Thursday, 31 January 2013

Cruel Tutelage

Fox Girl doesn't look too happy does she? I felt a little bad about beating her so badly although she has beaten me on occasion but sometimes I just need to remind her who the 'Oya' is! ;)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

You can't get any more Japanese than Hanafuda - Part 1

Flower Cards are like holding Japan in your hands...

Part One - January, February and March

January (affection month)

 Matsu (Pine)

The name ‘Mutsuki’ refers to the time of year for family and friends to come together and celebrate the New Year. There wasn't much to do in the cold dark of winter besides spending time with those closest to you.

January is represented by the ‘Tsuru’ (Crane) and the ‘Matsu’ (Pine). Both are symbols of long life and good luck. The pine tree is known to live for centuries and it never sheds its leaves. No matter how cold the winter, the pine tree stays green and alive.

The script on the poetry scroll is ‘Akayoroshi’ which translates as ‘clearly better (than)’, which is a reference to the other four plain red scroll cards.
The 'Crane card' recalls the flag of Japan. The flag is officially called Nisshōki (‘sun-mark flag’) in Japanese but it is more commonly known as Hinomaru (‘circle of the sun’).
The red-crowned Cranes are sacred birds in both China and Japan. They are called the ‘bird of happiness’  because their mating dance makes them appear to be jumping for joy as they leap into the air and float back down on outstretched wings. They also are said to mate for life, making them symbols of marital harmony.
February (changing clothes month)
Ume (Plum blossom)
February (‘Kisaragi’ meaning ‘wear more clothes’) is represented by ‘Ume’ (Plum) blossom, which is the first of the flowers to bloom in the year. The Plum blossom and Japanese Bush Warbler (, Uguisu’) are frequently shown together to symbolise the coming of spring.
Hanging in the plum tree is a red strip of paper with writing on it. This is called a ‘Tanzaku’ or ‘small book’. Tanzaku probably originated sometime in the Heian period (794 - 1185). The small strips of paper had poetry written on them and they were bound together in anthologies.  Tanzaku have a variety of uses but they are traditionally used for writing short poems. Another popular use is to write wishes on them and hang them from a temple tree in hope that they will come true. Tanzaku appear on ten different cards, three red Tanzaku with writing, four blank red Tanzaku, and three blank blue Tanzaku.


The script on the poetry scroll is ‘Akayoroshi’ (the same as on the January scroll card) which translates as ‘clearly better (than)’, which is a reference to the other four plain red scroll cards.


The Japanese Bush Warbler (,Uguisu), is a passerine bird more often heard than seen. Its distinctive breeding call can be heard throughout much of Japan from the start of spring.  Some other Japanese names given to the bird are haru-dori (‘spring bird’), haru-tsuge-dori (‘spring-announcing bird’) and hanami-dori (‘spring-flower-viewing bird’). Its place in Japanese poetry has also given it the names uta-yomi-dori (‘poem-reading bird’) and kyo-yomi-dori (‘sutra-reading bird), the latter because its call is traditionally transcribed in Japanese as ‘Hō-hoke-kyo’, the abbreviated Japanese title of the lotus sutra.  The beauty of its song led to the English name ‘Japanese Nightingale’ even though the Japanese Bush Warbler does not sing at night.  This name is no longer commonly used.


An ‘uguisu-jō’ (jō = woman) is a female announcer at Japanese baseball games, or a woman employed to advertise products and sales with a microphone outside retail stores. These women are employed because of their beautiful 'warbling' voices. They are also employed to make public announcements for politicians in the lead-up to elections.




March (new life month)
Sakura (Cherry blossom)

'Hanami' - Blossom Viewing

March is represented by ‘Sakura’ (Cherry) blossoms. Although the Plum is the first blossom of the year, the cherry tree marks the beginning of spring and new life. Cherry blossom viewing (Hanami) to welcome the spring is popular in Japan. People go to the parks and countryside to sit under the blossoming trees. Sometimes, a multi-coloured curtain is put up to designate the sitting area for viewing. This was so that the elite did not have to look at their neighbours. Occasionally, Sakura inspires writing poetry (which is called ‘Ontanzaku’).
The word 'Miyoshino' appears on the scroll card. 'Mi’ is a term of respect and ‘Yoshino’ is the place name (in Nara prefecture) where the Emperor had a villa. Thus, ancient Japanese people called the place ‘Miyoshino’ out of respect for their Emperor.  Some 30,000 Cherry trees are planted around Mount Yoshino.
Yoshino, Nara Prefecture


Sakura has very deep meaning for the Japanese. Buddhism is an integral part of Japanese culture. Buddhism teaches that nothing is eternal or unchanging. Everything eventually decays and disintegrates. A blossoming cherry tree is a beautiful sight but it does not last very long. In a moment, a strong wind can strip a blossoming tree bare. The cherry blossom is a symbol of the brevity and uncertainty of life. Youth, pleasure, fame and misfortune, all blossom and fade like the ephemeral cherry blossom. The cherry blossom is a reminder to focus on the present.