A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
Kara-kasa thru Ken'yakurei
The photo of the 'dead end'
sign was taken by
our friend Ben Peyronnin. We then altered it for
our own purposes. Our bad! It is being used
to mark additions made from May thru August 2013.
The photo of the fruit of the
Korean dogwood tree
was taken by my friend Evan
Black. It was
be used for January thru
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Kara-kasa, Karazuri, Karigane, Kariyasu, Karuta-e, Karyōbinga,
Kasa, Kasa, Kashirabori, Kashiwa, Katabami, Kata-hazushi,
Kataoka Nizaemon VIII, Katō
Katsuobushi, Katsura, Katsureki-mono, Katsushika
Kawarazaki Sanshō, Kawatake Mokuami,
Kawatake Shinshichi, Kaya,
Kazaguruma, Kazami, Kazashi, Kebori, Donald Keene,
Keisai Eisen, Kemari, Kensaki, Kensaku
Kentō and Ken'yakurei
唐傘, 空摺, 雁金,
刈安, 加留多絵, 迦陵頻伽, 傘,
笠, 頭彫, 柏, 酢奨草, 片外し, 片岡仁左衛門,
火頭窓, 鰹, 鰹節,
桂, 活歴物, 葛飾北斉,
河原崎 三升, 河竹黙阿弥, 河竹新七, 蚊屋, 風車,
渓斎英泉, 蹴鞠, 剣先,
羂索 & 利剣 and 見当
からずり, かりがね, かりやす, かるたえ, かりょうびんが, かさ,
かしらぼり, かしわ, かたばみ, かただ.ほり.ちょう, かたがみ,
かとうまど, かつお, かつおぶし,
かつら, かつれきもの, かつしか.ほくさい, かわきた,
かざぐるま, かざみ, かざし,
けんさく & りけん, けんとう and けんやくれい
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
The print to the left shows the
actor Arashi Sangorō III pretending to be an umbrella monster. The
accompanying poem reads: "My flower umbrella/ tattered and worn/ in the
guise of a monster!" Julia Meech wrote: "A one-legged umbrella monster with
a long tongue appeared on the scene with the surge of ghost plays in the
early 19th century.... The knee of Sangorō's retracted left left is
just visible under the rim of the umbrella.... This umbrella demon has
a depression on his head, suggesting that he is doubling as a kappa,
another nasty goblin from Japanese folklore..." (Source and quotes from:
and Snow: The Umbrella in Japanese Art, by Julia Meech, Japan Society,
Inc., 1993, cat. entry #92, p. 118)
The image shown above is a
detail from a book illustration also by Toyokuni I.
In their authoritative book on
surviving Japanese monsters Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt have a whole section on
the 'Haunted umbrella'. It is paired with the 'Haunted lantern' because they
are often seen together. They are known for their "Freakishly large
tongue... [and] Single gnarly leg..." Their "Offensive Weapons" are "Bronx
cheers, eerie moans, [and] erratic movement."
Their weakness: Being ignored.
They hate that, but that is okay because they have very short attention
spans. Also, there is no record of their ever having actually injuring or
"The most popular portrayal of
the Kara-kasa, whose name simply means 'paper umbrella' or 'paper parasol,'
is of a cyclopean umbrella with a lolling tongue and a gross-looking hairy
male leg in place of a handle, but other versions - perhaps subspecies? -
have been reported as well." Sometimes they have two eyes shown close
together and sometimes just one.
(Source and quotes: Yokai
Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, by Hiroko Yoda and Matt
Alt, Kodansha International, 2008, pp. 106-109)
Kara-kasa literally means
Blind printing or
Wild geese crest or
mon: According to Merrily Baird the return of migrating geese was so
important that it gave its name to the 8th lunar month. This is not so odd
when one considers how the months and days got their names in the West.
"The importance of geese in Japanese art was further secured by stories of
several military heroes who had achieved victory in battle when a sudden
breaking of ranks by flying geese signaled an ambush. [Didn't the ancient
Greeks or Romans use domesticated geese the way we use guard dogs?] This
protective role of the birds led to their frequent use in decorating sword
furnishings and possibly also their adoption as a family crest motif."
of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design, pp. 111-112.
John W. Dower (The
Elements of Japanese Design pp. 94-5) that in some of the earliest
depictions of flying geese in Japanese art a simple "v" was used. Later when
geese were portrayed in crests the head was added. However, the form seen to
the left is referred to as the "knotted goose". These two stylistic
approaches were far more popular in the use of family mons than more
The other night -
today is March 30, 2007 - I was reading Roger Keyes catalogue of the Osaka
prints in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and ran across an entry about two
death or memorial prints dedicated to the passing of a famous actor. One
shows Utaemon IV accompanied by 'his farewell poem': "Returning geese, if
you are going to the country of the west, please take me with you." Keyes
notes that "Migrant geese often appear in memorial or farewell poems. The
country of the west is Amida Buddha's Western Paradise."
Source and quote
from: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, by Roger S. Keyes and
Keiko Mizushima, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, p. 188.
That led me to dig
a little deeper. I remembered a reference to bird dances from the Kojiki
(古事記 or こじき: 712),
the most ancient Japanese text which portrays indigenous, non-Buddhist
beliefs. "Bird bones have been found resting on the chests of ancient human
skeltons, and the Kojiki alludes to a custom whereby mourners dress
up as birds. The evidence suggests, then, that the ancient Japanese believed
that the dead turned into birds, or perhaps birds carried them to another
Quote from: Japanese
Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death,
introduction and commentary by Yoel Hoffmann, Charles E. Tuttle Company,
1996, p. 34.
There is also a
reference in the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (Vol. 3, p. 13 -
entry by Saitō Shōji) which states that "In the reign of the legendary
emperor Nintoku in the KOJIKI (712), there is an anecdote in which the
laying of an egg by a goose was taken as an auspicious sign of the emperor's
enduring rule. (Geese normally do not lay eggs during the season of their
stay in Japan.)" Geese are also used as a poetical allusion to the coming of
The image to the
left of flying geese is a detail from a print by Bunrei and was sent to us
by our generous contributor E. Once again thanks E!
Kariyasu or Miscanthus tinctorius: This is one of the plants - a grass, in fact -
used to create a yellow colorant in dyeing fabrics. Apparently it was also
used in printing woodblock images although none of the contemporary books on
technique seem to make references to it. Perhaps this is due to the fact
that this was one of the colors which faded greatly and therefore would not
be part of the palette of modern printers. However, it is mentioned in
Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Catalogue of the Mary A. Ainsworth Collection
by Roger Keyes as one of the early traditional organic colorants. (cf.
"Identification of Traditional Organic Colorants Employed in Japanese Prints
and Determination of their Rates of Fading" by Feller, Curran and Bailie -
tinctorius is a tall grass which grows on the slopes of mountains. These
images taken by Shu Suehiro were from his hike on Happō One Mountain in the
Japanese Alps not far from Nagano. A popular ski area in the winter it is
considered a great hiking region during warmer months.
According to the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston this yellow "...dye is primarily composed of
anthraxin and related flavonoids..." which are mainly luteolin
glycosides. They also note that when the mordant is alum this colorant
is not very lightfast. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult for us today
to identify this colorant in early prints.
Hence, luteolin is the main
When fresh, I
believe, this dye can be a bright yellow. When mixed with other dyes
everything from mustard yellow to a moss green can be produced.
In an article by
Watanabe Hitoshi and Takahashi Yasuhiro published in the "Bulletin of Japan
Association of Botanical Gardens" in 2006 they stated that "...the true M.
tinctorius population is very small.... The length of beard at the
tip of the spikelet and the density of down on the leaf blade are the most
important features" The spikes are discarded and only the stem and
leaves are used [in creating the dye.] The harvest should be dried quickly
before soft, ground water with the least number of impurities is added.
Camellia ash helps bring out the brightest color.
Shu Suehiro has
very generously given us permission to use the three photos to the left. He
operates a wonderful and expansive web site dedicated to Japanese plants. We
would urge you to take a look. There is much of interest there.
Don't forget that
color descriptions are not exact. As there are many shades of green or blue
for example, there are many slight variations within each of the colors
shown here which may or may not conform precisely to your own perceptions of
what they should be. Several sources have said
that kariyasu is the color of a Buddhist monk's 'safron' robe.
That is why we are posting the photo below. It is greatly cropped from an
image posted at commons.wikimedia.org. by MichaelJanich.
The image to the
left is by Shunsho (春章 or しゅんしょう) and Shigemasa (重政 or しげまさ) from the 1776
edition of the "Seiro bijin awase sugata kagami" (青楼美人合姿鏡 or
This image was
generously contributed to our site by E. Thanks E!
A heavenly singer.
Half-bird, half-human. Its voice is likened to that of the Buddha. In Royall
Tyler's translation of "The Tale of Genji" (vol. 1, chap. 7, p. 135 Genji's
voice is praised 'to the heavens': "His singing of the verse could have been
the Lord Buddha's kalavinka voice in paradise." It brought the
emperor to tears. Arthur Waley in his translation (p. 150) states: "...and
in the song which follows, the first movement of the dance his voice was
sweet as that of Kalavinka whose music is Buddha's law." Seidensticker (p.
140) said that Genji's audience "...could have believed they were listening
to the Kalavinka bird of paradise."
is the Japanese name of the kalavinka, i.e., the bird which sings in
paradise. Long before the introduction of Buddhism the Japanese had a
traditional lore devoted to human/bird hybrids. They appear in the Kojiki
which is the earliest written account of Japan's distant past.
As of now we don't
have an example of a karyōbinga in an ukiyo print which we can display here, but we are almost positive
we have seen one somewhere. If anyone can help us in this search please
We know such
a thing exists because there is a hand-colored print by Torii Kiyomasu I in
the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with a
Dated from the first decade of the 18th century it illustrates a scene from
a kabuki play "The Treasure Boat of the Land of Brahma" (Bontenkoku
takarabune - 梵天国宝船 or ぼんてんこく.たからぶね). Remember - many early kabuki plays had
a strong religious element to them and that this figure is not to be
confused with other bird-men (or -women, if you like.)
(Bamboo) hat: "The
sedge hat had patrician rather than peasant association in traditional
Japan, and thus it was not anomalous that the haughty upper classes
developed this as a design."
Quoted from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, p. 114.
Either kasa or
amagasa (雨笠 or あまがさ) may be used to mean rain hat. Since kasa was a
homophone for the word for syphilis, leprosy, a boil or skin eruption (瘡).
For this reason rain hats became inextricably linked to certain afflictions
like smallpox and also socially transmitted diseases. Straw hats became a
symbol of divine protection. "Children were to begin wearing these hats
before catching smallpox. Motoori Norinaga 本居宣長 (1730-1801), too, refers to
this protective hat in his Kojiki den 古事記伝. He notes that someone who
prays for a benign case of smallpox should go to the shrine of Sagi dymyōjin
and borrow a bamboo hat, which is to be placed and honored in the
house. Once recovered, the person is to make a second hat and to return it
to the shrine with the first. Others will then borrow it in turn. That is
why hats accumulate at the shrine."
Quoted from: "Demonic
Affliction or Contagious Disease?: Changing Perceptions of Smallpox in the
Late Edo Period",
Hartmut O. Rotermund, published in the Japanese Journal of Religious
Studies, 2001, vol. 28/3–4, p. 378.
Head carver: "There were two
categories of carvers, the kashirabori (literally carvers of the
head) and the dōbori (carvers of the body). The kashirabori
were the most highly skilled and had overall responsibility for the blocks
and would hand out work to the dōbori in line with their abilities."
Japanese Woodblock Printing,
by Rebecca Salter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, p. 61.
For more information see also
our entry on
menbori. Like the term menbori
there are very few references to kashirabori in English.
The oak leaf was
once used as a surface for offerings to the gods. "By the late Heian period,
the oak tree was regarded as the residence of the protective deities of
forests and groves. This was one of the more popular crests among the
warrior class, particularly among close devotees of Shinto."
Quoted from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, p. 114.
Remember there are
numerous other variations on this motif which were used as crests or mons.
The oxalis or wood
sorrel: "In the early days in Japan, the leaf of the wood sorrel was used to
make a medicinal salve, and also to polish mirrors." Popular as a design
during the Heian period it was often later used by member of the warrior
class. Because the plant spread prodigiously warriors saw this as an
auspicious sign of their own fertility. An added martial element to the
katabami mon or crest was the insertion of blades radiating outward as in
the example to the left.
Source and quote from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, p. 84.
Remember there are
numerous other variations on this motif which were used as crests or mons.
The image to the
left on the bottom is shown courtesy of Paghat the Ratgirl who offers a
wonderful and literate web site about plants - and so much more. Do yourself
a favor and visit it often at:
Katada Hori Chō
(aka Katada Chojirō)
Master carver of
woodblocks working in the early 1860s to as late as 1878. We know that he
worked for more than one publisher: Kakumoto-ya Kinjirō, Izutsu-ya,
Ise-ya Zenazburō, Etsuka, Tsunoi and Arai Kisaburō. His seal appears on
prints of Toyokuni III, Kunichika and Chikuyo.
pattern': Mulberry paper specially treated with astringent
persimmon juice cut into intricate and delicate patterns to be used as
stencils for fabric designs. Known since the 12th century these stencils
were used to produce katazome. Ukiyo prints are rife with such
To the left are the
cover (below) of Carved Paper: The Art of Japanese Stencil, the best
book on the subject out there in English. (Edited by Susan Shin-Tsu Tai with
contributions by Susanna Campbell Kuo, Richard L. Wilson and Thomas S.
Michie, published by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Weatherhill, Inc.,
The top image is a
detail of the leaping fish on the cover. Notice the fine threads which help
hold the delicate design together. Some katagami have such threads and some
A hairstyle of a
At various times sumptuary laws were enacted by the ruling powers in
an attempt to control social behavior. This extended to artists and their
publishers and pretty much everyone else. Certain images were proscribed and
it became a battle of wills as to who could outwit whom. In
The Passionate Art
of Kitagawa Utamaro (text volume, p. 247) Timothy Clark (ティモシー .クラーク) commented on
this by addressing the subject of altered forms.
One Utamaro print
clearly shows a woman wearing a kata-hazushi hairstyle. A different,
but still original printing show another hairstyle.
"A second printing
exists in which the head area of the block has been plugged and recarved
with a normal Katsuyama-style hair-do... Perhaps this was done to avoid any
possible censure from the authorities for showing a hair-style immediately
associated with a samurai household."
The detail to the
left is not one of those Utamaro examples, but is from a print by Toyokuni
Kataoka Nizaemon VIII
Nizaemon VIII (1810-63) was
born in Echigo (越後 or えちご) and began his acting life as Ichikawa Shinnojō
(市川新之丞 or いちかわ.しんのじょう), the adopted son of Ichikawa Danjūrō VII. He became
the manager of a theater or zamoto (座元 or ざもと) in Osaka specializing
in children's kabuki or kodomo shibai (子供芝居 or こども.しばい). After
Shinnojō/Nizaemon had a falling out with his adoptive father he changed his
name to Mimasu Iwagorō (三枡岩五郎 or みます.いわごろう). When he became a pupil of
Arashi Rikan II Iwagorō took the new name of Arashi Kitsujirō (嵐橘次郎
or あらし.きつじろう). While
studying with Rikan II Kitsujirō learned how to perform outside of shrines
and temples. When Nizaemon VII adopted him Kitsujirō changed his name again
in the 4th month of 1833 to Kataoka Gatō I (片岡我当 or かたおた.がとう). Nizaemon VII
died in 1837. At that time in the 8th month Gatō took his adoptive father's
haiku writing pen-name or haimyō (がごう). Now he was called Kataoka
Gadō II (片岡我童 or かたおた.がどう). (Professor Leiter notes that "...a different
sequence of ordinal numbers is used for bearers of the haimyō.") He
came to be regarded as one of the great performers of leading male roles. In
1854 he joined the Nakamura-za in Edo and three years later in the first day
of the 4th month of 1857 he changed his name to Nizaemon VIII. "Since his
good looks resembled those of the immensely popular Danjūrō VIII, he was
almost as popular in Edo as in Kamigata. After eight years away, he returned
to Osaka in 1862, dying there a year later." (Leiter, p. 297) Although he
played a full range of roles Leiter says he was most successful as a
handsome young lover. Two of his own sons and one who he adopted all became
successors to the name Nizaemon. ¶ We know that he was the subject of prints
by Hirosada, Toyokuni III, Yoshitsuya, Hirokane, Yoshikuni and Kunisada II.
Click on the image above to see
the full unaltered print.
A cusped, bell-shaped window:
"The form of the flame-shaped window, katō-mado (literally,
firelight window), which is also called andon-mado, is almost alien
to the whole composition of rectangular planes, linear construction, and
geometrically simple forms, and suggests that its major function is of a
decorative nature. It is a rather common sight in shrines and temples, while
its use in the residence is confined to the wealthier class who can afford
to accentuate the place of the picture recess, tokonoma, by an
ornamental window and a more effective light source than could be provided
by a sliding door, shoji." Quoted from: Measure and Construction
of the Japanese House by Heino Engel, p. 124.
In the Castles of the
Samurai: Power and Beauty (p. 102) it says that this style of window was
introduced from China in the 13th century.
The image to the left is
from a print by Yoshitoshi. Ignore the figues and the silhouette and
concentrate on the shape of the window.
Bonito: Katsuwonus pelamis -
also known as the skipjack tuna, et al. It was formerly called the
The detail above is our
adulterated image from a print by Hiroshige.
When Edward Strange wrote
about the original print by Hiroshige in 1925 he identified the plants
floating near the fish as being cherries. However, this appears to be a
mistake. In the unadulterated version of this print there are two poems
printed above the fish. One reads:
Fresh bonito taste best
when you let it melt in your mouth
under the snow of Kamakura.
"The name of the flower
depicted here means literally 'under the snow'." That flower is the
saxifrage. (Source and quotes: Hiroshige: Prints and Drawings by
Matthi Forrer, cat. entry #84)
This is a minor point, but a
great quote from page 8 of Yoshiwara: The Pleasure Quarters of Old Tokyo
by Ethel and Stephen Longstreet which makes mention of bonito. "The
Americans, being sinning males, soon became well acquainted with the famed
geisha and courtesan houses along the river Sumida. A geisha party
that meant soft glow from many-colored lanterns, the dissonant sounds of the
samisen, a mossy garden with elegant trees, a banquet with pickled sea
urchin eggs, green tea, dried seaweed, bonito entrails, mushrooms and
cuttlefish served with maple leaves and chrysanthemums."
Below is a photo of a
Katsuwonu pelamis caught off the coast of Java.
It was posted at
commons.wikimedia.org by Wibowo Djatmiko.
Dried bonito. The
image to the left (by Kunisada) shows these dried pieces of fish incorporated into a woven
The image above is by Toyokuni
Donald Keene quotes a senryū,
normally a comic poetic form, with a poignant messge.: "Stuck in his sleeve/
When he goes begging for milk,/ A dried bonito". Keene interprets this as a
father with a new born whose mother died in childbirth. In exchange for the
milk he is ready to present them with a dried bonito. (Source and quote: World
Within Walls, by Donald Keene, Holt, Rheinhart and Winston, 1976, p.
"Smoked and dried, katsuo bushi, it is given as a present at
weddings, births and other family feasts. For katsu also means to win
and katsuo, success in life." Quoted from: The Animal in Far Eastern
Art: And Especially in the Art of the Japanese Netsuke, with References to
Chinese Origins, Traditions, Legends, and Art by T. Volker, p. 21.
One of several
woods like hōnoki and yamazakura used to print woodblocks. This
type is often used in modern printmaking.
Kabuki's 'living history plays'
Major 19th c.
The image to the
left was sent to us by our generous correspondent E. and is one of that
collector's favorite images. Thanks E!
A village where a
special kind of ganpi was made.
Kabuki actor (1839-1903).
Kabuki playwright 1816-93
(See above) A name
used by Mokuami until 1880.
蚊屋 or 蚊帳
Mosquito net: There
is a small but beautiful group of three prints by Utamaro each showing
two women, one under or behind mosquito netting and the other nearby just
outside of it, dating from ca. 1794-5. Inspired either by Utamaro or his
publisher Tsutaya these prints are remarkable examples of the carver's and
printer's art. Poetically entitled "Woven in Mist" or kasumi-ori
(靄織 or かすみおり) the name captures it all. (Actually the full title is "Model
Young Women Woven in the Mist", but I think you get my point.)
The detail from the
print to the left is not by Utamaro but by Kunisada created several decades
later. Nevertheless, this image makes it clear how refined the
representation of the mundane could be even in woodblock form.
The Passionate Art
of Kitagawa Utamaro, published by the British Museum Press, London,
1995, Text volume, p. 149.
We have added a more
extensive entry on kaya to our new blog site. It is dated May 15,
2009. If you would like to read more than please visit it at
Pinwheel (of windmill): One
type of clematis is given this name because of its resemblance to pinwheels.
Also, one source says that there is a slang term, kazaguruma,
referring to a policeman who only circles high crime areas.
Ōkuma Kotomichi (大隈言道 or
おおくまことみち: 1798-1866) wrote poems about children. At least one included a
the mother's back
the pinwheel spins
even in the baby's
Quoted from: Early Modern
Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900, edited by Haruo Shirane,
translated by Peter Flueckiger, pp. 958-9.
"In Japan, the wind-mill is a
common toy, and is made of paper vanes fastened on slips of bamboo, which
are arranged like the spokes of a wheel. The vanes are usually alternately
red and white, or other colors. It is commonly called kazaguruma
(wind-mill), and sometimes hanaguruma (flower-mill), the latter name
being applied to a special kind." (Quoted from: Korean Games with Notes
On the Corresponding Games of China and Japan by Stewart Culin, p. 22)
A formal type of
Heian court clothing for women. The character 汗 or ase means sweat or
The image to the
left was sent to us by E. our wonderful contributor. It is a detail from a
1789 book illustration by Shunsho portraying a Heian poetess in kazami
research on Japanese fans I ran across a reference to the kazashi
which I thought was too good to pass up. U. A. Casal in his
"Lore of the Japanese Fan" (Monumenta Nipponica, vol.
16, no. 1/2, 1960, p. 94) wrote: We may note that long into historical
timer; the nobles of Japan used a so-called kazashi", a fan-shaped object
with a long handle, to
have their faces screened from the plebeian eyes when they had to pass
through a street, and that such ornamental kazashi are still carried in
certain religious processions. Symbolically the deity is similarly protected
from the profane eyes of mortals
while on his way from one shrine to the other."
For more information
in general on fans see our entries on
Hair ( or hair line)
carving: Some sources state that it takes the most experienced carvers to
create the fine hairs seen in some prints. It is far too difficult for
beginners. Only a master can do this. The lines had to be cut in a precise,
but not boring way.
This term is also applied to
metal work carving techniques. In this case skill and uniformity count a
great deal, but some experts say kebori is not the most important or
difficult form of engraving.
Note: I have no idea why,
but kebori, written with the same characters, can mean 'fishing lure or
on Japanese literature and culture.
"A popular and prolific
painter, book illustrator, and designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints; a
playwright, novelist, biographer, and amateur historian. Real name Ikeda
Yoshinobu. Eisen was born in... Edo... the son of Ikeda Yoshiharu, a poet,
calligrapher, and devotee of the tea ceremony. His earliest works are
thought to be two illustrated novelettes published in 1808 and 1809 signed
Keisai Shōsen; he adopted the name Eisen in 1816. He wrote plays as Chiyoda
Saiichi, fiction as Ippitsuan Kakō, biography as Mumeiō, and historical
essays as Kaedegawa Shiin. He designed erotica... as Insai and Insai Hakusai..."
As a child he studied painting with Kanō Hakkeisai, ukiyo-e with Kikukawa
Eiji and studied Chinese painting and the work of Hokusai. ¶ In 1833
he wrote his autobiography. "Close to that date he became proprietor of the
Wakatakeya, a brothel in the Nezu district of Edo. The brothel burned and
Eisen was accused of misappropriating another man's seal and absconding."
This may explain a disruption in his print work. He stopped designing
woodblocks in the late 1830s and devoted the rest of his life to literature.
Source and quotes from:
of Japan, entry by
Roger Keyes, vol. 4, pp. 189-90.
"A new style emerges in
Kunisada's beauty prints following his return to Edo. The 1823 triptych
Morning After Snow is an example. The rounded, elegant quality that
distinguished his earlier prints has given way to an angular, sharp-edged
line, Suzuki Jūzō suggests that Keisai Eisen... a student of Eizan, was the
artist who initiated this change."
Quoted from: Kunisada's
World, by Sebastian Izzard, Japan Society, Inc., 1993, p. 26.
The first use of Prussian blue
on oban prints of women may have been on those of Eisen in ca. 1830. See our aizuri-e
entry on our first
Ibid, p. 29.
"Eisen... began to design his typical standing courtesans in a bout 1821 and
the curves of Eizan gave way to compositions made up of short straight lines
showing the increasingly stooping, 'hunchbacked' women, who all seem to be
in the grip of intense emotion. In 1823 for three or four years he started
to produce some striking half-length portraits of geisha... In 1829
he started quite a vogue by designing prints coloured almost entirely in
different shades of berorin, a new, blue pigment. These are known as aizuri-e. His pupil Teisei Sencho continued to produce prints of
courtesans in the same style and Eisen became increasingly involved in
landscape prints... and kacho-ga [i.e., bird and flower pictures]..."
Quote from: The Art of
Japanese Prints, by Richard Illing, published by Gallery Books, 1983, p.
"Eisen... is less well known as
a designer of kacho-ga but his working this field shows a sensitive
artistic talent and can well stand comparison with his more famous
Ibid., p. 106.
Eisen was one of the artist who illustrated the first four of eighteen
volumes of the Iroha Bunko (いろは文庫) by Tamenaga Shunsui
(1790-1843: 為永春水 or ためなが.しゅんすい), originally published in 1842. ¶ He
also worked with Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848: 滝沢馬琴 or たきざわばきん) in 1823,
27 and 41 on his 'Biographies of the Eight Dog Heroes' or Nansō Satomi
Hakkenden (南総里見八犬伝 or なんそうさとみはっけんでん) and on numerous
other occasions. . ¶ Ryūtei Tanehiko (1783-1842: 柳亭種彦 or りゅうていたねひこ)
was another one of the famous Japanese writers he worked with. And
there were many more.
An ancient ball game
akin to hacky-sack in which a small group of noblemen attempt to keep a ball
in the air for the longest time. It originated in China and was first
mentioned in ca. 720 in the Nihon Shoki. The field was a small area
bounded by trees and the ball was covered in deerskin. Soccer players
practice similar moves among themselves as warm up exercises.
Lea Baten in her
Playthings and Pastimes in Japanese Prints (p. 138) notes that there
were two versions of this 'game'. In the other one "...a leather ball,
stuffed with horsehair and shaped like two flattened ball halves sewn
together, was kicked between goalposts of flowering trees."
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Chikanobu. It was sent to us by our
generous contributor Eikei (英渓). Thanks Eikei!
Point of a sword
and a term describing the shape of a squid.
羂索 & 利剣
けんさく & りけん
As I have noted
before there seems to be a word for just about everything. And so it is with
the two items held by Fudō
Myōō, one of the five wise kings of Buddhism. He carries a sword
referred to as riken with which he will destroys all of the enemies
of Buddhist doctrine and the special cord called kensaku with which
he lassoes souls worthy of salvation.
The image to the
left is a doctored detail from a print by Toyokuni III.
"The noose (pāśa) is the attribute of other Buddhist divinities, most
notably the wrathful Acalanatha (Jap. Fudō Myō-ō, 'the Dhāraṇī - King,
Immovable'), who embodies the Wisdom that cuts away the passions and the
erroneous forms of knowledge that impede the attainment of Enlightenment. He
holds the sword of Wisdom in the right hand, with which he severs these
hindrances, and in his left he holds the 'binding rope' (Jap. baka
no nawa) with which he hobbles the demons of obstruction and
draws in beings toward liberation." Quoted from: The Symbolism of the
Stupa by Adrian Snodgrass, p. 124.
The kentō is
the registration marks carved on the printing block which allows the accurate
alignment of numerous colors
using many blocks for a single image. It is made up of two parts: The "L"
shaped section called a kagi (鍵 or かぎ); and the "straight-line guide
or trait carved on the block at a short distance from..." the kagi
called the hikitsuke (溝? or ひきつけ).
The image to the
left was provided by David Bull the originator of the Baren Forum. Clearly
it does not represent the
carved block itself, but rather comes from the printing of the hanshita (see our entry on that term) from that block. A printed image done in
this manner obviously reverses the lines of the block. That is, the kagi
on the carved block is placed in the lower right hand corner.
After posting the
original entry the other day with the print of the little boy in the boat by
David Bull our generous contributor E. sent us a fanciful example by
Kuniyoshi which distinctly shows the kagi in the lower right.
Unfortunately the hikitsuke does not appear on this copy.
Sumptuary laws: [Think
'sumptuous'] - Laws meant to maintain traditional distinction between
classes by regulating the consumption of articles or controlling luxuriant
life styles. "They appear to increase in frequency and in minuteness from
about the middle of the seventeenth century through the next two centuries
of the regime."
Source and quote: 'Sumptuary
Regulation and Status in Early Tokugawa Japan’ by Donald H. Shively, Harvard
Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 25, (1964 - 1965), p. 124.
It was galling to the upper
classes, i.e., samurai and daimyo, to see commoners wearing expensive
garments. "The government therefore prescribed that consumption should be
correlated precisely with status." (p. 126) There had been an attempt to
prohibit embroidery from women's clothes, among other things, but this
effort had failed. So, the government decided that only elaborate embroidery
should be banned. More warnings were posted. Word was spread that a
woman had been jailed for this offense. (p. 127) [One can't help but think
of modern attempts being made in Christian and Islamic nations to impose
dress codes on their populations.] An account from 1681 states that the
shogun noticed that the women from a merchants household were
'over-dressed'. For this effrontery the man's lands and property were
confiscated and he was banished. (128)
Shively relates the story of
the wives of two wealthy merchants trying to outdo each other. One, a
visitor to Kyōto, dazzled the locals with her stunning kimono. Her
competitor, a resident of that city, then showed up with a robe embroidered
with a pattern of nandina or nanten (南天 or なんてん) leaves. (Also known as
heavenly or sacred bamboo.) The visitor would have won this competition
until someone noticed that the berries of the nandina were made with real
coral. (Ibid.) Note: This story is about the same merchant and his wife who
were later banished for thier extravagance.
As early as 1648 Edo townspeople were told that their servants were not to
wear silk, at least, not refined silk. In Osaka servants were forbidden from
wearing obis made of silk or velvet and the same was true for their
loincloths or shita-obi (下帯 or したおび). "As a garment in which
forbidden materials could be worn with the least danger of detection, fancy
loincloths were in favor among both men and women throughout the Tokugawa
period. In the same year there was another proclamation on this subject:
'The loincloths of sumō wrestlers should not be made of silk. Even
when they were invited to the mansions (of samurai) they should wear cotton
In 1719 new edicts were handed
down which banned townspeople from wearing wool capes, household articles
with gold lacquer decoarations, 3 story structures, gold or silver leaf in
the architectural details, having fancy gear for their horses, elaborate
weddings or funerals (p. 130), wearing long swords or large short swords
and... (on and on and on.) Actually the list does not go on and on, but it
probably felt that way to the commoner residents of Edo. Besides there were
other restrictions: No riding in palanquins; no elaborate altar's to the
dead with artificial velvet flowers or gilding of any kind using silver or
At least townsmen could carry
ordinary short swords or wakizashi (脇差 or わきざし), "but long swords
were reserved for samurai." Footnote 15, p. 160.
No more than 2 soups or 5
dishes were to be served during festive occasions. (p. 130) At the time of
low rice harvests in 1701 the drinking of sake was not even
permitted. (Footnote 18, p. 160)
At one point dyers were told not to apply extra wax to heighten a sheen.
Buddhist and Shintō priests were urged to dress simply and to tone down
ceremonies and processions including the use of elaborate palanquins and
umbrellas. (p. 130)
The popular late 17th century author Ihara Saikaku (1642-93: 井原西鶴 or
いはらさいかく) noted that many of the sumptuary laws were often ignored. "Even the
loincloth for bathing is a double layer of crimson silk dyed in safflower,
while the tabi are made of white satin. These are things that in
former times even a daimyo's lady did not have." (p. 131)
In the pleasure quarters money trumped class. It was considered unseemly for
members of the samurai class to visit such places, but they did so anyway.
However, because of the stigma it was important that they not draw attention
to themselves and so they dressed down. As a result, imagine their growing
resentment the samurai had toward the conspicuous consumption so lavishly
exhibited - even flaunted - by wealthy merchants. ¶
Shively Considering the role
prostitutes played in society it only makes sense that they would want to
present themselves as sumptuously as possible. However, in 1617 prostitutes
were proscribed from the use of gold and silver appliqué on their clothing.
Osaka proprietors were told "You should not dress prostitutes in kimono with
embroidery or appliqué of gold or silver leaf, dapple tie-dyeing, or [woven
material with] gold thread in it." Actors were also subject to
clothing restrictions: no embroidery, red or purple linings or even purple
caps. Shively notes that the wearing of purple was an Imperial Court
prerogative. (p. 132) In 1636 the manager of a puppet troupe was jailed for
displaying a purple curtain. (p. 133)
Shively hypothesizes that
enforcement of sumptuary laws through confiscation may have been based more
in greed or relief of a daimyo's debt than in an effort to punish an
offender. He also notes that many merchants who were listed as agents of a
daimyo, but who lived lavishly went untouched by the authorities. He adds:
"The frequency with which laws were reissued suggests that the government
relied more on admonition, exhortation, and threat than on actual
penalties." (p. 134) Their lack of effectiveness was mocked by the term
mikka hatto (三日法度 or みっかはっと) or 'three-day laws'.
In 1668 the government banned the importation of gold thread, coral, exotic
woods, Dutch goods and "...curiosities in general." Later red blankets and
woolen materials were added. Food items could not be sold too early or too
late: Fresh tree mushrooms in the first month, fern shoots in the third,
bamboo shoots in the fourth, eggplants in the fifth, etc. As a host
don't even think of serving wild geese or ducks, cranes, swans or water
chestnuts. And believe it or not these laws in general became even more
detailed in the early 18th century: cakes and books, combs and bodkins;
tobacco pouches, purses, incense burners, sake stands. Dolls couldn't exceed
9" and Buddhas were to be kept below 3'. By the middle of the 19th century
the rules had reached the absurd as if they were already absurd enough. (p.
Shively points out the it
wasn't just the Japanese who imposed such rules and regulations. The French,
the English, the Swiss and others had their own and very similar laws. And
don't even get me started on the Puritans in Massachusetts. When I was
younger Missouri still enforced many of its 'Blue laws'. Almost nothing
could be sold on Sunday except for groceries so everyone drove across the
state line to Kansas to buy most of what they wanted. Kansas merchants
prospered and Missouri merchants suffered piously.
Even the ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese tried to impose their wills. In
fact, the earliest Japanese attempts to control the populace through a dress
code were modeled on those of T'ang dynasty China. (p. 136)
"Living in a castle town, the chonin [townsman] was constantly reminded of
his mean station. Not only the location and size of his residence were
restricted, but in theory his furnishings, food, and clothing were all
expected to be scaled accordingly. The whole manner of living was determined
by status - such motor habits as the manner of walking, sitting, bowing,
even to the way of talking and the vocabulary and verb forms." (p. 143)
Note that some townspeople who
were in the direct service of the shogun or a daimyo were permitted to carry
two swords as the samurai did. (Ibid.)
The sumptuary laws were not applied to the townspeople exclusively. Every
group, from the lowest to the highest, had their restrictions. Often this
was an effort to maintain social distinctions, but it was also meant to curb
spending and encourage thrift. Even the daimyo and their wives were
subjected to these rules. Only so much was to be spent on clothing, gifts,
weddings, religious celebrations, etc. Even the size of a lord's retinue was
governed by his rank - especially when traveling in processions to and from
their home territories or on pilgrimages. "All of these instructions seem to
have been rather ineffective." (p. 148) Everyone was ranked and within each
rank their were further distinctions between the highest and the lowest.
These too had their rules.
Marriages between different daimyo families were held by law in Edo in the
17th century. (p. 149)
Prior to the peaceful times of the Tokugawa era daimyos earned glory on the
battlefield. However, as residents of Edo their only glory came from
opulence and this pitted one against the other financially. (p. 150) The
government was not as concerned with this kind of high level competition
because it helped drain the purses of the daimyo and thus kept them weak.
Shively quotes a government statement from 1710: "In clothing and houses,
provisions for banquets, and articles of gifts, some are extravagant and
others are too frugal. Both of these are at variance with propriety. The
superior and inferior should observe their proper station..." (p. 152)
*** "We are inclined to consider sumptuary laws (ken'yakurei) as
being entirely negative, a device for repressing the lower orders. Although
most of the Tokugawa sumptuary regulations carried the message of not
exceeding one's level, it was of equal importance to live up to one's
level." (p. 153)
Farmers could not wear silk even if they harvested it. They couldn't wear
striped material or pattern dyed cloth. "Purple, crimson, and plum colored
dyes were forbidden, but pale yellow, grey, dark blue and persimmon could be
worn." If a farmer returned from living in a city he had to redye any
inappropriate colors or patterns. "Ordinary farmers were not to wear cotton
rain capes or use umbrellas." Etc! Farmers were encouraged to eat grains and
not consume the rice they grew. They were not to drink sake or brew it. (p.
154) "Ordinary farmers were not to have floor mats (tatami),
paper-covered sliding doors, or verandas." Merchants were generally barred
from entering agricultural villages and the list of items which could not be
sold to farmers was great. This included a ban on books because keeping a
farmer uneducated kept him closer to the land. Farmers were even encouraged
to divorce lazy wives. (p. 155)
The wallpaper on this page is
from a photo
of flowers my friend Hiroko
Thanksgiving 2010 along with
Hiroko has been a good friend
I moved to Port Townsend. She
bright, talented and fun to
What more could one want in