Some Thoughts on Persona

"I have two personae.

As a Japanese guest to a Western (insert SCA kingdom of your choice) court, I am an emissary of my culture. In order to honor my Emperor, my family and my people, I am obligated to present myself and my culture in the best light possible as I sojourn among strangers.

As an American of northern European descent, I am obligated to portray a Japanese with respect, not with stereotyped caricature. As a modern person trying to portray a 13th century English gentlewoman or Japanese courtier, I am obligated to do honor to our forebears.

That means study. That means effort. That means thinking about how they lived, what they thought. How they did things. How they survived war, famine, epidemics, day to day life without an iPod. It means studying extant garments or other artifacts, pictorial evidence, reading their literature or official records. That means being able to explain what I'm wearing or what that tune is I'm playing or why I have black teeth, should someone be curious enough to ask. That means having the courage to say, "I don't know" when I DON'T know. That means making artistic choices over whether I should perform certain types of music at SCA events.

I have far more respect for someone who says, "I can't prove people actually did X. I do X because I like it." I have no respect for somebody who says, "It is SO period. In Ten-Miles-Past-The-Middle-Of-Nowhere Tasmania at 3 PM on July 17, 1307!" and won't tell me where they got this information. Educate me. Tell me where I can find the book because I might actually want to read about 14th century Tasmania if it sparks my curiosity.

If we truly admire the people of a period or a culture, we do them - and ourselves - a disservice by making things up about them.

Your mileage may vary."

    - Originally posted on, August 8, 2005

"Persona play allows us to experiment with being someone outside our every day selves, in some cases to be "larger than life." It's part of the fun.

However, how many of us when meeting someone for the very first time tell our entire life story from blood type to why we broke up with our last SO to why we don't like peas?

Is it necessary to do the same with a persona? Or is it better to keep it simple and allow people to get to know us in a more natural fashion?

Is anyone familiar with the term "backstory?" From Wikipedia ( ):

    "In narratology, a back-story (also back story or backstory) is the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This literary device is often employed to lend the main story depth or verisimilitude. A back-story may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. Back-stories are usually revealed, sketchily or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a back-story or even an entire back-story that is solely for his or her own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story." (Italics are my own for emphasis.)

What I need to know about being Jehanne or Saionji is not necessarily what YOU need to know and vice versa.

You're GUYS (most of you), do you really need to know more than "Oh, she's that court chick who doesn't duck back behind the blinds as quickly as the others. Might be fun to sneak into her room tonight, better work on my poetry." Right, Date-dono?"

        - Originally posted to the Tousando board, September 11, 2005.

Choosing Names - The First One: Jehanne de Wodeford

"I remember my search for a persona name when I started playing in the SCA. I was looking for women's name in post Conquest England and being completely uninspired by the parade of Elizabeths, Marys, Margarets, Mauds and Matildas. My mother found a book at a garage sale that she thought I might like and gave it to me. While examining it, I came across a photograph of an early 15th century dispatch dictated by a nineteen year old peasant girl who had found herself at the head of an army. The only word on the page that she herself wrote was a signature, written with the stiff intensity of a first grader armed with a fat pencil: 'Jehanne.'

Image from

"......It was more of a frisson for me, a ghost finger drawn down my spine. This one. This is it." 
    - Originally posted to the Tousando board, September 21, 2005.

The surname derives from a number of things. First of all, I like the jarring train wreck charm of Norman names: take a very French first name plus "de" or "du" and ram it as hard as one can into a militantly Anglo Saxon place name. It's also a subtle tribute to my first SCA "family," the people of the shire of Rusted Woodlands. I sat down with a British Ordnance Survey map looking for place names with "wood" or "forest" as elements - then I realized I'd actually been to one! In 1991, Woodford was a wide spot in the road somewhere between Stonehenge and Salisbury, with a good pub, frontage on the Avon river and a resident flock of swans. Additional homework turned up the fact that there were several villages called Woodford: the one in Lancashire actually dates to William the Conquerer's Domesday survey.

Choosing Names - The Second One: Saionji no Hanae, called Makiwara

I didn't know that I'd end up with another persona along the way. It just happened.

However, I know who to blame:
    Sir Tanaka Raiko,  the man who invited me to my first event and sucked me into the SCA.         Anything that happened to me after that is automatically his fault.
    Fujimaki Tosaburo Hidetora, who decided to adopt a Japanese persona shortly after squiring to my (then) lord and appointed himself my personal bodyguard at Pennsic XXVIII. As his knight's lady, I felt a responsibility to take enough of an interest to hold up my end of the conversation. Giri is a bitch.
    Baron Master Edward of Effingham, AKA
Hiraizumi T˘rokur˘ Tadanobu. Fujimaki introduced us - and suckered me into going to a class on Japanese court protocol with him.
    Fujiwara no Aoi, AKA Kass McGann. In an attempt to further Fujimaki's persona quest, I introduced them. They promptly press-ganged me i
nto attending an upcoming Japanese themed event with them, requiring me to consult with Fujiwara-hime and make appropriate clothing.

In 2002 I moved to the West Kingdom. For my first West Kingdom Twelfth Night, I wanted to do something special.

The Japanese language lends itself to puns. Incorporating syllables from the names of the people who inspired me to attempt portraying a Japanese, Fujimaki and Fujiwara, "makiwara" is the word for the rolled bales of straw used as archery targets or striking pells for sword work. At the time it seemed a good nickname to go by. In a Eurocentric kingdom that prides itself upon being the Cradle of SCA Civilization, I knew I could expect to be the target of stares at the very least. If I was going to be stared at, I might as well do my darnedest to stop traffic. Making the occasional martial artist cringe because they got the joke was merely a bonus.

It was never a question of just being Jehanne in Japanese clothing, not with the example of Fujimaki knee-walking all the way into court to receive his Award of Arms, or Fujiwara's acid green elegance to guide me. I started reading the diaries of the women of the Imperial Court and trying to digest the cultural differences between medieval Europe and medieval Japan, the bitchiness of Sei Shonagon, the painful innocence of Nijo. I discovered the clothing wore me, not the other way around. I had to move differently, I had to sit differently. And, as I was seduced by the Imperial Court's cult of beauty and the aching sadness of mono no aware, I had to begin to think differently.

By 2005, Makiwara had become considerably more than a wig and some clothes. (With my real hair reaching waist length, the wig is now more trouble than it's worth.) She was composing poetry: worse, she was tempting plainspoken samurai into composing poetry. She was even going to camping events and talking to bushi in person! 

It was time to choose a proper name. Kass and I had decided we're practically sisters, however, I wasn't sure the SCA needed to mirror the Imperial Court with yet another Fujiwara. I could just imagine it: "You know, Lady Fujiwara. The one with the garb website." Kass does high Heian (10th century), while I decided to go a bit later and be from the court during the Kamakura era (13th century). Fujiwara-hime has often expressed her shock at my insisting on running about in "my underwear" (basically anything less than five layers) and worse, writing back when some presumptous bushi dared send me a poem. Not sisters, then. Disapproving ancestress and  granddaughter or niece, maybe.

Earlier in the year I had happened upon the following tidbit in Pierre Souryi's The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society. "In Kyoto, the nobility hostile to the bakufu had been routed and the bakufu's supporters, led by the Kujo and Saionji families (related to the Fujiwara) prevailed. For about a century, until the final years of the Kamakura regime , no real conflict disrupted the harmonious relations between the court and the bakufu."6 I liked the sound of Saionji - and it gave me a plausible relationship to the Fujiwara clan.

Sir Tanaka's daughter is named Hana, which I liked when she was born. Why mess with a classic? A little homework confirmed that the female name root "hana" ("flower") dates back to the Heian period. I began signing posts to the Tousando board as Saionji no Hanae (SIGH-on-jee no HAH-nah-eh). It felt like a good fit. The response from other board members was positive. I got a "bloody brilliant" out of Hiraizumi Torokuro Tadanobu (Effingham). When I attended the Known World Costuming and Rattan Symposium, Otagiri Tatsuzou said it out loud for the first time in my hearing - "Saionji-hime" and I knew it wasn't brilliant. It was right.

Copyright 2005, Lisa A. Joseph

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