Tag Archive | japanese

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.

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.

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.


小鳥の歌 43

Smiling serenely
My hands stretch out to offer
Nameless, faceless, I step back
And return to the shadows

Link: serenity to smiling serenely

Two people I know (one online, one in person–although he moved out of kingdom some years ago) were invited to join the Order of the Laurel today. They have worked hard and I am very happy for them. As for myself, well…

I should note there was a tradition of poets expressing disappointment at being overlooked for advancement. I will do a post on that in the future.

小鳥の歌 41 and 42

In a wild twirl
The last leaves of autumn dance
On the lacy grass
The hesitant ones are left
To the wind’s icy mercy

Link: twirling to wild twirl. This one was setting up for the next poem, but was so obvious my brother-in-law caught the reference before I posted the next poem in the sequence. Which was awesome because that’s HOW this kind of thing is supposed to work!

Within the tempest
I am a leaf on the wind
Just watch how I soar
In serenity I wait
For the inevitable

Link: icy mercy to within the tempest (eg: no mercy). The second and third lines are a paraphrase from the Firefly movie “Serenity” (hence the wordplay in line four).

For those unfamiliar:

Now get you heathens hence, and watch Firefly, one of the greatest sci-fi series ever made.