At Japanese festivals, four banners with the pictures of the four divine beings are sometimes displayed.
You might have also seen them at a ceremony at the imperial palace.
They are the defenders of Shin’iki (神域 しんいき) or the sanctuary of the shrine.
These four defenders are: Blue Dragon (青龍 せいりゅう Seiryu; the defender of the east), White Tiger (白虎 びゃっこ Byakko; the defender of the west), Vermilion Bird (朱雀 すざく Suzaku; the defender of the south), and Black Tortoise (玄武 げんぶ Genbu; the defender of the north; usually entwined together with a snake).
Together these four flags are called “Four Godly Flags/ Banners” (四神旗 しじんき Shijinki).
But in the Edo period (1603-1868), they were also called “Four Godly Swords” (四神剣 しじんけん Shijinken) in the Tokyo area as they put swords at the tips of the flags.
There is a hilarious rakugo story that involves a set of “Four Godly Swords”, which is based on a true story that happened at a restaurant called Momokawa (百川 ももかわ).
Unfortunately, it is one of those stories that would get lost in translation, but I will attempt explaining it another time!
If you are a speaker of British English, you might be slightly confused if I’m talking about an adult female human with a child/ children or a preserved human body that could’ve been a mummy… or a daddy.
If you are a speaker of American English, you are right I meant a mummy by “mummy”.
The Egyptian kind of mummy, who could’ve been an Egyptian mummy before her passing (OK, I’ll stop annoying you!).
I recently learned a shocking fact about a Japanese medicine during the Edo period (1603-1868), and I couldn’t resist sharing this particular one!
Kaibara Ekiken* (貝原益軒1630-1714) was a very well-known Neo-Confucianist philosopher (じゅがくしゃ 儒学者) and botanist who studied the medicinal herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Ekiken is especially known for his books called Yojokun (ようじょうくん 養生訓), which was a collection of his health advice, and Yamato Honzo (やまとほんぞう 大和本草) that introduced medicinal plants from China and Japan.
Kaibara Ekiken* (貝原益軒1630-1714)
In Yamato Honzo, mummies… or mummified human bodies probably from Egypt… are introduced as a medicine!!!
Mind you, Ekiken himself opposed to the use of mummies as a medicine for ethical reasons, but researches suggest that they were widely used as all-purpose cure though they cost a fortune.
We don’t know exactly where they were imported from (and how they were sourced), but it was likely to have been via China or Netherlands as Japan only traded with these two countries then. It could’ve also been from Korea (via Tsushima), Ainu (via Matsumae/ Hokkaido), or Ryukyu/ Okinawa. **
According to Yamato Honzo, mummies were good for toothache, headache, chest pain, high fever, antidote for poisonous insects, and others.
* Some people also call him “Ekken”.
** If you know the answer to this question, please comment below!!!
If you have been to a Japanese restaurant, I’m sure you have seen those waribashi (割り箸, わりばし) or disposable wooden chopsticks that you pull apart before digging in your yummy Japanese dishes.
Personally, I have a love-and-hate relationship with them- I love them because they are sanitary; I hate them because they are an absolute waste of trees.
Anyway… I came across the origin of those chopsticks the other day, so I’m sharing it with you 😃
It is said that waribashi was first created by an eel restaurant in Edo (1603-1868), which is the old name for Tokyo.
They were originally made of bamboo and called “Hikisakibashi” (引裂箸 ひきさきばし), which roughly means “chopsticks to split apart”.
However, the wooden disposable chopsticks that we use today were actually invented in Nara Prefecture(奈良県 ならけん).
It is said that amonk called Sugihara Souan (杉原宗庵, すぎはらそうあん) invented them from Japanese cedar from the Yoshino region (so called “Yoshino Cedar”; 吉野杉, よしのすぎ) in 1827.
They used the scrap wood from making sake barrels, and even today they only use wood from forest thinning in the Yoshino region, therefore making them more ecological than the imported ones from overseas.
I personally think it’s best to use reusable metal chopsticks like Korean people do for the environment, but if you are into waribashi, I recommend you get ones from Yoshino!
A while ago, I made a silly video about different ways to say “I” in Japanese.
Some people have asked me in what context each expression is used, so I have decided to explain that in this article!
Hope this is helpful for you 🙂
Also… if you like this kind of video, please follow my YouTube channel, too. That will definitely make my day!!!
私（わたし Watashi): The most standard “I” in Japanese. The textbook definition!
私（わたくし Watakushi): This is a more polite version of “watashi”. As you may have noticed, the kanji for “watashi” and “watakushi” is the same “私”.
僕（ぼく Boku): This “I” is usually used by a male speaker regardless of his age. When used by an adult, it is usually with someone with an equal or a lower social standing. In recent years (especially in the manga context), some women use “boku” to address themselves as well.
俺（おれ Ore): Casual “I” used by men. It is only used with someone in the same or lower social standing or someone who is really close such as family members. This is my default “I” with my parents and older sister. I have met some non-native speakers of Japanese who think this is an impolite expression, but this is not the case as it completely depends on the context and its use is often a show of closeness to the person.
俺様（おれさま Oresama): This is the arrogant version of “ore”. I have never heard of this expression in real life except when someone is being silly on purpose. You might encounter this expression in books particularly in comic books 🙂
自分（じぶん Jibun): A formal “I”. According to this dictionary website, it was originally used as a second-person personal pronoun during the Edo period (1603-1868). In Osaka dialect, it is used to address a close friend i.e. it can also mean “you”! Confusing, isn’t it?
当方（とうほう Touhou): Wow, my sincere apology, this expression actually means “we”!!! I accidentally included it as it literally means “this side” or “the group I belong to”… but it should really be treated as “we” because the person is talking about the group s/he belongs to as a representative… Sorry!!! (You now know Japanese people don’t always know Japanese!)
身共（みども Midomo): This is a formal “I” used towards someone in the equal or lower social status.
手前（てまえ Temae): This is a humble way to refer yourself. But the confusing thing is that it could also be used to mean “you” towards someone in the same or lower social status. For this use, its variation てめえ (teme’e) is often used, but remember it is a very rude expression!
おら (Ora): This “I” is usually used in the Tohoku region. It is mainly used by men, but it is used by some old women as well.
俺っち (おれっち Orecchi): A casual and almost uncouth “I”. Not many people actually use this expression, but you do hear it spoken by some stereotypical characters in drama, manga, etc. Some people say it is the short version of “俺達” (おれたち Oretachi) or “we”.
あっし (Asshi): This is often used in “jidaigeki” or a period drama. It is often used by the craftsmen of Edo.
あたし (Atashi): Informal “I” used by women. It was used by men as well during the Edo period (1603-1868), and rakugo performers still use this expression even today. I use it myself with my rakugo friends.
あたい (Atai): This “I” feels a little archaic to me, but it is used by little children and sometimes by adult women. “Atai” is used by Yotaro, one of the star characters in rakugo!
拙者（せっしゃ): This is the “I” used by samurai warriors. You still hear it a lot in period dramas!
わし (Washi): This is a variation of “watashi” used with someone in the same or lower social status. It can sound a bit arrogant.
我 (われ Ware): This is a formal “I” that shows up often in Japanese literature, and I have never met anyone who uses this “I” in conversation.
余 (よ Yo): An archaic “I” used by the feudal lords and samurai warriors in high social status.
[You can watch this rakugo story at the bottom of this post. Please let me know what you think of it!!!]
In my personal opinion, this is one of the uniquest rakugo stories of all.
This is not because it is a pure ghost story with very little laughter but mainly because it was inspired by a story written by Lafcadio Hearn or better known in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲 1850-1904).
The story of Nopperabo had already existed as folktales before his writing, but it was him who made it famous.
In 1850, Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was born in Greece to a Greek mother and an Irish father. Due to family complications, he moved to Dublin and then to the United States where he worked as a newspaper reporter.
As a correspondent, he was sent to French West Indies for 2 years, and then finally ended up in Japan where he spent the rest of his life.
He got married with a Japanese woman and became a Japanese citizen himself.
He is the reason why I am so attached to this story.
Someone from overseas bothered enough to learn, live, and love the Japanese way, and he shared his learning with the west and ended his life as a Japanese citizen.
I feel so closely to this man perhaps because I am in a little similar situation myself as someone who has spent more than half of his life overseas and married to a non-Japanese woman.
Whenever I perform this story, I think of him, and I feel immensely honoured to carry on with his story.
Going back to the story itself, it had already existed as I mentioned earlier.
There is a mention about Nopperabo inSorori Monogatari(曽呂利物語 そろりものがたり) in 1663.
The fascinating thing about this particular Nopperabo is that he was over 2m tall!!!
In general, people believed that animals such as foxes, racoon dogs, or mujina (Japanese badgers) turned into Nopperabo and tricked humans.
In Koizumi’s version, the culprit was a mujina.
You can read the original story here on The Project Gutenberg website. As you can see, the term “Nopperabo” is somehow not used in his story.
Now you can watch Nopperabo below and see how the original evolved into a rakugo story.