Evolution of Bunbu Ryōdō

Many who have spent a good number of years studying Japanese martial arts have probably heard the term bunbu ryōdō (文武両道). It is one that was used to identified individuals who were true warriors of the military family class. While purists of the martial arts today still make use of this term, bunbu ryōdō has also evolved for use in modern times for those exemplary individuals who display the same excellence as warriors of old…but in the field of sports and education.

EARLY USE OF THE TERM BUNBU RYŌDŌ

Bunbu ryōdō is a term which has been in use in early times, possibly going much further than Heian period (794 ~ 1185). In a simple definition, it refers to the dedicated study in both military affairs and cultural areas of interest¹. This comes during a period when nobles, military families, and those of the imperial line, were structuring a sophisticated lifestyle based off from many kinds of teachings gained from literature, religion, and cultural influences. In the case of individuals who, coming from a clan with a background in military affairs, were being groomed into a profession of a warrior, they were expected to develop their physical abilities and mental fortitude as much possible to be a complete package.

When looking into what bu (武), or military-related topics, pertain to, it involved not only the physical training in the instruments utilized for war, (i.e. bow & arrow, sword techniques, pike techniques, equestrian skills) but it was also important to understand the ideology and tactics of war. This included studying from the Chinese military classics (i.e. “Art of War” by Sun Tzu and “36 Stratagems” of the Southern Qi Dynasty), as well as understanding the Japanese methodology towards warfare, which entailed such tasks like shiro tori (城取, setting up an encampment during expeditions), jin tori (陣取, strategic occupation of an area with troops), kōjōsen (攻城戦, laying siege on & capturing an opposing castle), and shinheiki no tōjō (新兵器の登場, adapting new technologies for warfare). Shifting roles and being able to engage in domestic affairs during peaceful times, all the while being prepared & able when it was time to go back to war (generally labeled as heiji [平時]), was also a must. This did not mean that a warrior had to be physically unbeatable, but versed in all aspects pertaining to military affairs that they could be overall effective in either small matters to large matters.

As for bun (文), or cultural-related topics, one of the areas usually dotted on is literacy. For a warrior to be balanced, it was viewed as a good thing to be able to read & write, as well as be versed in renown works made by famous poets and writers, understand senseigaku (占星学, astrology), uranai (占い, divination), and tenki yohō (天気予報, meteorology). All these were a part of everyday society in the past in every right. In the later periods such as the Middle century, having an appreciation of the arts, such as shodō (書道, calligraphy), kadō (華道, flower arrangement), chadō (茶道, tea ceremony), and suiboku-ga² (水墨画, ink-wash painting) were also seen as important activities for developing a balance. Famous figures from history such as Miyamoto Musashi, Hosokawa Fujitaka, and Uesugi Kenshin are viewed as those who exhibit talent as role models of bunbu ryōdō.

MODERN DAY ADAPTATION

In modern Japan, bunbu ryōdō is still being utilized to inspire excellence as in the past…but in a completely different field. With the warrior class abolished and a reformed government from a military state, the current generation is not mandated to study combative arts. Instead, as a civilized country, citizens are expected to focus their energy by getting a good education and getting into the workforce to help drive businesses forward. As a means to see this happen, many educators have adopted the term towards students and encourage them to excel in both sports and education.

The roles in which make up the term bunbu ryōdō have now switched from military and cultural activities, to sports and education. Since competition in many types of sporting events is a huge driving force around the world, educators encourage kids to participate in sporting activities from a young age, such as baseball, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. They are expected to dedicate much of their time in their respected sporting activity on a daily basis, from early in the morning to late in the day after school is finished. During the school year there are numerous games against other schools’ teams which kids are expected to participate in, all in an effort to help their school stay on top of the rankings. The competitive nature found in sports, along with the rigorous training, is liken to that of a warrior training for war, similar to how principles of war were incorporated in business as a means for business men and women to gain success against their rivals³.

As for education, it doesn’t differ a great deal from cultural studies in the past. In actuality, education was already being applied to bunbu ryōdō little by little from the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868) onward, as a component to bring balance to everyone who were actively engaged in their occupation, whether you were born in the warrior class or a commoner such as a farmer. Fast forward to today’s world, education is a driving force in society, with it being available to all throughout Japan. Yet, different incentives are put into place to identify those who are the cream of the crop. Kids generally go to an elementary school closest to them within their neighborhood learning fundamental skills such as mathematics, reading, science, as well as life skills such as cooking, health, and crafts. However, they will eventually need to prepare for good high schools, which requires them to not only have good grades, but study a great deal to pass entrance exams. The same for when they pursuit top colleges and universities, where once admitted, they will need to choose a major such as Engineering, Economics, and Agriculture. Those who have a full schedule keeping up with sporting activities aren’t the exception; they need to excel in their studies no matter what little time they have between practice sessions and traveling to take part in competitive games in their respected sports. A grueling task for those who want to keep up in the sports they enjoy indeed.

To have an exemplary school career can lead to a brighter future with plenty of opportunities opening up to each individual. Being both a great athlete and a grade A student who attended a top university is the new face of bunbu ryōdō⁴. Examples of those who’ve achieved this level present-day include professional soccer player Kawashima Eiji, former pro ice skater Yaginuma Junko, and swimmer Tominaga Kohei.

CONCLUSION

The ideology behind bunbu ryōdō was to inspire a balance for those involved in military-related activities with and literary-cultural studies in ancient Japan. It was a reflection of the times and what was deemed as important in the structural makeup of society. In modern times the term continues to bear its aged meaning by those who specialize in Japanese martial arts, but on a national level it has evolved in accordance to the change in society to be geared towards the youth and inspire them to do good physically and mentally during their school career as an athlete and a scholar. In essence, athletes today are liken to that of warriors, and their training regiment to excel in competition is similar to that of how warriors refined their skills for the battlefield. Yet, just like a warrior being versed in finer cultural arts, an athlete who is educated is viewed as one who is balanced, and can be a good role model to all.


1) This duality is usually summarized with the phrase “pen and sword”. This complies more with the samurai during Edo period who carried a katana (刀, sword) in preparation to fight, and held the fude (筆, pen) to write and create documents.

2) A more familiar term for this is sumi-e (墨絵).

3) In the late 20th century, many of the philosophies and advice from Miyamoto Musashi’s Gorinsho (五輪書) were being adapted in how businessmen could succeed in their ventures, how they interacted with clients, surpassing potential “rivals”, and so on.

4) A word that is said to truly express the meaning behind today’s use of bunbu ryōdō is “student-athletes”.

Sakura and Kiku: Iconic Flowers of Japan

Out of the many colorful and visually appealing flowers of Japan, which would be considered Japan’s national flower? Many would consider cherry blossoms (known as sakura¹ in Japanese) due to its popularity culturally and socially, as well as its symbolic use in pop culture. Yet, would you be surprised to hear that it may have a contender for that position, which can be chrysanthemum (pronounced as kiku² in Japanese)? Could it actually be both? For this post, we will look at both cherry blossoms and chrysanthemum’s growing presence from Japan’s ancient past to the modern age of present times, and how they’ve been incorporated into the culture as iconic flowers in their own rights.

BEGINNINGS OF THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS

It is said that cherry blossoms became popular around the middle of the Heian period (794 ~ 1185). At the time, it was dotted on by Emperor Daigo in the use of poetry from the year 905. Before that, a flower that caught the eye of the upperclass was the plum blossom known as “ume” (梅). Researchers have determined this through the review of an older text called “Manyōshū” (万葉集), which features many poetic songs based on various topics including flowers. Many of these songs pertain the word plum blossoms in them. On the other hand, there isn’t at many songs regarding cherry blossoms. Since this book has been actively used among the imperial family years in advance, we get an idea that the cherry blossom’s popularity was initially not as old as one would think.

Pic of Emperor Daigo. From Wikipedia.

When appeal shifted in the favor of the cherry blossom, it’s possible that Emperor Daigo’s liking of this flower contributed to this through the following episode. In a 6-volume collection of recorded historical events called Kojidan (古事談), there is an entry regarding the 4th son of Emperor Daigo, Shigeakira (重明), who greatly admired cherry blossoms when he was little. He liked it so much that within his living quarters he had cherry blossom trees grown there. In the Shishinden (紫宸殿), the ceremonial grounds where the children reside within the Imperial palace’s, had plum blossom trees grown all around, which was commonplace. One day, the Shishinden caught on fire and was burnt down, including the plum blossoms trees. In some time it was rebuilt, but in place of the plum blossom trees, Shigeakira moved his cherry blossom trees to inhabit the new Shishinden. It was because of this incident that cherry blossoms grew to be among the Imperial families and noble families.

Eventually, cherry blossoms became popular among the populous throughout Japan. Cherry blossom trees were grown in different regions. Many admired its beauty, as well as its characteristics. For example, after cherry blossoms have fully bloomed, their petals fall off gradually. The falling petals are liken to snow, and if they are present during a snowy day³ they tend to be labeled as “yukizakura” (雪桜). Appreciation for its beauty was often shown as prints on clothing, as well as in ukiyo-e (浮世絵, woodblock painting). Bushi, or warriors of old also took favor of this flower in numerous ways during the Sengoku period (1467~1615), such as likening the wondrous bloom and slow, yet delicate, petal falls of the cherry blossoms to the the short life of a warrior who can claim greatness, yet have his life disappear at a moment’s whim. A popular phrase representing this is the following:


「花は桜木 人は武士」
(Hana wa sakuragi hito wa bushi)

“among flowers, the cherry blossom tree
among men, the warrior”


This basically refers to the cherry blossom being the best compared to other flowers, just as the warrior class was viewed as the more superior class of them all.

Cherry blossoms would be used as a sign of nationalism in various ways even by the Imperial army during the Meiji period (1868~1912) onward. This would last until the ending of WWII.

BEGINNINGS OF THE CHRYSANTHEMUMS

Chrysanthemum is a flower which was incorporated into the lifestyle of Japan by those who brought it over from China. This was around the time when the fashion, art, and etiquette of Chinese culture had a great influence in the development of Japanese society. There are different types of the chrysanthemum, which are listed in different ancient Chinese texts such as “Liji” (礼記, Book of Rites). It’s speculated that chrysanthemum was introduced to Japan around the 5th century, close to the ending of the Heian period. It’s 1st appearance within Japanese documentation is said to be in a 25-volume set of historical texts entitled “Ruiju Kokushi” (類聚国史, Topics related to National History of Japan), compiled in 892. One of the well-known lines that mentions it is located on the 11th page within the song verses in the 12th volume, section #715, which goes as the following (accompanied with my own English interpretation):


「己乃己呂乃 志具礼乃阿米爾 菊乃波奈 知利曽之奴倍岐 阿多羅蘇乃香乎」
(Kono goro no shigure no ame ni kiku no hana chirizo shinu beki atara sono ka o)

“Around this time, as the Autumn rain falls on the chrysanthemums
they will be scattered and surely die
oh so tragic what will befall their fragrance.”


On a literacy level, familiarity with the chrysanthemum can be said to have been among those who were wealthy and educated, such as the Imperial and noble families. It may have been appreciated by them as early as Nara period (710~794). For example, in the Manyōshū there are few poetic songs about it.

Popularity for this flower continued to grow, as the chrysanthemum would later appear within waka-style poetry⁴ in a Heian period book called “Kokin Wakashu” (古今和歌集, Collection from Ancient and Modern Times), which was a text conceived by Emperor Uda (宇多天皇), and later published through the order by his son & successor Daigo. Since it was an Imperial text, it too had great influences on other nobles, who would also grow to appreciate chrysanthemums a great deal.

Chrysanthemum is an Autumn flower, since that is the time it blooms. It was a favorite of Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽) during the early Kamakura period (1185~1333). So much that it was chosen to be the Imperial crest. It would also gain a good amount of attention during the Edo period (1603~1868) and was shown off throughout many areas in Japan.

THE MANY IMAGES OF FLOWERS

The following are examples of images inspired by both cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums.

Cherry Blossom-themed Family Crests / 桜家紋 (from Hakko-Daioda.com )

Chrysanthemum-themed Family Crests / 菊家紋 (from Wikipedia)

Woodblock Art / 浮世絵 (from ukiyo-e.org and Wikipedia)

EVERYDAY USE IN MODERN TIMES

Out of the 2 flowers, cherry blossom is greatly beloved by the general public in Japan. Cherry blossom is a Spring flower, which coincides with hanami (花見), or flower viewing festivities which take place early during the same season. During flower viewing, the blooming of cherry blossoms attract the largest crowds, and get a lot of press & advertisements. Some of the attention comes from products promoting it as a flavor for candy, drinks, and so on.

Cherry blossom is visually used in various mediums in pop culture. For example, it is not uncommon to see an exquisite character make an appearance in a scene in one of many anime, accompanied by cherry blossom petals. Or, they may fall and dance around the screen of one of many video games which may have a samurai-like character do an impressive barrage of attacks with a katana.

Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, grows during the Fall. Depending on people’s lifestyle, chrysanthemums are used in different ways. For starters, it is popular flower art and in ikebana (生け花, flower arrangements). There is a type that is also called “shokugiku” (食菊), as it is used as decoration for meals. Chrysanthemum has auspicious meanings, such as longevity and rejuvenation. Thus, one can find it as patterns on kimono, accessories, good luck charms, dishware, porcelain, even on the 50-yen coin. Depending on the occasion, different colored chrysanthemums (minus white ones) are given as gifts.

Chrysanthemums play an interesting role in religious-related activities. For example, there is a national day with Shinto origins called “Chōyō no Sekku” (重陽の節句), that falls on September 9. It is also called “Kiku no Sekku” (菊の節句), or Chrysanthemum Day. It is a festival of happiness. The holiday was established in 910 AD when the first chrysanthemum show was held. In another instance, this flower is used in Buddhist-related traditions for honoring the dead. White chrysanthemums are offered to deceased loved ones’ graves.

While cherry blossoms are viewed as the flower for the populous, chrysanthemum tends to be seen as the Imperial flower. For hundreds of years the Imperial family have decorated their grounds with this, that it was eventually made the official seal to represent them. A special seal called “Jūroku yae Omotegiku” (十六八重表菊, 16-Petal double-layered Chrysanthemum) is used, which was later made forbidden for use by any one other than those of the Imperial family at one point in history. In the 1920s, as a showing of national pride, Japanese citizens are issued a passport with a different chrysanthemum seal on it, called “Jūroku hitoe Omotegiku (十六一重表菊, 16-Petal single-layer Chrysanthemum).

Yet, another example of chrysanthemum emblems can be found in shinmon (神紋), which are special seals that belong to shrines. Just like family seals, shrine seals have been in use for centuries, and vary in appearance depending on the shrine. In this case of the chrysanthemum, there are many types of shrine seals that use this flower, which are still in use today. The same can be said about cherry blossoms being used as shrine seals as well.

ENDING

Flowers have had a great influence on Japanese society for ages. Cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums are possibly the most iconic, for whether we look back to the past or gaze around us in present times, they both stand out almost identically. There is no clear distinction on which of these two are considered the #1 flower of Japan, but it’s safe to say that, whether you admire one or the other, they both serve their purpose in representing the spirit of Japan.


1) 桜. A much older kanji of this would be “櫻”.

2) 菊. The modern way of writing this kanji (菊) is derived from an older one, which is “鞠”.

3) It wasn’t unusual for some cherry blossom trees to grow during Winter.

4) Waka is written as “和歌” in modern times, but used to be written as “倭歌” in ancient times. They both mean relatively the same thing, “Japanese songs”. Waka consists of unique poetic patterns, which includes tanka (短歌, short poems that follow a 5-7-5 pattern), and choka (長歌, long poems which follow a 5-7-7 pattern). Another name for this style of poetry is Yamatouta (大和歌), which also has the same meaning.

Greeting 2020 with Kadomatsu

明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Now that 2020 is upon up, there is much to look forward to in the new year. To get off at a good start, I’ll start off with a post about a tradition connect to new years in Japan.

The 2 center pieces in the picture above are called “kadomatsu” (門松), which translates as “pine decoration by the gates”. More than just decoration, it is part of an old tradition where people would put these in front of their gates or by their doors to attract prosperity and fortune throughout the year from the deity called “Toshigami” (年神). Depending on the area in Japan, people would place the kadomatsu as early as the end of Christmas, to around the start of the oshōgatsu (お正月), or new year in Japanese. This will stay out until seven days after the new year. This goes in accordance to the week-long break everyone has in order to celebrate oshōgatsu in Japan.

The history of kadomatsu is old, with its roots going as far back as ancient China. Originally it starts off with simply matsu, or pine. Pine is resilient during the winter and retains its deep green color. For that, it is seen as a symbol of longevity, and is used at shrines for the sake of worshiping different deities. It would later be combined with take, or bamboo, around the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Nowadays, it is widely used in front of people’s gates, around the doorway of homes, and the entrances of business establishments. Historically there are different designs and sizes of the kadomatsu, making it that there is no one predominant look that must be followed.

Matsu (pine) and take (bamboo) have a high value in Japan, as there are many beliefs of blessings people can receive from them. This is because as plants they display strong characteristics, and possess long-lasting lifespan. It’s reasons like these that the kadomatsu, a combination of the two, represents “longevity”.

There is a saying related to the kadomatsu, which goes as so:

「松は千歳を契り、竹は万代を契る」
“Matsu wa senzai wo chigiri, take wa manyo wo chigiru”

Literal translation is “Pine grants one thousand years, while bamboo grants thousands of years”, but the actual meaning is wishing for an eternal life filled with good fortune. It’s believed that a person can receive this if their kadomatsu is successful as a yorishiro (deity medium) in attracting the Toshigami to reside inside it.

For my family, we brought ours out at the start of new years, and keep them inside our house near the door.

The Parallel use of Kōhaku (紅白)

In the Japanese language, there is a word called “kōhaku” (紅白)¹, which stands for the colors red and white. Historically², these two colors play a unique role. They can be used in pairs, or at opposite extremes in distinguishing groups. For example, the colors on Japan’s flag are represented by the colors red and white. Other familiar items include “kōhaku maku” (紅白幕, red & white curtain), kōhaku chōchin (紅白提灯, red & white paper lanterns), and other types of decorations used for celebrations. The two colors are also used for food and treats, such as “kōhaku mochi” (紅白餅, red & white rice cakes) and “kōhaku manjū” (紅白まんじゅう, red & white steamed buns with various filings), which are commonly used for ritualistic occasions. In activities and sports, two teams are created for the sake of competition; one team is called “akagumi” (紅組, red team) and the other “shirogumi” (白組), and each may carry a corresponding flag or handkerchief as to indicate which side each member is one.

 

Examples of how red & white are used in the following: Japanese flag (top-left), kōhaku manjū (top-right), kōhaku chōchin (bottom-left), kōhaku maku (bottom right)

 

Recently, I came across two words in an old Japanese document I am translating, each based on one of the two colors mentioned above. The document in question is related to warfare and swordsmanship in the past, and features a section that deals with what a warrior can do even when no weapon is in hand. Although used separately, in the context the two words appear in really signifies the parallel existence that kōhaku represents.

Sections from the document Tsuki no Sho (月の抄), which feature the 2 words discussed below.

 

The first word is “sekishu” (赤手)³. Literal translation would be “red hand”, which is actually correct if we are talking about the color of someone’s hands. However, depending on the subject matter, the use of the color red has a different meaning. Here’s the dictionary definition from one of the resources I use for translations called “Kotobank“:

__________

せき‐しゅ【赤手】

〘名〙 (「赤」はむき出しの意) 手に何も持たないこと。なんの武器もないこと。素手(すで)。空手(からて)。徒手(としゅ)

__________

The above definition expresses that the manner in which red is used in this word is to mean “exposed” or “naked”. Together, sekishu stands for “bare hands”, or having no weapons in hand. It has the same meaning as other words of similar use, such as “sude” (素手), “karate” (空手), and “toshu” (徒手).

On a separate note, the word “hakushu” (white hand) doesn’t exist historically. Actually, there is the word “shirode” (白手) . It has no reference to fighting, but instead refers to a type of glaze used on porcelain.

 

Examples of fighting empty handed.

 

The 2nd word from the document is “hakusen” (白戦). If translated literally it reads “white battle”, but this is not the correct meaning. Taking a look at the definition once more found on Kotobank:

__________

はく‐せん【白戦】

〘名〙 手に何も持たないで戦うこと。

__________

Hakusen means “unarmed battle”, where no weapons are used to fight. The use of “haku” (white) is to express a plain, natural form, without the addition of anything else (in the form of weapons, those will add another flavor, or “color” so to speak). A similar word to this is “hakuheisen” (白兵戦), which also can refer to hand-to-hand combat⁴. As for an equivalent “akasen” or “sekisen” using the color red, none exists as far as I can tell from my research.

In conclusion, kōhaku has a strong cultural influence on words, actions, and events. Based on the context mentioned above, we see how red and white are used to mean literally the same thing through the two words sekishu and hakusen. These are great examples of the parallel use of the two colors that represent the word kōhaku. To this day, these colors are popularly used in special occasions in Japan year round, which can be experienced visually even in public events and festivals.


1) There are several ways of writing the word red. For kōhaku, the character “紅” is used. However, one of the more common ways of writing the word red is with the character “赤”. On top of this, there are different pronunciations for both red & white. Here’s what’s used in the article:

Red = aka, seki, ko

White = shiro, haku

2) There are several theories behind the origin of the word kōhaku. One theory is that the colors red and white were used to distinguish the warring armies as early as during the Genpei Gassen (源平合戦, 1180 – 1185). Another is that the word has even older roots, where the colors represent life (red, such as a new born baby) and death (white, such as the white garments worn by those who have passed away).

3) Can also be pronounced as “akade”

4) Actually, this is partially correct. The full meaning of “hakuheisen” is close-quarter combat, which primarily refers to the distance where warriors were close enough to use their pikes, swords, knives, and (if nothing else was available) fists or grappling techniques during Japan’s warring period in the mid century. The root of this is in the word “hakuhei” (白兵), which is a special terminology that refers to “unsheathed, bladed weapons” used for fighting, which became especially prevalent during 1500s. From Edo period onward, due to less dependency on large battlefield weapons and more development in martial techniques in civilian clothing, the use of hakuheisen adapted according to how fights were later conducted. Especially in the later years, hakuheisen was used to refer to numerous methods for close-range fighting, from bayonets to even CQC.

Kiju: Rejoice a Long Life

I recently learned from my wife, who is Japanese, that her parents will be celebrating reaching the age of 77 this summer. Outside of their birthdays, reaching 77 years in one’s lifetime is a special occasion, one that is called “Kiju” in Japanese. As this was new to me, I spent time researching this topic, as its history and concept intrigued me. Today, I will share with everyone this custom of celebrating longevity.

The word Kiju, which is written as “喜寿” in Japanese, has a unique meaning, which is “celebration of happiness”. The choosing of the character to represent the number 77 is not random, for it is culture-related, as well as literacy-related. Let’s go first into the history of Kiju, then move on to its unique theory, as well how it is treated as a celebration.

LIFE OF LONGEVITY

Kiju is the recognition of living a long life. It is part of a list of age ranges/years of living¹ that are revered as representing a life of longevity called “Chōju²”. The practice of Chōju is old, although the different ages were added over time, one as recent as the 21st century. The age ranges, along with their names and meanings, recognized under Chōju are the following³:

60 = Kanreki (還暦)

66 = Rokuju (緑寿)⁴

70 = Koki (古希)

77 = Kiju (喜寿)

80 = Sanju (傘寿)

88 = Beiju (米寿)

90 = Sotsuju (卒寿)

99 = Hakuju (白寿)

100 = Momoju/Kiju (百寿/紀寿)

108 = Chaju (茶寿)

111 = Kōju (皇寿)

120 = Daikanreki (大還暦)

As with Kiju, these numbers and the characters associated to them are not random, for they each have special meanings and methodologies in remembering what they mean. Since the life expectancy was generally lower than 60 due to the lack of nutrition and vaccination, as well as hard life conditions during medieval Japan, much praise and an expression of good fortune is acknowledged to those who did live 60 years & up.

MEANING OF KIJU

As mentioned earlier, Kiju stands for the celebration of happiness. The kanji (Chinese-derived characters) that is pronounced “ki” stands for “happiness⁵”. Interestingly, it is also the representative of the number “77”, at least in this case. When the numerical numbers are written in kanji, it looks like so:

The characters for 77, which are pronounced “nana-ju-nana” in Japanese.

Inspiration of the use of the kanji “ki” was from how it was written in the past, which was more cursive. The 2 pics below depict the character “ki”, with the first one written in textbook block style called “kyōkashotai”, and the second in the older cursive style called “sōshotai⁶”:

If you look carefully, it looks like it is made up of the numbers “七十七”, which would be like so:

The visual imagery of 七十七 (the characters for 77) in the cursive-written style of the character “ki”.

It’s a bit of a stretch to actually “see” those numbers, especially since the character “ki” is not written as so anyway, but this is what influences the use of this character to represent 77 years, along with the meaning.

COLOR OF KIJU

As most things in Asian culture, there are colors associated to each of the age ranges in Chōju. For Kiju, it is the color purple. In the past, it was traditional to wear a sleeveless vest or kimono jacket called chanchanko⁷, along with a special bōshi (hat)⁸. As Kiju would be the theme, this vest and hat would be the color purple. Other items and accessories, such as a sensu (folding fan)⁹, zabuton (pillow)¹⁰, and kozuchi (small wooden mallet)¹¹ would also accompany one’s outfit. You can also adorn yourself in regular clothing that are purple.

8180248942595684650011502.jpg

Illustration of the celebration of Kiju, with the couple dressed for the occasion. By acworks (free).

CELEBRATING THE OCCASION

There is no set date for Kiju, so people can choose anytime within the year to celebrate, whether it be on their birthday, on “Keiro no Hi¹²”, and so on. Usually family members and friends will have a small gathering or meetup where they celebrate those who are 77 years of age while eating a nice meal. Other means of celebration can also include taking a small trip, going to the onsen (public bath house)¹³, and so on. A family celebration is planned this summer for my parents-in-law, but they also have another Kiju-related celebration planned amongst them and their classmates from elementary school. Talk about keeping in touch!

Gift giving is generally not associated with Kiju, or Chōju as a whole for that matter. However, there are some businesses and on-line services that try to promote their products as gifts for the occassion. This ranges from flowers, cards with warm wishes, to portraits & pictures.

ENDING

I hope my parents-in law continue to stay healthy pass their 77th birthdays. We should honor all those who are 77 years old and wish them many happy blessings. Kiju has a positive meaning to it, and I hope I too can live long enough to reach this age. Special thanks to my wife contributing the written characters with her calligraphy skills!


1) There are 2 ways to observe Chōjū: kazoedoshi (数え年) and mannenrei (満年齢). Kazoedoshi is a traditional East Asian method for counting age by first considering a newborn 1 years old, then adding one more year on the following new years day. This essentually makes you 1 year older than you actually are. On the other hand, mannenrei is in line with how age is calculated in Western countries, where a newborn’s 1st birthday is 12 months after the day he/she is born.

In the past, kazoedoshi was the primary way to celebrate Chōju, but in modern times mannenrei is the chosen way.

2) 長寿. Chōju is believed to have started sometime during the Muromachi period (1336~1573) with the ages 60, 70, 77, and 88. Over time, more ages were incorporated.

3) The numbers presented for one’s age in Chōju follows that of mannenrei (exact age). If under kazoedoshi (added years) , then you would need to subtract one year from your actual age accordingly to get the “traditional” age.

4) Rokuju is a new addition to Chōju, as it was established in September of 2009 by the Japan Department Store Association (日本百貨店協会).

5) Depending on context, it can stand for “happiness”, “pleasant”, “rejoice”, and so on. Usually the kunyomi (Japanese phonetic) of this word is used, which is “yorokobu”. Basically, it is used to express when something is good for you or someone, or if you are expressing joy over something.

6) 草書体. This is a cursive, script-like style of writing kanji. Often translated as “grass” kanji. A much older, artistic style of writing, nowadays practiced by those learning Shodō (書道, Japanese calligraphy).

7) ちゃんちゃんこ. A sleeveless haori (羽織, short jacket), this type of upper wear was traditionally good for while being active due to its lightweight, or to stay warm during wintertime as an innerwear under a heavier coat.

8) 帽子

9) 扇子

10) 座布団

11) 小槌

12) 敬老の日. Annually recognized on the 3rd Monday of September, it is a special day that honors the elderly and encourages the nation to give respect to them.

13) 温泉

Kijin Jinja: Ridding Misfortune through Demons

There are some unique and unusual things in Japan that are not normally seen or talked about, especially those that are old & have a long history. For example, in a few posts in my blog I discussed about tales of certain oni¹ (or demons in English) viewed as beings to be revered. While oni are generally seen as being scary and bringers of misfortune in Japanese culture, there are groups that are opposite of this, and instead give praise to particular oni for the sake of luck and protection².

A snapshot of the entrance into Kijin Jinja. All credit and rights of picture goes to  Yoshi Oka.

One of the more unusual practices of giving praise to oni can be found in shrines. Take for example Kijin Jinja³, a shrine located in Saitama Prefecture. It is 1 of the 4 shrines found on Japan’s east side that are dedicated to worshiping oni⁴. At Kijin Jinja, the oni is viewed as a model of unwavering effort, resilience, and having the will to win. This shrine is well known for it’s small ornamental statues of demons on the roof tops, paired red and blue demons drawn on “ema⁵” (small wooden plaques) used for writing one’s prayers & wishes, and small omamori⁶ (charm for protection) in the form of a “oni no kanabo⁷” (demon’s metal club). Thus, visitors that frequent here come to get “powered up” in passing entrance exams into universities, making their homes safe, thriving business, and the like.

Records of Kijin Jinja state that it was established in 1182, nearing the end of the Heian period. Its history lies with a military commander by the name of Hatakeyama Shigetada⁸ (1164 – 1205) , who was owner of the castle called Sugaya Shiro⁹ in Musashi no Kuni (present day Saitama Prefecture). In order to protect his castle at its point of misfortune¹⁰, Shigetada built a shrine there. To make things even more interesting, the deity of worship in this shrine was devised to be that of a demon itself, to counteract bad luck that is usually associated with demons themselves. Thus is the beginning of Kijin Jinja.

One of the festivals that take place throughout Japan is called “Setsubun¹¹”.  It’s a celebration of the end of winter, and a period to rid one’s household of bad luck. Part of the celebration called “mame maki¹²” is where roasted soybeans are spread along the ground in one’s residence to drive away demons, then swept up as if “sweeping away misfortune”. A phrase that goes along with this is “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi¹³”, which means “demons (bad luck) go outside, good luck stays inside”. At Kijin Jinja, since (good) demons are respected, the celebration of Setsubun has some tweaks to it. Along with demons not associated with bad luck, the phrase used at the celebration there is “fuku wa uchi, oni wa uchi, akuma wa soto¹⁴”, which means “good luck stays inside, demons stay inside, evil demons stay out”.

Artwork called “Setsubun no Oni” (節分の鬼). A man is shown throwing roasted beans at a demon to drive it away. By Katsushika Hokusai, from his series “Hokusai Manga” (北斎漫画). From Wikipedia.

There is another tale that is attached to the Kijin Jinja, which is about “Kijin-sama¹⁵”, the actual demon deity that is worshiped here. Kijin-sama (with -sama being the honorific title) is said to be enshrined within Kijin Jinja upon its establishment. The version of the tale I am about to share is from the publication “Ranzamachi Shi” reproduced on the website called “Kijin Jinja“. Below is the Japanese version of this tale, followed by an English translation done by myself.

鬼鎮様

むかし、川島に刀をつくる鍛冶屋さんが住んでいた。朝から晩までトンテンカン、トンテンカンと、一心につくっていた。ある日、若い男が鍛冶屋を尋ねて来た。

「わし、刀が作りたい。教えてください。」と頼んだ。鍛冶屋も忙しかったので「よし、よし」と許した。若い男は、とても熱心で、休みの時間も、また夜もろくに寝ないで、刀造りに精を出すようになった。鍛冶屋の家には、美しい女の子がいた。若い男は、主人に娘を嫁にくださいと頼んだ。主人は、少し考えて「それでは、刀を一晩に100本作れたら、嫁にやろう。」と答えた。

若い男は、喜んで種々準備し、約束の夜を待った。夜になったので、若者は槌を振り上げ、トンテンカン、トンテンカンと刀をうちはじめた。みるみるうちに、三本五本と出来てくる。夜も遅くなった。主人は心配して、そっと刀を作るところを覗いた。出来た。出来た。今うったばかりの刀が山と積まれた。

しかし、その時、主人は刀をつくっている若い男をじっくり見た。何と、その男はいつもの男ではない。まるで鬼だ。トンテンカン、トンテンカンとうつ様も、火花を散らしてあたり一面が火の海だ。鋭い目、頭には角まで生えている。手は次々に出来た刀を積んでいく。

主人はアッと驚いて飛び出した。あの男に、可愛い娘をくれられるものか。それには鶏を鳴かせて、早く夜が明けなくては、と考え、大急ぎで鶏小屋へ走った。コケコッコー、コケコッコーと鶏が鳴いた。

主人は、また覗きに行った。鬼になった男は。まだまだ刀をうっている。けれども、そのうちに東の空が明るくなって夜が明けた。刀は99本出来ていた。鬼の男は槌を握ったまま倒れ、死んでしまった。主人は、なくなった男を哀れに思い抱き上げて外へ出た。男の亡き骸は神主を頼んで庭の隅へ埋め、そこに鬼鎮様というお宮をつくっておまつりした。

Tale of Kijin-Sama

A long time ago, there was a blacksmith that made swords who lived in Kawajima. From morning to night, he put his heart into making swords as the clanking sounds from his hammer could be heard from his shop. One day, a young man came to the blacksmith’s shop.

“I want to make swords, so please teach me.” The young man requested. Having a lot of work to be done at his shop, an extra pair of hands would help the blacksmith greatly.

“Okay, you’re in.” The blacksmith acknowledged his request.

The young man, full of enthusiasm, put his all into making swords, for he didn’t take breaks or sleep at night. In the home of the blacksmith, was a beautiful girl, who was his daughter. The young man requested to his new boss that he be allowed to make the daughter his wife. The blacksmith gave the request some thought, before giving his answer.

“If you can produce 100 swords in one night, then you may take my daughter as your wife.” the blacksmith replied.

Excitedly, the young man made all sorts of preparations at the shop for his task at hand, and waited for that designated nighttime. Once nightfall came, the young picked up his hammer, and swung it making lots of clanging sounds as he proceeded to making swords. In a blink of an eye, he had already produced 35 swords.

It became late at night. Worrying about the matter at hand, the blacksmith went to the shop to take a look at how the young man was doing. Secretly watching the young man at work, he eyed how quickly the swords were being made one after another. In such a short time the swords were piling up!

Just then the blacksmith stared at the young man as he was making swords. Suddenly, the man before him was no longer a man! Bearing eyes that pierced like daggers, and horns protruding from his head, the being before the blacksmith’s eyes was none other than a demon!! This demon stood before what seemed like a sea of fire, as sparks scattered around the demon like fireworks as he clanged away repeatedly with his hammer, producing with his hands one sword after another.

Shocked at what he was witnessing, the blacksmith rushed out of the shop. “There’s no way I can allow my beloved daughter be taken by the likes of such a person!” He thought. Frantically, the blacksmith ran to the chicken coop, thinking that if he could get the rooster to crow, this will signal that the night is over.

“Cock-doodle-doo!” The rooster crowed (through the blacksmith’s efforts).

Afterwards, the blacksmith snuck back into the shop. There stood the man-turned-demon, who was in the middle of striking a sword with his hammer. However, just then the sky to the East began to light up as the night truly came to a close. The demon-man then fell down dead to the ground, still clutching his hammer. He was not able to accomplish his goal, for he managed to produce only 99 swords.

Feeling pity for the man who’s life was lost in work he put his heart into, the blacksmith picked up his lifeless body and carried it outside. He left the body in the hands of  Shinto priest, who in turn buried it at the edge of a garden. Later, this same place was turned into the shrine for Kijin-sama, where the celebrations in honor of him take place.

By reading this, one can tell that Kijin-sama’s inspiring points are going beyond what may be seen as the impossible in order to accomplish one’s goals. That unyielding drive to produce nearly 100 swords in one night is definitely beyond human…which in turn is that same drive visitors wish to acquire to succeed in their tasks at hand.

That sums up this post about Kijin Jinja and its relationship with demons. There are plenty more unique and unsual things of old to be discovered that are a part of Japanese cultures, so please stay tuned for more posts regarding them.


1) 鬼. Along with the image of a large frightful creature with horns and dressed in tigerskin loincloth, oni (demons) are liken to bad luck and disasters according to certain superstitions and practices specializing in reading fortune.

2) Certain demons that do good for the sake of mankind are said to be similar to deities, thus can be revered as a god. Usually these demons are considered “dehorned”. See my posts here and here for more on this.

3) 鬼鎮神社. Kijin can be translated as “Demon Quelling” (or if referring to someone, “Demon Queller”), and Jinja as “shrine”

4) The other 3 shrines are located in Aomori Prefecture, Ōita Prefecture, and Fukuoka Prefecture.

5) 絵馬. Literally meaning “horse-drawing”, originally a picture of a horse was drawn on these wooden boards. Reason behind this is that there was an old belief that gods travel by horses. To offer one’s wishes and prayers to the gods, one method was to draw a picture of a horse on paper or a wooden board, for those who couldn’t do so in front of a shinme (神馬, a divine horse). Later, the drawn image varied depending on the god of worship.

6) お守り

7) 鬼の金棒

8) 畠山重忠

9) 菅谷城

10) According to Onmyōdō (Japanese divination system based off of Taoist beliefs and the 5 Elements), northeast is believed to be the direction where evil spirits come from. The name common for the northeast direction is kimon (鬼門, demon’s gate). In the past, one way to block these evil spirits away was to build a shrine in that direction, and have a particular deity enshrined inside for protection. Thus, many land owners had a shrine built to the northeast of their estate or castle. This practice is called “kimon yoke” (鬼門除け, repelling the demon’s gate).

11) 節分. This takes place usually the 1st week of February, either on the 3rd or 4th day. Originally, Setsubun symbolized the change in seasons, and was celebrated 4 times a year at the end of each season according to the Japanese calendar. Now, there is only one Setsubun celebration for the close of winter.

12) 豆撒き

13) 「鬼は外、福は内」

14) 「福は内、鬼は内、悪魔は外」

15) 鬼鎮様