A MILLION QUESTIONS
Port Townsend, Washington
Nehanzō thru Nusa
The photo of the geese on the lawn
at the Bloedel Reserve will be
as a marker from January 1 to
April 30, 2017.
The sapphire and diamond brooch was used
from May 1 thru August 31, 2016.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten,
Nigao-e, Nigimitama, Nihachi, Nihon zutsumi,
Nimaistuzuki, Ninja, Niō, Nise Murasaki inaka Genji,
Nobori, Noh, Nokori-enogu,
年号, 根生, 練革, 日蓮, 似顔絵,
和魂, 二八, 日本堤, 二十四行孝,
二枚続, 忍者, 仁王, 偐紫田舎源氏,
残り-絵の具, 乗り物, 糠袋,
ねんごう, ねおい, ねりかわ, にちれん,
にがおえ, にぎみたま, にはち, にほんづつみ, にじゅうしこう,
にまいつづき, にんじゃ, にんぎょ, におう,
にせむらさきいなかげんじ, にしきえ, にわか,
のこりえのぐ, のりもの, ぬかぶくろ,
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.
Nirvana or Buddha's passage
to spiritual existence
Death of Buddha picture -
"Paintings of the death of Buddha, called in Japan <i>'Nehanzō</i> (Nehan
means Nirvāṇa and zō means image) are not so numerous in Japan's
Buddhist art, in comparison to paintings of Amida, Jizō etc."
Quoted from: Indian Influence on the Art of Japan by Sampa Biswas, p.
Biswas goes on to note (p. 130) that scenes of the death of Buddha do not
traditionally include mourning animals. The author states that she believes
that this form of iconography was a Chinese invention which was then adopted
by the Japanese.
Among the menagerie of creatures is an elephant, a pair of mandarin ducks, a
peacock, a dragonfly - a symbol of Japan, animals of the zodiac including a
goat, a tiger, a boar, a hare, a horse, etc., a lion, a snail, a snake, a
cricket, a praying mantis, a worm, a toad or frog, a wasp, a turtle, a crab,
a slug, a lion, et al. Hovering, low to the ground, right above these
animals is an apsara flying figure beating a drum hanging on a cord
around her neck. Other figures in the lower half of this composition include
two, muscular temple guardians, an oni, Ema-O - the overseer of the Buddhist
hell, a horned dragon, and many others.
The image to the left is
from the Lyon Collection. Click on it to see an enlargement of it for better
Also an affectionate
term for a geisha. (See our entry on shamisen.)"
The character used for
cat in China is the same as the one used by the Japanese - 猫. However, in
China it is referred to as a mao "...given to it in imitation
of its mewing, but the composition of this name is intended to express an
animal which catches rats in grain.
[The italics are
those of the author C.A.S. Williams.]
are often created from the combination of certain basic elements, but I am
not one who is accomplished at parsing these. The left hand element (i.e.,
the radical) which means 'dog' or 'animal' works well with the right hand
element which means 'seedling' when standing alone.
I want to thank our great
contributor Eikei (英渓) for helping me with a clear understanding of this
Many sources claim that cats arrived in China at the same time as Buddhism.
However, the Kodansha Encyclopedia entry is not that specific. "The
domestic cat (Felix catus) was introduced to Japan from Korea and
China in ancient times, although there are no reliable records as to the
precise date or route. Judging from historical records which note that a
black cat was presented to Emperor Kōkō (830-887; r 864-887) from China and
that one was presented to Emperor Ichijō (980-1011; r 986-1011) from Korea,
it may be gathered that the cat was still a rare and highly prized animal in
the 9th and 10th centuries. It is believed to have become fairly common by
the close of the Heian period (794-1185). As a rule systematic breeding has
not been practiced in Japan, but the variety known as the Japanese cat has
since ancient times been described as a white hort-haired cat with black and
brown spots. Cats with long tails were once favored, but from the latter
half of the Edo period (1600-1868) those with stubby tails became popular."
This entry was written by Imaizume Yoshiharu.
One of the popular beliefs in
Japan was of 'the monster cat'. Below is an example of a woodblock print by
Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) from the Lyon Collection. Click on it to learn more.
However, there a plenty of
Japanese representations of cats which are just cats. One such example is
the Ishikawa Toraji (石川寅治) print below.
"NENGŌ, or 'ERA-NAMES',
represent the principal Japanese method of dating from early times to the
present day. Prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 they were often used
independently from the reigns of individual Emperors, being changed by the
Bakufu authorities more or less at will (sometimes, simply to indicate a
hoped-for change of luck after a 'Cabinet reorganization' or natural
calamity). ¶ Of the thirty-six nengō of the Tokugawa Period
(1600-1868) some were as brief as a year or two, others extended over two
decades. The more famous nengō: Kan-ei, Genroku, Kansei, Tempō - have
come to represent and embody the characteristics of their times..." 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. 27.
"'Root-born,' an actor
who is a true-born son of a vicinity where the generation of his ancestors
lived and where he has acquired patrons... For example, it is common to
refer to one of the Ichikawa Danjūrō line as an Edo neoi [江戸根生 or
Quote from: New Kabuki
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten, by Samuel L. Leiter,
1997, p. 466.
I am speculating
here, but it would seem to me that judging from other observations of
crowd behavior show an almost irrational attachment to hometown heroes. This
would have probably been even more pronounced with kabuki because there were
major differences in performing styles between actors from Edo - rough and
tumble - and that of Osaka - more delicate, more feminine.
Fan loyalty in this
case carries a geographic element to it to boot.
Worked rawhide: "Quality was
the greatest distinguishing feature between these early schools, but over
the centuries this would change to include other features such as the shape
and style of helmet bowls that they produced and the manner in which they
fabricated them. The Iwai, for example, one of the oldest of these guilds
were renowned for the items of armour that they made from rawhide, or
Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of kabuki jiten
A major source book
compiled by Samuel Leiter, but a bit confusing in its descriptions.
(1222-82) who was an evangelist of the Hokke or Lotus sect.
"...though based upon the canonical scriptures [the Lotus sect] was of truly
Japanese origin. It was founded by a Japanese teacher and it was
hostile to all other forms of Buddhism. It was militant and intolerant, and
therefore exceptional in a country where the common religious tradition was
tolerant to the point of indifference." Nichiren "...held that the truth was
to be found only in the Lotus Sutra, and called upon believers to strengthen
their faith by repeated utterance of the formula 'Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō,'
meaning Homage to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra."
an apocalyptic doctrine and he claimed that his coming as a bodhisattva was
foretold. He was also fervently patriotic. "...though he preached and wrote
energetically about peace, he was a most quarrelsome and intractable
saint...who used violent language to condemn the leaders of other sects..."
calling them liars, fiends and devils. However, his invectives were not
limited just to his religious rivals. He also attacked the governing
classes. Tried for treason he was due for execution when he was spared at
the last moment. Nichiren described this as a miracle. Over the ages many
other miracles have been attributed to him. Convinced of his messianic role
he never relented that all of Japan should follow him. Nevertheless, by 1282
when he died everyone had not come on board.
"Nichiren is the
most remarkable figure in his country's religious history, and he is
certainly among the first dozen of her great men." (Source and quotes:
A History of Japan to 1334, by George Sansom, Stanford University Press,
1993, pp. 426-8)
believes the roots of Japanese nationalism begin with Nichiren and not
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi showing Nichiren performing a
miracle during a storm at sea. This was sent to us by our generous
contributor E. Thanks E!
"In 1222, a child was born, who
was named Nichiren, because his mother dreamed that the sun (nichi, in
Japanese) had entered her." (Quoted from: Story of the World's Worship; :
A Complete, Graphic and Comparative History of the Many Strange Beliefs,
Superstitious Practices, Domestic Peculiarities, Sacred Writings, Systems of
Philosophy, Legends and Traditions, Customs and Habits of Mankind Throughout
the World. Ancient and Modern by Frank S. Dobbins, 1901, p. 658)
A true likeness in
portraiture: Prior to the late 18th century most print portraits had a
generic look to them. Only an identifying crest or accompanying text enabled
the viewer to discern which actor he was looking at. Donald Jenkins noted
that in print form prior to that "...the faces of actors were
indistinguishable from one another and all but interchangeable." Then Bunchō
and Shunshō began to draw the face with individualized characteristics such
as a hooked nose, narrow chin or high cheekbones. Suddenly it was clear to
anyone who knew the theater well which actor was portrayed. (Quote from: The
Actor's Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, Timothy Clark,
Osamu Ueda and Donald Jenkins, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 16)
Jack Hillier in his The Art of the Japanese Book (vol. 1, pp. 330-35) stresses that the
publication of the Ehon Butai Ōgi (絵本舞台扇 or えほん.ぶたい.おうぎ) 'The
Picture-book of Stage Fans' in 1770 was one of the greatest collaborations
ever between two artists "...when...Shunshō and Bunchō brought
[an] amalgam of dramatic portraiture and Harunobu-esque colour and grace to
a peak..." Bunchō, Hillier notes, suppressed his individualistic
artistic instincts to work cohesively with Shunshō. Each actor image was
displayed within a fan or ogi motif. Only the two different artists'
seals make the attributions iron clad. Shunshō (bottom left) used his
Hayashi seal and Bunchō (top left) used a seal featuring his family
We want to thank
our correspondent E. for providing these images and helping us graphically
to make our point. Images are almost always better than words - or, at
least, better with words. Thanks E!
Between 1925 and 1929 one of my
favorite 20th century Japanese print artists, Natori Shunsen, produced a
series of 36 actor prints in which the term nigao-e plays a major
part. They were published by Watanabe Shozaburō. The title of the series was
Shunsen nigao-e shū (春仙似顔集 or しゅんせんにがおしゅう) or "A Collection of 36
Portraits by Shunsen". Below is just one example from this series is this
portrait of Jitsukawa Enjaku II ([二代目]実川延若 or じつかわ.えんじゃく) as Danschichi
Kurobei (団七力郎兵衛. or だんしちくろべえ).
In 1817 Toyokuni I produced his
manual for "The Quick Instruction in the Drawing of Actor Likenesses" or
Yakusha nigao hayageiko. There is a copy of this in the collection of
the British Museum and it is a page is illustrated in Chushingura and the
Floating World: The Representation of Kanadehon Chushingura in Ukiyo-e
Prints by David Bell (2001, p. 111).
Early in his career - ca. 1794
- Utamaro also used the term nigao in the title to one of his series
of prints of beautiful women. This may have been influenced by the
appearance of those remarkable prints being produced at that time by
"Toyokuni's depiction of highly stylized facial features in a conventional
three—quarters view of the head follows pictorial precedents established in
nigao, or 'true likenesses'... Nigao offered a system of
standardized, highly stylized caricature—like 'distillations' of likenesses
of individual actors. Introduced by Katsukawa Shuncho from the 1760s the
convention was widely employed well into the nineteenth century." Quoted
from: Chushingura and the Floating World: The Representation of Kanadehon
Chushingura in Ukiyo-e Prints by David Bell, 2013, p. 32.
"The nigi-mitama, which
is the counterpart of the ara-mitama, is described as mild, quiet, refined,
peace, what gives peace, what makes adjustments to maintain harmony, a
spirit empowered to lead to union and harmony..." Quoted from: Shinto: At
the Fountainhead of Japan by Jean Herbert, p. 44.
"At the shrine, usually
nigimitama is enshrined in the main- or inner-shrine called honden..."
The nigimitama is also installed in the
ihai, the mortuary or memorial tablet. Source: The Essence of
Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart by Motohisa Yamakage, p. 134.
"It is understood that the
idea of one spirit, four souls is inherent in all things. With minerals,
aramitama is the predominant influence, whilst with plant and animal
life nigimitama is foremost." For example, in trees nigimitama
represents the sap and resin. In humans it "Governs the blood, body fluid,
lymphatic fluid, skin, hair, brain, eyeballs, etc." (Ibid., pp. 134-135)
In footnote 164 of Motoori Norinaga's The Two Shrines of Ise: An Essay of Split Bamboo (p.
55) it says: "It is believed that one god can have several spirits, each of
a different character. A god's mild, luck-bringing aspects are worshipped as
his 'Gentle Spirit' (nigimitama), and his forceful, destructive
aspects as his 'Turbulent Spirit' (aramitama)."
According to Shinto: A
Celebration of Life by Aidan Rankin (p.32) a balance between aramitama
and nigimitama means that things will work smoothly, as they should. An
imbalance can cause spititual and physical illnesses. "Their sundering
can result in death, which is departure of the animating principle, or
essence, from the physical being."
Soba udon mixture
The Nihon zutsumi was a
dike or embankment which led to the New Yoshiwara from the direction of
Asakusa (浅草 or あさくさ).
According to J. E. De Becker in
his Yoshiwara: The
Nightless City (pp. 15-16) it may have been constructed as early as 1621
and originally was made up of two roadways. In time one of them disappeared
to public work projects. The remaining dike/road ran 5004' long and 60' wide
with a horse path taking up half of that. "At the time of the construction
of the Nihon-dsutsumi, a large number of lacquer-trees (urushi-no-ki) were
planted on both sides of the road, forming a veritable avenue,* and it was a
common joke to warn an habitué of the Yoshiwara by saying significantly -
'When you pass along the Sanya road, mind you don't get poisoned by
De Becker added the asterisk:
"Trees planted in this manner by the authorities were called 'goyō-boku,'
or 'government trees.' Lacquer trees are poisonous, and the sap produces a
severe rash on the skin if handled."
But that wasn't the only hazard
of traveling atop this dike. According to Cecilia Segawa Seigle in her Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan (pp. 57 and
114-5) individuals and groups were made more vulnerable to assaults and
robberies. This was especially true of men who were leaving the Yoshiwara
after a night of debauchery. She also relates one early account which
she says some scholars consider vulgar. I am not a scholar, but I would tend
to agree with that assessment so I am not going to repeat it here. However,
if you would like to read it for yourself you can find it on pp. 44-45 of
The image shown above is a
detail from a print by Hiroshige ca. 1858. Noticeable is the lack of lacquer
trees lining both sides of the route. Curious, hmmm? Maybe they were removed
for safety reasons. Who knows?
24 Paragons of Filial Piety:
As early as the beginning of the eleventh century it was common practice
among the highest members of the imperial court to perform a fumihajime
or ritual reading of part of the Confucian, Chinese based, nijūshikō
by a son of seven or eight. "Ostensibly to show the child how to read, it
was a purely symbolic event, during which the elaborately robed young
principal sat in silence while a Reader (Jidoku) intoned, and a Repeater (Shōfuku)
repeated, a few words from a suitable text, usually the Classic of Filial
Piety (Hsiao-Ching). At Crown Prince Atsuhira's fumijajime, held on
the Twenty-eighth of the Eleventh Month, 1014, in Tsuchimikado Mansion, only
the title and the first four characters of the Hsiao-Ching were read.
As was usual the assembled dignitaries then adjourned to another part of the
mansion for a banquet." (Quoted from: Footnote 1,
Chapter 12 (Clustered Chrysantemums), A Tale of Flowering Fortunes:Annals
of Japanese Aristocratic Life in the Heian Period, translated by William
H. McCullough and Helen Craig McCullough, Stanford University Press, 1980,
vol. 2, 1980, p. 429)
Both of the illustrations
here of filial piety are from prints by Kuniyoshi.
The irony is that the "24
Paragons of Filial Piety" were assimilated
from the immutable Chinese
concepts handed down by Confucius
while the images are most
definitely adaptations of Western art.
An indication of the
consistency of tradition in the Imperial Court comes from Donald Keene's Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 (Columbia University
Press, 2002, p. 3). Keene quotes from the memories of Higashikuze Michitomi,
a childhood friend of the future Meiji Emperor. "On the seventh day of the
sixth month, his ninth birthday, there was the ceremony of 'first reading.'
It was not that the prince had never read anything before he was nine. He
had in fact already read the Classic of Filial Piety and the Great
Learning... and the ceremony was purely a formality. The prince sat in
the middle level wearing an ordinary court costume, his sleeves held back by
threefold purple cords and laced trousers with violet hexagonal patterns." A
low desk is placed before the prince and one of the court figures "...of the
third rank came forward and seated himself before the desk. He read the
preface to the old text of the Classic of Filial Piety three times.
The prince immediately read through this text in the same way." The desk was
then taken away and the prince withdrew.
In her translation to
another Japanese classic, the "Tales of Ise", Helen Craig McCullough wrote
about the influence of Confucianism on Heian society (平安時代 - 794-1195):
"Heian society was hedonistic, but not debauched, extravagant but not
unrestrained. Excess of any kind was vulgar, vulgarity was the unpardonable
sin. Confucian influence thus helps to account for the restraint,
refinement and elegance of Heian court life and Heian court poetry - and
also, it must be added, for the tyranny of tradition, the concern of form at
the expense of content, and the bloodless quality of the typical Heian
courtier as he appears in literature, all graceful poses, fine robes and
fashionable airs." (Tales of Ise: lyrical episodes from tenth-century
Japan, Stanford University Press, 1968, p. 22.)
In the 8th century there was
an empress who "...issued an edict that each household in Japan should
provide itself with a copy of Hsiao Ching, the Confucian 'Classic of
Filial Piety'..." (Quoted from: The World of
the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan, by Ivan Morris,
Kodansha International, 1994, p. 95)
Morris continues: "It is
hard to say how much this stress on the family unit derived from Confucian
influence and how much from early native tradition. The circulation of books
like the 'Classic of Filial Piety' must have helped to give concrete,
systematic form to ideas until then were somewhat amorphous and ill-defined.
The stress on family continuity, and the widespread habit of adoption that
it involved, were certainly related to Confucian doctrine, which regarded
the absence of posterity as the greatest of crimes. Ancestor worship and its
numerous ramifications were mainly of Chinese origin; there is nothing in
the native religion that prescribed the worship of deified men by their
descendants." (Ibid., 95-6) ¶ Morris notes that even early on by the time of
Murasaki Shikibu adherence to Confucian concepts was more window dressing
than sincere practice: "...we often get the impression that the precepts
laid down by Confucius and his followers did not weigh too heavily on them
when it came to their actual behaviour. Prince Genji, for instance, may have
paid lip service to the theories of the family cult and filial piety, but
from a Confucian point of view his life could hardly been less exemplary.
Yet Murasaki presents him almost as an ideal hero and no doubt most of her
contemporary readers accepted him as such. It was not until centuries later
that Genji, Fujitsubo, and other characters in the novel were condemned for
their flagrant breaches of Confucian ethics." (Ibid., p. 96)
The Daigaku-ryō (大学寮 or
だいがくりょう) or 'University Bureau' was established in the 7th century to train
mostly the sons of higher rank court officials for the posts of state
administrators. Based on contemporary Chinese models they studied among
other things - you guessed it - the Confucian 'Classic of Filial Piety'.
"The Classic of Filial
Piety and the Analects served as primers for Chinese
sociopolitical concepts. If the Analects provided the locus classicus
for the polestar monarch... the Classic of Filial Piety homologized
the relationship between fathers and sons with that between rulers and
subjects to extend the duties of filial piety beyond the household..."
(Quote from: The Emergence
of Japanese Kingship, by Joan R. Piggott, Stanford University Press,
1997, p. 172)
A Japanese woodblock diptych
or two-panel composition. (See also ichmai-e and sanmaitsuzuki.)
translates this phrase as "shadow warrior". 9 Quote from: The
Actor's Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, Timothy Clark,
Osamu Ueda and Donald Jenkins, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 112)
the ancient art of subterfuge. "...a supposedly magical art for making
oneself 'invisible' by artifice or strategem in order to evade detection,
used especially by those engaged in espionage. Also known as shinobi
[忍び or しのび]." The author of the entry in the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan
refers to ninja as "secret agents".
There are numerous
theories about the origin of the ninja, but as Tomiki Kenji says they
"...are nothing more than legend." One school believes that Susanoo no
Mikoto, the brother of the sun goddess, started it off by turning his new
bride into a comb which he stuck in his hair. In another version a different
god or kami ordered a pheasant to spy for him. By the time of the
Sengoku period (1467-1568) the practices of the ninja were in full
swing. These spies were similar to what we now know in the West as the CIA
and MI-5 where often agents work surreptitiously behind enemy lines. But like
the modern espionage institutions much of what we think we know about them
is clouded in nearly complete secrecy and almost totally unreliable. (Source material
entry by Tomiki Kenji Suzuki, vol. 6, pp. 6 & 7)
Mermaid (or merman): There
is almost nothing I can find about Japanese mermaids in English in my
reasonably large, reference library. This is quite odd. In fact, there are
almost no mermaids portrayed in Japanese prints. I know of only a couple of
example. However, there is an ehon illustrated by Toyokuni I with
numerous images. But what the exact story is I don't know. (The image to the
left is a detail of one of Toyokuni's early 19th century illustrations. The
coloring is mine. Sacrilege. Note also the gold coins which the fellow is
dropping at her tail.)
There is the tale of Yaohime
(八百姫 or やおひめ) or the 800 year old virgin: In one version it is the 5th
century. Several men are invited to a feast by a very strange man. However,
none of them will eat any of the equally strange looking food. As the guests
are leaving one of them grabs a piece of meat, takes it home, wraps it in
paper and puts it on a shelf at home. His young daughter finds it and tastes
it. As a result she becomes strikingly beautiful and never grows older than
fifteen. After 800 years she dies and a shrine is erected to honor her. ¶
"There are many ancient records of ningyo or mermaids appearing in
the sea around Japan." Most sketched 'from life' are said to be strikingly
beautiful. Sometimes they are shown with arms and breasts and sometimes
their whole body is that of the fish with only the head that of a human as
in the example to the left. (Source and quotes: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p. 233)
The description of mermaids
given above allow for only two types: Those with breasts and those without
because everything below the neck is supposedly fish. However, there appears
to be a third category: The breasts are actually fins. Now there is the rub.
Whenever you read something about Japanese culture or more specifically
about Japanese prints and the author sounds definitive and absolute, don't
believe it. If there is anything about Japanese prints which could be
considered doctrinaire then let me know what it is. The image shown below is
one such case in point. Look at her chest. Look at it carefully. (To be
fair, it may just be the invention of this artists, but considering the fact
that mermaids are not facts then it would seem the variations are almost
endless and any artist can say 'She looked like this. Really. Exactly like
this.' And, who is to prove otherwise.)
The two benevolent
guardian kings found at the entry to Buddhist temples.
two Deva kings; a pair of guardian divinities of a temple. Statues of them
stand at the sides of a temple gate or a Buddhist image. Their task is to
guard the temple or the Buddhist image from evil spirits with their fierce
countenances. They are also referred to as Kongō-Rikishi [金剛力士 or こんごうりきし]:
one is Kongō with his mouth open as if saying 'a' (あ) which implies
'beginning,' and the other, Rikishi, has his mouth closed as if saying 'n'
(ん) which implies 'end,' these implications having to do with Buddhist
Quote from: Dictionary of Japanese Culture by Setsuko Kojima and
Gene A. Crane, p. 243.
According to the
Oxford English Dictionary a Deva is "A god, a divinity, one of the good
spirits of Hindu mythology."
The images to the
left both emphasize the 'human' nature of these figures. Although they would
have been carved of wood they were meant to instill a sense of unearthly
power in believers. The one on the top is a detail from a print by Kuniyoshi
where he honors the remarkable sculptor Hidari Jingorō (左 甚五郎 or ひだり じんごろう -
fl. late 16th to early 17th c.) who like Pygmalion was so adept at his craft
that one could easily believe that his creations could come to life. In this
case Kuniyoshi has used a kabuki actor's visage for his model. The one below
is a detail from a vertical diptych by Kuniyoshi's pupil Yoshitoshi. That
image was sent to us by our dear friend Mike. Thanks Mike!
Nise Murasaki inaka Genji
Murasaki and rustic Genji" was a serial novel written by Ryūtei Tanehiko
(1783-1842: 柳亭種彦 or りゅうていたねひこ) and published by
(鶴屋喜右衛門 or つるや.きえもん) between 1829 and 1842. It was probably the most popular
novel written in the 19th century and made even more so by the wonderful
illustrations of Kunisada. In fact, Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848: きょくてい.ばきん), a
rival author and rather snippy competitor, "...ever acerbic, declared the
illustrations the single best feature of the entire work." Bakin questioned
in particular Tanehiko's lack of scholarship and it is known that after the
latter died and an inventory was made of his rather extensive library there
were no copies of "The Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu. But in the end
this does not mean very much.
to the left and below are both by Kunisada. The top one is a detail sent to us by one
of our valued correspondents. For this we thank him heartily. Remember these
are only two examples of an enormous corpus of such prints which form their
nineteenth century variation on the theme of Genji had numerous
intervening precedents going back several centuries. Even the great author
of puppet plays, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724: 近松門左衛門 or ちかまつ.もんざえもん)
composed works which have been described as "freewheeling adaptations of
The early chapters
of the Rustic Genji hardly show a knowledge of the original 11th century
masterpiece. Prince Genji was renamed Matsuuji (光氏 or みつうじ) who was made the
son of a shogun rather than that of an emporor. Even the styles were
divergent. Compared to the elegant (ga: 雅) "Tale of Genji" this new
version was considered vulgar (zoku: 俗). There was more of
kabuki in the early part of this series than anything else. Tanehiko knew
his market well and catered to its needs: dramatic struggles, the search for
stolen treasures, twists which made sudden turns, love trysts in the
pleasure quarters. All of this occured in a condensed fashion.
Bakin insisted that
this novel was geared more to women and children than to educated men. There
may be a grain of truth in this considering that most of Tanehiko's
contemporaries were ignorant of Lady Murasaki's work. Her writing was too
plodding and archaic for most of the population. Tanehiko spiced it up and
the public loved it.
was set in the Heian period (794-1185: 平安or へいあん). However, Mitsuuji's is a
Muromachi (ca. 1336-1573: 室町 or むろまち) blade. But this is a Muromachi period
unlike any other. Tanehiko modernized it with a slew of oddities. "He notes,
even underlines in chapter prefaces, the deliberate anachronisms he has
introduced: clocks, telescopes, tobacco, a sort of Greek fire borrowed from
'Southern barbarians,' and the shamisen, 'newly introduced from the Ryūkyūs."
In later chapters -
Tanehiko died before finishing the novel - he moved much closer to the
original "Tale of Genji". "...the author is at pains to provide some
equivalent for even slow moving portions of the relatively static 'Suma' and
'Akashi' chapters." However, by the end of his efforts Tanehiko "...adhere[s]
most conspicuously to the episode sequence of the original, even to the
point of mechanical parallel transposition of consecutive Genji
chapters into consecutive Inaka Genji half-chapters." Sometimes the
Heian work is quoted "...verbatim or with minor modifications. While the
tense theatrical style of the earliest chapters does surface sporadically,
these final, most imitative segments represent the final victory of the
'elegant' component, and capitulation of the 'vulgar'." (Source and quotes
from: The Willow in Autumn: Ryūtei Tanehiko, 1783-1842,
by Andrew Lawrence Markus, Harvard University Press, 1992, pp. 119-158)
THE POINT: There
are a load of Genji pictures out there - many if not most of them by
Kunisada, aka, Toyokuni III - and they remain extremely popular among
today's collecting public. Often these prints have those nearly ubiquitous
Genji-mon or little crests which ostensibly represent identifiable
chapters. But beware! They don't always line up with the texts - at least as
best I can tell. And, goodness knows, they often have no clear connection
with anything written from the brush of Lady Murasaki.
MORAL: Don't try to
figure out the iconography of the Genji prints you own or see unless
you are used to pulling your hair out. If and when there is a good/great
English translation the Rustic Genji then we can revisit this problem.
"The love affairs
that sprinkle the pages are described with conventional skill and heightened
by the charm of Kunisada's illustrations, but there is something
unpleasantly cold and deliberate about Mitsuuji's systematic use of the
women he sleeps with to further his investigation. Judged in terms of the
samurai morality, Mitsuuji is superior to Genji in that his love affairs are
occasioned not by fleshly lust but by a higher purpose, recovery of the
treasures. But it is hard for us to feel affection for this love machine or,
for that matter, for the women of different social stations who vie to
become his slaves." (Quoted from: World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-modern Era, 1600-1867,
by Donald Keene, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1976, p. 433) ¶ Donald Keene makes
it clear that Tanehiko was well aware of his model. "Tanehiko also had
difficulties determining how faithful he should be to the plot of The
Tale of Genji. His manuscripts are full of crossings out and additions,
indicating his uncertainties, especially at the beginning of the work. It
was with great reluctance that he finally dropped an opening paragraph
directly modeled on Lady Murasaki's famous lines, but as a mark of tribute
to the original author he pretended that a woman, a court lady named Ofuji,
had written his work." (Ibid., p. 432)
This is the term for style of colored woodblock prints which form the
overwhelming majority of ukiyo production where each color requires the use
of a separate block. It stands in contradistinction to
that of earlier hand-colored prints. While many sources state that Harunobu
originated this technique in 1765 there are at least two other examples by Shunshō from the previous year. This is
according to Timothy Clark of the British Museum. "Some authorities
maintain, however, that
earliest nishiki-e actor prints date from 1768; see, for example,
Rober Keyes's comments in Ukiyo-e Shūka, vol. 13 (1981), no. 126."
(Quote from: The
Actor's Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School, Timothy Clark,
Osamu Ueda and Donald Jenkins, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 94, note
abrupt, unexpected, improvised: This is also the description of a form of
'spontaneous' entertainment held each year in the Yoshiwara or red light
district of Edo. In time it was considered one of the three greatest events
of the Yoshiwara and was performed in the eighth month. It originated in the
early 18th century and became an annual event starting in c. 1732. "This was
an entertainment planned in conjunction with the festival of Kurosuke Inari,
Yoshiwara's patron fox-god. (Qioted from: Yoshiwara: The Glittering World
of the Japanese Courtesan, by Cecilia Segawa Seigle, University of
Hawaii Press, 1993, p. 108) "By the end of the eighteenth century, niwaka
was an elaborate festival with a parade of floats carrying courtesans,
shinzō, and kamuro performing to the music of drums, shamisen,
and flutes. The procession stopped in front of every other teahouse and the
courtesans, shinzō, and kamuro did a dance atop the float. It
was a colorful festivity that grew larger and more extravagant with time.
The Japanese love of festivals ensured that this event would attract many
spectators from Edo, just as the Yoshiwara proprietors had hoped." (Ibid.)
Geishas who participated arranged their hair to make them look like young
men. (Ibid., p. 129) ¶ There must have been a hiatus in these performances
at the Yoshiwara because Allan Hockley in his book on Koryūsai said they
were revived in 1776 to help bring attention and business to the district. ¶
Niwaka is described as "...an amateur theatrical entertainment then
popular [i.e., the early 18th c.] in the Osaka pleasure quarters that was
heavily dependent upon wordplay." (Quoted from: Shikitei Samba and the
Comic Tradition in Edo Fiction by Robert Leutner, p. 67) ¶ In a footnote
Leutner says "It has often been pointed out Ikku's Hizakurige was
strongly influenced by niwaka, another late-Edo comic storytelling
art. (Ibid., p. 129) [See our entry on the
Mare on our Seikichiku thru Sh page.]
In The Yoshiwara From Within,
an unattributed 19th century account, the author state: "...the professional
buffoons, belonging to the infamous quarter, as well as the singing and
dancing girls, all in disguise, perform the low comedy, usually men in
women's and women in men's dress. Besides, some ten or twenty singing-girls,
wearing men's clothes, draw a gigantic lion-head made of wood, unitedly
singing barbarous songs, accompanied with strange music. These are old
standing customs. At this time they make their garments as beautiful and
costly as possible, it being a matter of emulation among them."
A military, samurai banner - "A
is a tall identifying banner attached to a vertical pole and a top
horizontal crosspiece. This level of support allowed the banner to remain
visible regardless of wind. The banner's association with a particular
commanding daimyō led to their frequent use to indentify army subdivisions."
Quoted from: O-umajirushi: A
17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry, p. xvi.
classical form of Japanese theater. Andrew
L. Markus in his article "The Carnival of Edo: Misemono - Spectacles
From Contemporary Accounts" published by the Harvard Journal of Asiatic
Studies says "Though refined into an elite private art form during the late
medieval period, the stately nō drama traces its origins to the
popular public sarugaku 猿楽 'monkey diversion' show - and in some
opinions ultimately to the sangaku 散楽 'miscellaneous entertainment' acrobatics of
the Nara period." The illustration to the left comes from
a "...hand-coloured tanryoku-bon 1660 book Kyogen-ki by an unknown artist."
This image was
generously contributed to our site by E. Thanks E!
Cherry-wood blocks are desirable for their
quality of nokori-enogu or as Hiroshi Yoshida notes "...it has power
to retain a part of the pigment after printing. By the time about ten sheets
have been printed, the block absorbs and retains some of the pigment which
cannot be wiped off or printed away and which gives a desirable tone to the
( Japanese Woodblock Printing,
1939, pp. 16-17)
Literally it means
'vehicle', but in this case it is the elegant, lacquered, enclosed palanquin
used by a daimyo or other high official when traveling.
In The Shogun Age Exhibition (cat. entry #239, p. 232) it states "...one
rode facing forward with legs tucked underneath. Although the interior seems
small and cramped, there was sufficient room for reading and writing and
performing small tasks." Slats on the front and the sides could be adjusted
from the inside for better views of the scenery.
in his 18th century book on Japan discussed the differences (and
similarities) between the common kago and the elegant norimono.
kago on our
Kakuregasa index/glossary page] The "handsome and hollow" pole of
the norimono "consists of four thin boards skillfully joined to resemble a
narrow, solid pole with a rising curve in the center, and it is therefore
much lighter than it appears from the outside. The height and length of
these poles are regulated by law according to one's station, and the
eminence and lofty station of rulers and high-ranking lords are mainly
indicated by the height of these carrying-poles. Those who consider
themselves to be greater than they actually are occasionally use poles with
a curve higher than that permitted, but they often fare badly and with much
humiliation are forced to remove it. This government regulation does not
apply to women, and they are not prohibited from going beyond their station.
The compartment itself is an oblong cubicle, and the largest are so big that
a person can sit and rest comfortably. The walls are carefully woven from
finely split bamboo, sometimes lacquered, delicate, and precious. On each
side is a sliding door, and in it or next to it - sometimes also in the
front or at the rear - is a small window. On occasion they also have a small
flap at foot level so that people can sleep with their legs stretched out."
Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed, edited and translated by
Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey, University of Hawaii Press, 1999, p. 246.
introduction of soap and other modern cosmetics, Japanese women had their
own way of beautifying themselves. First, in washing their faces they used
nukabukuro or little cotton bags containing rice bran. The bag was
moistened and applied to the face and hands, or all over the body when
taking a bath.
The moistened bran
gives off a whitish juice which is believed to be good for the skin."
Quote from: Mock
Joya's Things Japanese, p. 7.
A term which means
stretched cloth or the proper name of a waterfall.
"...technique of producing textile weave (using no pigment) in finished
Japanese Print-Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern Techniques, by
Toshi Yoshida & Rei Yuki, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1966, p. 168.
In the Yoshitoshi
detailed example to the left one can clearly see the textile pattern below
the printed text. The image below that shows the full print. The area with
the nunomezuri is in the upper left. Such details are very easy to
miss. That is why an extremely close reexamination of the prints you already
own is well worth the effort.
rhus javanica. The crushed gall of this plant is used in making of tooth
blackening powder applied by married women in the premodern era. (See
our entry on
for a more extensive discussion of tooth blackening.)
These two images, one
showing the sumac tree in flower and the other picturing the galls, are
being shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
You should make sure to visit Shu's wonderful site.
A wand composed of
a branch of the sakaki tree adorned with a zig-zag cut paper used as a
(See also the
entries for tamagushi, sakaki, shide and shimenawa.)
幤 is also pronounced
hei. Also, as nusa it can be an offering of cut paper, cloth or rope.
W. G. Aston in his Shinto: The Way of the Gods describes variations
on the nusa or gohei. "The clothing of the ancient Japanese
consisted of hemp, yuju (a fibre made of the inner bark of the paper
mulberry), and silk. All these materials are represented in the Shinto
offerings... Silk, however, was at this time still somewhat of a novelty,
and, therefore, religion being conservative, it takes a less conspicuous
place. But hemp and bark-fibre, with the textiles woven from them, are very
common offerings. They were more convenient than perishable articles of food
for sending to shrines at a distance from the capital, and as cloth was the
currency of the day, it was a convenient substitute for unprocurable or
objectionable articles." ¶ Aston describes one type of nusa called
the "...oho-nusa (great offering)... [which] consists of two wands
placed side by side, from the ends of which depend a quantity of hempen
fibre and a number of strips of paper. One of the wands is of cleyerica
japonica, or evergreen sacred tree. The other is a bamboo of a
To the left is an image
taken from a print by Hokusai showing a Shinto priest holding a single gohei.
The photograph below was taken by nnh and placed in the public domain at
The cintāmaṇi stone or
wish-fulfilling jewel. See also our entry on hōju.
A lay priest according to the
Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary from the 1954 edition.
Other dictionaries give more expansive definitions.
To the left is a detail from a
late 18th century print by Kunimasa showing the actor Sawamura Sōjūrō III as
the lay priest Taira no Kiyomori.