A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
Sekichiku thru Sh
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 PAGE:
Hagi, Sengaki, Senjafuda,
Sennin, Seno Jūrō Kaneuji, Seppuku,
Shakujō, Shamisen, Shank's Mare,
Shichifukujin, Shide, Shigenobu,
Shiitake tabo, Shika, Shima,
Shimenawa, Shini-e, Shini sōzoku, Shintai,
Shiori, Shippō, Shiraki, Shiranami-mono,
Shirizaya-no-tachi, Shishi, Shishimai,
Shishi no za,
Shishu no zōjigoku, Shitadashi Sanbasō,
Shita-uri, Shizuki Tadao,
Shōmenzuri, Shōnetsu jigoku,
Awaremi no Rei,
Shugō jigoku, Shukubamachi, Shuro and
瀬尾十郎兼氏, 切腹, 迫上, 迫出, 説話文学, 雪月花,
鯱, 釈迦, 錫杖, 三味線,
洒落本, 暫, 七福神, 紙垂, 重信, 志ご貴,
椎茸髱, 鹿, 縞, 七五三縄 or 注連縄, 死絵,
死に装束, 神体, 新造, 汐汲み, 栞, 七宝,
獅子, 獅子舞, 師子座,
燭台, 正面摺, 焦熱也獄,
棕櫚 and 手燭
せりだし, せつわぶんがく, せつげっか,
しゃれぼん, しばらく, しちふくじん, しで,
しげのぶ, しごき, しいたけたぼ, しか, しま, しめなわ,
しにえ, しにしょうぞく, しんたい,
しおくみ, しおり, しっぽう, しらき,
しりざやのたち, しし, ししまい, ししのざ,
そさ, しゅげんどう, しゅくばまち, しゅろ and しゅしょく
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
Pink (or carnation) - the flower and not
necessarily the color - motif used as a
family crest or mon.
The pink is a dianthus. Below is a Sweet William Dwarf (美國石竹)
posted at Flickr by beautifulcataya. This example is clearly a hybrid.
There is a haiku by Kyoroku (許六: 1655-1715) quoted in Chado the Way of
Tea: A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac by Sasaki Sanmi, p. 357:
shisoku shite miru
tsuyu no tama
The light from the paper
lantern is reflected
in the dewdrops on the blossoming sekikichu.
The image to the lower left is
the Rainbow Pink (石竹科)
posted by Kai Yan and Joseph Wong at Flickr.
"Government installations at strategic points along traffic routes, where
travelers were stopped for inspection from ancient times through the early
modern period. The system of barrier stations was established under the
Taika Reform of 645, with primary emphasis on those in the Kinai region, or
home provinces." Originally there were three major barriers overseen
directly by the government: Suzuka in Ise Province; Fuwa in Mino; and Arachi
in Echizen. These could be controlled in case the emperor abdicated, died,
there was a rebellion or national emergency. In time the three initial
barrier stations became less important and private barriers were put up
elsewhere and fees were charged for passing through these. "During the
Muromachi period (1333-1568) there was a conspicuous proliferation of
barrier stations as the shogunate and regional lords sough additional
sources of revenue. The sekisho tended to impede the flow of traffic
and goods, and they were abolished in the late 16th century by the national
unifiers Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi." They were revived in spades
during the Tokugawa period and abolished by the Meiji government on March 2,
1869. (Source and quotes from the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, vol. 7, p.
To the left is an image of
the Hakone sekisho posted at commons.wikimedia.org by Steph Gray. According
to Fodor's Tokyo guide book this is one of the most popular tourist
sites in Hakone. According to the The Cambridge History of Japan this
barrier post was established in 1636.
The 2009 Fodor's Tokyo gives the starting date as 1618.
Timon Screech relates the story of an artist who reached the Hakone barrier
only to realize that he had lost his papers. He tried twice to cross over
without permission. This was referred to as sekisho yaburi (関所破り or
せきしょやぶり) or 'barrier-breaking', a criminal act. A third attempt was
punishable by death. (See: Shogun's Painted Culture: Fear and Creativity
in the Japanese States, 1760-1829, pp. 257-8)
In Ogyu Sorai's Discourse on Government (Seidan): An Annotated
Translation (fn. 546, p. 252) it is noted that at barriers like Hakone
all kasa hats and other headgear had to be removed, the doors of
norimono (palanquins) had to be opened and riders had to remove one foot
from his stirrups. However, this might have been more an ancient sign of
respect as opposed to a security issue.
The literal translation of
sekisho is 関
seki which means
'barrier' or 'gate' and 所 sho which means 'place'.
During the Tokugawa period
the sekisho were used to regulate traffic and trade, but also to
prevent the smuggling of arms into Edo and the illegal transportation of women
as hostages out.
The expression used at the time was de onna - iri teppō or
"women leaving, guns entering".
Travellers were required to carry and show a document of passage called a
sekisho-tegata (関所手形 or せきしょてがた). Some sources say these
were written on wooden panels.
According to the catalogue of the exhibition Circa 1492: Art in the Age
of Exploration it says "Commerce was hampered as well by poor roads and
by private toll barriers (sekisho) on the road and rivers, mostly
controlled by powerful temples but also by Shinto shrines and perhaps by
some shugo." Note: Shugo (守護 or しゅご) were military governors
during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods.
In vol. 4 of the The Cambridge History of Japan (p. 114-15) it says
that "In the tenth month of 1568, Oda Nobunaga, claiming that he represented
public authority (tenka) and that he was acting in the best interests
of all people, abolished the toll barriers within his holdings, which at
that time officially included just the two provinces of Owari and Mino....
Moreover, he also abolished toll barriers in territories that he occupied
later, such as Ise and Echizen, thus advancing a policy of encouraging
unrestricted trade. ¶ However, Nobunaga's toll barrier policy did not
proceed beyond certain self-imposed limitations. He did not, for example,
abolish the imperial checkpoints at the seven entrances to Kyoto."
Nobunaga's policies were not totally consistent. Merchants under his
protection could ship items toll free while others still had to pay.
From Excursions in Identity: Travel and the Intersection of Place,
Gender, and Status in Edo Japan (p. 19): "By allowing transit only
between certain hours, checkpoints provided the government with the illusion
of controlling not only space but also time. As a general rule, barrier
gates were open only between six in the morning and six in the evening.
...exceptions were made to accommodate official travelers, known as the
bearers of the 'packhorse red seal' (tenma shuin)."
By the late Edo period many guards would turn a blind-eye to some who would
try to skirt the barriers. One village officer from Echigo province noted in
his diary in 1774: "There is a checkpoint here and women are not allowed
through the barrier. So they circumvent it by taking a boat at Aisaki beach.
It costs thirty mon." At other times guards could be bribed. Ibid.,
Daimyō were not permitted to set up sekisho on major roads during the
Tokugawa period, but they were permitted to set up barriers on lesser roads
within their domains. This they called bansho (番所 or ばんしょ). Bansho
translates as guard house. "The forces maintained at sekisho were modest,
ranging from a handful to several dozen guards..." There were physical
examinations to make sure that women were not disguising themselves as men,
"...or young boys dressed as girls, were trying to slip through." Source and
quotes: The Making of Modern Japan by Marius Jansen, pp. 139-140.
Cicada - There is a Bashō
peom which contrasts polar opposites:
seeping into the rocks
In a comment on this haiku
Moran wrote: "A poem by Tu Fu says, 'Cicadas' voices merge together in an
old temple.' Bashō further enhanced the poetic beauty of the scene by
introducing the image of rocks absorbing the voices."
Another, Sanga, wrote: "This
poem's meanings goes beyond its words and points toward the profound secrets
In Traditional Japanese
Theater: An Anthology of Plays, edited by Karen Brazell, is the script
of The Cicada (Semi): a parody of a noh ghost play, translated by
Carolyn Haynes. In the preface it says: "A small group of kyōgen plays...
are direct parodies of noh ghost plays. In noh, it is usually the ghost of a
well-known warrior or a talented or beautiful woman who comes to life on
stage, whereas in kyōgen the human ghosts are more lowly: an unskilled
umbrella maker (Yūzen), a pushy flutist (Rakuami), and an
overworked teahouse proprietor (Tsūen). Another group of kyōgen
ghosts are innocent victims of thoughtless slaughter: a field potato (Tokoro)
and an octopus (Tako), as well as the cicada of this play."
This motif represents
the sen which is one hundredth of a yen. "In a society said to despise both
merchants and money, the appearance of coins as a heraldic motif may seem
surprising." Originally the Japanese did not mint their own coins, but
imported them from China. This formed a major part of their trade.
Coins were also
important in the Buddhist death rituals. Six coins were placed by the body
of the deceased to help the soul on its journey to the nether world. This
would act as alms paid to six gods of the afterlife.
Source and quote
from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, p. 108.
Mock Joya gives a
slightly different explanation for the use of the funereal coins: "...copper
coins, or pieces of paper on which the outlines of coins were roughly
painted, were placed in the coffin. The ancients believed that
Sanzu-no-kawa (Sanzu River) divided this world from Gokuraku
(Paradise), and so coins were required to pay for the ferry ride across the
river. Since they also believed it was a lengthy journey to Gokuraku
straw sandals and a strong staff to lean on were placed in the coffin to aid
Quoted from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese (p. 317)
Alternate name for the kabuki play "Date Kurabe
An outline drawing used to
cut the key block. A
is a traced drawing used for the same purpose.
First the artist does a
loose, conceptual drawing of what will be the final product. If it is
figurative more emphasis is generally put on facial features than the rest
of the drawing. From this initial step - see our entry on
- a much more precise outline drawing is prepared. Hiroshi Yoshida in
discussing his technique mentions that he uses minogami which has been sized
"It is important that the lines should be clear and definite. Ink is to be
avoided, for it blurs when the paper is pasted face down on the block to be
cut. When taking a pen, sumi should be used."
( Japanese Woodblock Printing,
1939, p. 15) Of course, Yoshida is describing a 20th century method using
20th century tools. He even suggests that one not rush the process. "One
should hang it on the wall for a number of days and contemplate it, thinking
about the later processes which must eventually follow. If one is too hasty,
and it is found necessary to alter or add something afterward, it will be
extremely difficult to make the change. It is very essential that one should
give all the thought possible just here, before pasting the sen-gaki on the
block for cutting." (Ibid.) The artist should be able to extrapolate from
this lined piece to the finished product - even the colors which will be
used. ¶ Yoshida addressed certain technical problems which could arise. For
example, "If two or more colours meet, an extension of one of the lines
which is not to remain in the print afterward is generally necessary in the
outline drawing for guidance to secure the exact fitting together of the
different colours to be applied. Suppose there are to be some glowing clouds
in the sunset sky, and a part of them is hidden behind a mountain. When a
separate block is made for the clouds and another for the mountain, it is
difficult to know afterward the exact position of the clouds in relation to
the mountain and just where the line of the cloud touches the slope of the
mountain. So the line of the cloud must be extended to cross the line of the
mountain slope, thus indicating the exact location which the artist wished
to give the clouds. In this case the unnecessary part of the line known as muda-bori [無駄彫 or むだぼり], or "unnecessary cutting," which was extended
into the mountain should be taken away after the trial printing is made, and
the exact position fixed by the register marks." (p. 16)
Small prints posted on
shrine pillars by pilgrims. Literally "thousand shrine slip". These are said
to be remnants of ancient beliefs in the the power of words combined with
pilgrimages. Rebecca Salter in her Japanese Popular Prints: From Votive
Slips to Playing Cards (p. 94) tells us that "Chinese pilgrims carried a
protective seal which they impressed in the soil of the road to ward off
evil spirits as they went. In Japan, it was recommended to write the
kanji for 'tiger' on the palm of the hand to terrify wild animals and
evil spirits. When crossing a river, the traveller was advised to carry
something bearing the kanji for 'earth/ground' to ensure safe passage
to the other bank. Senjafuda... are an extension of the belief in the
power of the word..." Today individuals commission printed slips with their
names and then travel en masse with others to plaster their prints on the
buildings "...at each holy site." (Ibid.) ¶ "The classic senjafuda
for pasting was and still is a woodblock, printed in sumi ink on a
slip of paper about..." 5" high by 2" wide. (Ibid., p. 96)
The photo to the left was
posted at Flickr by Jpellgen. It shows the senjafuda attached to one of the
entryway pillars to the Zenko-ji.
Also known as a 'sen'.
In Hepburn's dictionary - first published in 1867 - it defines this term as
"A sort of imaginary beings, who live amongst the mountains; genii, fairy."
Sen ni naru means to become a genius. However, most modern
dictionaries define it as hermit or wizard.
"Persons manifesting the ideals
of religious Taoism, who were imagined to have attained supernatural powers,
especially immortality, by means of ascetic exercises practiced in remote
mountain regions." Similar figures in India, the rishi, shared many
of the traits of the sennin. They had psychic powers and could
levitate. "In China, adepts were believed to preserve a youthful appearance
indefinitely by drinking elixirs containing such ingredients as powdered
cinnamon, mica, deer horn, and cinnabar, and allegedly could levitate, ride
clouds, and make the wind blow. The concept of [these] xianren was
introduced to Japan along with Taoism, and the earliest references to
Japanese sennin appear in Nara-period (710-794) legends concerning
Ōtomo no Sennin, Azumi no Sennin, and Kume no Sennin." The founder of the
Shugendō cult was said to be a sennin. "The term was adopted by
Buddhists and occasionally used as a designation for the Buddha, because of
his mastery over life and death, but more often for religious figures of
great accomplishment who belonged to heterodox faiths." (Source and quotes
from: "sennin" by Inokuchi Shōji in the Kodansha Encyclopedia
of Japan, vol. 7, p.
There is an unusual
reference to sennin in Mock Joya's Things Japanese (p. 364): "Sennin
(hermits) were... said to have lived on pine needles." This makes a
reference on page 63 in Japanese Sword Mounts by Helen Gunsaulus that
much more comprehensible in a description of an elaborately worked tsuba:
"Beneath an old pine-tree with golden needles stands the Chinese sage, Fung
Kan, known in Japan as Bukan Zenji. He is one of the rishi or
sennin (sien nung), beings endowed with supernatural powers who
enjoy rest for a period after death, being for a time exempt from
transmigration.... Bukan Zenjin is always accompanied by a tiger..."
In Ernest Eitel's volume, Hand-book of Chinese Buddhism, Being a Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary...,
originally published in 1888, defined 仙人, here spelled 'richi',
are separated into five categories. In India it was believed that a mortal
could become an immortal after a short transitional period instead of the
1,000,000 years for the normal transmigration. However, in China the
Buddhists and Taoist thought the change could happen immediately. The five
classes are: 1) 天仙, the deva rishi, "who are believed to reside in
the Seven Circular Rocks which surround Mount Meru; 2) 神仙, spirits who roam
about in the air. In Japan these are referred to as shinsen or Taoist
3) 人仙 are human rishis
or immortals who dwell among men; 4) 地仙 are earth rishis or immortals
who live in caves; and 5) 鬼仙 or roving demons who form "...a 7th class of
sentient beings." (p. 130)
There is a Nō play entitled Ikkaku sennin (一角仙人 or いっかくせんいん) or The One-horned Immortal by
Komparu Zembō (金春禅鳳 or こんばるぜんぼ: 1453?-1532?). In 1921 when Arthur Waley gave
a synopsis of this play and a translation he treated it with some discretion
and delicacy leaving the source material somewhat hazy. Waley said: "A Rishi
lived in the hills near Benares. Under strange circumstances [Waley added a
footnote here - in French - which did little to clarify matters] a roe bore
him a son whose form was human, save that a single horn grew on his
forehead, and that he had stag's hoofs instead of feet. He was given the
name Ekashringa, 'One-horn.' " (Quoted from: The Nō Plays of Japan
by Arthur Waley, p. 245) "Under strange circumstances..." ¶ After much
digging we found an unadulterated source for this play. Based on a common
theme of the seduction of a hermit/celibate by a courtesan says: "In the
country of Vārāņasī there was an immortal (sage) living on a mountain. One
day in the fall when he was urinating into his bath basin, he caught sight
of two deer copulating. Sensual thoughts germinated in him and his seed
flowed into the basin. The female deer drank [from the basin] and soon
became pregnant. ¶ In due month she gave birth to a baby, who was human
except that it had a horn on its head and the hooves of a deer. When the
deer was about to deliver, she went to the immortal's dwelling, and she
[left the baby there] to be entrusted to the immortal, and then she left." ¶
When the immortal came out of his cave he saw the baby and knew it was his.
He raised this hybrid child and educated him in many mystical ways so that
the child "...obtained five supernatural faculties." ¶ Later the
single-horned figure was climbing the mountain when a torrent of rain came
down causing him to slip. "...he fell and injured [himself]. In a
rage, he chanted an order to stop the rain. Because of his virtue, all
dragons and gods no longer sent rain. Consequently crops failed and people
were pining and could not make a living." The local king consulted with his
councilors one of whom told him the cause of their problems. So, the king
offered half of his holdings to anyone who could make the immortal lose his
"five supernatural faculties" and bring back the rain. A famous 'harlot' -
Waley's term - said she could if the creature had any human in him and in
proof she would come back to the court riding his back. ¶ "The courtesan
then hired five hundred carts to carry five hundred beautiful women, and
five hundred wagons to carry all kinds of pleasure pills made from herbs and
all kinds of strong wine..." They dressed in clothes made from bark making
them look like hermits and set up their shelters near the cave of the
one-horned creature. He saw them and approached, was charmed and seduced and
in the end the 'harlot' asked the rishi to bathe with her. She
aroused such passions in him through her touch that he lost his supernatural
powers and it began to pour for seven days and seven nights. When the fruit
and pills and wine ran out the creature asked for more, but the 'harlot'
said there were no more except at her home. However, after they set out in
that direction the woman said she was too tired to walk and the creature
offered to carry her. ¶ In time the one-horned creature was allowed to
return to his home and there he relearned what he had lost and regained his
five powers. (Source and quotes: The Water God's Temple of the Guangsheng
Monastery: Cosmic Function of Art, Ritual and Theater by Anning Jing,
pp. 179-81) ¶ "In the Nō play... the Rishi has over-powered the
Rain-dragons, and shut them up in a cave. Shāntā, a noble lady of Benares,
is sent to tempt him. The Rishi yields to her and loses his magic power.
There comes a mighty rumbling from the cave." (Waley, p.245)
In Traditional Japanese
Theater edited by Karen Brazell (p. 68) is an even more cogent
description of the theme discussed above: "The tale of a powerful ascetic
who, having locked up the rain gods and caused a drought, has his powers
destroyed by a beautiful woman is familiar to audiences throughout Asia. In
Japan, popular versions found in the Taiheiki (chapter 37) and the
Konjaku monogatari (book 5, tale 4), as well as in the Noh play
Ikkaku sennin (One-horned wizard)..." When seduced "The wizard joins her
dance until he collapses, and the dragon gods, played by child actors, are
able to escape from the cave (a stage prop), taunt the wizard... and cause
the rains to fall." ¶ A variant on this was written for the kabuki theater,
Saint Narukami. It strays considerably from the Nō play.
There is a mention of a sennin
in English from a book from 1790, Bell's New Pantheon or Historical
Dictionary of the Gods, Demi Gods, Heroes and Fabulous Personages of
Antiquity by John Bell (p. 142). The passage says that the 'Budha'
"...at nineteen years of age became disciple of a famous hermit called Arara
Sennin [阿羅邏仙人 or あららせんにん]." Engelbert Kaempfer in his 1727 book on Japan
said that Buddha left his wife and son to study with this man "...who lived
on top of Mount Dandoku. The latter exhorted him to lead an austere life and
constantly meditate on heavenly, spiritual subjects, while sitting in
particular posture of spiritual contemplation where the feet are twisted and
place on top of each other in an unnatural fashion and the hands rest folded
in the lap, with the thumbs raised touching each other at the tip."
In 1203 the Shōgun went out on
a hunting trip to foot of Mt. Fuji. Near the base of the mountain was a
large carve which the locals the Cave of Man. Intrigued the Shōgun sent his
bravest warrior, Shirō Tadatsune, into the cave to see what was in there.
Tadatsune was armed with a special sword and accompanied by a group of brave
companions. The exploration was terrifying and horrific and not all of the
band survived. At one point they entered a large cavern with "a pillar of
blue ice", a stalactite. "One of the men had said that he had heard this
kind of stalactite was a mineral from which the Sennin immortals prepare the
nectar of immortality - so he had been told." (Source and quote: Samurai
Zen: The Warrior Koans by Trevor Leggett, pp. 84-5)
Above is a blue stalactite
from a Polish cave. This photo was
commons.wikimedia.org by Tanja5. Maybe they
have sennin in Poland too.
Character from the kabuki play "Genpei Nunobiki no
A form of ritual
suicide through disembowelment. Also known as harakiri.
The image to the left is a
Kuniyoshi print from the Lyon Collection.
A trap lift for
"The stage itself,
in wing space, position of lighting instruments, facilities for flying
scenery and so forth, follows the Western model. However, the stage retains
the use of machines which were developed by the Japanese independently of
their development in other countries. These are the seridashi, the
seriage, and the mawari-butai."
"The first use of
the seriage... appeared in 1736." Quotes from: The
Kabuki Theatre, by Earle Ernst, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu,
1974, p. 29.
"A half century
prior to the revolving stage, various types of traps were introduced to
kabuki. Generically, all these devices, which raise actors or scenery up to
the stage level through a hole in the floor or lower them out of sight, are
called seri, literally 'press' or 'push.' When a trap is
raised, this is referred to as seriage, 'push up,' or seridashi,
'push out.' Quote from: Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context, by
Brandon, Malm and Shively, Published by the Institute of Culture and
Communication East-West Center, 1978, p. 116.
"During the eighteenth
century there was a great development of Kabuki theatre machines, all of
which first appeared in the doll theatres of Ōsaka. The first trap-lift for
small pieces of scenery appeared there in 1727 and was first used by the
Kabuki at the Nakamura-za in Edo in 1736. In 1744 a trap-lift for actors was
also installed in this theatre. A larger trap-lift (yatai-seriage)
capable of thrusting up large pieces of scenery, such as temple gates and
the walls of rooms, appeared in the Chikugo-shibai, a theatre in Ōsaka in
1748." Quotes from: The
Kabuki Theatre, by Ernst, p. 53. [We added this while working on our
entry on yatai on our Yakusha thru Z page.]
A trap lift for
scenery for the kabuki theater.
is a trap-lift which brings scenery from below to the level of the stage
floor and vice versa. This invention of Namiki Shōzō
seems to have first appeared in November 1727." (Quote from: The
Kabuki Theatre, by Earle Ernst, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu,
1974, p. 29)
In the Kodansha Encyclopedia
of Japan, vol. 7, entry by Douglas Mills, p. 72 it says: "setsuwa
bungaku ('tale' or 'anecdotal literature'). Though coined as the equivalent
of the Western fairy tale, or märchen, as distinct from
densetsu (legend) or shinwa (myth), the word setsuwa now
has a very general meaning. Not only are individual items of legend and myth
as well as fairy tales termed setsuwa, but so too are the episodes about
Chinese history interpolated in the Kamakura-period (1185-1333) war tales,
or anecdotes about ordinary life, including the everyday life of courtiers
of the Heian period (794-1185). In practice, 'setsuwa literature' is a
blanket term used to refer to a number of collections of short tales or
anecdotes compiled between 800 and 1300 AD. The category excludes the more
literary and lyrical genre of uta monogatari (poem tales). Those
collections do not contain fairy tales or myths. They feature the unusual or
the remarkable and make much of hte supernatural; but their stories purport
to recount incidents that actually happened, or were thought to have
happened, in real life. ¶ Many collections deal exclusively with Buddhism,
Buddhist miracles, and pious Buddhist figures."
Snow, Moon, Flowers: A popular motif in
Japanese art which has its origins in 6th century China intellectual theory.
Composed by Xie He [謝赫] the "Six Rules of Painting" were published in three
volumes: 'Snow', 'Moon' and 'Flowers'.
stated: "The Japanese term 'snow, moon, and flowers' (settsugekka)
refers to the Three Beauties of Nature, with each of the beauties said to be
a reminder of the transience of life."
Baird, Rizzoli International Publications, Symbols of Japan: Thematic
Motifs in Art and Design, 2001, p. 38.
To the left are
three details from a series of prints by Hiroshige originally published in
ca. 1843. The series carried the title Meisho setsugekka (Famous
Places of Snow, Moon and Flowers).
In the Kodansha Encyclopedia
of Japan (vol. 5, p. 309) it says of Nagoya Castle that "The
five-storied donjon was destroyed during World War II, but its exterior has
since been reconstructed. Also reconstructed were replicas of its pair of
famous golden shachi (dolphinlike sea creatures), almost 3 meters (10
ft.) high and covered with gold scales, which now decorate the gable roof
ends of the new ferroconcrete main keep."
This creature was placed on
other rooftops, but this particular golden one is called the kinshachi
(金鯱 or きんしゃち).
Above is a trimmed detail from
a photo by 663highland
posted at commons.wikimedia. It
is of one of the shachi
at Okayama Castle.
Many dictionaries refer to this
kanji character as a shachihoko (しゃちほこ) or "fabulous
dolphin-like fish". Jim Breen gives it as 鯱鉾 a "mythical carp with the head
of a lion and the body of a fish" which is an auspicious symbol of
protection and well-being.
A large kinshachi was
displayed at the Vienna International Exhibition in 1873 and proved to be an
enormous success. (Source: Modern Japanese Art and the Meiji State: The
Politics of Beauty by Doshin Sato, p. 111.
The image to the left is a
detail from a Hiroshige II print.
In the DK Eyewitness
Travel Guide: Japan by John Benson (p. 208) describes these rooftop
decorations as "Dolphin-like shachi-gawara motifs on the roof are
of a mythical beast believed to protect the main tower from fire."
If you wish to see more, i.e., the most examples of this motif try copying
and pasting the kanji characters for shachi-gawara 鯱瓦 into a
Google image search. The results are startling. Don't let your lack of
Japanese language deter you.
In the 1903 Up-to-date
Guide for the Land of the Rising Sun by H. Hotta (pp. 89-90) it says:
"The Dolphins measure 8.7 feet in height and 7.3 feet in circumference. It
is said to have been made from old Japanese coins, valued some 3,200,000
Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois is a property bequeathed to the
University of Illinois. Near the Sunken Garden is a set of pylons
surmounted by copies from ca. 1931 of the Nagoya Castle shachi. The photos abaove
and below were both found at Flickr. The top one was posted by Broken
Thoughts and the one below by Tau Zero. Both have been trimmed. "On the
pylons in the Sunken Garden, looking very much like glittering sea creatures
diving into a vast subterranean world, surfaces modeled in wonderful deep
and shallow designs, teeth huge and fearsome, are sixteen guardian fish,
reduced-scale versions of originals at Nagoya Castle, Japan. Several are
recent reproductions necessitated by thefts, but most are the original
bronzes covered by three layers of gold leaf (now badly worn) that Allerton
had made by Yamanaka and Company, Tokyo.
Representations of these mythological, scaly-armored aquatic fire
protectors, called shachi, were used as roof ornaments in Japanese
palaces and castles, and until its destruction in World War II, Nagoya
Castle possessed the most famous pair: a male and female mounted atop the
high inner tower, first created in the seventeenth century and remade
several times, in 1726, in 1827, and again in 1846. (The castle, built c.
1610 was reconstructed in 1959.) The postwar versions are of copper covered
with eighteen-karat gold mixed with bronze, but the nearly nine-foot-high
originals were of wood plated with lead and then encased in a layer of
gold." Quoted from: A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois:
Urbana-Champaign, Robert Allerton Park, and Chicago by Muriel Scheinman, pp.
In Architecture and Authority in Japan by William Howard Coaldrake (p. 128)
it says that "...from the time of Azuchi Castle [shachi] became a
ubiquitous presence on all castle roofs."
There is a kabuki play from 1782 called Keisei Kogane no Shachihoko.
According to a review in The Japan Times from 2010: “Keisei Kogane no
Shachihoko” was an exciting tale that Gohei [the playwright] staged in
appropriately striking ways. Its popularity led to a remarkably long run at
theaters and to establishing Kakinoki Kinsuke as a household name. The
legend of Kinsuke riding a kite to the top of the Nagoya Castle in order to
steal the gold shachihoko remained a popular theme in Japanese theater and
literature throughout the 19th century. Mysteriously, though, the play fell
out of favor and ceased to be staged.
This is the Japanese name for
the historical Buddha Shakyamuni 563 BC to 483 BC. His is also referred to
"...a wooden staff
with metal cap on which a metal ring is loosely hung so that a jingling
noise is made in walking. This noise is intended to warn beetles, snakes,
and other small creatures on which the monk might possibly tread of his
approach so that they can get out of the way."
Quoted from: The
Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, p. 192.
A pilgrim's staff is also referred to as a kongodue (金剛杖 or こんごうづえ).
Because it warns creature of its approach it is known in China as an alarm
staff. But the jingling serves another function in that it is meant to drown
out all other worldly sounds from the ears of the carrier.
The Buddha was said
to have used a sandalwood staff with pewter head and rings.
Symbolism and Art Motifs, by C.A.S. Williams, Castle Books, 1974 edition, p.
three-stringed plucked lute that was originally associated with the urban
world of the pleasure quarters and theaters of the Edo period (1600-1868)
and later became a concert instrument as well. It is called samisen
in the Kyōto-Ōsaka
area and the sangen when used in classical chamber music."
may have its origins in a similiar instrument found in China, but definitely
is traceable to one from the Ryūkū Islands. "Both the Okinawan (sanshin
or jamisen) and the Chinese (sanxian or san-hsien)
forms are still used today, but they differ greatly from the instrument used
vary in length from 3.6' to 4.6' according to the sound desired. "They are
generally distinguished by the thickness of their unfretted fingerboard, but
other differences are found in string gauges, bridge weights, body sizes,
and the design and size of the plectrums (bachi). The wooden quince, and the
heads which cover the front and back of the body are cat or dog skin. Pegs
and plectrums are ivory, wood, or plastic. Strings are twisted silk or
nylon." Of course the plastic and nylon parts were not available during the
Source and quotes
from: Kodansha Encyclopedia
entry by William P. Malm (vol. 7, pp. 76-7)
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Eizan showing a geisha holding her
shamisen. The detail below shows what is probably intended to be an
ivory plectrum or bachi (撥 or ばち).
"A geisha is often
called a neko [i.e., cat];
but it is because
cats' hides are used in making shamisen, their musical instrument.
But some say that it is because a geisha is also to be petted."
Quoted from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese (p. 114)
According to Mock
Joya the shamisen is of unknown origin and may have originated in
Siam. It was introduced into Japan via the Ryūkūs during the Eiroku era
(1558-1570). "It was a biwa (lute) player named Nakashoji who took
interest in the new instrument when it first came to Sakai." In the Ryūkūs
it was called a jahisen (snake-skin string) because that was what was
used to cover the sound box. There it was played with a bow, but Nakashoji
replaced that with the plectrum he used to play the biwa. He also
made sound changes. "As it was impossible to obtain snake skins for the
instrument, he covered it with cat-skin."
Source and quotes
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese (pp. 494-5).
A classic, serial,
comic novel by Jippensha Ikku ( (1765-1831: 十返舎一九 or じっぺんしゃ.いっく) which first appeared in
1802. It follows the adventures of two "amiable scoundrels", Yajirobei and
Kitahachi, as they travel from Edo to Kyōto via the Tōkaidō road. The title
in Japanese is the Tōkaidō Hizakurige ( 東海道膝栗毛 or とうかいどう.ひざくりげ). Although this
book is a bit ribald it should be a must read for anyone interested in the
culture of that age.
publisher in Edo may have been Yamashiro-ya Sahei (山城屋佐兵衛 or やましろや.さへえ).
For anyone who is interested
'traveling by shank's mare' according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is
traveling on 'one's own legs.' This expression dates back to ca. 1795. This first translation into
English by Thomas Satchell "...was published by subscription in Kobe in
1929." For that reason it had a very small audience until it was reprinted
in 1960 by Tuttle. This copy is from 1992. Satchell did not permit his name
to appear on the title page. It shows up at the end in Romaji. He moved to
Japan in 1899 and became editor of the Yokohama Japan Herald in 1902.
Despite being married to a Japanese woman and having two daughters he was
arrested and interned until the end of the war. He died in 1956.
Ikku added his preface 12 years after the first part was published. In it he
states: "You will find many bad jokes and much that is worthless in the
book, which is moreover overburdened with many poems where sound and sense
conflict. Along with this there is much of the one-night love-traffic of the
It is said that Basil Hall Chamberlain called this novel "the cleverest
outcome of the Japanese pen."
James Seguin De Benneville in his 1906 volume Sakurambō called
Jippensha Ikku the Japanese Rabelais. I have read Rabelais and would
consider this a compliment. Some of my friends wouldn't agree.
In 1908 William George Aston noted that Ikku's novel was printed in 12 parts
starting, as we said, in 1802 and finishing in 1822. "It occupies a somewhat
similar position in Japan to that of the Pickwick Papers in this
country [i.e., England], and is beyond question the most humorous and
entertaining book in the Japanese language. (A History of Japanese
Literature, published by W. Heinemann, 1908, p. 371)
Later Aston adds: "Still, people of nice taste had better not read the
Hizakurige." To this he piles on: "The great drawback to the fun of the Hizakurige is that it is unrelieved by any serious matter." Here
Aston is comparing Ikku to Shakespeare. (p. 373)
The finest example of the kokkeibon (滑稽本 or こっけいぼん) or 'funny book' genre
may be this novel. "The work that established the importance of the
kokkeibon was unquestionably Tōkaidō Dōchū Hizakurige (Travels on
Foot on the Tōkaidō) by Jippensha Ikku." Published in 43 volumes because the
"...public demand again and again compelled Ikku to prolong the adventures
of his irrepressible heroes, Kitahachi and Yajirobei. These utterly
plebeian, typically Edo men are full of a lively if coarse humor, and have a
knack of getting involved in comic and usually unsuccessful intrigues with
women. The readers' interest in bowel movements was apparently
inexhaustible; the number of references to soiled loincloths suggests that
the subject was particularly enjoyed, and indicate also the general level of
humor." Neither of the heroes cares about honor or reputation and are driven
by lust. (Source and quotes from: World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600-1867,
by Donald Keene, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, pp.
"Sharebon, or "witty
books," which first appeared in the Kamigata cities during the cultural boom
of the 1740s, were prose works modeled on erotic pamphlets from China. They
portrayed the licensed quarter and its clients, pointedly satirizing those
who bungled the local etiquette. And they used dialogue and other verbal and
visual devices, rather than kibyōshi-style pictures, to evoke the world of
their characters. They later became popular in Edo, with Santō Kyōden
publishing them to great effect until he collided with Sadanobu in 1791. By
the 1800s, sharebon had evolved into less witty, more melodramatic, and more
widely popular stories of the romantic entanglements and social quandaries
of the quarter, focusing on "the personal, non-professional relationships
among courtesans, patrons, entertainers, and brothel keepers." " Quoted
from: Early Modern Japan by Conrad Totman, p. 419.
There!": One of the greatest and most dramatic moments of the kabuki theater
occurs when the hero is walking down the hanamichi or walkway toward
the stage dressed in a spectacular persimmon red costume. Just as a murder
is about to take place he yells "Shibaraku".
This role was
created by Ichikawa Danjūrō II (1688-1758). In time this became the opening
act of the season opener no matter what play was being performed. "Just a
Minute! is one of the finest examples of the Danjūrō family style
(ie no gei), its hero powered by godlike qualities of magnificence,
might, and theatricality but also contained roles of every type (yakugara),
thus effectively presenting the members of the new troupe through the
display of their varied talents." (Quote from: Kabuki
Plays on Stage: Brilliance and Bravado, 1697-1766, vol. 1, edited by James
R. Brandon and Samuel L. Leiter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2002, p. 44)
"More than a play, Shibaraku is a time-honored ritual based on the folk tradition of
good repelling evil. The semihumorous plot, replete with witty wordplay,
reflects the pleasure-seeking spirit typical of the common people in the Edo
period." (Quote from: The
Kabuki Guide, by Masakatsu Gunji, Kodansha International, 1987, p. 122)
The detail to the
left is from a print by Toyokuni I.
shibaraku can be translated a number of ways: little while; Wait A
Second!; Wait A Minute!; Wait!; Stop Right There!; and probably a few more I
am not aware of.
The Seven Gods of Good Luck:
Ebisu, Daikoku, Bishamon, Fukurokuju, Hotei, Juroji and Benten. "As W. E. Griffis tells us in his 'Religions of Japan' (p. 216) 'Ryōbu
Buddhism is Japanese Buddhism with a vengeance. Take for example, the little
group of divinities known as the Seven Gods of Good Fortune which forms a
popular appendage to Japanese Buddhism and which are a direct and logical
growth of the work done by Kobō as shown in his Ryōbu system.' These popular
deities, known by the name Shichifukujin, are nominally a Buddhist
assemblage, but, in truth, they come from four distinct sources: Shintoism,
Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Taoism. They are in evidence in almost every
Japanese home, certain of them appearing on the 'god-shelf.' "
In a 1922 publication by the
Field Museum in Chicago said: "The Seven Gods are not regarded with the awe
and dignity that one would think appropriate for deities. They are very
often treated in a humorous manner, and commonly Bishamon is pictured as
making love to the goddess Benten."
Burleigh Mutén and Rebecca
Guay in their Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic say "The Buddhist
people say that if you purchase a picture of the ship and place it under
your pillow that night, Benten will reward you with lucky dreams."
The image to the left shows
the 7 gods in the treasure ship or
The zig-zag, cut
paper streamers attached to a sacred wand made from a sakaki (榊 or さかき)
tree used in Shinto rituals to ward off evil spirits. They also are
added to shimenawa which are the twisted straw rope which indicate a
nusa and shimenawa.)
The photo to the left was
posted at Flickr by Thomas.
Early name of
I am so sorry. I made a terrible mistake several years
ago and it wasn't until now that I realized my error. This Shigenobu is not
Shigenobu had actually been a pupil and son-in-law of Hokusai and not
Hiroshige. This Shigenobu had been the son-in-law and pupil of Hiroshige and
his name is represented by the character 重宣. If that weren't confusing
enough there were at least five print artists of different eras who used 重信.
In a February 7, 1922 sale catalogue of the Alexis
Rouart collection written by Frederick W. Gookin it says on p. 262 "Pupil
and son-in-law of Hiroshige. Personal name Sukuki [sic] Chimpei. First
studio name Shigenobu; also signed Ichiyūsai. In February 1859 (first month
Ansei 6) became Hiroshige II. In 1865, he divorced his wife that she might
marry his fellow pupil Shigemasa, to whom he then gave the Hiroshige name,
taking that of Risshō for himself, and retiring to Yokohama. He also signed
as Hirochika II in his later years."
The image to the left is by
Hiroshige II, formerly known as Shigenobu. As one of his major critics had
said "Some of the work of Hiroshige II is very good..." Very good indeed.
This print is a masterpiece.
Shigenobu/Hiroshige II has
received some very bad press. The stage was set by the first decades of the
20th century to look rather unkindly on the work of Hiroshige's artistic
heir. Writers like Arthur Davison Ficke were hardly sparing in their
criticisms. ¶ We know that some of Hiroshige's last series of prints, '100
Views of Edo', was published posthumously and that several of the prints
were designed by Shigenobu. In his Chats on Japanese Prints
Ficke placed this series in a section entitled 'Fifth Period: The Downfall'
and described the views of 'Yedo' as having "...119 plates, including,
besides much rubbish, 25 masterpieces". (Published by Frederick A. Stokes
Company, 1917, p. 393)
Ficke continued to disparage the late works by
Hiroshige which Shigenobu helped produce. It would seem most of Ficke's
criticisms were aimed at the latter: "...certain of the plates are of so
banal a character that it is impossible to believe them to be from the great
man's hand. Doubtless the distinction between the work of the two artists
cannot always be drawn with certainty; but as a general rule we may regard
the work as that of Hiroshige II if we find the figures stiff and wooden, if
the composition is lacking in any central unity, or if some large ugly
object is thrust into the foreground with the hope of thus putting the
background into its proper relative place." (Ibid.)
¶ Ficke wasn't totally unkind
to Shigenobu and did throw him a bit of a bone - a very qualified bone.
"Some of the work of Hiroshige II is very good; upon the accidental
destruction of one of the plates of the 'One Hundred Yedo Series,' he
produced a new design that is admirable. But he lacked originality, and at
his best merely trod in the footsteps of his master. Most of his designs are
flat and uninspired. About 1865 he fell into disgrace, and moved to
Yokohama, where he gave up his name, and is said to have worked henceforth
under the name of Hirochika II. He died in 1869." (Ibid., pp. 397-8)
Five years after Ficke dumped on Shigenobu Basil
Stewart tried to put the last nail in the coffin. Stewart conceded that
Hiroshige claimed on the title page that this was the "masterpiece of his
life", but Stewart truly questioned this conclusion. He claimed that certain
prints in the series could only be by Shigenobu because the master never
would have created such inanities. He referred to the "rear view of a horse"
and the "boatman with the hairy legs" and others as being "...equally
catastrophic" and could only be blamed on Shigenobu whose work displayed a
crudeness which could only be his own. Stewart even believed that Shigenobu
designed an 1855 Tokaido series which Hiroshige then put his signature to.
(Source: A Guide to Japanese Prints and Their Subject Matter, by
Basil Stewart, originally published by Dutton, 1922, p. 22)
On page 23 Stewart said:
"Prints in which some large object, such as a tree-trunk, the mast of a
ship, the body and legs of a horse, is thrust prominently into the
foreground, blotting out the view, and thus spoiling the whole effect of the
picture, may generally be ascribed to Hiroshige II; the method of indicating
the foliage of trees may also sometimes serve to distinguish between master
Hiroshige: Rear view of horse detail
The hairy leg detail
However, not everyone has
agreed wholeheartedly with Ficke and Stewart's appraisals. In the Brooklyn
Museum catalogue of the "100 Views of Edo" it states: "Hairy legs so
prominently placed evoke distaste among Western scholars of Hiroshige's work
and hence a negative reaction to the print that is not found in Japanese
literature on the artist." (Quoted from: One Hundred Views of Edo: Woodblock
Prints by Ando Hiroshige, by Mikhail Uspensky, Parkstone Press, 1997, p.
164) ¶ Uspensky notes that scholars/connoisseurs who found the hairy leg
offensive found the rear view of the horse even more 'vulgar'. Not only were
they put off by the perspective of where the viewing must be standing or
squatting but also by the horse shit droppings seen on the ground. Uspensky
doesn't even mention the horse's scrotum which is clearly visiible. No
wonder they wanted to blame Shigenobu for this breech of good taste.
In the 19th century John
Ruskin, the English artist and critic, who was raised in stately homes
filled with magnificent Greek and Roman statuary, married an incredibly
beautiful young woman. However, it is said that on their wedding night
Ruskin was unable to consummate the marriage when he realized that his new
bride had pubic hair. The statues of ancient goddesses didn't have any and
so he was repulsed that his 'goddess' would. They divorced or got an
annulment or some such thing and she went on to marry the painter John
Everett Millais who was obviously less easily offended or if he was he was
able to overcome his personal disgust.
A personal note: I have a rather large library of
books dealing with Japanese art and culture. Basil Stewart's A Guide to
Japanese Prints and Their Subject Matter and don't recommend it when
asked. Years ago when I first worked for a man who sold Japanese prints he
had a major customer who thought Stewart wrote the bible on them and
believed every word of it. He quoted it often and used it to guide his
purchases. My boss sold or gave away copies of Stewart's book to anyone who
wanted them. He, himself, had never read it. He told me so.
As if the confusion over who did what were not enough
I thought you might want to compare the signatures of the master and his
pupil. I have posted two typical examples below. The differences between
them are incidental. Fight the urge to niggle or quibble here. Don't even
quibble about niggling. There are many others which could have been posted
which would be even closer and then absolutely indistinguishable.
Hiroshige II signature
A sash of soft
cloth tied under the obi. It can be used to tie up flowing robes or to tuck
them in whenever necessary - like when one is wading through water.
Nelson gives the kanji for shigoki as 扱.
It has many other disparate meanings but here is defined as a woman's
undergirdle or waistband. I suspect that this is the more appropriate
character, but don't know for sure. (The New Nelson Japanese-English
Character Dictionary, p. 476)
"...with the sidelocks drawn out in 'mushroom' shapes."
Quote from: The
Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, published by the British Museum
Press, London, 1995, text volume, p. 150.
I won't swear to
it, but I think the detail from the print by Toyohiro to the left
illustrates an example of a bijin with a shiitake tabo
Deer have an
ancient connection with religious belief system throughout Eastern Asia. In
China Taoists thought that deer were able to find the Fungus of Immortality.
In Japan they came to be associated with the kami or gods. In fact,
deer are often seen as companions to two of the Seven Propitious Gods.
Fake deer heads
were often donned like masks for dances during festivals and antlers became
a symbol of strength and virility. Stylized representations adorned the
helmets of warriors or were used in family crests. Even the wearing of deer
skins was thought to be empowering.
divinations were made from deer bones. Pulled from a fire and allowed to
cool the cracks were read, i.e., interpreted. The Chinese practiced the same
art but with bones and shells of other creatures.
The image of the
deer on the green grass to the left and on top is from a photo I shot from
my balcony here in Port Townsend, Washington. The image in the center is a
detail from a 20th century print by Koitsu. The one on the bottom was sent
to me by a correspondent in Maine. Thanks D!
Stripes - a common
七五三縄 or 注連縄
Braided rice straw
ropes which have the power to keep evil spirits away. Also, for Shintoism, it
marks a sacred spot or presence of a kami, i.e., spirit - such as a shimenawa draped around a tree or rock.
Joseph Campbell says about shimenawa "...the august rope of straw that was stretched behind the
goddess [Amaterasu] when she reappeared, symbolizes the graciousness of the
miracle of the lights return. [The sun goddess had locked herself away in a
cave in a fit of pique. It plunged the universe into darkness. The other
gods tricked her into leaving her seclusion and blocked her retreat with a shimenawa.] The shimenawa is one of the most conspicuous,
important, and silently eloquent, of the traditional symbols of the folk
religion of Japan. Hung above the entrances to temples, festooned along the
streets of the New Year festival, it denotes the renovation of the world at
the threshold of the return. If the Christian cross is the most telling
symbol of the mythological passage into the abyss of death, the shimenawa
is the simplest sign of the resurrection. The two represent the mystery of
the boundary between the worlds - the existent nonexistent line." (The
Hero with a Thousand Faces, New World Library, 2008, p. 184)
In a section on straw in Wrapping Culture:: Politeness, Presentation and Power in Japan and Other
Societies by Joy Hendry (Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 43) she
states that "....straw has also been used for many ritual purposes. Clearly
visible all over Japan, for example, are the large straw plaited ropes, or shimenawa, which hang in the archways at the entrance to shrines...
These serve to mark off the sacred space inside, and smaller versions of
them may be used to give ritual value to the objects. One example is the
adornment with straw of the
bream, which often forms part of a bride's betrothal gifts. A
thin straw rope, decorated with paper as mentioned above, is used to mark
off sacred space for the ceremony preceding the construction of private
houses and many public buildings, and in preparation for festivals in some
parts of the country such a rope is hung around the whole district.
or memorial print:
Literally a death (死) picture (絵). They had also been referred to earleir as
tsuizen-e (追善絵 or ついぜんえ). This term has a very clear association with a
Buddhist service in commemoration of the anniversary of a death.
Light blue court robe
worn for burial or suicide
The Sacred Bridge at Nikkō. "One day, while Shōdō Shōnin was on a journey,
he saw four strange-looking clouds rise from the earth to the sky. He
pressed forward in order to see them more clearly, but could not go far, for
he found that his road was barred by a wild torrent. While he was praying
for some means to continue his journey a gigantic figure appeared before
him, clad in blue and black robes, with a necklace of skulls. The mysterious
being cried to him from the opposite bank, saying : " I will help you as I
once helped Hiuen." Having uttered these words, the Deity threw two blue and
green snakes across the river, and on this bridge of snakes the priest was
able to cross the torrent. When Shodo Shonin had reached the other bank the
God and his blue and green snakes disappeared." Quoted from: Myths and
Legends of Japan by Frederick Hadland Davis, p. 242.
Above is a photograph posted
at Wikipedia commons by Fg2.
For more infomation see our
entry on Yoshitoshi print of
Tokugawa Ieyasu on this bridge.
A physical object in
which a kami, i.e., god, is said to be exist.
The lowest order of
official prostitutes who also attend to the needs of the highest ranking
Salt gathering or
gatherer: Enden (塩田 or えんでん) or salt fields were historically
the main source of salt in the Japanese diet. Saltwater from the seaside
could be boiled down or sand deposits laden with copious amounts of salt
could be doused with seawater and then boiled to render an edible product.
Years ago I
attended the lectures of a visiting scholar, Raymond Mauny, who stressed the
importance of the ancient salt trade routes in West Africa. These traversed
the Sahara at great peril. However, salt was so highly valued that it
was traded for gold and other precious items.
In 1930 Gandhi led
a group of men on a march to the sea to gather salt in contravention British
orders. The British had imposed a salt tax which Gandhi thought iniquitous.
"When an unwelcome
visitor finally leaves the house, the old-fashioned housewife will hurry to
the kitchen and, taking a pinch of salt, scatter it all over the house
entrance." This is an act of purification which always overpower evil. Sumo
wrestlers toss salt before a match to drive away evil spirits and as an
indication that they will fight fairly. Even attendees at funerals purify
themselves with salt before reentering their homes.
Source and quote
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, pp. 305-6.
The story of the salt gathering maidens was a popular theatrical theme. In
short: "Literary works based on the legend of the sisters Matsukaze [松風
or まつかぜ] and
Murasame [村雨 or むらさめ] began with the medieval nō play Matsukaze. In the Edo
period, the story develops in many directions, but plays for the puppet and
Kabuki theatres are known as 'Matsukaze' pieces'... When performed as a
Kabuki dance, the title is always 'Shiokumi' (Drawing Brine). Ariwara no
or ありわらのゆきひら], who had been exiled to Suma, falls in love with both the sisters
Matsukaze and Murasame, who live by the sea making salt from the brine. When
he departs to go back to the Capital, he gives them his golden court hat and
Quote from: The
Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, entry by Timothy Clark, published by the British Museum
Press, London, 1995, text volume, p. 155-6.
There was a time in
the 18th century when the Japanese were believed to be the most literate
people in the world. Naturally this would call for a lot of bookmarks.
Whereas this might not seem particularly pertinent to a discussion of ukiyo
prints it is. Many artists, such as Utamaro, often used a bookmark cartouche
to post the title of a print series. In time some artists even designed
whole prints mimicking the shiori itself.
The cartouche seen
above is a detail from a print by Kunisada. (You can see the whole print by
clicking on the number in the column to the right.) The image below is a
detail from a print by Toyokuni III created in the shape of a bookmark. That
image was sent to us by our great contributor Eikei.
Take a look at the
prints you own. If your collection is large enough at least one of them will
probably have a bookmark cartouche on it. Now you know what that form is
called. That is, assuming my information is correct. Don't quote me.
しおりがた) is the precise term used to indicate a bookmark-shaped cartouche.
The Seven Treasures
composed of gold, silver, pearls, agate, crystal, coral and lapis
also has two other related meanings. The first is a Japanese term for
cloisonné and the second is a decorative motif which displays none of
the precious items listed above, but consists only of interlocking circles.
See the image detail from a Kiyonaga print to the left.
"The shippo design
appeared in the late Heian period as an abstraction from a large overall
pattern of overlapping circles, the overlap being exactly equal on all four
sides. Its name appears to derive from one of those inimitable
Japanese puns, this one shi-ho, or 'four directions.' "
Quoted from: The Elements of Japanese Design,
by John W. Dower, p. 134.
I have added the
two family crests or mons at top left and below in order that you
can see two variations on this motif.
This pattern is
also referred to as shippo tsunagi (七宝繋 or しっぽう.つなぎ).
Plain or unfinished wood.
"...the eye attuned to plain, unfinished shiraki seems a uniquely
Japanese sensibility. Elsewhere in the world, the taste for woodgrain runs
strong.... Yet probably no other culture exhibits such fondness for fresh,
clean, planed wood surfaces. Very recently, some furniture coming out of
Scandinavia in particular has begun to feature plain pine for its aesthetic
value, but this is largely due to a Japanese influence on the vocabulary of
Modernism. ¶ Just how and when the Japanese came to this appreciation of
unfinished wood is difficult to pinpoint. The most that can be said is that
it relates to certain indigenous religious beliefs existing on the
Japanese archipelago from before the transmission of Buddhism in 538, and
specifically to the cult of purity and abstinence from defilements. The
Grand Shrine of Ise... and other shrine architecture is of plain wood, as
are almost all ritual implements of Shinto. For fundamental to their design
was the understanding that all utensil objects, architecture included, were
to be discarded after use. This clearly ties in with the nature of woods
such as Japanese cypress and cryptomeria — fragrant and beautifully bright
when new, but all too quickly soiled. ¶ While any conscious valuation of
unfinished wood that existed prior to the influx of Chinese culture was no
doubt limited to a priest-aristocracy, such awareness still remains strongly
rooted in the cultural life of the Japanese people even today." Quoted from:
Traditional Japanese Furniture by Kozuko Koizumi.
Stage works with
thieves and lowlifes as the heroes
A courtesan of the Tamaya brothel
"...a removable fur
sheath was provided for the scabbard to protect it from the weather. The
type of fur used was determined by the rank of the wearer, and deer, wild
boar, or bear skins were commonly used for this purpose." (Quote from:
Shogun Age Exhibition, cat. entry #19, p. 52)
The images to the
left and below are from a detail of a print by Yoshitoshi from his "100 Aspects of the
"According to Buddhist tradition, the shishi was a lionlike (though
still essentially imaginary) beast that was a disciple of the Buddha, and it
was shown in pictures reclining at the Buddha's feet or else supporting the
seated Buddha. Consequently the phrase 'Lion Throne' (Shishi no Za)...
The shishi also came to be associated with the deity Monju (Sanskrit
Monjushri), the bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect, and is most commonly
shown supporting this deity on one side of the Buddha while a white elephant
supports the bodhisattva Fugen (Sanskrit Samantabhadra) on the other."
(Quoted from: Kabuki Plays on Stage: Restoration and Reform, 1872-1905,
Rebecca Salter in her Japanese Popular Prints: From Votive
Slips to Playing Cards (p. 122) says: "From the animal kingdom an
imaginary beast known for his skill at exorcism, shishi (lion) was
recruited. A lion dance with a fierce shishi head worn by the dancer
was used to drive out demons and likewise a look from the shishi was
considered enough to drive the smallpox kami away."
This lonely little,
but festive lion dancer image to the left is a detail from a larger
surimono. Although it is signed the signature is as yet unread. It has been
sent to us by E., one of our favorite correspondents and a great and
generous contributor to this web site. Thanks E!
Shishi no za
Buddha's throne: "Shishi no
za, a buddha's seat, so called because a buddha among men is like a lion
among beasts." (Quote from: Tale of Flowering Fortunes : Annals of
Japanese Aristocratic Life in the Heian Period by the McCulloughs, p.
622) There are a number of similar alternatives for the throne of Buddha
which could be used.
Haile Selassie, the emperor of
Ethiopia, was known as the Lion of Judah, King of the Jews because of his
ostensible descent from the House of Solomon. For that reason the lion was
seen on his crest and on his national flag.
The Four Types of Beings of the
Buddhist canon: born of a womb, of an egg, of moisture like insect, and
spontaneously from nothing due to their karma.
Shishu no zōjigoku
The Four Additional Hells
with His Tongue Stuck Out: This is both the name of this motif and the name
of a play written by Sakurada Jisuke II (桜田治助: 1734-1806).
I (中村仲蔵: 1736-90), a famous dancer-actor, was known for his
tongue-sticking-out performances. As
Sanbasō he used this technique. "It is said that
imitated a traditional child's toy, modeled after a humorous character's
head whose tongue sticks out when a string is pulled. When Sanbasō, absorbed
in the joy of his dance, sticks out his tongue, it greatly enhances his
comic charm. This tongue-sticking-out business also became an important part
villain roles, where the tongue is painted bright red for emphasis. Sekibei
in The Barrier Gate... provides an example. Sticking out the tongue
may also incorporate a spell to ward off evil spirits." Quoted from:
Kabuki Plays on Stage:
Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864, p. 53.
The above detail comes from a robe worn by a female figure in a print by
Toyokuni III from the late 1840s.
"For underglaze painting (shita-etsuke),
cobalt and iron compounds are most commonly used almost exclusively."
There has been a bit of
confusion about the meaning of this seal. Some sources say it means "under
the counter". Others say it means "restricted".
Richard Lane gives a completely
different reading and interpretation in his Hokusai: Life and Work.
In it he describes a print of Tsutaya's retail operation: "On a shelf toward
the rear are displayed newly published prints and books (the prints seen
stacked on the front mats are the so-called shita-uri, 'floor-sales',
consisting of lower quality items and outdated actor prints)." [We do not
agree with Lane on this assessment of prints which appear with this seal.]
The seal seen to the left is a
detail from the Toyokuni III print shown below.
Shizuki Tadao (1760-1806) is the man who coined the phrase 'sakoku'
to describe Japan's self-imposed isolation.
Communications between groups of Japanese intellectuals located in different
cities were difficult during the 18th c. "Some time in the 1780s the
Nagasaki interpreter, Shizuki Tadao (1758-1806), wrote Ōtsuki Gentaku that a
servant of his had just just been conscripted as coolie for a daimyo
procession to Edo, and so he was taking advantage of this to write to ask
him for 'any book you have there that describes stimulating and interesting
theories of physics or astronomy, whether in Chinese or a Western language.
I would particularly like to see a mathematics book on logarithms you said
you were writing...' " Quoted from:
Rangaku and Westernization by Marius Jansen in Modern Asian Studies, 18,
4 (1984), p. 544.
Another term for iris. (See our
motifs were popular with samurai because it punned the term for militarism
written with two different characters (尚武). Because it was a symbol of
strength the iris motif appeared on helmets and armor. As a medicine it was
used to ward off disease and evil. And traditionally it young boys were
bathed in water infused with irises on the 5th day of the 5th month to both
protect them and give them greater strength. Today people still take
(菖蒲湯 or しょうぶゆ) or baths in water with iris petals.
According to a May 20, 2010
article by Alice Gordenker in the Japan Times this pattern was first
used in the Sengoku period (1467-1573).
The Three Friends of
Winter: The pine, bamboo and plum. "...an ensemble motif of Chinese origin
that teams the pine, bamboo, and plum, which are all symbols of winter, long
life, and the cultured gentleman. This convention of linking the three
plants, which are consistently ranked in the same order...[are used] both as
a design motif and an elegant system of designating such things as banquet
rooms or menu options in traditional restaurants."
Merrily Baird, Rizzoli International Publications, Symbols of Japan: Thematic
Motifs in Art and Design, 2001, p. 38.
There is a long and
evolved history of the use of these plants both together and separately in
various other propitious combinations. They appear frequently on fabric
designs, porcelains and on specially, privately published New Year's prints
called surimono. The plants themselves are often used in New Year
The pine is
associated with prosperity and endurance, the bamboo with long life and the
plum with youth, renewal and beauty.
also be translated as 'high, middle and low ranking.'
These examples are being shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
A great botanical site. You should visit it.
The pine example is
Pinus densiflora or Japanese red pine. The native name is Akamatsu
(赤松 or あかまつ).
The bamboo shown above
is Phyllostachys aurea and is commonly known as Fish pole or Golden
bamboo. In Japan it is referred to as Hotei bamboo (布袋竹 or ほていちく).
Hotei is the large bellied god of good fortune.
The plum is the
Prunus mume or Japanese apricot, a member of the Rose family. The native
ume (梅 or うめ).
Shōdō Shōnin (735-817) was the
first priest to build a temple at Nikkō. 上人 means holy priest or saint.
Ascetic priests were also
exorcists. "Another power which the ascetic is able to put to practical use is
his ability to 'open' a holy place. The history of a temple or sacred mountain
often begins with its 'opening' by an ascetic who later becomes the founder of
the religious sect or pilgrim clubs who worship there. Mt Haguro, for
example, was opened by Shōken Daibosatsu, Mt Nantai by Shōdō Shōnin, Mt Ontake
by the two ascetics Fukan and Kakumei, Mt Fuji by Kakugyō. Similarly, among the
foundation legends of temples are many which recount that the spot was
discovered, and its holiness sealed and activated, by an ascetic who wandered
hundreds of miles before he discovered the paradisal mountain or holy site for
which he was searching. ¶ 'Opening' a mountain or a temple site thus means
releasing its latent holiness. All the time it has been a 'thin' place, through
which the other world and its perilous power could show through. But until the
ascetic arrives it has gone unrecognized and uncelebrated. By dwelling there and
by practicing meditations and austerities on the spot, the ascetic acknowledges
its power, concentrates it into a centre from which worship can be conducted. ¶
One more power of a practical kind with which the medieval ascetic is frequently
credited, and which is still occasionally to be met today, is the ability to
communicate with the world of animals. The ascetic can not only understand the
language of animals: he can also tame them by his recitation of holy scripture."
Quoted from: The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan
by Carmen Blacker, p. 218.
In another version of a story
told about Shōdō Shōnin - see our entry on
Shinkyō above - it says,
under the heading 'Legend of Yamasugé-no-Jabashi Bridge': "When Shōdō Shōnin
and ten of his disciples attempted to explore the Nikko mountain area in
767, they were halted by the River Daiya. The current was strong and there
was no bridge by which to cross. Shōdō Shōnin began to pray
fervently, and his prayers were answered byt he god Jinja Dajō, who appeared
carrying a red and a blue snakes [sic]. He threw these across the river, and
they twined together, forming a bridge. The snakes had
yamasugé (wild sedges)
growing from their backs, enabling Shōdō Shōnin
and his party to cross without slipping. When the bridge was built, it was
Yamasugé-no-Jabashi (Bridge of
Snakes with Wild Sedges) in honor of Jinja-Daiō." Quoted from Illustrated
Must-See in Nikko, p. 17.
A licensed prostitute
The reign era name for the
period 1644-48. Shōhō
"...though brief, marks a
significant stage of development in the genre/ukiyo-e style, particularly in
the field of book illustration for tales and jōruri plays -
which were yet a product of Kyoto rather than Edo." 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.
The image to the left comes
from a 1645 publication of a chronicle of Yoshitsune's life.
"front printing" - "...technique of rubbing surface of finished print over
block carved in reverse in order to give polished texture to pattern".
Quote from: Japanese Print-Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern Techniques, by
Toshi Yoshida & Rei Yuki, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1966, p. 169.
front of a print on a block to bring out a shiny pattern."
Quote from: Japanese Woodblock Printing, by Rebecca Salter, University of Hawai'i
Press, 2001, p. 123.
All of the examples
to the left are from Toyokuni III prints. The middle one shows how one
would normally see while looking at the printed image. The bottom image
shows the same print if you were to take the time to move sheet so that the
full effect of the shōmenzuri
is made clear. Click on the numbers to the right to go to pages with fuller
The Hell of Scorching Heat -
"The flames of the hells mentioned above are said to be like snow when
compared to the flames of the Hell of Scorching Heat (shonetsu jigoku
焦熱也獄）to which are destined those who didn’t believe in the laws of karmic
causation. Here sinners are stuck on iron skewers and roasted on the back
and on the trunk. People who let themselves starve to death in order to
reach paradise the quickest way are invited by a voice to look for a pond
where many white lotuses are in bloom, so that they can appease their thirst
and rest in the shadow of the trees. The credulous sinners start their
search unaware of the fact that the road is full of holes spurting flames
into which they finally fall. Brought back to life again, they keep on
looking for the pond, driven by their terrible thirst, only to meet repeated
failure. Those who doubted the truth that everything is impermanence are
blown by a strong wind which makes their bodies rotate with such speed that
they finally become a heap of sand. ¶ The Hell of Great Scorching Heat (daishōnetsu
jigoku) is waiting for all those who committed violence against nuns and
pious women of sincere faith. Here the fiends are made of fire and with
their enormously long arms seize the sinners by their throats, making them
float in the sky. Moreover, they scare their prey by reminding them that
they are burnt not by the flames of hell but by the flames of their sinful
behavior. In this hell the fire is said to reach a height of four thousand
kilometers, and to stretch out on an area of sixteen hundred square
kilometers. The inhabitants of this hell fall from the top to the bottom of
such a fire." Quoted from: "The Development of Mappo Thought in
Japan" by Michele Marra in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies,
1988, p. 43-44.
Originally a type of underglaze
blue and white porcelain (sometsuke) made in China for export to
Japan. Often this type has an unglazed oxidized brown rim, but not always.
"This brown-rimmed blue-and-white porcelain, which was considered the
highest in quality, was referred to as shonzui ware, named after a
Chinese potter from the late Ming Dynasty." This is quoted from a Japan
Times article by Yoko Haruhara from June 18, 2003.
It should be noted that sometimes the rims of plates and bowls are glazed
with an iron oxide enamel which gives a similar brown effect. This is
referred to as a fuchi-beni (縁紅縁) rim.
The image to the left is from
the Taisho period (1912-26) and was produced in Japan and can be found in
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum.
Awaremi no Rei
"Laws of Compassion"
promulgated by the 'Dog Shogun', Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (徳川綱吉 or とくがわつなよし:
1649-1709), to protect animals - especially the dogs of the Nakano ward of
Edo. It has been noted that Nakano is the district used by Haruki Murakami
in his Kafka on the Shore as the location where one of his characters
can communicate with cats.
"The idea that harsh
punishments could serve a profound moral purpose by encouraging people to
abandon evil and embrace good to be expressed in various forms for much of
the Tokugawa period.... At the level of actual practice, using punishments
as a technique for promoting moral reform was taken to an extreme under the
fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tsunayoshi (r. 1680-1709). As his grand chamberlain,
Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (1658-1714), explained, Tsunayoshi's infamous Laws of
awaremi no rei) 'initially arose solely out of the shogun's desire to
admonish even the slightest lack of benevolence and to perfect the spirit of
the common people.' The severity of the laws, which included proscriptions
against the killing and mistreatment of animals (most famously, dogs)
created significant problems for the Bukufu. Reports of people being
crucified for killing dogs and other such seemingly minor offenses quickly
gave rise to apprehension and resentment among various segments of the
population. Far from being seen as a saintly ruler protecting the sanctity
of life and the welfare of the people, Tsunayoshi, 'the dog shogun' (oinu
has instead been remembered as an eccentric tyrant." (Quoted from: Punishment and Power in the Making of Modern Japan by Daniel V. Botsman,
(大石慎三郎 or おおいし しんざぶろう: 1923-2004) wrote that the Laws of Compassion were
"...the worst laws in Tokugawa history..." and may have been the worst
feudal laws anywhere. (Quoted from: The Dog Shogun: The Personality and
Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi by Beatrice Bodart-Bailey, p. 128)
Bodart-Bailey points out that not all scholars have agreed on this point
although the general consensus is weighted against Tsunayoshi.
"When puppet plays were brought
into the kabuki repertory, actors mimicked the actions of the
puppets; in dance plays actors may move stiffly, like puppets, for comic
effect. The overall style of dance in kabuki, called shosa -
showing-the-body - fuses rural and urban dances of the common people,
characterized originally by lively leaping and dancing." Quoted from: The
Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre, p. 188.
The image to the left is from
the Lyon Collection. It shows Nakamura Utaemon III in a shosa
performance from 1815.
"Shugendō itself is a
very complex religious movement: it emerged from indigenous beliefs and
religious practices in the Japanese mountains, accepted the influence of
religious Taoism and Shintō, and was organized around the forms of
esoteric Buddhism. Local Shugendō headquarters occupied many
mountains throughout Japan; like medieval Buddhist temples, were at the same
time military strongholds which controlled both the political and religious
life of the respective local." (Quoted from: Ishikozume, Ritual Execution
in Japanese Religion by Byron Earhart, pp. 120-21)
Earhart continued: "The members
of Shugendō entered the mountains in order to pursue religio-ascetic
training. When someone became sick it was a sign that his ascetic practices
were inadequate, and he was killed by pushing him into a chasm. This is what
is known as tanikō. In a Noh play the following episode is
related. 'When a yamabushi and his disciple entered the mountains for
ascetic practices, the disciple became sick. Because it is the rule that
sick persons during mountain austerities must be subjected to taniko, the
yamabushi - crying all the while - pushed his beloved disciple into a
chasm. He buried him by throwing stones and tile over his body. But
because he prayed to Fudo-myoo and En no Ubasoku, demons and
spirits few [sic] to the spot, tore away the rocks, and the disciple
revived." Tanikō is often translated as 'valley hurling'. Fudo-myoo
was a favorite of the sect and En no Ubasoku is one of the names of
the founders of Shugendō. (ibid.) Another variation on the name of
the founder is En no Gyōja (役行者 or えんのぎょうじゃ).
Third of the Eight Great Hells
- the Hell of Crushing and Striking: "Immoral behavior causes people to be
born in the Hell of Striking and Crushing (shugō jigoku 衆合地獄，where they are
put between the moving walls of two iron mountains which, pushed by
ox-headed and horse-headed fiends, crush the bodies of the unfortunate
sinners while their blood flows all over the ground. Moreover, those
destined to be born in this hell are put in big mortars and pounded with
iron pestles. Tigers, wolves, crows, and other birds spread flesh and bones
in every corner, while eagles with iron beaks pick up sinners from the
ground and hang them on tall trees, making prey of their victims. This hell
is characterized by the presence of a forest whose leaves are as sharp as
swords, while on the top of each tree there is a beautiful girl inviting a
sinner to climb the tree. When he reaches the top of the tree, thus being
wounded by the leaves, the woman suddenly disappears, showing herself at the
bottom of the tree from where she again invites her victim to descend. The
same process repeats until the indefatigable suitor has his entire body cut
to pieces by the leaves." Quoted from: "The Development of Mappo Thought in
Japan" by Michele Marra in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies,
1988, p. 43.
In Sanskrit this is referred to
These were towns were given
official status as way stations under the Tokugawa shogunate. 53 of them
were established along the Tōkaidō Road where travellers could find food and
lodging, temporary storage, fresh horses or runners for official business.
(There were 55 stations plus or minus a couple depending on how you count
them and when they were counted.)
In 1950 it was calculated that
24% of all Japanese cities had been shukubamachi. (Source: Modern
Japanese Society, Part 5, Volume 9, p. 282)
Japanese erotic images - mainly
known through woodblock production.
The hemp palm motif
was particularly popular during Heian times because it was both an
aristocratic symbol as it had been in China and because of its exoticism.
Occasionally it was later used as a family crest or mon.
A portable candlestick.
This type of a lighting is also referred to as a teshoku (てしょく).