Nihon Zatsuroku
An Online Japanese Miscellany

= Tents =

by Anthony J. Bryant

      What we call pavilions in the SCA would in Japanese be called akusha or akunoya.

      Generally speaking, tents for use on military campaigns seem to have been a late development. Troops usually slept in the open, with those of rank billeting themselves in nearby temples or homes.

      Camp curtains could be drawn up as awnings, however. The tents that made it to the campaign by the sengoku period were structurally little different from the akunoya that were commonly used in the Heian period as temporary outdoor shelters for festive or religious occasions, often without the walls up.

      These tents, as shown in scrolls, seem to be little more than roofed jinmaku, so they were made to the same decorative motifs that were used in the curtains, and the roofs followed the same pattern as the walls. When hot, the walls could be drawn up and secured, making the akunoya look more like a modern freestanding automobile awning than anything else.

      Heian akunoya, being for festive occasions, were more ornamental, it seems; the typical design for sengoku military tentage was alternating panels of light and dark, with the owner’s crest printed as an all-over pattern on the cloth.

      Sizes seem to vary, but a “typical” akunoya would be something like one or two “bays” wide, and double that distance in length. A “bay” was the architectural term (in Japanese, “ken”) used to define the space between pillars of a building. There was no set width for a bay, but by the Heian period it came to be about nine feet. The walls would be made up of two camp curtains with the “join” at the center front and center back of the narrow sides. The full roof is a simple double rectangle married to a triangle at front and back, while abbreviated models lacked the triangle end-piece.

      The superstructure had several support poles and a series of triangular frames for the roof. It isn’t clear what the superstructures were made of, but a rather architecturally solid wood internal structure appears to be the most likely material. Certainly that is what is used in films today where akunoya appear.

      Considering the weather in Japan (with frequent torrential rains) it is surprising that there is so little material available on how the Japanese kept high and dry.


Making an akunoya

      You must first decide what your tent’s footprint will be. To my mind, nine-by-eighteen is a good size for an akunoya occupied by a couple. If you chose to use the simple method — using a portable, aluminum or steel free-standing frame for a carport — you will probably be using a footprint of ten by twenty feet, which is fine.

      I would suggest a strong internal framework. There are many tentmakers in the Society who could easily come up with a framework of either wood or aluminum pipe to meet your specifications should you logically opt to avoid the hassle yourself. You could even purchase a commercial portable car awning. You wouldn’t be the first person to make a pavilion this way, and these awnings are perfect for making akunoya.

      If you make the fabric part, remember that is needs to be Scotchguarded to within an inch of its life. You may even want to have an under roof of plastic under the fabric for extra protection is rain if threatening.

      The tents were often striped vertically; in authentic terms this means lots of strips of cloth and lots of seams. Mon may be placed on the strips, if you like. Essentially, the walls structurally are very similar to the way you make jinmaku; that is, you can also use solid panels (but you should consider painting on the stripes for an akunoya).

      The roof of the tent will have an overlapping section about one foot long which covers the top of the jinmaku making up the tent walls. Except for the front and back openings, it is fairly well closed. Some sources indicate that inside the tent a secondary set of curtains could be hung as internal walls. This may have provided an overlap at the front and back to enable the tent to actually close up. (During mosquito season, sleepers usually slept under a canopy of mosquito netting.)

      The tent had no integral flooring, and nothing short of perhaps boards laid down, or a simple tatami “carpet” spread out on the ground. Either of these is possible. A few tatami would make up the sleeping pallet. You might want a real floor in your tent, however. For that purpose, a heavy-duty plastic groundcloth covered with canvas, tatami, or goza matting would be perfect.



  This page was last modified on: 12/23/2014

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