Japanese Bobtail Invasion or What I have Been Doing During the Quarantine

I’ve told a few people about this, but otherwise I have just been making vague hints about #OperationCat. All the work we’ve been doing clearing out our back bedroom (my office) and putting in new flooring and closet doors has been part of #operationcat.

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At long last, on July 4th, my husband and I brought home the newest members of our family, all Japanese Bobtail cats.

The adult cat, a tortoieshell smoke long-haired JBT, is named Smoky Quartz. She’s 8 years old and an award-winning retired show cat, with a really unique coat, absolutely gorgeous.

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The black smoke and white kitten is her son, Shigure. He is odd-eyed, one eye blue and one green, short-haired JBT. He is 13 weeks old. He’s very sweet and likes to cuddle.

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The red tabby kitten is named Momiji. He is from another litter and is 9 weeks old. He’s still quite little and I haven’t figured out his personality just yet. He does like to follow big-bro Shigure around and steal whatever toy he’s playing with.

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They do seem to be getting along now.

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Some of ya’ll might remember Nabiki, my black and white Japanese Bobtail that died a few years ago at age 17. This was Nabiki:

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Since that time, I have dreamed of having another JBT cat. It was happy circumstance that we were able to bring home three. I am very grateful to Linda Donaldson of Kiddlyn Kattery and Athena Christine Diehm of KuramaKatz for helping this dream happen!

We do still have Ryoko and we’ll be working on introducing her to the newcomers. She can be a brat, so it’ll have to be a gradual process. And we still have work to do in kitten-proofing downstairs, so the project continues. We haven’t had a kitten for a long time (12 years!) That was our black cat Tsuki, who died last year at age 11 of cancer. Ryoko was an adult when we took her in. Here’s a picture of her so she doesn’t feel left out:

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#OperationCat and helping my mom sort out Dad’s estate has been taking up most of my time lately and probably will continue to do so for awhile. But the gang is all here now!

SCA At Home

I did actually “SCA” a bit this weekend. My husband was working from home downstairs so I decided to drag my music stand up to the bedroom and practice my recorders (both the soprano and tenor). I was going through a book of dance music (which we don’t play much of in Margaurite’s group because she finds it boring). I found a piece that, while simple, still challenged me on my weak areas: playing in the upper register (particularly high G and above) and runs involving B-flat. So that song gave me a good chance to work on both of those issues without just running scales or something. It was fun and kinda took me away from all the awfulness of the world.

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My favorite hobbies seem to have that in common: usually solitary and involving practice or solving minute problems. Whether I’m trying to brush out a kanji character, master a pen stroke, memorize vocabulary, figure out a song, or refurbish a doll, I get so involved with the process that the world falls away. That right there is my happiness. Can’t do that all the time, though. Life is too demanding.

Shodo Practice Doku Sho Shu Kan 読書週間

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So in this time of quarantine, since the event I wanted to attend today was cancelled, and since I am self-isolating for a while due to recent travel (just got home Tuesday from San Antonio), I figured it was high time to get back to my shodo practice, which I have shamefully neglected in the past few months since my father’s passing. To be honest, I haven’t had much free time.

But the brush has been calling me and today I took a few hours to devote to practice. While I was doing that, I thought I would share a few pictures of some of the equipment I find useful, and how I do my practice. I apologize for no video, but I have neither the technology or expertise in that area to make one.

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So this is a useful thing–a briefcase with basic shodo supplies. You can find them sometimes on Amazon or Ebay. Prices vary widely, so shop around.

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When you open it up, you can see there’s space to store a shitajiki (felt that you lay down under the paper) and some extra paper. There’s also a small bottle of ink.

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Opening the smaller area, you can see a couple of bunshin (paperweights), an ink stick, a chopstick holder that I use to balance the brushes on when not using them, a little bottle that holds excess ink, and a stone suzuri (inkstone). The set actually comes with a plastic one, but I prefer to use stone when grinding ink. The plastic suzuri are perfectly acceptable. Not included in the picture is a hanko (personal seal) as I haven’t carved mine yet, or the red paste used for the seal.

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Here is another example of a shodo travel case. This is an old one, probably from the 1950’s-1960’s. I think it was $10 on Ebay when I got it. They come up from time to time and sometimes they can be a bargain.

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Here it is opened up. This one does have the paste (it’s in that little round black container that is barely visible) and a hanko (not mine, but I can recarve it). The case is too narrow to hold standard paper or shitajiki but is small and easy to carry, plus useful to set up in a small space.

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Here is the hanko, a personal seal. For SCA-purposes, this is smaller than the inkan (seals) seen on most medieval artwork. These smaller seals came into popularity during the Edo period and are still in use today.

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This is what I usually carry my brushes in. It’s a simple bamboo roll, similar to what is used to roll sushi rolls.

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And some brushes. The white-topped brushes are ones I use with “water paper” for practice, although I’ve moved away from that as the water tends to dry too fast when you are brushing more complex kanji. Good tool for beginners, though.

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Here’s a bigger version. It holds more brushes and of different sizes. I don’t encourage keeping the caps on brushes–the brushes with caps are extra ones I have on hand if I need to teach. I think I found this one on Amazon as part of a sumi-e set?

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And here’s today’s practice Yojijukugo (proverb). The kanji say “dokusho shukan” meaning “Reading Week”, which is usually TWO weeks in late autumn October 27th to November 9th. This article here explains a little about the practice. While this is the wrong time of year, I think the COVID-19 quarantine gives us all a chance to catch up on our reading, so that’s why I chose this proverb.

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Here is my usual set up. Horribly modern, but the plastic protects my working table. I keep my example on the left, where I can easily refer to it, paper towards the top (well away from the ink), and ink and brushes to the right. One of the bunshin paperweights is at the top of the paper. I usually use my free hand to hold down the bottom of the paper, as it gives me more flexibility than a second bunshin would.

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Loading the brush with ink. I was eager to just get brushing today, so I didn’t grind my ink this time. I explain about that in a later post.

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The brush is held vertically and not too firm a hold. I try to imagine holding an egg against the brush and that gets my hand in the correct position. However, as I am used to writing with a pen at an angle, I do have to constantly be aware of the brush and make sure I don’t lean it over. The wrist is kept stable–I use my entire arm for brushing. That requires maintaining a good posture, leaning slightly forward.

No picture here of the posture. If you sit seiza (on your knees), the posture comes naturally, but my ancient arthritic knees are not up to the task. I use a chair and sit a bit forward, with my legs tucked under a bit.

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I always start with the character ichi (“One”) and usually do a page or two of that same character. It is not a simple straight line, but a slight curve. It’s also a good way to get into focus.

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Some of my warm-up sheets. I use either phonebook paper or newspaper for warm-ups and honestly, for a lot of the practice. It’s usually free and lets me save the better paper. The absorption rate is very close to that of washi (“rice” mulberry paper), although washi tends to drag the brush a bit more.

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Now I start brushing out the actual kanji I’m working with today. It takes some time to work out proper spacing between the strokes, and between the radicals (subsets) within the kanji. What sucks is if you mess up at one point, it throws the whole character off. My teacher sometimes laughs at my vain attempts to “rescue” a character once I’ve made a mistake.

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Here I am testing the spacing between shu and doku, making sure the kanji are in line with each other and of the same size. I was using the back of a previously-brushed page and that ended up badly for me because the paper was crinkled and the brush would “jump”, making it difficult to make smooth strokes.

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Sho is tricky because you have all these lines, which actually are different sizes and NOT parallel. However, the spacing needs to be consistent between them.

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First attempt at the entire proverb. The right side (you read right, down, left, down) wasn’t bad, but I screwed up Shu (the top left kanji) which threw the bottom left kanji completely out of whack. Le sigh.

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And here is my final attempt for the day. Still not where I want it, although legible. At this point, I’d been brushing for three hours and needed a break! So I’ll pick up with this same proverb tomorrow and see if I can’t make more progress in matching the tehon (example) page.

A Few More Poems

令和二年二月二十日

Thus the wheel turns
Life settles into something
Else the new normal
Pinching pennies like a perv
Fear churns the empty belly

The Way Things Are: Unfunny Kyōka
#poetry365

令和二年二月十六日

Anything at all
And I find myself in tears
Icicles of salt
This winter sun can not melt
No matter how clear the sky

On a cold clear day
#poetry365

Display Items from Clothiers 2020

For those who were unable to make it to this year’s Clothiers event, here are the examples I brought to share for the Japanese display. They are a couple of garments that I had made, plus a few panels of vintage (1940s-1960s) kimono panels that showed modern examples of some dyeing techniques that were used in pre-Edo Japan. Of course, the motifs are smaller on these modern pieces but they show the complexity of these simple garments. Note: the panels are from damaged vintage kimono that I had taken apart to reuse the silk for other projects.

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Pink Brocade Uchikake, photo by Jay Reynolds

Item: Pink Brocade Uchikake Kosode 打掛小袖
Time: Muromachi Era (1336-1573)
Place: Japan
Owner: Ki no Kotori
Made by: Ki no Kotori
Points of Interest: This piece is a kosode (small-sleeved garment) uchikake. The sleeves are smaller and the panels are wider than that of a modern kimono. The average width of a kimono panel is between 12-14 inches, while kosode panels were 17-18 inches wide. During the 17th century, the kosode evolved into the kimono, becoming longer and narrower, with larger sleeves and an altered neckline. The obi (belt) that held the garment in place also evolved from a simple narrow belt to an intricately woven band that covered most of the abdomen.
This modern Chinese brocade is similar to the ornate style of brocade favored in the Muromachi Era. The uchikake is meant to be worn open above another kosode (or two—they were often layered, especially in the colder months). Uchikake were always lined. They are still in use today as bridal garments.
This is an earlier piece of mine, made in 2003-2004. There are a few things I would do differently now, especially with padding the bottom of the lining. The materials are modern, but I got them at a clearance sale for a very affordable price and while I did have to change some of the sewing (tighter stitches because Lordy, this stuff frays like crazy!), I think it gives a good approximation of what the garment should look like.

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Leaf Kosode, photo courtesy of Jay Reynolds

Item: Autumn Leaf Kosode小袖
Time: Azuchi-Momoyama Era (1573-1600)
Place: Japan
Owner: Ki no Kotori
Made by: Ki no Kotori
Points of Interest: This piece is an unlined kosode (small-sleeved garment) that was made by altering a vintage meisen silk kimono. I chose this kimono to alter because of the large pattern, which is similar to what would have been worn before 1600. The silk is probably a silk/poly blend. The original kimono probably dates from the 1950’s. Meisen silk is a kasuri (ikat) weave where the design is stenciled on the warp and then woven in. It was extremely popular from the 1920’s until the 1960’s. The Kasuri technique does date back into the middle ages, although it didn’t become widely used until the Edo period (1603-1868).
The sleeves are slightly larger than a true kosode because I wanted to show off the leaf pattern on them. I added strips of a scrap piece of rayon to widen the garment. The rayon I had was too short and so I had to piece it at the bottom. I also had to put in a wide hem as the original kimono was a bit too long. There are several late-period examples of pieced kosode, although usually using horizontal rather than vertical lines. The original garment was unlined, so I kept it that way. By adapting the vintage kimono and using the scrap rayon (left over from another project), I kept the price of the project down to about $30.

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Multi-colored Vintage Kimono Panel (on right of photo), photo courtesy of Edward Hauschild

Item: Multi-colored Vintage Kimono Panel
Time: Estimated Mid-Showa Era (1926-1989—probably 1940’s)
Place: Japan
Owner: Ki no Kotori
Where purchased: YokoDana Trading
Points of Interest: This piece is an example of somewake 染分 (using various colors) dyeing, a technique first used during the Kamakura Era (1185-1333). The earliest extant example of this technique is a drawing of a woman from 1309.

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Blue Shibori Example, photo by Edward Hauschild

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Blue Shibori Example, Detail showing Sayagata weave and Kanoko dots

Item: Blue and White Kimono panel showing weave and shibori dyeing
Time: Estimated Mid-Showa Era (1926-1989—probably 1960’s)
Place: Japan
Owner: Ki no Kotori
Where purchased: YokoDana Trading
Points of Interest: The weave pattern is called sayagata 紗綾形 (linked manji design). The manji is a reversed swastika used as a Buddhist motif, therefore the pattern is considered auspicious. The sayagata weave came to Japan quite late in period (about 1573) from China. Along with the sayagata are alternating rows of susuki 薄 (pampas grass) and kiku 菊 (chrysanthemum).
This example shows how a variety of shibori 絞り (tie-dye) techniques can be used on a single piece of cloth. The larger pattern was probably created using ori-nui 折縫い (folded and sewn) shibori, while the smaller dot-like areas were either done by miura 三浦 (loop braiding) shibori or chuu-hitta kanoko shibori 中匹田鹿子 (medium dots within squares/fawn spots). The two look quite similar. Miura shibori is an Edo period (1603-1868) development that imitated kanoko shibori, examples of which can be found as far back as the Nara period (710-794).

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Pink Tsujigahana Example, photo by Edward Hauschild

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Detail of Pink Tsujigahana Example, photo courtesy of Edward Hauschild

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Detail showing sayagata weave and closer view of the dye details

Item: Kimono Panel Showing Tsujigahana Techniques
Time: Estimated Mid-Showa Era (1926-1989—probably 1960’s)
Place: Japan
Owner: Ki no Kotori
Where purchased: YokoDana Trading
Points of Interest: Sayagata 紗綾形 (linked manji design) is again featured in this weave, along with alternating rows of ran 蘭 (orchid) and kiku 菊 (chrysanthemum).
This piece is a modern example of tsujigahana 辻ヶ花 (flowers at the crossroads) technique, which originated during the Muromachi Era (1336-1573). The larger areas were tied off with ori-nui 折縫い shibori, then decorated within with tsukidashi kanoko 突き出し鹿子 (spaced dots) and mame 豆絞 (bean) shibori. Some of the edges of the design are embroidered in gold thread, and then a paste is put down and gold and silver leaf are gilded on with a technique called surihaku 摺箔.This piece has a smaller motif than might be used in medieval times but the basic techniques are the same.

Disclaimer: A note about the Sayagata 紗綾形 (linked manji) design. The manji is a reversed swastika and a common Buddhist motif in Japan. As a design, sayagata is considered very auspicious. However, we know that the swastika’s image has been permanently stained by association with Nazi Germany of the 20th century and those who espouse the foul ideals of that regime. Japan itself is discontinuing the use of the manji as a symbol for Buddhist temples on maps because of this. Please know that these historical textile pieces shown here are only on display for educational purposes and to show the intricate dyeing techniques used in Japanese clothing.

YokoDana Trading is a company that sells vintage kimono in bulk, usually as “cutters” for craft projects (quilting, for example) at a very reasonable price. Sometimes there will be kimono included that are in wearable shape, but need to be taken apart for cleaning. Another vendor that I would recommend is Ohio Kimono. The owner has been involved in the SCA and can recommend garments that have more medieval motifs. I’ve gotten a few kimono from her that I have adapted for SCA wear.

A Few Poems

令和二年二月七日

Unable to speak
Or even to scream, that hand
Clasped over my mouth
So suddenly it happened
There, in the bright light of day

Silenced
#poetry365

令和二年二月九日

The question is asked
With well-meaning disinterest
How are you doing?
Fine, I say, just fine, hiding
The scars of my nail-pocked palms

In answer to your question
#poetry365

令和二年二月十一日

I wanted to sing
But when I opened my mouth
The words disappeared
And only the bitter taste
Of salt lingered on my lips

Silent song
#poetry365