Search This Blog

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

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.