A Tidbit Regarding Akane Dye


I happened to be reading a passage in the Kojiki 1, as part of a larger collection of works concerning life in Ancient Japan 2 when I came upon a verse that really caught my eye. The editor had used a translation by Basil Chamberlin in 1919, which fortunately is now in public domain and can be found online (with notes) here. The relevant passage is here, which I quote:

“When I take and attire myself so carefully in my august garments black as the true jewels of the moor, and, like the birds of the offing, look at my breast,—though I raise my fins, [I say that] these are not good, and cast them off on the waves on the beach. When I take and attire myself so carefully in my august garments green as the kingfisher, and, like the birds of the oiling, look at my breast.—though I raise my fins, [I say that] these, too, are not good, and cast them off on the waves on the beach. When I take and attire myself so carefully in my raiment dyed in the sap of the dye-tree, the pounded madder sought in the mountain fields, and. like the birds of the offing. look at my breast,—though I raise my fins, [I say that] they are good. My dear young sister. Thine Augustness! Though thou say that thou wilt not weep,—if like the flocking birds, I flock and depart, if, like the led birds, I am led away and depart, thou wilt hang down thy head like p. 96 a single eulalia upon the mountain and thy weeping shall indeed rise as the mist of [80] the morning shower. Thine Augustness [my] spouse like the young herbs! The tradition of the thing, too, this!”

The notes go on to give a rather thorough interpretation of the poem, but the main point I took was that the man in question (the god, Ōkuninushi) changes his clothes three times, from black robes, to blue, to red. The red mentions the dye “sap of the dye-tree, the pounded madder sought in the mountain fields”.

Seemed a bit vague to me and Chamberlin’s translation style is archaic.

I knew I had more translations of the Kojiki on my shelves, and managed to lay my hands on two of them (there’s a third, I know it, but it eluded me).

Let’s see what Donald Keene makes of it, when he translated the same text in 1968: 3 :

“All dressed up
In my jet-black clothes
When I look down at my breast,
Like a bird of the sea,
Flapping its wings,
This garment will not do;
I throw it off
By the wave-swept beach.

All dressed up
In my blue clothes
Blue like the kingfisher,
When I look down at my breast,
Like a bird of the sea,
Flapping its wings,
This garment will not do;
I throw it off
By the wave-swept beach.

All dressed up
In my clothes dyed
With the juice
Of pounded ATANE plants
Grown in the mountain fields,
Now when I look down at my breast,
Like a bird of the sea,
Flapping its wings,
This garment will do.”

Keene in his notes is unsure whether the clothes changing was to get his wife’s attention and get her to relent (she was angry for him dallying with another woman) or if the song was an accompaniment for a dance requiring frequent changes of costume.

The madder plant is identified as ATANE. Notes in the Chamberlin translation state that it is probably a transcriptionist’s mistake for AKANE 茜 (Rubia Cordifolia). JAANUS has a note about AKANE here, including some notes about how the dye was made:

“This dye was made from the perennial plant madder (Rubia Cordifolia), akane, which grew wild in mountain regions. The roots were collected and left to rest for two or three years. They were then washed, soaked in water, and boiled to extract a bright red dye senryou 染料. Lye, aku 灰汁, was used as a mordant *baizai 媒済, and white rice added to absorb tannin and other impurities. The cloth or thread to be dyed had to be soaked in the lye and thoroughly dried before dipping in hot dye solution. To obtain a dark color, this process was repeated 20 or 30 times.” 4

I went ahead and checked my other book, a newer translation by Gustav Heldt 5 :

“As beads of jet
black are the robes
that I take care
to dress myself in.

A bird in the offing,
I look at my breast,
where they flap about,
but these clothes don’t suit.
Wave-swept the shore
where I softly cast them off.

As a kingfisher
blue are the robes
that I take care
to dress myself in.

A bird in the offing,
I look at my breast,
where they flap about,
but these clothes don’t suit.
Wave-swept the shore
where I softly cast them off.

Sown beside mountains
is the red root pounded
into juices for dye
to dye these robes
that I take care
to dress myself in.

A bird in the offing,
I look at my breast,
where they flap about.
These clothes suit me well.”

I think I like Keene’s translation better, although Heldt’s does have its merits. Note that all three translations put the Akane in “mountain fields”, where indeed it does grow naturally.

It’s a small tidbit, but I just wanted to illustrate here how we can use literature to document material culture. So often in the SCA, there is an emphasis on material culture–we tend to deal with items as opposed to ideas in our study of history, and people will sometimes neglect literature as a source, when in fact it can be quite a rich one.

1. [The Kojiki, attributed to Ō no Yasumaro in 711-712, is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan. The main focus is tales of the gods and early rulers of Japan.]

2. [Singer, Kurt, ed. The Life of Ancient Japan, Selected Contemporary Texts Illustrating Social Life and Ideals Before the Era of Seclusion (Richmond, Surrey, UK, Japan Library 2002) ISBN 1-903350-01-8. Originally published in 1939 by Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo-Kanda. ]

3. [Keene, Donald, trans. Kojiki (Tokyo; University of Tokyo Press, 1968) pp. 108-109 ISBN 4-13-087004-1 ]

4. [JAANUS (Japanese Art and Architecture Net Users System) Akane-iro 茜色 ]

5. [Heldt, Gustav, trans. The Kojiki, An Account of Ancient Matters (New York; Columbia University Press, 2014) pp. 34-35 ISBN 976-0-231-16389-7]

Picture credit: Ōkuninushi bronze statue in Izumo-taisha, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons

Planning the Sewing Frenzy


So we’ve decided to give Gulf Wars a try next year. My husband (Alfgeirr) and I are not great campers, but I have been to Pennsic twice (in my younger days), we’ve camped at Lilies, and at Armorgeddon, which tells you about how long it has been since we camped. (Since we moved near the KC area, we tend to day-trip Lilies when we go now.)

I measured my husband the other night for some new garb. Alfgeirr still fits some of his old garb, but his body shape has changed a bit, so it doesn’t fit as well as it did. It was funny, I grabbed the tunic worksheet that I had used the last time I had made him garb (3/15/2008–wow, it has been awhile!). He maybe hits one or two events a year due to his crazy work schedule, so I haven’t felt a need to make him anything new for awhile, but obviously he’ll need more for Gulf. He’d gained a lot of weight, then lost some of it, and really, the only big measurement difference was his abdomen (waist, hips). He’s one of those guys who carries his weight that way, whereas when I gain weight, it is distributed all over my body.

So it’s time to finally make the blasted Thorsbjerg trousers I’ve been promising him for the past 3 years. They’ll be a modified version–I’m adapting a pajama pants pattern and adding the crotch gussets which define the Thorsbjerg trousers. No footies, and he’d rather have a drawstring waistband than have to belt them, then belt the tunics above. I’ll do a trial pair from an old sheet and see how it goes, then use that as my pattern for the rest. Got everything out and ready, just doing my usual cutting procrastination!

He’ll also be getting some new tunics, but those are easy. I know I’ve got trim stashed around here–gotta dig through the stash. He has a Mongol-style hat if it gets cold, but he’ll need a 6-panel hat as well as a few hoods. He already has two pair of winningas, a variety of bags, two plain leather belts, and a torse if he feels fancy, so he’s good there. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might try to make a coat. Those look so awesome.

He doesn’t want to wear period shoes, due to some long-time foot issues. He’s had several surgeries on his left foot and his foot-shape is so odd that we have issues finding him modern shoes. Hey, whatever, he’s coming to the event with me. His plain black tennis shoes would blend, kinda. (Not really but I’m not pushing it.)

I’m in a quandary as to what to make for myself. I had bariatric surgery a few months ago. I’ve lost a lot of weight this past 6 months and I’m already where my old garb is way too big on me (and the stuff I outgrew years ago was donated to various groups’ Gold Key). I have 5 names registered (Austrian, Anglo-Saxon, Japanese, Magyar, and 16th century English), but my main focus has been on the Japanese for the last 15 years.

Apparently (according to a good friend), I confuse people because I so rarely wear Japanese garb, but instead usually don 10th-11th century Anglo-Norman stuff. I do that because it is fairly shapeless, easy to make, and I can wear wimples to hide my short hair. I actually took apart and remade two of my old tunics when they got too small for me, and still get compliments on the way I did it (added plain white linen strips down the sides–a very period solution). My friend suggested I go all-out Japanese, and then people might actually recognize me when they see me.

I guess I could. Certainly I’ve done the research (which for me is most of the fun!) and Japanese clothing is not fitted, plus it can be easily resized. I solved the hair issue with my zukin research. But damn, I’ve always wanted to look like I stepped out of a portrait, and I can’t do that with Japanese, my body shape is all wrong! Even in my skinny days, I couldn’t wear a kimono due to my broad shoulders and generous bosom.

But OTOH, for Gulf Wars, lower-class Japanese would be easy to do, with maybe one court outfit? Opinions, anyone?

The only stipulation is that I have to use what fabric I already own–a lot of various colors of linen, some pretty but polyester brocade, and the fabric from a bunch of vintage meisen silk kimono that I’ve been dissecting for the past couple of years for craft projects. I wonder if the meisen silk could be dyed over? It’s not painted–Meisen was stenciled on the loom, which is why it was so affordable. But I don’t know much about dye at all. As for the linen, I have a few stripes, but most of it is mono-colored (in a variety of shades). I could stencil or block-print it? Even lower-class Japanese loved their textures, that would really add a needed touch.

Shoes: I have a couple of pair of jika-tabi. Need to put in some inserts and test them for long-walk comfort. Zori will not do, when I wear them, my feet hurt the next day, and we’re looking at a week of walking around. I have a pair of geta (that I lent to somebody to wear and they ruined them), but again, not keen.

Hat: Zukin of course, plus I have a couple of straw kasa, one of which is wide enough to approximate an ichime-gasa (top shape is wrong, though). The other one would be better for a man, but I’ve seen pictures of women using those kinds of hats without the veils.

And I need to fit this sewing around my calligraphy stuff. Oh, well, Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground, right?

*Photo: “A Woman and a Cat” print by Kitagawa Utamaro, approx. 1793-94

Something New to Play With

Benkei (the most famous sōhei) from the NHK Taiga Drama, Yoshitsune.

So as I recover from a recent surgery, I have been thinking about getting into Cut and Thrust (Calontir’s version of rapier) after I heal up. Yesterday, the Kingdom marshal for C&T was putting together a group order for gauntlets (he could get a good price if he ordered over 10 pair) and I decided to go in for a pair. Evidently, the rules are changing and the Society is beginning to require rigid protection for the hands.

Yes, technically, I could make gauntlets, especially the hardened leather types, as I have made armor in the past. But the bulk price of $40 (plus a percentage of the group shipping) made it worthwhile to buy. A couple of people in Calontir already have these type of gauntlets, so the kingdom marshal has cleared them for use. (Might need some slight mods, not sure yet.)

Not five minutes after I posted to the interest thread than Ayisha (more properly, HE Baroness Ayisha bint Asad), a local scribe I know who is a C&T enthusiast, PM’d me asking if I was planning to get into C&T. I told her that I was interested, that I had tried rapier back in the Midrealm years ago, but as an armored fighter, I didn’t have the time/money to pursue both. She was thrilled, and said she could bring the Barony’s loaner gear to either one of the Shire meetings or Shire fighter practices (we’re actually starting to have our own, wonder of wonders) if I let her know in advance. She’d be happy to go over all the basics with me, etc. She knows I’m still healing up, so no rush. She just really was eager for a new recruit, LOL.

So yeah, taking that first step. Usually I’d wait on the armor, but since this was a chance to save money, I decided to spring for the gauntlets.

While I heal up, I was giving some thought to the type of kit I would like to have. I’ve admired West Kingdoms’s HE Baroness Saionji no Hana’s rapier get-up, but I was thinking more in the terms of sōhei, especially since I have been researching kato no kesa (their headgear) for awhile, and have been wanting to try to make one.

Sōhei wore typical monk’s garb: kosode, ( Jikitotsu, and kukuri-bakama. Not sure with the kukuri-bakama if I could add ties directly to hakama to get the effect, or make kyahan (leg wraps).

One advantage of this style is that I would not have to worry about being fancy with the fabric. This outfit was traditionally black and white (or brown and white).

I liked Saionji-kimi’s idea of a shitagi for body protection and will give that a try.

Obviously, geta are not a practical choice–the marshal wants closed-toe shoes. I have some jika-tabi that could work for that. Maybe for effect I could make some waraji to wear with them?

The process will take some time, both to make the outfit and also figure out what kind of sword, mask/helm, and gorget I would need. I can decided that after I go through some practices and talk more with Ayisha. But this is the general plan I have in mind. I don’t mind being patient, since it took me nearly a year to build my first suit of armor when I was heavy-weapons fighting. I borrowed armor at practice (everyone knew I was building a set, so I waited my turn and no one minded) in the meantime. I figure this process would be similar.

Anyway, it looks like it will be fun, and also good exercise!

More on Kato no Kesa

Detail from the Honen Shonin Eden (Life of the Monk Honen) emaki scroll (around 1307), showing monks wearing kato no kesa.

From a question on the Tousando Board about kato no kesa (someone had directed the questioner to my earlier post on the subject):

Yes, from what I have been able to figure out, kato no kesa are literally kesa worn on the head. The sōhei wore their kesa on their heads rather than on the torso as usual (perhaps for freedom of movement? or disguise?). So yes, as a shortcut you could just use a rectangular cloth tied around your head, but properly, those were kesa, which are sewn in a particular way. Most commonly, the “rice-paddy” pattern is used.

Gojokesa 五条袈裟 or Gojo no kesa 五条の袈裟 is also a term for this garment. From the dictionary definition, it was called that because of it was stitched together from five wide cloths (probably referring to the rice paddy design, which is usually done in five rows, but can be seven or nine, depending on the cloth used and the size of the wearer.

I found a cite for why they used discarded cloth:

“It is difficult to determine what is good and what is evil. Laymen say it is good to wear luxurious silks, embroidered garments, and brocades; and bad to
wear tattered and discarded rags. But in Buddhism it is the opposite: tattered robes are good and pure, richly embroidered garments are evil and soiled. The same applies to all other things as well.

The Madhyam-agama-sutra states, “Virtuous men! Suppose that someone acts purely but speaks and things impurely. If a wise man sees this and becomes angry, it is necessary for him to eliminate his anger. Suppose again that someone acts impurely
but speaks and thinks purely. If a wise man sees this and becomes angry, it is necessary for him to eliminate his anger. How can he do this? Virtuous men! He can do so by following in the footsteps of a solitary monk who picks up discarded cloth to make himself a pãmsula. Like the monk, if he finds the cloth soiled with excreta, urine, nasal mucus or anything else impure, he should pick it up with his left hand
and, stretching it out with his right hand, tear off the unsoiled and holeless parts.”

Yuho Yokoi. Zen Master Dogen (NY, Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1976)pp. 104-105.

As for wearing kesa on the head, it may also have been part of a religious ritual:

“Do-gen Zenji, at the age of twenty-five, was at Tien-tung-shan in China, doing zazen with many monks, when at the end of morning zazen he saw that a monk who sat
next to him held up the okesa with both hands, put it on his head, and with gassho
recited the verse of the okesa:

Great robe of liberation!
Virtuous field far beyond form and emptiness
Wearing the Tathagata’s teaching
We vow to save all beings.

After the monk chanted this verse three times he put on the okesa. Do-gen Zenji had
never seen this great practice before; he was deeply impressed and even shed tears
from a mingled feeling of joy and sorrow.

He talks about this in the last part of the “Kesakudoku,” saying that his robe’s collar was wet from the tears.

“When I was in Japan I read the Ãgama-sutras and found the verse of the kesa; I also found that before one puts on the kesa they should put it on their head. I had not known when and how it correctly was to be done as I had asked my master and friends
but none of them knew. I felt very sorrowful that such a long span of time had passed wastefully without knowing how to handle a kesa in spite of having been at
Hieizan for three years and at Kenninji for nine years. Now, I fortunately could
see and hear with my own eyes and ears the manner in which to wear the kesa
due to good deeds accumulated in previous existences. I was grateful and thankful.
If I had stayed in Japan, I would not have had a chance to see this great
scene. I took pity upon the people in my country because they could not see it”

Eihei Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo – “Kesakudoku” (The
Merit of Kas´ãya); Shobogenzo -“Den-ne” (The transmission of
the Robe), trans. Yuho Yokoi with Daizen, Victoria.(Weatherhill, 1976).

The Dogen Zenji mentioned is the monk Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism.

What I’m trying to research now is how the construction of the kesa may have changed over time. There are instructions online in English for making kesa (some quite extensive), but as they are concerned with modern religious Buddhist practice, they don’t really go into how the kesa might have evolved. We know that not all kesa were made from toilet rags–some extant pieces are quite fine, and may have been made with donated brocade. These are often seen being worn by wealthy lay-people. Both monks and lay-people (who had taken partial vows) were encouraged to wear kesa as a sign of devotion.

I dunno, just scratched the surface on what is a very rich tradition. It should go without saying–if you want to wear kato no kesa as part of your persona, please remember that it is still part of an ongoing religious tradition, and treat the garment with respect.

Calontir Clothiers Symposium 2017


Today was the Calontir Clothiers Symposium, which is held by my local Shire, Cum an Iolair. Since it is our local event, I spent much of the day working, mostly at my usual post at Gate. I did sit in on one class in the afternoon, but that was because I was helping with the next class and teaching a third class after that, so I needed to find out what this class covered so that I could adjust my materials accordingly.

Every year at Lilies War, there is a “Tailoring Tent” where volunteers sew like mad to finish a set of outfits for the King and Queen. The theme this year is Japanese, and so I of course am helping out.

The class I helped out with was a panel about 16th century decoration motifs. Since I was just sitting on the panel, I did not do a handout for this class, but I did try to steer conversation around information that I found about kosode history from this website here, which has an excellent overview of the kosode and its evolution. I brought a large number of books and magazines that I own so people could look through them and get ideas.

My own class was called “Kosode Construction: Stitches, Tips, and Tricks.” I was under the impression someone else was doing a class on kosode patterning, so the focus of my class was on the areas that gave me problems when I was first learning to sew kosode. Here is the handout I made. It just touches on the topics I covered, but I tried to include links to online tutorials or videos that might be helpful.

Truth be told, I’m always horribly nervous when teaching, but my students seemed to really enjoy the class and said they got a lot out of it. I was especially touched by one guy who caught up with me afterwards and thanked me, because he had been nervous about trying to sew his own Japanese garb, but now he thought it was something he could handle. That makes it all worth it.

Went out to dinner with some friends, which was fun, but missed the postrevel as I was absolutely exhausted. It was a fun day.

Front picture “Muromachi Kosode” was taken from the book “The History of Women’s Costume in Japan.” Japanese costume recreated in Kyoto during the 1930’s. (Scanned by Lumikettu of Flickr). I do own my own copy of this book as well.

Pre-Edo Sashiko?

This is part of a thread on the SCA Japanese FB page. The original question was whether shibori or sashiko could be pre-Edo period. Shibori certainly was, although called by another name. I’ll do a separate post about that later, since shibori is an area I’m just starting to learn about.

However, I’ve been looking into sashiko. The problem documenting it is that it was a technique used by the poor, and the extant pre-1600 garments that exist are from the upper-class. What we do have is some examples of kesa (the surplice-like garment worn by Japanese Buddhist clergy), which were pieced. That technique existed. Most period paintings/drawings do not have a lot of detail on the poor. Some emaki have depictions of poor people, mainly in line drawings.

So with this lack of resources, you have to look into literature–for example, in a choka poem in the Man’yoshu by Yamanoue no Okura (660?-733?), a destitute man complains of wearing nothing but rags, “a sleeveless jacket not even stuffed with [cotton]” <–translation Steven Carter–I'd need to dig into the text to see the exact wording. While most poetry after Man'yoshu avoided the subject of poverty (until the 17th century poets revisited the subject), there are plenty of tales and writings that have some small bits of description. Padded garments require some supportive stitching, or else the padding eventually slips. Through literature, we can establish that garments were patched.

The decorative sashiko (blue on white) is almost certainly Edo-period, though. But using sashiko stitching as a means of insulation–that might be plausible.

Mistress Saionji no Hana (OL, West Kingdom) posted a link to a discussion on the Tousando Board from some years ago, where there was a discussion about an 8th century example of the kind of stitching used in sashiko. I happen to have a copy of the book mentioned, Jodai-Gire: 7th and 8th Century Textiles in Japan from the Shoso-In and Horyu-Ji by Kaneo Matsumoto and yes, there are a few examples of what looks like sashiko-like stitching. For mending purposes, however, not decorative.

This Old Thing

This was going to be a “Help, fashion emergency, should I wear this old thing or my standby Anglo-Norman garb that everyone has already seen this weekend?” but since the Calontir Coronation got pushed back a week due to the impending Ice-pocalypse, I should have time to finish something else, so I’m just posting these because I have so few pictures of myself in Japanese garb.

At my size, I feel a bit self-conscious wearing it. My body type is 100% Hungarian-American Good Peasant Stock–we’ll live during those famines!–and utterly lacks the narrow-shouldered, slim silhouette common to the Japanese. Which is why I like to make and wear garb of various cultures and not just Japanese. I do look better in European styles.

I’m wearing this as a kosode (“small-sleeved” kimono), but it was originally made as an uchikake (worn open over kosode) some 12 years ago. I’ve gain a lot of weight since then, so it doesn’t fit properly. It should be more baggy, actually, with very wide panels. There are some design things I would do differently now because I know better, but this wasn’t bad for an early work. While the Chinese brocade I’m wearing is modern, it’s not too far off from what might be worn–the Japanese DID import Chinese brocade. Besides, this was on sale and affordable.

I am wearing two kosode underneath–it’s cold here. They wore narrow obi (belts) during that time, just below the waistline, similar to how men wear obi now. This one has some interfacing to stiffen it up a bit, but time has softened it and I need to make a new one.

The wimple-like thing is called a zukin (I’ve written a few times about those–this one is a sode-zukin). My short and modern haircut just doesn’t go with medieval garb (of any country) at all, so I always wear some kind of head covering. Fortunately, it was common for upper-class women to take partial Buddhist vows, so you can wear zukin with fancier garments, although they are much more commonly used with lower-class or monastic garb.