Port Townsend, Washington
The nighttime photo of the new
in Seattle was taken by my
friend Ben P. It
was used to mark
additions in October
thru December 2012.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS PAGE:
Uchide no kozuchi, Uchiwa,
Udon noodles, Uirō, Ukai,
Ukiyo-e Prints, Ume,
Umin, Umajirushi, Unbo, Urashima
Uri, Uroko, Usagi, Ushirometai, Utagawa Hirosada,
Utagawa Hiroshige II,
Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa
Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Toyokuni I,
Utagawa Yoshikazu, Rudolph
Valentino, Wankosoba, Waraji,
James McNeill Whistler, Willow Pattern, Worcester,
The World of the Meiji
Print: Impressions of a New Civilization,
Yabusame, Yagasuri, Yagura,Yajirobei,
Yakara no tama and Yakata-bune
打ち出の小槌, 団扇, 饂飩, 外郎, 鵜飼い, 浮絵, 浮世絵版画,
羽民, 雲母, 国連総会, 浦島太郎,
瓜, 鱗, 兎, 後ろめたい, 歌川広貞,
二代広重, 歌川国貞, 歌川国芳, 歌川豊国, 歌川芳員, 輪違,
椀子蕎麦, 蕨, 草鞋, 和紙, 矢,
櫓, 彌次郎兵衛 and
うちでのこづち, うちわ, うどん, ういろう, うかい,
うきよえ.はんがん, うまじるし, うめ,
うみん, うんぼ, うらしまたろう, うり,
うろこ, うさぎ, うしろめたい, うたがわひろさだ, うたがわひろしげ,
うたがわくにさだ, うたがわくによし, うたがわとよくに, うたがわよしかず,
ルドルフ バレンティノ, わちがい,
わんこそば, わらび, わらじ,
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
The magic mallet
carried by Daikoku, one of the Seven Propitious Gods.
"A popular theme in folklore, the special mallet called uchide no kozuchi
would produce fortune when struck. The fortune that Daikoku produces with
his mallet is rice as iconographically represented by the bundle of rice (komedawara)
upon which he places his foot."
Quoted from: Rice as Self:
Japanese Identities Through Time, by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Princeton
University Press, 1994, p. 66
See our Daikoku
entry to read about the significance of the mouse.
"Daikoku's attribute, a Rat, has an emblematic and moral meaning in
connection with the wealth hidden in the God's bag. The Rat frequently
portrayed in the bale of rice with its head peeping out, or in it, or
playing with the Mallet, and sometimes a large number of rats are shown. [¶]
According to a certain old legend, the Buddhist Gods grew jealous of
Daikoku. They consulted together, and finally decided they would get rid of
[him]..." Emma-O, the King of Hell, sent his most clever devil to conquer
Daikoku. When the demon confronted the God of Wealth Daikoku called his rat
to him. "When the Rat saw [the demon] he ran into the garden and brought
back a branch of holly, with which he drove the oni away, and Daikoku
remains to this day one of the most popular of the Japanese Gods. This
incident is said to be the origin of the New Year's Eve charm, consisting of
a holly leaf and a skewer, or a sprig of holly fixed in the lintel of the
door of a house to prevent the return of the oni.
Source and quote from:
Myths and Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland Davis and Evelyn Paul,
published by Courier Dover Publications, 1992 (originally published in
1913), pp. 211-212.
"For the Japanese,
fans are not merely for fanning...but they are quite indispensable in
ceremonial, social and daily activities throughout the year.... Almost all
races have had their fans...but nowhere else in the world have fans become
such articles of necessity and utility in Japan."
The uchiwa, a flat
fan, is one of two types of Japanese fans. The other is the ogi or folding
The top image to
the left by Kuniyoshi is an example of a print made especially to be cut out
and pasted down to the stiff panel of the uchiwa. This print was sent to us
courtesy of E., our most generous contributor. The image below that is only
one example of the use of a fan as a family crest or mon.
used by women. It is never part of one's 'dress'. It does not belong to one
person in particular. It is the fan of the household, belongs to the group."
According to Casal
the most popular form still used today, the Edo uchiwa (江戸団扇 or
えどうちわ), was invented in 1624 by an unknown genius who realized that if you
split a piece of bamboo from the node outward it would form ribs which would
support paper or other materials creating a sturdy and practical fan.
U. A. Casal in his
"Lore of the Japanese Fan" (Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 16, no. 1/2,
1960, p. 64) notes that "The Japanese word uchiwa, for the stiff
roundish fan, is evidently a corruption of utsu-ha
[うつは?], the 'striking
(or swatting) leaf.'" He adds that "Even today women and children use
uchiwa to catch fireflies, the fan being sometimes attached to a bamboo
for greater reach."
Casal also noted (p. 64) that "the fan is the body of the sage, as the sword
is the soul of the warrior." Scholars carried fans.
Uchiwa are also
referred to as dansen (団扇 or だんせん). Note the kanji characters
are the same.
Casal (p. 66): "The
uchiwa became the fan of the home. Always ready at hand in summer, the
first thing offered to a guest when he calls.... It never developed into a
ceremonious fan, and was by preference used by women. It is never part of
one's 'dress'. It does not belong to one person in particular. It is the fan
of the household, belongs to the group."
According to Casal
the most popular form still used today, the Edo uchiwa (江戸団扇 or
えどうちわ), was invented in 1624 by an unknown genius who realized that if you
split a piece of bamboo from the node outward it would form ribs which would
support paper or other materials creating a sturdy and practical fan.
The Fukui district
(福井県 or ふくいけん) produced uchiwa covered with paper treated with persimmon
juice making them waterproof. They could then be dipped in water and fanned
for greater relief in the hottest weather. These are called kaki-uchiwa
(柿団扇 or かきうちわ). Some believed that just using persimmon treated fans could
keep the god of poverty, Bimbō-gami (貧乏神 or びんぼうがみ), at bay. (Casal - p. 68)
Prior to modernization
some firemen would climb to rooftops at some distance from a fire and would
use oversized uchiwa at the fire being fought. It was meant to symbolically
drive away the evil flames. (C. - p. 69)
Men would use uchiwa,
but only in private. (C. - p. 70)
In Mock Joya's Things Japanese
(p. 56) there is a lament that an old method for curing colds had died out.
"To make the bath cure more effective, [in] many public bathhouses.... there
was a custom of ordering udon (hot wheat noodle soup) or soba
(buckwheat noodles in hot soup) from neighboring noodle houses and eating it
while comfortably bathing in the hot tub. Up to the middle of the Meiji ear,
this custom was very popular in various cities and towns. Enjoying the
warmth of the hot tub, one can leisurely eat a steaming bowl of udon
or soba. The noodles taste particularly good, as the eater is in a
pleasant turn of mind brought about by the warm bath. It cures the cold, but
at the same time, it is liable to create a habit. Whether one has a cold or
not, whenever he goes to the bathhouse, he is tempted to order a bowl of
"Most soba restaurants serve
another noodle called udon. Udon is a thick and pasty wheat noodle
which is somewhat blander than soba. It is served hot (as kake-udon)
with the same choice of topping ingredients as soba. In the Kansai region
(around Osaka and Kyoto), udon is much more popular than soba, but in Tokyo
soba is the favorite."
Quote from: What's What
in Japanese Restaurants, by Robb Satterwhite, Kodansha International,
1996, p. 71
"A primitive form of udon,
used to make stuffed dumplings, was introduced from China in the early
centuries of the first millennium. By the Muromachi Era (1338 to 1573), udon
noodles appeared, but they were mainly consumed at temples. Udon finally
reached the commoners during the Edo Era (1600 to 1868). Unlike soba
noodles, udon gained more popularity in the Kansai region, which includes
Osaka, Kyoto, and the surrounding area."
Quote from: The Japanese
Harvard Common Press, 2000,
"Unlike soba noodles, udon noodles are simple and
easy to make from scratch..." (Ibid., p. 156) "...salt is not used to flavor
the noodles, but works chemically on the wheat protein to create a plastic
elasticity. This prevents the noodles from breaking during storing and
cooking." (Ibid., p. 157)
The image to the left has
been placed in the public domain by Ranveig at
A sweet made from
rice powder. However, this product was also sold as a cure-all "...a kind of
panacea used as an expectorant, deodorant, and mouthwash (among other
things)." We mention this because Danjūrō II created in 1718 the character
of a peddler carrying a large chest on his back which holds his wares.
The image to the
left is from a karuta deck of eighteen cards each representing one of
the kabuki jūhachiban or the eighteen plays that became the standard
vehicle of the Ichikawa family of actors.
There is an ancient
universality to the tradition of snake oil salesmen preying on people
searching for a panacea. While most bogus potions were rarely toxic,
whether applied externally or ingested, their greatest efficacy would
probably be scratched up to 'the placebo effect'.
The battle between
the two camps best represented today by alternative medicine advocates on
the one hand and the FDA on the other leave most of us puzzling over the
proper course of action. Yet there seems to be no silver bullet although at
times things like penicillin and MSG were thought to be damned close. But
people keep hoping. Conclusion: As long as there are snake oil or uirō
salesmen there will be a public gullible enough to buy from them.
Cormorants (鵜 or う)
are long necked, diving birds known for their voracious appetites. (The OED
says that the word 'cormorant' can be used figuratively to describe a
greedy, rapacious person.) Ukai is cormorant fishing.
The birds are
captured and trained to dive on command to 'fetch' fish. A group of
cormorants are tethered by a handler who pulls the birds in to remove their
catch. To prevent the birds from swallowing the fish there are rings placed
around their necks.
The picture of the cormorant
fisherman stamp was posted by Carpazu at commons.wikimedia.org. The photo of
the fisherman shown above was posted by Hide-sp at the same place as was the
cut out image below.
This is an ancient
East Asian technique not unique to Japan. While this system has been
practiced on various rivers the most famous local is on the Nagara River in
Gifu. Often these fishermen came under the protection of local lords, but
the one on Nagaragawa was patronized by the Imperial Court. Their cormorants
are trained to catch ayu (鮎 or あゆ), sweetfish or freshwater trout,
which are then sent onto the Court for their pleasure.
god-related cormorants are mentioned several times in the Kojiki
(古事記 or こじき)
which is the oldest known Japanese text. (Source: Mock Joya's Things Japanese,
There is a Shunshō print in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
portraying an actor in a female role as a cormorant fisherman standing on
shore beside the boat holding a torch. This print dates from ca. 1771-2 and
is the earliest example I have seen so far. If you know of an earlier one
please contact me.
Basil Hall Chamberlain notes in
his Things Japanese: "This strange method of fishing is mentioned in
a poem found in the Kojiki, a work compiled in A.D. 712, while the
poem itself probably dates from a far earlier age." In his introduction to
his translation of the Kojiki Chamberlain states: "The horse (which was
ridden, but not driven, the barn-door fowl, and the cormorant used for
fishing, are the only domesticated creatures mentioned n the earlier
traditions, with the doubtful exception of the silkworm..." (p. xlii-xliii)
Again, back to his Things Japanese Chamberlain quotes a Major General Palmer
in a letter to the Times [of London?]: "Round the body is a cord,
having attached to it at the middle of the back a short strip of stiffish
whalebone, by which the great awkward bird may be conveniently lowered into
the water or lifted out when at work; and to this whalebone is looped a thin
rein of spruce fiber, twelve feet long, and so far wanting in pliancy as to
minimize the chance of entanglement. When the fishing ground is reached the
master lowers his twelve birds one by one into the stream and gathers their
reins into his left hand, manipulating the latter thereafter with his right
as the occasion requires." The master has to have a keen eye and keep track
of everything that is happening. He will know when a bird has caught its
fish when it "...swims about in a foolish, helpless way, with its head and
swollen neck erect." The fisherman then pulls the bird to him and pries its
beak open with his left hand while still controlling the reins of all of the
others at the same time. He then squeezes out the fish with his right hand
and returns the bird to the water. As for the birds: They are captured when
quite young, coddled through life - with the exception of this exercise -
and can be productive for up to 15 to 20 years - their hunting taking place
only during a five month season. As with other creatures there is a pecking
order. The oldest, the leader, is placed in the water last, is the first to
be pulled out, is fed first and is put in a cage that is placed
honorifically at the bow. Palmer states of this bird: "He is a solemn,
grizzled old fellow, with a pompous, noli me tangere air that is
almost worthy of a Lord Mayor." (pp. 95-98)
"...Buddhists condemned the killing of fishes and birds by anglers and
hunters as a criminal activity no less sinful and defiling than
manslaughter.... The association established by Buddhist monks between the
practice of fishing with the help of a cormorant and a maturation of a
negative destiny (karma) leading to a rebirth in hell is the topic of an
eleventh century poem addressed to coastal villagers:
How wretched for me to be
a cormorant fisher!
I kill the ten-thousand-kalpas-old
And tie the cormorants
Somehow I will manage to
go on with this life,
But what will become of
me in the next?
(Quotes from: Representations of Power: The
Literary Politics of Medieval Japan by Michael F. Marra, p. 83)
perspective print created in imitation of the European principles of
"The studies of
Julian Lee have shown that Japanese artists did not learn the methods of
western perspective form studying western prints, but via an illustrated
Chinese translation of a European treatise on perspective which was
published in Canton in the early 1730s and gound its way to Edo by 1739, the
date of hte first large perspective print, an interior of a kabuki
theater designed by the artist Torii Kiyotada."
Japanese Woodblock Prints : A Catalogue of the Mary A. Ainsworth Collection,
by Roger Keyes, Oberlin College, 1984, p. 94.
The images to the
left are by Masayoshi and date from ca. 1780 illustrating a scene from the
Chūshingura. This example was sent to us by our generous contributor E.
Ivan Morris in his notes to
his translation of Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman and Other
Writings gives various meanings to the term ukiyo on page 293,
fn. 10: "Ukiyo (floating world) was the conventional image used by
writers, both lay and clerical, to convey the transitoriness of present
life; in Saikaku's time it also suggested the fugitive pleasures of the
demimonde; hence ukiyo-e, the genre paintings. By further extension,
ukiyo meant 'fashionable,' 'up-to-date,' as in ukiyo-motoyui
(fashionable type of paper cord for tying the hair). It also had the sense
of 'depraved' as in ukiyo-dera (the temple of a depraved priest)."
"Ukiyo had originally
signified the Buddhistic 'sad world' of change and decay, but later it came
to mean the 'floating world' of pleasure and fashion, whose heroes were the
actors and the courtesan and whose guiding principles (according to a
well-known saying) love and money."
A commander's battle standard -
literally it means 'horse' plus 'emblem'. "Only the bravest men acted as
standard bearers..." according to Stephen Turnbull.
"Many objects appeared as uma-jirushi. Oda Nobunaga sported a colossal red
umbrella. Toyotomi Hideyoshi used a large wooden gourd painted gold. He is
supposed to have added a gourd for every victory he won, until by the time
of his death the standard was known as the 'thousand gourd' - metaphorically
if not literally." Quoted from: Samurai Armies 1550-1615 by Stephen
Turnbull, 1979, p. 37.
Plum blossom - This is
one of most commonly used motifs for crests, i.e., mons.
Merrily Baird in
of Japan (pp. 64-65) tells us that while 'ume' is usually translated as
plum it is in fact apricot. Imported from China by the 8th century it was
the most frequently mentioned flower in Japanese poetry because of its
qualities: A sweet perfume, delicate blossoms and because it bloomed early
and endured while it was still cold enough to snow. When joined with
the bamboo and the pine we have what are known as The Three Friends of
The graphic shown to the
left is only one example of the 'ume' as a family crest. Baird notes that
"...a guide compiled by the Matsuya Piece-Goods Store included eighty crests
based on the plum blossom."
"The Song poet Lin
Bu (967-1028), who is said to have surrounded himself with plum blossoms and
cranes in his hermitage.... Ever since the time of Lin Bu, the cold of
winter and plum blossoms blooming in the snow are considered the symbol of
moral integrity and self-chosen reclusion removed from the bustle of this
world, an ideal to which the Zen masters felt a deep affinity in their
search for hte pure void and enlightenment." (Quote from: Zen:
Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings, by Helmut Brinker and Hiroshi
Kanazawa, Artibus Asiae Publishers, 1996, p. 178)
In the 15th century
a Zen abbot wrote: "...spring awakening is close. / The trees do not have
leaves yet; they stand amidst the melting snow. / Anticipating the [plum]
blossoms is like awaiting elegant guests." (Ibid., p. 195)
Alfred Koehn stated
in his Japanese Flower Symbolism published by Lotus Court in 1939 "The
Japanese see the contrast between the knotted trunks and young green shoots
as symbolic of age and youth - one bent and crabbed, the other fresh and
vigorous, suggesting that in spite of age, the charm and joy of youth can
always rise anew."
Koehn in his article
Chinese Flower Symbolism in the Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 8,
No. 1/2, 1952, p. 127 added that "Female Chastity, also, is symbolized by
the flowers on leafless branches."
According to Mock Joya the
ume's position as the most beloved flower in Japan was usurped in time
by the sakura or cherry blossom: "Having come to be considered as the
foremost flower of the country, sakura came to be referred to as 'hana'
(flower). But there was a time when 'hana' stood for
ume (apricot) blossoms, as they were loved above all other flowers
soon after their introduction from China.
It is not clearly known when
sakura came to replace ume, but it seems that the aristocracy first came
to admire sakura in the Heian period (794-1192). The Manyoshu,
the oldest collection of poems which contains poems written between 315 and
759, contains no poem on sakura, but in this collection, ume
has 113 poems." (Quoted from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, p. 369)
"The plant and blossoms are now
generally called ume but formerly the name was pronounced 'mume.'
" (Ibid., p. 377)
parties are merry, but ume parties are quiet and dignified. Probably
that is the reason why the younger people have no interest in visiting
ume gardens." (Ibid., pp. 377-8)
The photos to the left are being shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro at
The historical figure
Sugawara Michizane (菅原道真 or すがわらみちざね) who was declared the god of
calligraphy and scholarship, is often associated with plum blossoms. Temples
devoted to this deity known as Tenjin (天神 or てんじん) plant ume trees on
their grounds. The detail of a print by Kunisada shown below portrays the
actor Ichikawa Danjūrō VII as Kan Shōjō.
"Kan Shōjō, in fact,
represents Sugawara Michizane (845-903)... since government regulations
prohibited the use of names of real people in kabuki." Learning of his
banishment from court Kan Shōjō transforms himself into the god of thunder.
A branch of plum blossoms can be seen held between his clenched teeth. This
"...motif [is] associated with Michizane, who before going into exile, had
composed a poem to a plum tree in his garden, reminding it not to forget the
arrival of spring after he was gone." (Source and quotes
from: Kunisada's World, by Sebastian Izzard, Japan Society, Inc.,
1993, p. 50)
portrayed occasionally in print form riding atop an ox. Hence, if an ox is
shown accompanied by plum blossoms that is a substitution for Michizane
Michizane "...was fond
of ume flowers from childhood, and it was for a poem on the flower
written when he was 11 years old that he was first recognized by the
emperor. When he was finally exiled, after a most brilliant career at Court,
he wrote the following famous poem:
Kochi, fukaba nioi
okoseyo ume-no hana Aruji nashitote haru na wasureso
[こちふかば によひおこせよ うめのはな あるじなしとて はるなわすれそ]
When the east wind
Send your fragrance,
Flower of Ume.
Never forget spring
Even though your
master is gone.
Mock Joya, pp. 580-1
A creature with a human
head, but with a feathered body.
"UMIN, flying men (same as
Kafuri Umin). Several of these are also described as Goblins. Most are drawn
from the chapters on the Ethnography of the foreign and barbarous countries
in the Wakan san sai Dzuye and from other Chinese sources; Japanese
artists, however, have not, as a rule, given much prominence to these
creatures..." Quoted from: Legend in Japanese Art by Henri Joly, p.
unbo (or unmo)
Utamaro and Sharaku
both produced prints in the 1790s which are famous for their iridescent mica
grounds. "The most common method for mica backgrounds employed two identical
blocks. The artisan printed an undercolor (typically black sumi for
grey, safflower rose for pink, a yellow; with no undercolor the mica alone
printed a silver-white ground. Then coating another identically carved block
with nikawa glue or rice-starch past he printed to moisten the same
background area and then sprinkled on fine mica flakes, and, finally, shook
off the excess. Another method required the mica, pre-mixed with color and
thinned glue, to be printed in one step; another for the image to be blocked
out with a stencil and the mica in sizing applied by brush." (Source and quote from:
Color Woodblock Printmaking: The Traditional Method of Ukiyo-e, by
Margaret M. Kanada, Shufunotomo Co., Ltd., 1989, p. 44)
"Personally I am not
very fond of mica prints, and rather dubious of the prevalent custom in the
market of valuing them highly simply because mica is used in printing.
Still, I cannot deny the fact that the technique of using mica was very
useful in improving the art of color prints." (Quote from: The
Evolution of Ukiyoé: The Artistic, economic and Social Significance of
Japanese Wood-block Prints, by Sei-ichirō Takahashi, published by
H. Yamagata, 1955, p. 35)
"Utamaro not only
invented kira-zuri (mica-print), but improved kizuri (yellow
print) and nezumi-tsubushi (grey-print), tried his hand at
kabe-zuri (sand print)...." In one print a beautiful woman is looking at
her reflection in a mirror which is mica printed. (Ibid., p. 41)
See also our
kirazuri on our Kesa thru Kuruma
U. A. Casal in his
"Lore of the Japanese Fan", Monumenta
Nipponica, vol. 16, no. 1/2, 1960, p. 86 noted that during the Tokugawa
era one advancement in the making of the folding fan was the use of three or
even up to five sheets of paper were glued together with rice paste "...and
umbo, or ummo, mica, probably added for stiffness."
Donald Keene in Seeds in the
Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century
(pp. 569-70) says: "This tale was first recorded in the fudoki for the
province of Tango in 713, and appeared in many different versions over the
centuries, notably in the Kojidan (Tales About Old Matters), a
collection compiled in the thirteenth century. In each version details
differ, but the general outline remains the same."
The image to the left is
from a photo taken by Toto-Tarou and posted at commons.wikimedia.org.
A melon - used by many
different families as their crest or mon. John W. Dower notes that during
the period of feudal warfare it was common practice to behead a captured
enemy combatant adding that "...medieval chronicles record an instance of a
warrior who used the silhouette of a melon as a crest because this shape
resembled the pool of blood which formed after he had performed this custom
on the body of a particularly renowned foe." (Quoted from: The
Elements of Japanese Design p. 63)
Uri can also be
translated as cucumber.
there is a poem by Yamanōe
Okura (山上憶良 or やまのうえおくら) called Thinking of Children. In the preface
it notes that Buddha preached "No love exceeds a parent's love." The first
lines of the poem reads:
When I eat a melon,
I remember my children;
When I eat chestnuts,
Even more do I recall
Quoted from: The
Blue-Eyed Tarokaja edited by Donald Keene, p. 181.
"Melons (meron) are
highly prized in Japan and those of excellent quality are also extremely
expensive. Often given as presents, they are sold packaged in beautiful
boxes, costing up to $200 U.S. for a single melon." This was written in 2009
in Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul by Ole G. Mourtesen,
p. 264. On May 17, 2010 two Yūbari (夕張
or ゆうばり) melons were auctioned off in Saporo for approximately $16,300.00
according to Japan Today. But that is nothing compared to the pair of melons
sold in 2008 for about a little more than $24,000.00. The Asahi Shimbun
explained these prices by noting that only 54 of these treats were being
offered at auction this year, down form 84 last year. Also, they noted that
these melons had a higher sugar content. [Excuse us, but that's all crazy!]
Below are two photos of these treasures posted by Captain76 at
commons.wikimedia. We added the black background on the one on the left.
There is a kyōgen (comic skit)
entitled Urinusubito (瓜盗人 or うりぬすびと) or The Cucumber Thief.
There are numerous references
to melons in poems, tales and legends. One of the best is about one of the
greatest figures in early Zen development. Sometime after Shūhō Myōchō (
宗峰妙超 or しゅうほうみょうちょう: 1282-1337) attained enlightenment he went to live with
the beggars, i.e., outcasts, under a bridge in a dry river bed in Kyōto. A
retired emperor heard about this and wanted this man to come and lecture at
his court. Hearing that Myōchō was particularly fond of the makuwa-uri (真桑瓜
or まくわうり), a particular kind of melon, the emperor disguised himself and
went to the bridge. He took along a basket of these melons to hand out to
the beggars. Believing that he would be able to recognize Myōchō from his
reaction he looked closely at every man's face as he took the gift. One
man's face lit up and his eyes sparkled. The former emperor saw this and
said: " 'Take this without using your hands.' The immediate response was,
'Give it to me without using your hands.' " (Source and quote from:
Eloquent Zen: Daitō and Early Japanese Zen by Kenneth Kraft, p.
42) In time the retired emperor gave Myōchō a new name: Daitō Kokushi,
'National Teacher of the Great Lamp'. ¶ Hakuin (白隠 or はくいん: 1686-1769) may
have been the first to tell the melon story in ca. 1750 when he added a text
to a portrait of Myōchō:
Wearing a straw mat among
through his greed for
he's been taken alive.
"If you give me the fruit
without using your hands
I'll enter your presence
without using my feet."
The makuwa-uri (Cucumis melo
var. makuwa) were grown under very loving conditions in the Kyōto
region. In The Japanese Economy in the Tokugawa Era, 1600-1868 edited
by Michael Smitka it gives a good description on p. 69 in an article
by Toshio Furushima: "In the Kyoto region, for instance, melons knows as
makuwa-uri were highly prized. By 1680 several villages had become
well-known for producing handsome melon specimens, the best of which were
produced near Tōji (temple) and sold with an affixed seal testifying to
their origin. Farmers prepared and fertilized the plots for these melons
during the preceding winter. When the plants first appeared in the spring,
the farmers carefully observed each plant, keeping the most promising and
thinning out the others. They even counted the leaves and cut the tops of
branching vines to permit the main stem to grow larger and stronger. The top
of the main vine was also pruned, and the next generation of vines was then
allowed to bear fruit."
Above is a photo of two
muskmelons - about $100.00 each in 2008.
These were posted at
commons.wikimedia by Bobok Ha'Eri.
Bashō wrote about the
makuwa-uri. When sliced in half their parts mirror one another. He used this
as an allusion to followers who don't break free of their masters and create
their own styles. In 1690 Bashō wrote to "...Emoto Tōko (1659-1715), a
merchant who asked to be his disciple. 'A melon cut in half' is a Japanese
image for two people who are virtually identical." (Quoted from: Bashō's
Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho, p. 235)
In Joseph Needham's impressive
series on Chinese science and culture it is written that the melon was one
of the two most important fruit vegetables in ancient China. "Their young
leaves could also be eaten as vegetables. Kua 瓜, melon,
Cucumis melo L., sometimes known as thien kua 甜瓜 (musk melon) is
eaten as a fruit. It has gained a certain degree of notoriety as a fruit
which contributed to the untimely demise of the Lady of Han Tomb No. 1 at
Ma-Wang-Tui. More than 138 melon seeds were recovered from her esophagus,
stomach and intestines, indicating that she must have eaten the melon so
fast that she swallowed the seeds without realising what she had done."
(Quoted from: Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 6, Biology and
Biological Technology, Part 5, Fermentations and Food Science by H. T.
Huang, p. 33) The Chinese character 甜 means sweet. As kanji, where it
also means sweet, it only appears with makuwa uri (muskmelon), sugar
beet and beet sugar. ¶ This melon was mentioned in a 6th century compendium.
(Ibid., p. 34)
Pickled melons are mentioned in
the Shih Ching (Ch. 詩經) or Book of Odes from ancient China ca. 11th
century B. C. to ca. 6th century B. C. Both the Chinese and the Japanese use
the same character for pickling or steeping, 漬. (Ibid., pp. 18 & 74)
In the Yü Shi Phi or
Imperial Food List compiled during the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279)
melon soup is mentioned in the mix as worthy of noblemen. (Ibid., p. 128)
Robin Gill remarks on the
Japanese and Western attitudes toward fresh produce are worth reading:
"The difference between fruit in Japan and in the West cannot be described
in these matter-of-fact contrasts about availability of taste. Most fruit in
Japan, until the last two decades of the twentieth century, was more of a
gift item then a grocery item per se. One bought fruit at the vegetable
shop, or occasionally, at a fruit-shop, and carried it to wherever you
visited, where they would serve part of it and you would get some, too. That
is one reason why the huge ten-dollar apples and other incredibly expensive
fruits sell so well in Japan. People are not buying them for themselves but
as gifts. Fruit is also seen in abundance at funeral receptions."
(Quoted from: Topsy-turvy 1585, p. 366)
"Makuwa uri first
appeared in Japan in the Kyushu area near Korea; excavations from the Yayoi
period have unearthed 2,100-year-old makuwa seeds. Minoru Kanda, of
the seed company that bears his name, believes that the melon was named for
a small village in Aichi prefecture, where farmers grew the best uri
fruits." (Quoted from: Melons for the Passionate Grower by Amy
Goldman, p. 108)
Some of the
families that used the uri as their crest or mon: the Oda (織田 or おだ);
the Asakura (朝倉 or あさくら); the Sakurai (桜井 or さくらい); the Takagi (高木 or たかぎ);
the Tanaka (田中 or たなか); Yagi (八木 or やぎ);
Ueno (上野 or うえの); Kamada (鎌田 or かまだ); Ishino (石野 or いしの); Magabuchi (曲淵 or
まがぶち); Kawashima (川島 or かわしま); Wada (和田 or わだ); Yamaoka (山岡 or やまおか); Akira
(明? or あきら); Ban (伴 or ばん); Fukatsu (深津 or ふかづ); Kuroda (黒田 or くろだ) at
Karuri; Maruyama (まるやま); Asano (浅野 or あさの) at Hiroshima - their mon
includes crossed feathers or
takanoha in the center; Kurusu (栗栖 or くるす); Takikawa
(瀧川 or たきかわ); Tominaga (冨永 or とみなが); Yoshida (吉田 or よしだ); Hotta (堀田 or ほった)
at Sakura, Satto and Miyagawa; Kano (?尾 or かの); Sagara (相良 or さがら); Nishimura
(西村 or にしむら); Fushiya (伏屋 or ふしや); Murakami (村上 or むらかみ); Takudaiji (徳大寺 or
とくだいじ); Miya (高 or みや); Akimoto (秋元 or あきもと); Arima (有馬 or ありま); Shibue (渋江
or しぶえ); Tsuda (津田 or つだ); Ōbayashi (大林 or おおばやし); Nakai (中井 or なかい); Saita
(齊田 or さいた); Ōmura (大村 or おおむら); Ōta (大田 or おおた); Hitome (人見 or ひとめ);
Nakagawa (中川 or なかがわ); Onodera (小野寺 or おのでら);
Shinoyama (篠山 or しのやま); Itō (伊藤 or いとう); Kawata (河田 or かわた); Sasatake (佐佐竹
or ささたけ); Watada (和多田 or わただ); Sano (佐野 or さの); Iida (飯田 or いいだ) and
Uragami (浦上 or うらがみ). Several clans use the uri motif
mitsu tomoe (三つ巴 or みつどもえ) or three
comma shapes in the center. These include the Ikuta (生田 or いくた), Kuno (久野 or
くの), Murayama (村山 or むらやま), Sawai (澤井 or さわい) and Wada (和田 or わだ).
(Source: Mon: The Japanese Family Crest by Kei Kaneda Chappelear and W. M.
Hawley, pp. 18-19)
John Dower, who referred to the
melon motif as 'mokko', noted that this was one of the categories that was
chosen for its 'symmetry and courtly connotations."
A fish scale motif
used on fabrics and other objects. According to John W. Dower this
triangular fabric motif existed long before it was described as a fish scale
pattern "...and its most illustrious association was with the powerful Hojo
family, who ruled Japan for almost a century and a half at the beginning of
the feudal period.
Quoted from: The
Elements of Japanese Design p. 146.
In The Actor's
Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School Timothy Clark notes that
Musume Dōjō-ji (The Maiden at Dōjō Temple) "...has shrugged her over-kimono
(uchikake) off her shoulders to reveal the triangular snake-scale
pattern (uroko-gata) of the kimono, and her long hair hangs down in a
wild ponytail that will whip through the air like a snake as she dances." In
here bitterness over being shunned the maiden transforms into a snake. This
makes more sense here than the rather limited reference to fish scaling.
Clark is writing
about a Shunshō print (Cat. #62, p. 183).
Rabbit, hare or cony
Having a guilty conscience:
According to Kazuhiko Komatsu "Although it has largely been forgotten since
disposability has become the order of the day, the Japanese once had a
different attitude toward their household goods. They felt guilty about
throwing things away, especially utensils made by human hands. The word used
for these guilt feelings, ushirometasa, literally means 'feeling
someone's gaze behind one's back.' One has done something improper: anyone
secretly watching would surely disapprove. The gave implied by
ushirometasa includes that of fellow humans, but traditionally it
carried stronger connotations of the gaze of a divine spirit. When a utensil
is discarded, the agent of the gaze is the spirit of the utensil itself."
(From the Japan Foundation Newsletter, vol. XXVII, no. 1, June 1999)
Artist fl. 1819-65
Utagawa Hiroshige II
The image to the
left is a detail from a memorial print by Kunimaro. Kunisada by this time is
identified by most scholars as Toyokuni III.
The odd thing about
memorial portraits is that they always portray artists at the end of their
careers and thus, as a rule, old men. Considering the East Asian respect for
age this is not surprising. However, this seems to be just the opposite of a
common practice in the West. If one were to read the obituary columns on a
regular basis one would notice a pattern whereby the deaths of people in
their eighties and nineties are often accompanied by photographs taken when
the deceased was in their prime - often in their twenties or thirties.
Somehow the Japanese memorial prints have a little more truth to them - at
least from my point of view.
Utagawa Toyokuni I
Artist fl. 1850 - 70
American actor, 1920s
Dower gives no clear
explanation for this motif which was used in numerous variations as a mon
or family crest. However, he does state: "This motif is alleged to have been
abstracted from a larger overall design of a manner similar to that in which
the 'seven treasures' motif... originated."
Quoted from: The
Elements of Japanese Design, by John W. Dower, p. 133.
index/glossary entry for shippō.)
Small bowls of soba with a dipping
Bracken: A crest or
mon used by various families. "The new shoot of bracken that emerges in
early spring is likened by teh Japanese to a fist (by the name warabide,
bracken-hand). This became the basis of a fairly popular pattern used on
household items, and a small number of families eventually adopted the motif
as a family crest." Quote from: The
Elements of Japanese Design, by John W. Dower, published by Weatherhill,
1991, p. 50.
Note that there is
a large number of variations of this motif some of which are hardly
recognizable as being related.
In the Kodansha
Encyclopedia there is an entry on the 'fern frond design' or warabidemon
(蕨手紋 or わらびでもん?): "A curved-line motif ending in a tight spiral resembling a
newly unfolding fern fron, used singly or in pairs back to back on artifacts
of the Yayoi (ca 300 BC - ca AD 300) and Kofun (ca 300-710) periods,
especially on Yayoi pottery, bronze bells... bronze weapons, bronze mirrors,
haniwa (funerary sculptures), and in the painted decorations of ornamented
tombs." Quote from:
entry by Kitamura Bunji (vol. 2, p. 252).
In an article in Japanese, Notes on the Fulfilment of Vows and Other
Matters, by Hosokawa Tashitarō it says: "When the coffin is carried out
of the house, brake fern (warabi) is burnt at the door, and the tea-cup
which the dead was accustomed to use is smashed."
Bracken or fiddlehead ferns are a modern culinary delight. For that reason
and to strengthen the visual tie between the Japanese crest and the physical
plant we have added two images here both found at wikimedia.org. The one
above was originally posted at Flickr by John Herschell and the one below
was posted at en.wikipedia by Pseudopanax.
Straw sandals: "A traditional rough straw
sandal, with a thong passing between the big and second toes; tied onto the
foot with straw straps, which pass through a series of loops on the sides of
the sole. Not to be confused with the finer straw sandal, zōri, which
is held onto the foot by the thong alone. Materials used include plain rice
straw, flax (asa) fibers, wisteria or grape fibers, and straw
interwoven with cloth strips. Waraji were used throughout Japan and
worn when taking long journeys on foot. Their manufacture was one of the
evening's tasks in a farm household; in many regions making waraji
was the first task of the New Year." Quoted from the entry by Miyamoto Mizuo
in the Kodansaha Encyclopedia of Japan, vol. 8., p. 223
The image to the left is from a
manga by Hokusai. Above is a photo of waraji on a tatami. It
was posted at commons.wikimedia.org by Andy King50. The image of the person
wearing waraji shown in the section below was posted at the same
locale by Corpse Reviver.
In Our Own Devices: How
Technology Remakes Humanity by Edward Kenner it says that waraji
were originally made of rice straw about 2,000 years ago - pre-dating the
geta, another type of footwear. The zori, based on the design of
the geta was introduced in the 9th century. Because rice was both a
staple and a religious commodity sloughed off rice straw held religious
significance, too. Shimenawa, twisted rice straw ropes, demarked
sacred locations. Roofs, mats, raincoats and hats were made from it. Even
"An immense straw waraji, supported by more than twenty bearers, was
recently dedicated [ca. 2004] to Tokyo's Sensoji temple, as the embodiment
of the protection of the nation."
Lafcadio Hearn described long
journeys taken by the students of a fencing school: "They walk in waraji,
the true straw sandal, closely tied to the naked foot, which it leaves
perfectly supple and free, without blistering or producing corns."
Hearn also writes about a
priest who is determined to get rid of bimbōgami (貧乏神 or びんぼうがみ), the
god of poverty. The priest "...had a strange dream, in which he saw a very
emaciated boy, naked and dirty, weaving sandals of straw (waraji),
such as pilgrims and runners wear; and he made so many that the priest
wondered, and asked him, 'For what purpose are you making so many sandals?'
And the boy answered, 'I am going to travel with you. I am Bimbogami.' "
Nozawa Bonchō (野沢凡兆 or
のざわぼんちょう: d. 1714) wrote: "Without a sound/ hands make straw into
sandals/ in the moonlight."
At one of the festivals in
Japan an over-sized waraji is floated out to sea to placate or repel
the monsters which accompany the typhoon season.
There is a novel by Jippensha
Ikku (1765-1831) called Kane no waraji (金草鞋 or かねのわらじ)
or 'Sandals of Steel' from 1813. Shirane translated the title as 'Straw
Sandals of Gold'.
"Footgear was also
standarized. The poor wore sandals of straw called waraji which could
be woven very quickly and cheaply. Waraji were also the basic
footgear for travelers." Quoted from: The Cambridge History of Japan:
Early Modern Japan by John Whitney Hall, p. 691.
Chamberlain wrote in his Things Japanese (p. 121): "Of straw sandals
there are two kinds, the movable
used for light work, and the waraji which are bound tightly round the
feet with straw string and used for hard walking only."
Horses were sometimes shod
in waraji. Below is a detail from a Hiroshige print. It is also used
to illustrate our Shigenobu entry.
On page 8
of a 1920 publication of the Victoria and Albert Museum the authors stated
that waraji were so flimsy that they lasted only 24 hours on average.
Workers normally carried extra pairs with them. On the positive side this
footwear was extremely inexpensive.
Great 19th c. painter
and print maker who occasionally printed on Japanese papers. Many of his
paintings show the influence of Japanese art.
A popular 19th c. blue
& white porcelain motif
An English porcelain
factory which reproduced Asian motifs
World of the Meiji Print: Impressions of a New Civilization
Like so many other
specialized books this volume by Julia Meech-Pekarik and published by
Weatherhill in 1986 is of use to anyone interested in Japanese culture in
Arrow: "The arrow too in ritual
situations on the Asian continent is less a weapon than an instrument which
magically joins two worlds. Shot into the air it will apprise a deity that a
rite is about to take place.... At the beginning of the fire ritual known as
saitō-goma, still practised by the mountain ascetics called
yamabushi, an arrow shot in each of the five directions is the means of
informing the Five Bright Kings who preside over the order that the rite is
about to begin. The miko's arrows may have been put to similar use,
to summon the kami and warn him that his descent is required. (Source
and quote from: The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in
Japan by Carmen Blacker, p. 107)
Archery from horseback - 流
means 'method of' or 'manner of', 鏑 means 'arrowhead' and 馬 is 'horse'.
Royall Tyler in his
translation of The Tale of Genji - in a footnote on p. 170 - notes
that yabusame was practiced in the Heian times. "...yabusame
riding events that took place on the third and fifth days of the fifth
"Le Yabusame n'est ni un
sport ni un art martial, mais un rituel religieux dont l'objectif est de
réjouir les dieux par son habileté et son pouvoir..." Quote from a Michelin
guide to Japan
From Japanese Warrior
Monks AD 949-1603 by Stephen Turnbull, p. 31: "The arrows were of
bamboo. The nock was cut just above a node for strength, and three feathers
were fitted. Bowstrings were of plant fibre, usually hemp or ramie, coated
with wax to give a hard smooth surface, and in some cases the long bow
needed more than one person to string it. The archer held the bow above his
head to clear the horse, and then moved his hands apart as the bow was
brought down to end with the left arm straight and the right hand near the
right ear. A high level of accuracy resulted from hours of practice on
ranges where the arrows were discharged at small wooden targets while the
horse was galloping along. This became the traditional art of yabusame,
still performed at festivals."
"Near the end of the twelfth
century, Yoritomo initiated stricter training standards for his warriors. As
part of the training he instructed Ogasawara Nagakiyo, the founder of
Ogasawara Ryu, to teach mounted archery. Shooting from horseback was
certainly not new but this was the first time it was taught in a more or
less standardized way. In the years that followed, yabusame, or mounted
archery, would reach its full potential, thus adding a new dimension to the
study of kyudo." Quoted from: Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese
Archery, p. 16.
The trimmed image to the
left was posted at commons.wikimedia.org by Jim Mills.
"According to Azuma
kagami (The Mirror of the East, the shogunate's chronicle), in
the third year of Bunchi (1187) an annual yabusame ritual (a game in
which mounted warriors shoot arrows on the run at fixed targets) was
conducted at the shogunate's official shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachiman. Many
samurai were assigned to different tasks during the ritual, and Kumagai
Naozane was asked to stand and hold the targets. He was very angry about
this assignment: 'All the vassals of the shogunate are equal fellows. Those
who were assigned to be shooters were mounted, but the men taking care of
the targets were on foot. It looked as if there was a hierarchy. I just
could not accept such an order.' ¶ In the community of the samurai, riding
on horseback was an important indicator of status. Only mounted warriors
were considered real samurai. The shogun Yoritomo tried to placate Naozane
by saying that responsibility for the targets was not inferior to shooting,
but Naozane refused the task. Because he rejected the order of the shogun, a
part of Naozane's property was confiscated. For this stubborn samurai, the
notion of equality among the vassals of the shogun was a part of his sense
of honor that he could not compromise. The episode indicates vividly how the
indomitable spirit of the samurai's honor was connected to his sense of
independence and dignity. The relative socioeconomic independence claimed by
followers in the medieval system of vassalage created the basic sentiment of
samurai culture, which embraced the individualistic pursuit of a reputation
for strength and power." Quoted from: The Taming of the Samurai:
Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan by Eiko Ikegami,
According to The Way of
the Warrior: Martial Arts and Fighting Styles from Around the World (p.
224) when the archer releases an arrow he yells "Yo-in-yo" which means
"darkness and light".
Arrow motif for
Tower or turret used to
traditionally mark the site of a licensed kabuki theater. It is also
referred to as a drum tower.
This is the name of one
of the two comic figures of The Shank's Mare by Jippensha Ikku, It is
also the name of a balancing toy as shown here.
Yakara no tama
The flaming jewel
See also our entry
A roofed boat used for
[涼み舟 or すずみぶね] or 'cooling boats' were the most luxurious method Edo
residents utilized to cool themselves in summer. Sitting on richly decorated
boats and surrounded by beautiful women and many servants, they enjoyed cool
breezes as their boats slowly glided down the Sumida River, while they drank
sake and ate delicious food."
boats' were specially constructed and were generally called yakata-bune
or roofed boats. Some them were quite big, reaching a length of more than 50
to 60 feet."
Said to have begun
during a particularly hot summer during the Keicho era (1596-1614). In time
they became ostentatious signs of prestige and wealth and full-blown
Source and quotes
from: Mock Joya's Things Japanese, pp. 500-1.
The image to the
left is a detail from a print by Hiroshige.