A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
The nighttime photo of the new
in Seattle was taken by my
friend Ben P. It
was used to mark additions
thru December 2012.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Kakushibaba, Kamakurajidai, Kame,
Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei, Kamikakushi, Kamishimo,
Kammuri, Kamuro, Kanban, Kanbun, Kani, Kankan,
Kanteiryu, Kantō daishinsai,
Kantō hasshū, Kanzashi,
隠れ蓑, 隠れ座頭, (かくし)婆, 鎌倉時代, 亀,
神, 上方役者絵集成, 神隠し, 冠, 禿, 看板, 漢文,
蟹, 看看, 勘亭流, 関東大震災, 関東八州,
関東/関西簪, 観世水, 顔見世, 河童,
唐傘 and 空摺
かくれみの, かくれざとう, かくしばば, かまくらじだい,
かめ, かみ, かみがたやくしゃえしゅうせい, かみかくし,
かみしも, かんむり, かむろ, かんばん,
かんかん, カンカン, かんてい.りゅう, かんとうだいしんさい,
かんぜみず, かおみせand かっぱ
One more note about this
page and all of the others on this site:
If two or more sources are
cited they may be completely contradictory.
I have made no attempt to
referee these differences, but have simply
repeated them for your
edification or use. Quote anything you find here
at your own risk and with a
whole lot of salt.
Click on the yellow
to go to linked
Oh, to be a fly on the
wall. Who hasn't wanted to be that. Well, this goes one better: A cape of
invisibility. Whereas this may sound like a modern anime concept I know that
it goes back as far as 1821 if not earlier because it is represented in a
surimono by Hokusai from that time.
Note that now I know it goes back to much earlier times. See the new
information and opinions posted below.
In The Pillow Book by Sei
Shōnagon (translated by Ivan Morris, Penguin Books, 1979, p. 131) the
author was trying to sneak a peek at the visiting sister of the Empress. She
was hidden away until it "The screen behind which I had been peeping was now
pushed aside and I felt exactly like a demon who has been robbed of his
straw coat." In footnote 281 Morris notes: "Demons had straw coats that made
them invisible." I mention this because the issue of invisibility is
universal and not unique to the Japanese. During the Bon Festival the
spirits of the dead visit their relatives. Among the Jews a cup of wine is
set out for the prophet Elijah at Passover. The door is opened to make his
access easier, but he never reveals himself although it is believed that he
does observe the ceremony. I could give an example for almost every cultural
group, but here we will concentrate on the Japanese. ¶ C. W. Nicholl wrote
about 'sacred groves' in which he talks about a Japanese hunter: "Someone
asked: 'How do you know there are deities in this place? Can you see them?'
I thought it a silly question, but the hunter replied with a smile: 'The
deities are invisible, but I know they are here even though I can't see
them.' " (Quoted from: Shinto in
History: Ways of the Kami, by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, University of
Hawaii Press, 2000, p. 32)
"The precise origins of the raincoat of invisibility are not known, but it
is likely that the cape was first associated with Chinese Taoism. Taoist
adepts strove to develop the power of being invisible, believing that this
would help them move between heaven and earth. In Japan, the raincoat of
invisibility is one of the Myriad Treasures of the Seven Gods of Good
Luck..." (Quoted from: Symbols
of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design, by Merrily Baird, Rizzoli
International Publications, Inc., 2001, p. 239)
In The Taoist Experience: An
Anthology Livia Kohn says: "They can become visible and invisible at
will and travel thousands of miles in an instant." (p. 280)
In The Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale section 156
(pp. 158-60) deals with "The Invisible Straw Cloak and Hat". Yanagita Kunio
(柳田國男 or やなぎたくにお) lists 15 variatins. In most of these tales a human wins or
trades a tengu for the cloak.
Above is a detail of two tengu
by Toyokuni I.
There is no invisibility cloak
in this image - or is there? -
but the image is just too good
to pass up.
Donald Keene in his massive Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from
Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (p. 803) refers to a now
lost tale from the 11th century, Kakuremino (The Invisible-Making
Cape), and its probably influence on the extant version of Parting at
Dawn. In the first section of the latter the main character is able to
make himself (actually herself disguised as a male) invisible and thereby is
able to visit the bed chambers of quite a few people learning some of their
most intimate secrets.
In the Pillow Book of Sei Shōnangon as translated by Ivan Morris the
author has been ordered by the Empress to spy on other members of the court.
However, when a screen is moved and Shōnangon is discovered she compares
herself to feeling "...exactly like a demon who has been robbed of his straw
The demons of Oni-ga-shima (鬼が島 or おにがしま), Devil's Island, make it a habit
to wear both kakure-mino and kakure-gasa, invisibility cloaks and hats.
There is a Korean folk tale which has its counterpart to the Japanese
kakure-mino. A peasant went to a distant mountain to cut wood. A
sudden rainstorm forces him to seek shelter in an abandoned house. By the
time the rain had stopped it was night. After a while the peasant heard the
noise of an approaching group so he hid in the attic. The group turned out
to be a bunch of goblins who cavorted through the night. After they left the
peasant went back down and found that the goblin had left a vest behind. He
put it on and went home to show it to his wife. However, what he didn't
realize is that he had become invisible and she wouldn't be able to see him.
From this he hatched a scheme to wear the vest and to go into shops to rob
them. This he did for some time until he wore it into a crowded marketplace.
The lit pipe of one of the merchants burned a hole in the vest. The peasant
asked his wife to patch it. She did, but with a piece of red cloth. In time
the merchants realized that whenever they would see a red patch floating
along they would be robbed. This is how the caught the peasant thief. They
beat him to death. (Source: Myths and Legends from Korea: An
Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials by James H.
Grayson, p. 330)
There is a curious thing about the term kakure-mino: It is also the
name of a plant using the same kanji characters - 隠蓑. Why?
Does anyone out there know? There are tons of plants named after famous and
not-so-famous people and other things, but this seems an odd choice here. Is
there any connection between this plant and the cloak of invisibility? The
Dendropanax trifidus is a small, evergreen tree of the Ginseng family. The
two images posted below were supplied by Shu Suehiro at his wonderful site
(We do know that the name goes back at least as far as the early 19th
In Serene Gardens: Creating Japanese Design and Detail in the Western
Garden by Yoko Kawaguchi (p. 124) it says: "...moist shade; very slow
growing; dislikes being pruned; resents root disturbance; suitable for
north-facing gardens; used in shrines and tea gardens." They also point out
that it grows to 32'.
The resin of the Dendropanax trifidus was "...used as a readily
available photopolymerizable protective varnish for armor and metalwork in
Japan." (Quote from: Plant Resins: Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, and
Ethnobotany by Jean H. Langenheim, 2003, p. 410) Later the same page our
source notes that "Other species of Dendropanax produced resins for
similar use in Korea and China, known during the T'ang dynasty as ushitsu
(golden varnish)." [Note: These quotes also appear verbatim in an earlier
publication of the Organic Chemistry of Museum Objects by Mills and
Perhaps this tree carried the name of the cloak of invisibility because when
smaller it is densely packed with leaves which form an evergreen privacy
screen as described in Garden Plants of Japan by Ran Levy-Yamamori
and Gerrard Taaffe (p. 96).
There are numerous references to the use of kakure-mino, the cloak of
invisibility, as a 20th century euphemism meaning bureaucratic obfuscation.
There are quite a few books on dermatology which mention the Dendropanax.
One of them, Fisher's Contact Dermatitis by Rietschel and Fowler (p.
430), says: "In Japan, the plant commonly known as kakuremino (because it
resembles a Japanese straw coat) is Dendropanax trifidus Makino."
[Note: We have looked at numerous images and so far have found none that
look like the traditional straw raincoat.]
In the Kanji Handbook by Vee David (p. 840) it defines kakuremino,
隠れ蓑, as 'cover, shield'. [By parsing the kanji we have 隠 (conceal)
plus 蓑 (straw raincoat).]
Goblin: Carmen Blacker in her
Supernatural Abductions in Japanese Folklore (published by Nanzan
University, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1967, p. 115) says that
these are among the noted figures which abduct young children and adults or
women. So far I have found little to no information about this creature.
When or if I do you will be among the first to be told. Not only that but
Blacker's reference is in a short footnote. (This
information as conveyed by us may be incorrect. At some point we shall try
to check this.)
Henri Joly in his Legend in Japanese Art says that Kakure zato was
"The blind old man entrusted with the conveyance bad people to Hades."
However, the kanji he used was 隠れ坐頭 which is slightly different.
The kanji for kakurezatō, 隠座頭, is
also the name for the death-watch beetle. That in turn is also referred to
as the tea-making insect or cha-tate mushi (茶立虫 or ちゃたてむし) because of
the sound it makes.
There is a near homonym for kakurezatō meaning 'hidden villages'
which is a euphemism for an unlicensed red-light district. The first kanji
character, 隠, is the same here. The second character is different -
里, but this one does not have a long 'o'.
"The word in Japanese used to denote a village
hidden or lost in the mountains is kakurezato, and the Heike villages
are often designated by this term. But kakurezato has another
meaning, very different from the poor and primitive hamlet described by
Suzuki. This is a hidden paradise, an 'other world' altogether, a miraculous
realm of treasure and limitless wealth, a source of magical prosperity. This
other world is situated underground, and is to be reached by means of
certain entrances, which are usually watery in nature. A pool or a lake or a
well carries the legend that once, long ago, it was a gate into another
world of wealth and bliss. Dry entrances are also to be found, usually in
old tombs, mounds and caves." Quoted from: The Exiled Warrior and the
Hidden Village by Carmen Blacker.
Hags that abduct children,
women or young adults. (See the kakurzatō entry above.) Again, there is
almost nothing written in English about this term. In fact, there is almost
nothing in Japanese either.
The Kamakura period
Tortoise or turtle: Donald
Keene noted that "In certain Buddhist texts the rarity of meeting a Buddha
is compared to the difficulty of a blind sea-turtle's chance of
bumping into a log to float on. The turtle emerges to the surface only once
a century and tries to clutch the log, but it has a hole and eludes his
grasp; this was a simile for the difficulty of obtaining good fortune."
Below is a photo of a sculpture
posted at commons.wikimedia by
On the left is a manjū
turtle posted at commoms.wikimedia by kisocci. A manjū (饅頭 or まんじゅう) is a
type of bun. Traditionally stuffed with a bean paste. Now it can be with
almost anything edible.
Brian Bocking in A Popular
Dictionary of Shinto begins his entry on kami with "A term best left
untranslated. In Japanese it usually qualifies a name or object rather than
standing alone, indicating that the object or entity has kami-quality. Kami
may refer to the divine, sacred, spiritual and numinous quality or energy of
places and things, deities of imperial and local mythology, spirits of
nature and place, divinised heroes, ancestors, rulers and statesmen.
Virtually any object, place or creature may embody or possess the quality or
characteristic of kami, but it may be helpful to think of kami as first and
foremost a quality of a physical place, usually a shrine..." (84) Later
Bocking notes: "Although Shintō purists like to reserve the term kami for
Shintō (rather than Buddhist) use, most ordinary Japanese make no clear
conceptual distinction between kami and Buddhist divinities, though
practices surrounding kami and Buddhas may vary according to custom. This
accommodating attitude is a legacy of the thorough integration of the notion
of kami into the Buddhist world-view which predominated in Japanese religion
before the reforms of the Meiji period and has been to some extent revived
since 1945, often through the new religions. This is despite the 'separation
of kami and Buddhas' (shinbutsu bunri) of 1868, when deities enshrined both
as Buddhist divinities and as kami of a certain location... had to be re-labelled
as either Buddh/bosatsu or kami. In understanding Japanese
religion, to think of kami as constituting a separate category of 'Shinto'
divine beings leads only to confusion. The 'shin' of 'Shintō' is written
with the same Chinese character as kami." (p. 85)
W. Michael Kelsey in the
introduction to his article "The Raging Deity in Japanese Mythology"
published in Asian Folklore Studies (Vol. 40, No. 2, 1981, p. 213)
gets right to the point: "The Japanese kami, an enigmatic creature if ever
there was one, is not always a benevolent force living in harmony with human
beings. Indeed, Japanese mythology is filled with accounts of deities who
kill travelers through mountain passes; who rape, kill and eat women; or who
bring epidemics on the people when dissatisfied with the upkeep of their
shrines.2 Deities engaging in acts of violence were termed araburu kami
荒ぶ,る神 or raging deities, and their pacification posed a real problem for the
ancient Japanese. As we shall see in the following pages, these deities
often assumed the form of a reptile when engaged in their anti-social
behavior, and although they cannot be called inherently evil, they were
nonetheless a threat to human beings which needed to be dealt with."
Kelsey notes that there are
many examples of the duel nature of kami: They can be both malevolent and
beneficent at the same time. "In Mie Prefecture, for example, at the Shinto
shrine Takihara no Miya, there are two buildings standing side by side. Both
of these are dedicated to Amaterasu no Omikami, the Sun Goddess, but one is
for her peaceful nature (nigimitama 和御魂) and the other for her
violent nature (aramitama 荒御魂). These two aspects of her personality
exist simultaneously, and both must be worshiped." (Ibid. p. 227) The
author goes on to ask why kami would frequently take the shape of a
reptile when doing evil. His response: The form doesn't really matter
because "The answer very often seems to be that it has allowed its energy
(and a kami is nothing if not energy) to run unchecked..." in whatever form
it chooses to take. (p. 228)
More information is provided by Kelsey in his first footnote to this
article: "The arguments concerning the origin and ultimate meaning of the
word kami are complex and conflicting. In this paper I will translate it as
'deity,' with the following observations: a kami has no absolute power and
it was not the only supernatural being recognized and worshiped by the
ancient Japanese. A kami is "superior" to human beings but not necessarily
"better" than them. There are male, female and bisexual kami, and I have
settled on the unspecified pronoun 'it' except when the sex of the kami is
made clear." (p. 233)
"Motoori Norinaga, a great
eighteenth century scholar of the Shinto Revival, remarked that anything
which was beyond the ordinary, other, powerful, terrible was called kami.
Thus the emperor, dragons, the echo, foxes, peaches, mountains and sea, all
these were called kami because they were mysterious, full of
strangeness and power. Kami may thus be descried in certain people,
in certain trees and stones, mountains and islands; in the excellence which
overshadows the practice of certain crafts, in the continuity and protection
which attends a family stemming from a remembered ancestor. In all of these
things there shows through, as though through a thin place, an
incomprehensible otherness which betokens power" (Quote from: The Catalpa
Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan by Carmen Blacker, p. 34)
¶ "Elusive, shadowy, largely formless though these beings may be, in their
disposition and status they are many and variable. Some are great kami, with
names recorded in mythical chronicles, who exercise power over a wide area
of man's life. Sickness, fire, seasonal rain and marital happiness may all
lie in their gift. Others of humbler status confine themselves to narrower
spheres, specialising in easy childbirth, good fishing catches or cures for
diseases below the navel. Some are remote, static, slow to take offence.
Others impinge closely on our world and are quick to react to the treatment
they receive here." Kami can represent a region, a village, a family
or an individual, but all share a single trait which enables a shaman to
communicate with them. (Ibid., p. 35)
Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei
A five volume set of which I
have only the first four. A great reference source for identifying actors,
plays, dates, theaters and publishers of many Osaka actor prints. Mostly in
Japanese, but with some information in English at the end of each volume.
The first two were compiled by Susumu Matsudaira. The third volume was by
Matsudaira and Hiroko Kitagawa. The last two are by the latter.
Kamikakushi (or kamigakushi)
"In Japan a rather similar
belief in supernatural kidnapping survived in many districts until modern
times. A boy or young man who unaccountably disappeared from his home was
assumed to be not lost but stolen, to be the victim of kamigakushi or
by a god. If all reasonable search for him proved fruitless it was concluded
that some god or goblin had carried him off to its own realm. In such
emergencies the whole village considered it a duty to turn out at sunset
with lanterns, and to march round in procession, banging loudly on bells and
drums and shouting, 'Bring him back, bring him back !' "
Quoted from: "Supernatural
Abductions in Japanese Folklore", by Carmen Blacker, published by Nanzan
University, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1967, p. 111.
The abductee frequently
reappears suddenly - often in a difficult to reach place like the roof of a
temple or the rafters of his home - dazed or unconscious, sleeps for days
and then awakens as a halfwit and is generally unable to say exactly where
he has been.*
*I, like so many others, am
a big fan of Haruki Murakami, the author, and believe he should win the
Nobel Prize for Literature. Some critics have said that he won't win because
he is too Westernized. I think they are wrong. What they mistake for
Westernization is simple modernization. At heart, he is Japanese through
and through. The reason I mention this is because of one of his main
characters in one of his major novels. This fellow shows remarkable
similarities to the fantastical stories of the abductees. It is not a one to
one comparison, but so what. Also, I won't tell you which character or which
novel it is because I don't want to spoil it for you. You will just have to
start reading Murakami for yourself and find out. That is, of course, if you
don't already know. Otherwise have fun.
"If the child does not some
back within the required time in response to the spells and the noise on the
bells and drums, his
relations must look for signs which will indicate that he has indeed been
stolen by a god, and not simply been lost or drowned.
In Shinshu province a sure sign that he has been stolen is to find his shoes
neatly placed together under a tree. In nearly all
districts a further proof of supernatural kidnapping is that he should be
seen again briefly and mysteriously once." (Ibid. p. 113)
Not all abductors were
kami. Some were simply hideous mountain creatures while others were
or.... you name it.
Women, too, would disappear
mysteriously. But even stranger were the occasional sightings of these women
and then their re-disappearance. [Is that a word? Probably not.] In the
mid-19th century one young woman went out to gather chestnuts on a
mountainside, but she failed to return. Her parents looked everywhere, but
eventually gave up and performed funeral rites. Several years later a hunter
ran into her and she told him "...she had been carried off by a terrifying
creature, and had been living
with him as his wife ever since. She was never given a chance to escape, and
indeed any minute now he might come back. He
was not unlike an ordinary man in appearance, except that his eyes were a
terrible colour and he was immensely tall. [Many of the abductors were
described as obscenely tall.] She had had several children by him, but
always he had declared that because they did not resemble him they could not
be his. In a rage he had taken them all away and presumably killed them."
The hunter made a valiant attempt to return the girl to her village, but
just as they approached its outskirts the creature bounded forth and took
her back to the mountains with him. She was never seen or heard from again.
(Ibid., pp. 114-5)
A costume worn
traditionally by the samurai. In
The Shogun Age
catalogue (entry #109, p. 129) there is a very striking image of an actual
19th century kamishimo. "The term is derived from the words kami
(upper) and shimo (lower) and describes a garment of two such parts
which have been designed to be worn together. In the Edo period members of
the warrior class wore it as a ceremonial garment." For the daimyos and
shoguns it was a 'simplified formal wear' and for those of lower social rank
it was their Sunday finest.
"The kamishimo was
the standard formal dress of the samurai. Bakama are worn as
part of it, and kataginu, wide shoulder pieces which stand out
stiffly and squarely on the wearer. This style of costume, it will be
remembered, is also worn by theatre musicians..." The extended shoulders of the
kataginu are said to be supported by hidden stays. Others say the
shoulders are stiff from starching.
Quoted from: The Kabuki
Theatre of Japan, by Adolphe Clarence Scott, published by Courier Dover,
1999, p. 141.
Note that in the
illustration above on the right the stiffness of the kataginu is made
even more evident by the movement of the kabuki actor. He has slipped his
right shoulder free of this garment as he reaches toward his sword on his
left. Another side note to this image is the presence of the pinkish inro
shown hanging along his right hip. Inro rarely appear in ukiyo
prints, but they do seem to show up more frequently in book illustrations
like the one here.
usually made of moro (linen), sometimes of silk and linen,
occasionally all silk well stiffened with starch. The stuff is generally
light-blue or brown, dyed in a small pattern on a white ground, with the
family crest on the back and shoulders, either that of the wearer or his
Quoted from: Fu-so Mimi
Bukuro: A Budget of Japanese Notes, by C. Pfoundes, published by the
Japanese Mail Office, 1875, p. 145. (Note: As yet I am unable to confirm
that moro is the word for linen.)
In The Kabuki Theatre
by Earle Ernst (p. 122-3) the author notes that the musicians dressed in
kamishimo often wear garments coordinated with the specific kabuki
productions. In a famous act where the scenery is painted in pastel greens,
etc., the kamishimo are green. In a winter scene the kamishimo
may be white. "In Izayoi and Seishin the musicians are not conceived by the
audience as a group of men who happen to be sitting along a river bank
playing and singing; on the contrary, their relation to the play is the same
as that of the Western opera orchestra to the action taking place on the
stage. But they are visually related to the rest of the stage simply because
the Kabuki is concerned with pleasing visual effect, and the repetition of
the design and the colors of the setting on the musician's platform and on
their kamishimo creates visual, not psychological, continuity. The platform
on which the musicians invariably appear distinguishes them aesthetically
form the area of the actor-dancer. Here, as elsewhere in the Kabuki,
aesthetic differentiation is achieved through clearly defined spatial
Below is a detail from a
Kiyonaga print from the late 1780s showing two gidayu performers wearing
green kamishimo. As noted in our entry on
these performers wear the same garb worn by samurai.
"The chanter acts like a fully
trained actor who manifests the emotions of all the roles he alternatively
impersonates. He wears a kamishimo ceremonial costume and squats on the
stage-left podium behind the stand on which the text is always placed, even
when not necessary for the performance, as is the case when the chanter is
blind." (Quoted from: Japanese Theatre: From Shamanistic Ritual to
Contemporary Pluralism by Benito Ortolani) The author also mentions that
fact that there are occasions when the stage assistants wear all black
Karen Brazell notes in
Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays that kamishimo are
also worn during some Noh productions: as "...an indication that this is an
Arthur J. Bryant in his
Samurai tells us that the kamishimo was "...the second most
common apparel of the samurai."
In Modern Passings:
Death Rites, Politics, And Social Change in Imperial Japan by Andrew
Bernstein is an account of townspeople using attendants wearing kamishimo
in a funeral procession. Clearly this had crossed the bounds of social
correctness. "...when vulgar townspeople and entertainers die, they have
attendants dressed in light blue kamishimo (formal samurai dress)
march through two districts (chō) in double file. Is this not
shameful to see?...This is wretchedness to be expected of the townspeople."
Before Tsunayoshi (綱吉 or
つなよし: 1649-1709) became the fifth Tokugawa shogun he would dress in a linen
kamishimo to visit the castle to ask about the health of his
relatives and "...behave ceremoniously." (Source: The Dog Shogun: The
Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi by Beatrice Bodart-Bailey)
As the social barriers
were being eroded in the late Tokugawa period there was an incident in
Fukase-Mura in 1833 when "....twenty-six peasants submitted a petition to be
able to wear formal dress (kamishimo) and to use 'house name'. The village
head (shōya) first refused, but later approved." (Quoted from: Japan's
Name Culture: The Significance of Names in a Religious, Political & Social
Context by Herbert E. Plutschow) Later the author noted that in 1813 a
daimyō in Mino province agreed to give successful peasants their own
names and allowed them to wear the kamishimo. He also notes that
"Impoverished daimyō sometimes allowed peasants to buy the right to
use their surnames in public." It would seem that everything has a price.
There is also a sumo
official who wears the kamishimo. Below is a detail from the left
panel of a Toyokuni III triptych showing an official dressed in a
kamishimo during the Dohyōiri ceremony.
While we were
researching this topic we kept finding references to the kamishimo as
上下. Japanese is a language layered with homonyms which are often used to
give greater depth and complexity to their poetry, for example. In classical
terms these homonymic references mean that a superficial translation rarely
gets to the heart of the matter. Wit counted for so much more through
innuendo. Perhaps that is why kamishimo could also be written as
'above and below' because of the nature of two part outfit. Kenkyusha's
New Japanese English Dictionary partially defines 上下 'the upper and
nether parts of the body'. That would explain Mock Joya's Things Japanese
statement that "In Edo days, kamishimo (literally upper-lower) became
the commonly used formal wear not only for samurai but also for many
commoners. Kamishimo is so called because it is divided into two parts - the
upper sleeveless coat and the lower skirt." Samuel L. Leiter and
Benito Ortolani [see above] both use 上下 for kamishimo.
In Edo Culture: Daily
Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600-1868 Nishiyama Matsunosuke says
that the noshime (熨斗目 or のしめ) is a "Plain kimono, with a
striped pattern across the midriff, worn as an underrobe [sic] to the kamishimo
and other formal garments." It is also referred to as a ceremonial
mentioned kamishimo several times in his journals. In Townsend Harris;
First American Envoy in Japan by William Elliot Griffis there is a
footnote on page 106 defining kamishimo as "Literally, 'High-low,' a
dress in old Japan corresponding to our 'evening dress,' worn alike by high
officers, multi-millionaires, and by waiters and barbers."
William E. Deal in his
Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan tells us that the
kamishimo developed during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (安土桃山時代 or あづちももやまじだい:
1568-1600*) and reflected Chinese and Portuguese influences. [*There are
several variant dates given for the Azuchi-Momoyama period. We chose the one
supplied by the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan.]
In Village Autonomy
and Articulation with the State: The Case of Tokugawa Japan the author,
Harumi Befu, tells us that "...ordinary peasants were not allowed to wear
silk clothes or kamishimo..." as an economic imperative. Their
existence was supposed to be based at a subsistence level reliant what they
could grow and harvest.
In Bunraku or puppet
theater the "Omozukai, the leader of the doll handlers, in contrast
to the other members of the trio, wears kamishimo, the ceremonial
dress of the theater, to show his rank as a master performer..." (Quote
from: The Kabuki Theatre of Japan by Adolphe Clarence Scott)
It would appear that
bridegrooms often worn the kamishimo during the marriage ceremony.
Marius B. Jansen in his
The Making of Modern Japan cites the The Essence of Current
Fashions which gives advice to the wearers of kamishimo: "Samurai are
told how their kamishimo trousers should be stiffened with whalebone,
with the outermost folds stitched down. The obi sash, they are
advised, should be worn on the level of the navel with the front slightly
elevated. Done right, it is known as a 'Bye-bye Obi' or 'Cat Teaser.' 'Curve
your back a little to get the right effect,' goes the advice."
There is one more
category where kamishimo appear occasionally and that is
or memorial prints produced to commemorate the death of famous and beloved
Kabuki actors. The one on the left and middle both date from ca. 1877 and
are by Kunimasa IV and honor Bando Hikosaburō. The third example is by
Kunisada from 1821 and is of Arashi Kitsusaburō.
According to the
(vol. 3, entry by Ishiyama Akira, pp. 118-19) there are three types of
traditional Japanese headgear. One of these is the kammuri which
translates literally as 'crown'. "Kammuri include highly ornate
crowns decorated with gold and strings of beads as well as simpler caps of
lacquered or soft fabric. In 604 noblemen were ordered to wear kammuri
as part of their ceremonial or court dress following the Sui (589-618)
China." In time the eboshi replaced the more formal kammuri.
Worn during greetings, indoors and even while sleeping even though these
'crowns' served no practical purpose.
The image to the
left is a detail from a Shigenobu print.
Note that the
English spelling and the hiragana pronunciation differ slightly. This is a
common occurrence when it comes to certain 'n' and 'm' sounds. Some sources
refer to 冠 as kanmuri.
See also our entry on
at our De
thru Gen index/glossary page.
According to John K. Nelson in
his Enduring Identities said that the kanmuri indicated a wearer's
Assistant trainee to a
courtesan. Often viewed in Ukiyo-e prints wearing finery which matches that
of the courtesan.
"Contemporary commentators did not consider it particularly inhuman or
immoral to introduce children to prostitution; on the contrary, they judged
early training as beneficial in the production of better courtesans." Girls
as young as seven or younger were sought out by scouts. Kyōto girls were
thought to be more graceful, but any beautiful child was considered
desirable. "The children of famine-stricken peasants or debt ridden
townspeople were especially susceptible to the enticements offered by
brokers." Sometimes selling their daughters was the only way to raise money.
The good daughter was the one who would acquiesce to such arrangements. The
parents could console themselves with the fact that the child would be
better fed and clothed. "The only path by which a woman could escape her low
social and economic lot was the pleasure quarter."
Source and quotes
Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan, by
Seigle, University of Hawaii Press, 1993, p. 81-2.
Signboard: As the merchant
class, the lowest in Japan, began to prosper and the samurai, the highest,
began to decline, the kanban became more and more common. Clearly
businesses needed to advertise their wares or services in ways to attract
the greatest number of clients. Signage became increasingly creative if not
quirky. Often elaborate sign boards looked like the product being sold or
something that came to be associated with that commodity. For example,
tobacconists and pipe sellers might display a sign with a high relief,
oversized pipe on it. The quality and distinctiveness of individual signs
helped set businesses apart from one another in districts in which similar
shops were clustered.
Some signs were equipped
with roofs and/or shutters to protect them against the elements. Such
architectural elements can be seen in the two Hiroshige details to the left.
It has been noted that modern collectors and suppliers of theses signs often
discard the extra architectural features. Too bad. (Source: Kanban: Shop
Signs of Japan, published by the Japan Society in 1983) In the preface
to this catalogue it says that kanban literally means "signboard".
However, as we parse it the two kanji characters mean 'see' and
Soba signboard at Chiba
posted by d'n'c at commons.wikimedia.org
Detail from a Hiroshige
print showing kanban at the
Mariko station on the
There are also 'signboard
girls', kanban-musume, which are attractive young women placed before
business to draw in customers. James McLain in his essay in the Edo and
Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era (p. 125) notes
that "Young 'signboard girls' (kanban musume) stood outside on the
roadway, where they displayed advertisements, implored passers-by to venture
in for a cup of tea, and sometimes even physically dragged potential
customers into the shops."
Today's rooftop signs meant
to be seen at great distances are referred to as nikai kanban. Those
projecting from a facade to be seen from further down a street are nobori
kanban. Portable signboards are keitai kanban. Signs flush with
the storefront are sage kanban. A signboard which uses an image
familiar with a shops product is a yoki kanban. (Source: Japanese
Love Hotels: A Cultural History by Sarah Chaplin)
This entry was prompted by a
correspondence with David P. Thanks David.
"Chinese readings; reading
classical Chinese literature; Chinese prose and verse to be read in the
particular Japanese way. Kanbun is not the Chinese language as it is spoken
in China, but written Chinese to be read with the Japanese reading, the word
order following Japanese syntax with specific Japanese particles...
supplemented, and with the Japanese sound system." Quoted from:
Dictionary of Japanese Culture by Setsuko Kojima and Gene A. Crane, p.
"Centuries before Westerners
arrived at Japanese shores the Japanese had already established contact with
other Asian countries. According to Coulmas... it was through a Korean
scholar that Chinese writing, the characters later to be called kanji,
were introduced to Japan. Over time, the Japanese introduced changes to the
syntax of written Chinese to make it usable as a means to transcribe
Japanese, but not until the introduction of the kana syllabaries,
especially hiragana, a natural transcription of spoken Japanese was
possible... Before that, Chinese writing became one foundation of Japanese
culture: it was kanbun, an often grammatically abnormal form of
Chinese, which became the dominant means of written communication concerning
scholarship, religion and literature, comparable to the status of Latin in
Europe... While English is considered by many the language that moved Japan
into the 20th century, it was Chinese which propelled it out of late. Stone
Age." English in Japanese Language and Culture: A Socio-Historical
Analysis by Kai Hilpisch, p. 6.
Crab motif used
occasionally as a family crest or mon. Popular as a military mon its choice
may have been due the the look of the crab itself - armored and in some
cases powerful and painful in its attack.
The example seen to
the left is one of those marvels common to Japanese design and in particular
to the variations possible in their family crests. Here the crab is actually
a budding peony plant. At least that is what I think it is. Notice how the
eyes are buds getting ready to open.
An exotic regional
'snake' dance which was imported into Edo from Nagasaki in 1822.
Now, you may be
asking yourself "Why has he put that entry in here?" Well, I'll tell you.
First, it is from an article by Andrew L. Markus published by the Harvard
Journal of Asiatic Studies and that accounts for its pedigree and second it
struck me as an odd term which sounded too much like the Offenbach
(オッフェンバハ)cancan. However, the fact that they are homonymous is strictly a
coincidence. The coincidence is even more striking since they both refer to
types of dances. Other than that they have no connection whatsoever.
Note: The Japanese
character 看 means 'to watch'. Perhaps when doubled this has something to do
with the exoticism of this style of performance - sort of like "You should
see this!" However, I am just speculating here. Markus does add that this
dance may be of Chinese origin.
Read the entry above this one
to see why we have put this
A French dance made
famous by the music of Jacques Offenbach (ジャック.オッフェンバハ) and the images of
Toulouse Lautrec (トゥールーズ.ロートレック).
style of thick, rounded, crowded strokes commonly used by kabuki theater.
Okazakiya Kanroku (1746-1805: 岡崎屋勘六 or おかざきやかんろく)is credited with its creation in 1779.
According to the Kodansha
Encyclopedia of Japan (vol. 4, 1983 edition, p. 153) the Kantei style of
calligraphy originated in 1779 (An-ei 8 or 安永８年) with Okazakiya Kanroku
(岡崎屋勘六 or おかざきや.かんろく)an employee of the Nakamuraza (中村座 or なかむらざ). "Its
thick, curved strokes form compact characters with few open areas between
them, suggesting a 'full house,' and it quickly won favor in the theatrical
world. Easily recognized at a distance...[it is still used today]." It is
also used to announce the rankings of sumo wrestlers - although Leiter notes
that their is a slight difference in style.
Leiter in his New Kabuki Encyclopedia (1997 edition, p. 281) provides
additional information. "Minami Okazakiya Kanroku (1746-1805), a teacher of
his family's calligraphy, who lived in Edo's Sakai-chô [堺町 or さかいちょう],
created the style when he did the ônodai kamban...signing his work
'Kantei.'" Originally the Kantei style was used exclusively on kanban (看板 or
かんばん) or billboards used to announce theatrical productions, but later were
used for programs and scripts.
Kunichika or his publishers must have been very fond of this script because
it appears so frequently on his theatrical prints.
The Great Kantō earthquake of
September 1, 1923. Not only was there an enormous loss of life and property
but the immediate effect on artists like Hasui and publishing houses was
devastating. (We will add more information eventually.)
These were the 7 provinces in
the Kanto region of the Edo period ruled over by Tokugawa
Ieyasu after the battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原 or せきがはら) in 1600. They included
Sagami, Musashi, Awa, Kazusa, Shimōsa, Kōzuke and Shimotsuke.
Hitachi was a later addition. Of
course, these is where Edo (now Tokyo) is located.
While researching our entry for
or barrier gate we ran across this passage about the Kantō and Kansai
regions. It was a 'duh' moment. "East and West of the Barrier: Japan has a
dozen or so area and geographical 'code words' that one must know in order
to follow day-to-day conversation as well as business discussions. The two
most common of these terms are kansai (kahn-sigh), which means 'west
of the barrier,' and kanto (kahn-toe), which means 'east of the
barrier.' ¶ Kansai, which is more cultural and historical in meaning
than geographical, is loosely used in reference to the cities of Kobe, Kyoto
and Osaka and the surrounding areas. Kanto refers to Tokyo and the
surrounding area of the Kanto Plain."
(See also our entry on kōgai.)
Lafcadio Hearn in his "A
Letter from Japan" dated August 1, 1904 written from Tokyo relates a very
pro-Japanese/anti-Russian sentiment. The two countries were at war, but
Hearn dwelt on its psycho-social impact on the population in general. He
even discusses the contemporary fashion for kanzashi: "The new
hairpins might be called commemorative: one of which the decoration
represents a British and Japanese flag intercrossed, celebrates the
Anglo-Japanese alliance; another represents an officer's cap and sword; and
the best of all is surmounted by a tiny metal model of a battleship. The
battleship pin is not merely fantastic: it is actually pretty!"
Such elements showed up
everywhere: towels, gift wrapping, toys, games, magic lanterns, clothes,
undergarments and even the robes of little girls.
Source and quote from: The
Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Elisabeth Bisland, Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1922, pp. 343-50.
"...a bodkin or ornamental
hairpin with one or two prongs. The origins are unclear but because many had
a small spoon for cleaning the wax out of the ears on the protruding end, it
is sometimes suggested that it evolved from a tool for cleaning ears. The
pronged ends could be used to scratch the scalp underneath elaborate
chignons. Another widely-held theory is that kanzashi were created in
imitation of the fashion among entertainers to stick branches of plum
flowers in their hair. Yet another hypothesis suggests that the origins lay
in sheathed knife carried by women of the warrior class to use in case of
dire need... Regardless, after they appear in the late seventeenth
century,they were common to all social classes..." Quoted from: Asian
Material Culture, essay by Martha Chaiklin, p. 45.
Above is a kanzashi posted at commons.wikimedia by Kayopos.
It was originally on a red ground. We changed most of it to black, but kept
the red as a background for the pierced circular design. Notice the
small spoon-shaped end piece.
"According to Baron Dan, a
woman, 'sank into the depths of despair when one of her kanzashi
slipped from its place in her carefully modeled coiffure and fell, broken,
at her tiny feet!' Valuable items were repaired. For example, tortoiseshell
was mended by melting the broken edges together with iron tongs." Ibid., p.
A water pattern
with eddies. The top example to the left is from a detail of a Kotondo print
and the bottom one is a detail from a Shoun (1870-1965: 山本昇雲 or . やまもと.しょううん) Merrily Baird in her Symbols
of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design (p. 42) notes that this
design represents the waters of rivers and ponds.
A note: I own
several Japanese English dictionaries and kanzemizu does not appear in any of
them. For that reason I am unable to determine how long this word has been
in use. By way of analogy, perhaps the names given to decorative patterns
are similar to the names given to flowers or varieties thereof. They may be
too specialized to be found in the standard sources.
Anyone who studies
Edo culture in general and the kabuki aspects in particular will run across
the term kaomise frequently. It literally means 'face-showing' which
is the Japanese expression for the debut of the new theater season.
"'Face-showing performance,' an
annual Edo period production at which a theatre announced its newly engaged
company of actors and they performed together for the first time. It was
considered the most important production of the season." It was the custom
for these actors to stay together in one theater for a full year. "On the
last day, a closing announcement was made along with a declaration of what
the next production and cast list would be..." ¶ "At kaomise time,
the front of the theatre was piled high with gifts of rice and sake form
supporting organization (hiki), forming a decorative background (tsumimono)."
Source and quotes from: New Kabuki
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten, compiled by Samuel
L. Leiter, 1997, p. 282.
Literally kappa means child 童
of the river 河. However, Michael Dylan Foster, mentioned below notes that
the term kappa is originally from the Kantō region, but has over 80
different regional variations. Some of the names make reference to the fact
that these creatures remind some people of children (kawappa,
kawako), others of monkeys (enkō), still others of soft-shell
turtles (dangame) and even otters (kawaso). Sometimes its name
relates to one of its personality traits like that of a 'horse puller' or
Above is an image of a kappa
by Kunisada. He is wearing a robe
decorated with cucumbers,
his favorite food. I added the green coloring.
There is more about kappas
and cucumbers on our
Kappa Control page.
supernatural creature which wreaks havoc with humans and other animals. Noted
for the bowl shaped indentation in the top of their heads which holds water
and is their source of strength. Oh, yeah, they are also fond of wrestling.
This image above to the left
is from the Mike Lyon Collection. Click on it to see the whole print. For
more about kappa control click on the yellow #1 to the right.
In their new book,
The Japanese Monster Survival Guide,
Matthew Alt and Hiroko Yoda, provide a ton of information which one would
need if one were ever to encounter any of these unpleasant nasties. Gender:
male. For some reason there don't seem to be any girl kappa. Height: 3' to
5'. Weight: 65 to 100 lbs. Among their stranger features is a removable skin
and three anuses. Why? Haven't the slightest. Weapons include extendable
arms and extreme flatulence. Weaknesses include a strong dislike of
"...iron, deer antlers, and monkeys." Alt and Yoda tell us that kappa are
"Easily the single most famous yokai in Japan. They smell like "...rotting
compost." Parents warn their children to stay away from lakes and rivers. [A
friend of mine even says that signs are posted near ponds warning of kappa
sightings.] "According to one story, some nine thousand of the creatures
swam en masse from China to Japan around the fifth century..." They are
generally innocuous unless pissed off. However, there are exceptions to this
too. They are apt to challenge passersby to "...mano a mano wrestling
matches..." Drowning victims are often the not just drowning victims. They
were dragged under by kappa who naturally are great swimmers. But it is
their habit of reaching up through one's anus and removing one's intestines
which is probably their most disturbing trait. [Some accounts say that they
can suck the liver right out of a person through the anus. Ick!] "The kappa
isn't after the entrails themselves, but rather the shirikodama, a
mysterious organ said to be located in the colon." Notice that kappa have an
indentation in the top of their heads which holds water. Get it to spill out
and they are basically powerless. ¶ If challenged to a wrestling match don't
fight it. Get them to bow in the hope they will spill the water on their
head. Wrestle them in the sunlight. This will speed up evaporation. And, if
all else fails, throw a cucumber at them. They are suckers for cucumbers -
their favorite food. ¶ "Kappa must leave the water and remove their
waterproof skin - called amagawa - in order to sleep. A kappa without
its amagawa is totally defenseless: it can't enter the water without it!
Because of this raincoats are also known as amagappa in Japan." ¶ One
last thing: There is a Japanese saying: He no kappa which means "Like
a kappa fart." Alt and Yoda say this is the equivalent to the American
saying "Piece of cake."
One more, one last thing:
For more about kappas and flatulence in general in Japanese society
go to our page
devoted to our Yoshitoshi print we call "Kappa control".
Michael Dylan Foster in his
article The Metamorphosis of the Kappa: Transformation of Folklore to
Folklorism in Japan argues that viewing these creatures as cute,
cooperative or amusing is basically a modern invention. In all earlier
references kappa are just plain nasty and threatening. According to first
hand reports the kappa range in size from those comparable to a child of 3
or 4 up to about 10. They have been described as being covered with hair or
scales. "The kappa smells fishy, and in color is often blue-yellow, with a
blue-black face, but there are countless variations of these elements.
Almost always the kappa has a carapace on its back, and its face is sharp
with a beak-like mouth." ¶ The hollowed-out area on the top of the kappa's
head is called a sara (皿 or さら) which literally translates as 'plate'
or 'dish'. It "...contains a liquid usually described simply as water,
although the exact composition of the fluid is not always specified. But,
whether it is water or some other liquid, it represents the life force of
the kappa; if it dries up or spills, the kappa loses its power, and—in some
legends about the kappa refer to this sara and the potency of the liquid it
contains." ¶ Foster tells of a legend from Okayama prefecture in which a
group of children are practicing sumo by a river. Another child comes
up and wants to join in. They realize that he is a kappa so they all shake
their heads and the creature does the same losing its strength and is forced
to leave. That bow performed by sumo wrestlers is often the downfall
of the polite kappa competitor. ¶ We have mentioned elsewhere how cucumbers
kyūri (黄瓜 or きゅうり) are the favorite food of kappa. Foster
adds to this list nasu (茄子 or なす) or eggplant,
soba (蕎麦 or
そば) or buckwheat noodles, nattō (納豆 or なっとう) or fermented soybeans
and kabocha (南瓜 or かぼちゃ) or pumpkin. ¶ Kappa aversions include gourds
or hyōtan (瓢箪 or ひょうたん), sesame, ginger, saliva and iron. But iron is
not such a strange thing because all water spirits hate iron. In fact,
Edward Burnett Tylor wrote in 1922 that "The Oriental jinn are in such
deadly terror of iron, that its very name is a charm against them; and so in
European folklore iron drives away fairies and elves, and destroys their
power." European witches could be kept at bay by iron implements and
particularly by horseshoes. That is said to be the reason so many of them
could be found nailed to barn doors.
Mock Joya speculated that the
origin of the kappa came from misidentified suppon (鼈 or すっぽん) or snapping
turtles. (Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p. 412)
"A Poem of Michizane was
held in great esteem in Kiushu as a protection against the Kappa..." Quoted
Legend in Japanese Art by Henri Joly, p. 36.
testimonials: 1) A number of years ago a friend of mine who spends much of
his time in Japan says there are still signs warning people not to swim in
local ponds because there are kappas there; 2) On November 27, 2011 Hank
wrote to say that a lady friend of his in Japan says that kappa "....would
swim up the toilets and pinch the ladies on the bottom." Good thing I am not
a lady and a good thing I don't live in Japan - at least, for that reason.
Other than that... Sigh!
Kappa are also referred to
as kawatarō (河太郎 or かわたろう).
Janine Beichman in her
Masaoka Shiki: His Life and Works (p. 40) quotes a haiku by Yosa Buson
(与謝蕪村 or よさぶそん: 1716-1783):
an inn for
kappa to make love inn -
Henri Joly wrote: "The
Todo Kimmo Dzue gives it the name Kawataro (compare the Osaka form,
Gataro), and describes it under the name Suikō (water tiger): 'It is
like a child of three or four years, with scales all over its back. It lies
on the sand, looking like a tiger; it has long claws which it hides in the
water, and it will bite little children if they touch it.' ¶ In the river of
Kawachi Mura a Kappa was caught by the belly-band of a horse, and after
being rendered harmless, as above described, was made to sign a bond not to
attack thereafter any man, woman, child or beast." Quoted from: Legend in
Japanese Art, p. 161.
In the 1886 Descriptive
and Historical Catalogue of a Collection of Japanese and Chinese Paintings
in the British Museum by William Anderson it says: "...the Tōdo Kimmō
dzu-i, a kind of pictorial cyclopædia of Chinese objects, published in
Japan in 1802."
"...the kawatarō is the only
creature completely bereft of documentary evidence or links with a Chinese
precedent." Quoted from: Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and
the Culture of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, p. 46.
Yanagita Kunio once wrote:
"...gataro [another name for kappa] were the sole topic of our
conversations at elementary school." Quoted from: The Culture of the
Meiji Period by Irokawa Daikichi, p. 21.
"The kappa is one of
the most wide-ranging and oldest yōkai: a kappa-like creature
even appears in the early mytho-historical Nihonshoki (720). Like
most folkloric monsters, the kappa varies significantly with
historical and geographical context. Having said that, they are almost
always portrayed as small anthropomorphic creatures that live in the water,
usually a river or pond. They can be deadly, with a penchant for pulling
horses into the water, drowning small children, and reaching up through a
victim's anus to extract the liver or other internal organ. Or they can
simply be mischievous: during the Edo period, they were occasionally found
lurking in outhouses, where they would reach up to stroke the buttocks of
unsuspecting occupants." Quoted from: The Ashgate Research Companion to
Monsters and the Monstrous, p. 143.