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More on Kato no Kesa

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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.

Nanowrimo and Poetry Thoughts

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Woman writing letter at desk (c.1940s). Henry Clive (Australian, 1882-1960).

I have decided to do Nanowrimo again this year, as I do every year. Even though I haven’t ever managed to hit the word count, Nanowrimo has helped me generate some good bases for stories or write a good stack of poems. I just seem to write short stories better than novels, but novels are what people want. And yes, I’ll miss a week, but I’m going to attend a few of the write-ins in the area and maybe meet some new folks.

Anyway, I have an idea and a name “Ephemeroptera”. It’s a horror story. That’s about all I’ll say for now.

Yes, I still plan to do the Tanka Challenge. I want to finish my first batch of 100 linked poems. I’ve done 83 so far. The Tanka Challenge should finish the batch. Hyakushu (100 poem linked sequence) is way more challenging than stand-alone tanka, and honestly, it’s been hard to tap into my inner elegant courtier when surrounded by the ugliness of our current government. Every day brings a new horror. But I’ve been reading a biography of the poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (Teika), as well as a biography of the poet Shinkei, who lived about 150 years after Teika. I also have access to some poetic treatises written by both these poets, as well as one from a disciple of Shotetsu.

What interests me about both of these men is that they lived during turbulent times. Teika lived and wrote during the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura period. Shinkei lost his home during the Onin Wars. Yet they produced some of the most stirring poetry of the Japanese middle ages. I want to read their poems and their thoughts and see how they did what they did, and whether it can be accomplished in English.

This project will take time, since there is a wealth of source material available (in English!), but it’s an avenue I would like to explore.

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.

On Shigin 詩吟

From a question on the SCA Japanese Facebook page about early Japanese music, someone mentioned poetry being chanted. My answer:

Poetry was originally chanted or sung in an art called Shigin 詩吟. It started out with the Chinese poetry, but spread to Japanese styles like tanka. I don’t know a lot about it, but here is a video with a bit of explanation. If you search for “shigin” on YouTube, there are several modern performances. The practice dates back to before the Asuka period, but I’m not sure how much it changed over time. Certainly something to look into!

Here’s a performance from the 46th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival 2013 @ JCCCNC in San Francisco Japantown on April 13, 2013. There are several other examples on YouTube.

There are examples of Chinese poems with pitch notation from the Heian period. Again, I’m not sure when the practice spread to Japanese-style poetry, and I don’t know how much the practice was refined during the Edo period, and if pre-Edo Shigin was significantly different from what is practiced now. I would certainly be interested in learning more about it.

小鳥の歌 54

spring_apple_blossoms_john_everett_millais_1859

Blossoming orchard
Humble apple trees preening
For once in beauty
Welcoming soft spring rain like
An innocent girl in love

Link: orchard in blossom to blossoming orchard

I chose apple trees because they are commonly seen in the Midwest and when we lived in Iowa, we lived near an orchard. Kigo 季語 in Japanese poetry are words and phrases associated with seasons. They are often gathered in collections called saijiki 歳時記. However, because the climate where I live in Kansas is far different from that of Japan, I sometimes choose kigo that apply to what I see in my everyday life. The most common flowering trees that were used in medieval tanka were the plum (early spring) and the sakura (middle spring).

Apples actually were not widely cultivated in Japan until the Meiji period (1868-1912), although they are quite popular there now. Here is an interesting list about some Japanese fruits and when they were first cultivated there.

Due to the popularity of the haiku form of poetry, there are some saijiki lists online for English speakers. There is a good one heretranslated by William J. Higginson that focuses on Japanese kigo. There is also an interesting one here called the World Kigo Dictionary that has links to lists for kigo in other parts of the world. However, while they have some for North America, there doesn’t seem to be one specifically for the Midwest. (One for Oklahoma, though, and one for the Northern prairie–but from the descriptions I was reading, that sounds like Minnesota or the Dakotas? Not quite the same thing as here.) There are a number of other lists online as well.

However, while kigo developed out of tanka poetry, some of the traditions were established in the Edo period and are particular to haiku, so if you are writing tanka for SCA (medieval reenactment) purposes, double-check.

Painting by John Everett Millais 1859. (c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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.

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.