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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,
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:
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!

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.”

Friday, January 17, 2020

Riding Side-Saddle

Last August, I had the opportunity to ride side-saddle at Firefly Equestion in Utah. I've ridden astride a handful of time prior to this experience, which certainly helped, but in no way do I consider myself an experienced rider.

Firefly had two different types of side saddles--a Western, which has a lip that curved up at the back of the seat (the cantle) and an English, which doesn't curve. Both saddles had two pommels, or leaping horns, on the left side and a single stirrup.

Fun fact: the leaping pommel wasn't added until the mid-1830s. This addition increased security for the lady when she galloped or jumped. Prior to that time, the lady had to be a very skilled rider and exercise caution when jumping or riding at faster speeds.

When mounting my horse, I used a tall mounting block. My left foot went into the stirrup and my right leg swung over the far side of the horse as if I were going to ride astride. Once my rear was in the saddle and my left thigh was tucked up into the lower pommel, I swung my right leg back over the horse and placed it in the upper pommel. If I had been sitting in a chair, it felt like I had frozen in the middle of crossing my legs with the middle of my right calf hovering just in front of my left knee. The top pommel cupped my leg just behind my knee.

It's important to note that my hips were parallel with the horse's back, my shoulders back, and my rear as far back in the saddle as I could sit the entire time. (The lip in the Western side saddle would have been very helpful in this instance, if only to indicate where I was in relation to the edge of the saddle.) This position, as much for the horse's comfort as my own safety, distributed my weight more evenly across the horse's back and kept my balance centered on the horse instead of leaning toward one side or the other.

Once I was situated in the saddle, my riding instructor handed me a short riding crop which I held in my right hand. My hands went over the top of the reins instead of under. (Imagine you were forcing open an elevator door.)

Instead of squeezing my legs to start moving like I would if I were astride, I nudged the horse with my left leg and tapped his shoulder with the crop.

We started off with a walk while I adjusted to this style. Honestly, the hardest part for me was keeping my back and shoulders straight. I imagine that for Victorians, this was not nearly as difficult as it is for modern Americans. I also had a tendency to shove my foot forward in the stirrup instead of leaving the ball of my foot on the bar.

Once I was comfortable with a walk, we increased speed to a trot. This is where I really had a difficult time. Where a walk is a smooth motion, the trot is a lot bouncier and I, in my silky athletic pants instead of a natural-fiber riding habit, had a hard time staying back in the saddle. Every time I slid forward or off toward one of the sides, my horse would slow down. (I guarantee I would have ended up on the ground if it weren't for his good training.)

Unfortunately, my lesson ended at this point.

I was surprised at how much of a difference the correct posture made, but I would try it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, January 10, 2020

by Donna Hatch

Nothing says British Custom like afternoon tea. While most of us may think of afternoon tea as an upper lass tradition dating back hundreds of years, I discovered something else entirely; it's relatively new. In fact, High Tea has only been around for a little over a hundred years.

First, we must travel back to the sixteen hundreds, when King Charles II’s Portuguese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. She unwittingly started a new fashion--afternoon tea. However, tea came largely from the Orient, so it was expensive. Therefore, only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Still, tea in the afternoon didn't become common until the 1700's. Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house claiming tea had medicinal qualities with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des Thes)

By the Regency Era, the custom had long-since caught on and the upper class had afternoon tea about four o’clock, which was before the fashionable time to promenade in Hyde Park if one resided in London. Afternoon tea included, of course, tea served hot. In addition to tea, one might find any of these tasty treats: small finger sandwiches (thin and crust-less, thank you), biscuits (which the Americans call cookies), seedcake, macarons, and small cakes sometimes called fairy cakes with butter icing which were about the size of mini cupcakes. Regency tea did traditionally include petite fours but with macarons available, that would suit me just fine. There has been much discussion among Regency enthusiasts as to whether scones with jam and clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream) were served during the Regency or if that became more common during the Victorian era when High Tea became such a grand affair. Without a time machine, one may never know.

Food with tea probably evolved because the upper classes ate dinner at the fashionable time of about eight o’clock at night, and since many had not yet adopted the custom of luncheon or nuncheon, they probably needed that small meal in the middle of the day. Personally, I like a small meal in the afternoon even though I do eat lunch. I would have made a great hobbit with the custom of eating "elevensies" and lunch and afternoon tea, etc. But I digress.

“High Tea” developed during the Victorian era. Some accounts say that high tea, served later in the day at about five or six o’clock, originated with the lower classes but I don’t understand how they could come home from work for high tea and then return to work for a few hours and then go home again for dinner. *shrug* Plus, tea was expensive so not many of the lower classes could afford it.

At any rate, High Tea is a more filling meal than afternoon tea. High tea usually comes with white and brown bread, meats such as roast pork, fish like salmon, scones, an assortment of sweets such as cake pie, trifle, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, currant teacake, curd tart, a variety of cheeses, jellies, as well as butter or clotted cream. In addition, the term High Tea comes from how and where the guests are seated. According to Laura Boyl in her article "Tea Time" on the Jane Austen website: the different names are derived from the height of the tables where the meals were served. Low tea is served on a table, which in the United States would be called “coffee tables.” High tea is served on the dinner table.

Because the characters in my Regency romance novels all hail from the upper class, or end up there eventually, I will focus on Regency afternoon tea because that's what they do every day, unless they are fighting pirates or running for their lives or battling villains, of course.

Most sandwiches in the UK are traditionally made with a very thin white bread, generously buttered with potted paste. The potted paste could similar to deviled ham, but also could be a fish paste--salmon, for instance, very thinly spread. I guess they liked their pleasures small, thin, and bite-sized.
Tea was (and still is, sometimes) served in a china or silver pot accompanied by slices of lemon or milk. They never put cream in their tea or it ruined the flavor. According to Regency researcher and author, Kathryn Kane, tea leaves used during the Regency were chopped much more coarsely than those used today. The large size required that the tea be steeped for a longer period, but it also made it easier to strain the used leaves from the tea after it had been steeped. There was a special implement included in many tea services used to clear the strainer at the base of the spout of the teapot or to strain the used leaves out of each cup before it was served. You can find more detail here, if you wish.

However, Regency author Grace Kone, who is British, told me that if it's done correctly, the tea leaves stay on the bottom, with just enough pouring out to make a scattering of leaves for fortune-telling. (It sounds very Harry Potter, doesn't it?) Grace said she has never in her life strained leaf tea. Other British friends such as author Janis Susan May Patterson use a tea ball, which is a small metal case into which she places the tea leaves. These are also known as 'tea eggs.' Other British friends pour their tea into their cups through a silver tea strainer.

Here is a recipe, courtesy Regency author, Miranda Neville, for cucumber sandwiches:
  • Very thinly sliced white bread (or whole wheat if you insist on being healthy but really, why bother?). I use Pepperidge Farm Very Thin
  • Good quality unsalted butter
  • English cucumbers (about† one and a half per loaf of bread)
  • Salt
1. Slice the cucumbers very thin. Put them in a colander mixed up with some salt, weigh them down with a plate, and leave them in the sink to drain for an hour or two.
2. Wash the salt off and pat dry with a dishtowel.
3. Butter the bread.
4. Put two layers of cucumber slices in each sandwich and press flat with your hand so it all sticks together, preferably without becoming totally squashed.
5. Cut off the crusts (very important). With a big sharp knife cut each sandwich into four – triangles, squares, or strips, your preference.

Me, again. After some trial and error, I decided I like cream cheese instead of butter, but that is a modern substitution.

Here is another tea party must (at least in my opinion)--macarons. From “The Royal Pavilion at Brighton a booklet A Choice Selection of Regency Recipes you can now make at Home” here is a recipe for macarons.

Photo by Chelsea Audibert on Unsplash
1 large egg white
2 oz ( 55 g) ground almonds
2 oz (55) g caster sugar
a few drops rose water (or whatever flavor you prefer)
1-2 drops almond essence
about 12 slivered almonds (optional)

Heat oven to 160C/325F/gas3
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Whisk egg white until stiff. Using a large metal spoon, fold in ground almonds, sugar, rosewater (or your choice of flavoring), and almond essence.  Mix until blended into a smooth thick paste.

Using a teaspoon, put blobs of the mixture on the lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion during cooking. Flatten with the back of a spoon. If you like you can top each with a sliver of almond.  Bake for about 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and leave to cool. Makes about 12.

Trust me; these are delicious. I prefer to make them the modern way with a dab of buttercream frosting in the middle of two so they make a sandwich cookie, but they're tasty plain.

I’m not a traditional tea drinker because I don't use caffeine, so I deviate with herbal tea in my cup.

Having Afternoon Tea is great fun. I think my next party will be a tea party. Have you ever attended a tea party?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Can a Woman Write?

The wordings, semantics and style used in a book usually give away lots of clues about the author’s character. Yet in the Heian Japan (794 – 1185 CE) there was a unique tool that pointed the gender of the author – women used the phonetic alphabet Hiragana, whilst men pursued their writing in Chinese scripts Kanji.

A handwritten copy of the manuscript of the Genji Monogatari. A mammoth work consisting of 54 chapters and entirely written in Hiragana.
The Genji Monogatari Emaki or The Tale of Genji Scrolls is a famous illustrated handscroll of the Japanese literature from the 11th century. It is sometimes called the world's first novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. 
It was written in an archaic court language that was already unreadable a century after it was written; therefore, whilst regarded as a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both the East Asian and Western canons has been a matter of debate.

Below are samples of the illustrations of the scrolls. They are a bit faded, but bear in mind they are more than a thousand years old.

Yadorigi Scroll Illustration

Sekiya Scroll Illustration

Apart from the fact that the author was a noblewoman who lived in the Emperor’s court and a possible relation to the almighty courtier – Fujiwara no Michinaga – we know very little about the person who authored the work. For over one thousand years she moved in the literary world with the moniker Murasaki Shikibu; however, this was not her real name.

A picture of the author Murasaki Shikibu by 17th century painter Tosa Mitsuoki

The good news is that we now know a bit more about this magnificent literary work, as in October 2019, a manuscript containing a missing part of The Tale of Genji has been found among the heirlooms of the family of a former feudal lord. Experts have confirmed the authenticity of the material found as being one chapter of a five-chapter section called “Aobyoshibon” (Blue Cover Book).

Motofuyu Okochi presents part of the oldest copy of "The Tale of Genji"

The Tale of Genji covers a 70 year period and is rich in dramatic reversals. The protagonist Hikari Genji (who was partially modelled on Fujiwara no Michinaga) was born the son of the emperor and a heartthrob. He has his imperial status stripped away as a means of protecting him from court intrigues. His supernatural charisma leads him to a series of love affairs ranging from numerous extramarital entanglements with aristocratic ladies and even with the empress, the wife of his father. His encounters challenge religious and age taboos, yet are fully garnished with pleasures and troubles.
The Genji Monogatari was translated into modern Japanese by Yosano Akiko and into many English versions, the latest and most palatable for current readers by Dennis Washburn, which allowed a massive increase in its readership.

Genji and Murasaki, one of his lovers. Scenes of the movie:
The Tale of Genji, A Thousand Year Enigma

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.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Autum, Fall, and Mabon...which one do you celebrate?

Signs of autumn are already showing in many parts of the US but September 23, 2019 was officially the first day of Autumn, or "fall" as we Americans call it. Celebrating the end of summer and the beginning of autumn is an ancient practice that influences us today.

Long ago, when the air cooled and the leaves turned gorgeous shades of gold, red and burgundy, people did more than don sweaters, switch their clothing to darker colors, and decorate their homes with autumn leaves and pumpkins.  Anciently, the Autumn Equinox or Harvest Home was called Mabon, pronounced 'MAY-bon', after a Welsh god called Mabon ap Modron which literally means 'son of mother.'

One Mabon Celtic ritual was taking the last sheaf of corn harvested and dressing it in fine clothes, or weaving it into a wicker-like man or woman. Apparently, they believed the sun was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. So they burned it and spread the ashes on their fields.

Mabon is also known as the Feast of Avalon, derived from the word Avalon which means 'the land of the apples'.  It was also traditional at Mabon to honor the dead by placing apples on burial cairns as a symbolism of rebirth. It was also a way for the living to anticipate being reunited with their loved ones who had passed on.
Many people often associate autumn with being melancholy and facing the end of the liveliness of summer and the beginning of the bleakness of winter. Grey skies cause many people to retreat, both physically and mentally. Autumn is the time of year when the celebrated English poet, John Keats, wrote his most acclaimed poem, "To Autumn" which has a distinctly melancholy beauty.

The ancient Celtics, however, used this time to reflect on the past year as well as celebrate nature's bounty by having a feast and a celebration. I imagine those were the roots for the Thanksgiving feast that Americans celebrate.

I hope you have a lovely autumn, surrounded by family and friends.