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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.


Valentine's Day in Regency England

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.”