 tasuki, 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." 1, 2




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 from 1925.




Before kabuki there was the puppet theater and before these there were 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. 34-35.


The image to the left is a South African cowrie shell which was posted at commons.wikimedia by Jan Delsing.




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 cangue.




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 Lyon Collection.

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

Yadoriki to


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.






Gardenia 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."


Amanda Mayer 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 period.


The main colorant is crocin.


It would appear that the Chinese characters used for this plant, 梔子, can also be used by the Japanese.


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 http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm. It is well worth a visit.


An interesting tangential bit of information: In 1761 the gardenia was named in honor of Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-91).  I did not know that.



Although kuchinashi 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 scarlet


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' gardenia,

and so you do not answer.


To read more about kerria or yamabuki go to this link: http://www.printsofjapan.com/Hodo_yellow_flowers.htm. Or, our entry on yamabuki at http://www.printsofjapan.com/Index_Glossary_Ya_thru_Z.htm.


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 Idé road.


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.


Professor Seidensticker adds: "A yellow dye was made form the seeds of the gardenia, which the Japanese call 'the mouthless flower.'





Whale -


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 tori no ichi on our Tengu thru Tsuzumi index/glossary page.

Kumagai Jirō Naozane

熊谷次郎直 実


Character from the play Ichinotani futaba gunki 1




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 well 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 4, 2000.



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 commons.wikimedia.




"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 in life."


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. 1




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.

Kuro yuri



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 http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm.

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." (Ibid.)


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.

Kuruma bin



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 Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi.


 "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.







Armor-pulling - This is a scene which was incorporated into many of the Soga brothers tales and sometimes it was staged only by itself. While there are numerous variations on it and sometimes is expressed through a parody or mitate, it generally involved a mythic struggle between two the strongest men in Japan in the 12th century, Asahina and Gorō.


"Asahina opened the lattice door with a slam. When he looked inside he saw a stranger a great robust man, seven feet tall. His great sword, more than five feet long, was pulled six or seven inches out of its sheath. He looked like he would be a dangerous foe if it came to a sword fight and even the demonlike Asahina stood with shaking knees. Asahina invited Gorō to to join the party but Gorō refused. Saying, "You really won't join us?" Asahina ran up to Gorō, took hold of two or three plates of armor at the waist and pulled forward with an "Eiya!" Gorō didn't budge. One after another there appeared on Asahina's arms power sinews (chikara suji), evidence of his great strength. The power hair (chikara ge) that grew on his chest bristled like bronze needles from the surface of a gō board. The sinews on his body rose to his forehead. The sinews on his forehead moved down his body. It was a remarkable scene. Gorō stood in a powerful posture with knees bent and legs apart  Asahina, his sideburns wildly awry,  pulled forward, “Eito!” and pulled backward, “Eitono!” and the armor plates ripped off. Gorō did not budge and stood as before."


Quoted from: A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance: History and Performance by Samuel L. Leiter.


The image to the left is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is a Shigenaga print believed to be from the 1720s.



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.





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