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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

On Karuta

uta-karuta-example_from_ebay_listing

There was a question on the SCA FB page regarding kyoji karuta (competitive matching-type card play). Since this was an area that I’d looked into a while back, here was my answer. Short form: karuta as an item appeared in Japan in the 16th century, but matching-type karuta games are an Edo-period development and do not fall within the pre-1600 guidelines set by the SCA

I did some research into this area a while back. The kai-awase (matching shells) is very much within the timeframe that the SCA covers. While karuta (which is a word based upon Portuguese for carta “card”) definitely came in during the 16th century, they were mostly used for European-style card playing and gambling–in fact, there seems to have been a book published in 1597 with rules for various gambling-type games. Karuta did start to be domestically made by the end of the 16th century but followed the design of European decks. The various matching games and uta-karuta developed in the Edo period, while kyogi karuta came about in the 19th century. So please keep in mind that, while amusing, kyoji karuta is not period. Here’s a good page (in Japanese) that explains the history of karuta very well.

Edo Karuta page: very good outline of the history of karuta. This is where I found the reference to the book written in 1597 called 博奕かるた諸勝負令停止, which from the kanji seems to be rules about gambling with karuta. Page is in Japanese.

Miike Karuta Museum’s page about karuta history. The museum is in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, an area where a lot of the domestic Japanese karuta cards were made. It houses the most complete historical collection of Japanese karuta.

Wikipedia can be an iffy source, but in this case, the entry about karuta is thorough and has a lot of cites to follow.

(Image saved from an Ebay listing of uta-karuta cards. Yes, I have a set.)

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.

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

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