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A Tidbit Regarding Akane Dye

Ōkuninushi_Bronze_Statue

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 http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/a/akaneiro.htm ]

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

A link about Kuzushiji

Just putting this link here until I have more time to check into the subject. An Introduction to Kuzushiji.

Kuzushiji 崩し字 is that sosho-looking print script that was very popular in Edo-period texts. Very similar to sosho in several aspects, but lacks sosho’s elegance. Somewhere around here I have a book about the history of Japanese printing, and will look in that to see more.

I can make out some characters, due to my shodo studies, but can’t really say that I can “read” it.

Pre-Modern Japanese Text Bibliography

Stumbled on an awesome find today. It’s a list of Pre-modern Japanese texts and what translations (if any) have been done. Dated 2013, but it looks like they are trying to keep it updated. So if you are trying to track down a particular early Japanese primary source, this can tell you if it has been translated and where you can find said translation.

You can find it here: Pre-modern Japanese Texts and Translations.

Note: It is a bibliography, so the translations are not hosted. They try to link to articles and such, but how this helps is finding out if some of these primary sources have been translated into English (or other western languages) and finding out where those translations can be found.

Waka Poetry Site, plus three new books!

I was so pleased to come across the Waka Poetry site again after several years. It has changed a lot and has a lot to look at!

Doctor Thomas McAuley of the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield (UK) runs the site. He announced the publication of 3 Japanese poetry e-books today for Kindle. They are:

McAuley, Thomas E. (2016) An Anthology of Classical Japanese Poetry: From Man’yōshū to Shinkokinshū (ASIN: B01MTUKF9K)

McAuley, Thomas E. (2016) Sanekata-shū: The Personal Poetry Collection of Fujiwara no Sanekata (ASIN: B01N47WSOL)

McAuley, Thomas E. (2016) Two Hundred Poem Sequences: The Entō Onhyakushu and Keiun Hyakushu (ASIN: B01N9BKS6A)

I gave them a look-over. Simply and nicely done. VERY reasonable prices compared to what poetry translations usually cost! The Anthology is $8, Sanekata Shu is $3, and Two Hundred-Poem Sequences is $2.99. Considering what Japanese literature books tend to sell for (unless you find them used, and even then! It’s a small market, after all…), these are an incredible bargain!

I was especially excited to see the Two Hundred-Poem Sequences book, since I am researching that topic now, and am trying my hand at a hundred-poem sequence myself.

Pictopedia of Everyday Life in Medieval Japan

I found this resource last year and thought I’d linked it here, but I guess I only had the link on Facebook.

Kanagawa University in Yokohama, Japan has done a lot of work on Nonwritten Cultural Materials. As part of a project, they put together a focus group which translated an important Japanese-language resource that identified daily items as presented in Emaki scrolls.

So far, 3 volumes of 5 have been translated. Volumes 1 and 3 are available, FOR FREE and PERFECTLY LEGALLY, as PDFs online. For some reason, Volume 2 was not put online, but is available in the US via Inter-Library Loan. Here are the links to the other two:

Volume 1: http://www.himoji.jp/jp/popup/publication/seika_010101.html
Volume 1 Glossary: http://www.himoji.jp/jp/popup/publication/seika_010102.html

Volume 3 and its glossary can be found at this page (they are pop-up links, so no direct linking!)

http://himoji.kanagawa-u.ac.jp/en/publication/research_result_report.html#pbox1_2_1

Rare Japanese Books Course

I’m taking a course on Rare Japanese Books via Futurelearn. It’s a lot more intensive than I had originally thought, but also a LOT of good information. I have a book on Japanese bookbinding that shows how some of this is done, but it was incredibly useful to see videos of these various types of books and how they work.