A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
Ro thru Seigle
TERMS FOUND ON THIS
Rokudō, Rokudō no suji, Rokuro-kubi, Rokushaku,
Rōnin, Teddy Roosevelt, Rosoku-tate, Russo-Japanese War,
Ryōgoku Bridge, Ryūgū, Ryū no tamago,
Saigō Takamori, Saikaku, Sai no kawara,
Sakura, Samegawa, Samurai,
Sanbasō, Sanemori Monogatari, Sangi, Sango,
Sanko, Sanmaitsuzuki, Santō Kyōden,
kawa, Saru, Sasa, Sasabeni, Sasa rindō,
Sawamura Gennosuke II,
Sawamura Sōjūrō IV,
Sawamura Sōjūrō V, Sawamura Tanosuke II,
Dean J. Schwaab, Sedai, Segawa Kikunojō
Seigaiha and Cecilia Segawa Seigle
六道, 六道の辻, 轆轤首, 六尺, 六尺救米, 浪人, 蝋燭立て,
日露戦争, 両国橋, 竜宮, 鷺娘, 西郷高盛, 犀角,
榊, 鎖国, 桜, 鮫皮, 侍, 三番叟, 実盛物語, 算木, 珊瑚, 三鈷杵, 三枚続,
山東京伝, 三途の川, 猿, 笹, 笹紅, 笹竜胆, 沢村源之助,
沢村宗十郎, 澤村田之助, 紗綾形,
世代, 瀬川菊之丞 and 青海波
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
In Buddhism the Six Realms
(or Paths) of Existence: "Discussions of the Six Paths, or circumstances
into which a being may be born, usually treat them in ascending order of
desirability: hell, the world of hungry spirits, the world of animals, the
world of eternal armed conflict, the world of men, and heaven." (Quoted
from: The Tale of Heike by Helen Craig McCullough, p. 469.
"Karma determines 'the
direction of travel, the rate of travel, and the specifics of one's next
birth' across the cosmology of six paths. Insofar as one's karma is always
in the process of becoming, one is always on the way to being reborn in
another existence, another being. In ascending order, the six paths are:
sufferers in hell (jigoku), hungry ghosts (gaki), animals (chikushō),
warriors (shura), human being (ningen), and heavenly beings (tenjō)."
(Quoted from: Theatricalities of Power: The Cultural Politics of Noh
by Steven Brown, p. 51)
Plutschow cites the work of Tsukudo Reikan (筑土鈴寛 or つくどうれいかん: 1901-1947) who
posited that tales like the that of the Heike and which were originally
chanted were meant as prayers for the souls of those who were lost in the
struggle. Plutshcow notes specifically as one example the drowning of the
child emperor Antoku (安徳天皇 or あんとくてんのう). "He calls the Tales a
monogatari literature to pray for victims' karma and claims them to be a
'Rokudō rinkai monogatari', or a tale about reincarnation into the Six
Rokudō is a scheme of reincarnations according to karmic reward or
punishment for anterior acts, which would push a person either up or down
the Six Paths: Gods, Humans, Warriors, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Sufferers
in Hell. In one of the Tales' ending chapters entitled 'The Six
Paths,' the events are explained by the Buddhist notion that all is subject
to change, even life and its ages of glory and passion. Life is seen as a
passage through Six Paths and thus the drowning of the child-Emperor Antoku
is seen as a fall from what appears to be a substage of heaven into hell.
Such fallen people as the Heike and the child-Emperor become then the
Tales' evil spirits which must be dealt with by constant prayer. To
appease these spirits was the sacred duty of the living." (Quoted from:
Chaos and Cosmos: Ritual in Early and Medieval Japanese Literature by
Herbert E. Plutschow, p. 224)
As you know Buddhism came to Japan via China which got it from India. "The
transmission of Buddhism to China at the beginning of the common era
introduced the principles of karma and rebirth, the heart of the Buddhist
afterlife. Although the six paths of rebirth was a new concept to the
Chinese, the realm of hungry ghosts immediately struck a resonating chord
because of its similarities to traditional ideas of the dead as wandering,
disembodied spirits; similarly the bureaucratic metaphor was transposed onto
Buddhist retributive hells." (Quote from: The Making of a Savior
Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China by Zhiru, p. 199)
As for Japan - "The concept of the Six Paths entered Japan in the tenth
century, and became influential in art and culture from the eleventh century
onwards. Both as an intellectual doctrine and in religious practice it is
closely related to the worship of Amida: the six forms of Kannon, his chief
lieutenant and the most compassionate of all bodhisattvas, operate on his
behalf in each of the six paths of existence to rescue sentient beings from
the chains of causation." (Quoted from: Religion in Japan: Arrows to
Heaven and Earth from an article by David Waterhouse, p. 18)
Our great contributor Eikei (英渓 or えいけい) points out that the information
quoted above is based on a different interpretation of the purpose of the
Six Paths. There are others. For example: "The six paths were a recurring
theme in medieval Japanese literature, and remain more less familiar to
people today, although other concepts of the afterlife are equally or more
compelling. The Pure Land, for example, does not figure in the traditional
Buddhist cosmology of six paths. Nor does the generic East Asian (originally
Chinese) understanding of ancestral spirits sit very well with orthodox
Buddhist cosmology as it was formulated in India. The ancestral spirits, as
most Japanese today conceive of them, retain basically the same identities
as when they were alive. As spirits, they can come and go, but they are
often understood to occupy the mortuary tablets (ihai) enshrined in a
family's household buddha altar (butsudan)." (Quoted from: Living
Buddhist Statues in Early Medieval and Modern Japan by Sarah J. Horton,
On the other hand William LaFleur in his Karma of Words: Buddhism and the
Literary Arts in Mediaeval Japan states on page 27: "The basic portrait
of the universe in terms of a taxonomy called the rokudō, or
'six courses,' was universally accepted by all the schools of Buddhism and
included the belief that karmic reward or retribution for anterior acts
pushed every kind of being up and down the ladder of the universe." The
Chinese term for rokudō is liu-tao. 道 is the Tao of
Taoism or the Way. ¶ The rokudō is mentioned in a quite a few
Buddhist texts included the Lotus Sūtras of the Hokke-kyō.
Some have argued that the Japanese Buddhist concepts of heaven and hell were
not as compartmentalized as the rokudō would indicate.
"...instead of seeing the six realms as a primarily vertical structure of
highly compartmentalized cosmic realms, Japanese assimilated the rokudō
schema into the old horizontal cosmologies of yomi no kuni, 'the land
of gloom,' and tokoyo no kuni, 'the land over there.' " (Source and
quote from: Japanese Civilization: A Comparative View by S. N.
Eisenstadt, p. 236)
Lafcadio Hearn noted that there is a Japanese Buddhist saying: "The six
roads are right before your eyes." (Quoted from: In Ghostly Japan, p.
Rokudō no suji
Crossroads of the Six Realms
- the place in this world that lies directly above the palace of Emma, the
overlord of hell.
By using Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Matthew
Alt and Hiroko Yoda I discovered more about rokuro-kubi than I had
found anywhere else in English. (pp. 134-7) There are two kinds: The first
with a long extendable neck - often with purplish striations - which remains
connected to the body and the second which is almost exactly the same but
detaches itself from the body and roams about in search of sustenance. The rokuro-kubi is almost always seen in the form or an attractive
well-dressed female. In fact, sometimes these yokai don't even know
that they aren't human. It is only at night after they fall asleep that the
transformation take place. Other than that they can lead rather ordinary
lives, even getting married. Remember they tend to be rather fetching - at
least most of the time. ¶ They feed on worms, grubs, other insects, lamp oil
and human essence - mainly male. That could be one explanation for some men
waking up tired and feeling drained. The ones that detach and fly about
through the night often fly in packs. ¶ Alt and Yoda recommend that men
avoid women who wear scarves and won't show their necks. They also note that
while rokuro-kubi attacks may be somewhat debilitating they are seldom
interesting point about this creature: The first two kanji
characters, 轆轤, can be translated as 'potter's wheel'. Think about it. When
a ceramicist throws a pot it often shows striations which could easily be
compared to the discolored lines found on the neck of rokuro-kubi.
The kanji for -kubi means neck.
See also our entry on
C. Pfoundes wrote in 1875 in Fu-so mimo
bukuro: a Budget of Japanese Notes "Some women are liable, while sound
asleep and dreaming, to have their head leave their body, still slumbering,
and roam about, the head only attached to the body by an almost
imperceptible film. It is dangerous to arouse them till the head returns to
its original position.
Palanquin bearers. It literally
means 'six feet'.
Rokushaku were also employed in funeral processions. "The funeral
took place after the procession from the home to the temple or funeral hall
(saijō 斎場). The departure of the coffin [出棺] generally started at 10
a.m., but often enough it was behind schedule. The coolies were divided into
rokushaku 陸尺, who carried the palanquin and the coffin, and
hirabito 平人, who carried the paper flowers (renge 蓮華)，fresh
flowers, and lanterns." Quoted from: 'Changes in Japanese Urban Funeral
Customs during the Twentieth Century' by M urakami Kōkyō in the
'Japanese Journal of Religious Studies'.
A rokushaku is also
the name of the traditional g-string worn by Japanese men because of the
supposed 6' length of cloth - or some such measurement..
A "tax used in paying the
stipends of palanquin bearers; - rokushaku is said to be a corruption
of ryokusha 力者, 'a strong person' who worked as a bearer of
palanquins; it may also refer to a bar 6 shaku in length used for
carrying palanquins." Quoted from: A Topical History of Japan, p. 82.
A masterless samurai.
Literally translated as 'floating men'. Originally this referred to peasants
who left their land to work elsewhere where they continued to pay taxes.
During periods of strife they hired out to fight for opposing armies. There
was no intrinsic loyalty and they would frequently change sides.
Muromachi period (1333-1568) rōnin came to mean samurai who lost
their overlords and hence their stipends. By the time of Hideyoshi the
rising numbers of rōnin were seen as a rising threat to his regime. A
few years later there may have been as many as 100,000 rōnin fighting
on the side of Ieyasu with as many for his chief opponent. After Ieyasu's
victory at Osaka there was no longer a need for services so these lordless
samurai had to seek employment using some of the skill they had already
developed - in the arts, as teachers, as instructors in martial arts, etc.
The most famous
tale of masterless samurai were the result of criminal activity and
confiscations. "...commonly known as the 47 Rōnin, who avenged the death of
their lord in a dramatic vendetta in 1703 and were subsequently forced to
commit suicide by the shogunate... Their selfless loyalty made them national
heroes, and their story remains popular in the form of various dramas."
The image to the
left is from a print by Kuniyoshi illustrating a scene from "Tale of the 47
Loyal Retainers" or Chūshingura mentioned above. The black and white
patterning of their robes is specific group and their dramatization. (Source and quotes:
entry by Charles Dunn, vol. 6, pp. 336-7)
The first kanji character or
rōnin is 浪 which means 'wave' as in ocean waves. The second character
means 'men'. "Numbers of samurai, whose masters had been deprived of their
positions or who had simply foresworn their allegiance to a lord, roamed the
streets of Edo, creating social disorder. Known as
ronin (wave men), they had no official income or right to fixed
residence within the
jokamachi. The life of the ronin was a
mixed blessing, as they were accorded less respect than fully affiliated
samurai in a country where identification was, and to some degree still is,
consonant with respectability and recognition. The member of this
dispossessed class eked out a living as best they could, hiring themselves
as bodyguards to affluent merchants, or as instructors in military science:
swordsmanship, equestrian skills, and archery. The more intellectually
gifted became writers and calligraphy teachers, Confucian scholars or
instructors in philosophy and Chinese literature. While employed they could
live moderately well. Between posts they were reduced to sleeping in
rudimentary shelters or beneath the eaves of temple roofs. While their
existence may have been precarious, they enjoyed a degree of freedom almost
unheard of in a city expressly conceived to inhibit personal choices and
freedom of movement." (Quoted from: Tokyo: A Cultural History by
Stephen Mansfield, p. 20)
President of the
United States, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the
peace Between Japan and Russia.
During the conflict
between Russia and Japan in 1904-5 both sides incurred terrible losses. But,
Russia had definitely gotten the worst of it. They had lost on land and at
sea. However, from a foreign perspective the cost to both sides was too
great for the combatants to continue. Prior to Roosevelt's direct
involvement there had been attempts at mediation. The Russians wanted to
meet in one place, the Japanese in another. Finally the American President
stepped in an suggested that both sides send emissaries to Washington, D.C.
¶ At the invitation of Roosevelt the representatives of the warring parties,
Baron Kamura and Count Witte, met aboard the presidential yacht, the
Mayflower anchored in Oyster Bay. ) On July 26 the New York Times said of
this setting: "The Mayflower, which is one of the most luxuriously fitted
vessels in the United States Navy, will furnish a suitable setting for the
historic ceremony." ¶ Some authors claim that President surprised them
when he suggested they all sit down together at lunch, breaking standard
diplomatic protocol, but this may not be true because the N.Y. Times had
already reported that the meal was already on the schedule. Whatever the
circumstances this gathering may have helped break the ice and smooth the
way somewhat for future negotiations. ¶ Since Washington could be
insufferably warm in August, even on the water, the ambassadors were
transported in separate vessels to the naval shipyard in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire. Like most such meetings things did not start off well. Japan
wanted territorial gains including keeping Sakhalin Island which they had
captured, special fishing rights, indemnity from the Russians for all of
their wartime expenses, etc. Besides, the Japanese blamed the Russians for
starting the war and thought that alone should make them pay for it. ¶ By
August 29th the Japanese agreed to drop the indemnity in exchange for
partitioning Sakhalin Island. No matter how it was worded that basically
saved the day and the two parties came to an agreement. The treaty was
signed on September 5. The next year President Roosevelt was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
"It was symbolic of
the uncertain situation that the signing of the Portsmouth treaty should
have been the occasion not for jubilation and thanksgiving but for mob
attacks on police stations and official residences in Tokyo. The public,
whose expectations had been raised by military successes and whose patriotic
fervor had added fuel to insular arrogance, expressed their anger at what
they viewed as meager fruits of victory. They thought they deserved more
than was obtained at the peace conference and blamed this on the government
and the United States who had mediated between the two combatants. It was
as if domestic order was unraveling at the very moment when it should have
been solidified." (Quoted from: The
Emergence of Meiji Japan, edited by Marius B. Jansen, text by Akira
Iriye, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 324-5)
generally on the side of the Japanese in the war. The Kaiser had prodded his
cousin, the Tsar, into starting the conflict, but when told of the naval
victory of the Japanese at Tsushima congratulated the Japanese ambassador to
Germany even comparing their accomplishment with that of the British over
the French and Spanish at Trafalgar. (Source: Emperor of Japan: Meiji and
His World, 1852-1912, by Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 2002, p.
"Just before the peace
treaty was signed, [Roosevelt] wrote the American minister in Peking, 'I was
pro-Japanese before, but after my experience with the peace commissioners I
am far stronger pro-Japanese than ever." (Ibid., p. 628)
type of candle stand.
We are not sure, but believe that this form of candle stand could only
involve a single cup and spike.
Note: the photo to the left
was posted at Flickr by yokokick.
First great conflict
with a Western power 1904-05.
I grew up shortly
after the end of World War II. The conflict left a lot of bad feelings
toward Japan so it is surprising to see how attitudes had changed so greatly
since the turn of the 20th century. (See the comments made by Teddy
Roosevelt in the section above.) ¶ The Americans and the British were
definitely pro-Japanese at that time, especially vis a vis that of their
rival, the Russians. In his "Letter from Japan" dated August 1, 1904
Lafcadio Hearn wrote: "This contest, between the mightiest of Western powers
and a people that began to study Western science only within the
recollection of many persons still in vigorous life, is, on one side at
least, a struggle for national existence. It was inevitable, this
struggle,—might perhaps have been delayed, but certainly not averted. Japan
has boldly challenged an empire capable of threatening simultaneously the
civilizations of the East and the West,—a medićval power that, unless
vigorously checked, seems destined to absorb Scandinavia and to dominate
China. For all industrial civilization the contest is one of vast
moment;—for Japan it is probably the supreme crisis in her national life."
(Quoted from: The
Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Elisabeth Bisland, Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1922, p. 336. )
"Located on the lower Sumida
River between Nihonbashi and Honjo, Ryōgoku Bridge was the site of the most
famous late-Tokugawa-period form of popular entertainment and
entrepreneurship known as misemono (exhibitions, sideshows) ."
(Quoted from: Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan
by Gerald Figal, p. 21.) In fact, the author points out that the bridge had
also become famous for its ghastly freaks and monsters. "A whale washed
ashore and advertised as a monster sunfish, a hideous ugly 'demon girl,' a
scale-covered reptile child, the fur-covered 'Bear Boy,' the hermaphroditic
'testicle girl,' giants, dwarfs, strong men (and women), the famous
'mist-descending-flower-blossoming man' who gulped air and expelled it in
'modulated flatulent arias,' and the teenager who could pop out his eyeballs
and hang weights from his optic nerve, all attest to a libidinal economy in
which a fascination with the strange and supernatural conditioned and
sustained the production, consumption, and circulation of sundry monsters as
commodities in 'the evening glow of Edo.' " (Ibid., p. 22)
The image to the left is from the series 100 Famous Views of Edo by
Hiroshige. We found it at commons.wikimedia.
This was one of the major bridges in Edo and was constructed shortly after
the major fire of 1657. "Officially known as Ohashi, the 'Great Bridge', it
became known almost at once as Ryogokukbashi - the 'Two Provinces Bridge',
as at that time the Sumidagawa was the boundary between Musashi province on
the west and Shimosa on the east. The bridge became a center of amusements,
the most lively in the capital. The numerous tea-houses and restaurants by
the bridge were never quitet, ay or night. But things came to a fever pitch
during the kawabiraki - the 'opening of the river', the main summertime
festival connected with the Sumidagawa." Quoted from: Hiroshige: One
Hundred Views of Edo by Mikhail Uspensky, p. 138.
The underwater palace of the
Dragon King - Carmen Blacker in her book The Catalpa Bow: A Study of
Shamanistic Practices in Japan (p. 77) gives quite a vivid description
of the palace: "The watery entrances, the lakes and pools, were believed to
lead downwards to the world of Ryūgū. Plunge deeply enough into the pool and
you would find yourself standing before the magical palace with its jade
pillars, its walls of fish scales and carpets of sealskin."
An early name for Ryūgū was
is also the name of the Eternal Land as mentioned in the Nihongi. In Myth
in History: Volume 2 of Mythological Essays by Peter Metevelis it says
in footnote 11 on page 112: "[Ameterasu] first took up residence in her
sanctuary [at Ise] after surfing ashore from the elesian land of Tokoyo
across the sea (as did Toyo-tama Hime, the daughter of the sea god in the
Ninigi cycle when she came ashore from the Dragon Palace)."
The image to the left is a
Hokusai print of his version of Urashima Tarō visiting the underwater
palace of the Dragon King.
Metevelis also writes about the myth of a prince who looses a miraculous
fishhook which he had exchanged with his brother. He looks for it in
Ryūgū where he meets and marries the daughter of the Dragon King.
She travels to the 'Middle Earth', our world, to give birth but
abandons her husband and new born child because her husband observed the act
of parturition. Her return to her father's palace closes off all future
mortal travel there and therefore "...all hope of escaping mortality..." for
the humans. "So now all fleshed souls are confined to Middle Earth, where
death and metempsychosis are ordained." The prince had also received a gift
of the tide-controlling jewel from his father-in-law. Whenever the prince
brother might become belligerent toward him all he has to do is dip the
jewel in the water and the tide will rise. Then when his brother has calmed
down he dips it again and the tide ebbs. (Ibid., pp. 105-107)
In Buddhism as a Religion: Its Historical Development and Its Present
Conditions by H. Hackmann from 1910 it says of one of the sūtras devoted
to the life and teachings of Buddha that two of the sections are kept in the
Dragon Palace for safekeeping. (p. 244)
Hōnen Shōnin (法然上人 or ほうねんしょうにん: 1133-1212) wrote about the sūtras - both
written and unwritten - covering the life of Buddha: "Among those already
compiled, some are still hidden in the dragon palace and are not yet
disseminated among humankind; others are still remaining in India and have
not yet arrived in China." (Quoted from: Hōnen's Senchakushū : Passages
on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow, p. 130)
Carmen Blacker has written about a new sect called the Dragon Palace Family,
Ryūgū Kazoku, which started at 11:30 A.M. on October 7, 1973 when
a woman named Fujita Himiko has a vision. "She was standing outside a large
cave near Kumamoto, Kyushu, in company with a woman ascetic called Shioyama,
when with extraordinary suddenness the goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami appeared to
her in the unusual form of a mermaid. With her fish tail, the goddess gave
Himiko a slap on the cheek, and announced that now was the moment of her
true arrival, her true emergence from the cave. The myth recounted in the
Kojiki of her iwatobiraki (emergence from the cave) some two
thousand years ago was a mere rehearsal of what was now to take place. She
emerged now from the dark cave to bring the joyful news that the world would
soon be suffused with the light and love of the Mother Goddess. Here was the
megamisama no yomigaeri, the resurrection of the goddess; the world
was soon to become nyoi-hōju,
a wish-fulfilling jewel, [sic] ¶ Her companion, Shioyama, heard the sound
of the slap, and of the goddess's voice, but was not sufficiently advanced
to see the mermaid avatar. Only Himiko both saw and heard the full
revelation." ¶ Himiko changed her name to
Ryūgū Otohime, the Dragon Palace Princess. She also had a bronze
statue of the mermaid-Amaterau placed inside the cave. Her powers were
enhanced after her encounter with the supreme goddess, but she had had
experiences before that. "...she had displayed minor psychic powers,
experiencing encounters with divinities both in dream and waking vision.
Near the Nachi waterfall, for example, in the course of a pilgrimage from
Yoshino to Kumano, she had seen the Thirty-six Boys of Fudō
Now she found that she could both see and converse with all kinds of
spiritual beings, both benevolent and troublesome. In consequence, she was
now able to heal all types of sickness, both physical and mental, which are
caused by invisible spiritual beings. She was able to see the unhappy ghost,
or the neglected divinity, who was causing the headaches, the arthritis, the
depression, the lethargy, and after listening to its story she could perform
the correct ritual for bringing the entity to its due salvation." ¶ But the
possessions didn't stop with the mermaid-goddess. Others powerful spirits
and goddesses entered Himiko to use her as their human vehicle. Clearly this
was going to be a golden age. (Quoted from: Collected Writings of Carmen
Blacker, pp. 146-7) For related material see our entries on mermaids or
on our Neko thru Nusa page and on
on our Kutsuwa thru Mawari-dōrō page.
In the Chinese classic "Journey to the West" the Monkey King can not find a
suitable weapon on earth. So, he travels to the palace of the Dragon King
who welcomes him accompanied by his 'shrimp soldiers and crab generals'. He
offers Monkey a selection of weapons, but none of them seem quite right. The
'trout-captain' had brought out a great sword. The 'whitebait-guardsman'
along with the help of an 'eel-porter' displayed a 9-pronged spear. The
'bream-general and carp-brigadier' presented a huge halberd. Although they
all have great heft and some are even imbued with magical powers none of
them suited this visitors. Exasperated the Dragon King says that he has
offered Monkey the best he has. Monkey does not believe him. Finally Dragon
Mother reminds her the king of a humongous iron rod which is kept in the
treasury. It was the tool used to pound the Milky Way flat. She says: "Just
give it to him, and if he can cope with it, let him take it away with him.
[¶] The Dragon King agreed, and told Monkey. 'Bring it to me and I'll have a
look at it,' said Monkey. 'Out of the question!' said the Dragon King. 'It
is too heavy to move. You'll have to go and look at it.... It turned out to
be a thick iron pillar, about twenty feet long. Monkey took one end in both
hands and raised it a little. 'A trifle too long and too thick!' he said.
The pillar at once became several feet shorter and one layer thinner. Monkey
felt it. 'A little smaller still wouldn't do any harm,' he said. The pillar
at once shrunk again, Monkey was delighted. Taking it out into the daylight
he found that at each end was a golden clasp, while in between all was black
iron. On the near end was the inscription 'Golden Clasped Wishing Staff.
Weight, thirteen thousand five hundred pounds.' " Soon he could wish it to
just the right size. Once armed Monkey then extorted a suitable suit of
armor out of the Dragon King and his brothers. (Source and quotes from: Monkey, translated by Arthur Waley, pp. 34-37)
Hokusai's Monkey King with
the iron staff he got from the Dragon King.
The Monkey King is known in China by the name Sun Wukong (孙悟空).
Much of the story of Urashima Tarō (浦島太郎 or うらしまたろう) takes place in the Dragon Palace.
Ryū no tamago
Dragon's egg - "We find the
following details in the Shōson chomon kishū (1849). The abbot of the
Shingon monastery had a so-called dragon gem (龍ノ玉, ryū no tama),
which was considered to be an uncommonly precious object. On cloudy days it
became moist at once, and when it rained it was quite wet. In reality it was
not a dragon-gem, but a dragon's egg (ryū no tamago, 龍ノ卵). Such eggs
are hatched amid thunderstorm and rain; then they destroy even palaces and
uproot big trees, and it is therefore advisable to throw them away
before-hand on a lonely spot in the mountains. The abbot, however, deemed it
not necessary to take this precaution with the dragon's egg in his
possession, because it was dead. 'Thirty years ago', he said, 'the egg
became moist as soon as the weather was a little cloudy, and its luster was
magnificent; but as it afterwards did not show moistness any more even on
rainy days, nor grew any longer, it is evidently dead'. MIYOSHI SHŌSON (the
author) himself went to the monastery to see this wonderful egg, and gives a
picture of it... which shows the dragon fetus inside. Its dimensions were:
length, 4 sun, 8 bu; breadth, 4 sun, 6 bu; it was like a " diamond-natured
thunder-axe-stone" (玉質雷斧石, gyoku-shitsu rai-fu-seki), called by the
people Tengu no ono... or 'Tengu-axe'), but it seemed to be still
harder and sharper than these. Its colour was red, tinged with bluish grey,
just like the thunder-axe-stones, but its lustre was more like that of glass
than is the case with the latter. There were some spots on the egg, which
Shosan considered to be dirt left on it by the dragon which produced it."
Quoted from: The Dragon in China and Japan by M. W. De Visser, pp.
Heron - Merrily Baird says
that "...like other animals of a white color, is considered an emblem of
longevity, and from China comes the prctice fo regarding the bird as a mount
of the gods and the Taoist sennin. When paired with the lotus in
China, the heron traditionally conveyed a wish for success in the
bureaucratic examinations that provided the major means of professional
advancement. ¶ Despite its beauty, the heron as a design motif appers
infrequently in Japanese art compared to birds such as the crane, plover,
and wild goose. This is due partly to the fact that a heron lends itself
best to artistic treatment on a large scale, where it is usually the single
focus of a design. The limited depiction of herons also reflects an
inauspicious connotation, for the word sagi is a homophone for
'fraud' and 'false pretenses.' "
Save for his thin voice
The motionless heron
Is but a drift of snow
The photo to the left was
posted at commons.wikimedia by Druvaraj S. We found the image of the sagi in
the rain at Pinterest. The artist is by Gakusui (1899-1982).
The Heron Maiden.
Mark Oshima in an entry in the
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture (pp. 75-6) says: "Sagi
Musume (The Heron Maiden) was reworked under the influence of Anna
Pavlova's The Dying Swan. When the dancer playing a woman who is the
spirit of the heron would have posed handsomely at the end of the classical
version, the modern version has the character sinking slowly to the floor in
lifelessness. Other artists rework the classics under the influence of such
dancers as Martha Graham. However, for all of these innovations, the main
work consists of preserving and transmitting the classics of the past as
they have always been performed."
Above is a photo of Anna
Pavlova costumed for
the Dying Swan. This
was posted at commons.wikimedia
by Mutter Erde.
In the older versions the
Heron Maiden would end her performance standing on a red dais. It was Onoe
Kikugorō VI (1885-1949) who gave us the newer version. (Source: Kabuki: A
The image to the
left is by Kitano Tsunetomi (北野恒富 or きたの.つねとみ) from 1925.
The Heron Maiden was
first performed by Segawa Kikunojō
II in 1762 in Edo. It quickly became one of the most important of the dance
play repertoire. "...it featured the first use of the revolving stage (mawari
butai) for a dance play." ¶ "The Heron Maiden portrays the
resentful spirit (onryō)
of a heron, who, having assumed the form of a young woman, falls in
unrequited love with a man. Five costume changes take place as, before our
eyes, we the heron first take the form of an innocent young girl and then an
older and more experienced woman. In the end, she is wounded, and, having
resumed the form of a heron, dances out her death throes. In short, this
play depicts different facets of a woman's psyche, as well as a kind of
montage of both human and avian identity." (Source and quotes: Kabuki
Plays on Stage: Brilliance and Bravado, 1697-1766, pp. 316-7) ¶ In many
of the printed images the Heron Maiden is carrying an umbrella. "The play's
meaning is clear enough.... the maiden's umbrella... symbolize[s] the
wheel of karma, driving the dancer into the jaws of hell in retribution for
her wrongful attachment to a man. One can only pity this spirit and feel
that her fate was excessively cruel." Because of this the segment of her
torture in hell has been shortened for modern audiences. (Ibid., p. 318) [Onryō
is 怨霊 or おんりょう].
Above is a detail from a print
showing an actor in a
"A further expression of great
emotion may be seen in both dances and plays when the actor performs the
exaggerated pose called the ebizori [蛯反り]. This involves bending the
body backwards from a kneeling position into a shape resembling a prawn (ebi).
These poses are usually performed by animals and creatures of the other
world at times of extraordinary stress or emotion. The heron maiden in
Sagi Musume performs and ebizori when describing the excessive tortures
of hell." (Quoted from: A Guide to the Japanese Stage: From Traditional
to Cutting Edge, p. 87) ¶ "The current version is based on a revival of
1892 by Ichikawa Danjūrō
IX when the hikinuki costume changes were first introduced." (Ibid.,
p. 132) The dance illustrates "...the Buddhist doctrine that emotional
craving and attachment to this world will keep one from salvation." (Ibid.)
Costume changes are important
for the role of the Heron Maiden. Earle Ernst wrote in The Kabuki Theatre
(p. 186): "In the costume change called hiki-nuki ('pulling-out') the parts
of the outer kimono are basted together and when the threads are pulled out
by a stage assistant the outer costume falls from the body of the actor.
This change, usually employed in dances, shows a change of mood rather than
a change of character. In the dance White Heron Maiden the
heroine changes costumes four times in this fashion to show the passing of
the seasons of the year." Hikinuki is 引抜き
James Michener said that the
Heron Maiden is also referred to as the spirit of the snow.
(壕越二三治 or ほりこし.にそうじ: 1721 to ca. 1781) wrote a number of tokiwazu
(常磐津 or ときわず) - a type of music created in ca. 1739 and meant to accompany a
performance - danced dramas for the theater. Despite his importance within
the theatrical world and all of his innovations his Sagi Musume is
the only work which has survived according to Samuel L. Leiter. Kabuki
Plays on Stage: Brilliance and Bravado, 1697-1766 says that the author
of the play performed today is anonymous.
Among other artists who have
created prints on this theme were Harunobu, Bunchō,
Koryūsai, Utamaro, Chikanobu, Kunichika, Kunisada, Yoshitoshi, Kunimasa III and
One of the leaders who
helped overthrow the Tokugawa regime and place the Meiji Emperor at the head
of government in 1868. He died in 1877 in the Satsuma Rebellion (西南の役 or
せいなんのえき) against that same regime.
The image to the left is
from a photo taken by Fg2 and posted at commons.wikimedia. The statue
made in 1898 by Takamura Kōun (高村光雲 or たかむら こううん: 1852-1934) is in Ueno
Park. Below is a doctored version of a print by Yoshitoshi from 1878 in
which the ghost of Saigō has returned with a letter he wants to deliver.
For a bit of interesting information about Saigō Takamori see our entry
hoshi on our Hoshi thru Hotaru page.
Rhinoceros horn cup:
one of the "Myriad Treasures" which are said to have protective qualities.
Of Chinese origin.
One source says that the "8 Treasures", another name for the "Myriad
Treasures", was first used during the reign of the Yuan Dynasty in China.
Please note that the "8" aren't always the same items. Sometimes there is no
rhinoceros horn among them.
The Chinese believed in the mystical powers of rhinoceros horns. They could
either act as an aphrodisiac when ground into a powder or if carved and
polished into libation cups they could prevent poisoning because of their
supposed sensitivity to mercury. (They also promoted the idea that one
couldn't be poisoned if one ate off of celadon plates because either the
porcelain would 1) discolor or 2) scream out to the potential victim right
before he is about to ingest the tainted food. One has to wonder how many
people died believing this. It reminds me of the slaughter of natives at
Wounded Knee where the warriors thought they had been either made invisible
or invincible. I don't remember which.) ¶ According to Grahame Clark in his
Symbols of Excellence: Precious Materials as Expressions of Status
(Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 22) notes that images of the
rhinoceros appear as early as decorations on Shang bronzes, but "The
earliest artefacts made from rhinoceros horn to survive are some plain wine
cups in the Shoso-in collection at Nara dating from the Tang dynasty."
Ctesias of Cnidus, a 5th century B.C. physician, said it was only the horn
of the unicorn which protected people from poisonings and insured good
Source: "Chinese Clay
Figures", by Berthold Laufer, Published by Field Museum of Natural History,
1914, p. 75, footnote 2. This section is called "History of the Rhinoceros".
Our word 'rhinoceros' means 'nose horn'. (Ibid., p. 88)
The first Japanese reference to the rhinoceros came from the Buddhist monk
Chōnen (奝然 or ちょうねん) when he traveled to China in the late 9th century. When
writing of the animals found in Japan he included rhinos and elephants, but
there were no such animals native to his homeland. Why then did he mention
them? Perhaps he meant them metaphorically. That is what some scholars
think. Other scholars think it was a transcription error and that Chōnen had
actually said that there were no rhinos or elephants in Japan. But this is
unresolvable and hence moot. (Ibid., pp. 89-90)
When the Emperor Shōmu (聖武 or しょうむ) died in 756 his Empress deposited
his treasures, including the rhinoceros horn cups, in the Shōsōin (正倉院
or しょうぞういん). The concept of the horn as an aphrodisiac was a Taoist belief
which has persisted until today. Both the Taoists and the Buddhists use it
as one of the '8 treasures'. In the 4th century Ge Hong was "...said to be
the first to draw attention to the tongtian rhinoceros horn, 'giving passage
to heaven', which enabled the wearer to travel under and through water." It
was also believed to function as a panacea. ¶
Friedrich Hirth said that carved rhinoceros objects were being imported into
China from the Roman east and India as early as the 5th century.
Source and quotes from: The
Arts of China to AD 900, by William Watson and Chuimei Ho, Yale University
Press, 1995, 75.
Since horn is strongly
fibrous ivory is easier to carve. This makes for differences in the end
results of the two materials. (Ibid.)
Robert Beer in his Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols (Serindia
Publications, Inc., 2003, p. 48) tells us that "In Chinese medicine the
rhinoceros horn is known as 'dragon's tooth', and as a phallic symbol of
erect virility it is highly esteemed..." Goofy me, that thought hadn't even
occurred to me.
It would seem that the representation of a couple of rhino horns in Chinese
is described by a character which is homophonous for another character which
The gallery of a
"As plays grew in complexity
during the eighteenth century , so did architectural arrangements of kabuki
theatres, which by the 1720s were roofed structures seating up to 1,000
spectators. Access to expensive seats in two tiers of box seats (sajiki)
that lined the sides of the playhouse was through adjoining theatre
teahouses (shibai jaya), which provided not only theatre tickets but
food and drink and a place to rest during an all-day performance."
Shibai jaya is 芝居茶屋 or
Quoted from: The Man who
Saved Kabuki: Faubion Bowers and Theatre Censorship in Occupied Japan,
by Shirō Okamoto, University of Hawaii Press, 2001, p. 3. This quote is from
the introduction by Samuel L. Leiter and James R. Brandon. This quote also
appears in Kabuki Plays on Stage: Brilliance and Bravado, 1697-1766,
Brandon and Leiter, University of Hawaii Press, 2002, p. 3.
Lighting and the
sajiki in early kabuki theaters is discussed in Crosscurrents in the
Drama: East and West edited by Stanley Vincent Longman (University of
Alabama Press, 1998, p. 33): "The chief source of kabuki lighting
from the 1720s or 1730s was actually from removable sliding doors (madobuta
or akari mado) high up over the left and right galleries (sajiki),
where theatre workers manipulated the amount of daylight streaming in."
The above quote is from the
essay entitled "From London Patents to the Edo Sanza: A Partial
Comparison of the British Stage and Kabuki, ca. 1650-1800" by Samuel
Madobuta is 窓蓋 or
まどぶた; Akaru mado is 明かり窓 or あかりまど.
"The seat at the back of all ,
where the police or representative of the Government sits, is the Tsoombo
Sajiki - i.e., the deaf-box, where they are supposed to see only and
not to hear."
Quoted from: Gleanings
from Japan, by Walter G. Dickson, published by W. Blackwood and Sons,
1889, p. 53.
'Tsoombo Sajiki' was the tsunbosajiki (聾桟敷 or つんぼさじき) or upper
gallery or blind seat. 聾, tsunbo, means deafness or a deaf
Gregory M. Pflugfelder in his
Cartographies of Desire: Male-male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse,
1600-1950 (University of California Press, 1999, p. 118) notes that
there was a government edict in 1668 which forbid sexual contact between
actors and patrons within the theater during performances and stipulated
that sajiki were not to be "...outfitted with hanging blinds so as to
screen out the regulatory gaze."
Joseph Henry Langford in his Japan of the Japanese (published by Scribner, 1914, p. 162) noted that
sajiki "...are the best and most expensive seats..."
Nancy G. Hume (Japanese
Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader, SUNY Press, 1995, p. 203) states that
when kabuki theaters evolved into more substantial structures that
sajiki were added to provide spaces for customers who wanted more comfort
and privacy. She added that "Boxes of the first tier were known as quail
boxes (uzura sajiki [鶉桟敷 or うずら.さじき]) because their wooden bars made them
resemble crates for keeping quail. ..." (Ibid., p. 207)
Centuries before the use of the
word sajiki to stand for 'boxes' it meant 'viewing stand'. Jacob Raz
(Audience and Actors: A Study of Their Interaction in the Japanese
Traditional Theatre, published by the Brill Archive, 1983, p. 49) notes
that in the early 12th sajiki - he calls them 'special raised seats' - were
built for festival viewing by warriors. "As for the audience's seats, we can
see that though sometimes, particularly when performances were held at
nobles' mansions, members of the upper classes were provided with higher
seats, and later with especially built sajiki, the bulk of the audience was
still in the same space and on the same level as the performers." (Ibid., p.
50) A diary from the 15th century stated that "...the sajiki seats were
thirty to fifty times as expensive as the ground seats." (Ibid.,
p. 75) In modern theaters the better seats tend to cost 5.7 times more for
kabuki or 3 times for noh. (Ibid., pp. 77-78) Hence, the sajiki seating
started out as an elitist privilege because only the wealthy could afford
it. (Ibid., p. 78) The fees charged by temples and shrines went to
"...repairing and rebuilding..." (Ibid., p. 76) Some early sajiki were
constructed privately for exclusive usage. (Ibid., p. 81) By the time of the Taiheiki in the 14th century the shōgun's party might occupy up to
five boxes, while lesser nobles would reserve fewer seats and sometimes
special sajiki would be for upper class women who would be hidden behind
curtains of thin cloth so they could see out, but others could not see in.
(Ibid. p. 83) ¶ By the early 15th century sajiki were occasionally dealt
with somewhat differently: "It is recorded that priests used to hire sajiki
there and send the bills to their shrines, which recognized them as
expenses. This new custom of playgoing on the expense account spread to
other places, and it became common for officials to recover their sajiki
expenses." (Ibid., pp. 84-85) ¶ "Generally speaking, the theatre was divided
into sajiki and doma [ground level]. As time passed, both sajiki and
doma became more complex and subdivided. By the Genroku period [1688-1703],
the sajiki was already divided into kami (upper [上 or かみ]) sajiki and
shimo (lower [下 or しも]) sajiki..." The lower levels were also broken up into
different groupings on occasion. The sajiki were not only connected
physically to teahouses, but also to the dressing rooms of the actors. After
a series of raucous parties the government ordered in 1723 that the sajiki
passageways be removed. "A spectator may not call upon an actor or see the
actor in a tea-house. It is also illegal to see an actor at his residence."
(Ibid., p. 171) [No wonder so many people skulked around hiding their faces
under hoods or oversized woven hats.] ¶ "As mentioned before, rich samurai
would often come to the theatre and sit in the sajiki, at the invitation of
wealthy merchants who had business contacts with them. During the third
moon, when the ladies-in-waiting had their annual vacations, they would also
come to the theatre and, like the samurai, surreptitiously occupy the sajiki.
The bakufu's regulations for the theatre therefore ordered that 'hanging
bamboo blinds in the sajiki is prohibited. Curtains and folding screens in
the sajiki must also be removed'. The first part of the order was intended
to prevent the samurai and ladies-in-waiting from hiding behind the bamboo
blinds; the second meant that the increasingly decorated sajiki irritated
the bakufu. These two orders, like their predecessors, were not followed.
[¶] Sajiki patrons included a popular type of spectator called kabesu
- a word made up of the first syllables of kashi (cake), bento
(lunch box), and sushi (vinegared fish and rice). This patron, who
did not want to miss a scene, would have meals sent to him from the
tea-house, and would watch the whole performance while eating." (Ibid., p.
172) [¶] "At the very back of the theatre was the ōmukō ('great
beyond') or mukō-sajiki, and the rearmost seats in this part were
called tsunbo-sajiki ('deafman's sajiki'), as it was almost
impossible to hear the dialogue." (Ibid.)
Sai no kawara
Children's Riverbed Hell:
"Seven- and eight-year-old children held hands with three- and four-year
olds, all of them stricken with inexpressible grief. 'What’s the meaning of
this?' Nitta asked, taking in the sight. The Bodhisattva explained: 'These
are children who died without compensating their mothers for the pain they
caused them during their nine months in the womb. They’re to suffer on the
riverbed like this for nine thousand years.' A blazing fire swept the
expanse, and the stones all burst into flames. As the children had nowhere
to run, they were burned up until only their ashen bones remained. Soon, a
number of demons arrived. Shouting 'Arise! Arise!' and beating the ground
with iron staves, they restored the children to their former selves." Quoted
from Keller Kimbrough's translation of The Tale of the Fuji Cave.
In an essay on Beckett
and the Japanese Theatre the author Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei compared
three of the characters in Endgame to the children of Sai no
kawara. "In Japanese folk belief, children who die before the age of ten
exist in a state of eternal purgatory called sai no kawara. There they build
prayer pagodas for their parents , only to have the demons daily knock the
rock structures down. Thus, even innocent children are prevented from
helping the ghosts of their parents through filial prayers."
Sacred Shinto tree.
There are a couple varieties of evergreen shrubs referred to as sakaki or may be a description of one of three species of trees - pine, cedar
or oak. As a shrub it has dark, narrow glossy leaves with fragrant flowers
and black fruit. It is used in a number of ritual ceremonies and at times is
intentionally set afire.
Mentioned in the
Nihonga as being decorated with jewels, a mirror and cut paper.
The image to the left
is that of the Japanese cleyera. It is from the web site of Shu Suehiro at
http://www.botanic.jp/index.htm. Brian Bocking in
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto (p.
149) says "Sakaki generally means cleyera ochnacea or theacea (japonica)."
The article in the Encyclopedia Britannica indicates it could be either cleyera japonica or ochnacea.
Sakaki are used in the
(Hollyhock Festival). "Sakaki toru (break off evergreen boughs) is a
summer seasonal word; one breaks sacred sakaki boughs from Kamiyama
神山 mountain to prepare for the Aoi festival of the Kamo shrines in the
middle of the fourth month." (From footnote 80 of The Journal of Sōchō.)
A self-imposed ban on contact
with foreigners instituted in 1653 by the Tokugawa regime in 1653. "There
were, however, some exceptions to the sakoku. Besides contact to the Asian
continent, there was still contact to Europe via the Dutch traders. This
contact was 'restricted to the small artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki
Bay', but the bi-annual visits of the Dutch traders were an important chance
for the shogun and Japanese scholars to gain access to information on world
affairs and new developments." English in Japanese Language and Culture:
A Socio-Historical Analysis by Kai Hilpisch, p. 8.
"What started as early as
the 1640s as a curiosity about Western medical practice grew during the
eighteenth century into a profound interest in Western science and
technology in general. In 1800, for instance, Shizuki Tadao [志筑忠雄 or
しづき.ただお: 1760-1806], the pioneer who introduced the principles of Western
linguistics to Japan, wrote an introduction to Newton's work in physics and
astronomy on the basis of John Keill's Inleidinge tot de waare natuuren
sterrekunde (Introduction to the True Natural Science and Astronomy) of
1741. ¶ Shizuki was the same author who invented the term Sakoku ('closed
country') while translating Engelbert Kaempfer's chapter on the question of
Japan's right to 'stand off' from other nations and turn its back on
international relations." Quoted from: Visible Cities: Canton,
Nagasaki, and Batavia and the Coming of the Americans by Leonard Blusse,
"In some sense the very
consciousness of the system [i.e., sakoku] came rather late and, as
Ronald Toby points out, was a product of the Dutch influence. The sakoku
was coined by Shizuki Tadao in 180I when he was ordered to translate
Kaempfer's defense of the system by the authorities." Quoted from:
Rangaku and Westernization by Marius Jansen in Modern Asian Studies, 18,
4 (1984), p. 541.
Cherry blossom motif
used as a family crest or mon: This flower is the most frequently mentioned
in Japanese literature. It was first mentioned in 712 A.D. in the earliest
known writings. In the
entry by Matsuda Osamu (vol. 1, p. 268) the cherry blossom's popularity
in Japan is contrasted with the Chinese fascination with the flashier peony.
Because the cherry flower is more delicate and short lived it suits the
Japanese aesthetic and sense of temporality better. In the 8th century Man'yōshū, an anthology of poems, the plum blossom is mentioned more often
than that of the cherry, but this probably shows the strong influence of
Chinese literature. However, by the Heian period the general word for
flower, hana, came to mean the cherry flower. Motoori Norinaga (本居宣長
or もとおりのりなが - 1730 to 1801) wrote that all one had to do was smell the
fragrance of the cherry blossom in the early morning 'to know the essence of
the Japanese spirit.'
As a family crest
the sakura was not as popular. Perhaps its delicacy dictated against
a more martial use.
Ray skin used as both
a decorative and practical covering for the hilt of a Japanese swords. (See
our entry for tsuka.) Like so many other things in this world there
seem to be a lot of misconceptions around this material. Generically it is
referred to in the West as sharkskin, but this may not be true. Either way
this is what I was told and believed in 1984 and only recently have learned
otherwise. Another misconception came in a conversation I had with a fellow
recently. I told him I was going to add an entry on samegawa into this site
and he said something like: "Oh, that stuff is so common."
Well...that may be true for those who are interested in looking at Japanese
swords, but if you look a little more closely you will realize that this
material was used much more selectively than one would think today.
Obviously samegawa was applied to the sword hilts of the elite and
ruling classes because it must have been fairly costly in its
gathering, processing and application.
The word used in
English for samegawa is shagreen. Based on a French term meaning
'rough skin' it came by extension to a close relationship with the word
"The sixteenth century was
the golden age of the old-style samurai, the jizamurai, as they are
often called: the men who lived out in the countryside, on fiefs with which
they had long associations and over which they exercised a substantial
degree of independent control, dispensing rough and ready justice, gathering
taxes, and mobilizing the inhabitants for the tasks of both war and peace."
¶ The samurai were "... a constant dilemma..." for their local daimyōs
who needed their support in dangerous times, but had to negotiate with them
to keep it and thus diminished their own power. Samurai were free enough to
change sides if they were displeased or even raise their own militias
against their local overlord. (Source and quotes from: Warrior Rule in Japan
by Marius Jansen, pp. 206-7)
Under the Tokugawa shogunate
"All castle-town samurai had to serve at one time or another in Edo, where
their bills could only be paid in cash, and it was not long before the money
economy spread to provincial towns and villages as well. (Quoted from: The Meiji Restoration by William Beasley, p. 44) See our entry on
for more on the castle towns.
Sanbasō or sambasō
"Awaji puppet performances can be divided into two broad categories
according to whether the targeted audience is divine or human. In practice,
however, the audience often consists of both deities and humans.
Performances intended for deities (shinji, 'sacred matters') have
human beings as "onlookers" and even sponsors. The two examples of these
sacred rites in the Awaji tradition are the Sambaso rite, used as a
purifying ceremony and invocation of the deity's blessing at events
inaugurating something - from new rice-paddy dikes to a marriage— and the
Dance of Ebisu, a lively performance enacting the life and love - namely,
sake - of Ebisu, the deity of fishermen and shop owners." Quoted from:
Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays, edited by Karen
Brazell, The Awaji Tradition by Jane Marie Law, pp. 394-95.
The image to the left on top is
from the Walters Museum of Art in Baltimore. I found it at commons.wikimedia.
The image shown above comes from Ursinus College and was posted at Flickr.
The print by Kuniyoshi shows an actor as a sanbaso marionette and comes from
the Lyon Collection. Click on it to go to the page devoted to it.
"During the Tokugawa period, every kabuki program began at dawn with a
sophisticated ritual dance featuring the character of Sanbasō. Performed by
a low-ranking actor, the dance was built around three short scenes (dan):
'waving sleeves and stamping' (momi no dan), the conventional
'jumping like a crow' (karasutobi), and the 'bell-tree' (suzu no
dan), in which the dancer shakes a wand covered with small bells. It
would be hours before the major stars appeared and the main play began, so
only the most determined fans would attend. Today the dance is performed
regularly for the New Year's production, and occasionally at other times as
well. ¶ Kabuki's various Sanbasō dances have their origin in the ritual
nō play Okina, which in turn derives from early agricultural
rituals intended to ensure prosperity. 'Okina' means 'old man,' and
the central character symbolizes longevity and eternal youth. Okina
exhibits many features that are different from nō proper, marking it as sui
generis: the main actor (shite) puts on his mask in front of the
audience; the steps at the front of the stage are used for an entrance; the
music includes percussion patterns not found in any other nō play; and the
dance has no plot. The nō performance begins with Senzai, played by the
secondary actor (waki), taking the Okina mask from a small onstage
altar. After the shite dons the Okina mask, he performs a short,
solemn dance and leaves the stage. An actor of comic kyogen roles
playing Sanbasō then dances a light-spirited imitation or parody of Okina's
movements. Sanbasō is known as the 'black Okina,' since he wears a black
version of the old-man mask." Quoted from: Kabuki Plays on Stage:
Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864, p. 52.
An alternate name for
the kabuki play
Genpei Nunobiki no Taki.
"In sangi divination, six square sticks with all four sides
differently marked were used to tell fortunes. In sangi calculation,
several hundred short sticks colored either black or red were laid out in a
prescribed manner and used to perform either addition or subtraction."
Several families used the sangi as a family crest or mon because of
the augury of its being an auspicious sign.
Remember: There are
numerous variations on this motif used as family crests.
Above is a detail from the
of the robe of a
is an example of living red
posted at commons.wikimedia by
Coral - often
portrayed among the Myriad Treasures or
Occasionally the term
sangojū (珊瑚樹 or
is used. It describes a branch of coral.
Above is a piece of coral
posted by Gryffindor at commons.wikimedia.
It is from the collection of
the Natural History Museum, Vienna.
The importation of coral was
banned in 1668. Source: Asian
Material Culture, essay by Martha Chaiklin, p. 51.
A three-pronged vajra. The
sanko shown below is from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
See also our entry on
There is a story that while
Kūkai was in China he threw a three-pronged vajra. It landed in a pine tree
in Japan where the Shōryū-ji (青龍寺 or しょうりゅうじ) was established. The three
story pagoda there was posted at commons.wikimedia by Reggaeman. There is a
similar story about a thrown
A Japanese woodblock print
triptych or three-panel composition. (See also ichmai-e and
Major popular author
who lived from 1761-1816. He originally was successful as the Ukiyo-e artist
Sanzu no kawa
A river which flows
into Hell and is the final separating barrier for souls of the deceased
between the temporal world and their damnation.
Monkey. This is also
the creature used as the ninth symbol of the zodiac, but in that case the
character used is 申 although it too is pronounced 'saru'.
Bamboo grass: "...the
Japanese term for [a] species of bamboo that grow to only one or two meters.
Although less frequently used in painting formats... bamboo grass is
especially well suited for presentations in crest and textile designs..."
Quoted from: Symbols
of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design, by Merrily Baird, p. 72.
"Bamboo grass" rouge
is the name for the application of rouge over charcoal on the lower lip
causing the lip to appear green. This was a fashion statement.
"...pure Carthamin... has a
metallic, gold-green lustre, reminding one of certain aniline dyes and the
sheath-wings of several species of... beetles. The Japanese girls dissolve
it in water for reddening their lips. In Kiōto they often put it on so
strong and concentrated that the green metallic lustre appears instead of
the red colour."
Quoted from: "The Industries
of Japan: Together with an Account of Its Agriculture, Forestry, Arts, and
Commerce" by Johannes Justus Rein, 1889, p. 177.
See also our entry on
our Aoi thru Bl index/glossary page.
There is also more
information to be found on one of our pages devoted to
a Kunisada print.
Dwarf bamboo and
bellflower crest of the Murakami (村上 or むらかみ) branch of the Minamoto ( 源 or
みなもと), i.e., the Genji clan.
Sawamura Gennosuke II
actor 1802-53. This is
the same actor as Sawamura Sōjūrō V (see below),
Suketakaya Takasuke III (助高屋高助) and Sawamura Tosshō. He became Gennosuke II in
Sawamura Sōjūrō IV
Sawamura Sōjūrō V
This is the same actor as Sawamura Gennosuke II (see above). He became
Sōjūrō V in 1844.
Sawamura Tanosuke II
A decorative motif
of interlocking manji or swastikas. This pattern is remarkably prolific in
ukiyo prints although often it is not immediately obvious.
Schwaab, Dean J.
Author of Osaka
Segawa Kikunojō V
Kabuki actor 1802-32
literally means 'shallow river.'
A decorative motif
composed of partially concentric circles stacked to represent waves.
This word literally
translates as 'blue ocean waves' although the wave pattern does not
necessarily have to be in blue. Above is a detail from a lacquer box by
Shibata Zeshin (柴田是真: 1807-91) at the Met. Their curatorial files state:
"The combed pattern on the waves illustrates Zeshin's revival of the "blue
wave" (seigaiha-nuri) technique, in which lacquer thickened with egg white
or clay is placed on a surface and then combed into a pattern with a bamboo
It is also said of Zeshin
that "He resucitated the once supposed lost style of the Seigaiha 青海波,
and also invented the art of painting with lacquer on paper or on silk."
Quoted from: Kokka, Issues 212-216, 1908, p. 285.
Author of Yoshiwara:
The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan
In 1994 Lawrence Rogers wrote of Ms. Seigle's book on the Yoshiwara that
"This scholarly work is the definitive monograph in English on the Yoshiwara
in premodern times."