Latest Entries »

Photo by Carmen Sterba on Jan 2007.

Abbess Kakusan founded Tokeiji as a convent used as a sanctuary for women in distress. Naahime (Tenshu) escaped death at Osaka Castle and was spirited away to the safety of this sanctuary in Kamakura.

One of the most popular temples in Kamakura, for both Japanese and overseas tourists, is Tokeiji, the first sanctuary for women in Japan. It was a 10 minute walk from my home to this temple. There I first learned how samurai women had found safety in its Pine Grove Forest. In 1285, Lady Horiuchi, of the Adachi clan, established Tokeiji convent after the death of her husband Hojo Tokimune, the 8th regent of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333).

In the beginning, the women who arrived there were victims of clan wars. However, when peace came to the country at the beginning of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period in 1600s, the women who arrived at the gates were mostly townsfolk who desired shelter from abusive husbands and in-laws.

Women Hostages and Runaways

Horiuchi took vows as a nun right before Hojo Tokimune died; she became Abbess Kakusan Shido. Tokeij’s convent lasted almost 700 years before being changed into a monastery. One of the reasons she used the convent as a sanctuary was that during infighting between the Hojo clan and the Adachi clan, part of her family was killed. The person responsible was her own son, Regent Hojo Sadatoki. It was a grueling aspect of the medieval period to experience the sudden break up of clans with families killed and women taken hostage. Women were also taken as hostages for political marriages. It was within this environment that Kakusan decided to use her convent as a sanctuary for women.

Kakusan (with Sadatoki) petitioned the emperorfor those who were in distress. According to Sachiko Kaneko Morrell in Zen Sanctuary of the Purple Robes, the petition stated, “being treated unjustly, some commit suicide or take other extreme measures. I request that this humble temple code provide that if such women reside in this convent for three years, the marital relationship will be severed.” Later, it was later changed to two years. The sanctuary continued until the convent was changed to a monastery in 1902 after women’s shelters and legal courts for divorce were established.

The Granddaughters of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu

Before Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598, he requested Tokugawa Ieyasu and other daimyo to guarantee the safety of his son, Hideyori. Ieyasu broke his promise. In 1614-5, there were two sieges by Tokugawa forces against Hideyori at Osaka Castle where his wife Senhime, Ieyasu’s granddaughter; his mother, Yodogimi; and his children lived. Among those who rallied around Hideyori, were samurai who had converted to Christianity in the late 1500s and early 1600s before the persecutions of Christians grew. There were also samurai who were loners (ronin). Ieyasu and his son, Shogun Hidetada, won the battle with their greater strength of forces.

As Osaka Castle began to burn, Hideyori and his mother prepared for suicide as Senhime and her stepdaughter, Naahime, were allowed to leave the castle before it burned. Knowing that Tokeiji was a sanctuary, Senhime made sure that arrangements were made for the seven-year-old and some of her maids to escape by palanquin from Osaka to Kamakura. Unfortunately, Naahime’s eight-year-old brother was beheaded by the Tokugawa.

The Trauma of a Young Girl

What could it have been like for the small girl to be torn away by the death of her family and the only place she knew? Her ride to Tokeiji and safety was necessary so she would not be taken hostage or killed. As the palanquin was carried along the seaside route to Kamakura, what images of the battle and fire raced through her mind? Nahime only knew that she would become a nun at a forest temple for the rest of her life.

Sources from Catholic Priests and English Tradesmen

Japan experienced the arrival of Portuguese and Spanish priests in the 15th-17th centuries, as well as traders from England and the Netherlands. Some of them wrote diaries. One shipwrecked Englishman, Will Adams was able to establish a relationship with Ieyasu. He learned Japanese, became a samurai and a landowner in the Yokosuka. There was a yearly excursion to Edo for the priests and traders from Nagasaki in the south. Richard Cocks, the head of the East India Company, reported in his diary that he and Will Adams (as interpreter) passed through Kamakura on their way to Edo in 1616. Their remarks about the small daughter of Hideyori living at the Tokeiji convent were copied as the following (which was originally in Old English):

“The little daughter of Lord Hideyori took the tonsure to be a nun in Tokeiji, only to save her life, for it is a sanctuary & no justice may take her out.”

Richard Cock’s Diary entry for October 18, 1616.

The Hori Incident in History and Anime

Naahime was named Tenshu Hotai and eventually became the 20th abbess of Tokeiji. An alarming incident happened which shows her strength and courage. A daimyo, Kato Akinari was a cruel and decadent man who was outraged by advice from his loyal retainer, Hori Mondo. Hori sent his wife and children to Tokeiji for safety and hid from Kato. When Kato’s assassin arrived at Tokeiji, Tenshu refused to let the women them go. The assassin left because no man could enter the gate of Tokeiji’s sanctuary. There is a manga on the Hori Incident. It is greatly sensationalized, but the part about Tenshu and her continued correspondence with Senhime is quite accurate.

Abbesses Kakusan and Tenshu are exceptionally courageous samurai women. There is little written about women in medieval history. Legends of samurai women have been passed down and repeated in The Tales of Heike and other literature, but Kakusan and Tenshu were real people who studied, prayed, wrote poetry and helped other women who had no place to run to. In fact, Tokeiji is called the “run to temple” (kakikomidera).

This article is copyrighted by Carmen Sterba and first appeared in Suite 101 Online Magazine and Writer’s Network on May 15,2011.

Sources

Morrell, Sachiko K and Robert E. Morrell. Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan’s Tokeiji Convent Since 1285, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Rozmus, Lidia and Carmen Sterba, eds. The Moss at Tokeiji: A Sanctuary for Women in Kamakura (1285-1902), Santa Fe: Far North Press, 2010.

Tokeiji Official Website, Retrieved from http://www.tokeiji.com/

Historical ninja were mostly samurai who doubled as spies from the 15th to 17th centuries. Ninja as fantasy characters now appeal to all generations.

How historical are ninja? They are more apt to appear in old samurai movies, manga and anime, than in history books. There were ninja who came from Iga and Koga, but not all ninja were from those areas of Japan. There were also female ninja called kunoichi, but the historical ones were likely more scarce than kunoichi in anime. One of the most important facts about real ninja is that most were samurai, who doubled as spies. Non-samurai, who had been paid as informants, were not considered ninja.

Ninja Gather Enemy Intelligence

On the Ninja Museum website developed in Iga is the following explanation about ninja: “Most people imagine that ninjas flew through the sky and disappeared, like Superman, waving ninja swords around, sneaking into the enemy ranks and assassinating generals. This is a mistaken image of the ninja introduced by movies and comic books.” The job assignment of ninja was divided into “two main categories of performing espionage and strategy.” That is “similar to the job of modern spies, wherein one carefully gathers intelligence about the enemy and analyzes their military strength.” This sounds familiar, suspenseful and dangerous like the Obama administration’s successful mission by the CIA and Navy Seals to find Osama bin Laden.

Hattori is an Example of a Samurai Working Double as a Ninja

In actuality, real ninja were only prevalent during the late-15th to the early-17th century when the most powerful and ambitious samurai leaders were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. These men needed ninja as spies to keep track of who might try to assassinate them or attack their castles. In fact, the most well known ninja was Ieyasu’s samurai retainer, Hattori Hanzo.

How Did Ninja Disguise Themselves?

What about the “ninja style”? Is that for real? Probably. They wore subdued kimono most of the time; there were no black pajama bottoms. When ninja had to escape, they often dressed as monks. Also, some ninja were actually known to dress as traveling entertainers with gaudy costumes. The average samurai or townspeople seldom mixed with performers. Therefore, it was a clever way for them to travel because they were allowed to pass through checkpoints without a pass.

Ninja Myths Disclosed

Although real ninja did not use the black pajama style, Japanese novelists and their illustrators began to use it to enhance the mystique of ninja during the late Tokugawa period (1600-1868). This garb may have been inspired by the theatrical styles of Japanese theater such as Bunraku puppet plays because puppeteers (hidarizukai) dressed in black and had hoods to make themselves “invisible” to their audience, along with the additional influence of Kabuki Plays.

Novelists did not use he word “ninja” until the late 1800s. Next, with the age of film, ninja characters were filmed in black and white, so the ninja pajama outfits with scarves around their faces must have made it easier for the audiences to identify the ninja. Finally, in the late 1950s, movies and TV went to color. In 1986, a cartoon called Ninja Hattori-kun, in blue “ninja style,” appeared on Japanese TV, and video games and anime followed later.

The Cultural Mindset of Anime

Now the colorful clothes of the protagonists and antagonists in Shonen Jump’s Naruto and other anime are fresh, quirky and alluring on film as well as manga. It looks like anime ninja and kunoichi dress more like historical ninja in disguise. According to Donald Richie in A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, Sato Kenji points out that manga and anime’s “inherent lack of realism is their unique ability to exploit the appeal and fascination of the unreal…. These are the only two media capable of portraying reality the way Japanese feel it should be.” Anime has most certainly changed the way modern Japanese and their culture are seen worldwide.

The fantastical ninja in the media arts, fantasy novels or old samurai films for movies and TV, are most likely to appeal to different ages of people. Thus, authors, screenwriters, cartoonists, manga and anime artists all write for certain audiences. International ninja enthusiasts, who are interested in an Internet site for online debates and resources on accurate samurai history, including ninja, can use the Samurai Archives Citadel.

Today, I talked to Brandon, an American college student, about his fashion of wearing a wool scarf over part of his face. “Were you inspired by ninja?” I asked. Immediately, he animatedly explained how there is not much known about ninja in history except that they started in Iga and Koga. As he said those locations, I smiled, nodded my head, and we promised to talk more about these legendary spies that continue to appeal to new generations worldwide.

This article is copyright by Carmen Sterba and first appeared in Suite 101 Online Magazine and Writers Network, May 7, 2011.

Sources

Richie, Donald. “Documentary and Anime,” A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History with a Selective Guide to Videos and DVDs, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2001, pp. 43-53.

The Samurai Archives Citadel Japanese History Forum (1999)Retrieved from http://forums.samurai-archives.com/viewforum.php?f=2&sid=f5a86319973f8ec488a06491c165b164

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, 2011

Naruto Anime Ninja

Kyung-sook Shin reads Please Look at Mom

2012 Man Asian Literary Prize for the First Woman and first South Korean novelist.

“Half a century has passed since that June breath I took at rising dawn. I know I must give it back.” — hortensia in The Plenitude of Emptiness

The Plenitude and Emptiness — hortensia Anderson

                             a review by Carmen Sterba

 

In hortensia’s book The Plentitude of Emptiness, the lyrical quality of hortensia’s haibun (prose with haiku) is outstanding, to say the least. There is a unity that relies on cycles of plenitude and emptiness rotating throughout. First, there’s an ebb and flow of playfulness and nostalgia. Next, specters of loss appear until the cyclical movement repeats itself.

From what I know of hortensia’s continual struggle with health issues, I wondered if her book would be dark and morose. It is not. It shimmers in the dark and lives large in the light. It’s a celebration of life and shows an unexpected acquiesce towards infirmity. There is no rage. Perhaps, the act of writing is her choice once her emotions become overwhelming. She has taught herself to learn from her suffering and bounce back time and time again. Between her words is an indomitable strength.

As words follow words, the first section is filled with phrases like “froth and foam of mimosa” and “purple-blue fog of wisteria”.  Odors appear like “cedar and sandal,” “night hyacinth” or “bergamot and rose”.  Less that half way through the book, “the clouds blacken and shred against a golden sky” and the mood becomes chilly. Such a mood lasts through many haibun, until there’s a recurrence of lightness when the acrobatics begin again and hortensia’s crescendo continues until it becomes introspective again. Where does she get this hard resiliency? How has she learned to make roses out of ashes?

There is laughter as well. The reader may laugh at “the narcissus’ by the reflecting pool remain in love with themselves” or at the incident in “Blue” when a clueless but polite guy remarks on her art piece:

“So with these origami you have?” he asks, delicately. “These are crumpled blue tissues I say.”

 Spring rain –

a flock of birds

loses their shape

Next, hortensia becomes introspective about the wonders of nature in “Ume”: “As one blossom drops by my hand and onto the paper, I wonder how it knows to let go.”

And, she soars in “The Way Back”

 Swingset –

I try to flip

over the sky

Near the end of Plenitude of Emptiness is the haibun “Tea Bowl” which contains a kernel of her philosophy:

potter’s wheel –

the essence of emptiness

taking shape

These pages contain a gifted poet’s poetic prose and haiku that deserve to be read again and again. For some readers, a glossary of Buddhist terminology may have been helpful; nevertheless, the way hortensia weaves these terms into her writing, points naturally to her beliefs.

Hortensia Anderson’s collection of 115 haibun, The Plenitude of Emptiness, has been published by Darlington Richards. You can purchase it for $10.73 on the Lulu.com website at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-plenitude-of-emptiness/6484337.

http://www.haijinx.org/III-1/reviews/poe.html

Suite101
Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba

Suite101

Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba

 

Suite101

Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba
Joseph Hardy Niijima

Niijima Jo, Founder of Doshisha College and Husband of Yamamoto Yae

Niijima Jo, a young samurai risked his life to travel to America before the Government of Japan allowed it and came back as a respected leader.

 

Suite101

 

Pa Jin wrote Family, a modern classic novel in 1931, which is still well read today. The author was influenced by his study in France, classic Russian literature by Leo Tolstoy and plays by Hendrik Ibsen. This “coming of age” novel appeals to Chinese youth.

Suite101

Latest Asian Literature Articles by Carmen Sterba

In Chang-rae Lee‘s novel, The Surrendered, his main characters, Joy, Hector and Sylvie have connections to both America and Korea. Lee has a way of juxtaposing the main threads of each of his novels into two parts: the unknown suffering of war and the known tasks of daily life. In this novel, Joy and Hector travel to Solferino, Italy where a historical battle took place. Surprisingly, this change of battlegrounds presents a chance for them to make peace with their past.

Suite101

Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba

The narrators in Julie Otsuka’s novel, The Buddha in the Attic  are a collective chorus of the Japanese “Picture Brides.”

Suite101

Latest American Fiction Articles by Carmen Sterba