A MILLION QUESTIONS
Port Townsend, Washington
Mom thru Nazuna
The photo of Frank being Frank
was used from January 1 to April 30, 2018
to mark new additions to this page.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS
Momiji-gari, Momoyamajidai, Mon, Monogatari,
Mōrōtai, Motoori Norinaga,
Motoyui bako, Mudabori,
The Mustrard Seed Garden Painting Manual, Mukade,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
Mushikago, Myōseki, Nabeshima ware, Nadeshiko,
Naga-bakama, Nagasaki, Nagasaki-e, Naginata,
Nakamura Daikichi I,
Nakamura Fukusuke I, Nakamura Shikan,
Nakamura Utaemon III, Nakanochō,
Naraka, Nashi, Nazuna
紅葉狩, 桃山時代, 紋, 物語, 門前町,
朦朧体, 本居宣長, 元結, 元結箱, 無駄彫,
紫, 紫牟子, 紫絵, 紫式部, 村山左近
ボストン美術館, 虫籠, 芥子園画伝,
長袴, 長持, 長崎, 長崎絵, 投げ頭巾, 薙刀,
名主, 那落, 梨, 薺
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.
To the left is a
detail taken from a Yoshiiku print. While it would appear to be a maple leaf
viewing I wouldn't swear to it. This image was sent to us from our generous
contributor Eikei (英渓). Thanks Eikei!
Since we started a new post
on 10/13/09 on momiji at our new(ish) web log at
http://printsofjapan.wordpress.com/ we moved most of our
information on this topic to that site.
In Chadō: The Way of Tea
: a Japanese Tea Master's Almanac (p. 553) it says: "In days of old
there used to be a celebration of red autumn leaves (momiji) in the
palace or other places where people had a party surrounded by beautiful
wadded-silk garments hung over a line or regular curtains among the maple
trees." They would set it up like an alcove, hang a poem written on a fancy
strip of paper attached to the branch of the tree, watch the leaves fall
around them, drink their tea and compose poetry afterwards. In a poem by
Shida Yaba (1662-1740: 志太野坡 or しだやば) wrote:
Viewing the autumn leaves
The maids from the Imperial
Crouch like monkeys
"The traditional pastime of viewing autumn foliage. Like cherry-blossom
viewing (hanami) in the spring, it was popular among the court
aristocracy of the Heian period (794-1185). The nobles went boating on ponds
in teh gardens around their mansions, playing music and composing poetry
while viewing teh fall colors, or went on excursions into the mountains to
gather brightly colored leaves. From the twelfth to sixteenth centuries the
Tatsutagawa area near Nara and the Ogurayama and Arashiyama areas near Kyōto,
famed for their autumn leaves, were described in numerous poems and
paintings. In the Edo period (1600-1868), the custom spread among the common
people. With the improvement of public transportation after the Meiji period
(1868-1912), people began to visit distant places noted for their beautiful
foliage, as well as nearby places, and the tradition continues to this day."
Quoted from the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, vol. 5, p. 236.
"Unlike cherry-blossom viewing parties in the spring, which include
drinking, eating, singing and dancing, koyo or momiji-gari is
much more sedate. Families, friends and small groups go into mountain
forests that are only a short drive or train-trip from any town or city in
the country, and simple walk among the trees, admiring the beauty of the
colorful leaves and enjoying the serenity of the woods. ¶ Many foliage
viewers take picnic lunches, find some especially scenic spot, and wile away
an afternoon absorbing the ambiance. Both momiji and koyo mean the crimson
color of leaves in the fall, but they generally refer to maple and ginko
trees." Quoted from: Exotic Japan! The Visual and Sensual Pleasures
by Boyé Layfayette De Mente, pp. 137-138
By parsing the kanji for momiji-gari 紅葉狩 we come
up with 紅葉 for autumn colors and 狩 for hunting.
There is a noh play called Momiji-gari. "Another noh play from the
same time period, Momijigari (attributed to Kanze Nobumitsu
[1435-1516]), presents demons in the disguise of beautiful upper-class women
on an outing to view fall foliage. Taira no Koremori is wined and
entertained by them and falls asleep, drunk. The demon/woman leaves him in
order to undergo transformation, but upon leaving him, she says, 'Dozing
while waiting for the moonrise, the dew upon the singly laid sleeve is deep;
do not awaken from your dream'.... A deity appers in Koremori's dream to
warn him of the true identity of the women, and he succeeds in defeating the
demons in a battle." Quoted from: Writing Margins: The Textual
Construction of Gender in Heian and Kamakura Japan by Terry Kawashima,
footnote #127, p. 285.
In Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays edited by
Karen Brazell on page 22 it translates Momijigari as "Hunting for
autumn leaves". In Zeami's Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo by
Thomas B. Hare it is translated as "Gathering Maple Leaves" on p. 240.
One if not the first theatrical productions captured on film was
Momiji-gari in 1899, but not released until 1903. Source: Japanese
Classical Theater in Films by Keiko I. McDonald, p. 38.
A family crest or coat
of arms. Other terms used
for such crests are jomon (定紋 or じょうもん) and kamon (家紋 or かもん)
In 1668 a law was promulgated which, among other things, prohibited the
display of family crests on the sliding doors of newly built residences in
Edo belonging to the hatamoto (旗本 or はたもと), i.e, the samurai in the
direct employ of the shogun. But it wasn't just the hatamoto who were
affected. So were the townspeople: "Lacquering such parts as the front sill
of the tokonoma and frames [of doors and windows], and affixing family
crests to sliding screens are forbidden. Note: there should be no decorative
gold and silver crests or paintings inside the main room [zashiki 座敷]."
Souce and quote:
"Edo Architecture and Tokugawa
Law", by William H. Coaldrake, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 36, No. 3.
(Autumn, 1981), footnote 13, pp. 270-2.
By the 19th century only
certain daimyo were allowed to affix their family crests to their front
These rules are actually not
so surprising since there seem to have been edicts governing every aspect of
life. However, such restrictions were only as good as the power behind them.
Hence, many were basically ignored. I can't vouch for this one.
According to footnote 3 in
Donald Shively's article 'Sumptuary Regulation and Status in Early Tokugawa
Japan’ published in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 25, (1964 -
1965), p. 159 - if I am understanding it correctly - it was standard
practice to apply the family crest in five places on the kosode and
that this is still the custom today. Shively cites Seiroku Noma as his
The two element of the kanji
for mon (紋) separately mean 'thread' (糸) plus 'text' (文). The first crest
designs used by the Imperial court were probably borrowed from the Chinese.
However, during the Heian period (794-1185) Japanese nature motifs became
more popular throughout the aristocracy.
"Family crests, however, were not the only type of mon. Mon were also used
by Shintō shrines, with this type of usage dating back to the Kamakura
period (1185–1333). These mon are called shinmon (神紋). The types of
designs used for these mon were similar to those used by families. Shrines
would sometimes adopt the mon of a patron family, and conversely a samurai
might adopt the mon of a shrine he had a close connection to. Mon could also
move between shrines, such as when an enshrined kami (Shintō deity)
was transferred. Buddhist temples also used mon in a similar way. Such mon
are called jimon(寺紋)." Quoted from: O-umajirushi: A
17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry, p. xxii.
"Despite the widespread use of
mon, they focused on a relatively fixed set of motifs, generally varying an
existing motif rather than creating something totally different. Mon based
on stylized depictions of plants were most common. Abstract geometric
designs were also very popular, as were designs based on Japanese
characters. Birds and butterflies were sometimes used, but other types of
animals were uncommon, and human figures were very rare." Ibid.
"In modern Japan, mon are
thought of as being monochrome designs that have no particular color. At the
time of O-umajirushi, however, color was often an important part of a
samurai's heraldry. Banners were generally depicted with consistent colors,
most commonly the five “lucky” colors: blue, yellow, red, white, and black.
Different color combinations might be used to distinguish different members
of a family or different families that used the same mon, so these
distinctions were important. In some cases, the banner color seems to be
more notable than the mon itself; for example, the troops of Doi no
Ōi-no-kami were known for their yellow banners, not for the water wheel mon
on them. This makes sense, because on a hectic battlefield, banner color is
easier to distinguish from a distance than mon design. Different units might
be distinguished by different characters or colored bands on a
consistently-colored flags. Conversely, in some cases a samurai commanding
many units would give each unit a flag with a different background color but
a consistent mon. In addition, a samurai might still use his mon with
different colors in other situations, such as marking personal possessions
or on clothing, where another design aesthetic might take precedence and
identification from a distance was not important. Thus, the color was not
always an inseparable characteristic of the mon." Ibid., pp. 24-25.
The first mon appeared during the Nara period (710-794) and were used by the
aristocracy. The chrysanthemum mon did not become exclusive to the Imperial
family until the 13th century. The samurai began to use mons during the
Gempei wars in the 12th century. During the Edo period lower classes began
to use them. Merchants adopted their use during the Azuchi-Momoyama period
(1573-1603) and later it was used by actors and prostitutes.
A story, tale or
legend as in the Heike Monogatari (平家物語 or へいけものがたり) or the Genji Monogatari
(源氏物語 or げんじものがたり)
A town which was originally
built around a temple or shrine. In 1950 it was calculated that
only 6% of all Japanese cities had been monzenmachi. (Source: Modern Japanese Society, Part 5, Volume 9, p. 282)
Hazy style of painting - This
style uses shading rather than tradition line work to define the imagery.
To the left is a painting of
ink on silk by Yokoyama Taikan (横山大観: 1868-1958). It is in the collection of
the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Classic scholar of the Edo
period 1730-1801. Genchi Katō (玄智.加藤 or げんち.かとう: 1873-1965) said that "...Norinaga
[was] one of the greatest scholars of the Restored, or Pure Shinto, who is
famous for having rejected the two doctrines respectively of Chinese
Philosophy and of Buddhism." Katō also noted the respect the Tokugawa
shogunate had for Chinese philosophers. "As a result, the time-honoured
tendency to unite Shinto with Buddhism was checked and insistence was given
to the uniting of Shinto with Confucian philosophy, Shinto thus being
separated from Buddhism and brought into harmony with the Chinese Wisdom."
But since neither Buddhism nor Confucianism were indigenous to Japan people
like Norinaga rejected both and wanted to sever all links: "...he was both
anti-Buddhist and anti-Confucianist". For this Norinaga was considered one
of the "Four Great Nationalist Scholars." ¶ Norinaga studied and wrote about
the Kojiki since it was unadulterated by foreign sources. (Source and
quotes: The Shinto Studies of Jiun, the Buddhist Priest and Moto-ori, the
Shinto Savant by Genchi Katō, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 1, No. 2,
(Jul., 1938), pp. 301-316)
Cord for tying hair - usually
made of paper. In many cases these may be decorative touches, too. This item
has an ancient traditon. Taira Kanemori (平兼盛 or たいらかねもり: ? - 990), one of
the 36 Immortal Poets, wrote:
The autumn drawing
to a close leaves behind it,
as a momento,
a thin layer of white frost
on the cord that binds my
Quoted from: Currents in
Japanese Culture, edited by Amy Vladeck Heinrich, p. 477.
Motoyui maker from a print by
Tachibana Minkō from the late 18th century.
From the collection of the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Motoyui are mentioned
twice in poems at the end of the first chapter the Tale of Genji.
A box used for hair ornaments.
The image to the left was
found at Wikimedia.commons. It is in the collection of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. It has the Tokugawa family crest on it and dates from the
early 18th century.
Unnecessary or useless carving:
"...as its meaning implies, [mudabori] is a part of the cutting work which
must be done in the finest detail, but when it is later transferred to its
respective colour block, it is scraped off the key-block as being
superfluous or unnecessary..."
Quoted from: "Ukiyoe: Some
Aspects of Japanese Classical Picture Prints", by Shigeyoshi Mihara,
Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 6, No. 1/2, 1943, p. 260.
There is another reference to
this term in our entry on
Mary Picone describes
muenbotoke as 'errant souls'. William Hare Newell in his book Ancestors defines them as "...those ancestors to whom descendants owe no
direct 'relationship'..." Their spirits are "excluded" and so are viewed as 'defective'.
However, they are
still worshipped by the household tenuously tied to them. Newell also noted
that Yanagita Kunio wrote in 1926 "...that ancestors in Japan are variably
beneficent to their direct descendants." But since then there has been a lot
of rethinking of this belief. ¶ Another category which can be distinguished
from that of the muenbotoke is the gakki or 'wandering souls'.
"While gakki can be harmful, muenbotoke are not." Ancestral,
household souls which are worshipped are referred to as hotoke.
However, when their lineage comes to an end they change from hotoke
to muenbotoke, but that is a transition that can never happen for
gakki." [Gaki (餓鬼 or がき) - one 'k' - is defined as a hungry ghost
or famished devil. It can also be a brat or imp.] Once a household comes to
an end its associated spirits are disenfranchised, so to speak, and can move
from benign spirits to malevolent ones. ¶ Another category or muenbotoke
are deceased children. "The general impression is... that the status of the
muentoboke is unchangeable and intrinsically linked with the position
they had, while still alive, in the ie [or household]." Theirs is a
'miserable state' and Newell also describes it as "...indeed the least
enjoyable state in the world beyond." Newell also noted that "From the range
of anomalous events, natural calamities are not ascribed to the ancestors
nor to the muenbotoke as punishment from a wrathful god. For this
reason the villagers will not address themselves to their ancestors for
protection against drought, or flood, or earthquakes." ¶ A divorced woman
who returns to her original home and who doesn't remarry does not have a
chance of avoiding becoming a muenbotoke.
Centipede - a creature which
has both negative and positive connotations in Japan traditionally. It is
used to represent Bishamon, one of the seven propitious gods. Other than
that the centipede seems to be viewed negatively.
Laurence Bush in the Asian
Horror Encyclopedia says of the centipede: "Strangely enough this
normally tiny creature is an enormous monster in Japanese monstrology. One
mountain-sized specimen lived in the mountains near Lake Biwa where it was
slain by the hero Hidesato. The grateful Dragon King rewarded him with a bag
of rice that never emptied." (p. 29)
Edward Sylvester Morse
(エドワード・シルヴェスター・モース: 1838-1925) an important American visitor to Japan in the
late 19th century records a visit to a village during a typhoon. He
was searching for ancient pot shards and shells. The villagers told him that
they had discovered a hole in the ground that appeared to be a
long-forgotten burial site. Morse wanted to see it despite the weather
conditions. When they got to the hole two strong fellows lowered him into
the hole. But when he dropped down he was waste high in water and it was
almost pitch black. He yelled up to his assistant that he was all right
"...when in agitated tones he told me that great poisonous centipedes were
crawling out fo the opening! I had on my wide-brimmed hat and a slippery
rubber coat, and what I had supposed to be crumbs of earth and pebbles
tumbling from the sides of the ragged hole were huge centipedes dropping on
me! I stood literally in a cascade of venemous creatures." Quoted from:
The Great Wave by Christoper Benfey, pp. 46-47.
"...the deepest and worst of
the eight burning hells, where evildoers are tortured constantly without
Parsing the kanji of this
term one could come up with 無 meaning 'nothingness', 間 'space', 地
'earth' and 獄 'prison'.
The Avici Hell of traditional Buddhism. This is a
place where sufferers are kept in flames continually, but are neve consumed.
Hell, the 6th worst, which is filled with flames is reserved for those who
have "...roasted or baked animals for their food."
four previous lives, as described in the Sutra of the Past Vows, were as a
woman, which is extremely unusual for a prominent deity. In one life, Jizo
was the devout daughter of a faithless brahmin woman. The mother died and
fell into the worst hell of all, the Uninterrupted Hell (Muken jigoku).
Distraught, the daughter made offerings to a buddha image and prayed to have
the details of her mother's rebirth revealed to her. While gazing at the
image, she heard a voice identifying itself as the statue inform her that
she would soon see her mother. ¶ The daughter then fell into hell herself,
where she was told that because of her meritorious actions, her mother had
already been reborn in one of the heavens. Everyone else in hell was also
saved. Rejoicing, the daughter vowed before the buddha to save any living
beings who were suffering in hell because of their past evil deeds." Quoted
from: Living Buddhist statues in early medieval and modern Japan by
Sarah J. Horton, p. 140.
According to Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist
(p. 220) Dōgen
(道元 or どうげん: 1200-1253), the founder of Sōtō
Buddhism, believed that we reap what we sow. "He said that those who
committed the five cardinal sins (killing a father, killing a mother,
killing an arahat, injuring the body of Śākyamuni Buddha, and destroying the
Buddhist order) would be sent to the avīci hell (muken-jigoku or
abi-jigoku) immediately after their death, where they would endure
incessant suffering and torture."
For those who slander the
Lotus Sutra: "When his life comes to an end he will enter the Avichi hell,
be confined there for a whole kalpa, and when the kalpa ends, be born there
again. He will keep repeating this cycle for a countless number of kalpas.
Though he may emerge from hell, he will fall into the realm of beasts,
becoming a dog or jackal, his form lean and scruffy, dark, discoloured, with
scabs and sores, something for men to make sport of." Quoted from: Augustine and World Religions, p. 182.
In The Record of Linji (p. 177) there is a
translation of one of the horrific tortures of this level of hell: "[The
warders of hell,] having pried open. [the victim's] mouth with tongs, pour
into it molten copper. They force him to to swallow red-hot iron balls that
on entering the mouth scorch the mouth, on entering the throat scorch the
throat, on entering the belly, and, when the five vital organs have been
completely charred, immediately pass out and fall to the ground."
There was a bell when struck
would bring wealth in this world in exchange for eternal suffering in Muken
jigoku and extreme poverty for one's descendants.
Nichiren damned all Buddhists who failed to
put their faith in the Lotus Sutra. "He is also known for his vociferous
denunciations of other Buddhist schools of his day, including the following
oft-cited passage: 'The nembutsu [recitation of the name of Buddha]
hell, Zen the devil, Shingon national ignorance, and the Vinaya piracy.' He
blamed the spate of natural disasters, starvation, and plagues that befell
the archipelago on local Buddhism's straying from the true teaching
contained the Lotus-sūtra." Quoted from: The "Shomangyo-gisho" of
Shotoku Taishi... by Mark Dennis, fn. 226, p. 108.
In The Letters of Nichiren, published in
1996, there is a choice passage which sums up his view of humanity: "Not a
single person will be able to escape from the sufferings of birth and death,
and in the end they will all become slanderers of the Law. Those who,
because of slandering the Law, fall into the Avici Hell, will be more
numerous than the dust particles of the earth, while those who, by embracing
the Law, are freed from the sufferings of birth and death, will amount to
less than the quantity of soil that can be placed on top of a fingernail."
Junichiro Tanizaki (谷崎潤一郎 or
たにざきじゅんいちろう: 1886-1965) wrote a short story called The Two Acolytes.
One was more a sinner, the other more a saint. "And when he did manage to
close his eyes, images of women of every kind floated before him so vividly
that his whole night's sleep was disturbed. At times they appeared as
buddhas with the thirty-two signs of sanctity and seemed to embrace him in a
purple golden radiance; at others, they took the form of demons from the
Avici Hell about to burn him up with tongues of flame that blazed from the
tips of their eighteen horns."
Murasaki or shikon
(しこん): A fugitive purple dye which often fades to gray. Like so many other
dyes this one is fascinating if only for the discovery of its original
leaves are green and the flowers are white, but the roots...the roots are
another story and the source of this colorant. Some sources say it is native
to Japan while others say that it was the Chinese who first used its dyes.
The cell color to
the left and below is murasaki purple.
Don't forget that
color descriptions are not exact. As there are many shades of green or blue
for example, there are many slight variations within each of the colors
shown here which may or may not conform precisely to your own perceptions of
what they should be.
According to Amanda Mayer Stinchecum
16th-19th Century Textiles from the Nomura Collection: 16th-19th Century
Textiles from the Nomura Collection (pp. 202-3) the
Lithospermum erythrorhizon is a perennial plant which grows in mountains
and fields to 30 to 60 cm.
The roots were
"...harvested in the fall, dried and stored for several months before use."
These contain shikonin which is a naphthaquinone derivative. For
optimum effect the plant should be at least three to four years old.
Ideally the roots
should be soaked and pounded in 60° water in winter. The intensity of the
dye ranges from a keshi murasaki or lilac gray to a waka murasaki or light
purple to kōki murasaki or dark purple. The color when used for fabrics will
deepen when stored away from light for up to one year.
In England this
plant is known as the gromwell.
The photo of the
murasaki flowers to the left was sent to us by Shu Suehiro. It was taken on
May 29, 2004 at the Uji Botanical Garden (宇治市植物公園) in Kyōto prefecture.
According to Shu it is difficult to find this plant in the wild.
Shu runs a
wonderful Japanese botanical web site. We would urge you to visit it at
A silk cloth worn by
an onnagata at the top of the forehead where the shaved forelocks would have
been. Often the cloth is purple, but not always. Cautionary note: Not all
onnagata are portrayed on prints wearing this cloth.
The image shown above is of a Shun'ei print from the
Lyon Collecction. Below is a
detail from that print.
Professor Leiter has
an informative entry on the murasaki bōshi in his New Kabuki
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten (p. 423). He
translates it literally as 'purple headgear'. According to Leiter Torii
Shōshichi was the first onnagata to wear this in the 17th century. "Although boshi now means a hat, it did not when this term was coined."
Originally this attachment to the wig was worn during special ceremonies
ostensibly to keep dust of the actor's forelock. However, after they were
forced to shave that part of their hair handsome young actors began wearing
"...a fashionable man's silk band (yarō bōshi) on their heads in
order to maintain their physical attractiveness. This proved effective as it
not only made the actor's face seem smaller, but introduced a nice variation
between the whit skin and the black hair."
Gary Leupp discusses the
forced cutting of the forelocks of kabuki actors in his Male Colors: The
Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (University of
California Press, 1997) "By denying youth - and female-role actors this
adornment, the authorities intended, according to the Tōkaidō meishoki,
'to make them unsightly to look at,' and for a time, indeed, the
shaven-crowned actors proved a turnoff for Tokugawa audiences. The Edo
meishoki says they looked 'like cats with their ears cut off.' Even so,
'it seems later they were not thought so ugly.' " (p. 131) Later Leupp adds
that "Actors were obliged to maintain these shaven pates and at times even
had to report to an inspector, who would insure that their forelocks were
less than a half-inch long. Forbidden to use wigs, they soon hit upon the
device of placing purple scarves over their foreheads; officials permitted
this, presumably because they found the effect suitably unerotic, but
(testifying to the malleability of the libido) the purple scarf itself soon
assumed erotic connotations." (p. 132)
According to Kabuki: A
Pocket Guide by Ronald Cavaye and Tomoko Ogawa (Tuttle Publishing, 1993,
p. 82) the purple cloth was also called a katsura. A gray cloth would
be employed for the role of an old woman.
Above is a detail from a
photo of the purplish-red leaves of the katsura (桂 or かつら) tree
in a Belgian park in the
springtime. This was taken by Jean-Pol Grandmont and was
http://commons.wikimedia.org/. Surely this is what gives the
murasaki bōshi its
other name. To see the full, beautiful image go to the site linked above.
Samuel Leiter in his New
Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten (1997 edition,
p. 281) addresses the issue of forelocks and katsura - and just about
everything else. "Ever since the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Japanese men
have borrowed the warrior's custom of shaving their crowns (sakayaki),
a practice first begun to keep heads relatively cool under heavy helmets.
Only boys continued to wear hair on their crowns. This hair, worn as a
forelock (maegami), was considered physically alluring, especially to
homosexual spectators. It would have to be ceremoniously removed when a boy
reached his maturity at sixteen. In yaro kabuki the forelock-less actors
were forced to rely on performing skills rather than beauty to attract
A category of pictures
in which purple was used extensively while the use of red was avoided.
The image to the
left is by Eishi and was sent to us by a very generous contributor. Thanks!
The author of The
Tale of Genji.
Mildred Tahara gives her dates as ca. 979 - 1016.
This 11th century
masterpiece by Lady Murasaki (ca. 973-1014) is considered by many sources to
the first great novel written anywhere. Not only that it has remained
an adored classic among the Japanese through the centuries and has
infiltrated many of the various layers of the culture.
Almost nothing is
known about the life of this author. She is believed to have died in ca.
1014. She was born into a family which had turned increasingly to literary
pursuits. Even though the study of Chinese poetry was mainly a masculine
domain she showed a precocious ability in this field. In 999 she was married
to Fujiwara Nobutaka who was many years her senior. Two years later she was
a widow. In 1006 or 1007 she entered the service of one of the major
consorts of the emperor Ichijō. There she was surrounded by witty and
brilliant talents who must have stimulated her latent abilities. Source: The
Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature, by Earl Miner, Hiroko
Odagiri and Robert E. Morrell, 1985, p. 202.
Even the name,
Murasaki Shikibu, is somewhat shrouded in mystery. "She seems to have
been known during her lifetime as Tō no Shikibu... Tō, the Sino-Japanese
reading for the character fuji or 'wisteria,' clearly designates the
Fujiwara family, to a cadet branch of which she was born. Shikibu refers to
the Shikibushō or Ministry of Rites, in which both her father and brother
Two theories have
been advanced to explain the Murasaki element: that because it means
'purple' it refers to the wisteria of her family name; and that it derives
from the name of Genji's great love in the Genji monogatari." Note that very few
names of women from that period are known to us today. Source and quote
entry by Edward G. Seidensticker (vol. 5, p. 267).
readers believed that Murasaki Shikibu must have gone to hell for concocting
such a tale." Quoted from: Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature, p. 932.
At the end of the nō
play Genji kuyō Lady Murasaki is revealed to be the Kannon, Goddess
According to Ruth Shaver in her
Kabuki Costume on page 38 says that Maruyama Sakon was the first
true onnagata. Even though
Nagoya Sanzaburō was the first
man to dress in women's clothes in this art form it was Sakon who changed
the theater forever. "Undoubtedly to offset the inevitable boredom of
all-male casts, the role of the
the female impersonator - the ultimate in Kabuki allurement, was born.
Maruyama Sakon is credited with being the original
of an all-male troupe, though Nagoya Sanza previously had appeared in female
dress. Sakon first appeared as a woman in Kyoto in 1649. Later he brought
his act to Edo, where he danced at the Murayama-za, a theater owned by his
elder brother, Maruyama Matasaburō.
Sakon's innovation was enthusiastically accepted and became so popular that
he soon had
rivals, among whom the most highly acclaimed during the next form of Kabuki,
known as Yarō Kabuki, were Ukon Genzaemon, Nakamura Kazuma, and Kokan Tarōji."
Shaver goes on to say that we do not know much about Sakon's costumes. "It
is known only that he wore a silk kimono and a beautifully colored oblong
silk cloth over his partially shaven head and that he used cloths of
different colors for various roles. It can be assumed that he used female
make-up." (Ibid., p. 39)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Hugo Munsterberg wrote:
"Because of this great interest and enthusiasm for Japanese prints,
important collections of them were formed in both Europe and America long
before Japan itself became aware of their aesthetic and historical
significance. The most outstanding public collection was that at the Boston
Museum, which acquired 10,000 prints from Fenollosa and is to this day the
best and most extensive collection of ukiyo-e in the world. Other fine
collections were formed in London at the British. Museum which in 1906
acquired the collection of Arthur Morrison, consisting of no fewer than
1,851 prints, as well as in Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden. There were
also numerous private collections, notably in Paris, among which. the Vever
Collection was probably the most illustrious."
The image to the left comes
from this museum's web site.
The image to the left is a
detail from a print in the Lyon Collection. Click on it to see more
information. Below is a photo posted at commons.wikimedia by Mitsu yome.
The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual
There was very little
cultural contact with China in the 18th century. That is why the
publication in 1753 of "The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual" hit the
Japanese marketplace with such a bang. There was a thirst among many
Japanese artists for a clear understanding of Chinese painting. "It offered
age-old principles, practical advice, dozens of actual pictures, and a might
dose of encouragement.... it quickly became the philosophical bible of a new
generation of painters who were already looking to China for inspiration and
I am mentioning this
for two particular reasons: "Here is the first use of wood grain [ita-mokuhan]
as a pattern, the first use of gradation printings [bokashi],
the first use in prints of contrast of texture and color saturation: the
result is printed textures that look like colored acquatint."
Source and quotes: Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan
published by the New York Public Library and the University of Washington
Press, 2006, p. 82.
A cultural phenomenon:
Decades ago a great scholar told me that "The Mustard Seed Garden Painting
Manual" was far more popular in Japan than it ever was in China. It first
appeared there in 1679.
Like so many other
ehon this was published in several volumes over several years - not to
mention later editions. The examples to the left originally appeared in
1748. However, these probably are from a later date, but still from the
original blocks. At our request our great contributor E. sent us this bird
and flower page. Thanks E!
The detail of the
pomegranate gives a sense of the care used to translate the Chinese version
into a marketable Japanese commodity.
Most translations of
myōseki as 'family name' do not even come close to the true usage of this
term. In the West we have a number of practices that hardly exist in the
East: kings and queens, the nobility, popes and even certain families are in
the habit of naming new members after previous ones. The popes are the only
ones among this grouping who rarely if ever have any blood relationship to
their predecessors - unlike certain earlier periods - but who adopt their
names all the same - of course, with the addition of the next sequential
In Japan there is a
different practice: In sumo, the theater, and among courtesans it is
considered an honor to have the name of a famous predecessor bestowed upon
you. In the case of kabuki it often involved the adoption of an young
trainee who lived up to expectatios. In the arts Hiroshige I is followed by
his adopted son, Hiroshige II, who also married the master's daughter.
Toyokuni II was the son-in-law of Toyokuni I.
The same succession
lines were true of famous courtesans who were renowned for their beauty and
their skills both on and off the mattress. Courtesans had only a few short
years to reach the top, burn brightly and then dim only to be replaced by
younger, more supple women. If a truly famous courtesan of one house
attained a reputation comparable to that of another famous earlier beauty of
that house the new one might be allowed to use the name of her
If we practiced this
in the West there probably would have been a Marilyn Monroe (マリリンモンロー) II or
III, several Rembrandts or even have been cursed by a Beethoven (ベートーヴェン) V or VI by now.
Thank goodness we haven't. Let's leave that custom to the Japanese who seem
to do quite well with it - but not always.
One more note - and I
am not absolutely positive about this - but the Jews never name children
after their parents directly either for religious or superstitious reasons.
I add that only because of the great variances between different cultures.
All of this fascinates me.
The image to the left
is a detail from a print by Eizan from the 1830s. It shows the courtesan
Hanamurasaki. Cecilia Segawa Seigle in her Yoshiwara: The Glittering
World of the Japanese Courtesan (pp. 127 and 128) noted: "Thus the last
of the legitimate tayū was Hanamurasaki, whose name disappears after
the New Year 1761..." Later she added: "One notes that the names
Hanamurasaki and Komurasaki were immediately transformed into succession
names of the lower-rank sancha in 1762 at the Corner Tamaya. Yet the
hallowed tayū name Takao was never again used at any house after
Porcelain ware. Blue and white, celadon, and polychrome porcelains, mainly
for table use, made in or near Arita, Hizen Province (now Saga Prefecture),
Kyūshū, from 1628 to 1871. The Iwayagawachi kiln (1628-61) produced
underglaze blue and white ware that was not of the highest quality. The
Nagawara kilns (1661-75) made excellent blue and white and polychrome
pieces. Both kilns were patronized by the local daimyō. On a larger
scale, the Nabeshima daimyō, lords of the Hizen domain, operated a kiln for
their own exclusive needs at Ōkawachi from 1675 to 1871; the finest work, of
a technical perfection unrivaled by other Edo period (1600-1868) porcelain,
was done in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, with a subsequent
decline in quality most marked after 1804. ¶ Nabeshima ware production was
closely supervised, technical secrets were carefully guarded, and defective
pieces were destroyed. At Ōkawachi, bodies were made and fired and transfer
technique designs executed; overglaze polychorme pigments were applied and
fired by a small number of artisan families in Arita. Among the carefully
and uniformly potted pieces, dishes were most common, in four standard sizes
with a characteristic high foot with a comb design. Less common were sake
and food cups and least frequent were jars, flower vases, water
containers, and incense burners. ¶ Nabeshima designs - the most inventive,
varied, striking, and asymmetrical among Japanese porcelains - were outlined
in soft, pale, dull underglaze blue or, if polychrome, finished in strong,
transparent, thinly applied red, yellow, and bluish green overglaze enamels.
They mainly comprised flowers, shrubs, leaves, fruits, and vegetables, at
times treated with considerable abstraction or else in textile patterns.
After 1696, designs with a central white area as derived from Imari
porcelains... became characteristic, with the backs of dishes having
underglaze blue decoration, usually peonies, chrysanthemums, scrolls, or
jewels bound with ribbons. ¶ Starting with Soeda Kizaemon (d. 1654),
the kilns were managed for many generations by the Soeda family and pigments
were prepared by the Imaizumi family in Arita. Imaemon XII (1897-1975) and
his son Imaemon XIII (b. 1926) have carried on the family traditions at a
high technical level." Quoted from: Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan,
volume 5, p. 299. The entry is by Frederick Baekeland.
The image to the left is
from the Kyūshū Ceramic Museum. It was posted at Wikimedia.common and is
credited to Georges Le Gars. It is dated ca. 1690-1710s.
Dianthus or pink - one of the
Seven Flowers of Autumn - The archaic meaning is a caressable girl or as
Haruo Shirane translates it, "petting a child". In the
Tale of Genji This name in Japanese is generally
written in kana.
In the Hahkigi (Broom Tree)
chapter of the Tale of Genji Tō no Chūjō describes to Genji his
affair with a woman who was not his wife. They had a child together which
the woman referred to as the 'little pink' or the Yamato nadeshiko. "O,
let your compassion touch this little pink with fresh dew!" In time the
child became known as Tamakazura.
In Royall Tyler's
translation of the Tale of Genji Tō no Chūjō goes to his lover and
I could never choose one
from the many colors blooming so gaily,
yet the gillyflower I
feel is the fairest of them all.
In a footnote to this poem
Tyler notes: "The tokonatsu ('gillyflower') and the nadeshiko
('pink') are the same flower, but the words have different associations.
Nadeshiko refers to the child, tokonatsu to the mother. This is
partly because of a play on toko (the 'sleeping place' of lovers) in
Kokinshū 167 by Ōshikōchi no Mitsune, to which Tō no Chūjō alludes a
line or two later. 'No speck of dust will I allow to soil this bed /
gillyflower, abloom since you and I first lay down toegether."
Lady Sarashina (1009-1059),
said to be the author of the Bridge of Dreams, refers to the
Yamato-nadeshiko or the Japanese pink as 'the flower of Japanese
The photo to the left was
posted at Flickr by Pixie Led.
trousers: To the left is a detail from a print by Toyokuni III. Although the
figure is kneeling you can clearly see the length of the right pant leg. It
would still be long and dragging even if he were standing.
The image to below is by Yoshiiku from 1867, but representing Shimizu Muneharo
(清水宗治 or しみず.むねはる:
As a child my parents
sometimes bought me pants which were too long expecting me to grow into
them. That saved them on money and shopping and I was instructed to roll up
my cuffs. But being a child this didn't always work so well and there were
numerous times when I tripped or even fell on my face. Recently that memory
was brought back to me when I ran across an entry on nagabakama. I
always wondered how and why grown men would wear such attire. Now I know.
"The long culottes dragged on the floor as the samurai moved across a room
and made it difficult for their wearer to engage in any surprise moves
during a court appearance before the shogun." That makes sense.
Quote from: Matsuri:
Japanese Festival Arts, by Gloria Granz Gonick, UCLA Fowler Museum of
Cultural History, 2002, p. 70.
See also our entry on
There is a good description of
the logistics of wearing these trousers in The 47 Ronin Story: "The
voluminous legs were overlong by several feet and were supposed to stretch
out flatly behind the wearer for aesthetic effect. This required great care
in walking and Lord Asano, naturally impatient, felt hemmed in and
vulnerable. He had a constant urge to kick holes in the legs and strut in
his normal manner instead of mincing along like a woman in a tight kimono.
Kataoka finished laying out the cloth so that his master was pointed in the
right direction, then bowed deeply and withdrew."
A large oblong chest
for clothing and other personal possessions. "Nagamochi (long chest)
is now seen only as an ancient relic in old families or among museum
collections, but up to the early Meiji ear, it was an important household
necessity.... Nagamochi appeared first in the 11th or 12th
century..." Originally they may have been made of woven bamboo, but in time
they were most frequently made of paulownia or white fir because of their
lightness and abilities to stay somewhat dry. In time wealthier households
had more elaborate chests which were often lacquered and decorated with
family crests. In fact, these became a matter of pride when parents could
provide their daughters with such chests as a part of their dowries.
Sectioned tansus with drawers were a later invention.
Source and quotes: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p. 38.
The images to the
left are two details from prints by Hokusai. However, I have to admit that I
am so abysmally ignorant about the fine points of Japanese furniture that I
am only guessing that these images represent nagamochi. The one above
is from a Chūshingura scene with one figure standing atop a large orange
colored chest. The one below shows laborers struggling to keep a similar
chest afloat while fording a river.
The fellow standing
atop the chest in the top image is Amakawaya Gihei (天川屋義平 or あまかわ.ぎへい) from
Act X of the Chūshingura.
Port city used for
"The presence of
artists in Nagasaki was not accidental since the government employed
copyists to reproduce line for line all pictures and paintings that were
imported... It is supposed that the Nagasaki prints were designed by such
men as a sideline. The prints were usually unsigned and of those few that do
carry a signature...little is know of the artists. These prints were
published and sold in Nagasaki itself - presumably as souvenirs. The
printing techniques were similar to those used in Edo, although the sizes of
paper used were often larger and the pigments were slightly
different... They all seem to be decidedly rare."
Quoted from: The
Art of Japanese Prints, by Richard Illing, Gallery Books, 1980, p. 155.
The center image to
the left is the full print. The top and bottom are details of that print.
We really want to
thank the fellow who sent this image to us so we could post it for you to
see. One of these days I will find a way and place to post the full image in
a large format. It is truly beautiful and perhaps the finest examples of
Nagasaki-e I have ever seen. Of course, that is a personal opinion and
simply a matter of taste.
A gauze hat or hair
Literally it means a throw-down (投げ) hood (頭巾). A.L. Sadler in his
Cha-no-Yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony gives an origin for this name:
"This Tea-caddy was called 'Nage-zukin' or 'Throw-down-cap,' because when
its owner brought it to Shuko for his opinion, the Master was so struck with
admiration at it that he instinctively took off the skull-cap he happened to
be wearing and threw it on the ground."
naginata was the principal weapon of foot troops from the 11th century
until well into the 15th century. It was the favorite weapon of Buddhist
warrior-monks. Early naginata tended to have shorter shafts and
longer blades than those of the 17th century onward, when samurai
women were trained in their use. Contrary to common belief, the naginata
remained in the arsenal of men until the abolition of the feudal system
following the Meiji Restoration (1868)." Note that some authors contest
the use of the word 'halberd' as a cultural comparison. Others use the term
'glaive'. I take no position. You can draw your own conclusions.
wooden shaft was 4 to 8 feet in length with a curved blade that was 1 to 2
feet long. At the bottom of the shaft was an iron cap.
Source and quote:
entry by Benjamin H. Hazard (vol. 5, p. 308)
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi from ca. 1840.
Several older and some newer
sources say it was used mainly by women who fought along side the men. This
was said to had begun during the Momoyama period (1563-1602). When it was
swung in a circle it was meant to mow down the opponent.
In A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and
Armor in All Countries and in All Times: In All Countries and in All Times
by George Cameron Stone (Penguin reprint, 1999, p. 463) it states "A
Japanese spear with a head like a sword blade curving back very much near
the point. It is sometimes called the 'woman's spear,' because women were
taught to use it, mainly for exercise, but so that they were prepared to use
it in case of necessity. The shafts are lacquered and decorated with metal
mountings. Like all Japanese spears it was carried sheathed. ¶ There are
three varieties; the most usual one has a tang that fits into the shaft; the
naginata-no-saki has a socket on the end of the blade into which the shaft
fits. It is the rarest form. The oldest form is the tsukushi naginata which
has a loop, or loops, on the back of the blade into which the handle fits."
One account says that Oda Nobunaga, wounded by an arrow, grabbed a
naginata to fight off attackers before he locked himself in his quarters
and was either burned to death or committed suicide. (Secrets of the
Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan, by Oscar Ratti and Adele
Westbrookp, published by Tuttle, 1991, p. 57) "Among the weapons the samurai
woman handled with skill was the spear, both the straight (yari) and
the curved (naginata), which customarily hung over the doors of every
military household and which she could use against charging foes or any
unauthorized intruder found within the precincts of the clan's
establishment." (p. 115) In 1843 there were still said
to be two school of martial arts which specialized in training using the
naginata. (p. 157)
The first kanji character,
薙, in combination with other characters means 'to mow down'.
According to legend kabuki
theater was started by a historical female religious figure, Okuni, in the
late 16th century. She was said to have had a mentor/lover in Nagoya
Sanzaburō. "Born in 1576, the seventh child of a samurai, young Sanzaburō ,
or Sanza as he is popularly known, studied for the priesthood at a Kyoto
temple until 1590. Then, at the age of fourteen, already bored with the
austerities of priesthood, he gladly became a page to Gamō Ujisato of Aizu,
a Christian daimyō. The death of Ujisato in 1595 brought Sanza back to Kyoto
with a fortune bequeathed to him by his late master.
¶ Lombard states in The
Japanese Drama that Sanza 'led a life of social freedom, and was
popularly known for excellence in social arts, including the Kyōgen'
(comic interludes of the Nō).
This was the background of the man who it is said became Okuni's mentor as
well as lover for a few years.
¶ Sanza, a musician
proficient with the fue (flute) and tsuzumi (hand-drum),
taught Okuni popular songs to which he wrote ribald lyrics. Together, they
borrowed freely from the Nō
These performances put Okuni on the highest rung of the ladder of
popularity. In these, Okuni donned a man's costume and
Sanzaburō a woman's, a reversal
of their apparel which made them look ungainly for those times, but which
the public nevertheless found exceedingly refreshing and humorous. The male
members of the audience in particular found the spectacles of a young woman
dancing in masculine attire to be highly beguiling and erotic." Quoted from:
Kabuki Costume by Ruth M. Shaver, p. 35-36.
"Possibly tired of the gay life,
Sanzaburō changed his name
to Kyūemon and became a samurai attached to the feudal lord Mōri Tadamasa at
Tsuyama in Mamasaka Province. One of the few instances where fully
documented evidence about Sanzaburō is obtainable records the fact that Sanzaburō
died in 1604 in a quarrel with a fellow retainer." (Ibid., p. 37)
Nakamura Daikichi I
The son of Nakamura Tomishirō
and the brother of Nakamura Fukusuke II. Fukusuke I (1831-99) debuted in
Osaka as Nakamura Tomatarō and later took the name Nakamura Tomasaburō. In
1838 he was adopted by Utaemon IV and moved with him to Edo in 1839 where he
took the name Fukusuke. In 1860 he took the name Shikan IV by which he is
best known. Extremely versatile and highly
respected. In 1893 while performing an acrobatic-flying routine, a
the wire snapped and he fell breaking his leg. At his age and considering
the state of medicine at the time this must have been a life altering event.
Click on the image above to see
the full print featuring this portrait.
Kabuki actor's name,
but here the name of a fictitious twin brother of Nakamura Utaemon III
Nakamura Utaemon III
Kabuki actor (Shikan 芝翫, Baigyoku 梅玉,
1778-1838). In the
early 1820s Utaemon seriously twisted his leg in Edo. In 1825 in Osaka he
injured it again and became extremely ill. "A week later he had recovered
enough to continue acting through the end of the second month when the New
Year's performances ended, but billboards had already announced a
'retirement performance' [isse ichidai kyogen] for the next month."
Source and quote
Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, by Roger S. Keyes and Keiko Mizushima,
Philadelphi Museum of Art, 1973, p. 98.
'retirement' performance was so well received, and his spirits and health so
revived, that he never left the stage, but continued acting without pause
until his death at the age of sixty in 1838."
Ibid., p. 100
retired from basketball only to return to it later. Sugar Ray Leonard
retired several times. This is not uncommon with boxers. So, is it any
surprise that Utaemon III decided to stay on the stage for another fourteen
years after it was announced he was leaving?
For much more
information about Utaemon click on the number in the column to the right.
The main boulevard
running directly through the Yoshiwara or red-light district of Edo.
Although it was only a few blocks long it was memorialized in many prints
which often showed the procession of the oirans and their attendants dressed
in the finest garb.
"The third of the
major events of the Yoshiwara had its beginning in 1741. In the spring of
that year, proprietors of Nakanochō teahouses conceived the idea of
beautifying the boulevard by planting cherry trees and applied for
permission from the authorities to do so. It is said they were denied
permission for planting trees and were told to use potted cherry plants with
Quote from: Yoshiwara: The
Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan, by Cecilia Segawa Seigle,
University of Hawaii Press, 1993, p. 108.
The image to the
left is a detail from a polyptych by Toyokuni I showing the oirans and their
retinues viewing the cherry blossoms on the Nakanochō.
Shaving the pate
Giant catfish - believed to
be the cause of earthquakes - or so I thought. There is an extremely
informative web site written by Gregory Smits at Penn State University which
gives the most thorough history of the namazu which I have seen in English
so far. (Here is a link to that page:
http://www.east-asian-history.net/textbooks/172/ch8.htm ) Note
that Dr. Smits gives a load of links to other namazu imagery or other
relevant sites. This is my summary of his information as best I understand
In the image to the left Edoites are attacking the catfish they believe is
responsible for the 1855 earthquake.
1. The namazu is Not
exactly/actually a catfish: "The Japanese word namazu refers to a wide
variety of fish that in English might be called catfish or bullheads.
Generally, namazu does not refer to a specific species of fish. In
artistic and literary contexts, it is often best to think of namazu
less as actual fish swimming around in waterways of Japan than as cultural
symbols. And what did namazu symbolize? When it first made an
appearance in a work of Japanese highbrow art at the start of the fifteenth
century, we cannot determine with certainty what namazu symbolized.
As time went on, however, these metaphorical fish gradually began to
symbolize disorder. By they [sic] late eighteenth century, the namazu
typically stood for one specific type of disorder: earthquakes." A whole
genre of namazu pictures developed immediate after the quake of 1855, but in
time this fish became a political satire stand in for "...(puffed up)
government officials...", etc.
Note: The two major on-line
kanji sources I use both give namazu as catfish.
2. In the 15th century there
were various explanations for earthquakes based mainly on Chinese concepts.
One theory is that quakes were caused by dragons which were referred to as namazu. In time this word seemed to morph into meaning a giant
catfish. In fact, it was believed that it could be the movement of any large
mythic animal which supported the earth. Or, it could even be the result of
male and female deities having sex. There were other theories, but I like
that last one best.
3. In the early 15th century
the concept of catching or controlling a catfish with a gourd became
popular. According to Dr. Smits this was not a Zen kōan, but
did become a stock metaphor for attempting the impossible. By the 17th
century folk art images were sold to pilgrims in the city of Ōtsu. "...one
popular motif... was the image of a person, or, more typically, a monkey,
suppressing a giant namazu with a bottle gourd." For centuries the
term hyōtan-namazu (瓢箪鯰 or ひょうたん.なまず) or gourd-namazu was used
for trying the impossible. This term is hardly used or understood today.
"During the eighteenth century, the notion developed that the deity of the
Kashima shrine [Kashima daimyōjin 鹿島大明神 or かしま.だいみょうじん] just NE of
Edo (Tokyo) pressed down on an oval-shaped boulder called the 'foundation
stone' (kamame-ishi [要石 or かなめいし]). This boulder, in turn, pressed
down on the head of a huge underground namazu." Occasionally the
shrine god would have to leave town for a meeting at the Izumo shrine. At
those times Ebisu (or even Daikoku) would take over. If any of them was ever
distracted, inattentive or fell asleep the namazu would thrash about
causing an earthquake. "(Incidentally, there was an alternative explanation
in which the movement of a giant pheasant located at the Kashima Shrine
4. After the quake of 1855
two different types of namazu were considered: The destructive and the
restorative. Actually even the destructive kind could act in a restorative
manner. Cities had to be rebuilt. Lives had to be made whole again. Many
people often felt the quake was retribution for imagined and real ills. This
is not far removed from the Judeo-Christian concept behind the destruction
of Sodom and Gomorrah or even the invocations used by modern theologians in
their attempts to explain the destruction wrought on September 11, 2001
and/or the flooding of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 1964 Cornelius Ouwehand
published his Namazu-e and Their Themes: An Interpretative Approach to
Some Aspects of Japanese Folk Religion. In that volume he noted that the
Kashima deity sometimes suppressed the namazu with a sword too and that in
certain prints the giant catfish might be replaced by a whale. In a book
review by M. E. in the Monumenta Nipponica it is noted that "The
interpretation of the namazu pictures is further complicated by the
appearance of the fish in human form, as child, as a man or woman, as a
representative of various crafts and trades, but still showing a connection
with the gourd or water or both by a distinctive mark on his clothes. At
times the namazu as causer of earthquakes is abused and hated, at times he
is adored as avenger of social injustices ..." M. E. continues "Besides
their religious significance in connection with the earthquake legend we
find in the pictures also criticism of existing social conditions through
ridicule, irony and puns on words."
Who is the Kashima deity?
Ouwehand traced the history according to M.E.: "In the myths the god Kashima
is Takemikazuchi which arose from the blood of the fire-god Kagutsuchi when
his father Izanagi killed him with his sword. Takemikazuchi is the
sword-fire-god and thunder-lightning god at the same time." M. E. is
critical of the jumble of concepts dealt with by Ouwehand. However, I wasn't
quite sure which jumble he was referring to. If it was the dual nature of
the namazu then time and scholarship seem to be on Ouwehand's side.
Censors (seals): Starting in ca. 1790
the government sought to keep better control over the production or
woodblock prints. They wanted to make sure that nothing seditious (or overly luxuriant) was being
published. The kiwame (極) was the first general seal used
in one form or another for decades. "Then in 1842, in the thirteenth year of
Tempō, under a reform instituted by Mizuno (水野) , Lord of Echizen (越前守),
still another, more rigid, regulation was enforced, and the kiwame
seal was replaced by that of the 'nanushi, a censor."
Source and quote from: "Ukiyoe:
Some Aspects of Japanese Classical Picture Prints", by Shigeyoshi Mihara,
Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 6, No.
(1943), footnote 13, p. 257.
In an interesting 1913
article in "The International Studio" (p. 313) entitled "The Dating of
Japanese Colour-Prints in 1842" J. J. O'Brien Sexton quotes a passage from
Captain F. Brinkley's Japan: Its History, Art, and Literature (vol.
7, p. 50): "At one time (1842) and that not by any means the Golden Age of
the Art, the Yedo Government, in a mood of economy, deemed it necessary to
issue a sumptuary law prohibiting the sale of various kinds of
chromo-xylographs - single-sheet pictures of actors, danseuses, and
'dames of the green chamber': pictures in series of three sheets or upwards,
and pictures in the printing of which more than seven blocks were used. The
prohibition held for twelve years only -"
[Chromo-xylographs = colored
woodblock prints; 'dames of the green chamber' = courtesans, i.e.,
prostitutes of the Yoshiwara.]
According to Sexton the
nanushi were administrative counselors, i.e., "Toshiyori",
who had nothing to do with the production of the woodblock prints. (p. 314)
Peter Kornicki in The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the
Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century (p. 351-2) notes that from 1761 to
1786 "...some artist's signatures did appear on shunga, often
disguised as signatures on screens or hidden in the design. In 1842,
in the midst of the Tempō reforms, the Edo authorities noticed that
prints were already being published with faked censorship seals suggesting
that they had been approved in the hope of getting around the new
restrictions, and surviving copies of a particularly flagrant example were
confiscated. Later, in the late 1840s and early 1850s, some prints, such as
a triptych by Utagawa Kunisada which contravened the recent ban on the
representation of actors and courtesans in prints, carry the imprint of a
seal advising retailers not to hang it up for display but to sell it 'under
the counter' (shitauri シタ売). This is in a sense a form of
self-censorship, but it also demonstrates the willingness of publishers to
bend the rules." It was also clear that the government "...did not have
either the resources or the will to control the circulation of illicit or
subversive..." printed matter.
Properly speaking a nanushi was a headman or leader of a village or
Marks defines the term nanushi: "With the enactment of the Tenpō
reforms in 1842, the censorship system was changed and from the sixth month
on, nanushi 名主, minor government officials, were selected to carry
out the approval by applying their name seal to prints."
Naraku (sometimes naraka)
From a Sanskrit word for 'hell'
(नरक): "one of the three negative modes of existence... The hells are places
of torment and retribution for bad deeds; but existence in them is finites,
i.e., after negative karma has been exhausted, rebirth in another, better
form of existence is possible. Like the buddha paradises... the hells are to
be considered more as states of mind than as places. ¶ Buddhist cosmology
distinguishes various types of hells, essentially adopted from Hinduism.
There are hot and cold hells divided into eight main ones, among which the
Avici is the most horrible, each surrounded by sixteen subsidiary hells. The
inhabitants of the hells suffer immeasurable torment for various different
lengths of time. They are hacked into pieces, devoured alive by birds with
iron beaks, and cut up by the razor-sharp leaves of hell trees. The hells
are ruled by Yama." Quoted from: The Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism
and Zen, p. 155.
Japanese pear: This fruit has
no particular connection with ukiyo-e. However, I am reading The Pillow
Book of Sei Shōnagon in the Penguin Classics version, translated and
annotated by Ivan Morris. This is a book everyone interested in traditional
Japan should read. Sei Shōnagon is a woman who doesn't seem to have thought
twice about expressing her prejudices and one of them was about the nashi.
It was too juicy not to include here. In her section on flowering trees she
said: "The blossom of the pear tree is the most prosaic, vulgar thing in the
world. The less one sees this particular blossom the better, and it should
not be attached to even the most trivial message. The pear blossom can be
compared to the face of a plain woman; for its coloring lacks all charm. Or
so, at least, I used to think. Knowing that the Chinese admire the pear
blossom greatly and praise it in thier poems, I wondered what they could see
in it and made a point of examining the flower. Then I was surprised to find
that its petals were prettily edged with a pink tinge, so faint that I could
not be sure whether it was there or not." She then recalls that the pear
blossom was compared to the face of Yang Kuei-fei and decides that "...it
really is a magnificent flower."
Two items: Morris notes that
Sei Shōnagon is mistaken about the comparison of the flower to the face of
Yang Kuei-fei. Actually her visage was compared to the delicacy of jade.
And, in a footnote he adds: "It was customary to attach flowers or leaves to
one's letters; the choice depended on the season, the dominant mood of the
letter, the imagery of the poem it contained, and the colour of the paper."
For our comments on the
Gui-fei motif in Japanese art go to our entry on our
thru Z index/glossary page.
In the Chinese poem,
"A Song of Unending Sorrow", by Bai Juyi's (772-846) Yang Gui-fei's spectre
is described after death as thus:
Her face, delicate as jade, is
desolate beneath the heavy tears,
Like a spray of pear blossoms
in spring, veiled in drops of rain.
The image of the
pear blossoms is from the web site operated by Shu Suehiro at
Nazuna or shepherd's
purse were said to have been sold by vendors at temple complexes during the
Edo period. People would "...take these flowers home and offer them to the
Buddha. As they consider the nazuna to be a charm against insects, they hang
them with a thread in their andon (行燈, lamps with paper shades)." Quoted
from: Ancient Buddhism in
Japan by de Visser, p. 57
The photo to the left is
being shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at