Nihon Zatsuroku
An Online Japanese Miscellany

= Introduction =

by Anthony J. Bryant

     The origin of this website was the sixty-fifth issue of the Compleat Anachronist, a then bimonthy publication (now quarterly) of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc, a medieval history re-enactment group. Since it first came out in January of 1993, I have continued my study of Japan and Japanese history, and in fact have left the security of the private sector to return to graduate school to further investigate medieval Japanese history (one of those really employable majors).

      I have tried to limit the things and information herein to SCA-defined period — that is, everything from the Edo period (1600 – 1868) is excluded, as it falls after the SCA’s official cut-off date of 1601. No matter how familiar Edo may be to us — primarily through the great number of films and television shows set during that period, it has no place in the SCA.

      This is something I cannot stress enough to those re-enacting Japan in the SCA; most of the material we have in popular culture about Japan dates from the Edo period. Sumô, as we know it, is an Edo phenomenon. Most of the so-called traditional Japanese foods (like sushi and sukiyaki) are modern. Tenpura is barely Period, being a Japanese adaptation of Portuguese cooking method. The modern kimono is a descendant of the Period kosode. Geisha did not exist before Edo. Please be careful with your sources, and check again to make sure.

      Although it pained me to do so, I have also left out everything prior to the Heian period (794 – 1183), as there has never been any interest that I have observed in recreating the Japan of the Nara (710 – 794) period or earlier. Heian was the golden age of Japanese court culture, but it seems that most SCA Japanese are focusing on the sengoku period (primarily the last half of the sixteenth century).

      My original intent with CA #65 was to produce a “How To” on the construction of a variety of Japanese objects of daily life which were either poorly (read: not) represented in the Society, or are make-do objects of clear touristiana. Upon talking to people, it became clear that what was needed, instead, was a source of one-stop-shopping for Japanese reenacting, a sort of catch-all, if you will, a quick reference to provide a wide variety of information on doing Japanese in the SCA. Thus “A Japanese Miscellany” was born.

      I will provide only the briefest of histories on Japan here; there are many far better, detailed sources for plain historical study, and I need not do that here. I suggest strongly that readers note the lengthy bibliography at the end of this online miscellany, and look there for any title that may fit a particular interest or need. A good basic source for a general history would be the first two volumes of Sansom’s History of Japan. Both are in paperback, and are available from (to which I provide a link in the Links page). Sansom is greatly dated, being very old as a source, and in terms of interpretation and historiography has been supplanted, but it is still an excellent source as a general study. I’d also recommend my own books — especially the first two — for though they focused on the military history, they did provide a basic sketch of Japan’s history from c. 200 to 1600, and they are also heavily illustrated.

      Some furnishings and other household/campsite objects are herein detailed to help provide a more Japanese or Period atmosphere in hall, home, or camp.

      I haven’t bothered to detail the history of religion in Japan, for as colourful as it is, there are many books that cover the subject better and with more clarity than I can in this small site.

      A note on pronunciation: Japanese is a syllabic, generally uninflected, language. When letters are doubled (indicated here by a circumflex, the ASCII-version of a more common macron), they are given longer time. Think of the difference in vowel sound between “Go” and “Go over.” Doubled consonants, likewise, are lengthened, as in the difference between “Hit” and “Hit tune.” In general, letters are pronounced similarly to English, although some have spoken of “Spanish vowels” to give the sounds. Some exceptions should be noted:

      G — always hard, as in “get,” never soft as in “gem.”
      J — always j as in “jet,” never zh as in “measure.”
      R — always slightly rolled, similar to the British English “veddy (i.e., ‘very’).”
      S — always soft, never hard as in “his.”
      CH — always the sound in “church,” never like the French “chanson.”
      TCH — a lengthened ch, similar to the sound in “fat chance.”

      A — as in “father” and “far,” never as in “bat” or “cat.”
      E — somewhere between “bed” and “hey.” When a final vowel, it is always sounded (e.g., sake is /sah-keh/, not /sah-kee/ or /sayk/.)
      I — always as in “machine.”
      O — always as in “boat.”
      EI — as the sound in “bait” or “fate.”
      AI — as the sound in “rite” or “tight.”

      Note that some sources follow an archaic orthography for Japan and use consonant/vowel combinations that don’t exist anymore (and either way are never pronounced the way you might think). Sometimes you will see people use an “H” to lengthen a vowel (e.g., “Saitoh” as a spelling for the name “Saitô”). This is an unfortunate habit. Using that convention, is the word “dohyo” therefore “dô-yo” or “do-hyo”? The pronunciations — and meanings — are very different.

      This orthography problem is very clear if you have ever read James Clavell’s book Shôgun. Toranaga was lord of the “Kwanto.” It is pronounced — and correctly transcribed these days — as “Kantô.” There is also a character called “Kasigi Yabu.” The combination of SI is impossible in Japanese; it is SHI, the odd Romanization system not withstanding. The third big one is calling Toranaga’s capital “Yedo” instead of the correct and proper “Edo.” This application of a leading vowel is also why Japanese money is called “Yen” instead of the proper Japanese “En."

      One more language note: Japanese does not have a true form of expressing plurality. While some nouns may be doubled to produce a plural (e.g., “kamigami” is an occasionally-seen plural for “kami,” or “god"), in general the single and plural forms are identical. Many who work with Japanese feel awkward, therefore, saying things like “kimonos,” “samurais,” or “shôguns.” I am one of these, so the same form is used regardless of whether the word is singular or plural.

        I will use Japanese terms wherever possible, as it is easier to refer to something by its proper name than keep coming up with English euphemisms. Have no fear, though, as it won’t take long to get used to the terminology. I provide several illustrations with the terms pointing out the part referred to, as well as a detailed glossary in the back. Given the amount of Japanese terminology, I am not italicizing all the Japanese terms; rather, I am keeping them in the normal text face to keep the text readable onscreen.

      The patterns and large-scale diagrams that are provided herein are not inline. Rather, they are separate PDF files that will open in a different window. I did this deliberately to allow for patterns to be printed in the actual size, or at a specific percentage of the actual size. I never trust inline images to come out actual size when copied and pasted somewhere. You will obviously have to have a PDF reader (such as Adobe Acrobat®) to be able to see these files. The patterns are all indicated by a pale blue button on the right side of your browser screen. The PDFs were intended for printout, so they may contain graphics that look unclear on the screen, but in hard-copy they are fine.

      I welcome correspondence on any of the subjects herein, or any subjects you think should be included. On the bottom of each page is a link that will open a mail-message window.

     I’d like to express my gratitude to Izutsu Yohei, owner and operator of the Japanese Costume Museum in Kyoto, and the management of Yoroi no Kôzan-dô for their forebearance in allowing me to use some graphics they own in the development of this site.

      Finally, a note of dedication:

      To Fujiwara Aoi-hime, who is a constant source of inspiration, and by her actions and works a constant challenge for me to push my own boundaries. It is largely a result of conversations with her that I have decided to update and present these pages here. 

Anthony J. Bryant
January, 2001

     This site is currently in state of revision. Please excuse the mess… and please visit frequently to see the updates and newly developed pages.

March, 2004



  This page was last modified on: 12/18/2014

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