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.

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