Tag Archive | questions and answers

飾り結び Ornamental Knots

kazari_musubi_examples

Examples of kazari musubi (ornamental knots) from the cover of the book 暮らしを彩る飾り結び.

A question came up on the SCA Japanese Facebook page regarding kazari musubi 飾り結び (ornamental knots). These were widely used in Japanese clothing and also for decorating and fastening scrolls. The knots were often made of kumihimo cords, so it ends up being a multi-phase process.

While I haven’t found much in English about kazari musubi, there are two excellent books in print available in Japanese:

やさしい飾り結び (Yasashii kazari musubi) “Simple Ornamental Knots” by Hashida Shoen (1983) ISBN 978-4-14-031025-0 .

暮らしを彩る飾り結び (Kurashi o irodoru kazarimusubi) “Decorating with Ornamental Knots” by Tanaka Toshiko (2012) ISBN # 978-4-14-031187-5.

Another way to approach the subject is by looking at Chinese ornamental knots. They are similar but not exactly alike, as they tend to be more complex than the common Japanese designs. Still, the techniques used are the same, and because macrame was such a popular pasttime here in America during the 1970’s, there was a market for books on this subject and so there are several books available in English.

I have found Lydia Chen’s work to be very accessible. She explains the process thoroughly, with a lot of pictures, and has several books out on the subject. Here is a list of her books on Goodreads. I would recommend starting with Chinese Knotting: Creative Designs that are Easy and Fun! and her The Complete Book of Chinese Knotting: A Compendium of Techniques and Variations . The Fashion accessory book is fun but not practical for what we do in the SCA.

There’s a wonderful site called Knotty Notions by Carol Leon-Yun Wang which has some very useful links. Her webpage on Chinese knotting has some instructions for basic knots, too, as well as an excellent bibliography, although maybe not completely up to date at this point.

Of course, this subject ties into kumihimo/kate-uchi, that creates the cords from which these knots are made. I’m just getting my toes wet on this subject, so will report back more as I dig deeper. Still, this is plenty to get a person started and keep them busy for a long time!

Some Useful Links to Get Started with Medieval Japanese Women’s Clothing

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Sewing a Kosode in the car, photo credit Maria Szabo Gilson.

Someone contacted me on Facebook with a question about getting started with Medieval Japanese Women’s Clothing, as he has only researched men’s clothing. Fortunately, women’s clothing was actually simpler than men’s, and there are some excellent websites that can get a person started on the process.

First, I tend to send folks to Saionji no Hana (Lisa Joseph)’s page: The Kosode: a Japanese Garment for SCA Period. I was around when she was first building this page and it was her instructions I used for my first attempts at Japanese garb. She does keep the page updated as she finds more information and is usually happy to answer questions. Note: there are some adjustments that people of size (like myself) have to make with Japanese garb, as the standard ratios do not apply, and she does try to address the issue.

Oribe Tsukime’s Education Page has a lot of well-researched information and copies of her class handouts. She especially enjoys working with dyes. She’s managed to make some amazing garments with some workarounds for those of us who can’t afford real brocade (that would probably be most of us, right?) She’s also very responsive to questions if she run into a problem.

Here is also my humble handout which focuses on the kind of stitches one uses in kosode construction, and links to helpful pages and videos on tricky things like attaching the collar or getting the lining worked out if you chose to line your garment. Kosode Construction: Stitches, Tips, and Tricks.

There are more tutorials to be found on the web, and I encourage people to seek them out. Sometimes the way one person explains things will not work for someone else, so looking through a variety of approaches might be helpful.

Freakin’ Video Games

Someone on the SCA Japanese Facebook page was looking for a way to document Otadzu-no-Kata (Tsubaki-hime), none of which is in Name Construction in Medieval Japan, the go-to documentation source for SCA heralds and Japanese names.

So as I am a herald, I did some digging and found that the client was basing her knowledge from a video game character. That site says the name was an Edo-period creation, a name assigned to the unknown wife of samurai Iio Tsuratatsu, whose sole claim to fame seems to be that he was the son of Iio Noritsura, who was in the service of the Imagawa clan and had possession of Hikuma Castle. Tsuratatsu died in 1565, whereupon his wife took possession of the castle and held it until December of 1568, when Tokugawa Ieyasu attacked.

She was claiming some sources “written in archaic, cursive Japanese” to which I suppose she means Edo-period texts written in kuzushiji, which I fully admit is beyond my own poor skills. However, from digging around, it looks like there are a lot of legends and fictional stories about this woman.

What I did find was a physical shrine, Tsubaki-hime Kannon, whose website gave a brief history.

Okay, best I could get was that her original name was probably Oda Tsuru (Otadzu or Otatsu was a nickname–the O is a honorific, tatsu seems to be another pronunciation of 田鶴, the Japanese love their wordplay.). The Tsubaki-hime part seems to come in play after she and several other women (18 in total) were killed defending Hamamatsu castle (then known as Hikuma castle) from Tokugawa Ieyasu in December of 1568. They were buried in a mound where camilla trees (tsubaki) were planted. So Tsubaki-hime is collective, referring to all the women, not just her. Here’s a link to the webpage of a shrine that was built to honor them by Ieyasu (a replica, the original was long gone.)

Hikuma castle was built by Iio Noritsura, who died in battle in 1560. Otatsu was married to his son, Iio Tsuratatsu, who died in 1565, which was when she took control of the castle. Ieyasu took possession at the end of 1568.

I don’t know if you want the surname Oda, but it’s listed in NCMJ p. 324. Tsuru is NCMJ p. 387. You might be able to argue the おたづ (Otadzu, Otatsu) from the shrine website, which clearly indicates that’s how the name was pronounced. No-kata is also an honorific, so not registrable.

I’ve managed to get some names through without NCMJ by referring to Japanese place websites, so it’s worth a try at least.

No, it’s not perfect. Japan, I love that you are mining your history for video game fodder, but dang, it makes digging online harder!

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 Little and A Lot

In which someone asks a question on the SCA Japanese FB page and scrambles my brain. HE Baron Akitsuki Yoshimitsu asked about the translation of a certain modern piece of Chinese calligraphy, dated 1958, by Wing Gig Fong, a Chinese-American artist.

Here’s the piece, which is owned by the Smithsonian institution. You can see the piece here on their webpage.

1984.124.91_1.tif

Wah…abstract modern sosho! My brain! The top character is almost certainly 少 (ON: shou KUN suku/suko) which means few, little. Which makes sense as the original Chinese for the phrase the piece was named was 少则得多则惑 “He who obtains has little, he who scatters has much”). But the second one has me puzzled. Maybe 不 (ON: fu KUN: zu) which means un-, non-. But while 少不 is not a really a word, 不少 (fushou) in Japanese means “not many” while 不少 ((bùshǎo) in Chinese means “a lot of”. It could be the artist is punning and including a little and a lot in the same piece. But I’m really stretching here and could be completely wrong. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

It’s certainly not a name or anything. Considering that it is a 20th century abstract piece, I don’t think I’m too far off in my guess of its meaning. But again, not sure on the lower kanji, and I do Japanese, not Chinese. (Any Chinese I know is second-hand through my Japanese studies, and I can’t pronounce it AT ALL.)

Anyway, that killed about two hours of my day. It’s so frustrating! I got to take an intensive Japanese course about 13 years ago, and have tried to learn on my own since then, but self-study is not easy, and my chances of doing the immersive thing and staying in Japan for 6 months to a year are nada.

If I am completely off base here, please comment and let me know. It’s the only way to learn!

A few notes here: modern sosho can be quite different from classical sosho, which tends to be very thin and whispy. The style I study with my shodo teacher, which was taught by the calligraphy master Kampo Harada-sensei, tends to be of a modern bent. For SCA purposes, most of the styles (tensho, reisho, kaisho, and gyousho) are not far off, but Kampo’s sosho was very stylized and modern. He could do the classical style, of course, but a lot of what I’ve seen of his own work has a very mid-20th century feel. It’s beautiful, but something to keep in consideration if you are working on a Japanese scroll for SCA–try to work off of pre-16th century examples. Copperplate is a beautiful hand for Roman-style letters, but not something the SCA would use in a scroll since it is more 18th-19th century. Same applies here.

How Trimaris’ Coronation is Giving Me a Persona Crisis

Me and My Zukin Examples
Me and my Zukin Examples, Queen’s Prize, Calontir, 2016. I’m actually wearing European garb in this photo, though! Photo credit: Vilhelm Lich.

So reenactment versus appropriation—where do we draw the line? I was a little surprised at my own reaction upon seeing a picture of some of the populace’s response for the recent coronation in Trimaris, because they were words used in the Mass. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Catholic. For the most part, I’m pretty liberal, but to see Mass responses from the populace to what I assume was a fake Archbishop (as most Archbishops I have met would be way too busy to have much to do with the SCA) for some reason twisted my gut. I’m not sure why. Heaven knows these phrases have often been co-opted by modern society for reasons of entertainment or protest or even mockery.

I think it bothered me because I actually really love participating in the ritual of the Mass. For me, Mass is a rich spiritual experience. It gives me the deep connection to God that I rarely felt during my Southern Baptist childhood. So it threw me off a bit to see these phrases co-opted for a Coronation.

Will I be baying for the blood of whoever had this bad idea? Probably not. My discomfort is my own issue that I will deal with. But it has made me take a hard look at the work I have been doing with my own persona, a Japanese noblewoman who has taken lay Buddhist vows. The lay Buddhist vows part came into play 10 years ago, when I first started researching zukin (literally “hood”, although it can mean “wimple” as well).

Medieval Japanese women tended to wear their hair long and uncovered, usually down or simply tied back. I have very short hair. I had issues with trying to wear a wig—my complexion doesn’t go well with black hair and wearing a colored wig with Japanese garb reeked of anime to me. So I found a solution—zukin. They are most often associated with Buddhist nuns, although later research showed that versions were worn by peasant women. Noble Japanese women would sometimes take “partial vows”, which had them living a religious life, but at home, not in community like a nun would. When these women took their vows, they would cut their hair, a deeply significant action in Japanese culture, and wear a zukin. They would wear their normal clothing otherwise, although they might also wear a kesa (a kind of surplice) as a sign of devotion.

So I thought, okay, I’ll just make my persona a lay Buddhist nun, a widow who had taken partial vows in her later years. I could wear my Japanese garb with the zukin and all would be well. I did sometimes wonder whether this was appropriation of some kind (usually a bad sign right there), but tried to counter that by studying about Japanese Buddhism, its practices and philosophies, and its impact on everyday culture. It’s been years, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in my research. This is a rich and incredible field of study.

But now, I’m definitely feeling guilty. I’m not Buddhist. Is it really respectful to be portraying someone who has taken sacred vows? Buddhism is still very much a living religion. Would a Buddhist seeing me at an event cringe the way I did when reading those words from the Trimaris coronation?

So I’m not sure what to do about this. Fortunately, I’m having to take a couple of months off anyway due to an upcoming surgery so there’s time to think about what I want to do going forward. I love my Japanese studies—the history, culture, literature, calligraphy, art. All of it! But I want to approach that from an area of respect.

Although, considering that I tend to wear European garb half the time, this may only be an issue between me and my conscience. I could keep my Japanese persona and just keeping wearing a variety of garb. It confuses people, but I’ve been doing that for years. But I am interested in wafuku (Japanese clothing), too.

Peasant Perspective, Part the Third

taira_no_kiyomori_deathbed_scene
Today’s random pictures are from the Japanese Taiga Drama “Taira no Kiyomori”. Deathbed scene–notice Kiyomori has his head shaven (having taken Buddhist vows) and his daughter is also showing that she took vows by wearing a zukin.

MAKING THE SCA BETTER AND BIGGER
More than 50 years of people have contributed to the SCA, but the world–and people’s social networks (and opportunities therein)- has shifted over the years. How do we leave the SCA a better place than we found it?

Of course the SCA has changed over the past 50 years. Having been involved now for 27 of those years, I’ve watched many of those changes myself. Times change, people change, so too does the Society.

I feel that ordinary rank-and-file SCA members like myself, non-peers, are the key to the Society’s future. So many people do not make it to peerage rank, and I’ve seen many who do burn out from the work it took to get there. I’m not calling them out on it: this is just a hobby and people have very legitimate reasons for deciding to stop participating after getting to peerage level that have nothing to do with the SCA.

But we non-peers play an important part in the Society. Not everyone can be or needs to be a leader. Sometimes a good follower is more valuable. Many hands make light work, so if everyone helps out just a little, a lot of progress can eventually be made.

How to do this? At events, maybe devote one or two hours to helping out somewhere. Is there something you are passionate about and know how to do? Teach someone. It doesn’t have to be a formal class–I’ve often learned plenty in informal situations where someone has taken the time to show me how to do something. Pass it along.

There is often talk of a push towards recruitment–“Bring a friend to Lilies!” sort of thing. That approach has never worked well with me. I showed up at the SCA’s door of my own account, not because someone dragged me along. What was important to me was that people helped out afterwards. New people aren’t the only ones who need a hand from time to time. Maybe you know someone who has moved into another group, maybe someone is coming back from a hiatus, maybe someone is feeling frustrated with a perceived wrong.

Reach out. Talk to these folks. Listen to their concerns. Sometimes, all that is needed is a sympathetic ear or a sign that someone cares that they are there.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our cliques and ignore others around us. I’ve been on the verge of rage-quitting a few times because I’ve been ignored when I needed help, and what has stopped me EVERY TIME is the action of ONE person, either by word or deed, reaching out to help or just to acknowledge my problem (even if they can’t solve it). And it doesn’t have to be a peer. Anyone can do this.

taira_no_kiyomori_Yoritomo_and_Higekiri
Also from “Taira no Kiyomori”: Minamoto no Yoritomo reaches for the future.

Social networks have definitely changed over time. Some people really have issues with online SCA activity, especially when people who haven’t been active for a long time pipe up on some topic. My advice here is also to reach out to these people. There are many reasons why people can’t make it to events–time conflicts, distance, and especially money issues.

I believe that once you are SCA, you stay SCA unless you actively decide the hobby is not for you. So reach out to those online acquaintances who haven’t been to an event in 5 years. Tell them they are still welcome, and ask them to come out and play again. If they work weekends, encourage them to come to a local meeting during the week. That is still participating. Local groups are the backbone of the SCA and anything that makes them stronger makes us all as a Society flourish.

There will be people who just can’t get out, for whatever reason. But perhaps they can still do research or make things, and eventually find the time or means to participate again. The internet has been a great gift in this manner.

Some would argue that internet involvement isn’t “real SCA”. I feel that view is short-sighted. Real SCA is what you make of it. Certainly, there is nothing like being out with a bunch of your fellow history-buffs having fun. But again, real life can get in the way. Don’t cut people out because they can’t get out to events often. Make them feel welcome, and maybe when they can manage to come out, they will. Especially if you post about the fun you are having!

Regarding trolls (and not of the Gate variety!)–treat them as you would any other troll you run into on the internet. Once you realize someone is just out to argue or cast negativity on every single thing anyone says, ignore them. You’ve got better things to do.

So in conclusion, the average non-peer SCAdian can actually do a lot towards growing and improving the SCA, at their own pace and in their own way. The key is to be open and welcoming.