A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
The Jakuchu parakeet is being used
to mark new
additions to this page from May 1
thru September 30, 2017.
The photo of the geese on the lawn
at the Bloedel Reserve was
from January 1 to April 30.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Kyōka, Kyokki, Kyokuba,
Kyūdō, Kyūri, Lake Biwa or Biwako, Richard Lane,
Samuel Leiter, Machi, Maedate, Maegami, Magaki,
Makimono, Makura, Makura kotoba, Makura sōshi,
Makai, Makyō, Maneki neko,
轡, 脚絆, 校合, 狂歌,
旭旗, 曲馬, 脇息, 弓道, 胡瓜,
琵琶湖, 人間国宝, 町, 前立, 前髪, 籬, 髷,
枕, 枕詞 or 枕言葉, 枕草子,
萬治 or 万治,
万字, 万字繋 or 卍繋,
万葉仮名, 万葉集, 丸髷, 松, 松葉, 松羽目物,
松皮菱, (五世)松本幸四郎, 祭り,
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 bit motif: "These
small pieces on each side of the horse's bit not only gave a martial
impression when used as crest motifs, but also were later adopted by several
Christian families because of the 'hidden cross' design."
Quoted from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, published by Weatherhill, 1991 edition, p. 106.
Lafcadio Hearn in his writings
mentioned a cricket, the kutsuwa mushi ( 轡虫 or くつわむし) or bridle-bit-insect,
which made the sound the rings attached to the sides of each bridle would
make. He even quotes a poem by Izumi Shikibu (和泉式部 or いずみしきぶ) who was born
in the late 10th century.
Listen! His bridle rings -
That is surely my
Homeward hurrying now
Fast as the horse can bear him!
Ah! My ear was deceived!
Only the Kutsuwamushi!
Hepburn says that a homonym
for kutsuwa means "A prostitue house," but doesn't mention is it is a
proper or common noun.
The leggings worn by a pilgrim.
See our entry on
ajirogasa on our first index/glossary page to see a pilgrim
The photo to the left are
leather kyahan worn by a samurai or one of his attendants. It was posted at
Pinterest, but had originally shown up at the Japanese Wikipedia site.
Black ink keyblock
print used for making color blocks.
David Bull (デイビッド.ブル) of the
Baren Forum adds that after the proof prints were pulled they were sent to
the designer, i.e., artist, who would indicate what colors were to be used
Question: Why do any
kyōgō still exist today? Hiroshi Yoshida provides the answer. "A few
more impressions than the number of the colours to be used in the print must
be taken. If ten colour blocks are anticipated, fifteen may be necessary."
(Japanese Woodblock Printing, 1939, p. 31) ¶ In the 20th century
other colors were used in printing kyōgō. "...they are often printed
in red, green, or blue, in order to bring out the feeling which the artist
desires." (p. 75)
Literally "mad verse"
- a 31 syllable comic poem
Rising Sun Flag: It is the red
and white of the flag which is important to us here. White represents the
yin (陰 or いん) or male element and red the yang (陽 or よう) the female.
Elsewhere I noted: "Another question arises from something else I read a
number of years ago, but for the life of me have been unable to find again
to check my sources. The quote said that the red and white of the Japanese
flag represented the red or female element and the white was the male. It
doesn't take a stretch of the mind to understand the sexually oriented use
of these symbolic colors. The contrast of the two in combination is - if
this is true - a clear analogy to the yin-yang concept."
Well, I finally sound something
on the subject, but not exactly what I was looking for. "Let us return to
the red and white, which colors have had a metaphorical resonance across
Asia, from ancient Iran to Japan. The Chinese conception, reflected in the
funerary rituals, is that the (red) flesh comes from the mother, whereas the
(white) bones come from the father. More specifically, the mother's 'red
drop' contributes the skin, blood, flesh, fat, heart, and soft, red viscera;
whereas the father's white drop contributes the hair, nails, teeth, bones,
veins, arteries, ligaments, semen - in other words, all that is white, hard,
structural. This is very much like the Greek conception, described by Aline
Rousselle, in which semen goes to build the 'noble white parts.' Therefore,
a woman who wants a son must 'whiten' or 'masculinize' herself. According to
Aristotle, 'Man produces sperm because he is a warm nature, such that he
possesses a capacity for bringing about an intense concoction of the blood,
which transforms it into its purest and thickest residue: sperm or male
seed. Women cannot perform this operation. They lose blood, and at their
warmest can only succeed in turning it into milk... Thus, the ultimate
difference between the sexes lies in the fact that one is warm, and dry and
the other is cold and wet, qualities that reveal themselves in their
aptitude or inaptitude for achieving concoction.' Incidentally, this
distinction is presented as the ultimate rationale and justification of the
androcentric social order. The Egyptian theories of reproduction, too,
ascribed the bones to the male principle and the flesh to the female."
Quoted from: The Power of
Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender, by Bernard Faure, published by
Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 83.
A side note: "According to an
interesting (and widespread) Japanese belief, the gender of the child is
said to depend on who gets the most pleasure from sexual intercourse.
According to the Shaseikishū [13th c. - 沙石集 or させきしゅう], for instance,
the conscience is formed by the fusion of the 'white drop' of the father and
the 'red drop' of the mother; and depending where the sexual pleasure was,
the child will resemble the father or the mother." (Ibid., p. 85)
Another fascinating side note
which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Japanese flag, but does pertain
somewhat to the text above: Faure quotes St. Jerome: "As long as a woman is
for birth and children she is as different from man as body is from soul.
But when she wishes to server Christ more than the world, then she will
cease to be a woman and will be called man." (Ibid., p. 128)
For more on the curse of
'redness' look at our
discussion of the Blood Pool of Hell on our
page devoted to the Courtesan from Hell - a print by Kunisada II.
The image of the flag of the
Rising Sun above is shown courtesy of Thommy at
http://commons.wikimedia.org/. The detail to the left is from a
triptych by Koson.
See also our entry on
koshimaki or the red undergarment traditionally worn by Japanese women.
You will find it
on our Kogai thru Kuruma page. And see our entry on the
on our Hil thru Hor page.
feats: "Japan has had its own circus for nearly 500 years. It is called
kyokuba or trick horse-riding was at first its main attraction.
Kyokuba started in the middle of the Muromachi period (1394-1573), and
from its very beginning consisted of fancy horse-riding, acrobatic acts,
comic plays and performances by monkeys and dogs."
Quote from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p.
The image to the
left is a detail from a Yoshiharu print from 1871 showing a troupe (kyokuban
- 曲馬団 or きょくばだん) of female, European riders. Click on the number to the
right to see the full print.
A stunt rider is a kyokubashi (曲馬師 or きょくばし).
Armrest: "A support
board (hyōban) measuring approximately 18 by 6 inches...was elevated
on legs at either end, and covered with a cotton-padded cushion. Armrests
might be made of imported karaki woods, zelkova, or paulownia, or
lacquered and decorated in mother-of-pearl inlay or maki-e."
Quoted from: Traditional Japanese Furniture, by Kozuko Koizumi, published by
Kodansha, 1986, p. 102.
I was wondering in general
how old this type of furniture was and was surprised to find that it is
mentioned in the oldest piece of Japanese literature, the Kojiki
(古事記 or こじき) which was
presented to the Imperial Court in 712 A.D. Toward the end of this tale
Wodö-pime of Kasuga sings to the Emperor Yūryaku. In her song she wishes she
were the armrest the Emperor leans upon.
Archery: literally 'the Way of
the bow'. "Archery is also resorted to as a means of divining whether the
harvest will be abundant.... On Janualry 14th of the lunar calendar... the
method used is archery on horseback (yabusame).
The inclination which the arrow takes on the target gives the desired
information about the next crops." Quoted from: Shinto: At the
Fountainhead of Japan by Jean Herbert, p. 153.
Cucumber: A kappa's
Now...I have a
confession to make. The cucumber to the left is not a Japanese cucumber - as
far as I know. I bought it in a local grocery store today. I even searched
for the one which I thought a kappa might find most attractive. Be that as
it may, considering all of the international trade going on this cucumber
may well come from Ecuador or Chile or some such place, but definitely not
Cuba or North Korea. Of that I can be fairly sure. Besides, all I cared
about was finding a decent looking kyūri for your visual and
intellectual delectation. Now there's food for thought.
Kiuri is an
alternate spelling for kyūri listed in the text volume of the Utamaro
catalogue from the great British Museum show. I mention this because a
scholarly friend of mine who is fluent in Japanese questioned my original
use of kiuri.
I revised my entry
to this, i.e., kyūri, Anglicized variation.
The Passionate Art
of Kitagawa Utamaro, published by the British Museum Press, London,
1995, text volume, entry #119, p. 125.
Kyūri literaly means foreign 胡
Orikuchi Shinobu (折口信夫 or
おりくちしのぶ: 1887-1953) said that at some festivals frightening faces were drawn
on cucumbers and they were then sent floating downstream. Since 胡瓜
can be parsed to mean foreign melon then painting it with an intimidating
mug and sending it away is symbolic of ridding a village of evils brought
from the outside.
Several modern Japanese
scholars believe that the kappas love of cucumbers is more modern than
Lake Biwa or Biwako
freshwater lake. 8 of its famous views have inspired many artists.
Major author of works
on Japanese prints including Hokusai: Life and Work
Author of New Kabuki
Living National Treasure(s)
Starting in the late
19th century during the Meiji Period the Japanese began to recognize the
importance of preserving and protecting tangible national treasures. In 1929
the Preservation of National Treasures Law (Kokuhō Hozon Hō) was enacted.
"In the immediate post-World War II years a new effort to nurture
traditional crafts and performing arts on a national basis resulted in the
promulgation of the 1950 Law for the Protection of Cultural Assets (Bunzaki
Hogo Hō), amended and expanded in 1954 and 1970. The 1950 law covered
certain intangible assets (mukei bunka-zai) as well as intangible
objects." Artist/craftsmen became known as 'bearers of important intangible
cultural assets' or jūyō mukei bunkazai hojisha [重要無形文化財保持者].
This included everything from ceramicists, wordsmiths, fabric artists,
lacquerers, doll makers, woodworkers, and performers and practitioners of
music and theatrical arts, etc.
"The first list of 31
persons designated by the government for 28 categories of skills was made
known on 15 February 1955 and the public immediately transferred the word
kokuhō, meaning national treasure, from the 1929 law referring to the
preservation of important objects, to the individuals named in the first
list, calling them Ningen Kokuhō (Human National Treasures). The termn has
been used ever since, despite protestations on the part of the Ministry of
Education and he designees themselves that the program is designed not to
honor individuals, but to ensure that certain traditional skills will be
transmitted for future generations."
65 different skills
have been recognized. Each spring the list is reviewed. If an honoree dies
he or she is not necessarily replaced with another. Sometimes it is a whole
group like a dance troupe which is recognized. A small annual stipend is
given to each individual or group. "There is no specific teaching
requirement, but the honored individual is expected to find and train
apprentices and successors..." Recipients are expected to leave full
records, including films, or their practices and to participate in annual
Source and quotes:
"Living National Treasures" by Barbara C. Adachi in vol. 5 of the
Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (pp. 60-1).
The top image shown
above is a photo of Iwano Ichibei kneeling next to his certificate. He is a
master paper maker who provides the finest sheets used for woodblock
printing. (See our entry for mimi-tsuke below.) The bottom image of the
Washington Monument with blossoming cherry trees is by Kawase Hasui (川濑巴水 or
かわせ.はすい. He was named an honoree in 1955, but died in 1956. I don't know of
any other ningen kokuhō named for woodblock print artistry since then. Itō
Shinsui (伊東深水 or いとう.しんすい) was honored in 1950 when his print oeuvre was
recognized as a national treasure, but that was before the 1955 designations
although he lived until 1972 and could easily have been included in the
list, but wasn't. If anyone out there knows of other print honorees please
let me know and bring irrefutable proof.
Machi or chō
まち or ちょう
Machi is one of those
words which can be translated into several different meanings: town, block,
neighborhood, street or road.
"Quant à machi, ce mot
était surtout utilisé aux XVe et XVIe siècles pour caractériser de petites
agglomérations qui avaient diverses origines et fonctions:
jôka-machi (ville seigneuriale, littéralement « ville sous le château
»), minato-machi (« ville port »), monzen-machi (« ville en
face d'un temple ») distincte de dejinai-chô (« ville temple»),
ichiba-machi (« ville marché ») ou shukuba-machi (« ville relais de
poste »). Machi sera ainsi longtemps en usage pour désigner une
catégorie d'agglomération de population distincte de la ville (shi)
aussi bien que du village (mura) et en général dotée d'institutions
d'autogouvernement. En outre, à Edo et dans les grandes métropoles, machi
était utilisé pour désigner les secteurs de l'agglomération urbaine réservés
à la classe des chônin, les et artisans (ou « bourgeois » , « gens de
ville ») placés au bas de la de la hiérarchie sociale. Dans ce contexte,
machi désignait donc une division élémentaire de l'espace urbain, ce qui le
rapprochait de chô. Mais cette « ville dans la ville », si l'on veut,
était, à l'époque d'Edo, exclusivement associée à un statut juridique
particulier des habitants et des sols. D'où l'opposition du langage commun
entre shitamachi, la ville basse ou des petites gens, et yamanote,
la ville haute ou ville des grands. ¶ Les noms de machi-chi
dérivaient de la profession principale de leurs habitants, de leur région ou
ville d'origine, du nom du fondateur ou du daimyô qui avait fait construire
le secteur." Quoted from: Les divisions de la ville, edited by
Christian Topalov, pp. 195-196.
A crest attached to the front
of a helmet. Some dictionaries define it as a plume or pompom.
An interesting aside: When
parsed the kanji characters for maedate mean separately 前 'in front'
and 立 'stand up' or 'erect'. Not surprisingly these two combined also deal
with prostate issues.
Forelock: If anyone had told me
years ago that I would be writing about forelocks and I wouldn't have
believed them and would have laughed out loud. Nor would I have imagined
that forelocks have historically played such an important role in Japanese
culture. (See our entry on
Who would have thought it. Turns out that the forelock on young men in Japan
was supposedly an extra special turn on for many homosexuals. The only
forelocks I remember from my youth were those on Superman (スーパーマン) and some
popular singers. If I wasn't wearing a crew cut or a flattop I would
occasionally have a forelock. Still do sometimes. However, either because
times have changed or for cultural reasons or for a lack of a certain
physical pizzazz I was not the focal point of older men. (I am not
Samuel L. Leiter wrote: [A] "
'Forelock wig,' worn by a youth whose forelock (maegami) still has
not been cut off, an action that was part of the celebratory rites
surrounding his passage into manhood (genpuku [元服 or げんぷく]). There
are a variety of names for the maegami. Those split down the center
into two parts are the hachiware [はちわれ], those stiffened with pomade
are the aburakomi [あぶらこみ], those fashioned like a pompon are the
tsukamitate, and so on." (New Kabuki
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten, p. 383)
"Plays about male-male love
filled the repetoire during the time female impersonation was banned
(1651-54), and continued after the ban was replaced by a 1654 regulation of
permissible actors hairstyle... The long forelocks (mae-gami) were the glory
of the boys' appearance, and the shearing of the wakashu [a young
male actor] was a shocking mortification to actors and a source of mourning
for the patrons. Ihara wrote that shaving the mae-gami was 'like
seeing unopened blossoms torn from the branch.' One source said a young man
without his forelock was no longer a young man. "He was, as they said at the
time, no more than a peasant. Finding that their beautiful wakashu
were no longer wakashu, their admirers, it is said, wept tears of
blood." However, enterprising actors found that by using a purple cloth they
could remain as alluring as ever. (Source and quotes: Homosexualities, by Stephen O. Murray, University of Chicago Press,
2002, p. 174)
The shaving of the forelock may not have been such a sudden act for a boy of
15 or 16. In the introduction to the The Great Mirror of Male Love
(Stanford University Press, 1990, p. 29) Paul Gordon Schalow tells us "At
the age of eleven or twelve the crown of the male child's head was shaved,
symbolizing the first three steps toward adulthood. The shaved crown drew
attention to the forelocks (maegami), the boys distinguishing
feature. At the age of fourteen or fifteen the boy's natural hairline was
reshaped by shaving the temples into right angles, but the forelocks
remained as sumi-maegami (cornered forelocks). This process, called
'putting in corners' (kado o ireru), was the second step towards
adulthood. From being a maegami (boy with forelocks), the wakashu had now
graduated to being a sumi-maegami (boy with cornered forelocks). The final
step, completed at age eighteen or nineteen, involved cutting off the
forelocks completely; the pate of his head was shaved smooth, leaving only
the sidelocks (bin). Once he had changed to a robe with rounded
sleeves, the boy was recognized as an adult man (yarō). He was no
longer available as a wakashu for sexual relations with adult men like
himself but was now qualified to establish a relationship with a wakashu."
Schalow addresses the historical issues of sexuality and the cutting of the
forelocks on pages 35-36: "Much to the chagrin of the authorities, kabuki
next became a vehicle for displaying the charms of beautiful boys, whether
as wakashugata or as onnagata. During the reign of the third Tokugawa
shogun, Iemitsu, the social problems produced by this situation were not
addressed, possibly because he was known as something of a connoisseur of
boys himself. Within a year after his death in 1651, boys were finally
banned from the stage, first in Edo and then in Osaka and Kyōto. Theater
proprietors negotiated with the authorities and were eventually allowed to
reopen the theaters under certain stipulations: the name kabuki was
forbidden, and the name 'Mime Theatrical Show' (monomane kyōgen zukushi)
replaced it; actors were told to reduce eroticism and increase the realism
and dramatic quality of their roles; and perhaps most important, boy actors
were required to shave off their forelocks in the manner of adult men (yarō)."
Above is the cover to the
paperback edition of
The Great Mirror of Male Love
Ihara Saikaku. In it are numerous
references to older men smitten
with young boys and either waxing poetically about or pining for one more
view of the young boys' forelocks.
Saikaku in Kichiya Riding a Horse mentioned a fight among samurai
which broke out over a young boy. Schalow tells us that was in the 6th month
of 1652 and led to the rule about shaving forelocks. Saikaku wrote: "Theater
proprietors and the boys' managers alike were upset by the effect it might
have on business, but looking back on it now the law was probably the best
thing that ever happened to them. It used to be that no matter how splendid
the boy, it was impossible for him to keep his forelocks and to take on
patrons beyond the age of twenty. Now since everyone wore the hairstyle of
adult men, it was still possible at age 34 or 35 for youthful-looking actors
to get under a man's robe. How strange are the ways of love!"
"Hair was in fact believed
to provide a direct connection to the gods. For example, the forelock on
children was left uncut because it was believed that this is what the gods
would yank on if the children were in trouble." Quoted from: Asian
Material Culture, essay by Martha Chaiklin, p. 41.
A latticework. In the
Yoshiwara or red-light district "There were three classes of bordellos..."
The houses with the highest class of prostitutes had a latticework which was
the largest, most expansive, running from near the floor all the way to the
ceiling. This was referred to as the ōmagaki or sōmagaki,
i.e., the large or complete lattice. Medium sized houses had lattices which
which only covered 3/4th of the space of the ōmagaki. These
were called han-magaki or majiri-magaki (a half or mixed
lattice). The lowest class houses which never offered the highest rank of
courtesans had a half lattice, i.e., the bottom was latticed and the top
half was open. These were called so-han-magaki or 'complete
half-lattice'. (Source: Yoshiwara: The
Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan, by Cecilia Segawa Seigle,
University of Hawaii Press, 1993, pp. 234-5)
A magaki can also
be a fence or hedge as can seen in the image below.
See also our entry on
on our Kogai thru Kuruma index/glossary page.
Topknot - "The usual wig for
male characters consists of a back hair section and side-locks that are
dragged back and tied into a forward-facing topknot (mage)." Quoted
from: A Guide to the Japanese Stage: From Traditional to Cutting Edge by Cavaye, Griffith and Senda, p. 75.
"...signs of dishevelment to
the topknot or sidelocks are usual indications of mental distraction
or of a rather disreputable character." (Ibid.)
Realm of demons, world of
Scrolls: When shown in
pairs they are one of the symbolic lucky treasures. They are often
The image to the left on top is similar to one shown in John Dower's book on
Japanese crests or mon. However, Dower lists it under a section on
amulets and notes that it was used by a branch of the Ikeda family from
Bizen province who remained 'hidden Christians' after the outlawing of
Christianity. This design was chosen not because of its well known
connection with Buddhism, but because it contained a hidden cross motif. The
image shown below that is shown in its more traditional form as one of the
lucky treasures. (See the first graphic entry on manji below.) Source: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, published by Weatherhill, 1991 edition, p. 102.
Pillow - In Back and Bed:
Ergonomic Aspects of Sleeping by Bart Haex from 2004 it says "The
traditional Japanese pillow (makura), for example, is filled with red beans,
or buckwheat chaff."
"In Far Eastern countries the
pillow was generally made of solid wood, and, for use in the summer, of
ceramics, covered with a small bag containing tiny seeds, etc. The wooden
pillow often contained a drawer or opening in which amulets were kept. In
Japan during the Tokugawa period, the daimyō' s pillow was often a
lacquered box having a slightly curved upper surface perforated with
ornamental designs. Through these was emitted smoke of burning incense
stored within, to ensure redolent slumber for the daimyō." Quote
from: The Trail of Time: Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia
by Silvio Bedini, 1994, fn. 17, p. 132.
"...in this cupboard the guests
sometimes find the sleeping blocks that serve the locals as pillows for
their heads. The blocks are shaped like a cube, are hollow, and are made of
six thin boards joined together. They are varnished on the outside, smooth
and clean, not much longer than one span, while their width and depth
is somewhat less, so that turning them in various ways one's head may be
higher or lower. The traveler cannot expect any further bedding from his
host. Those who do not carn their own bedding use the mat-covered floor as a
mattress, their coat as a blanket, and this hollow block of wood as a
pillow." Quoted from: Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed,
1999, p. 264. Kaempfer's book was first published in 1727.
"Stacked beside the futon
were the soba gara makura (soh-bah gahrah mah-koo-rah). These small pillows,
designed a thousand years ago, were filled not with the feathers from
suddenly naked, shivering geese, but of all things, with the hulls of
buckwheat! They were about as far from our fluffy, cushy Western headrests
as a pillow could be without being a chunk of wood. After a rough day at
work it was at first difficult to be lulled into dreamland by these pillows.
Rather, yoursleepy senses were convolutedly shocked awake. In particular,
your delicate hearing. As the weight of your head pressed into the
pillow, a bejillion tiny buckwheat hulls—sounding up close more like their
cousins, the harder and tougher peppercorns—began combatively shifting
in a noisy, grinding grating crunch until their jostling finally gave up on
the pecking order and settled into place. This place turned out to be the
perfect contour of your head. ¶ If you lay your head cheek-down upon this
container of grit with one of your finely-tuned ears (whose ability to hear
had now, without warning, magnified because of its close proximity to all
the racket) it sounded uncannily like the explosions under automobile
tires as they drove over a bountiful fall harvest of plump acorns spread
across a cement driveway. The ensuing, seemingly endless eruptions continued
until all the hulls had at last come to their raspy resting places—the
exact imprint of your now wide awake profile."
枕詞 or 枕言葉
Pillow word - "...a fixed
epithet placed before the names of provinces, mountains, and certain other
nouns, and perhaps intended originally to invoke the magic of a place by
mentioning its special attribute — its title, as it were. It is rather like
the epithets found in Homer, such as 'ox-eyed Hera' or 'fleet-footed
Achilles,' used even when the eyes or feet of the person are not in
question." Quoted from: The Pleasures of Japanese Literature by
Donald Keene, pp. 26-27.
"Pillow book" - "The meaning of
'pillow book' (makura sōshi) is uncertain, but the term is commonly
thought to have designated some kind of notebook. A sōshi ("book") was a
stitched fascicule of paper, often with leaves in a variety of colors."
Quoted from: A Tale of Flowering Fortunes by Helen Craig
McCullough, volume 1, 1980, p. 651.
An ancient Chinese mirror
making technique adopted by the Japanese in which a hidden image appears in
When the wearing of earrings became more popular among young men a number of
years ago I was incredibly naive. I still am, but now I know that there was
a coding system at that time as to which ear it is worn in. Quickly I was
taught the anti-gay mantra of "Right is wrong and left is right". And no I
am not anti-gay, buy that is the saying. I mention this because there seems
to be a lot of discussion out there as to the significance of which paw the
beckoning cat has raised. Mock Joya says that there is "...a popular
tradition that when a cat passses [sic] its left paw over its left ear it is
a sign that visitors will come." It must be true because these creatures are
ubiquitous. They come in ceramic, wood, bronze and other forms. They show up
in shops and restaurants everywhere. Sometimes the businesses are owned by
Japanese, but one is just as likely to run into them in Chinese, Korean or
even Waspish establishments.
One story about its
origin: There was a famous Yoshiwara
courtesan who had a pet cat. As the woman was entertaining a client the cat
kept pawing at her and would not go away. Irritated the client drew his
sword and beheaded the cat. Its head flew up toward the rafters and it
killed a snake which was about to strike the courtesan.
Grief stricken the
courtesan gave it an elaborate burial and erected a tombstone. Then she
asked a sculptor to recreate the cat in all its features. When done it
showed the cat with a left paw raised to its ear. She caressed and fed it -
or tried to - everyday. And this was the first maneki neko. (Source and quote:
Mock Joya's Things Japanese,
The image to the
left was created by David Wilcox especially for this site. Thanks David!
"Always in the dwelling which a band of geisha occupy there is a strange
image placed in the alcove. Sometimes it is of clay, rarely of gold, most
commonly of porcelain. It is reverenced: offerings are made to it,
sweetmeats and rice bread and wine; incense smoulders in front of it, and a
lamp is burned before it. It is the image of a kitten erect, one paw
outstretched as if inviting--whence its name, 'the Beckoning Kitten.' It is
the genius loci: it brings good-fortune, the patronage of the rich, the
favour of banquet-givers. Now, they who know the soul of the geisha aver
that the semblance of the image is the semblance of herself--playful and
pretty, soft and young, lithe and caressing, and cruel as a devouring fire."
(Quoted from: Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan by Lafcadio Hearn)
萬治 or 万治
The reign period from
This era "...though brief,
forms a key point in the development of ukiyo-e. For it was during this
period that in Edo (reconstructed after the Meireki Fire of early 1657), the
first illustrations and prints in fully developed ukiyo-e style appeared,
these being the work of that anonymous artist we call the 'Kambun Master'.
Manji marks, for that matter, a minor peak both in Kyoto and Edo
illustration, and many of the masterpieces of early Japanese book
illustraton date from this brief period." Quoted from: "Historical Eras in
Ukiyo-e" by Richard Lane in Ukiyo-e Studies and
Pleasures, Society for Japanese Arts and Crafts, the Hague, 1978, p. 28.
The image to the left is an
illustration from 1660 from the Utsuho monogatari. The image shown
above was posted at commons.wikimedia. It is said to be from Images from
the Floating World: The Japanese Print, Including an Illustrated Dictionary
of Ukiyo-e, New York, Putnam, 1978, p. 39. Below is an illustration to
the Tale of Genji from 1660.
The swastika which has
its origins in Indo-Aryan design and was adopted as a positive Buddhist
symbol of happiness and well-being. In China it came to mean 10,000 or
longevity, even eternity. "In Zen it symbolizes the 'seal of buddha-mind'..."
(Quoted from: The
Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, p. 214)
See also our entry for
A personal note: If I
have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times that the arms of the
Asian swastika go a different direction from that of the Nazi swastika. As
best I can tell this is untrue. The Asian swastika was so often incorporated
into decorative schemes that it can be found going both ways in the same
design. It would seem that people insist that there is a distinct and
noticeable difference between the swastika as it was used by the Asians and
by that of the Germans because they are trying to exonerate the original
source. However, this is really no more realistic than your run of the mill
The word 'swastika' is
of Sanskrit origin and was meant to convey a concept of well-being, fortune
or luck. Among certain Tibetan groups this symbol was always shown rotating
counterclockwise... "unlike the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist swastika, whose
sacred motion is clockwise." (Source and quote: The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, by Robert Beer,
published by Shambala, 1999, p. 344)
The image to the left
is a detail from a Kuniyoshi print.
To the left above the sickle, kama (鎌 or かま), crest or mon functions
on various levels. As a sickle it is associated with a protective deity
which cuts down its enemies. Combined into a swastika form would simply
magnify its efficacy.
Anyone who has studied ukiyo-e long enough will know that the manji
is used frequently, almost ubiquitously, over a period of decades.
Ordinarily it appears in the most subtle forms on the under-robes -
generally in blue and white patterns which are interlaced - being worn by
some of the figures. Because of its positive connotations it is rarely seen
on the clothing of villains as it is here.
Below is an
example by Kunitsuna where the blue and white swastika design is clearly
shown. To the left we have isolated a part of the design for easier viewing.
万字繋 or 卍繋
The interlocked swastika
motif. The term tsunagi refers to any number of motifs which are
interlinked, like .
The detail to the left comes
from a print in the Lyon Collection. Click on the image to see the full
"Man'yōgana are a set of
unmodified Chinese characters that were once used as phonetic symbols to
represent Japanese syllables. As the name suggests, man'yōgana (manyo
+ kana) was the writing system used in the Man'yoshu, an 8th
century anthology containing poems from the 5th century to 759 AD. Most
attempts to write Japanese prior to the Heian period (794-1185) fall into
the category of man'yōgana. Thereafter man'yōgana gives way to
other forms of kana." These characters were written "...without
modification or simplification." Since they represented only sounds they
might look like a traditional Chinese text but would be completely
unreadable nonsensical to a Chinese reader. (Source and quotes from: the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, vol. 4, p 131, entry by Haruo Aoki)
Japan's oldest poetry anthology
dating from the 8th century. Donald Keene in his Seeds in the Heart:
Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century
(Henry Holt and Company, 1993, p. 3) says: "Japanese poetry did not begin
with the Kokinshū. Indeed, it is generally accepted that many of the
finest poems of the language are found in the Man'yōshū, a collection
compiled well over a century earlier; but the secret of how to read the
complicated script in which the poems of the Man'yōshū were
transcribed was not unlocked until the seventeeth century, and during the
nine hundred years after the completion of the Man'yōshū, poets
looked back to the Kokinshū as the finest flowering of court poetry,
a model that they sought to emulate in language, subjects and above all its
typical form, the waka."
"The myth of Japan's
creation tells less of the islands' physical formation than their ritual
creation. Myths contained in the Kojiki (the earliest Japanese
history, compiled in 712) and the Nihon Shoki (a history of Japan
compiled in 720) were probably mythical accounts of ancient rituals,
especially imperial ones. It is likely too that the Man'yōshū (a
collection of ancient poems compiled in the mid-eighth century) was meant to
record ritual language, in the form of songs used in a variety of rituals
and ritual occasions and which were subjected to ritual protocol." Quoted
from: Chaos and Cosmos: Ritual in Early and Medieval Japanese Literature
by Herbert Plutschow, p. 3.
"...lit. a round chignon. the marumage hairstyle, a traditional coiffure developed
during the Edo period (1603-1868). The style is made up of an elevated
oval-shaped chignon, a small front tuft, and puffed-out back and side locks.
It was widely worn by married women until the end of the Meiji era
Quote from: Dictionary of Japanese Culture by Setsuko Kojima and
Gene A. Crane, p. 203.
Pine tree - a
symbol of longevity, winter and New Years and being virtuous.
The image to the
left on top is a detail from a Toyokuni I print showing a painted backdrop.
throughout the year, resistant to strong winds and heavy snows the pine came to
symbolize longevity. Several families adopted a variation on the pine
motif for use as their family crest.
Pine needle(s): These were
"...were used to express one's sincerity and sentiments in presenting gifts
to others." (Quoted from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p.364)
Above is a photo of
Portuguese pine needles
commons.wikimedia.org by Tintazul.
In a prominent Kyoto
restaurant one dish is called matsuba sōmen or green tea noodle fans.
It is described as "Fans of thin noodles, deep-fried to resemble pine needle
In some cases real green
pine needles are used as skewers for food much in the same way people in the
West use toothpicks.
Dictionary of Food and Cooking describes a particular display of splayed
cucumber as matsuba because it is reminiscent of pine needles.
Mushi-garei (蒸鰈 or むしがれい) is
steamed flatfish which is cooked with pine needles at the beach.
The image to the left is
shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro
Masaoka Shiki (正岡子規 or まさおかしき:
1867-1902) wrote a thoughtful and evocative poem in 1898 - as translated by
Gusts of winter wind-
pine needles strewn
all over the outdoor Noh stage
In a discussion of tattooing
techniques in Irezumi: the Pattern of Dermatography in Japan by
Willem R. van Gulik (p. 100) lists matsuba-mikiri (松葉みきり) or a
pine-needle border of "...closely spaced short vertical straight lines."
One of the houses of
prostitution in the Yoshiwara district of Edo was the Matsuba-ya or House of
Pine Needles. Courtesans from this establishment were illustrated by Choki,
Eishi, Utamaro and Kunisada. Below is a print of the courtesan Ichiwa of
Matasuba-ya by Utamaro. It is in the collection of the Cincinnati Art
Museum. Notice that the background pattern is the pine bark motif (see
matsukawa-bishi further down this page):
An age-matsuba (上げ松葉 or
あげまつば) is a teahouse in a garden where pine needles carpet the ground to
keep it and the moss from freezing in winter. It is said that "...Furuta
Oribe [古田織部 or ふるたおりべ: 1545-1615] devised this technique. These strewn
matsuba are picked up (ageru, age) little by little from
New Year's Day in the lunar calendar starting with those closer to the
teahouse until they are completely removed." (Source and quote from: Chado: The Way of Tea, p. 105) A poem by Fuhaku (不白 or ふはく: 1716-1807)
from the same book goes: The day when the bush warbler starts singing is
the day pine needles are picked up.
Kabuki plays adapted
from Noh theater
Pine bark lozenge
Matsumoto Kōshirō V
Scott Schnell in the Rousing
Drum: Ritual Practice in a Japanese Community (University of Hawaii
Press, 1999, p. 290) tells us exactly what the purpose of a matsuri
is. "The matsuri has been used at various times by its participants to
commune with the supernatural, establish or strengthen interpersonal
relations, generate and preserve a sense of collective identity, garner
prestige, further political ambitions, assert or reaffirm the authority of
the local elite and/or the state, challenge that authority, seek retribution
for perceived injustices, relieve tensions through cathartic expenditure of
energy, settle old scores, and stimulate economic development."
Gloria Ganz Gonick in her Matsuri! Japanese Festival Arts (published by the Fowler Museum, UCLA,
2002, p. 24) adds to what Schnell says: "The essence of matsuri is a
prescribed sequence of religious rites held for a group and led by a Shinto
priest. The original impetus for establishing a matsuri was
usually a felt need to commemorate a historic event of local
significance or to seek a fortuitous change in the economic or agricultural
outlook of a community. To accomplish this, it was deemed necessary to
directly interact with the Japanese deities (kami) and beseech their
cooperation." ¶ These festivals "...may include a lively costumed pageant,
promenading band, adn semiprofessional dance troops, as well as abundant
feasting and drinking." All of this originally has a religious basis, but
today such gatherings are increasingly secular. ¶ "Matsuri are hosted
by a particular Shinto shrine (jinja) of one community and organized
by its neighborhood association (chōnai-kai)." For that reason each matsuri has it own local flavor.
See also our entry on
float on our
thru Z index/glossary page.
Magic lantern -
We found the image to the
left, dating from before 1936, at Pinterest. It is by Shotei (aka Hiroaki -
1871-1945) and comes from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Okumura
Toshinobu from the 1720s seen below is from the collection of the MFA in
Boston. It, too, was posted at Pinterest.
Mawari-dōrō were "Introduced from China... [They] were
popular during the Edo period (1600-1868) for viewing on summer nights. The
lantern consists of a cylinder pasted over with paper silhouettes and placed
inside a circular frame covered with thin paper or cloth; heated air from a
lighted candle in the center of the cylinder causes this to revolve and
produce moving images on the translucent outer covering." Quoted from:
Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, Volume 5, entry by Saitō Ryōsuke, p.
Timothy Clark wrote about
this print that it shows a courtesan lounging on a hot early autumn day. She
is "...admiring the shadow show on the rotating mechanical lantern (mawari-dōrō)
beside her, which shows the retinue of a grand courtesan (oiran dōchū)
in procession beneath a large parasol. The winding path amid reeds along the
bottom of the lantern must represent Nihon-tsutsumi (Japan Embankment), the
route to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter. Hanging behind her to the left of
the reed blind is a large decorative bon lantern (bon-dōrō)
for the ura-bon festival, hled in veneration of dead ancestors around
the fifteenth day of the seventh month. ¶ Prominent on the courtesan's
sleeve is a crest of combined wisteria and water plantain (fuji-omodaka).
Not the crest of a kabuki actor, it is probably the personal crest of the
courtesan. This is thus a genre scene, not a theatrical print. The character
shinobu written on the courtesan's fan may be her name." Quoted from:
The Dawn of the Floating World p. 269.