Fox Deities and Japanese Fireworks

What I miss the most about Japanese summer is those amazing fireworks.

They are inseparable from my childhood memories of summer festivals and make me very, very nostalgic!

If you have been to a firework event in Japan, you might have heard some people shout “Tamaya! Kagiya!” (たまや!かぎや!). These calls are archaic, but I still heard them when I was growing up in a small town near Yokohama.

As you Japanese culture enthusiasts may know, these are the names of the most famous firework makers from the Edo period.

Kagiya (鍵屋 かぎや) started operating in 1659 and still exists even today. Tamaya (玉屋 たまや) was established in 1810 but shut down in 1843 due to an accidental fire.

Now…

You may have known the origins of the firework calls, but did you know where the names of these firework makers (Tamaya/ Kagiya) were from?

The answer is fox deities.

Fox deity worship was a very common form of spirituality during the Edo period (1603-1868). You can still see many shrines dedicated to them all over Japan.

There were at least three in my small neighborhood, and there was one at my primary school. They are literally all over Japan even today. Not many people now actually worship them, but they still treat these shrines with respect.

Now look at the picture above. Can you see that the fox has a key in his mouth? (It’s not a sword, by the way!)

A key is “kagi” in Japanese. So “Kagiya” literally means a “key shop”.

Another common item fox deities carry is a ball that is similar to the one dragons carry.

A ball is “Tama”…

You got it right. “Tamaya” literally means a “ball shop”.

So these two firework makers got their names inspired by the fox deities.

I don’t think many Japanese know this, so if you do your Japanese friends will be impressed 😁

See you next time!

Reference

花火の歴史ー江戸時代

Rotten Limbs and The Japanese Art of Tenacious Wish-Making

Hi all, Eishi here! How’s your week going so far?

The one-eyed ornament on my rakugo cushion above is called a daruma.

The word “daruma” is from a Sanskrit word dharma, which means the “cosmic law and order” as revealed by the Buddha.

It’s said that this Japanese lucky charm was inspired by the famous Shaolin monk, Bodhidharma, who is often regarded as the founder of Chan Buddhism in China.

“Chan”, by the way, is “Zen” in Japanese.

I don’t know if it’s true, but a legend goes that Bodhidharma pursued zen until his limbs rotted- this is why daruma ornaments don’t have their limbs.

Daruma is often seen as an incarnation of tenacity, and it is associated with a Japanese saying “Nanakorobi Yaoki” (七転び八起き ななころびやおき ), which means “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Because of this origin, it is often used to make a wish in Japan.

“Making a wish” might sound a bit light, so it is more like setting a goal that you really want to accomplish and ask something beyond our understanding for a guidance.

Here are the steps we normally follow:

Step 1: Enter daruma’s LEFT eye as you make a wish.

Step 2: Work hard and achieve the goal.

Step 3: Enter daruma’s RIGHT eye.

Step 4: Return daruma to a temple/ shrine to be consecrated and burned.

* It is recommended to be returned at the end of the year whether you have accomplished your goal or not.

So… I brought my daruma to New Zealand about a decade ago.

My goal was quite vague, but it was to stand at the starting line as a performer.

Though I have performed on many, many stages, I didn’t feel like I was quite there yet (Japanese stoicism speaking).

But when the lockdown started, I suddenly felt like I was finally ready to start the race.

I think I am ready.

So I finally filled my drauma’s right eye.

I am just about to begin the new chapter of my life as a performer!

I will take my daruma home when I can finally visit Japan after all this is over 🙂

Portuguese Words That Became Japanese- There Are More Than You Think!

Some time ago, I was listening to a rakugo story called “Gamano Abura” (蝦蟇の油 がまのあぶら) and came across a word that I did not understand.

The word was “manteika” (マンテイカ).

It made no sense whatsoever to me.

I looked up the word in my beloved rakugo dictionary (yes, there is such a thing!) and finally found out the meaning!

Of course, I didn’t understand it because it was a Portuguese word that meant “butter” (manteiga).

But in Japan, manteika meant fat from inoshishi (猪 いのしし; Japanese wild boars) or pigs, and it was used as an ointment for medical purposes.

You may not be aware of how crucial Portugal was to Japan as these two countries are literally located on the opposite sides of the word- the west end of Europe and Far East.

In 1543, the Portuguese arrived in Japan and became the first westerners to land on the country of the rising sun (some theory says it was actually 1541). They even introduced us to… guns.

Soon after in 1549, the Spanish missionaries followed and brought Christianity to Japan. Therefore, Portugal and Spain became our first portals to the western world. As Portugal was under the Spanish rule between 1581 and 1640, they were sort of under the same umbrella back then.

Naturally, the Japanese language was influenced by Portuguese/ Spanish from very early on.

“Tempura” was originally a Portuguese word as well. It was from “tempero”. The Portuguese introduced the deep frying technique to Japan, so tempura was originally NOT a Japanese dish.

Here are other Portuguese words that have become Japanese, which we still use today:

Buranko (ブランコ; from balanço) = swing

Furasuko (フラスコ; from frasco) = flask (for experiment)

Jouro (じょうろ; from jarro) = watering can

Kappa (かっぱ; from capa) = rain jacket

Karuta (カルタ; from carta) = a kind of Japanese card game

Japanese women playing karuta (circa 1900)

Konpeitou (こんぺいとう 金平糖; from confeito) = Japanese sweets as in the photo below

Konpeitou (こんぺいとう 金平糖)

Koppu (コップ; from copo) = cup

Miira (ミイラ; from mirra) = mummy (as in an Egyptian mummy, not a British mummy 😉 )

Shabon (シャボン; from sabão) = bubbles from soap

REFERENCE

日本語になったポルトガル語

日本とポルトガルの関係

PHOTO CREDIT

Midori / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

[Eishi’s Japanese Trivia 2] Chinese Word Used in Edo?

Hi all, Eishi here! Hope everything is well with you all, my beloved readers!

I’ve been busy preparing for the online rakugo workshop over the last few days, but I’m finally back to blogging 🙂

In another article, I talked about the influence of a completely unexpected language on Japanese.

Here is even more fascinating trivia (at least to me) about an expression used to describe a certain social class during the Edo period (1603- 1868).

I am aware that many of my readers are Japanologists, who often know about Japanese language, culture, and history more than I do, but do you know which social class during the Edo period was called “nihonzashi” (二本差し にほんざし)?

This literally means “two swords”, so yes it’s pretty easy, it was the samurai class.

But how about “ryanko” (りゃんこ)?

Which social class did this expression mean?

Here is a hint for you.

”Ryan” (りゃん) is the Japanese transliteration of a Chinese word “liǎng” (両).

“Ko” is “個” in kanji character.

So… “Ryanko” (両個 りゃんこ) as a whole means “two pieces”…

Yep, you got it right.

This also means the samurai warriors!

It was often used by everyday people to describe samurai warriors in a slightly derogatory way, and it often appears in rakugo.

So far, I’ve talked about the influence of Lao and Chinese on the Japanese language, but I will talk about the Portuguese influence on my native language!

See you next time! Stay well and positive 🙂

A Talking Horse and the Tragic End of a Rakugo Founder

Hi everybody, Eishi here! How’s your day going?

As usual, here’s another quirky history lesson that you might enjoy.

It is about one of the founders of rakugo, the Japanese traditional art of comic storytelling.

Before moving onto the story of a talking horse, here’s a little history lesson for you.

The rakugo tradition began at Seigan Temple (誓願寺 せいがんじ) in Kyoto.

The head monk of this temple, Anrakuan Sakuden (安楽庵策伝 あんらくあんさくでん, 1554-1642), was a well-known raconteur of the day.

He compiled a joke book called “Seisuishou” (醒酔笑 せいすいしょう) with over 1,000 kobanashi (小噺 こばなし) or short stories. This 8-book series was published in 1623.

It is generally agreed that he was the founder of rakugo.

Then, this art was introduced to Osaka and initially developed as a form of street performance, incorporating lively music and wooden blocks (used like slapsticks) to get the attention of the passerby.

In Edo/ Tokyo, rakugo developed mainly as an “indoor art” that was performed in dedicated yose or rakugo theatres and zashiki or Japanese traditional rooms with tatami mattresses, paper screens, etc.

The founder of Edo Rakugo was Shikano Buzaemon (鹿野武左衛門 しかのぶざえもん).

He is the hero of the sad story I’m about to tell you.

In 1693, cholera was widespread in Japan and claimed many people’s lives.

In this national emergency, a ronin (a samurai without his master) and a greengrocer plotted a scam to get money off innocent people.

They tried to carry out their cunning plan by telling people a story something like this:

There once was a talking horse.

One day, this wise horse prophesied that nandina and Japanese plums will protect you from the plague!

We happened to have a lot of those!

Buy one, get one free!

It’s a very timely story right now, but as you can see it was not a very believable scheme.

Soon they got arrested, and the ronin was executed, and the greengrocer was sent to a remote island.

Now, these criminals confessed that they got the idea of a talking horse from Shikano Buzaemon’s book…

For this reason, he was also sent to Izu Ohshima Island (伊豆大島 いずおおしま) and died there…

What a terrible end for someone who established rakugo in Edo!!!

Rakugo performers have to be careful about what kind of stories they tell…

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson!

If you did, please follow my YouTube channel as well.

Even though I have been sharing these stories here, my real intention is to make them into videos like the ones below.

I unfortunately can’t produce videos during the lockdown because I have my little imps aka kids hovering all over the place…

It’s only a click away to help my rakugo career. Thank you very much for your continued support!!!

Reference

落語「通」検定 社団法人落語協会

“Hairdresser’s Husband”: The Most Independent Women of Edo!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/17/Hairdressing_in_Japan%2C_1905.jpg/727px-Hairdressing_in_Japan%2C_1905.jpg

Hi all, Eishi here! Hope you are doing well!

I have decided to write a blog article everyday at least until the end of the lockdown, so here is another one!!!

During the Edo period (1603-1868), the society was very male-dominant in Japan, and nearly all women were completely dependent on their husbands.

However, there was definitely one option that enabled women to make a full-time living without relying on their… ahem… lousy husbands. It was the art of hairdressing or kamiyui (かみゆい 髪結).

They of course cut their clients’ hair, but styling was a big part of their job as people of Edo often had rather complex hairstyles 🙂

Their top clients were courtesans at red light districts, and they also visited individual homes to provide their hairdressing services.

Because of the complicated hairdos people had, hairdressers were in high demand, so women in this profession made a good living.

Because of this, the expression “hairdresser’s husband” (かみゆいのていしゅ 髪結の亭主) was born. As you can guess, it meant a man who was financially dependent on his wife/ partner.

In my opinion, female hairdressers were the feminist heroes of Edo!

Actually… Himiko, the first leader of Japan was a woman, but let’s save this topic for another post.

Have a fantastic day, everybody!!!