Tag Archive | questions and answers

On Karuta


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.)

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.

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.

On Recruitment in the SCA

I posted this in response to a discussion in the SCA FB group, and I thought I’d share it here as well. The question asked what people were doing to recruit/retain younger members into the SCA. Honestly, the question made me wince, because I think new members of any age have a lot to offer, but I tried to answer as best I could:

As a long-time member and former chatelaine, I would advise listening carefully to any newcomer (of any age!). There’s a time for introducing all the SCAdianisms to new folk, but first, find out what they want from the group, what they are looking for, what they need help with. Some areas are going to have more resources than others (speaking as one who has lived in large baronies and also in a small rural contact group), but do the best you can. Make sure new people know that the SCA is a large umbrella organization, and that there are a variety of ways to participate AND THEY ARE EQUALLY VALID.

For those who are interested in parties, direct them towards others who like that. Some people (like me) really came for the history. I have always enjoyed the courts and ceremonies and courtesies. The SCA is a great place to learn new skills and make new friends (especially if you have to move around a lot), and that is a good thing to emphasize to new people as well. Some of the things we teach for free or low cost are hugely expensive if you try to take a workshop outside the SCA.

Also, check in on the newer people from time to time to see how things are going, and listen to their worries. Sometimes you can help them, sometimes you can’t, but at least they know their opinion matters.

Listening is the key here.

小鳥の歌 54


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.

On Matawa 真綿

A question was asked on the SCA Japanese Facebook page: “Padded Uchigi. Is this just, like, quilted? fluffy? Essentially really thick interfacing? I assume they used silk, but I can’t envision what the final product looks like.”

My answer:

真綿 (mawata) is low-quality silk, nowadays mostly used for making handkerchiefs, but was used for padding on winter garments. This page shows what it looks like: http://www.wildfibres.co.uk/html/mulberry_silk.html

“Was it just stuffed in or how did it stay in place?”

John Marshall actually has a chapter about it in his _Make Your Own Japanese Clothes_, where he discusses the traditional method and then a more modern method better suited towards modern washing using easier to find material (since his book IS about modern clothes). Mawata is sticky, so you basically layer it in place. This webpage shows the process for silk handkerchiefs–it is just on a larger scale for garments. http://www.wormspit.com/mawatas.htm

Marshall, John. Make Your Own Japanese Clothes (Tokyo; Kodansha International, 2013 reprint) 978-1568364933. Originally printed in 1988, ISBN 087011865X.