A MILLION QUESTIONS
Port Townsend, Washington
Ihai thru Iwai
The nighttime photo of the new
in Seattle was taken by my friend Ben P. It
was used to mark additions in October
thru December 2012.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Ikiryō, Ikkyū, Inazuma, Inden,
Ingaōhō, Ine, Inro,
Inuōmono, Iori, Irohabiki monchō,
Irezumi, Ishi, Ita-bokashi,
Iwai Hanshiro, Iwai Kumesaburō
and Iwai Kumesaburō III
生霊, 一休, 稲妻,
印相, 庵, 刺青 いろは, 石, 石摺絵,
(Ita) 暈, 板目木版, 糸巻,
いね, いんろう, いぬおうもの, いんぞう, いおり,
いろはびき.もんちょう, いれずみ, いし, いしずりえ,
ぼかし, いためもくはん, いとまき,
いわい.はんしろう and いわい.くめさぶろう
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
or highlighted words to go to linked
A Buddhist mortuary or memorial
The ihai is said "...to
provide the spirit a place to dwell."
"...the Buddhist god shelf,
universal in all houses except the very poor or makeshift ones, on which the
memorial tablets (ihai) of the family's dead are kept." (Quote from:
The Great Loochoo: A Study of Okinawan Village Life by Clarence J.
Glacken, p. 65)
"On New Year's day... the
Japanese must rise, and after washing and arraying himself in festal attire,
salute the rising sun, then offer thanks to the gods of heaven and earth,
and bow himself down before the ihai (tablets) of his ancestors at the
household altar, and not till then turn his attention to the living."
(Quoted from: Japan: Travel and Researches by J. J. Rein, 1884, p.
Another wooden Buddhist
(grave) tablet is the sotoba (卒都婆 or そとば).
From Lafcadio Hearn's
Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan, Vol. 2: "There are differences,
however, of size; and the ihai of a man is larger than that of a woman, and
has a headpiece also, which the tablet of the female has not; while a
child's ihai is very small."
"This ihai is simply
the constituting element in the family altar, its sine-qua-non. One more
significant item which may be kept in the butsudan is the «book of
the past», the kachoko, where the death-days of all the dead who are
to be taken care of (at the actual altar) are entered." (Quoted from:
Grave and Gospel by Jan-Martin Berentsen, p. 30)
To the left is a Hokusai
print showing a snake slithering around an ihai.
Religion and Societies:
Asia and the Middle East Carlo Caldarola wrote (p. 632): "Funeral
ceremonies and ancestors' death anniversary rites are performed by a priest
of the family temple, either in the temple itself or in front of the family
altar. In some sects, a portion of the funerary ashes is deposited at the
family temple. In other, an ihai, a duplicate of that in the family
is also left at the family temple. Whereas Shinto shrine affiliation is
prescribed by residence, Buddhist temple affiliation depends mainly on
kinship ties, and thus most persons belong to the same temple as their
parents. [¶] "Household rites are performed primarily to benefit the spirits
of the dead. Japanese Buddhists hold that the spirits (reikon,
tamashii) of the dead do not become 'happy spirits' (hotoke)
until the forty-ninth day after death, at which time they stop wandering
around the house and leave for the grave. Hence some families keep the
deceased's ashes in the house until that day. During that time a new
ancestral tablet, sometimes with a photograph of the deceased, is placed
upon a low table under the family altar. Incense sticks are burned
continuously, and fresh water or tea, and rice, are offered daily. After the
forty-ninth day, the hotoke becomes one with the family ancestral group,
except on special occasions.... Theoretically, anniversary rites for
individual ancestors should be performed for 50 years after the date of
In an appendix to an 1880
translation of the 'Chiushingura' is a section on ihai: "These
tablets are inscribed with the posthumous name (okuri-na) [諡 or おくりな]
of the deceased and date of his death. When the wife survives the husband ,
she often has her name added in red letters, which upon her death are
converted into black ones." (Chiushingura: or, The LoyalLeague : a
Japanese Romance, pp. 178-9) From the same translation is a wonderful
passage: "Yuranosuke, drawing from his bosom the ihai of his dead
master, placed it reverently on a small stand at the upper end of the room,
and then set the head of Moronaho, cleansed from blood, on another opposite
to it. He next took a perfume from within his helmet, and burnt it before
the tablet of his lord, prostrating himself and withdrawing slowly, while he
bowed his head reverently three times, and then again thrice three times.
[¶] 'O thou soul of my liege lord, with awe doth thy vassal approach thy
mighty presence, who art now like unto him that was born of the lotus-flower
to attain a glory and eminence beyond the understanding of men! Before the
sacred tablet tremblingly set I the head of thine enemy, severed from his
corpse by the sword thou deignedst to bestow upon thy servant in the hour of
thy last agony.' " (Ibid., p. 142) And then Yuranosuke burst into tears.
And what about the pets?
That was dealt with in 1904 in the 5th edition of The New Far East by Arthur
Diósy (p. 105): "We shall find the modern Japanese described as a gentle
creature, so full of the milk of human kindness that he will pay for
Buddhist prayers to be said for the soul of his dead dog, or cat, or ox, and
cheerfully disburse thirty Sen for the decent burial, in the grounds
of a temple, with a short service, of his lamented fourfooted friend,
occasionally even a larger sum, so that poor doggie, or puss, may have a
mortuary tablet, or ihai, to keep its memory green."
And tehn there were whales:
"Important rituals are performed at Buddhist temples after the [whaling]
season. To prevent a killed whale turning into a 'hungry ghost' (gaki)
that may cause accidents and disease, it may receive a funeral similar to a
human being's. The whate is give a posthumous name (kaimyō) that is
inscribed on a memorial tablet (ihai) and registered in the death
registry (kakochō) of a Buddhist temple. Moreover, memorial rites (kuyō)
are held where temple priests recite from the sacred osegakikyō
sutra, which is also recited for human beings lost at sea... At least
twenty-five memorials and festivals (matsuri) are held every year in
Japan to honour killed whales. Tombs and memorial stones for whales exist in
forty-eight locations... A tomb in Kōganji (a temple dedicated to whales in
Yamaguchi prefecture) marks the burial site of whale foetuses and has been
declared a national historical monument. Towards the end of April, several
temple priests read sutras for several days and nights to help the whales be
reborn in a higher existence." (Quoted from: Unveiling the Whale:
Discourses on Whales and Whales by Arne Kalland, p. 156)
Above is a detail from a
Kuniyoshi print of fisherman
hauling in dead whales.
In Japan and Her People,
Volume 2 published in 1904 Anna C. Hartshorne tells the story of a
beautiful young girl who is engaged to marry a samurai. They are very much
in love. However, he has to go away to fight and while gone she dies. Her
parents place an ihai at her 'grave'. They then set out on a
religious pilgrimage. While they are gone the young samurai returns and
hearing that the girl is dead decides to kill himself. But, just as he is
about to act, he hears her lovely voice tell him that she has not gone and
they get married and she bears him a son. When her parents return they hear
that the samurai had married and when they see him they scold him for being
so fickle. When he insists he has not been, but has, in fact, married their
daughter he insists that they look inside the house for themselves. There on
the bed is indeed their baby grandson and lying next to him is the ihai.
Whereas social standing was
not meant to be a part of a Buddhist funeral there were subtle clues
separating individuals and this had to do with the posthumous name placed on
the ihai. "More important than the sheer numbers of funeral services
is the fact that so many of them were performed for people confined to low
levels of social status. Funeral sermons usually avoid mentioning social
ranks, but they can be inferred from references to the laypersons' Buddhist
ordination titles, which reflected the rigid hierarchical distinctions of
Japanese society. Analysis of Buddhist titles in Sōtō funeral sermons
reveals the relative social standing of the audience for each. These titles
often appear in conjunction with stereotyped words of praise for the
deceased reveal his or her occupation.
65 Analysis of titles used in medieval Sōtō
goroku [literally 'recorded sayings' written in Chinese] confirm that
only a small percentage of the funeral sermons recorded were delivered for
members of the clergy." (Quoted from: Sōtō Zen in Medieval
Japan by William Bodiford, p. 199) Now for footnote 65 on page 279
which is real eye-opener: "The starting point for this type of analysis
is... a sixteenth-century guide to rituals used at rural Rinzai temples.
This text explains in detail the proper titles to be used on mortuary
tablets (ihai). More than thirty different titles are used for every
type of person, from an emperor, to a yamabushi, to a blind man..."
Worship in Contemporary Japan by Robert John Smith wrote in 1974 (p. 79)
that "The origin of memorial tablets (ihai) in Japan is uncertain.
They take many forms, varying by period, region, and sect of Buddhism. Two
possibilities for their origin is suggested...: one is that they are
Confucian, deriving from the wooden tablets on which the Chinese write the
names and ranks of generations of ascendants...; the other, which seems far
less likely, is that they may be related to the shaku, the flat tablet
through which the Shinto gods descend from heaven." Smith noted that this
points at the nearly ubiquitous division between the 'continentalists' and
the 'nativists'. ¶ "Memorial tablets appear to date from the Kamakura period
when Buddhist funerals were becoming common..." Smith adds that it is
difficult to determine the age of an ihai even when a date is
included because tablets which are destroyed or lost in floods or fires
"...will often be remade. But I did see many from the nineteenth century and
earlier, primarily in rural areas, that are three or four times the size of
the standard tablets of today and made of unlacquered wood with the
inscription in india ink rather than carved into the surface and filled with
"Nichiren Shōshū believers
do not enshrine ihai in the family altar."
Lafcadion Hearn is one of
those who believed that the ihai came to Japan via Chinese
An anchor. There are
multiple variations on the anchor for different family crests or mons. The
image to the left below is a detail from a Yoshiiku triptych showing one
small area of a robe of a courtesan decorated with an anchor.
John W. Dower said that the
anchor stood for "steadfastness and staying power". Maude Rex Allen in 1917
said it was safety and hope. A publication from 1894 gave ikari as
The ikari-sō (錨草 or
いかりそう) or Epimedium grandiflorum var. thunbergianum got its name
because it looked so much like the traditional Japanese anchor. The sō
(草) part means 'grass', but not in the way we refer to grass. We do not know
how long this plant has had this particular name. The image below is shown
courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
http://www.botanic.jp/plants-aa/ikaris.htm. It is listed in
Chado, The Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac by Sasaki Sanmi
as one of the flower/plants which can accompany the tea ceremony.
The ikari is one of
the 20 precious items associated with the 7 Propitious Gods. See our entry
takaramono to see the other 19.
Lafcadio Hearn in his
Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies and Stories from 1905 quotes
a poem about the "ship-following ghost": "That Shape, carrying that
on its back, and following after the ship - now at the bow and now at the
stern - ah, the ghost of Tomomori."
Louis Frédéric in the
Japan Encyclopedia (p. 375) writes: "Ikari kazuki. Title of a Noh
play: an old boatman and the spirit of Tomomori tells a wandering Buddhist
monk about the deaths of the child-emperor Antoku and the warrior Tomomori,
who drowned himself during the Dan no Ura by holding an
in his arms."
"The Heike's account
of the death agonies of the Taira at Dannoura is one of the most poignant
and tragic scenes in Japanese literature. Kiyomori's widow, embracing her
grandson, the child emperor Antoku, and carrying also the jewels and sword
of the sacred regalia leaps into the sea (the jewels are retrieved, but the
sword is lost); Lady Kenreimon'in, Antoku's mother, also plunges into the
sea, but is fished out by the Minamoto. Many Taira warriors, including
Tomomori, commit suicide by drowning. Donning additional armor and holding
or shouldering anchors
to ensure that they sink to the bottom, they leap into the sea one after
another. In several cases, they go to their deaths holding hands. Thus
Tomomori and his foster brother Ienaga, having earlier vowed to die
together, plunge hand-in-hand into the waves." (Quote from: Warriors of
Japan as Portrayed in the War Tales by Paul Varley, pp. 145-6)
Above is an image by
Kuniyoshi of the
ghost of the drowned
Tomomori with his ikari.
Looking for physical
evidence of the attempted Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274: "In 1994
archeologists discovered three wood and stone anchors at Kozaki harbor, a
small cove on the southern coast of the island of Takashima. The largest
was still stuck into the seabed with its rope cable stretching toward the
shore, and providing a tantalizing clue that a wreck lay nearby." (Source
and quote from: The Samurai Swordsman: Master of War by Stephen
Turnbull, p. 39)
"Forced by the Japanese
raids to stay in their ships, and unable to drop
in protected harbor waters, the Mongol fleet was obliterated." (Ibid., p.
Jim Breen's web site defines
this term as a "vengeful spirit (spawned from a person's hate)".
"Michizane transformed into
a troubled spirit after his death, but similar transmogrifications might
occur even while the human in question was alive, the most notorious case
being that of the living spirit (ikiryō) of Lady Rokujō in Murasaki
Shikibu's Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji; early eleventh
century). In a series of disturbing episodes, the spirit of the
still-very-much-alive Rokujō detaches itself from her body to haunt and
torment her rivals — all unbeknownst to her. Even to the "changing thing"
itself, corporeal appearance is deceptive; present in one place, she is also
present elsewhere, simultaneously self and other, her form
betraying a dangerous instability guided by an intensity of emotion beyond
her control." Quoted from: Pandemonium and Parade:
Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, p. 6.
Lady Rokujō is so jealous of
Genji's new lover that her spirit leaves her body and causes the young
woman's death. In the Noh play Aoi no Ue Rokujō's carriage is
forced to let the carriage of Lady Aoi, Genji's latest lover, pass by.
"When Lady Rokujo's demonic spirit threatens Lady Aoi, a Buddhist monk is
summoned. He battles the demon, using prayers against the staff of the
demon, and ultimately drives her out. The play fiddles with the original by
having Lady Aoi survive her encounter with the demon. Otherwise, it's a
straightforward cautionary Buddhist story, with Lady Rokujo lamenting the
fleeting nature of happiness on earth (and, with a roving-eyed boyfriend
like Genji, she's easy to agree with), and using Buddhist prayers to save
Lady Aoi's life."
Philip Gabriel in his
Spirit Matters: The Transcendent in Modern Japanese Literature from 2006
(pp. 122-123) notes that the ikiryō plays a role even in the works by
our contemporary Haruki Murakami. It is hinted at in Kafka on the Shore.
After a particular incident Kafka, the young protagonist, asks: "What
triggers people to become living spirits? Is it always something negative?"
"In a thorough study of
Heian literature Fujimoto Katsuyoshi has found no precedent for possession
by living spirits (ikisudama; ikiryō) in extant monogatari;
there are merely scattered references to ikiryō in chronicles and
brief narratives (setsuwa). According to Fujimoto, the full-blown
phenomenon of mono no ke as a living rather than as a dead spirit (shiryō)
is Murasaki Shikibu's invention, replacing the traditional quarrel between a
new wife and the spirit of her deceased predecessor. Fujimoto argues that
Murasaki Shikibu's innovation requires us to focus on the possessor ('tsuku
ningen ni shoten o ate'). ¶ Excitement over Murasaki Shikibu's
originality in emphasizing Rokujō's role as living possessing spirit can
become a distraction. It can draw readers and critics so deeply into the
psychology of the ikiryō that the possessed person is all but
forgotten. If that happens, the reader has ironically repeated the neglect
that motivated Aoi to seize the woman's weapon of spirit possession. By
becoming possessed, Aoi hopes to be seen and heard and no longer neglected
by Genji. It is understandable that Genji, feeling the need to defend
himself against charges of neglect, fixes his attention on Rokujō's
jealous possessing spirit, but it would be a mistake for us to do the same.
If we look at the possession solely through Genji's eyes, we will fail to
understand Aoi's strategy. In the Aoi case, Murasaki Shikibu shows us
the possessed person and the possessing spirit as parties of equal weight
operating within the same phenomenological framework, a shared reality. It
is therefore important to refrain from demonizing this exceptional ikiryō
as if it were merely another vengeful shiryō." Quoted from: A
Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji by Doris G.
Bargen, pp. 86-87.
Zen priest - poet
and thinker (1394-1481) One of the noted abbots of
"Growing up in Ankoku-ji,
one of the ten secondary temples (Jissatsu) of the Five Mountains (Gozan)
Zen monasteries, Ikkyū earned renown for both his talents in composing
kanshi (poems written in Chinese) and his serious pursuit of the truth
of Zen when he was still a teenager. Increasingly dissatisfied with the
corruption of the Gozan monasteries, Ikkyū fled Ankoku-ji to study under
Ken'ō, an eccentric monk who had refused his own seal of transmission, the
document certifying a Buddhist priest's enlightenment. From the time
when he was a young disciple of Ken'ō until he died as the abbot of Daitoku-ji
temple in 1481, Ikkyū was an extremely serious priest who fiercely attacked
anyone who was lacking in sincere Zen spirit. At the same time, he was also
an eccentric monk who frequented brothels and bars, an unusual kanshi
poet whose versus juxtaposed transcendental Zen experience with explicit
descriptions of sexual love." (Quoted from: Basho And The Dao: The Zhuangzi
And The Transformation Of Haikai, by Peipei Qui, pp. 102-3)
Donald Keene makes the point
in his Some Japanese Portraits that the first person in all of
Japanese history of whom a true biographical sketch can be written in a
Western sense is Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉 or まつおばしょう: 1644-94). One of the reasons
is the material he left behind plus that written about him by students and
friends. Other than that most biographical material lacked substance
partially because "...individuality was not a quality emphasized by the
Japanese of feudal times. Even in portraiture it is almost impossible
between faces..." (Keene, p. 17-18) Sometimes differences in gender are
difficult to make out. See, for example, the works of Harunobu where you
can't always tell if it is a young man or young woman you are looking at.
Even Utamaro makes it difficult at times. ¶ "Something resembling
individuality did, however, exist in Japan, the tradition of eccentricity.
In a feudal society where conformity was demanded of its members, people
tended to behave in a manner appropriate to their age, occupation, and
status in society without much display of strong individuality.... But the
eighteenth century was also a golden age for eccentric, and their antics
were indulgently observed and reported by chroniclers." Note the image to
the left which ostensibly shows Ikkyū passing gas in the most glaring way as
though he was a modern American teenage boy or frat member.
As the story goes Ikkyū was
born the son of an emperor on New Year's Day in 1394. This may or may not be
true, but "But there is evidence in [his] poetry that he believed himself to
be of imperial stock, and he often visited the palace to see the emperor.
When Go-Komatsu was dying in 1433, Ikkyū was summoned to his bedside."
However, he was not raised as a prince because he mother had been banished
from the court before his birth. Yet, before she died she wrote to him and
extolled him to be such a great priest that even the Buddha and his minions
would look up to him. (Ibid., p. 19) ¶ At 5 he was sent to study for the
priesthood. Clearly he was precocious and extremely pious. He accomplished
things in his youth expected only of the most scholarly and adept adult
priests. When his teacher Ken'ō (謙翁 or けんおう) died in 1414 Ikkyū was
despondent and "...spent a week in meditation by the shores of Lake Biwa
before finally deciding to commit suicide by throwing himself into the lake.
He was saved by a man sent by his mother who, knowing of his despondency,
had feared he might turn to self-destruction." (Ibid.) ¶ After he gave up
suicide as a viable option he went to see if he could become a pupil of the
stern disciplinarian Zen master, Kasō Sōdon (華叟宗曇 or かそうそうどん:
1351-1428). Kasō refused to see him but Ikkyū persisted. One day when the
master was going out he saw Ikkyū standing by the gate. Kasō ordered his
assistant to throw water on him. When he returned Ikkyū was still waiting so
Kasō accepted him as a pupil. In 1418 Kasō gave Ikkyū his name which means
At the age of 26 he attained
enlightenment. Sitting in a boat on Lake Biwa while meditating he heard a
crow's cry and "...he cried out in wonder. He felt that all his
uncertainties had been purged away. When he told Kasō what had happened, the
latter said merely, 'You have attained the status of an arhat. You are still
not a man of supreme accomplishment.' Ikkyū replies, 'If that is the
case, I am delighted to be an arhat and have no desire to be a man of
supreme accomplishment.' Kasō responded, 'You are truly a man of supreme
accomplishment.' " ¶ In 1422 at a ceremony at the
everyone all of the priests showed up wearing fine robes - except Ikkyū
who was dressed very shabbily. When asked why he chided the other monks as
being false and said "I alone ornament this assembly." Afterwards Kasō was
asked if he had selected his successor and he said he had: "Ikkyū,
though at times he acts like a madman." (Ibid., p. 21)
"Ikkyū's 'madness' was the
expression of unending rage over the stupidity and corruption of the
priesthood. He took for his sobriquet the name Kyōun, 'crazy cloud,'
and the character kyō, 'crazy,' is sprinkled throughout his poetry.
In his revolt against the hypocrisy of other priests, who pretended to lead
the lives of saints, he went to the opposite extreme." (Ibid.) He rejected
the idea that a Buddhist priest should not eat fish, drink saké or indulge
in sexual intercourse. He even wrote a poem called The Brothel quoted by
Keene on page 22:
To lie with a beautiful
woman - what a deep river of love!
Upstairs in the brothel a
whore and an old Zen priest are singing.
I derive such pleasure
from her embraces and kisses
I've never once thought
of renouncing the flames of passion.
Ikkyū seems to have
saved his most severe attacks for those on the 39th abbot of the Daitoku-ji,
Yōsō (1376-1458). The temple had burned down and Yōsō had set about
rebuilding it. He got lots of financial support from well-to-do laymen.
However, Ikkyū thought that money was also raised from others by
offering salvation and so he called Yōsō "...a poisonous snake, a seducer
and a leper..." which he was in fact. [Here Ikkyū plays a role similar
to that of Luther and other protestants who were enraged by the sale of
indulgences by the Catholic church in Europe in the 16th century.] After
Yōsō died Ikkyū was hardly less sparing of his successor, Shumpo
(1410-96). These "...attacks so enraged Shumpo's followers that in 1457 an
attempt was made on his life." Keene says: "Ikkyū's attacks on Yōsō
were intemperate and probably unfair, but they reveal his uncompromising
insistence on maintaining the spirit of Zen." However, Ikkyū was
equally harsh on himself and said that his sins would "...fill the universe"
and that also he "may... serve in perpetuity as a master of hell." (Ibid. p.
23) ¶ At 76 he fell in love with a blind woman named Mori. "Despite his love
for Mori and other women (and also boys), Ikkyū remained convinced that
human beings were no more than skeletons clothed in flesh. His curious work
Gaikotsu (Skeletons), written in 1457, described under the guise of a
dream about skeletons his belief that the beauty and glory of this world are
illusions." ¶ In Skeletons Ikkyū describes a scene of
skeleton pall-bearer carrying the skeleton of another one in a funeral
procession. Draped over the corpse is an elaborate robe. Nearby in the
original volume is a poem questioning such lavish behavior when in the end
all comes to naught anyway. Below is an illustration of that scene with my
coloring and sans text:
In 1886 Yoshitoshi published
a diptych of an encounter between Ikkyū and the Hell Maiden. That is a
skull the priest is carrying atop the end of a pole. It seems to mock the
umbrella carried by one of her attendants. "The subject derives from a story
associated with the medieval-era Rinzai Zen priest Ikkyū, who was
legendary for his fondness for engaging both Buddhist devotees and cynics,
including a courtesan nicknamed Jigoku Dayu, in lively dialogues on Buddhist
philosophy." (Quoted from: Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art,
1600-2005 by Patricia Graham, p. 211)
A flash of
lightning. Often used as a mon or crest in any one of a number of diverse
variations. The kanji can also be vocalized as 'inaduma' or いなづま.
Lacquered deerskin or
shikagawa (鹿皮 or しかがわ). It was a technique first used on armor and later
for such items as purses or tobacco pouches.
Preparation: The deerskin is a
applied to a revolving drum over a smoky straw fire. Handmade paper stencils,
katagami, are used to apply a pattern which is lacquered later. At the end, the
individual pieces are cut and sewn together.
In a May 20, 2010 article in
the Japan Times by Alice Gordenker it says there are two ways of applying
the patterns to the deerskin. In the first the skin is dyed "black, brown,
red or navy blue. Then, using stencils cut from Japanese paper, they apply
natural lacquer [the urushi-tsuk or 漆付け method] to create durable designs in
both traditional and modern patterns." In the second "the fusube [燻べ
or ふすべ] method, which is actually much older, it's smoke that creates the
patterns. Artisans tie deerskin around a rotating cylinder, secure paper
patterns on the leather and turn the entire affair over a fire. The smoke
darkens the exposed leather, creating patterns and leaving a smoky aroma
that lingers even after many years of use."
The photo on the left of the deerskin purse
with lacquered design of dragonflies or
was posted at Flickr by Eiko Eiko. The item shown above was posted at the
same site by jin jing.
Karma, cause and effect:
A rice plant motif.
There is hardly anything which could have a greater significance to the
Japanese. Staff of life, the measure of one's wealth, religious emblem - it
covered it all in the most positive ways. The importance of the rice farmer
in Japan even today should give one an indication of the overriding esteem
in which the plant is held.
Inrō: Literally seal
+ basket. Isn't it odd that in the whole world of ukiyo prints inrō
are hardly ever shown. In fact, the large image to the left from a book
illustration by Toyokuni I dating from the early 19th century is the only
one I can think of. Perhaps they show up in certain surimono, but in general
they are almost non-existent. Of course, this is not the case in the real
world. Inrō have been a hot-market item for the last fifty years or
so. Anyone familiar with Japanese objets d'art knows what these are.
¶ Kimonos didn't have pockets and people needed a way to carry their
medicines, inks for writing or cosmetics for beautification. There were
pouches which could be carried, but the inrō were far less intrusive.
¶ However, originally they served a different function: As the kanji
suggests they were used to carry one's personal seal and seal-paste so that
their mark could be affixed to documents. "Their decoration encompasses in
miniature virtually the entire range of lacquering styles and techniques
current during the period. The rich variety of themes and styles among
inrō reflects their importance as an emblem of the taste, status, and
wealth of the owner. ¶ Inrō may have one or more compartments
surmounted by a lid. The usual shape has a rectangular face and a flattened,
elliptical cross-section, which hangs conveniently close to the body when
suspended from the obi. Cord-channels run vertically through all the
sections of an inrō, so that the sections are held in place by a silk
cord threaded through all the sections. The ends of the cord are passed
through a bead, then secured to a toggle, usually a miniature carving, known
as a netsuke."
entry by Ann Yonemura (vol. 3, p. 313)
Dog-hunting sport: "Equestrian
archery refers to the technique of shooting a bow from horseback. Equestrian
archery dominated the battlefield only from the Heian period (794–1185)
through the Kamakura period. Since this was so long ago, it is impossible to
know what equestrian archery on the battlefield was actually like. In the
past there was a sport called inuōmono (dog chasing), where archers
on horseback chased dogs around a circular enclosure while shooting blunted
arrows at them. Records indicate that this sport was practiced up until the
beginning of the Meiji period, but today it is completely extinct. Since the
line of transmission has been broken, just as with battlefield equestrian
archery, it is nearly impossible to tell what inuōmono was like."
Quoted from: Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen, and the West by Shoji Yamada, p.
"Practice in shooting at
moving targets could be provided by shooting dogs, a speciality of the Hojo
family that drew scorn from Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 when he confronted
them with firearms." Quoted from: Warriors of Medieval Japan by
Stephen Turnbull, 49.
"Inu-oi-mono. 'Dog hunt,'
sport practiced by samurai starting in the Kamakura period and consisting of
shooting buttoned arrows at dogs. Within a large, roped-off circular area
was another circle about 15 m in diameter in which dogs were released.
Samurai on horseback galloped outside the larger circle, shooting at the
dogs and trying to knock them over. This sport disappeared, along with the
samurai class, in 1868. The game originated in China, where a popular Taoist
divinity called Zhang Xian personified the art of archery (through confusion
with the term zhanggong, 'archery' ), as he was represented holding
hands with a child and hunting the heavenly dog with a bow and arrow."
Quoted from: Japan Encyclopedia by Louis Frédéric, p. 392.
The Buddhist mudra
or sign made by the position of the hand or hands. "In Buddhist iconography
every buddha is depicted with a characteristic gesture of the hands. Such
gestures correspond to natural gestures (of teaching, protecting, and so on)
and also to certain aspects of the Buddhist teaching or of the particular
Quoted from: The
of Buddhism and Zen, p. 148.
The examples to the
left were provided by our generous contributor E. Thanks E!
The top example
represents the abhaya mudra which is a gesture of fearlessness and granting
protection. The bottom one is the varada mudra which stands for the granting
There are several
other mudras not shown here. For those of you who are interested I would
suggest a search on Google or whatever else serves as your favorite search
A shelter or
hermitage which often used as a stylized family mon or crest. Although this
example includes a floral motif under the roof and between the beams of the
shelter there are many other variations on this form. The floral motif need
not be there. Nor does the shelter have to look exactly like this one.
"Book of crests in the order of
the iroha alphabet": Edited by Tanaka Kikuo, published by Matsuzaki Hanzō,
Tokyo, 1881. Copper plate illustrations. 2 1/4" x 6 3/8". "These crests are
arranged in the order of the Japanese kana syllabary, or alphabet,
known as the 'iroha.'"
Source and quote from: Rain
and Snow: The Umbrella in Japanese Art, by Julia Meech, published by
Japan Society Inc., 1993, p. 119.
These crests were originally
used by certain families, but "By the Edo period, however, even commoners,
although they had no surnames, adopted emblems for their fancy clothing.
Tradesmen took crests for trademarks and used them to decorate everything
from toys to umbrellas. Kabuki actors and courtesans also aped the elite and
often took more than one crest." Later Meech added: "There are between 4,000
and 5,000 design variations. During the the [sic] Edo and Meiji periods they
were published in designers' catalogues know as monchō, usually in
black and white." (Ibid.)
Years ago I bought a copy of this book, not because I knew exactly what it
was, but because it was truly interesting. It is this book which has
provided me, i.e., us, with all of the crests we have posted so far and
there is more to come.
The Irohabiki monchō in
the show at the Japan Society is from the collection of the Newark Public
A term for tattoo
which is also called horimono. To the left (top) is a detail from a
print by Tadamasa of Danshichi Kurobei from 1950. Below that is a larger
detail showing Fudō Myōō.
Ishi is the Japanese
word for stone. The image to the left is just one of many different
variations on a popular choice of family crests. John Dower identifies these
as paving stones. "Among the rigidly prescribed court costumes of prefeudal
Japan, the check pattern was so esteemed that its use was restricted to
courtiers who ranked higher than the third rank. The 'paving stone' motif
reflects this esteem, rather than any particular significance attached to
such stones themselves."
Quoted from: The
Elements of Japanese Design p. 142.
'Stone-printed picture(s)': Made in imitation of the ancient
Chinese art of stone rubbings. "...in Japan, it was normally wood that was
engraved and the more correct Japanese term is
takuhon - a 'book of
Quote from: The Art of the Japanese
Book, by Jack Hillier, published by Sotheby's, vol. 1, 1987, p. 311.
To read more about 'stone-printed
pictures' click on the image to the left.
Ishizuri can also be written as 石搨.
Michener in his Floating World (p. 76) said that Masanobu "...seems
to have invented the use of gold dust, triptychs, pillar prints, mica
grounds and ishizuri-e (stone-printed picture)." However, a little earlier
Michener did note that "...some of his [i.e., Masanobu's] claims cannot be
supported and many innovations attributed to him were probably the work of
men less addicted to personal advertising."
Conrad Totman in Early Modern Japan (p. 393) added: "Successive
generation of printmakers enriched the genre with other techniques. Besides
developing color printing, Masanobu experimented with a technique called
ishizuri, or 'stone rubbing,' in which a print's background was
blackened and its lines appeared white. Some later print makers used this
method, but it never gained wide popularity."
a printing technique for creating soft edged, lineless gradations within an
image. The block is chamfered by sanding down or cutting away the edge.
Rebecca Salter notes that this method was often used for the folds of
garments. This is commonly the case with shini-e or memorial prints among
others, but clearly was also used for subtle gradations in areas other than
that of fabrics. See the images to the left.
The image on top to
the left is a Kuniyoshi chuban print - one of a triptych. It shows a woman
holding a child standing in the snow while dogs frolic behind her. A close
inspection of this print offers three distinct areas of ita-bokashi: the
warehouses in the background; the reddish fur on the dogs; and the
shading in the snow caused by the human and animal traffic.
This image was sent
to us by my friend M. Thanks M!
Rebecca Salter in her Japanese Woodblock Printing (University of
Hawai'i Press, 2001, p. 120) stated that ita-bokasi is "....gradation
through chamfering the edge of the block. Often used to show folds in
In Japanese Woodblock
Printing by Hiroshi Yoshida (1939, p.4) lays out what he believed to be
the salient features of color prints. In point 4 of 9 the author states:
"Clarity is the life of wood-block printing. To be sure, there are methods
known as ita-bokashi (where the block is cut down gradually in order
to produce a soft edge in printing), in which clearness is sacrificed. This
method is called into aid only when absolutely necessary, yet it still
remains true that block printing is by nature essentially based on clear-cut
blocks and clean printing."
The printing of a wood
grain within a print. A wood plank is soaked in water to open up the grain
and is then inked and printed to intentionally reproduce the nature of the
The images to the
left are both details from a Toyokuni III print sent to us by our great
contributor Eikei (英渓).
A card of thread
motif from the late feudal era. Similar, but more elaborate designs shows
spools of thread with each length indicated. However, here this motif is
simplified to it barest minimum. In fact, it is so simple that if you didn't
know what you were looking at you probably would not have a clue as to its
While looking for more
information on the term itomaki we ran across a curious entry. The
Japanese for a manta ray is itomaki ei (糸巻鱝 or いとまきえい). Since our Japanese
is not good enough to explain this we can only surmise that it has to do
with the shape of this fish. It would be interesting to know when this term
was first used. The photo shown below was posted at commons.wikimedia and
originally comes from NOAA.
Sasaki Sanmi in Chado:
The Way of Tea describes a particular cake called an ito-maki "...moulded
in the shape of... a spool... in two different colours: red and white. It is
also made of rakugan-ko and is used as a dry confectionery in
association with Tanabata."
He also performed
under the name of
The photo of grapes was posted
by Péter Jankó. They aren't
Japanese grapes, but
they were too beautiful to pass