Friday, October 20

Old Things

My current favorite book is Kōko nichiroku [An antiquarian’s daily record], by the late-Edo archeologist and philologist Tō (sometimes Fujiwara or Fujii) Teikan 藤貞幹 (1732-1797). I became interested in him last year because of a famous debate he had with Motoori Norinaga, where he distinguished himself by insisting that everything of value in Japanese culture came over from Korea (contra Norinaga’s own, rather different position). Kōko nichiroku and its sequel, Kōko shōroku, are both anthologized in the Nihon zuihitsu taisei, and I’ll try and post a few choice excerpts from them here. Both works are collections of short notes on relics he’d discovered or records of ancient practices like this one on go:
“During the Tenryaku period [947-957], when the Ichijō Regent [Koretada] was still Head of the Storehouses, the emperor played a game of go with him for a belt. Koretada kept losing and the number of the emperor’s stones grew, so his majesty wrote this poem asking when Koretada would win back the belt:
    While waiting for the white waves to strike back upon them,
    How numerous have grown the fine sands of the bay
    (Shūi wakashū, vol. 9)”
The Gōke shidai (c. 11th century) says, “Two secretaries take four round straw mats and lay them out to the north and south of the board. The higher ranked pair sits to the north. The higher-ranked takes black and the lower white. The nobleman assemble around the playing area and watch, splitting up to root for the two teams.”
In ancient go, the higher ranked or more skilled player used black, but that is no longer the case.
But what I really appreciate is stuff like this careful drawing of an amethyst inkstone said to have belonged to the poet Mibu no Tadamine.

Thursday, October 5

A Catalogue of Flowers

Ozaki Kōyō’s 尾崎紅葉 breakthrough hit was a novella called “The Erotic Confessions of Two Nuns” (Ninin bikuni iro zange). In my opinion, the work doesn't quite measure up to its title, but it has an excellent epigraph:

“Poppy has magnificent eyes and long hair, and loves her mirror like Xi Shi, often falling asleep at her nightstand. Hers was a life that paid no mind to the world beyond; how horrible that a single betrayal should lead her to chop off her locks and be a nun” – “A Catalogue of Flowers,” Kyoriku
The “Catalogue” is from Fūzoku monzen, a collection of haibun put together by Morikawa Kyoriku 森川許六 (1656-1715), which contains assorted works by Bashō and his disciples divided into formats in imitation of old Chinese anthologies like the Wenxuan. In this piece Kyoriku lists a series a flowers, comparing each to a woman (usually a prostitute of some kind):

Peony is a mistress in favor: the world at her feet, thoughtlessly triumphant. Yet she seems to be always sunk in jealousy, sighing to the heavens in her wrath.


Iris is an impudent flower, like a beautiful woman who steals and feels no shame.


When a Bell Flower catches one’s eye, unexpectedly blooming among the grass, it feels like coming across a beautiful girl at the door of a country hut.