Editorial Musings

The Not So Secret Opinions of That Japanese Laurel
(She Who Sucks Least)

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O my dear readers, when I first started learning about how to portray a Japanese persona in the SCA, Kass McGann was the Go To Gal. She had received the King's Order of Excellence for her work as Fujiwara no Aoi, she was publishing work on her Reconstructing History website, she was IT. In the years that followed, I sponged up what information I could. Kass took a hiatus from the SCA. She started a business developing and selling historical costume patterns. And she stopped doing the Japanese thing.

People started coming to me instead. Somewhere along the line I remember saying, "How did I end up being She Who Sucks Least?" Because I not only don't know everything, I refuse to pretend I know everything. I'm still learning this too. I don't speak or read Japanese, so I have to work with materials in translation or struggle with online translation engines like everyone else. I know there's stuff out there I haven't seen.

What follows are random jottings on various topics that may be of interest.

The Front-Tied Obi Myth. (Originally posted to LiveJournal, September 23, 2007.) 

Someone over on the Tribe.net boards related an anecdote in which a woman was observed to be wearing an obi tied in front at an SCA event. A couple of "properly" dressed Japanese ladies along with their escort, descended upon her, about to tell her that only prostitutes wore front tied obi - at which point, the woman propositioned the escort - in Japanese, because her persona was a prostitute! 

There's just one small problem. They're ALL wrong! From my post to that thread: "Women tied their obi in front until the mid to late 17th century, when obi got signficantly wider. From a simple sash only a couple of inches wide, suddenly one had this decorative yet inconvenient knot getting in one's way. That's when back-tied obi became fashionable, and when front tied obi became the mark of a courtesan or prostitute. Therefore, those "properly" garbed women (a) were not, in fact, properly garbed for the SCA." And then I backed it up: 

How much more respectable can you get? Thirteenth century Buddhist nun Eshinni. Look for the skinny ends of her obi falling inside the circle formed by her rosary. 

Young people playing hanetsuki (a game sort of like badminton) from a 16th century screen in the Tokyo National Musem. Several girls are shown with skinny front tied obi. 

Early 17th c. screen shows figures with both front tied and back tied obi. All this tells us is that both styles were being worn at this point and front tied obi are not a signal of anything. 

17th century painting of a "red light district." Note the caged window of the brothel. Back tied obi on the floozy sitting on the porch making time with the samurai. 

18th century painting of ladies with back-tied obi. Having a knot that big in front has now become impractical. 

18th century woodblock print of "beauties." THIS is the classic front tied obi that one sees on women from the pleasure quarters during this period. 

19th century woodblock of an "oiran" or high ranking courtesan with distinctive humongous front tied obi and pincushion coiffure. 

You want to find a lady of negotiable virtue, look at her HAIR. 

Are those chopsticks in your hair, or are you just glad to see me? (Original post dated September 24, 2007)

Remember yesterday when I said "Look at her hair," regarding women of negotiable virtue? Here comes another lecture from She Who Sucks Least. (Disclaimer: this is quick and dirty and I freely confess that post-1600 styles have not been my area of focus.) 

Those of you who have seen me in my Japanese persona at SCA events know that I always have my hair either in a ponytail or worn long and loose. This is not laziness on my part, it's the respectable style worn by women of the court or warrior (samurai) classes during the SCA period (pre 1600). 

The nape of the neck is an erogenous zone. It is considered extremely sexy in Japan. Nape display is analogous to showing a bit of cleavage. 

During the Heian period, even courtesans and common women tended to wear their hair tied in a ponytail, or perhaps a small bun at the nape. It was the fashion. 

At some point in the latter quarter of the 16th century, one starts to see prostitutes putting their hair up on top of their heads, such as this asobime (playgirl) from the Kyoto Costume Museum. It's the latest craze from Ming Dynasty China. (Note that there are no eating utensils sticking out of her head.)  

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun and began a 250 year period of relative peace and prosperity, after decades of internal struggles between warlords duking it out for supremacy. As part of efforts to keep peace in the cities, prostitution was limited to specifically licensed, walled districts in Japanese cities. (These pleasure quarters included not only brothels but eateries, theaters and so forth.) Japan still being very rank conscious, there was a hierarchy even among sex workers, from lowly prostitutes to the high ranking oiran or tayu who merited court rank and palace access. This detail of a 17th century screen shows scenes from the pleasure quarters. You can see a number of women with Chinese influenced hairstyles and the newly fashionable, longer, hanging sleeves. 

The Ming Thing began to trickle down from the pleasure quarters to the wives of its patrons and other town women, along with other new and exciting fashions, now available with the new prosperity of the growing cities of the Edo period. One starts to see respectable women putting their hair up in elaborate, Chinese inspired hairstyles by the late 17th century. Here is a nice example of a Genroku period city dweller

This early 18th century painting shows a number of ladies with elaborate hairstyles, flowing sleeves and big, boldly knotted obi. Again, hair ornaments at this time are limited to paper ribbons and cord. 

It was the 18th century that saw the arrival of female geisha (entertainers), specifically licensed to work in the pleasure quarters as dancers, singers and musicians who do NOT compete with prostitutes or courtesans. Again, it was the fashion forward women of the pleasure quarters whose hairstyles got even more elaborate and whose clothing became even more showy. It was during the Edo period that hair ornaments became more elaborate. It's also during the Edo period that obi got wider and that the women of the pleasure quarters began to show a titillating glimpse of nape. 

This famous Ukiyo-e print by Utamaro is from the height of the Edo period. A little leg, a little booty, and neck down to the thoracic vertebrae, oh baby! 

Periodically, the shogunate enacted sumptuary laws to keep those uppity townies from dressing above their station. Conspicuous consumption went underground to get around it. One might wear a sober kimono with a sumptuously painted lining, for example. ("The shogun can't see it, but I know I'm wearing it....). To this day, one can find sober, black men's haori with beautifully painted linings. 

The tayu (Kyoto) and oiran (Edo) take the prize for most elaborate costume.  These high ranking courtesans worer elaborate hairstyles bristling with tortoiseshell combs and ornaments, massive obi and sexy bare feet showed off 12" high koma geta that required the wearer to get around with the assistance of a retainer. Check out this video of a modern oiran re-enactor performing the trademark "figure eight" step.

While the tayu and oiran eventually became outmoded, geisha remained popular throughout the Edo period. As living works of art, they continued to influence fashion, wearing hairstyles and kimono that were more cutting edge than those of well to do town ladies. (Seriously. If it looks like you need a team to help you get dressed and coiffed, the wearer has a team to do that.)

With the influence of Western dress and Japan's race to modernize in the late 19th century, men were the first to adopt Western clothing for the workplace and slip into kimono when they came home. By the late 20th century, geisha had morphed into preservers of tradition as times changed and everyday Japanese adopted Western styles for every day, limiting the wearing of kimono to special occasions. 

Finally, this link shows a general overview of historical hairstyles

The whole chopsticks in the hair thing is a Western misconception. Hashi are for eating with! 

Japanese hair ornaments include combs, kanzashi (decorated with silk flowers), kogai (a sort of bar ornament usually paired with a comb), pins and yes, hair sticks. But not chopsticks. And not before 1600. 

If It's Tuesday, You Must Be Kitsune: an editorial on names and the SCA. (Originally posted to LiveJournal in January 2008.) 

What is the sound of one hand clapping itself to one forehead in front of monitors across the Known World? It is the sound of some enthusiastic newcomer to one of the SCA Japanese lists who wants to name himself/herself after an animal with whom he/she identifies. Number One on the hit parade is "Kitsune," though we've also had requests for wolves and most recently a raven. Nobody ever wants to be a cockroach though. Or even a tanuki. 

Today, O Readers, She Who Sucks Least muses on the subject of persona and naming within the SCA. On one of the non-Japanese SCA lists I am on, someone recently posed the question of how one reconciles one's personal beliefs with the belief system one's persona would have subscribed to. The short version of that discussion pretty much boils down to either downplaying (or completely omitting) the religious aspect of one's persona within the confines of SCA play or incorporating it - as long as it is done with respectful intent. 

Nobody bats an eye at an American of northern European ancestry portraying a northern European medieval Christian, which is quite convenient for when I am being Jehanne. However, as an American of northern European ancestry etc., my portrayal of a Japanese becomes far more complicated. 

Again, the key, at least in my own mind, is respectful intent. I admit that when I am Saionji I work a lot harder at it. I worried when Duchess Tamsin (who is Japanese American) and I locked eyes across the road in Merchant's Row the first time she'd actually seen me in wafuku. She is a dear, classy lady who would have never said a word against it, but I still felt my gut knot and wondered "Oh, God, what does she think?" I feel it every time we have native Japanese visitors from the Barony of the Far West. (The good news is that I've had most reassuringly positive and complimentary reactions in all cases and appear to have managed not to offend anyone.) 

So, back to the "Hi, can I call myself 'Kitsune?'" people. Well, you can call yourself whatever you want, but should you? 

In the SCA, if you want to register a name, "every word in a Society name must be compatible with period naming practices." 

Regardless of the story you read or the anime you saw or the fact that you think wolves are admirable or ravens are cool, you have to stop and ask, did the medieval Japanese (or other culture/time period of your choice) name their children after these creatures? If not, WHY not? How did Japanese of the period perceive these animals 300 or more years before the founding of the Sierra Club? That's the criteria you should consider if you want to attempt a respectful portrayal of a Japanese in the SCA. (E.g., when the Shinsegumi were referred to as the Wolves of Mibu, it was most definitely not a compliment.) 

Trust someone who started out with a punning Japanese nickname that made all the martial artists think, "Are you SURE you want to call yourself that, hon?" (It served its purpose at the time, then when I was ready, I chose a better name.) 

Are you still sure you want that name? 

In our real, everyday lives we are saddled with the names our parents bestow upon us. While some people will go so far as to legally change the name they were born with because they never liked it, most of us live with what we were given, whether we like it or not. 

Same thing with nicknames. In most cases, nicknames happen because someone makes an observance about you and tags you with a nickname based on it. It could be a diminutive form of your name, based on a physical attribute ("Stretch"), where you come from, ("Tex"), or something you did that you'll never live down ("Barometer Boy"). In Japan's Imperial Court it was considered rude to refer to a person directly by name. This is one of the reasons that finding period Japanese names for women is so challenging. If all that ever gets written down about one is "The Mother of Mitchitsune" or "Tametoki's Daughter" or "The Wife Of Thus And Such Minister" or even "The Lady Who Lives Next To The Potted Plant" you can see the problem. 

Traditionally, most translators decide, "Fine, we'll just call her Kiritsubo" "(The Lady Who Lives In The Pavilion By The Potted Pawlonia Tree)" because that's what Kiritsubo means and it makes life a lot easier. Western readers interpret these nicknames as being real names. After all, that's what we're used to. 

So I understand. Really I do. Picking an SCA name means I get to decide what people will call me. I want something that is meaningful to me, that proclaims to the world Who I Am, because I got into the SCA because I'm a shameless romantic or I want to be larger than life a few hours a week, or pick your reason. 

So here you are, all bright eyed and enthusiastic and you've found The Perfect Name and someone says you can't use it? The nerve! What does she know? She's only the woman who wrote the book on medieval Japanese naming practices that is the bible on the subject for the SCA, BTW. He's only got a doctoral degree in Japanese. The rest of us have only been benefiting from their knowledge for longer than you've been in the organization and are trying to, well, help you on your quest to find something you can actually register. 

There's a solution, really. All is not lost. "Konichiwa, I am Saionji no Hana. You can call me (Insert The Perfect Name Here)." 

That's it. Do the homework - after all, if you're going to pick a name and a persona, it might be nice to know more about it than something you saw in a cartoon. Consult with a herald - they get lonely, that's what they're there for. Register a name that does what the College of Heralds requires of it. 

Let your friends call you by The Perfect Name. 


SCA Heraldry Home Page
Academy of St. Gabriel
Sengoku Daimyo article on Japanese Names

Name Construction in Mediaeval Japan by Solveig Throndardottir (Dr. Barbara Nostrand) is the standard for SCA reference. Check with your kingdom or local herald to see if you can get a look at it, or order a copy of your own.

Myths about Pre-17th Century Japan, or The Problem With Sweeping Generalizations  (Originally posted to LiveJournal July 16, 2008.) 

We all do it. We all make sweeping general statements. The thing is, they tend to stick. It's very easy to fall into the trap of "always" and "never" and the next thing you know it's caught a bunch of people in a knowledge chokepoint, particularly in the SCA, where some folks don't want to have to research how to reinvent the wheel and are perfectly happy to be told, "Here, wear this."  

Today's mental excursion comes courtesy of comments made by one of my friends who lives too far away to raid my library. To wit: "Samurai? Not Heian. They show up in the next era, Kamakura, which was more militaristic.....Sushi? Not Heian. Yes, they ate fish, but not sushi as we know it.....Tea? Not Heian. That's Chinese and showed up a few centuries later....Geisha? Not Heian. They're about 16th C." 

Let us begin with Assertion Number One, that samurai are not Heian. Granted, if you run a web-page on the Heian period (794-1185 CE) through a translation engine, the name of the era will be loosely translated as "Peaceful." 

So, who's guarding the Emperor in his new capital of Heian-kyo (the "capital of peace and tranquility," now Kyoto)? He has guards, such as this fellow in uniform here. We know this from descriptions in diaries of the period, although they might be fulfilling such ceremonial and festive functions as twanging bowstrings at the New Year to frighten off demons. Now as anyone who has managed not to walk out on "The Last Samurai" knows, the word "samurai" derives from an archaic form of the Japanese verb "to serve." As in servant. Or palace guard. You see where I'm going with this. 

People didn't just wake up one morning and say, "Today the Kamakura period starts." History doesn't work that way. Towards the end of the Heian period, there were two lines of succession in contention for the throne. The Taira clan supported one claimant. The Minamoto supported another. Things did not stay peaceful. The conflict known as the Genpei Wars raged for several years before the Minamoto smashed the Taira at Dan no Ura. Minamoto Yoritomo became shogun and formed a military government based in Kamakura. With the formation of the bakufu or "tent government", the military caste rose in status. (Which begs the question, who came up with that translation if the Japanese didn't have tents?) 

The Emperor's role became more religious/ceremonial, though the retired emperors maintained cooperative relations with the shogunate during this period. Samurai were no longer palace guards in funny hats, they were part of the new order that would have a hand in the day-to-day feudal operations of the country. 

Assertion Number One isn't exactly wrong, but it isn't exactly right either. There was a social class that served the Emperor in a military capacity. Their role changed and they evolved into what we think of as samurai with the conflict that brought the end of the Heian period. Go here for a nice little overview from the Samurai Archives.  

Assertion Number Two "Sushi? Not Heian. Yes, they ate fish, but not sushi as we know it....." Correct, actually. If you are eating stuff rolled up in seaweed, such as the ubiquitous California Roll, it's the Japanese equivalent of chop suey - invented to feed the roundeye. 

"Sushi" refers to the combination of fish and rice. If it's just the fish, it's sashimi. Originally, salted fish would be placed in a container between layers of rice, then weighted with stones. This preservation method caused fermentation of the fish - the rice would be discarded when the fish was consumed (nare-zushi). (Side note - the weighted lid method is still used for pickling vegetables as well.) 

When curing time was reduced, the rice could be eaten instead of wasted, though it took on the tang of the salted fish (nama-nare-zushi). The addition of rice vinegar reduced curing time to a single day with the same tangy flavor - this innovation supposedly dates from about 1600. The familiar nigiri-zushi, slices of fish served on a hand formed lump of vinegared rice, is credited to a 19th century Edo sushi seller. 

Anyone whose ever eaten out with me may notice I usually order nigiri-zushi or chirashi (sashimi served over a bowl of rice) and I don't douse everything with soy and wasabi. Trust your sushi chef and enjoy the harmony of subtle flavors in what he puts before you. 

Assertion Number Three: "Tea? Not Heian. That's Chinese and showed up a few centuries later...." 

We-e-e-ll, not quite. China and Japan had contact as early as the 6th century. Buddhism, a writing system, poetry, silk and sericulture, a spiffy and imposing Imperial Court system and yes, tea, were among the innovations the Chinese introduced to the Japanese. Okakura Kazuko's Book of Tea mentions Emperor Shomu "giving tea to one hundred monks at his palace in Nara. The leaves were probably imported by our ambassadors to the Tang Court and prepared in the way then in fashion." Tea was, however, expensive and somewhat difficult to get, particularly when the Japanese Court terminated official relations with the Chinese. Buddhist monks did move back and forth and brought seeds back to Japan and planted them. In the 1200s, Zen priest Eisai wrote a treatise on the health benefits of drinking tea. Tea became fashionable with the ascendant samurai caste. During the 1300s, a game called tocha became popular - guests would be served multiple cups of tea and try to guess where the tea had come from. Given the nature of similar games involving incense that date from the Heian, it could be argued that these tea games might be a form of tea ceremony, particularly as one's good taste would be displayed if one was an adept player. Early forms of what we think of as tea ceremony (preparation of the drink before one's guests in a small chamber) date from the late 1400s.

Assertion Number Four: "Geisha? Not Heian. They're about 16th C." Not Heian, but not 16th century either. Geisha are entertainers. In fact the word translates to "art person" or "artist." There were entertainers during the Heian period. They just weren't geisha. The first so called geisha were male and began entertaining in the licensed pleasure quarters of the Tokugawa regime in the 18th century. Go here for historical background on geisha. 

The Pleasures of the Cup  (Originally posted to LiveJournal April 16, 2009.) 

 As some of you know, I host the occasional sake party. As a result, I sometimes get questions about how to chose something to serve or whether a particular sake is good or not.

Honest answer? I can't tell you. Taste is highly subjective. Don't let stemware swirling wine snobs tell you different. What I like may not be what you like and vice versa and ultimately it all comes down to what tastes good to the person drinking the libation at the time. I can tell you what I like - I cannot tell what you will like. 

That said, sake is an exotic to some folks, hard to come by in some locales, and people are understandably curious about how to pick something or even whether it's something they will like. 

If you Google "sake reviews" you'll find sites who do just that, sake sites, wine sites, food bloggers, the lot. Now, repeat after me: Taste. Is. Subjective. John Q. Reviewer may be waxing rhapsodic about hints of pear and melon, but you could drink the exact same thing and not taste that at all. If you're a wine drinker, think about what sort of characteristics you like in your wine. Sweet? Fruity? Dry? You can use those criteria to help you make a selection, just remember that John Q. Reviewer's taste buds are his taste buds and yours are yours. 

Sake World is the website of  John Gauntner, whose The Sake Handbook I acquired very inexpensively, and which was a great introduction to choosing and drinking sake . It helps to know things like the different grades of sake, what the sake-meter value (a sweet-to-dry scale) is, and that you should definitely look for a date stamp on the label. 

It has been suggested that cheap sake is not worth drinking. This is not necessarily true. Remember: Taste. Is. Subjective. One of the staples of my sake parties is good ol' Sho Chiku Bai Nigori, brewed and bottled by Takara USA in Berkeley. So ubiquitous in the Bay Area you can find it in most supermarkets, it's a cheap unfiltered sake - I think I paid $3.99 for a 375ml bottle. It's on the sweetish side, and I. Like. It. Recently a friend cracked open a gifted bottle of "g" (about $18.00 in an arty black bottle). I didn't care for it. Taste. Is. Subjective. 

That said, if you're new to sake and are afraid to risk serving swill to your guests, price is a factor that may help you in your selection. If you pick up a bottle and it says "junmai daiginjo" on the label, it's probably going to cost more than one that says "junmai." If you can't remember all those foreign Japanese words when you get to the store, $20 a bottle as opposed to $4 a bottle should tell you something. (My boss is a big Irish whiskey and beer kinda guy. At Christmas, he goes into his local BevMo, corners a sales clerk to help him pick out whatever the most expensive bottle in the house is and that's my Christmas present. Every year it's been something different, every year it's been good sake.) 

So what happens when I make a sake buy for the House of Cheerful Monkeys or Rising Sun?  

The 350ml bottle is my friend. Many sake are available in small bottles, ranging in price from $3.99 to $15.99 for the premium stuff such as the delightful Rihaku Wandering Poet. Smaller bottles at modest prices mean more sake to taste and try.  

Check the date stamp. Sake is perishable. Light and heat are its enemies. (I have stopped buying sake at the Jack London Square BevMo because they put it on a shelf where it gets strong late afternoon sunlight. I wrote them an email about why this is a Bad Thing. The sake is still next to the window, which means they can sell it to someone who is not me.) Deciphering date stamps is sometimes a little tricky, depending on whether the bottler put the month or the year first. If it looks like it's been sitting on a shelf since V-J day, don't buy it. If you're at an Asian market where the stock is likely to turn over more often, you're probably OK.

A "gateway drug" helps get people who don't think they're going to like sake to try it. Finding a good "gateway" sake will be subject to what's available in your area and how well you know what your friends are likely to enjoy. Momokawa's USA branch has a line of fruit infused sake marketed under the Moonstone label. I can usually find the Asian Pear flavor at BevMo: it's crisp, fruity without being overly so, and very smooth. Ozeki's Hana Awaka, a sparkling sake at it's girliest, has turned out to be a surprise hit, particularly with ladies who like their drinks sweet.

This is MY chance to try something new too. Seriously. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, it's a party. I might not be wild about a particular choice, but one or more of my guests might like it.

Go ahead: let the label suck you in. I am guilty of teasing my younger sister about buying wine solely because it came in a bottle with a pretty label. Then one day, faced with a dizzying row of bottles, many covered with writing I could not read, I spied a bright red box with a lady on it in full Heian finery. It had a $25 bottle of sake in it. Jinyu. 100 poems. How could I not try it? The risk was worth it - Jinyu may be my favorite sake these days. Delicate, subtle, smooth as Ono no Komachi's five foot long mane of hair, poetic as her thoughts.

Sink or drink? After reading Mr. Gauntner's Sake Handbook, armed with all sorts of useful knowledge, I was remorseful but ruthless about pouring out any party leftovers. After all, the bottle had been opened! Surely the sake would go off before I could drink it and it would be wasted whether I poured it out then or later, right? Well, maybe not. At Mists Coronet just a couple weeks ago, Theia came up to me with a bottle that had been opened at a party at Estrella, told me it was good sake brought all the way from Japan, and I was welcome to have it. I unscrewed the lid - it smelled fine. I told myself it was cocktail hour somewhere and took a cautious taste - it tasted terrific. (This is the Tamanohikari that Tony identified the other evening by my description of the label.) I immediately capped it, stowed it in my cooler and served it that evening. As a matter of fact, there's still about 3" in the bottle and I had some last night and it's still delicious - despite the warnings of various internet sake experts (who may or may not be trying to stimulate sake sales with said warnings). So, keep your opened sake cool and out of the light when it's not out on the table being enjoyed. Sniff and taste-test if it's been around in the fridge awhile: it may not be as good as it was the night you opened it, but it may still be quite drinkable.

Hot or cold? Traditionally, the Japanese would serve sake warm (only about 100 - 105 degrees F) in winter. Most sake is best slightly chilled, particularly much of the sake marketed in the US where we've all been canalized into having ice in our drinks. Check the label and see if the maker or importer recommends a particular serving temperature.

Japanese weddings before 1600. (Originally posted to Livejournal July 29, 2009) 

Here's a topic header to strike fear in one's heart first thing in the morning: "samurai weddings."  

What I had in the house was Ivan Morris' The World of the Shining Prince, which has a section on marriage in the Heian period, so I posted the following on the sca-jml YahooGroup: 

There's a section on marriage during the Heian period in Chapter 8 of "The World of the Shining Prince," by Ian Morris. A nakadachi (matchmaker or go-between)would inform a man of a suitable girl and make arrangements on both sides if he was interested. There would be an exchange of poems with the girl. If that went well, the man would show up and spend the night "secretly" with his prospective bride while her parents seemed apparently deaf and blind to the fact there was some stranger in their daughter's room. If THAT went well, there would be an exchange of morning after poems. He'd spend two more nights with her, the third night being most important. On that evening, mikayomochi (third night cakes) would be prepared by her family and left in the room. "They are in honor of the Shintoist progenitors Izanagi and Izanami and the couple's acceptance of the cakes may be regarded as the central marriage rite; for the connection between the man and the girl now has religious sanction." On the third morning, the man would not have to sneak home by dawn, but could remain openly with his bride.... 

.....When we left our aristorcratic Heian couple, they had spent three nights together. Morris (the following is paraphrased from Chapter 8 of "The World of the Shining Prince") says the third night is known as "the exposure of the event," or "tokoro-arawashi", at which point the consummation of the marriage is publicized. The girl's father (or guardian) woulkd send the couple a formal letter of committal (mika no yo no goshosoku) officially approving the marriage. A wedding feast also publicizes the marriage and openly signifies the union before family and friends. During the Heian period, the feast generally took place on the evening after the rice cakes or within a few days of it. Sake and food were prepared at the bride's home and the groom, with some friends (but not, interestingly, necessarily his parens), would be invited. The groom would officially meet his wife's family at this time. A priest (Shinto) would recite norito (purification prayers) and wave a branch of the sakaki. The couple would perform sansan-kudo, another Shinto purification rite, exchanging cups and taking turns taking three sips (for a total of nine each) of sake. By the Muromachi period, sansan-kudo became the central action of the marriage ritual, but during the Heian period, it was "ancillary to the presentation of rice cakes and was not an essential part of the proceedings." 

At this point, the couple were married. The man could visit his wife whenever he liked. Whether or not she moved into his house, remained with her parents or was installed in a house of her own might depend on whether or not she was his principal wife, a secondary consort or a concubine. Remember, this is the case for kuge (court nobility) during the Heian period. 

Marital age was relatively young. Minimum ages by law were fixed at fourteen for boys and twelve for girls, however, betrothals might be arranged earlier, particularly at about age twelve shortly after a boy underwent his coming of age ceremony. 

The concept of "the wedding dress" is relatively modern, both in the West and in Japan. Morris makes no mention of what would have been worn for the ritual and feasting after the third night, but given the Heian penchant for displaying one's rank and importance in dress, it seems likely that all present would honored the occasion by dressing their best. [EDIT: Presumably this would also be the case for a wedding in the up-and-coming samurai castes of the later periods as well.] 

This link to one of the Japanese-language pages at the Kyoto Costume Museum is of a young woman dressed for her wedding in Heian style: http://www.iz2.or.jp/fukushoku/f_disp.php?page_no=0000035 

This shows Emperor Akihito and Empress Masako in formal dress for their wedding in 1959. They wore costume derived from Heian styles. [New link substituted.]

The traditional ensemble worn by most Japanese brides appears to be an Edo period development out of period roots. The word "uchikake" refers to what we think of as a wedding kimono, however, in our period, an uchikake was simply a robe worn open over other robes and left trailing. 

Compare this 16th century samurai woman from the Kyoto Costume Museum: http://www.iz2.or.jp/english/fukusyoku/busou/29.htm  to this traditional Japanese bride with kimono, uchikake and hairstyle based on Edo period styles: http://www.marlamallett.com/Kimonos-Uchikake-2.jpg 

I found this clip on Youtube showing a modern traditional wedding. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F288j5ZNr8g&feature=related (New link substituted.]

(Can I say that I think the modern uchikake-over-back-tied-obi makes the most willowy bride look like a hunchback? Poor girl. At least she's not wearing a wig. Do you wonder WHY I prefer pre-Edo styles? ) The addition of wedding rings is obviously a relatively modern development, most likely borrowed from the West. The video does give one an idea of what the Shinto purification ritual and sansan-kudo are like, and those components are mentioned in Morris' description of the celebration after the three-night routine of a Heian marriage.

Copyright 2008, 2019Lisa A. Joseph

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