Comparison of the Nagasaki port: Hishū Nagasaki zu and Shinsen Hizen Nagasaki zu

Nagasaki, in the modern period, is well-known for its history of foreign influences. This essay will aim explore the influence of foreign trading at the Nagasaki port in the Tokugawa period. In this essay, I will compare two woodcut prints of the Nagasaki port, produced 40 years apart, examine some differences in depiction and attempt to provide some historical context to these changes.

General map description:

The first map, Hishū Nagasaki zu, is a 61.3 x 86.7 cm woodcut print. It was published in 1821 by Bunkindō, one of the four largest publishing houses for Nagasaki-e in the Tokugawa period[1].

cdm.tokugawa.1-0216042.0000full.jpg
See Map at UBC Open Collections

The second map of the Nagasaki port, Shinsen Hizen Nagasaki zu, a 43.2 x 63.7 cm woodcut print, was published by Kojudō in late 1860. It is noted that the map may have been published in commemoration of the opening of the Nagasaki port to American traders in 1857[2].

cdm.tokugawa.1-0223033.0000full.jpg
See map at UBC Library Open Collections

Both maps are oriented diagonally, with straight North pointing to the upper right corner of the map. This allows an aesthetically pleasing depiction of the ships horizontally entering and exiting the port. This orientation places Dejima in the centre of the maps as their subjects. Both maps include a chart at the bottom left hand corner describing the distances from Nagasaki to various city centres. These calculations include the distances travelled by land and by sea. For instance, the Hishū Nagasaki zu states that the distance from Nagasaki to Osaka is 197 ri by land, and 235 ri by sea.

The Dutch at Dejima:

Dejima is an artificially constructed island in the port of Nagasaki, initially built to inhibit the propagation of Christianity by Portuguese residents in Nagasaki. It was completed in 1636, and funded by Nagasaki’s Japanese merchants. In 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion occurred; initially an uprising against unfair treatment by officials in Shimabara, it became associated with the Christian religion[4]. This resulted in the complete expulsion of Portuguese residents from Japan. Dejima thus becomes the factory ground for the Dutch East India Company in 1641. Dejima became Japan’s sole contact with Europe until the late 1850’s[5].

dejima 18241825.jpg
Dejima Island 1780

The island is not illustrated in great detail on the Hishū Nagasaki zu, but one can identify a fence surrounding the perimeters of the island, and the single bridge that connects the trading post to the mainland. At this point (1820’s), the island was made up of warehouses, and some residential housing, as illustrated by the shaded blocks and roofed houses. Life on Dejima was monotonous. The Dutch residence had to abide by strict rules, and special permission was required to leave the island[6].

Screenshot_20170328-124642.png

By the time the Shinsen Hizen Nagasaki zu was produced in 1860, Japan’s foreign relations had undergone significant change. With the arrival of the American fleet, the Shogunate government was forced to sign a U.S.-Japan treaty, opening up the country to trade with the Western world[7]. The Dutch government signed a similar treaty with Japan soon after; trade became exchanges with individual merchants rather than the Dutch factory. In early 1860, Dejima as a Dutch factory ceased to exist, becoming the new Dutch Consulate[8].

Dejima depicted in the Shinsen Hizen Nagasaku zu appears to have sparse roofed structures. The blocks of structures seen in the previous map seems to have disappeared, showing a change in the function of the island. There is also a second bridge connecting the island to the mainland, likely built after the establishment of the Dutch-Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity, permitting free entry and exit onto the island.

Screenshot_20170328-124617.png

Foreign settlements (Gaigokujin yashiki) at Oura:

One of the most prominent changes between the two maps is the addition of the foreign residence to the area of Oura. The government, under the foreign treaties signed in the late 1850s, had to clear an area for incoming Western residents. Therefore, the area of Oura along the bay was designated to be filled and residences built for foreign merchants, sailors, and travellers[9]. The settlement officially opened July 1st, 1895[10], with most of its settlers originating from Britain.

Screenshot_20170328-124940 Screenshot_20170328-124856

Along with the influx of foreign traders, came the Western Christian missionaries. At this point, Christian practices was only allowed inside the foreign settlement. This did not stop Western missionaries’ attempted propagation of faith under the guise of teaching English to Japanese interpreters[11]

On the Shinsen Hizen Nagasaku zu, the foreign settlement on Oura is depicted as a large mass of land across from Dejima. It is hard to distinguish the building structures that are portrayed. However, records show that there are a variety of establishments at the settlement other than residential housing, including hotels, taverns, tea-firing establishments, and warehouses[12]. Amongst the undistinguishable buildings portrayed, it is easy to spot the churches marked by large crosses on the roofs. The map’s comparatively clear depiction of the churches reflect the prevalence of religion in Western culture, something that had been observed by the Japanese map-makers.

 

Citations

[1] Nagasaki-e, prints depicting particular characteristics of Nagasaki, are woodblock prints that became popular in the Edo period. They often depict foreigners or foreign objects, such as ships. These prints satiate the curiosity the Japanese held towards foreigners on their land, and are often bought by Japanese travellers during their stay to Nagasaki.

Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. (2002). Nagasaki Hanga. Retrieved from http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/n/nagasakihanga.htm

[2] Univeristy of British Columbia Library. (2016). Shinzen Hizen Nagasaki zu. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0223033#p0z-5r0f

[4] Marius B Jansen, Making of Modern Japan (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002), p 77-78.

[5] Nagasaki City. (2002). Dejima Comes Back to Life: History of Dejima. Retrieved from http://www.city.nagasaki.lg.jp/dejima/en/main.html

[6] Marius B Jansen, Making of Modern Japan (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002), p 81.

[7] Marius B Jansen, Making of Modern Japan (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002), p 283.

[8] National Diet Library. (2009). Opening of Japan and Japan-Netherlands Relations. Retrieved from http://www.ndl.go.jp/nichiran/e/s1/s1_4.html

[9] Earns, Lane. “The Foreign Settlement in Nagasaki, 1859–1869.” The Historian 56, no. 3 (1994): 484.

[10] Earns, Lane. “The Foreign Settlement in Nagasaki, 1859–1869.” The Historian 56, no. 3 (1994): 483.

[11] Earns, Lane. “The Foreign Settlement in Nagasaki, 1859–1869.” The Historian 56, no. 3 (1994): 488.

[12] Earns, Lane. “The Foreign Settlement in Nagasaki, 1859–1869.” The Historian 56, no. 3 (1994): 485.

Advertisements

Late Edo Era Maps of the Tōkaidō: Distortion and Representation

To the Japanese, and to travelers of Japan, the Tōkaidō is a well-known historical route that stretches from the old capital city of Kyōto, to Tōkyō (what was known as “Edo” in the Tokugawa Period).  In fact, the route that the modern Tōkaidō-Shinkansen takes travels roughly along this historic path.  Owing to its historical, cultural, and economic importance, it should come as no surprise that many maps and other pictorial depictions were made of it during the Tokugawa Period.  What perceptive observers may notice upon first encountering such maps is that many of them do not fit into the schema of what a modern person would envision a map to be.  They are often presented in unusual perspectives, or involve spatial and/or unexpected geographical distortion.

One such map I wish to introduce as an example is the Tōkaidō meisho ichiran, produced by the renowned woodblock print artist known as Hokusai.

Fig. 1: Tōkaidō meisho ichiran by Hokusai cdm.tokugawa.1-0216043.0000fullSource: https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0216043#p0z-5r0f:

 

This map is a representation of the aforementioned Tōkaidō, depicting notable roads, towns, and castles along the route.  What might strike one as peculiar about this map is that its perspective has been highly distorted, rendering Mt. Fuji in the upper-left corner, with Edo in the lower-right, and Kyoto in the upper-right.  The Pacific Ocean is in the center of the map.  This is a geographically impossible orientation to have by simple rotation.

 

Cartography and Purpose

 

Being so profoundly warped (and being rather large, at that), it is difficult to imagine that this map would have served potential travelers of the route by way of guiding them directionally.  It has been suggested that the distinction between maps and other artistic visual media such as paintings or other types of illustrations during the medieval era, and leading up to its end, were not quite as clear-cut as they are in the modern era.  The fact that this map, itself a woodblock print, was illustrated by a famous woodblock print artist may hint at this trend.  Cartography inherently requires the projection of spatial, political, and/or other sorts of information onto a 2D plane (conventionally speaking), and so we can understandably assume that cartographers are highly selective about what information they represent, and how they represent it in accordance with their goals.  It should also be noted that in Japan, and elsewhere, prior to the early  modern period, travelers did not necessarily rely on, or even trust, maps in the same way that a modern traveler might.  This may be due to any number of factors, including the difficulty of accurate surveying, the reliability of signage and/or route infrastructure, or perhaps the fact that topographically accurate maps were often the domain of high level government and military officials, who had a vested interest in keeping such valuable information from being common knowledge.

Given this, we have room to ascertain the aims this map may serve, and how the spatial distortion we might be a result of this.  Art depicting meisho, which can roughly be interpreted as “places of renown”, had existed since the Heian Era, and is known to have had ties with waka poetry culture, and the utamakura they many of them were thematically tied to.  It is telling that many such waka poems and the utamakura to which they refer were not necessarily described in ways that accorded to reality, and that in fact, many times, the authors had never visited the oft-cited and well-renowned sites.  Could this importance of ideal over substance in the literature of the time have influenced cartographical philosophy as well?

Regardless, these works apparently inspired ukiyo-e artists, such as Hokusai, to create prints with similar themes, especially as the Edo Period’s famous 200 years of peace had ushered in an era of economic prosperity leading to increased interest and engagement in travel for both recreation and other purposes.  These illustrations likely retained some influence from earlier examples of Japanese cartography, resulting in depictions that were not always geographically contiguous, and perspectives that were not necessarily functional in the modern conception of maps.

In the case of our map by Hokusai, it is worth considering that it was produced in 1818, late in the Edo Period, and indeed nearing the Meiji Period, when one can expect that the Tōkaidō road was already highly developed in terms of its infrastructure, and had wide renown.  It is entirely possible, even likely, that the perspective of this map was chosen in order to represent and name the many roads and locations along the route in a compact and aesthetically pleasing manner, rather than to provide accurate geographic direction (the ichiran in its name may be telling, as it roughly translates to “overview”).  The purpose of this piece may not be to allow viewers to navigate spatial routes, but rather informational ones.

Further evidence to suggest that this piece was one of aesthetic purpose is located in the top and bottom right corners of the map beside Kyōto and Edo are located, respectively.

 

Fig. 2:  Poetry on the map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The script in the boxes next to the red circles with the cities’ names, is written in hentaigana (変体仮名), a syllabic system that used characters different from standard hiragana to represent the sounds of Japanese language.

Kyōto poem: 

みわたせば

にしきさくらを

ちりまぜて()

みやこ〜()

にしき

なりけり

Edo poem: 

なにひとがわ

あわぬひはなし

えどのはる…()えどのはな()

Note: Transcription into hiragana was kindly provided by my girlfriend’s father, and question marks indicate uncertainty

 

Unfortunately, I lack familiarity with classical Japanese and am unable to parse the meaning of these poems.  Their presence, however, along with the other design features of this map (as well as the existence of many other works illustrating similar subject matter) suggests incredible cultural significance of the Tōkaidō and its primary destinations of Kyōto and Edo.

 

How it All Began: Sankin Kōtai (参勤交代)

 

Proceeding from the sakoku closed-country policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan was ushered into a state of relative peace for some 200 odd years, the latter half of which saw an explosion of consumer economy, travel, and popular culture, the likes of which had never been seen before.  This is what facilitated both the means of production of, and demand for, maps much like the Tōkaidō meisho ichiran.  But how did this occur?

The shogunate decree that all daimyo must perform sankin kōtai can be said to have started it all.  Every lord, under this system, had to spend half the year in Edo, where his family was held effectively hostage by the Edo shogunate, and then return to his own domain for the remainder of the year.  The trip was both lengthy, and prohibitively expensive, as lords were expected to travel in the kind of luxury worthy of their station.  Some figures have it that they may have each spent as much as half of their yearly incomes on the trip alone (this excludes the expenses of having had to maintain residences in both Edo and their home domain).  This phenomenal cost in terms of both time and money effectively meant that they would be unable to fund or incite rebellions, which contributed to the peace the era was known for.  These trips also necessitated a means of paying for goods and services along the way, and precipitated the development of a standardized coin currency accepted across the nation, resulting in a sort of centralized banking system based in Ōsaka.  The needs of traveling daimyo and the cash-flow into towns and shops and rest stations along routes such as the Tōkaidō created an explosion of the Edo period economy, a burgeoning middle-class with the financial means to travel, the desire to consume, and the necessary infrastructure to support it all.  Although in theory, travel was highly restricted by the shogunate, in practice it is suspected that many who could afford to do so would travel under the pre-tense of religious pilgrimages or other official reasons sanctioned by the government.

It is also important then, to realize that it is also during this period that woodblock printing and prints became exceptionally popular, with famous artists such as Hokusai gaining wide renown.  While original colour prints would have been expensive, monotone prints were often available to the wider public at affordable prices, allowing for the spread of popular culture, and increased literacy rates.  Many of these consumers would have been travelers, looking for travel guide-books, and presumably maps of all sorts.  These depictions of travel and travel locations were produced in great numbers toward the end of the period, and many would have served their consumers many different purposes.  Some may have been route maps and guides to attractions and local specialties, and yet others may have been expensive décor for wealthy lords or merchants.

 

Fig. 3: Tōkaidō Meisho Zue (1864) by Utagawa, Yoshitora.  

Source: https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0222842#p0z-2r0f:

 

For example, the above map, a meisho zue, depicts a daimyo’s procession from Edo (bottom right) to Kyōto (upper left) through the Tōkaidō.  There are elements of temporal and physical displacement here, as the procession can be seen winding through towns and landmarks across the spread.  It is fairly clear that this work’s primary purpose is to be an aesthetic depiction of a procession through the highway.  Works such as these would likely have been exceptionally expensive given their size and detail, and demonstrate the cultural and historical importance of these processions.  Anyone who may have possessed this would not have been a typical traveller, but must have been quite a wealthy individual.

 

So What IS a Map?

 

We can note now, having considered the historical and cartographical perspectives, that maps, and specifically these panoramic maps of the Tōkaidō, need not necessarily serve the purposes to which we have all been familiarized as users of GPS and services such as Google Maps.  The “cartographers” were not always expert surveyors and were more often than not artists commissioned to produce aesthetic works.  Even those who wished to produce accurate maps may not have had access to the information to do so.  Consumers at the time produced demand for artwork, illustrated travel guides, maps, and all these categories may have had lines that were blended together in ways that we might find both intriguing, and confusing.

 

References

 

Amyx, Jennifer A.. “Sankin Kotai: Institutionalized Trust as the Foundation for Economic Development inthe Tokugawa Era”. Institute for International Studies: Stanford University, 1997

Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Japan in print: information and nation in the early modern period. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2007.

Goree, Robert Dale, Jr. “Fantasies of the Real: Meisho Zue in Early Modern Japan.” Order No. 3414979,Yale University, 2010. http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/613694764?accountid=14656.

Traganou, Jilly. “The Tokaido—Scenes from Edo to Meiji Eras.” Japan Railway & Transport Review 13 (September 1997): 17-27.

Traganou, Jilly. The Tôkaidô Road : Travelling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan (1). London, US: Routledge, 2004. ProQuest ebrary.

Vaporis, Constantine N. “To Edo and Back: Alternate Attendance and Japanese Culture in the Early Modern Period”. Journal of Japanese Studies. 23(1). 1997. 25-67

Kan’in Dairi Keijō zu

https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0167735#p0z-6r0f

The map shown above is titled Kan’in Dairi Keijō zu (閑院内裏京城図) or also known as Bird’s- eye view of Kyoto. This map is a part of UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collection’s. It is a map that is categorized under Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era. However, the original map dates back to the Kamakura period around 1200, and was formerly owned by Bunkyūdō (文求堂). Interestingly, the original map was destroyed in a fire and someone made a replica before it was destroyed. It was reproduced in 1892 which is the 25th year of the Meiji era. Which can been seen stated on the map.

 

If I am correct, it states that it was entrusted to Tanaka(田中) and Bunkyūdō (文求堂) has… well now had possession of it. As mentioned before it was reproduced during the 25th year of the Meiji era which is 1892. For some reason it specially states that it was being copied before or during sunrise. I just find this piece of information interesting.

 

 

 

Moreover, UBC does not even own the “replica” of the map, but a mere copy of the copied map. UBC’s copy is not even a physical copy, but rather it is a slide which one can go to UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collection’s to view. This makes me wonder how valuable and what was so important about this map. The physical copy of the map’s whereabouts is unknown. Since there is too much to cover, here I will be introducing some of the aspects about the temples and shrines that are present in this map of Kyoto.

To indicate what are shrines, temples or places of worship are, simply look for these characters (堂/神社/寺), which are pronounced (dō/jinjya/dera or ji ). However, it is not to say that (堂)(dō) always indicates a place of worship as it sometimes means hall or it is attached to names of stores and businesses.

The abundance of shrines and temples started to exist when Buddhism entered Japan. Many people of power sought out to legitimized their right of power through religion. Many emperors throughout the centuries, built them. By giving tribute to the deities, emperors hoped that they will protect them and bring prosperity to the land. With the continuous construction of temples and shrines, this created micro-cities that centered around shrines and temples.1 For nobles that no longer serve the state they were able to have influence through private matters from their wealth. By viewing the map one can see that most of the temples and shrines are not built within the city, but rather outside the capital. Stravos suggest that there is no evidence that suggests why there was a taboo that temples and shrines would not and could not be built within city grounds.2 However, some taboos that come to mind are, building within the city may threaten the current power. Building in the outskirts, both the current power and nobleman may be at peace as no ones’ powers are a threat and also poses a balance from an aesthetic point of view.

One would think that since Kyoto is a city that has a high density of religious establishments such as shrines and temples. Pilgrims would flock to Kyoto for their pilgrimages, instead of going else where as this way the pilgrims are able make a plan and go to each desired place of worship accordingly to whom they wish to pay tribute to. However, as Stravos mentioned with the creation of micro-cities, would some of these places where temples and shrines exist be private quarters and off limits to the public and only the few selected be allowed access? For many, they would go to one of the most famous temples which is the Kiyomizu dera (清水寺). Pilgrims journey here “to pray to its icon, faith in whom has cultivated the thriving businesses”.3

Aside from nobility being able to enjoy them, commoners also came to Kyoto to see the temples and shrines. As it attracted many people to honour and pay tribute to the deities. One pilgrimage that became popular is called the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage (西国三十三所). This pilgrimage is strictly only to visit Buddhist temples. This pilgrimage only covers the Kansai region. Several temples in Kyoto are a part of this journey. However, the only temple visible in this map that is included in the pilgrimage is the Kiyomizu dera. The Kiyomizu dera is number 16 on the journey. The creation of this pilgrimage is credited to emperor Kazan (968-1008) as he was credited as the founder in the Chikkyo seiji and tenin goroku. This pilgrimage was originally done austerity. A plain, and simple journey, which eventually turned into a popular devotion done by many people.4 With the popularity of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, a condensed version was made for the city of Kyoto.5

After a long journey, pilgrims are able to obtain proof of pilgrimage. Proof of pilgrims can be found in forms of old name slips, Senjya fuda (千社札).6 Senjya fuda, name slips were mainly posted on gates or entrances of the shine or temple. Even now many people try to journey through this pilgrimage. People now perhaps may not walk and instead take transportation such as subways, trains, cars etc. People that journey through in present day collect temple stamps, shuin (朱印) in booklets called nokyocho (納経帳) as proof of visit instead of Senjya fuda. It changed from Senjya fuda to Shuin because, “In 1871 the government issued a decree for the protection of antiquities and ordered the prefectures to submit inventories of suitable objects.”7 . However, this was just the start. Eventually, a law called koshaji hozonoho, or ‘Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples’ was promulgated on 5 June 1897 (Law Number 49) in order to protect religious buildings and the works of art they contained.”8 The Senjya fuda was seen as damaging historical properties.

Another important place of worship in Kyoto is a shrine called Gionjinja (祇園神社), Which is now known as Yasakajinja (八坂神社). This shrine has been associated with the festival called the Gion Festival (祇園祭 Gion Matsuri). It has been said that every year of the 6th month which is present day July, for the whole month festivities are done as purification. This ceremony is named Goryōe. Chapin states that Goryōe is a “phallic worship…. and the long poles know as “hoko,” or “spears,”” are symbols of phallicism.9 Chapin continues to state that, it is believed that phallic images exorcised evil influences and life threatening causes. “What brings life to is not unnaturally suppose to have power over death” and the festival started in the endeavour to get rid of a plague.10 As to why the Gion jinja was chosen, it is because the Bull-headed King is worshiped at this shrine. This Bull-headed Kings is believed to associated with phallic gods. Hence, Goin jinja was chosen as it was believed that phallic worship helped stopped the spread of epidemics.

Although little is known about medieval Kyoto, this map has given us an insight on why and how there are many inclosed areas, “micro-cities” in Kyoto. As there are proof that commoners came to pay tribute, how many were actually accessible to the public is unknown. What is for sure is the importance of Kiyomizudera and Gionjinja. Over and over these two places of warship are seen depicted in Rakuchu rakugai zu, (Scenes in and around the Capital). The two places of worship may have been seen as a places that protect the capital from evil spirits and purification. However, we will save this for another time.

___________

Notes-

1Stavros,Matthew. Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), 61.

2Ibid., 62.

3McKelway, Matthew P. . Capitalscapes. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), 53.

4MacWilliams, Mark. “Buddhist Pilgrim/Buddhist Exile: Old and New Images of Retired Emperor Kazan in the Saigoku Kannon Temple Guidebooks.” History of Religions 34, no. 4 (1995): 303.

5Winfield, Pamela D.. “Kyoto Pilgrimage Past and Present.” CrossCurrents 59, no.3 (2009): 353.

6See note 6 Above.

7Henrichsen, Christoph. “Historical outline of conservation legislation in Japan.” Horzon Architectural and Urban Conservation in Japan. Ed. Enders, Siegfried RCT, and Gutschow Niels. Sungnam: Daehan Printing and Publishing Co.,Ltd., 1998. 12.

8Coaldrake, William Howard. “Building the Meiji State: The Western Architectural Hirearchy.” Architecture and Authority in Japan. New York; Routledge. 1996. 248.

9Chapin, Helen B. “The Gion Shrine and the Gion Festival.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 54, no. 3 (1934): 285.

10See note 9 above.

__________

Bibliography:

Chapin, Helen B. “The Gion Shrine and the Gion Festival.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 54, no. 3 (1934): 282-89.

Coaldrake, William Howard. “Building the Meiji State: The Western Architectural Hirearchy.” 208-250. Architecture and Authority in Japan. New York; Routledge. 1996.

Henrichsen, Christoph. “Historical outline of conservation legislation in Japan.” Horzon Architectural and Urban Conservation in Japan, 12-21. Edited by Enders, Siegfried RCT, and Gutschow Niels. Sungnam: Daehan Printing and Publishing Co.,Ltd., 1998.

MacWilliams, Mark. “Buddhist Pilgrim/Buddhist Exile: Old and New Images of Retired Emperor Kazan in the Saigoku Kannon Temple Guidebooks.” History of Religions 34, no. 4 (1995): 303-28.

McKelway, Matthew P. . Capitalscapes. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006

Stavros, Matthew. Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014.

Winfield, Pamela D.. “Kyoto Pilgrimage Past and Present.” CrossCurrents 59, no.3 (2009): 349–357.

Konnyaku in Japanese Cuisine, Medicine, and Literature

Konnyaku is a jelly made from a type of potato native to East Asia. Originally, it was believed to have various medicinal properties, and was frequently prescribed by Buddhist monks, who often played the role of doctors. From here, it became widely eaten among the Japanese population, and is still eaten by many Japanese even today…Continue reading

All About Azuki, The Traditional Japanese Red Bean Dessert

The dessert is made form azuki, which is a type of bean commonly grown in East Asia and the Himalayan region. It is seen as healthy alternative to many sweets, as it is rich in dietary fiber and protein. Like with many Japanese dishes, red bean soup is considered seasonal and is typically consumed during the winter time. Historically, it was served at kanmi-dokoros, a type of sweets restaurant…Continue reading

Smoke Ascending from Mount Asama

Mount Asama is a volcano mentioned in the eighth episode of the Ise Stories. In this episode, the author wrote that the view of the smoke that was ascending from Mount Asama encouraged the poet to compose the poem. One interpretation of the poem is that it was composed because the poet was amazed at the sight of the Mount Asama…Continue reading

Reality and Sadness in the Poems of Mt. Utsu

Mount Utsu is well known for its mythology and paths of overgrown ivy and maples trees. It is often used metaphorically to contrast a kind of reality within the dream world. Utsu is a play on the word utsutsu, which literally means reality, and has connotations of awakening, and a mountain of sadness…Continue reading

sc163543

Grass Melting into White Clouds on the Musashi Plains

Jippensha Ikku was the pen name of Shigeta Sadakazu who was a Japanese writer during the late Edo period of Japan. In his introduction to Hizakurige, he describes the Kanto Plain where Tokyo is now located, although it was then known as the Musashi Plain. Prior to the establishment of Edo, the Musashi Plain was a deserted and remote area far away from the old capital in Kyoto…Continue reading

edo castle