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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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Having A Ball ~ The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath by Jenna Jaxon

This past summer I was fortunate enough to visit Bath for three days to do some sight seeing and soak up the local color for the Regency historicals I am writing. At the time I was actually finishing up a story for the Yuletide Happily Ever After II anthology called It Happened at Christmas. And where do you think the story is set?


So I walked all over the town. I got to walk to the Royal Crescent, (and take a picture of No. 12 where the hero of my story lived), I visited the Jane Austen Center and spent a lovely afternoon there (writing with quill and ink, no less!), but my biggest thrill was visiting the Upper Assembly Rooms and especially the ballroom! As I walked in I was aware as never before how close in time we are to the past. I was looking at the same walls, the same chandeliers, the same alcoves as Jane Austen did two centuries ago. The same room I wrote about and my
characters danced in two nights ago. I must admit I had a bit of a fan-girl moment—for a room!

The Upper Assembly Rooms began to be a “thing” in Georgian England. They were completed by John Wood in 1771 with the building shaped like a huge U, the ball room on one side, connected by an octagonal room, with the tea room opposite and an octagonal room connecting them on one end. Unfortunately, the Upper Assembly Rooms were pretty much passe by the time the Regency came into bloom, although a lot of very fashionable folk still came to take the waters and see and be seen.

These rooms were the express domain the Master of Ceremonies, beginning with Mr. Richard “Beau” Nash. The Master of Ceremonies was in charge of running the balls each week, of which there were two, one on Tuesday (Dress Ball) and one on Thursday (Fancy Ball), and overseeing the card games several night each week. The Master of Ceremonies would also introduce young gentlemen to young ladies for the purposes of facilitating their dancing together.

The Tea Room was used as a refreshment room, where the most popular beverage was, in fact, tea. Concerts were held there on Wednesdays. The Octagonal Room was for cards and gambling.

The Bath Season ran from October through early June, at which point everyone who had a country estate retired to it to escape the heat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little tour down memory lane, walking through Bath an soaking up the history.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Castles that tell the History of a Nation

The iconic castles seen today in many Japanese postcards have a history of their own to tell the world. Their architecture and structures changed, evolved and shaped to suit the needs of the time they were built; yet, they all had a common point–they were majestic and commanding.

Castle foundation
Kin no Sachi, a castle roof decoration
During the turbulent Warring States period (1467–1568) the castles were constructed as fortresses to guard the feudal warlords and their retainers against the enemies. Built on top of mountains (yamajiro) for defence purposes, they were surrounded by a moat and fourfold overlapping stone walls of height of 61 meters/200 feet. The section of the walls placed in front of the gates were angled to confuse the intruders. Should the trespassers overcome this obstacle, then sudden descents and switchbacks on the ground layout, stopped them from finding the entrance of the main keep. Should the entrance be found, however, some areas of the floors of the main keep were partitioned as a maze to trap the invaders. Furthermore, the use of technique of piling disordered stones (ranseki-zumi) to build the foundation, not only added to its security, as it was very hard to climb them, but also allowed for flexibility and movement during an earthquake. These fortifications were considered impregnable.
Nagoya Castle Interior
In the second half of the 16th century, the country was unified, and people lived more peaceful times. Unlike their predecessors, the new castles were built on flatlands (hirajiro) or on small hills in the plains (hirayamajiro), where they served as a region's administrative and military headquarters and a symbol of authority. Usually a small town called jokamachi (castle town) formed around these structures, breeding a lively urban area of vassal dwellings, merchants and artisans.
Once achieving a pinnacle of 5,000, many castles were destroyed voluntarily or involuntarily along the history.
In 1615, the Shogun issued a decree prohibiting the warlords to have more than one castle in their domains and many had to be destroyed.
The Osaka Castle
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the incoming government issued its own decree on removal of castles, and many more were crashed to the ground.
During the World War II, many were shattered and today, only a dozen original castles, survives.
Yet, several dozen castles were reconstructed over the past decades, bringing them back to their former glory.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace, the official residence of the Imperial Family was the last dwelling of the Shogun, who was deposed in 1868. The capital then moved from Kyoto to Edo, the city known today as Tokyo.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace

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.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Dogs of the Regency and Georgian Periods by Jenna Jaxon

Although dogs were originally domesticated to help men with major tasks like hunting or getting rid of vermin, or herding the cattle, by the early Regency period certain breeds had become very popular as pets. Different dogs went in and out of fashion in the centuries leading up to the 19th and this change in popularity of breeds can be seen in the portraiture of the times.

During the 18th century, the Labrador, the Poodle, the Greyhound, the English Bulldog and the Pug were all favorites with both ladies and gentlemen. All of these had a “working class” background, having been used for such varied employments as retrieving nets and fish, bull and bear baiting, hunting or coursing rabbits, save perhaps the pug, whose “root can be traced to 400 BC China, where the dogs were bred to adorn the laps of Chinese sovereigns during the Shang dynasty.” So pugs have always been ornamental rather than working dogs.

At the dawn of the 19th century, however, most dogs became much better known as house pets than working or hunting companions,
although they still performed those functions as well. But ladies began to dote more especially on the smaller breeds, such as the pug and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“During Tudor times, Toy Spaniels were quite common as ladies' pets, but it was under the Stuarts that they were given the royal title of King Charles Spaniels.” King Charles was so enamored of the Toy Spaniels that he always had several around him and in various portraits. These small dogs went in and out of fashion, but resurfaced during the Regency to vie with the pug for the most popular dogs.

In my upcoming novel, Much Ado About A Widow, the heroine has a King Charles Spaniel, Lulu, who traces her lineage all the way back to King Charles’ dogs. Lulu is quite as much a character as either the hero or the heroine and first keeps the two apart, only to help, in the end, get them together.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at pet dogs in the Regency and Georgian periods and will remember how ladies and gentlemen of the past also loved their furry companions.

“The Pug in Mansfield Park and the 19th Century” from Jane Austen’s World.
“History of the King Charles Spaniel” from the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Blog.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Ayahs of London

How many of us have read and/or watched either The Secret Garden or A Little Princess? Both are about young British girls who grew up in India and were brought back to England/the United States.
In one scene where she's told to get dressed, Mary Lennox admits she's never done it herself since her ayah always dressed her. As a kid, I kinda picked up that an ayah was a servant, but I didn't understand that ayahs were Indian nursemaids. I'm not entirely sure what happened to Mary's ayah, but I'm assuming that she either died in the same epidemic as Mary's parents, or she decided to stay in India.

Sara Crewe most likely had an ayah as well (I don't remember any mention of one), but since she was headed off to boarding school, she didn't need one.

In both of these instances, their families didn't bring their ayah back to England with them, but it was surprisingly common for British families to bring their servants, especially ayahs, with them. "As travelling nannies [ayahs] formed the most valuable adjunct to the whole life style of the Raj between Britain and India. Essential for the memsahib's [an upper-class white woman] household in India, they were considered indispensable for the long voyage home -- either the trusted family ayah or an experienced travelling ayah. Once on board, the ayah took complete charge of the children, the baggage, and the memsahib. Good ayahs were not only meant to be clean, honest and trustworthy with children, but capable as nurses and excellent sailors too." (Visram p 29)

Unfortunately, many of the ayahs were abandoned once the family reached England. Left without money, resources, and frequently with little English-language skills, these ayahs would try to find new employment either in England or on a return trip back to India. Theoretically, their previous employers had already paid for their return tickets when they paid a small fee to bring them in the first place, but often the ayahs didn't have access to that ticket or the money from the fee.

While waiting, they would live in "squalid lodging houses" that were overcrowded and sparsely furnished. Records show that it wasn't uncommon for a lodging home to have anywhere from 20 to 60 women living in the same home at the same time. And these were the ones fortunate enough to pay the 16 shillings/week's rent. Others had to resort to begging.

There were several half-hearted (and a smattering of more sincere) attempts throughout the mid-19th century by various societies and the East India Company to improve conditions for these ayahs.

One such effort was the Ayahs' Home in London. It's unclear exactly when the Ayahs'  Home started (one record indicates it was as early as 1825) but there definitely was one established in 1891 at 6 Jewry St, Aldgate in East London. Initially the Home was run by a committee of volunteer women. In 1900, the London City Mission took over and moved the Home to King Edward's Road. Its mission remained the same: to provide refuge and find return employment for abandoned Indian ayahs and Chinese amahs.

The Home would usually receive the return tickets from employers who no longer wanted to employ their ayah and then sell the tickets to families looking to hire an ayah for trips back to India. They would then use the funds from the sale to pay for the ayahs' room and board until they returned. Of course, when the London City Mission took over running the Home, they used it as an opportunity to convert the ayahs to Christianity. While it wasn't an ideal solution, it was more effective than most to help these women.

Ayahs, Lascars, and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947 by Rozina Visram

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Bomb of Hiroshima

On 8th October 1968, the people in Japan started their day exalted by the news that had travelled the night before all the way from Sweden to the Far East–the novelist Yasunari Kawabata had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature–he was the first Japanese person to receive such a distinction.
Kawabata’s books have enjoyed broad international appeal and are still widely read. Amongst them we can underline “The Snow Country (1937)”, “The Old Capital (1962)”, “The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (1929)” and many others.
A crane origami
Though one of his works, which I liked best whilst disliking it mostly is the “Senbatzuru”–translated into English as “Thousand Cranes”. The novel is set in Japan after the Second World War and the tea ceremony plays the role of characters’ connector and wheeler-dealer of the plot. A love quadrangle transcends two generations, moving zigzaggedly from the father to the mistress, then from the mistress to his son, later from the son to her daughter.

However, what I wish to emphasise and give some depth to, is the word “Senbatzuru”. Tsuru (becomes tzuru with the liaison), or crane, is the most sacred bird of Japan. They appear often in the narratives of mythological books, fables and folk stories.
Combine the holy bird with the Japanese quintessential art of folding paper into decorative figures­–the origami, and we get to the millenary myth that if you fold a thousand crane origami, a wish will be granted to you by the gods–the Senbatzuru.
It was in this belief that the twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki started the undertaking of crafting one thousand tsuru origami in her hospital room.
Sadako Sasaki
Sadako was born in Hiroshima in 1943. She was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The blast blew her out of the window of her house, but she survived. She went on to lead a normal life, excelling in sports and in school. But the exposure to the radiation of the atomic bomb eventually caught up with her and she developed leukaemia. In February 1955 she was hospitalised with swellings on her neck and behind her ears and purpuras formed in her legs. The doctors gave her one year to live.
Yet Sadako clung on to the Senbatzuru hope… she wanted to live. Night and day her tiny hands folded the holy bird in the loneliness of her hospital bedroom. 101…, 102…, 103…

It was a race against time.
When she ran out of paper, she used medicine wrappings, scavenged the garbage for any sort of paper sheets, went to the rooms of other inpatients to ask for the wrapping papers of the presents they were given and straighten them to fold origami, 445…, 446…, 447… 

Sadako Peace Monument
Regrettably, she ran out of time…
Upon her death, she had crafted 644 tsuru. Her classmates crafted the remaining 356 and she was buried with the thousand crane origami, and with them, her hope…
In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. At the foot of the statue is a plaque that reads: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
The culture of Senbatzuru is spread today around the world. Specially in schools, children craft them as a symbol of peace and hope. 

Cristian Marianciuc from Romania is an enthusiastic origami crafter. Below are some examples of his creation. Four years ago, he started a creative project which involved the folding and decorating of an origami crane every single day for 1000 days. It was his personal attempt to deal with depression and exercise his creativity.

The romanticised history of Japan, covering its Creation to its modernisation in the Nineteen Century can be read in my book "The Goddesses of Japan" sold on Amazon.