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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Japanese love affair with cherry blossoms

We are just at the "Hanami" season in Japan. Hanami literally means "look at the flowers", but this simple translation does not do justice to the country's largest spring event that celebrates its national flower – the Sakura, or cherry blossoms. Millions of people gather with friends and families under Sakura trees to enjoy a picnic, to sing, to drink and above all admire the very temporary display of beautiful Sakura flowers.
The Japanese affair with Sakura goes back centuries. It is believed to have started in the Nara Period (710 – 794), but it was during the Heian Era (794 – 1183), Sakura was given a pride of place in the Japanese culture, alongside the chrysanthemum. An important fact of the Heian period was the establishment of the capital in Kyoto, where it would stay for the next 1,000 years.
The Heian period is considered a high point in Japanese culture. It was the Japanese Renaissance (aka Kokufu Bunka), a time when the country emerged from below the wing of China and established an identity as an independent nation. Sponsored by the Imperial House and the aristocracy, the Japanese arts, literature, poems, architecture, music, and any other form of human creativity expression of love and beauty, flourished and expanded.

Modelled in the Chinese capital of Chang'an, the new capital city Heian, or Kyoto was a masterpiece, built in a geometric grid with straight roads extending from north to south, east to west.
The Sakura blossoming that sustained the Buddhist teachings of beauty and ephemerality was well placed to stir the wave of new writers, poets, and artists. Mentioned in the country's first historical annals (Kojiki) and in the oldest collection of Japanese poetry (Manyoshu), Sakura became the staple of the Japanese simplicity and transient feelings of sadness and happiness. It inspired and depressed; gave life and called death; seduced and rejected; teasing with antagonism an entire nation that revered with adoration its huge varieties of white to dark pink coloured flowers. When they bloomed, it was a sign from the Kami that it was time to plant rice.
The great unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of Sakura's staunch admirer. In 1594 he held a five-day hanami party for 5,000 in Nara Prefecture. Four years later, another hanami bash followed for 1,300 people at Kyoto’s Daigo Temple, where 700 cherry trees had been planted. An estimate of 490,000 cherry trees are planted today along roadsides throughout Japan. The attached image is a Hiroshige woodblock print of cherry blossoms with Mount Fuji in the backdrop. It belongs to the collection of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (ca 1840).
Clockwise from top left, Sakura themed goods: Starbucks frappuccino, the 100 yen coin, the traditional noodle soba, sundry snacks, Kit Kat chocolate, Coca-Cola sakura favoured beverage, and McDonald Sakura Menu.
Local people and tourists enjoying the "hanami" under sakura trees. Unfortunately, due to the spread of Covid-19, this scene will be severely reduced in 2020 

The epic saga of the oldest, continuous hereditary monarchy in the world (2600) years – the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan can be read in my book "The Goddesses of Japan" sold on Amazon.

The royal bloodline is traced back to the Creators of the Country and their descendants – the founders of the legendary Yamato Dynasty.






Friday, April 3, 2020

Naming English Houses

by Donna Hatch
www.donnahatch.com

The Holburn Museum, Bath Copyright Donna Hatch
As an American, I find it fascinating that so many historical houses—mostly in Europe—are named rather than simply numbered. The practice has charm and suggests history and longevity. Nowadays, it would seem a tad presumptuous, or at least eccentric, to name a home. However, in one of my favorite historical novels, the heroine goes to live in a place called Green Gables. Austen characters are well acquainted with places such as Pemberley, Longbourn, and Hartfield. Indeed, house naming has a rich heritage.

Anciently, the nobility named their houses, halls, castles, and lodges as a matter of practicality, since homes weren’t numbered until 1765. Usually, those names reflected their surnames, family titles, and locations. These led to names such as Belvoir Castle, Evesham Manor, Haynes Park, and Norfok House.

Homeowners sometimes named their abodes after places they enjoyed visiting such as Ambleside and Windermere. Many house names describe the building’s original use, giving rise to names such as Bedford Abbey. Over time, tradesmen named their houses after their use like The Barn, The Gatehouse, The Forge, Millhouse.
Dove Cottage copyright Donna Hatch
Another common practice was to name one’s house after trees or plants, or even animals frequently seen in the area. Quaint names include Rose Cottage, Birch Park, Dove Cottage (pictured), Fox Hollow, Robins Nest, and Squirrels Leap have cropped up.

Here are some hints to help you name your British house:

How big is it? A cottage, a lodge, a manor, a mansion?
What is your family name? Or, if you had a title, what would it be?
What do you see from the house? A valley, a park, a woods, a river?
What color is the house? Does it have colored gables or shutters?
Do plants or trees grow nearby? If so, what type?
How would you describe the weather in the area? Sunny? Windy?
Are local animals often seen in the area?
Was the building used for something else before it became a home such as an inn, a bakery or an abbey?
If I were to name my house, it might be something like Crepe Mytle End, or White Lodge, or Sunnyside.
What would you call your house?

copyright Donna Hatch

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Whirl of Courtship by Jenna Jaxon

During the Regency era there were very strict rules for courting couples. They could never be alone together unless they were chaperoned, were betrothed, were in an open carriage, or on horseback. With all these strictures, our modern sensibilities make us wonder how they ever found time to get to know one another. There were, however, several outings the couple could indulge in and not create a scandal.

A gentleman could, in all propriety, accompany a young woman to several public sightseeing landmarks without censure. Places such as the Tower of London, Hampton Court, Hyde Park, or the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles. As long as the couple were in full view of the public, they could walk and talk together and preserve the proprieties.

Carriage rides were a very popular way for a couple to indulge in private time together while courting. The carriage had to be open, but could also be a sporty curricle or a high-perch phaeton (the sports cars of the Regency period). Rides were usually taken in Hyde Park during the most fashionable hours between 4:30pm and 7:30pm, the point being to see and be seen by everyone else in the ton.

One favorite outing was to go to Gunter’s Tea Shop, one of the most fashionable light eateries in London. Gunter’s was famous for
their ices and sorbets. Located in Berkley Square in Mayfair, it was another establishment where the ton came to see and be seen. The Georgian Index reports that it became popular to eat the ices outside. “Gunter's Tea Shop was the only establishment where a lady could be seen eating alone with a gentleman who was not a relative without harming her reputation. The ladies would remain seated in the carriages in the shade of the Maples. Their gentlemen escorts would step down from their equipages and come round to the passenger side of the curricle or barouche and lean against the Square's railings sharing the lady's company and the treat.”

Another outing, also very popular and a bit daring, was a trip to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. This was a vast park of several acres of land that had different kinds of entertainments at night, from musical presentation to fireworks. Vendors sold various wares and although the best lit place in London at night, it still boasted several darker pathways down which a couple might stroll for a bit more private conversation. Usually ladies formed parties to attend Vauxhall insuring chaperones for a couple until they had agreed to a formal engagement.

These outings were an approved part of courtship during the Regency. In many of my Regency romances, my courting couples make use of these excursions as they try to get to know one another, as did countless real couples of the period. Check out this social whirl in Heart of Desire or any of my Handful of Hearts novellas, all on sale during the month of April for .99 each.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Love in the Time of Plague by Jenna Jaxon

Although perhaps an unusual topic for romance novels, the Bubonic Plague or "Black Death" that swept through Europe during the Middle Ages, was a great agent of change both in the way people lived and in the way they viewed life. It has been used, my me and other romance authors, as a catalyst or conflict for heroes and heroines to cope with and rise above. With the current pandemic looming (of much less lethal proportions, thank God) I thought it would be interesting to look at the disease that in many ways changed the face of Medieval Europe.

The Bubonic Plague originated in China in 1330 and spread through trade routes to the west via the fleas that live on rats. When the rats died, the fleas moved to other hosts, usually human, and infected them. The first major outbreak of plague in Europe began in Italy in 1347. By 1348 it had spread to France and England and by 1349 had circled the globe, killing approximately one third of the population of Europe.

There were actually three bacterial strains of the plague infecting people during the 14th century outbreak. The first and the one usually associated with the outbreak was bubonic plague, an infection of the lymph nodes. Symptoms onset occurred usually 2-5 days after exposure and included: fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, seizures, and painful swelling of the lymph nodes (called buboes).
Mortality rate was approximately 50%. Treatments consisted of good diet, rest, and relocating to a non-infected area. If the swollen buboes burst, the patient often recovered.

One of the most prevalent images found regarding the bubonic plague is this one of a physicians’ costume during the epidemic. The beak contained herbs and flowers that the doctors inhaled to protect themselves. Flowers were considered a sovereign remedy for warding off the plague. According to Charles Mee Jr.’s article on the Black Death, people were encouraged to carry posies near their nose to “ward off the stench and perhaps the evil that afflicted them.”

Fear of the plague made parents forsake their children, husbands abandon their wives. Finally the only people willing to nurse the sick were the nuns and monks in holy orders. Their numbers quickly became decimated because they worked intimately with victims of the disease and then became victims themselves.

Not the usual stuff of romance novels perhaps, but a fascinating look into a major epidemic that changed the face of medieval Europe.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Nara – Relics of a historical cultural capital of Japan

Shika, or Japanese deer are the illustrious dwellers of Nara
Nara or Heijo was Japan's first permanent capital established in the year 710. Before that date, the capital moved to a new location whenever a new emperor ascended to the throne.
However, as the influence and political ambitions of the city's powerful Buddhist monasteries grew to become a serious threat to the government, the capital was moved away to Nagaoka in 784 and a few years later to Kyoto, where it stayed for over 1,000 years.



The Todai-ji (the Great Eastern Temple) is Nara's most iconic temple (above). It was constructed in 752 and houses one of Japan’s largest statue of the Buddha – the 16 metre bronze Dainichi Buddha.


The 16-metre-bronze statue of Dainichi Buddha. 

According to the records, more than 2,600,000 people helped to construct the Great Buddha and its hall. The project was so ostentatious that consumed most of the available bronze of the country and nearly bankrupted the economy.

The Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century, transmitted from China and Korea. It became one of the main religions of the country but faced initially rejection from the conservative Shintoists

Prince Shotoku (574 – 622 CE) was the early champion of Buddhism. He served as regent under his aunt Empress Suiko (554 – 628 CE). The picture below is the oldest sculpted portrait of the prince currently known, showing him as an adolescent.

 

by Donna Hatch, www.donnahatch.com
Happy Valentine's Day! 
Valentine’s Day in Regency England was very different from the way we celebrate it today. People of all classes exchanged hand-made cards with hand-written verses. During the Victorian Era, Valentine’s Day cards became mass-produced, but in the Regency, such a gesture required more thought and care.
Cards sent were as varied as the senders. Some were made with gilt-edged paper, trimmed with lace–real lace, not paper lace since that had not yet been invented. They could be embossed or have gold overlay or even sequins. Those who could not afford such luxuries made them out of simple paper which was still an expensive commodity for the less affluent. Flowers seemed to be the most common decoration but cards were also decorated with hearts, birds, and even timeless cupids.
Those who fancied themselves poetic wrote their own verses but most probably copied verses from known poets, or even from books that provided special, Valentine’s Day messages. These books even provided replies for the lady to use to encourage or dash the hopes of her admirer. The verse in the card to the right says (if I deciphered the handwriting correctly):
I dream and my heart consuming lay
On cupid’s burning shrine
I thought he stole my heart away
And placed it near to thine.
Here is a sad verse from a Valentine’s Day card from 1790:
My dear the Heart which you behold,
Will break when you the same unfold,
Even so my heart with lovesick pain,
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain.
This seems to have been written by someone who had already been rejected but needed the recipient to know of his pain and broken-hearted devotion.
Other sources cite much more sordid Valentine verses, much to the horror of the parents whose daughters received such bawdy notes. I won't share those here lest I offend my readers' delicate sensibilities ;-)
Valentine’s Day in Regency England was a day to celebrate love, or at least interest, for all classes. What I find puzzling is that it was considered ill-mannered during the Regency to exchange letters or notes between unmarried ladies and gentlemen. However, this practice seems to have been largely ignored on Valentine’s Day. Reportedly, the post was inundated with mail on that day filled with Valentine’s Day cards exchanged between the young and young at heart. I found no mention of Valentine’s Day cards exchanged between married couples. They could have been, but that didn’t seem to be a common practice. But don’t tell my husband that 😉
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Valentine’s Day, check out my post: Will the Real Valentine Please Step Forward.
There are some beautiful Regency Valentine’s Day cards on auction here:
Sources:
Ruth Axtell’s Reflections on Valentine’s Day at the Christian Regency blog
Susan Holloway’s Father Warns Against Depravity on Two Nerdy History Girls 

Author of Historical Romance and Fantasy, award-winning author Donna Hatch is a sought-after speaker and workshop presenter. Her writing awards include the Golden Rose, the International Digital Awards, the Readers' Choice Award, and the prestigious Golden Quill. Her passion for writing began at age 8 she wrote her first short story, and she wrote her first full-length novel during her sophomore year in high school, a fantasy which was later published. In between caring for six children, (7 counting her husband), her day job as a docent for a one-room schoolhouse, and her many volunteer positions, she still makes time to write. After all, writing IS an obsession. All of her heroes are patterned after her husband of over 20 years, who continues to prove that there really is a happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Sweets to the Regency Sweet by Jenna Jaxon

For Valentine’s Day, I thought a post on Regency sweets might be appropriate, as sweets are the most popular love offering in our day and age. They were also quite popular in the early 1800s.

Sweetmeats (meaning “sweet food’) were immensely popular in the Regency period, and one of the few gifts a gentleman could, without fear of reproach, give to a lady to whom he was not betrothed. Apparently the theory was that as candy was perishable, it left no obligation on the lady to accept the gentleman’s advances.

Regency sweets came in a variety of shapes and flavors, as do ours today.

Chocolate—A great favorite of the Regency period. Whether it was consumed as drinking chocolate, or eaten as small tabs of bittersweet chocolate covered in nonpareils, chocolate was enjoyed all through the era.

Licorice—originally used as a medicine, licorice was improved upon by the addition of sugar, then sold in bags of lozenges as a candy. It was also used in Pontefract Cakes, where a disc of licorice was sweetened and stamped with a castle.

Marzipan—this sweet treat began in the late Middle Ages in England and was made from ground almonds, sugar, and rose water. It could
be molded to look like anything at all—food, fruit, nuts, people, castles. The results were often spectacular.

Lemon drops—made by simply boiling citric acid with sugar, allowing to cool, and fill “drop” molds.

Barley sugar candy—one of the oldest candies made, barley sugar candy is created by boiling barley water and sugar until it has thickened. Originally created by French nuns.

Sugar plums—weren’t necessarily plums at all, but could be any combination of dried fruit layered with thick sugar until a hard shell formed.

Turkish Delight—another confection based on a gel of starch and sugar. Usually chopped dates, pistachios, and hazelnuts are bound by the gel and often cut into squares and dusted with powdered sugar.

Peppermint sticks—yep, just like the ones we have now as a cane at Christmas. Peppermint oil and sugar boiled together. It’s origin is German!

In addition to these candies, of course, are all manner of sweet cakes, pies, mysterious things like flummery, and ices (ice cream).
If you’re interested in celebrating Valentine’s Day a la the Regency period, try your hand at creating some of these delicious, interesting, or downright awful sounding confections!

Happy Valentine’s Day!


References:
Carlyle, Christie. “Regency Era Sweets,” Facebook Post, October 11, 2017.
Hilden, L. A. “Sweets and Confections of the Regency Era,” Blog post, August 9, 2014.
Jane Austen Centre. “Visions of Sugar Plums,” Blog post, December 10, 2013.
Lambert, Tim. A Brief History of Sweets, 2019.
“Victorian Era Courtship Rules and Marriage Facts.” Victorian-era.org