japonisme: 12/2/07 - 12/9/07

08 December 2007

on the wings of a big orange fish


I was always afraid of Somes's Pond:
Not the little pond, by which the willow stands,
Where laughing boys catch alewives in their hands
In brown, bright shallows; but the one beyond.
There, when the frost makes all the birches burn
Yellow as cow-lilies, and the pale sky shines
Like a polished shell between black spruce and pines,
Some strange thing tracks us, turning where we turn.

You'll say I dream it, being the true daughter
Of those who in old times endured this dread.
Look! Where the lily-stems are showing red
A silent paddle moves below the water,
A sliding shape has stirred them like a breath;
Tall plumes surmount a painted mask of death.

Elinor Wylie

I think it would help to understand the common theme that runs throughout all the art and figurines that we are posting. To do that I think we need to appreciate the culture and legends that produce a universial image of carp, and by extension, the image of koi. As westerners, it is our tendency to look at koi and then look deeper into carp and then come to an impass as to why some things in koi are the way they are? If we start at the 'other end' that is, within the fabic of the culture that created the nishikigoi, we can begin to understand more about the symbolic aspects of koi and how subjective judging includes power, strength, grace and 'presence'.

A carp is a symbol of struggle and endurance. And that symbolism leads to success and reward of life. The Chinese and later the Japanese, who adopted much of Chinese culture as their own over the centuries, observed that carp struggle up stream and never seem to give up that drive. From this a very wide spread fable of the carp that , against all odds, swims up the mighty river of China to the dragon’s gate. The Dragon gate is the area where the river ends and the mountain’s heavy water flow begins. The carp struggles and never gives up and eventually transcends the head waters and reaches his goal. The reward is to become the dragon, a very wise and all powerful creature.

You can see how this worked in the minds of ancient people. The carp is scaled ( like the dragon) fish and seems on a mission as it swims against the current. Dragon myth are common and well loved figures in Asian cultures, from India to Japan. They symbolize many things to the different cultures but always wisdom and power are included in the image.

Carp not only scaled like a dragon, they are also scaled like armor. And this is why Samurai loved keeping wild carp and why carp flags are a symbol of manhood and man’s struggle for success in life.

By the way, this is how and why the serious Japanese keeper sees large , really feminine full bodied koi, as powerful and more of the male image than the female.

So who are these riders on these giant koi? A monk, a boy, a scholar and a warrior. Each is a fable. Mostly from Chinese religions and most are folklore or parables. The monk is on a quest for enlightenment and is taken to the bottom of the sea by a giant carp and shown the wonders of a magical underwater city . The warrior is symbolism of the armored warrior who will not give of the struggle and win by endurance. The scholar is an Chinese figure of several fables that flies on the ‘wings’ of a flying carp in search of wisdom. And the boy, is on a journey to manhood and success in life. This then ties into ‘Boy’s day’ in Japan , the release of live carp into the waters as a symbol of the young boy becoming a man and reaching his goals in life- success, riches, good health etc. 1

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06 December 2007

the unknown czeschka


When the world turns completely upside down

You say we'll emigrate to the Eastern Shore

Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;

We'll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,

You'll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown

Homespun, dyed butternut's dark gold colour.

Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,

We'll swim in milk and honey till we drown.

The winter will be short, the summer long,

The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,

Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;

All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.

The squirrels in their silver fur will fall

Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.


The au- tumn frosts will lie upon the grass

Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.

The misted early mornings will be cold;

The little puddles will be roofed with glass.

The sun, which burns from copper into brass,

Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold

Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold

Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.

Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover;

A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year;

The spring begins before the winter's over.

By February you may find the skins

Of garter snakes and water moccasins

Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.


When April pours the colours of a shell

Upon the hills, when every little creek

Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake

In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell,

When strawberries go begging, and the sleek

Blue plums lie open to the blackbird's beak,

We shall live well -- we shall live very well.

The months between the cherries and the peaches

Are brimming cornucopias which spill

Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black;

Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches

We'll trample bright persimmons, while you kill

Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.


Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones

There's something in this richness that I hate.

I love the look, austere, immaculate,

Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.

There's something in my very blood that owns

Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,

A thread of water, churned to milky spate

Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,

Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves;

That spring, briefer than apple-blossom's breath,

Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,

Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,

And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

Elinor Wylie

more cheschka

& here

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05 December 2007

some follow-up....

i have put together the beginnings of a theory as to why there are so few samples of the floge sisters' clothing design.

they were jewish.

at one point hitler asked klimt to bring by some of his work, but when he learned many of the portraits were of jews, he lost interest.

nazis destroyed many of his pieces for this reason, and as soon as they marched into vienna they also destroyed emilie's shop.

i don't know anything more, including what was in the shop at the time. emilie escaped. the rest i'm still researching.

i find this so repellent.

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04 December 2007

Minamoto no Yoritomo releasing Cranes


King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

We live on the Nile. The Nile we love.
By night we sleep on the cliffs above;
By day we fish, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of yellow sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down
And the great rock walls grow dark and brown,
When the purple river rolls fast and dim
And the Ivory Ibis starlike skim,
Wing to wing we dance around,—
Stamping our feet with a flumpy sound,—
Opening our mouths as Pelicans ought,
And this is the song we nightly snort;—
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Last year came out our Daughter, Dell;
And all the Birds received her well.
To do her honour, a feast we made
For every bird that can swim or wade.
Herons and Gulls, and Cormorants black,
Cranes, and Flamingos with scarlet back,
Plovers and Storks, and Geese in clouds,
Swans and Dilberry Ducks in crowds.
Thousands of Birds in wondrous flight!
They ate and drank and danced all night,
And echoing back from the rocks you heard
Multitude-echoes from Bird and Bird,—
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Yes, they came; and among the rest,
The King of the Cranes all grandly dressed.
Such a lovely tail! Its feathers float
Between the ends of his blue dress-coat;
With pea-green trowsers all so neat,
And a delicate frill to hide his feet,—
(For though no one speaks of it, every one knows,
He has got no webs between his toes!)

As soon as he saw our Daughter Dell,
In violent love that Crane King fell,—
On seeing her waddling form so fair,
With a wreath of shrimps in her short white hair.
And before the end of the next long day,
Our Dell had given her heart away;
For the King of the Cranes had won that heart,
With a Crocodile's egg and a large fish-tart.
She vowed to marry the King of the Cranes,
Leaving the Nile for stranger plains;
And away they flew in a gathering crowd
Of endless birds in a lengthening cloud.
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

And far away in the twilight sky,
We heard them singing a lessening cry,—
Farther and farther till out of sight,
And we stood alone in the silent night!
Often since, in the nights of June,
We sit on the sand and watch the moon;—
She has gone to the great Gromboolian plain,
And we probably never shall meet again!
Oft, in the long still nights of June,
We sit on the rocks and watch the moon;—
—She dwells by the streams of the Chankly Bore,
And we probably never shall see her more.
Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Edward Lear

Lear, Edward. "Pelican Chorus, The." The Columbia Granger's World of Poetry.

these last two images are called 'parodies.' likely meant by this is either the reworking of commonly known themes, or the capture of a reenactment. in 1927, barbara hall wrote that the first shogun, yoritomo, as a form of his own amusement, and as a way to earn buddhist merit points, 'freed the cranes.'

"for this event the people brought cranes from all directions as longevity offerings to express their felicitations. but before the shogun liberated them, date-bearing metal tags were attached to their feet to act as an aid in determining their age should they be recaptured. it is claimed that some of these birds were found several centuries after yoritomo's death, proving them to be capable of attaining great length of life."

In some depictions of this scene, "yoritomo is shown under a great umbrella, held by a female attendant. the substitution of women figures for those of men was white common to most of the ukiyo-e designers in order to please the courtesans who were the principal buyers of the coloured prints."

animal motifs in asian art

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03 December 2007

problems with blogger

here's the designer label for the sisters floge clothing, or at least the shop. for those who didn't read this post, emilie floge was muse to gustav klimt (and not his lover) for many years. i just got bunches of books on the subject out of the library this afternoon, so i'll report on them later.

for some reason images from the last two days are not opening properly to show at a larger size. blogger is aware of this, and is working on it. i hope they figure it out fast! (this label actually is small, but when they fix this, i'll post my real post.)

(UPDATE: i learned a manual fix from the blogger help group, so i'll go back and fix the last two days.)

02 December 2007

the chronicling poet

thanks to the work of a handful of poets, trans- lators, and publishers, we have become aware of a number of poets and novelists, women in early japan. now, though, the voices of the diarists are coming through as well.

in Bettina Gramlich-Oka's fas- cinating essay, Tokugawa Women and Spacing the Self , we are introduced to the lives and work of three such women, Rai Shizuko (or Baishi) (1760-1842), Tadano Makuzu(1763-1825), and Iseki Takako (1785-1844). in excerp- ting (dramatically) the essay, i will let each woman speak for herself.


Omou koto ........................
Without a thought,
nakute mimashiya ........................... for a while, I only
to bakari ni ....................................... observe,
nochi no koyohi zo .................... but later this evening
tsuki ni nakinuru ................... I will shed tears under
the moon. (1800/9/13)

o no naka ni ................... Whatever in the world
michi yori soto wa .................................. lies outside
nanigoto mo ................................ the Way,
supporapon no........................................ throw
pon ni shite oke ........................................ away!


My father Heisuke had five daughters. He wished to marry one of them to a retainer [of the Date house], but none of my sisters said she would go. While they feigned ignorance of our father’s hope, one by one their life courses were decided. I realized that if I did not act, my father’s wish would go unfulfilled, so I set aside my own desires and moved to this place.

Having made up my mind, I resolved to return to my father the body he had given me and, resigning myself to my life being over at the age of thirty-five, set out on a journey of no return. There was little to it, I thought, since it was better than the road to death. Whatever hardships I encountered after arriving here, I endured, thinking them better than the tortures of hell. But ever since [my brother] Motosuke left this world, my mind has not been at ease. I wrote this book [Hitori kangae] thinking that unless I pursued my father’s goals, he would have developed his ideas in vain.

As for half-baked scholars, their thinking is full of errors; the more they gather together, the more they argue without producing wisdom. This is the general situation among scholars. In what way do they differ from frogs?

Since I am a woman lacking in knowledge, I have stated whatever I wanted to without a second thought. Please correct my writings according to your judgment.

I have written this entire text without any sense of modesty or concern about being unduly outspoken…With this in mind, I feel neither pain nor irritation at being criticized by others.


What I am now writing, with my inadequate intelligence and clumsy brush, is not intended to be broadcasted to the world. I am writing this in order to let the young people of my family and their children in future generations know a little of how our family lives today and what our world is like. No doubt these scraps of paper will become the haunt of bookworms or be dragged off by mice for their nests, but even if that happens, it will make a wonderful diversion. (1840/2/12)

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