A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
Kesa thru Kodansha
The photo of the geese on the lawn
at the Bloedel Reserve will be
as a marker from January 1 to
April 30, 2017.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Keshō, Keyaki, Roger Keyes, Kichō, Kihada,
Kinchaku, Kine, Kingyo,
Kinuta, Kiri, Kiri seal, Kiseru, Kisha, Kitsune,
Kitsune ken, Kiwame, Koban,
the Kodansha Encyclopedia
袈裟, 化粧, 欅, 几帳, 黄蘗 or 黄檗?, 鬼女, 亀甲,
菊水紋, 桔梗, 菊川英山,
極込, 巾着, 杵, 金魚, 金箔,
桐, 桐紋. 煙管, 騎射,
狐, 狐火, 狐拳, 極め,
けさ, けしょう, けやき,
きはだ, きじょ, きっこう, きく,
きくがわ.えいざん, きめだし, きめこみ, きんちゃく,
きらずり, きり, きりもん, きせる, きしゃ きつね, きつねび,
きわめ, こちょうそう, こばん
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
A Buddhist priest's
or monk's robe. Traditionally made
from a patchwork of scraps of inexpensive cloth modeled on a golden kesa made for Shakyamuni
(just Shaka in Japanese 釈迦 or しゃか), the historical
Buddha (ca. 563-483 BCE), by his mother. At the time of his death one of his disciples took
the kesa to a mountain retreat to await the coming of Maitreya or the Buddha
of the Future. [The Maitreya is called Miroku in Japanese (弥勒 or みろく).]
These robes were
made of donated pieces of cloth and frequently handed down from priest to
priest as symbols of religious power and lineage. In time the robes became
finer because better and better scraps were being donated.
Somewhat like a
toga the kesa was worn "...diagonally covering the right shoulder and
passing under the left armpit."
Quote from: Dictionary of Japanese Culture by Setsuko Kojima and Gene A. Crane, p.
These robes were
often worn by komusō. (See that entry.) To the left is a detail
from a Hiroshige print of two mendicant monks wearing kesa."
The kesa is sometimes
described as a shawl or scarf. In The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to
Its History and Meaning Denise Leidy says: "The making of shawls is
still considered a religious act. Such garments serve as a reminder of the
teachings of Buddha, and some, which can pass from a master to a disciple,
contain relics and presumably the wisdom and understanding of a deceased
master. Other shawls were made from clothing, including theatrical costumes,
donated to monasteries upon the death of a devotee in the hopes that the
prayers associated with the making of clothing into a religious garment
would also protect the soul of the deceased. ¶ A standard part of the
monastic costume, shawls are commonly subdivided into horizontal and
vertical registers as an illusion to the rags and other pieces of discarded
clothing used by the Buddha and other early practitioners. Shawls with five
such bands are used daily, while more elaborate pieces, which can be divided
into up to twenty-five bands, are used by high-ranking monks during formal
"The kesa (kaśāya
in Sanskrit)... is the oldest and most important Buddhist garment, and the
prototype for other Buddhist textiles." (Quoted from: Flowers, Dragons
and Pine Trees: Asian Textiles in the Collection of the Spencer Museum of
Art by Mary Dusenberry, p. 256) Later the author notes "The monk Dōgen
(1200-1253), a brilliant scholar and founder of the Sōtō sect of Zen
Buddhism in Japan, wrote a treatise on the kesa in which he
emphasized its crucial role in the practice of Buddhism. In his Kesa
kudoku (The Merit of the kaśāya), Dōgen wrote that the garment
'is the very essence of those who have realized enlightenment.' Imbued with
the spiritual power of a great master, the kaśāya was an important
emblem of the transmission of authority from master to chosen disciple." The
kesa gives both legitimacy and power to the possessor whether it was an
individual or a temple. Dusenberry quotes a passage from "...the rules of
conduct for the monastic community...": "My disciple! Unfold a kaśāya
as if it were a stūpa (funerary or relic mound), For it gives good
fortune, extinguishes crimes and saves both human and celestial beings....
If a dragon wears even a single thread of one, He will be saved from being
devoured by a garuda. If one wears a kaśāya in crossing the sea,
There is no reason to fear dragon-fish or demons." (Ibid.) ¶ Dusenberry
traces its origin back more than 2,000 years to ancient India where it was
worn much like a sari is worn today. The rules of conduct "...detailed
instructions for constructing, handling, and even washing a kaśāya.
According to this ancient document, as explicated by Dōgen [道元 or
どうげん], the ideal kaśāya was known as a pāmasūla (funzō-e
in Japanese), which means, literally, 'excreta-sweeping robe.' It was to be
constructed of 'discarded cloth' of ten types: (1) cloth munched by oxen,
(2) cloth gnawed by mice, (3) cloth burned by fire, (4) cloth soiled by
menstrual blood, (5) cloth soiled by childbirth, (6) cloth discarded at
shrines, (7) cloth discarded in a cemetery, (8) cloth presented as an
offering, (9) cloth discarded by government officials, and (10) cloth used
to cover the dead. ¶ Monks were instructed to gather these scraps of soiled
cloth with their left hands (the hand reserved in traditional Indian society
for impure tasks), tear off any irrevocably stained portions, wash the rest,
and construct a kaśāya from these segments." Buddhist
scriptures stress that these bits of cloth are the purest that can be used.
¶ "Like the pure white lotus blossoms that rises from the muck of a muddy
pond, the impure fragments of cloth are transformed through the process of
construction into a sacred garment. This is a powerful metaphor for the
transformation and resolution of apparent opposites associated with the
experience of enlightenment." (Ibid., pp. 256-7)
Side notes: Funzō-e is
糞掃衣 or ふんぞうえ - and if you would like to read more about the lotus please go
to our web blog post at
Mary Dusenberry notes that
"Despite these regulations, extant kesa do not include examples of
cloth picked up from the streets or soiled by childbirth or menstruatioin.
In fact, most extant kesa are made of luxurious fabrics. The list [in
the rules of conduct] "...can be interpreted to leave room for these
luxurious kesa." Later Dusenberry tells us that "Even the most
luxurious kesa, however, bear traces of the idea of a patched cloth made
from discarded fragments." Even gold brocade is reminiscent of poverty in
that "...poverty and frugality are necessary companions in the search for
ultimate truth." (Ibid., p. 257)
"The Buddha Śakyamuni (the
historical Buddha, ca. 560 - ca. 480 BCE)... instructed his disciple Ānanda
to construct a rectangular garment based on the divisions of rice fields and
levees, and to teach this construction to the other monks." The Buddha even
specified the type of stitch, the backstitch. He also told his
followers that they should only own three robes: The first shoule be of
small and of five column and worn like a skirt when doing menial tasks; The
second, medium-sized of seven columns was worn over the first for religious
ceremonies; The third was of nine columns - eventually expanded to
twenty-five - and came to be worn over the other two in colder climes or
even worn over traditional garb where it "...took on a primarily
symbolic function." In time the increase in the number of columns in China
and Japan came to be associated with the rank of the owner. (Ibid.)
Dusenberry continued: "Over
time, as Japanese Buddhit temples became ever more firmly entrenched in the
fabric of society, the patched kesa beame, oddly, a symbol of the
prestige, power, and wealth of the clergy." More and more luxurious Chinese
fabrics were "...woven in complex new techniques, and from specially
commissioned brocades and damasks with Buddhist motifs (such as the lotus)
woven into rich surfaces." In time four small patches were often added in
the corners not only to reinforce the garment, but also to represent the
Shitennō (四天王 or してんのう), the Four Celestial Monarchs. These four corner
patches may have appeared as early as the 8th century or they may have been
added later for strength. However, by the 14th century they do start
showing up and by the 17th century they had probably become part of the
canon. (Ibid., p. 258)
The two kesa above
are shown courtesy of Sri at
http://srithreads.com/index.php. Click on
the Japan link near the top of that page and then click on 'Kesa and
Buddhist textiles' to see more examples. The rest of the site is great too
and well worth exploring.
Cosmetics or makeup: Why and
when women - and men - first wore makeup in Japan can only be speculation.
Surely people painted their faces long before the development of cosmetics.
Perhaps the firs occurrence was accidental and then ritualistic. Perhaps it
was meant to emphasize ferocity or some kind of connection with the spirits
both living and/or dead. What we do know is that by the Heian period members
of the court aristocracy were codifying its use and it had become a symbol
of class status.
The above print of the
"Eyebrow Penciling" from January 1928
has been contributed to this
site by my dear friend M.
The images to the left are
both details of a print by Kotondo (ca. 1930) entitled "Rouge".
In a chapter entitled
"Adopting the Caucasian 'Look': Reorganizing the Minority Face" by Masako
Isa and Erik Mark Kramer the authors give a brief synopsis of the history of
use of cosmetics in pre-Meiji Japan. "The manufacture and use of face
powder, rouge, eyebrow paint, and other cosmetics were imported from the
sixth century from Korea and China. In early times cosmetics were used only
by special participants in religious ceremonies and festivals. Cosmetics
were not worn for mundane adornment. The practice gradually spread among the
aristocracy as a means of enhancing one's beauty. In the Heian period
(794-1185) men as well as women used cosmetics."
Source: The Emerging
Monoculture: Assimilation and the "Model Minority", by Eric Mark Kramer,
Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p. 52.
In time new products arrived
on Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese ships. (Ibid.) "Among the various compounds
used, oshiroi [白粉 or おしろい], a white powder, and beni (rouge)
[紅 or べに] contributed in constructing a woman's beauty. White powder was
used to whiten the face and other parts of the body. The oldest form of face
powder was made from white soil and rice flour. In the seventh
century, the manufacture of keifun (mercury chloride)
[けいふん] and empaku
(white lead) [鉛白 or えんぱく] was imported from China. Their use was confined to
the upper classes until the seventeenth century, when it became popular
among the general public." The empaku "...was used extensively during
the Edo period... It was mixed with water and applied with a brush. In the
1870s, the toxic quality of lead was recognized, and soon after a lead-free
facial powder began to be domestically produced." (Ibid.)
In A Treatise on
Chemistry by Roscoe, Cain and Schorlemmer (published by MacMillan, 1913,
p. 685) the production of keifun is described: "Calomel has long been
known and manufactured in China and Japan under the name keifun
(light powder). This product occurs as a light bulky powder, consisting of
very thin minute scales, lustrous, transparent, and white or faintly cream
coloured. It is quite free from corrosive sublimate and is manufactured by
heating balls of porous earth and salt, soaked in bittern (the mother-liquor
of partially evaporated sea-water), along with mercury in iron pots lined
with earth. The forms hydrochloric acid from the magnesium chloride in the
bittern, the mercury sublimes into the clay covers of the pots, air enters
by diffusion and the following reaction occurs: 4Hg + 4HCl + O2 = 2Hg2Cl + 2H2O.
The cover thus becomes filled with a network of micaceous particles of
There is an article on
"Gender and Hierarchical Differences in Lead-Contaminated Japanese Bone from
the Edo Period" from the Japan Society for Occupational Health (Journal of
Occupational Health, vol. 40, no. 1, 1998). In this study it was found
that members of the samurai class had far higher lead content in their
systems than did that of farmers and fishermen. Women in both strata had
higher lead deposits in their bones than did their male counterparts. In the
abstract to this article it states: "We assume that facial cosmetics (white
lead) comprised one of the main routes of lead exposure among the samurai
class, because cosmetics were a luxury in that period." While male
samurai may not have used white lead makeup they were exposed to it through
their contact with samurai females and this accounts for the lead content
found in their bones. In fact it would seem that the wealthier the samurai
the higher the lead content.
One fascinating aside from
this article that has nothing to do with Japanese cosmetic is the fact that:
"The level of biological lead in the bones of a Peruvian buried 1,600 years
ago was about one thousandth of the present-day American and British
values." That was too interesting not to pass on to you here.
During the Heian period the
practice of okimayu (置眉 or
began. This involved the shaving off the eyebrows and replacing them with
fake ones painted on higher up on the forehead. At times both men and women
of higher rank practiced this. Why? I haven't the slightest. It lasted, in
one form or another until well into the Edo period.
Japanese elm, Zelkova
serrata: Hiroshi Yoshida in his Japanese Woodblock Printing (1939, p.
17) noted: "In olden times other kinds of wood, such as keyaki (Zelkowa
serrata, Mak.), were inlaid in the block in order to give the benefit of the
grain in special selected parts of the print." Silvio Bedini in The Trail of Time: Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia : Shih-chien Ti
Tsu-chi (Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 155) states: "The wood is
used in Japan also for boatbuilding and the construction of temples. Because
of its high oil content, the wood resists moisture and is greatly favored
for cabinetmaking and inlay work." In World Woods in Color by William
A. Lincoln (p. 130) notes that keyaki is resistant to insects and fungal
attack. "It is durable." He adds: "In China and Japan the wood is used for
building and maintenance of temples and is a protected tree reserved for
The photo to the left above is shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
The one below it shows an example of the wood grain.
The value of keyaki is
brought home by an 1668 edict promulgated by the Edo government on the
heels of a major fire. It was to apply to a privileged set of samurai, the hatamoto. "Prohibition of the use of highly favored building
materials such as sugi and keyaki had a similar effect.
Normally doors in important chambers were made of the beautifully grained
sugi. Keyaki was hard, strongly grained timber prized for construction in
temples, shrines, castles, and residences, and preferred for the mon
which graced their entrances." (p. 271) The use of these materials, by
implication, would also be proscribed to ordinary townsmen. (p. 272)
However, "The hatamoto edict was reissued in 1699 omitting the prohibition
of the use of keyaki
in the construction of mon, a virtual admission of ineffectiveness."
"Edo Architecture and Tokugawa
Law", by William H. Coaldrake, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 36, No.
3. (Autumn, 1981)
Expert on Japanese
prints, author of many books and articles.
Keyes was married to Keiko
Mizushima, who died at the age of 50 in Woodacre, California in 1989. She
was exceedingly accomplished and could easily be described as a Renaissance
Keyes was author or
contributor to such important volumes as 1) Ehon: The Artist and the Book
in Japan, 2) The Male Journey in Japanese Prints, 3) The
Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, 4) The bizarre imagery of
Yoshitoshi: The Herbert R. Cole Collection, 5) Japanese Woodblock
Prints: A Catalogue of the Mary A. Ainsworth Collection, 6) Surimono:
Privately Published Japanese Prints in the Spencer Museum of Art, nd 7)
The Art of Surimono: Privately Published Japanese Woodblock Prints and
Books in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.
"Portable frame with thick
decorated hangings behind which women normally sat when receiving callers."
Definition, i.e., quote
from: The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan,
by Ivan Morris, Kodansha International, 1994, p. 318.
"One piece of furniture
which plays an important part in the literature of the time was the kichō,
a six-foot portable frame supporting opaque hangings, which Waley translates
as 'screen of state'. The hangings were attractively decorated, the material
and the patterns being changed with the seasons. The bottom part was left
unsewn, so that objects could be handed through the opening. The main
purpose of the screen of state was to protect the ladies of the house
from prying eyes. When receiving a gentleman caller, a woman normally
ensconced herself behind these curtains where, at the best, she could be
seen only in dim outline."
Ibid., p. 32.
Note: The graphic is my
creation as are the decorative touches which have nothing to do with
genuine, historical authenticity. While the kichō rarely shows up in
ukiyo prints, however when it does appear infrequently it is in the works of
artists who are trying to capture something of the Heian period. Eishi more
than others seems to have used this prop in both his book and full, oban
sized prints. At other times the kichō is an unobtrusive addition to
a painting of a beautiful woman.
黄蘗 (or 黄檗?)
A rich, creamy
yellow colorant obtained from the inner bark of the Phellodendron amurense
or Amur corktree. (Phellos is Greek for cork and dendron means
tree.) A member of the Rutaceae or citrus family.
The image of the
bark to the left is used courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
"The thick trunk of Amur
Corktree, while having a relatively smooth bark in youth, develops a deeply
furrowed, ridged, and cork-textured bark with maturity, hence the common
Quoted from an Ohio State University
web site on plants.
At a Virginia Tech web site there is a
photograph of a piece of the bark showing the inner layers being held in the
palm of a hand. The yellow color is startlingly strong in contrast to the
pink of the person's flesh. Another site describes the yellow as 'neon'. It
is clear from this image why the Japanese would have chosen it as a yellow
dye. Now I wonder what process they had to put it through to extract the
color and make it usable. Was it labor intensive or easy? The brilliance of
the yellow would make it seem easy, but I don't know.
All of the web sites I have visited
have noted that this tree is virtually pest free.
The cell color shown here is kihada yellow.
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.
Demoness, she-devil, witch,
ogre - Lafcadio Hearn wrote: "Kijo,
another Buddhist word signifying a kind of female goblin, appears in the
common name of an orchid — Kijoran (goblin-orchid)."
See also our entry on
The Kuniyoshi image to the
left shows Taira no Koremochi battling with a kijo. It is from the
Lyon Collection. Click on it to see more information.
motif used as a crest or mon. This is a basic hexagon shape which is often
combined with other motifs generally encapsulated within each segment.
chrysanthemum is used as the crest of the Imperial Family of Japan, and the kiku is often called the national flower of the country. But the
chrysanthemum was formally adopted as the Imperial crest only since the
beginning of the Meiji era." However, the court had been using this flower
as a decorative motif since as early as the 12th century.
There is a tale
that in ancient China one of the favorites of the emperor was exiled because
of an inadvertent transgression. Before he left the emperor told him to
recite a specific Buddhist chant over and over after he leaves. "Living in
the secluded mountain of Li-hsien, Tzu Tung faithfully repeated the passage
every day. One morning he wrote the sacred words on a chrysanthemum leaf as
he stood by a stream. The morning dew that collected on the lettered leaf
fell into the water, and then a sudden change took place. The water became a
sacred medicine to prolong life. Before the young man appeared a paradise of
singing birds and fragrant blossoms, and angels came to wait upon him. With joy he drank
the water of the stream, and lived for 800 years. All people living along
the lower flow of he stream prospered and lived almost indefinitely." (Source and quote
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, pp. 353-4)
Merrily Baird in
of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design (p. 75) notes a noh version
of this theme, but here it is the petals that are painted with Buddhist
She also says that
there are at least 95 different variations on the chrysanthemum crest or
mon. To the left are just two of them.
Personal note: All
of the coloring applied to any crests or mons is my choice. If I have
crossed any cultural taboo lines then I apologize. But if I have done so it
is totally out of ignorance and not even with a sliver of maliciousness.
Alfred Koehn in an article about Chinese flower symbolism quoted an old
saying: ""Their autumn leaves were cut from emeralds, their cool flowers
carved in golden jade." He added later: "The Chrysanthemum is the flower of
Autumn, a symbol of Joviality, and it is associated with a life of Ease and
"An example of a mon story
focused on human sources of prestige is that of Kusunoki Masashige. His
brilliant defense of strongholds loyal to Emperor Go-Daigo was instrumental
in restoring the emperor briefly to power in the Kenmu Restoration
(1333-1336). Go-Daigo recognized Masashige by granting him a mon based on
the normally-restricted imperial chrysanthemum, showing it supported by
water. Go-Daigo explained that Masashige, in the same way, had kept him
afloat by his support.
Unfortunately for them, one of Go-Daigo's key generals, Ashikaga Takauji,
betrayed the emperor to seize rule over Japan for himself. Masashige knew
that his forces in the capital were hopelessly outmatched and suggested that
Go-Daigo retreat and regroup; however, Go-Daigo refused. Masashige then went
into battle, knowing he was doomed, and willingly died for his emperor.
Thus, he is remembered as a paragon of samurai loyalty." Quoted from:
O-umajirushi: A 17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry ,p. xxviii.
The image to the left is a
detail from a photograph posted at Flickr by Katie.
motif: John W. Dower notes that this "...is a five-petal, indigo flower
which blooms in August and is known as one of the 'seven plants of autumn.'
" Originally a wild flower that was eventually domesticated and grown in
gardens. It was first worn as a warrior crest or mon in the 13th century
because of its beauty. There are many diverse variations on this motif.
Elements of Japanese Design, by John W. Dower, p. 48.
can also be found under the term rindō (竜胆 or りんどう). Dower
noted that "...the bellflower is one of the Japanese design motifs most
adaptable to variation." These three examples don't even begin to show
the breadth of differences between the various bellflower motifs. Some of
them are hardly recognizable as such.
Family crest for the Akechi (明智 or あけち) clan. It is alway important to
remember that other clans used one of the variations on this crest for their
own personal use. For example, the Ōta (太田 or おおた) daimyōs used a kikyō
displayed within a narrow, circular band.)
The photographic images are
shown courtesy of Sue Shuehiro at
You should definitely visit that site.
Detail from a Toyokuni III
To see the full image click
on the detail shown above.
embossing) This is a bolder version of karazuri
which produces a deeper but softer embossed mark on larger areas. It was
frequently used in traditional prints to represent the bulging muscles of
sumo wrestlers or the soft flowers of the cherry blossom. The method is the
same for karazuri except that the thickish dampened paper is forced down
into the texture of the block by pressing with a ball of cloth, an eraser or
even the elbow rather than with a baren." (Quoted
from: Japanese Woodblock Printing, by Rebecca Salter, University of
Hawai'i Press, 2001, p. 110) In a book on the collection
of prints at the Victoria And Albert Museum it states that kimedashi
was produced through hammering as opposed to rubbing. A homonym for kimedashi
describes a sumo fighting technique.
Synonymous with kimedashi,
the entry shown above. There are at least three different types of blind
printing or embossing: nunomezuri or fabric printing; karazuri; and
kimekomi. In Cecilia Segawa Seigle's
Yoshiwara: The Glittering
World of the Japanese Courtesan (University of Hawaii Press, 1993, p.
147) notes a distinction between kimekomi and karazuri. She states that
Harunobu used the former to give form to a whole figure while the latter was
used "...for special effects for rich fabrics..." ¶ At a Brooklyn Museum web
site they note that kimekomi gives a sense of volume to the area being
embossed. They state that it is normally done with the key block - but not
always - and pressure can be applied by the use of an elbow.
A Smithsonian publication from
1889 says that a kinchaku is "a pouch for child, suspended in the
Above is a detail from a print
by Utamaro. The one
to the left is from a print
by Kuniyoshi. Notice the
kinchaku in each.
Peter Constantine (and others) says that
kinchaku can also be slang for a strong vagina.
"There were two major
turning points in the life of a child born (or adopted) into the buke
[or military class]. The first was the introductory ceremony in which he was
given his first sword, the mamori-gatana, 'a charm sword with a hilt
and scabbard covered with brocade, to which was attached a kinchaku
(purse or wallet)... worn by boys under 5 years of age...' " Quoted from:
Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan, p. 254.
"The dress of the Japanese
having no pockets, if we except the recesses of the sleeves which cannot be
used for anything heavy, it has been the custom from a remote era to attach
to the girdle various objects of every-day service. Of these the oldest is
the kinchaku, or money- pouch. Originally it was tied to the girdle,
but subsequently another method of attachment was adopted, the string of the
pouch being fastened to a button which was passed under the girdle and
brought out above it so as to offer an effective obstacle to the withdrawal
of the pouch without its owner's knowledge." Quoted from: Japan:
Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, vol. 5, p. 161, edited by
We have decided to quote the
whole paragraph which includes a reference to kinchaku in
Things Japanese by Basil Chamberlain (p. 125). It was too good not to do so.
"Children's dress is more or less a repetition in miniature of that of their
elders. Long swaddling-clothes are not in use. Young children, have,
however, a bib. They wear a little cap on their heads, and at their side
hangs a charm-bag (kinchaku), made out of a bit of some
bright-coloured damask, containing a charm (mamori-fuda) which is
supposed to protect them from being run over, washed away, etc. There is
also generally fastened somewhere about their little person a metal ticket (maigo-fuda),
having on one side a picture of the sign of the zodiac proper to the year of
their birth, and on the other their name and address, as a precaution
against their getting lost. Japanese girls do not, like ours, remain in a
sort of chrysalis state till seventeen or eighteen years of age, and then
'come out' in gorgeous attire. The tiniest tots are the most brilliantly
dressed. Thenceforward there is a gradual decline the whole way down to old
age, which final stage is marked by the severest simplicity. Many old ladies
even cut their hair short. In any case, they never exhibit the slightest
coquciterie de vieillesse." Many other authors and experts, including
contemporary ones, note the 'charm' element of the kinchaku.
The pestle motif
which was used as a family crest or mon. The pestle is associated with the
pounding of mochi, a sticky rice cake made especially for New Year's. It has
an extremely powerful religious symbolism to the Japanese. Also it is
associated with the Japanese belief that the moon is the home of a large
rabbit (or hare) pounding mochi.
It is my
speculation, but it would seem that the pestle could easily be considered an
instrument of strength and hence a potent symbol of power.
I have an admission
to make: I made a mistake. The image to the left is a replacement for one I
put there earlier. The first one was actually a pair of crossed
tsuzumi, i.e., drums. If you go to that entry you will see the reason
for my confusion. Just compare this new one with that one.
Goldfish: I am a
sucker for etymologies. So, although the term 'goldfish' is obvious I though
I might be able to find a little more history about it by looking in the
Oxford English Dictionary. I was wrong. It didn't give any. However, other
sources did somewhat. But all of that is moot considering that the kanji
character 金 means gold and 魚 means fish. It is a literal borrowing. Not from
the Japanese, but from the Chinese.
"It is presumed to
be around the 11th century that goldfish breeding was conducted actively in
China, and goldfish seem to have been imported to Japan on several occasions
during the 16th and the 17th centuries." There was a 'goldfish boom' during
the Genroku period (1688-1704). Later during the Bunka and Bunsei eras
(1804-30) ukiyo artists used them as a creative motif."
Source and quote:
vol. 3, entry by Saitō Shōji, p. 43.
"The practice of
scooping for goldfish at temples and shrines on special days on special days
and summer evenings began during the Meiji era."
Quoted from: Japanese Tradition in Color & Form [Pastimes]. Graphic-sha
Publishing Company, Ltd., 1992, p. 121.
Kinpaku (also kimpaku)
Gold leaf - There were two
types of gold leaf available, entsuki (縁付 or えんつき) and tachikiri
(断切り or たちきり). The cost of the leaf is set by the kind of paper used to
sandwich it and not by the gold itself which is always the same.
Tachikiri paper is made more quickly and it contains sulphates and
carbon to prevent static. Up to a thousand sheets at a time are cut using
this paper while individual sheets of gold are cut when speaking of
The image to the left if
from a ja.wikipedia site of processed gold from the Kanazawa Gold Factory.
A wood or stone block for
beating cloth; a fulling-block.
This image was posted at
commons.wikimedia by Tkunawan.
There is a nō play by Zeami
"Kinuta is the shortened
word of kinu-ita (cloth-fulling block). Cloth is beaten or fulled
with a mallet on a board to give more gloss or to soften starch in it. The
sound has its own pathetic tone and it has been used in poems, songs or
paintings as a tasteful subject from old times. Tea people also pay
attention to kinuta when making an assortment of tea things in the
autumn. Just a kinuta-shaped flower container might work. There are
some theories as to the origin of the name kinuta seiji. A flower
container Yoshimasa owned was kinuta-shaped, or Rikyû's flower
container was in that shape, or Rikyû's flower container had a crack which
had a particular sound when struck. It was produced in China at either
Ryûsen-yô kiln or Ka-yô kiln." Quoted from; Chado: The Way
of Tea by Sanmi Sasaki, p. 534.
In the Autumn of 1684 Bashō
beat the fulling block,
make me hear it -
Yosa Buson wrote a poem
which relates to that of Bashō:
as I am melancholy
beat the fulling block,
stop now, it's enough
In a footnote to this poem
it says: "In classical poetry it [the kinuta] was associated with the
melancholy and cold of long nights in autumn, as poets wrote of hearing its
lonely sound on a sleepless night on a journey, and thinking of loved ones
Yoshitoshi used the theme of fulling in one of his 100 Views of the Moon.
We found this image at commons.wikimedia.
We are not linguists, but we have noticed that many sources state that 'kinuta'
means 'to pound silk.' In The Noh Theatre of Japan by Ernest
Fenellosa and Ezra Pound translates the name of one particular Nō play,
Kinuta, as 'The Silk-board'. In Himalayan Languages: Past and Present,
James S. Matisoff, an accomplished linguist, says: "Instead of using
kanatoko 'anvil' (lit. "metal-bed"), for the bone of the ear, Japanese
uses kinuta 'fulling-block' < kinu 'silk' + uta 'to
pound'), [sic] a wooden block on which silk cloth was spread and pounded in
order to straighten the fibers and increase their gloss." However, we are
unable to confirm this concept of pounding silk. Not only that, we find that
this idea is repeated numerous times at Internet web sites. Repetition does
not make something so. Silk as well as any other fabric could be pounded on
a kinuta There is no reason to romanticize this word.
to obtain a silver tone in the print."
Quote from: Japanese Print-Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern Techniques, by Toshi Yoshida & Rei Yuki, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1966, p. 168.
The example to the
left is from a Kuniyoshi print which we have already sold. It shows a subtle
use of such highlighting. Click on the number one in the column to the right
to see the full print.
Rebecca Salter in
her Japanese Woodblock Printing published by the University of Hawaii
in 2001 (p. 112) states that the prints of Sharaku best illustrate the use
of mica. "Mica was used because silver was too expensive and in many ways it
was better because it did not discolour as easily. The background was often
printed in a dark grey before being overprinted with nori or
nikawa and sprinkled. Excess mica is lightly shaken off, the print
allowed to dry completely and then brushed gently.
The same technique
can be used for gold, silver or bronze powder. If the mica or powders are
mixed with nori/nikawa and/or pigment and printed directly they lose
a lot of their sparkle.
In some prints the
mica printed area was crumpled (momigami) and then flattened out
again by re-sizing the back of the print and pressing flat with a baren. The
effect was rather like the crazing in an old Chinese ceramic glaze." [This
last technique mentioned is one that absolutely drives me crazy - in a good
sort of way.]
See our entry on mica
unbo on U thru Yakata-bune index/glossary page.
tree (Paulownia tomentosa) in the West is known as the paulownia.
Large purple flowers bloom in the early spring before the leaves even
appear. The effect is quite dramatic. However, to the researcher as opposed
to the casual viewer it is its nomenclature which is most surprising. When
the Swede Karl Thunberg visited Japan he named it Bignonia tomentosa
in 1783. (Its winged seeds, opposite leaves and large showy flowers
led Thunberg to put it in that genus.)
In 1835 Siebold and
Zuccharini named it the Paulownia imperialis after the Queen of the
Netherlands.* Endlicher moved it in 1839 to the Scrophulariaceai family
because the seed pod contained an endosperm. Now even that attribution is in
dispute. Some botanists seem to think it lies somewhere between the two
Romanov (1795-1865), daughter of Tsar Paul I and granddaughter of Catherine
the Great, married the future Willem II of the House of Orange in 1816. She
was Queen of the Netherlands from 1840 to 49.
William A. Lincoln
in his World Woods in Color (Linden Publishing Co., Inc., 1986, p. 143) "It
has a fine straight grain and smooth even texture. "Weak in all strength
properties, which are unimportant in the uses to which it is best suited."
"Kiri is highly
valued in Japan for a wide range of uses including cabinet and drawer
linings, musical instruments, clogs, floats for fishing nets, and for
peeling into exceptionally thin 'scale veneers', mountedon paper and printed
to produce special visiting cards..." In the
(vol. 6, entry by Matsuda Osamu, p. 166) notes: "The tree has a wide variety
of other uses as well: the wood is burned to make charcoal for sketching and
powder for fireworks, the bark is made into a dye, and the leaves are used
in vermicide preparartions".
In 1888 the Meiji
Emperor established the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun,
Palownia Flowers (勲一等旭日桐花大綬章) which is only given to men of the highest rank
such as admirals, generals, diplomats, jurists and politicians. It has even
been bestowed on foreigners. General Douglas MacArthur (マッカーサー) received it
in 1960 and later Mike Mansfield who acted as the American ambassador to
Japan from 1977-88.
This entire entry
originated from my rereading of "The Tale of Genji". The first chapter is
Kiritsubo (桐壺 or きりつぼ). Royall Tyler
(ロイヤル・タイラー) in 2001 translates this as "The Paulownia Pavilion", Seidensticker in 1975 as "The Paulownia Court",
Suematsu Kenchō (末松謙澄 or すえまつけんちょう) in 1882 as "The Chamber of Kiri" while
Waley (ウェーリー 1925) and McCullough (1994) just call it "Kiritsubo".
The images to
the left have been generously provided by Sue Shuehiro. Please visit his
extensive botanical site at
Compare the shape of the large leaf at the bottom and the cluster of flowers
above with the kirimon featured in the section below. There is also
additional information there about this greatly revered tree.
paulownia, i.e., kiri was the most popular of Japanese crest motifs.
"According to Chinese legend, the mythical phoenix... alights only in the
branches of the paulownia tree when it comes to earth and eats only the seed
of the bamboo."
"As an explicitly
imperial crest, the paulownia ranks only slightly behind the chrysanthemum,
and both are usually taken as the dual emblems of the Japanese throne." In
the early 13th century the emperor Godaigo (後醍醐 or ごだいご) bestowed both crests upon the
head of the Ashikaga (足利 or あしかが) clan. With that the bestowing of the paulownia motif
was also an Ashikaga prerogative which they used to reward loyalty. The
recipient clans wore it as a symbol of "legitimacy and power." In the 16th
century, Hideyoshi (秀吉 or ひでよし), who was born a commoner, after adopting it as his own
crest also gave out the motif to some of his most loyal supporters. By the
late feudal period nearly 20% of the warrior class wore it as their own
Source and quotes
from: The Elements of Japanese Design, by John W. Dower, pp. 68-9.
planted kiri trees upon the birth of a daughter because it was so
fast growing that by the time she was ready to marry the tree could be cut
down and made into a tansu (箪笥 or たんす)or chest.
"The name kiri
came from the kiru (to cut) [切る or きる]as it was believed that the tree would
grow better and quicker when it was cut down often." It can grow to more
than 30' in height and has fragrant purplish blossoms in April or May.
Source and quote
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, pp. 358-9.
The image to the
left on the bottom is the seal
used predominantly by Kuniyoshi. It is important to note that he did
not always use it and that certain students of his also used it
Naturally the habit
of smoking (tobacco) was introduced into Japan by the Europeans in the 16th
century. One familiar with the pipes used can't help but notice that the
bowls are extremely small allowing for only a 'hit' or two before being
emptied of ash and being refilled. A lot of my contemporaries have commented
how much the bowl looks like the ones used for hash pipes. (That's right -
hash pipes.) However, scholars are convinced that the bowls were originally
designed like this because of the strength of the tobacco being imported.
Besides, it would probably save quite a bit of expense if the tobacco was
consumed in smaller quantities.
According to Mock
Joya the longer more elaborate pipes - up to three feet long -were generally
used by women and then only indoors. Click on the number 1 to the right and
notice that it is a man holding the pipe and not only that but he is
represented as being outdoors.
Source and quote
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, pp. 267.
The bowl of the
pipe is called a gankubi (雁首 or がんくび), the stem is the rao (羅宇
or らう) and the mouthpiece is a suikuchi (吸い口 or すいくち).
The image to the
left is a detail from a diptych by Toyokuni III. The actor holding the pipe
is playing a character who was born ages before the introduction of tobacco
into Japan. Hence, the pipe is an anachronism.
According to Classical Weaponry of Japan by Serge Mol (Kodansha, 2003, p. 187) early
pipes might just hide small, but effective blades. They were so small -
think of the size of the standard smaller pipe - that one would have to be
incredibly close to the victim to be able to cut an artery quickly and with
total surprise. I knew from past readings that early hairpins could also
double as weapons for vulnerable women, but not the shorter men's pipes. I
suppose almost anything could be cleverly disguised as an ordinary object
while secretly doubling as a lethal instrument. But somehow this seems so
reminiscent of a Charlie Chan movie and to have sprung from the mind of a
mystery writer. Mol calls these shikom kiseru (仕込煙管 or しこみ.きせる). "Because
the stem of the pipe was slender, it could not conceal much more than a
spike or needle-like weapen." Mol notes: "Pipe tobacco was carried in a
small pouch (tabake-ire), and the pipe was in a separate case called
kiseruzutsu, or kiseru-ire, which could be made of leather, wood bamboo or
papier-mâché. Pouch and case were usually tied together and the set was
known as dōran. Some pipe cases, however, did not contain a pipe but held a
short dagger. These trick pipe cases are known as shikomi kiseruzutsu
(仕込煙管筒) or shikomi kiseru-ire (仕込煙管入), and the set is called dōran shikomi
no kakushibuki or shikomi dōran (仕込胴乱) . ¶ The author notes that there
are numerous other deceptive uses of disguised items: a shikomi writing set;
shikomi flute; shikomi fan; etc.
In Smoke: A Global History of Smoking by Sander L. Gilman and Xun
Zhou (2004, p. 78) Barnabas Tatsuya Suzuki tells us that the Japanese were
already using kiseru when the Dutch arrived in 1609. (The Japanese
learned about tobacco from the Portuguese about a century earlier.) "Dutch
traders even supplied silver kiseru and finely shredded tobacco to
their colleagues in other colonies or trading posts in Asia." And by 1634
there are records that the Japanese were exporting tobacco to other
countries. ¶ "Initially, tobacco was sold as whole leaves, not shredded. It
was cut at the tobacco shop at the customer's request, or the smoker
shredded the tobacco leaves at home. Later, finely shredded tobacco became
available in the market. Shredded tobacco was normally carried in a folded
sheet of pocket paper; at home, it was kept in a box. ¶ The first attempt to
produce and sell cigarettes in 1869 was unsuccessful. "Cigarette smoking
became popular only after M. Iwaya began to manufacture cigarettes in Tokyo
in 1882, and 1890, when the Murai brothers established a cigarette factory
in Kyoto." (p. 83) But the kiseru hung on as a 'useful' cultural artifact
until after W.W. II.
Sir Edwin Arnold in a series of
articles entitled Japonica in Scribner's Magazine in 1891 speaks
exactly to an issue which I have tried to explain to my contemporaries: Why
is the bowl of the pipe so small? Whenever I tell someone(s) that the bowl
was used for single hits of tobacco I get either incredibly skeptical looks
or looks of amazement. This is true especially of people who grew up during
the hippie/drug culture days and had been used to smoking small amounts of
strong pot or hash from such bowls. They either don't believe me or think I
am trying to sugar coat some hidden Japanese secret. But Sir Edwin's quotes
should clear this up: "To be quite Japanese, we will begin by taking from
our girdle, the little brass pipes and silken tobacco bags, filling the
kiseru, and inhaling one or two fragrant whiffs of the delicate Japanese
tobacco. In their use of the nicotian herb, as in very many other things,
the Japanese display a supreme refinement. [They] are content with this tiny
pipe which does not hold enough to even make Queen Mab sneeze." They might
load the pipe once or twice and then quit and are appalled at the Western
practice of smoking large quantities at one sitting (or standing, if you
like). Sir Edwin tells us that the Japanese are "...always wondering how we
can smoke a great pipeful to the 'bitter end,' or to suck for half an
hour at a huge Havana puro. 'Kiseru no shita ni doku arimas!' they
say - 'At the bottom of the pipe there lives poison.' "
Two sources which I have come
across both claim that the word kiseru originated in the region of Southeast
Asia. Once says the word is of Cambodian derivation and the other says
Annamese, which is close to the same thing, but give two different root
sources. I can't vouch for either.
Equestrian archery - see
also our entry on
The top image to
the left is a detail of a print by Koson, aka Shoson, from the first decade
of the 20th c. The image below that one is probably from the early 1960s and
is by Inagaki Toshijirō (稲垣稔次郎 or いながき.としじろう - 1902-63), aka Nenjirō
Inagaki. This image was sent to us courtesy of E. one of our great
contributors. Thanks E! Both prints show the whimsy with which the Japanese
treated the mischievous fox.
correspondent in Maine who we will call D. wrote and included several images
of deer and foxes which he had taken in his own back yard. A couple of them
were particularly good and it was difficult to choose, but I finally decided
to post the one below. Although I am sure all of you know
what a fox looks like I still think it is a good thing to be able to see a
photographic representation next to those created by artists. True it is a
Maine fox and not one from Japan, but beggar's can't be choosers. Thanks D!
There are foxes and there
are foxes. Scientifically speaking there are various types of foxes.* The
same is true of myths and folklore when dealing with this animal. U. A.
Casal in his article "The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of
Japan" published in volume 18 of Folklore Studies in 1959 discusses
several of these. "Savants tell us that there are a good many varieties of
foxes, good, bad and indifferent. The common fox, kitsune, or
field-fox, yako [やこ], hardly counts in lore, although it is of course
not easy to know whether the animal in question is a simple yako or
one of its more moody peers. Like the white foxes, the black ones, genko [げんこ], are friendly, and their appearance of a good omen. A red
shakko [しゃ こ] is still fair, but the "field-shield" yakan is
highly harmful. The air-fox kūko [くうこ] and the celestial-fox tenko
[てんこ] are probably rather tengu of sorts, goblins that can fly
through the air and of which it is best to beware, since the entire tengu-tribe
can be very nasty. The ktūko and tenko seem rather Chinese
conceptions, of no folkloristic importance in Japan..." (p. 3) There are
also spectral foxes: "Written references to goblin-foxes does not seem to
exist before the very early 11th century, in the well-known Genji
Monogatari; a somewhat more definite reference to this type of magic
foxes - some demoniacally powerful reiko [れいこ], ghost-fox, or some almost
as dangerous koryō, haunting-fox - appears in a slightly later
story-book, the Uji-shūi Monogatari, also of the 11th century." (pp.
1-2) Casal argues that such superstitions were imported into Japan because
1) he found no earlier native references and 2) the Chinese already held
such views a thousand years before they appeared in Japanese literature.
In 1959 Casal wrote: "The
Ainu, too, dislike the fox and avoid him as much as possible. This
notwithstanding, the fox-skull with them is a fetish, set up on sacred posts
outside their house to protect them from evil spirits." (p. 4)
However, in 1999 in a
catalogue devoted to the Ainu put on by the Smithsonian it states: "Fox
spirits are a matter of dispute among different Ainu groups, with some
believing them to be helpful spirits while others see them as evil.
Nevertheless, their skulls were often used as guardian spirits while others
see them as evil. Nevertheless, their skulls were often used as guardian
spirits for fishing, hunting, and daily life, and they were also used for
fortune-telling. Whether it was believed that the spirits remained in skulls
used for this purpose is ambiguous: theoretically, if they had been through
a sending ceremony, they should have lost their active power; to be a
guardian deity, its spirit must exist. Ethnography has not yet provided
answers to such questions."
Quoted from: Ainu:
Spirit of a Northern People, edited by Wm. W. Fitzhugh and Chisato O.
Dubreuil, entry by Shigeki Akino, Smithosonian Institution and University of
Washington, 1999, p. 252.
Casal tells the Ainu legend
of the good and bad spirits getting together to decide which are going to
rule the world. They finally fix on a scheme: The first spirit to see the
sun rise will win for its side. The fox was considered one of the benevolent
spirits. They all lined up looking east toward the horizon while the fox
turned its back and looked westward. "The others of course poked fun at him;
yet it was the Fox-god who first exclaimed: "I see the sun!" And indeed,
when the others turned around, there was the brilliant sunshine reflected
from a high peak in the West!" (p. 4)
In the first footnote in his
article Casal notes that "The Chinese, but not the Japanese, nevertheless
use the name "Fox" as a family-name. It has been surmised that this is due
to ancient totemism."
*I claim no expertise here,
but as I understand it there are four genera of foxes - Gray, bat-eared,
Zorros and true foxes - made up of twenty-three species.
The fox can see into the
future. It can find lost objects. Humans who are searching for such items
will pray to Inari (稲荷 or いなり), the fox-deity. (Inari was also
originally the harvest god.) In China there is the story of a man who
urgently needed to find one document in particular from among a multitude.
Frustrated the man lit incense and prayed to the fox-god for help. Closed up
the room and left for awhile. When he returned he noticed that one packet of
incense stood out from the others and that this pointed the way to the
document he was looking for. (p. 5) Anecdotes seem to work quite well as
proofs for the superstitious.
Assuming human form: "A most
frequent "trick" of the fox is to take on human shape. For this he needs a
skull-preferably human-and a few old bones, of horse or cow, which he places
on his head and holds in his mouth. He first goes through some mysterious
performances, and decks himself out with leaves and grasses. Then he faces
the North-star, and "worships." His genuflexions and obeisances begin slowly
and circumspectedly, but their motion
gradually increases in rapidity, until finally the fox seems to perform an
"Indian dance", with jumps towards the star. Yet the skull does not fall
off. After a hundred acts of worship, the beast becomes able to transform
himself into a masculine human being; he is now a jinko, "man fox", but if
he wants to be able to turn into a young and elegantly dressed girl it is
essential that he constantly live near a grave-yard..." ( p. 6) Casal
notes that the Chinese add a second way for a fox to take on human form: It
can do good deeds or learn 'the classics'. (p. 7) "This human disguise may
be transitory or semi-permanent. But only aged and wise foxes have power to
act as people for a prolonged time; incidentally, age and wisdom do not
imply benevolence." But wary Japaness have ways of detecting the fox-spirit
disguised as a human. In the first place, some foxes give off an inner glow
most noticeable at night. This inner fire can be so bright that the hair and
kimono patterns can be seen clearly at six feet. Often, too, the 'human'
face is unnaturally long.
Human speech: "Another
important sign: the fox, while he can learn to talk like a human in a year's
time, experiences some difficulty in pronouncing certain words or sounds. It
is impossible for him, for instance, to say "moshi-moshi
[もしもし]" in quick succession. He just manages to say moshi once, and
it sounds somewhat awkward." Casal adds: "It is in order not to be mistaken
for a bakemono-fox that true humans never use moshi .only once, but
always double it: moshi-moshi! Not to do so would be quite impolite,
as people might become scared at the contingency of being confronted by a
The fox in human form also
has another telltale give away. It has a 'faint shadow' which is the real
thing. So, "It is therefore important, when one intends to kill a
bakemono, that the thrust be not made at the human figure, but at the
vapoury fox-shape!" One other thing I forgot to
mention was that it doesn't hurt to have a dog with you when you go out.
Dogs are never fooled. They always know when there is a transformed fox
The beginner's mistake:
Sometimes when a young fox has just learned how to transform itself into a
'human' it is filled with careless giddiness. (I am projecting here.) It has
done his magic perfectly: Its face may be a bit long, but so what?; Its
kimono is colorful and well composed; No real human will ever know.
Except...except for one small oversight our fox might just pull off its
ruse: Its tail is visible out of the back of the kimono. The Japanese have a
phrase for this: Shippo o dasu (尻尾を出す or しっぽをだす) - To show
one's true colors, to expose one's faults, To give oneself away. No
self-respecting older fox would make this kind of amateurish mistake. (p. 8)
The people of Izumo think
that when a transformed fox knocks on their doors it is always somewhat
muffled because the fox knocks with its tail and not with its knuckles.
Or, if you are walking along
and encounter a fox-spirit which has taken human form you can determine
whether this is a fox or a real persons by pinching yourself. Do it hard!
Now, if you don't feel anything then you can be sure it is a fox which has
bewitched you. However, if it does hurt then you can rest easy that this is
only another human. Ouch! Or, you can always carry a fried rat with you just
to be safe. Foxes love fried rats. In fact, they can't resist them. Casal
says: "One other efficacious way to detect a bakemono fox is to
depose a fried rat on the road along which the suspicious person comes: the
animal is so fond of fried rats, that he will immediately abandon his prank
and pounce upon the tidbit. "
Casal continues: "But, as
usual with spectres and eerie animals, not all foxes are able to bakeru,
to metamorphose themselves, to assume the garb and speech of humans, to
bewitch people. At least so the savants say, although the common man prefers
to avoid all kinds of foxes. Those who are better versed in their doings
declare that only a red, white or yellow fox can ever hope to attain this
stage; and before being "safe" in doing these things, he must escape the
mortal danger of thunder three times, or be at least five-hundred years
old." The older the fox the wiser it is. If it reaches 800 to 1,000 years it
becomes a "Celestial Fox," takes on a golden color, has 9 tails and knows
the secrets of Nature.
Above is a 9 tailed fox from
a famous Kuniyoshi print.
This is only a detail. I
asked a friend who owns the original to send me an image.
He did posthaste. I
did the doctoring.
Foxes which live in or near
graveyards are the most dangerous because they develop a symbiotic
relationship with human ghosts.
A major Chinese dictionary
from ca. 100 A.D. says that the fox was the vehicle ridden by ghostly
beings. (p. 9) In Japan "The fox-goblin may approach a lonely house as an
old man who has lost his way, as a pilgrim-monk or Buddhist priest, or as a
damsel in distress - rarely in any other human form." The monk or priest
disguise bodes the worst for the mortal being that encounters it. "The most
dangerous transformation, people believe, is when the fox becomes a bōzu [坊主 or ぼうず], Buddhist priest. Perhaps only the very powerful beasts can
adopt this saintly disguise." (p. 10)
Fox-spirits and the machine
age: "The weirdest of all fox-transformation stories is, I do not doubt, one
of the most modern, dating from 1889. In that year it was widely circulated
and believed that a fox had taken the phantom shape of a steam-train on the
Tokyo-Yokohama line!" One day an engine-driver saw another train coming
directly at him on the same track. Startled he blew his whistle and kept
blowing it. But soon he noticed something very odd about the other train. No
matter how far the engineer-driver went the other, approaching train never
got any closer. Realizing what was happening the engineer decided to speed
up instead of slowing down. "And at last he caught up with the
phantom-there was a slight jar and, lo and behold! a fox was found crushed
under the wheels..." (p. 12) Below is a detail of a print of a train by
Kiyochika from 1889. Or, is it really a fox? Who knows?
You would think that the
foxes would have learned from the train episode, but no. Sometime after the
introduction of the automobile into Japan it happened again. A fox-car
played chicken and the fox lost. (p. 13) Will they never learn?
I married a teenage fox: The most famous story of a human marrying a fox and
fathering a child is that of Kuzonoha. Human animal marriages are called
irui konin banashi ( いるい.こんいん.ばなし?). (For more on this theme go to our
Yoshiiku Kuzunoha fox woman page.) Casal notes (pp. 16-17):
"...it is said that the very name for fox, ki-tsu-ne, means "come and
sleep", and is derived from such a tale dating back to the year 545..." A
man from Mino waited a long time to find his ideal woman. One night he was
crossing a moor and he met her. They married and had a child. His dog gave
birth to a pup at the same time. As the pup grew it became more and more
menacing to the fellows wife, but them man refused to kill the dog. Then
"One day it attacked his wife so fiercely that in despair she resumed her
proper fox-shape, jumped over the fence, and disappeared in the moor. Ono
was crushed. But he loved his wife in spite of her fox identity, and
"because she was the mother of his son." So he shouted after her that
whatever she be he wanted her to "ki tsu ne"; and so, every night she stole
into the hut and slept in his arms." (p. 17)
The image above is a
doctored detail from a print on the Kuzunoha theme by Kuniyoshi.
Our great contributor E.
helped us by providing the complete print.
The fox can bestow the gift
of kiki-mimi (ききみみ) on a human allowing him to understand the
languages of birds and beasts. (p. 18) There are other foxes which
can bestow wealth or prosperity. Sometimes there is a whole class of humans
called fox-owners or kitsune mochi (狐持ち or きつねもち). However, families
that fall within this category pay for this privilege in certain ways: They
are social outcasts and are forced to stick to their own. They even marry
within their group. To do otherwise means ostracism. But their ties to the
foxes should guarantee them a certain level of security. Outsiders look at
them and find that the only way to explain the success of this group must be
their close bond with the foxes. In a footnote on page 20 Casal notes that
Saul in the Old Testament drove out the people who possessed 'familiars':
"...and Saul had banished from the land all who trafficked with ghosts and
spirits." The cultural comparisons are clear.
"...fox-owning families are
believed to have living with them a tribe of small, weasel-like foxes to the
number of seventy-five, called human foxes [jinko], by whom they are
escorted and protected wherever they go, and who watch over their fields and
prevent outsiders from doing them any damage. Should, however, any damage be
done either through malice or ignorance, the offender is at once possessed
by the fox, who makes him blurt out his crime and sometimes even procures
his death. So great is the popular fear of the fox-owners that anyone
marrying into a fox-owning family, or buying land from them, or failing to
return money borrowed from them, is considered to be a
fox-owner too. The
fox-owners are avoided as if they were snakes or lizards. Nevertheless, no
one ever asks another point blank whether or not his family be a fox-owning
family; for to do so might offend him, and the result to the inquirer might
be a visitation in the form of possession by a fox. The subject is therefore
never alluded to in the presence of a suspected party. All that is done is
politely to avoid him." (p. 21)
Yamabushi (山伏 or やまぶし),
literally 'one who lies in the mountains', were ascetic monks who were said
to have magical powers. They often blew a conch shell trumpet or
horagai (法螺貝 or ほらがい) "...to convoke a meeting and also to dispel
evil ghosts on the road..." and to call foxes to them to be their servants.
"According to the "savants", the yamabushi had several types of
helpers: the kiko or spirit-fox as a general assistant in sorcery;
the osaki-kitsune, whose written name means "tall-promontory", but
should probably be but a 'tail-tip', of very small size; and the even
smaller kanko or kuda-kitsune, the "pipe-fox", because it could be
enclosed in a bamboo tube and carried in the hand by the yamabushi
while on his pilgrimage! Whatever their size, these foxes, being the most
powerful of all goblins, through their presence in a holy cause would then
dispel and vanquish all inferior spirits." (pp. 24-25)
Foxfire (St. Elmo's
"Indeed, foxes are very fond of luring people to an unholy place by creating
a welcoming light or 'fire', so fond that the ignes fatui are called kitsune-bi, 'fox fires'. The fire is produced by the fox striking the
ground with his tail, or it may also be his luminous breath. It will either
burn quietly, like a lamp, to attract the intended victim into a phantom
house, or it will wander about like a torch and confuse the late traveller,
sometimes ensnaring him into an inextricable forest or a swampy moor. At
other times the beckoning flame will promptly extinguish at the approach of
the victim, leaving him in complete darkness far away from the road. Or it
may suddenly 'fly away
and disappear in the sea'... The breath-exhaled fire may even
'shoot forward to the distance of some two or three feet'. . . "
Quote from U.A. Casal, "The
Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan", Folklore
Studies, vol. 18, 1959, p. 10.
To the left we have added a new image by Kunisada of the kitsunebi.
For a discussion of the iconography of this image go to our page
Go, too, to our entry on
hitodama on our
Hil thru I
index/glossary page for a further discussion of flames which
float in the air.
This is a rock,
paper, scissors game where the loser has to drink a cup of saké or do some
such thing. It can also be played like strip poker.
describes an Utamaro print from ca. 1793-4: "Three tea-house beauties of the
day are playing the party game 'catch the fox' (kitsune ken), with
the forfeit that the loser has to drink some saké. In 'catch the fox', three
contestants face one another and compete making gestures simultaneously to
represent one of three types: a hunter with a rifle, a squire and a fox. The
hunter beats the fox, the squire beats the hunter and the fox beats the
The Passionate Art
of Kitagawa Utamaro, published by the British Museum Press, London,
1995, Text volume, p. 122.
The major censor's
seal used from ca. 1790 to 1842. Literally this term translates as
In talking about the sale of a series of Hiroshige prints in 1916 Arthur
Baldwin Duel said: "Many expert believe the Kiwame stamp to be the
publishers' guarantee that the prints on which it appeared were by the
artists whose names were signed to them."
Hepburn in 1903 defined kiwame as "To define, determine, decide, fix,
establish, settle; to end, finish, exhaust; to carry to the utmost; to
Basil Stewart who was extremely opinionated and often wrong translated
kiwamé as "perfect".
In The Artist As Professional in Japan Julie Nelson Davis wrote on
page 117: "When required by the bakufu, approval by the publishing
guild is seen in the inclusion of the kiwame (guarantee seal),
otherwise known as the censor's seal."
In Nelson's Japanese-English Character Dictionary it defines
kiwa(meru) as "investigate thoroly". Note: We use and trust Nelson, but his
use of 'thoroly' which does not appear in any acceptable dictionary does
give us a reason to pause.
An oval gold coin: Chinese
coins from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. have been found in archeological sites in
Japan and are mentioned in the Nihon Shoki (720). The first Japanese
coins were issued in 708, but the Bureau of the Mint or Chūshenshi
was abolished in 987. It was centuries before any more attempts were made to
establish a financial system grounded in hard currency. Then in the late
16th century Toyotomo Hideyoshi introduced a large, no huge, gold coin
called an ōban. It was nearly 6" long by 4" wide. Hideyoshi also
minted more manageable copper coins. ¶ Because the ōban was more
symbolic than practical Tokugawa Ieyasu introduced the smaller koban.
It has been described as being valued at anywhere between 1/10th and 1/7th
that of the ōban.
vol. 5, p. 242.
Gold coins show up
occasionally in ukiyo prints. In fact they form a rather odd sub-genre. I
use the word 'odd', but you will see for yourself.
The image I have known the
best over the years is the one of a figure striking a water basin and having
gold coins spew forth. There are a number of variations on this theme,
including one of a woman named Umeage praying for just such an event when
she is overheard by a customer of a nearby business. He takes pity on her
and showers down the gold coins she is hoping will be miraculously bestowed.
However, I have yet to find the earliest version of this story.
Who says money doesn't grow on
trees? - at least metaphorically
The image above is from the top
half of a Yoshitoshi vertical diptych.
There are numerous other
examples of the Meiji period of the use of this motif by other artists.
Note that the branches of the
tree are made up of script, i.e., writing. This is a much older convention.
In the U.S. we have a saying
"That ain't chicken feed."
There is also "Pennies from
heaven", a phrase popular
during the Depression when a
penny meant something.
I have no idea what is
happening in this early 19th century
book illustration. You tell me.
Then there is bathing in it.
Imagine. To be 'awash in money'.
As a child I loved comic books.
In one of them Scrooge McDuck is shown
sitting atop a mountain of
coins pouring them gleefully over himself.
Toyokuni I illustrated this
more graphically at least 140 years earlier - sans duck.
There is a Japanese saying:
ni koban" 猫に小判
translating as 'Gold coins to a
cat', but comparable
to the Western adage: 'Casting
pearls before swine'.
Butterfly-binding: "It was
also during the Tang that the so-called 'butterfly binding', kochōsō
胡蝶装 came into use, and was subsequently transmitted to Japan. This involved
folding each sheet of paper in half and laying it on its predecessor and
then gluing a cover to the folded edges: it derives its name from the fact
that when opened each pair of pages tends to stand up with an effect
resembling the wings of a butterfly. This technique was mostly used for
printed books, unlike the yamato-toji 大和綴 (also known as techōsō
綴葉装), a technique that appears to have no parallel in China and to have been
developed independently in Japan. In this the folded pages were placed one
inside the other until a fascile or booklet had been formed, whereupon
thread was used to sew them together along the fold, several of these
fasciles being put together to form one volume. This technique was widely
used from the late Heian period onwards, and particularly for manuscripts of
Japanese literary works. By the Tokugawa period it was seldom used for
printed books, except for the Nō texts published in Saga in the first half
of the seventeenth century... and some Buddhist texts pertaining to the Jōdo
sect. It continued, however, to be used for manuscripts, mostly for luxury
productions intended as bridal gifts (yomeiribon 嫁入り本) or for the
collection of daimyō and members of the court aristocracy in Kyoto." Quoted
from: The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the
Nineteenth Century by Peter Kornicki, pp. 43-44.
"From the late Tang to the
early Song, printed books gradually replaced manuscripts, and album leaf
replaced the scroll system. ¶ Album leaf refers to binding several single
leaves into a volume suitable for printing. The earliest album leaf system
was butterfly binding, which evolved into wrapped-back binding and then
stitched binding. When machine-based printing was introduced, binding
gradually moved to paper and hard-cover binding.... ¶ The name
butterfly binding emerged from its resemblance to a butterfly when the
book was spread out. It was the main layout system used during the Song
dynasty. In butterfly binding, two pages were printed on a sheet, which was
then folded inwards. together at the fold to make a codex with alternate
openings of printed and blank pairs of pages. A hard cover (sometimes coated
with cloth or silk) was made . In appearance, it looked like a modern paper
or hardcover bound book and the shape of the leaves and the manner in which
the book opened and closed resembled the wings of a butterfly." Quoted from:
Chinese Publishing by Hu Yang and Yang Xiao, pp. 74-75.
A wonderful nine
volume encyclopedia of Japanese culture for a general but quick reference