Archive of messages exchanged on the pmjs mailing list from 6 February, 2001. The subject line changed repeatedly: Heian tears" - "Silk and aristocratic tears" - "tear-drops" - "Heian tears: lit or fig?" - "soggy silk" - "rivers of blood" - "Hemp" - "Paper" - "Blood and guts" - "silk stains"
Question raised by: Royall Tyler
Discussants: Denise O'Brien, David Pollack, Janine Beichman, Rose Bundy, Barbara Nostrand, Noel John Pinnington, Roberta Strippoli, Wayne Farris, Matthew Stavros, Alexander R. Bay, Lewis Cook, Mary Louise Nagata, Richard Bowring, Michael Watson, Barbara Ford, Leila Wice, William Bodiford, Amanda Stinchecum
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All right, CJLit fans, we have a zillion passages in GENJI and elsewhere about people wiping their eyes with their sleeves, wringing out sleeves sopping wet with tears (a figurative expression, I know), etc. But did they REALLY use their sleeves to mop up their tears? Silk is remarkably non-absorbent, those sleeves were valuable, water leaves stains on silk, and in any case they were generally wearing makeup, weren't they? What a mess! Didn't they actually used paper? After all, they must have had some handy to blow their noses on. Or did they, for that too, ...? It hardly bears thinking about.
Perhaps one of the multiple underlayers was the actual recipient of tears---maybe an older, faded robe---or, if we can't imagine a Heian lady with a faded robe no matter how far down in the layers---then why not think of those commodious sleeves as the holding place for a more plebeian rag? I can imagine a woman--or a man---holding a sleeve delicately to her eyes but doing the actual mopping up with the equivalent of a handkerchief. Do tears stain silk badly? Perhaps we should conduct an experiment. Certainly present day silk---most kinds---washes easily (no matter what the label says).
Regards, Denise O'Brien
I'm providing some information from a silk website that might be of interest since it seems to run counter to some of what you write. However, the information is written in the context of modern silk production, so we don't know if these statements apply to silk in general, or only to the modern variety -- I suspect the former, but I'm not sure. Also you will notice there is nothing here about the question of tears with their high salinity <http://www.fabrics.net/silk.htm>:
"Silk absorbs moisture, which makes it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of its high absorbency, it is easily dyed in many deep colors . . . All silk is washable. Silk is a natural protein fiber, like human hair, taken from the cocoon of the silkworm. The natural glue, sericin, secreted by silkworms and not totally removed during manufacturing of the silk, is a natural sizing which is brought out when washing in warm water. Most silk fabrics can be hand washed. Technically, silk does not shrink like other fibers. If the fabric is not tightly woven, washing a silk with tighten up the weave.... thus, lighter weights of silk (say a crepe de chine of 14 mm) can be improved by washing as it will tighten up the weave. A tightly woven silk will not "shrink" or will "shrink" a lot less. Silk garments, however, can shrink if the fabric has not been washed prior to garment construction . . . A good shampoo works well on silk. It will remove oil and revitalize your silk. Do not use an alkaline shampoo or one which contains ingredients such as wax, petroleum, or their derivatives, as these products will leave a residue on your silk and may cause "oil" spots. If static or clinging is a problem with your silks, a good hair conditioner (see above cautions) may be used in the rinse water. "
As I recall, the long Tang poem 'Changhenge' by Po Zhu-i is awash in tears -- may even be a locus classicus for wet sleeves for all I know (though it sounds more like a Six Dynasties trope: 'is it tears or snot that wets my sleeves?,' etc). One implication of all this copious lachrymosity is that the wretched emperor and his concubine could care less if their precious silks get stained. Heian courtiers may have adopted a similar conceit of heroically abandoned misery.
Finally, though it doesn't appear to come up in Genji, one suspects that they had people who knew how to get pretty stubborn stains out of silk -- though it sounds from the information above that heavily-dyed silk material in fact stains only with difficulty. Once the material had been dyed and the proper mordant applied to make the process fast, I suspect it would be pretty much impervious to mere human tears. Its ability to "absorb moisture" sounds more a matter of its weave or fibers permitting the passage of humidity and sweat (the early Gore-Tex effect) than of actually absorbing moisture into itself permanently.
not sure silk is so non-absorbent--it's one of the 'natural' fabrics women who get hot flashes are told will be comfortable to wear, as it absorbs the sweat better than a synthetic. Also, rather than 'mopping up' their tears, perhaps they were dabbing at their eyes, or patting them dry.
I agree [with Janine Beichman]. It seems to me that silk is marked in fitness catalogues/shops as capable of absorbing several times its weight in moisture--and so suitable for runners, and others who work up a sweat. Plus it dries pretty quickly. But we're talking light-weight silk, not heavy woven materials. BTW, many of the "high-tech" synthetics don't absorb but pull the fluid to their outer surface, away from the skin, which would have been helpful in those hot, Kyoto summers, I'm sure.
Isn't the nose/eye wiping problem much more simply solved by wearing on or more layers made out of linen or hempen cloth instead of silk? As I recall, they had linen, hempen cloth, and ramie (sp) as well as silk.
Just to bite the bullet, I have always wondered whether tears were not the only fluids that left their traces on clothes after a night of love; and hence taken it that tears were metonymic, or else synechdochic. Something like: "my damp pyjamas as I left your room..." Maybe not. When I was studying with a swami in India, he routinely blew his nose on his robes, and nobody seemed to mind.
On another point, I have always imagined the common image in which teardrop on the sleeve contains the moon to refer to some property of liquid on silk to resist the material and form a near spherical shape - hence reminding the poet of dewdrops and beads. If silk is so absorbent then bang goes that set of connections. Noel Pinnington
Wait a second, were they really weeping? I thought that was a figurative expression too...
Dear all, Speaking from the bottom of the social pyramid, I'd like to know how all that silk got produced. Technology? Marketing? Labor? There's a good book waiting for someone who wants to study the development of the silk industry in Japan, 700-1800 (or later). But it doesn't focus exclusively on samurai or the aristocracy, so it won't be addressed. (Excuse the needle!) Personally, I prefer hemp!
Best wishes, Wayne Farris
I'm with Roberta. If indeed they were crying, this is an excellent exchange. If not, however... Someday, a thousand years from now, people might just be debating about now we regained our faculty of sight after each time we "cried our eyes out." This undoubtedly will trigger a long discussion about our tendency to "cry a river" on occasion.
Maybe we should take the expressions of Genji and friends more literarily than literally.
Here is another question to throw to the group: Do allusions to wet sleeves and the like have similar expressions in Chinese traditions, i.e. were themes and motifs in Chinese literature and poetry adopted and adapted into "native" Japanese poetry, literature, and aesthetic traditions? (for the tenuous nature of these terms as applying to Heian poetry practice see Smits, "Pursuit of Loneliness") And if so, do we need to ask what these allusions meant in the continental context, and how weepy Chinese dried their tears, and avoided staining their robes with tears? Or, akin to Noel's inquiry, how they alluded to various wetspots on the sheets. An even more interesting question would be: did previously non-existent tears in Chinese poetry then appear in the kanshi that Japanese courtiers wrote? To push the envelope even further, (thanks to Wayne's encouragement) we know that Japan grew, and made clothing out of, hemp, but did they smoke it pre-Meiji Japan? Alex Bay
TEARS REDUX I have already suggested that, while the Changhenge (Chougonka) of Po Zhuyi is awash in tears, Helen McCullough's now-ancient HJAS translation of Konishi Jin'ichi's seminal 1949 essay on the Chinese origins of much of the rhetorical strategy of the Kokinshu style (was it?), tells us that tropes of 'elegant confusion' (is it tears on my sleeves or dew?) were a hallmark of the Six Dynasties (ie, pre-Tang) style of poets like Yu Xian. I'm not certain how much of that poetry actually dealt with teary sleeves, but I believe there was quite a bit of it. I also believe that the trope stuck in certain Tang modes, typically love poems of the 'palace-mode' (gongti) style. Some of this is rehashed in Brower & Miner, though without specific references.
Alas, the years have not been kind and it's too late at night to drive over to the library to check all this out. I hope someone will take up the gauntlet, or is it the sleeve. I did check Rimer & Chaves' translation of the Wakan roueishuu, but found no wet Chinese sleeves under "Love."
Tribute from Southeast Asian lands listed early on in the Chinese dynastic histories included, to my recollection, something called "bowstring hemp," and I remember one desultory seminar day devoted to arguing whether the stuff was for shooting with or for smoking. As I recall, the distinction between the inert 'industrial hemp' and the potent other sort came up, a distinction revived in the US today by tobacco farmers looking for legal remunerative alternatives to the evil weed (tobacco that is). So far they seem not to have had much luck convincing the FDA that the inert variety really is inert. The Chinese were interested in all sorts of mushrooms, especially the Daoists who revered the lingzhi fungus that is a standard item of Daoist iconography even today; but there never has been any evidence that the ancients were doing doobies, not even Laozi et Cie. Their loss.
A number of responses to this intriguing query have argued that silk is not very susceptible to tear-staining, and is indeed absorbent. My impression (from the 'older' literature) is that tear-stains on otherwise precious silk sleeves might well have been valued as a proof of the wearer's 'sensibility.' I'm hoping to hear more.
Off on a tangent, are tear-sodden sleeves really _just_ "figurative"? I vaguely recall having been advised that to dismiss these floods of Heian tears (in particular those attributed to men) as so much 'rhetoric' was to reveal one's culture-boundedness. A text such as IseMonogatari 107 -- the man complains of a river of tears swelling his sleeves, and the woman (or her male ghostwriter anyway) responds that she will be persuaded of his affection only when she hears that he has been swept downstream by that river -- seems to be enough to establish that Heian writers were aware that a good measure of overkill was involved in these proofs of sensibility, but can a figure like this evolve into hyperbole without at least one one or two real tear-stained sleeves, somewhere along the line?
A further tangent: going back a bit, a few memorable lines from one of Hitomaro's poems on the death of a wife (in the pre-war NGS English translation of Manyoshu) concludes: "I thought myself a strong man, / But the sleeves of my garment / are wetted through with tears." Does this mean that as of the 7th c., at least, strong men weren't (yet) supposed to wet their sleeves with tears, or is it (more) rhetoric?
A yet further tangent, re: Noel Pinnington's "damp pyjamas" hypothesis -- at least one ("esoteric") medieval commentary on Ise Monogatari No. 6 takes the mysterious "beads of white dew on the grass"(after which the woman inquires) to be (_figuratively_, of course) droplets of semen on a field of public hairs ("tsuyu" / tears / bodily fluids of all kinds)
Back to you, Royall.
Uh, corrigendum to my previous: for "public," kindly read "pubic."
(I once found myself presiding, at a provincial college in Japan, over an English "Pubic Speaking Contest" and couldn't refrain from laughing out loud. I guess this was the retribution.)
>... droplets of semen on a field of public hairs
Thank you all for your comments on silk. I stand corrected on silk's absorbency. After years and years of reading about those tears and sleeves, I was struck yesterday when suddenly the whole motif seemed so implausible.
It still does, though. Dabbing at you eyes with a sleeve to dry a tear or two sounds fine, but when you really cry, you have to blow your nose, too. So "sode o shiboru" is not only hyperbolic, it's evasive. They carried tatoogami, and they must have used it. The motif of tears and sleeves must actually be fictional to a degree--more graceful than life.
My understanding is that silk production came into Japan from Korea with Korean silk weavers settling in what is now the Arashiyama area of west Kyoto. There is a shrine devoted to them dating from before the Heian period. I have silk, paper, ink, sake, and sesame oil production earmarked for future projects if I ever get that far and can dig myself out of my Tokugawa demographic projects. I would welcome anyone else doing the work. Certainly the quality of Heian paper was excellent and documents from this period are much less worm eaten than later (presumably cheaper) papers. Or is this a case of the survival of the fittest? Moreover, documents and documentation were certainly important suggestion a thriving paper, ink, brush, etc. industry not to mention clothing and other products. There is obviously a lot to be done.
Mary Louise Nagata
speaking of hitomaro, what about his tears of blood, mentioned in the title of a choka i don't have time to look up right now? i recall once seeing something in english that suggested that there is actually such a phenomenon.
Being somewhat bemused by all these tears and having always thought that it was all just overblown rhetoric, I have refraining from joining in the fray but Royall brings up paper for the second time. I find this very odd. Surely paper of all kinds would have been precious and expensive. Or was there a kind of material that went by the name kami but that was actually just some sort of rag? What is tatoogami, Royall.
I am reminded of the image, in literature and chronicles of both China and Japan, of great battles in which corpses floated on "rivers of blood." I don't think anyone would try to argue that this was meant literally, bloody though some battles undoubdtedly were. I think the idea of bedewed bushes as a metaphor for 'public' affairs is a much more, uh, seminal one.
Tatoogami (written tatami-gami "folded paper") was made of "tori no ko" i.e. "egg shell" paper, so called because of its colour, a "superior type of washi made from GANPI" (wikstroemia gampi, a deciduous tree) [Nihon kokugo daijiten].
Dictionaries say that tatoogami was used both as notepaper and as tissue paper, however all twelve examples in GENJI are of its use for jotting down waka, the first being in "Utsusemi" (S 55, old Zenshu edition 1:203). Other functions go unmentioned.
Another term for paper to wipe tears and other bodily emissions ("namida nado") was "hanagami/hanakami" but this is attested only from the Edo period according to the NKD. (For bodily fluids, clothing, and stains thereon, see Timon Screech, _Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan 1700-1820_, p. 121.)
Taking up another point, I concur with Lewis Cook against the skeptics--
--but wonder if it is not a failure of *historical* imagination.
Even within one's own culture and own lifetime, one experiences changes in when and how much it is considered appropriate to shed tears. (Or am I the only man to compare himself with his father in such matters?)
Within European culture history there are extravagantly "weepy" ages and relatively dried-eye ones. The change from one age to another is often dramatic (one recalls Oscar Wilde's oft quoted remark about Dicken's _Old Curiosity Shop_: "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing").
This is a problem for those teaching earlier European texts as well. Chaucer's _Troilus & Criseyde_ is full of the most extravagant descriptions of weeping. The Cambridge *School* Shakespeare edition of _Romeo and Juliet_ suggests that pupils reading scene III.3 (Romeo lamenting his banishment) should "talk together about where you think Romeo's feelings and language are genuine and where you think they are 'over the top'."
Johan Huizinga has a memorable passage in the opening chapter of _The Waning of the Middle Ages_ (now retranslated as _The Autumn of the Middle Ages_) describing the extraordinary expressions of grief at court funerals in the 1420's. Not only frequency of weeping and the quantity of tears, and also the social valuation of tears are factors that vary from era to era. He points to the period of "sentimentalism" in the 18th century as another lachrymose era when tears were seen as ennobling and beautiful. Quoting the Japanese translation, the only edition to hand: "rakurai wa hito no kokoro o takameru, namida wa utsukushii" (Chuo Koron, 1.22).
Enough from me, except for a list-master's apology for the return of advertisements. This enthusiastic exchange has used up our monthly "ad-free" quota of messages in a single week.
Michael, you have had the last word, and as could've been expected, it is a most illuminating one [or so]. THANK YOU!
Enlightening, Michael! Reminds me again of how important it is to inspect our own history and literature at the same time as we are looking into those of other cultures/countries.
First, a few strands to tangle the silk thread, from one of the fiber wonks who's been giggling offstage:
But silk is not always absorbent, although it can be. And it can be water repellent, and it can either resist or be susceptible to stains... As David Pollack implied, we can't get very far with speculations about the general properties of a fiber as versatile as silk. These characteristics depend on all sorts of other factors, such as whether the cocoons have been broken and spun or reeled into threads as a monofilaments; whether or not the core thread has been degummed of its sericin outer layer; the ply,twist and thickness of the yarn, the densities and structures of the fabrics made of those yarns... These were all permutations that would have been technically feasible where silk was being made during the Heian period.
I was astounded a few years ago when textile manufacturers, in a grand gesture of snobbish postmodern irony, managed to craft silk into something precious that looked, felt, and acted very much like polyester.
Indeed, the topic is so vast that the Textile Society of America is devoting its entire biennial meeting to the topic of "Silk" in 2002...
Wayne asked about previous scholarship on silk manufacture.
Oota Eizou is one scholar who, although mainly concerned with
the transfer and development of weave technologies, also offers
insights into the early history of sericulture. He uses everything
from emaki and extant textiles to monjo and mulberry trees to
learn about various stages of production. See his chosakushuu
(Bunka Shuppan-kyoku hen, 1986)
太田英蔵 染織史著作集 文化出版局 1986
Although the period is a bit off, I would also recommend: Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: Univ. California, 1997. This book is about the continent, but it reminds us that the work of textile production work was often actually quite priveledged. Let's also remember that hemp is not always humble.
On another note, I wonder if our group's preoccupation with the paradigm of bodily fluids mightn't be anachronistic, maybe even informed by rhetorics of "safer-sex" from the late 1980's/early1990's? Or are tears, semen, blood, snot and other excretions grouped together in the imagery of the day as they are in our anatomical imaginary? The "tears of blood" cite was an interesting example--is it exceptional?
Columbia University Ph.D. Candidate
University of Tokyo Historiographical Institute Foreign Research Fellow
Well, surely SOMETIMES. But one does wonder.
Eye-witness accounts of U.S. civil war battles state that the water of rivers next to the battlefields literally turned red from the vast amounts of blood. It is not impossible.
FINALLY an explanation of that line that makes sense!! One giant leap for a dewdrop, so to speak.
Michael has answered this far better than I could have done. It is interesting that some of us have simply dismissed these tears as false or meaningless, just because the imagery associated with weeping (ama are fishing below my pillow, and so on) can be so obviously over the top. One might as well decide that no blood was shed in battle, just because "rivers of blood" sounds exaggerated. According to a medieval chronicle, at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, "Men trod in their own guts and spat out their teeth...the blood of serfs and princes flowed in one stream into the river." I believe it. And I believe Heian courtiers wept.
More of us, like me, have probably assumed that if the text says she (or he) wept, she did (or would plausibly have done so if real), and if it says her sleeves needed wringing out, they were probably at least pretty wet, at a scale plausible for tears. I had never thought of the problems of silk, makeup, and above all of the ghastly need to blow one's nose, until a couple of days ago. From what I gather so far, none of us can do more than guess how they got around this problem, but I am certainly not surprised that it was not written about, and I refuse to believe that they blew their noses on their sleeves. A picture in Kasuga Gongen Genki shows monks at a ceremony blowing their noses on squares of paper.
So literary weeping is not a simple matter. Yes, of course people wept and felt the need to dry their eyes--although some of us, it seems, may feel that they had no right to indulge in such luxuries while others suffered for real. But while tears had valued social meaning (as in Europe sometimes too, as Michael showed), and eyes were fine, some of the business associated with crying was not something one talked about. That seems natural. And since the meaning of tears WAS valued, some people even faked them, like Heichu with his little bottle of water; and novelists attributed them to their characters perhaps (who knows?) more frequently or more copiously than one might otherwise expect.
[In reply to William Bodiford]
Sorry, that's true -- I was imagining blood itself flowing to form rivers, not blood turning rivers red. Obviously I haven't the stomach for these warrior images and should stick to courtier bodily fluids.
Hemp was, of course, what most cultivators wore at least back to the Yayoi period, and was a tribute item (you) in the ritsuryoo tax system. The workers who built Todaiji,etc., were often paid in hemp cloth. There are others who know much more about this than I, but for those of you who are interested, Nagahara Keiji has an old but good article comparing the strengths and weaknesses of hemp vs. cotton clothing. Apparently hemp was not only scratchy, but also much cooler to wear than cotton. That's why the introduction of cotton in the Muromachi era was so important. I wasn't sure how to take Alex's comment. I thought he was poking fun at me, implying that I preferred hemp TO SMOKE. While I have smoked it, I never inhaled.
Dear all, Paper was obviously very dear in the Nara period, thus one gets the use of mokkan and such things as shihai monjo. What was tatoogami, Royall? By the way, my old sensei, Kishi Toshio has a good article entitled "Ki to kami." I would think that would be a good place to begin reading.
Dear all, It is easy to dismiss the gory descriptions of battle (or famine or epidemics), and much of it is undoubtedly exaggeration. But I recall a description appearing in no less reliable source than the RIKKOKU SHI, in which guts are described as strewn all over the place. So there may be a kernel of truth in some of these descriptions, just as there are such kernels in Homer. Discussion, samurai experts? Regards, Wayne Farris
To add a note to Leila's:
Some forms of silk are particularly susceptible to staining or other kinds of disfigurement (extreme shrinkage, for example), even with water. Not all weave structures or finishes result in a washable product, and even when the entire cloth is washable (crepe de chine, for example), if liquid is applied in spots it will stain. Proteins are a different problem. Proteinaceous liquids (blood, semen, snot) will stain silk (and other cloth) if not washed out immediately, before the protein coagulates (think of egg whites).
The use of mordants in dyeing does not assure the colorfastness of a textile when immersed in water.
Even in Japan today, when clothes are kept fastidiously clean and discarded when that is impossible, kimono are rarely laundered. To do so requires taking apart the entire garment, washing each piece, stretching it back to its original dimensions and sewing it all together again.
A curator at a Japanese museum, who would now be in her 70s if she were still alive, pointed out to me that before the war people here (in Japan) were not s fastidious. A few stains on a sleeve or hem were tolerated far beyond what would be considered acceptable today (she said). Many silk kimono are never washed.
The question of "hemp" (I use quotation marks because other plant fibers, such as ramie, were also used for clothing in the Nara/Heian periods) underrobes or other undergarments is intrigueing. If anyone has references on this subject I would greatly appreciate them.
Taketomi Island, Okinawa
By writing about "Wayne's encouragement", I only meant that since Wayne had mentioned hemp, it opened the door to the hemp issue, which I, with an admittedly counter-culture bravado, asked a seemingly logical next question. That is all. Maybe I should have posed the question differently: "On the subject of hemp products, which Wayne touched upon, were the species that grew in Japan smokeable?" Sorry to infer anything.
Concerning guts, the work that Andrew Goble is doing on wound medicine in the medieval period is quite explicit about the matter. When a wounded samurai had his guts literally hanging out, the doctor was to get some warm horse dung, smear it all over his hands, and then gently push the guts back into place. Why horse dung? and Were they crazy? are the common reactions. I cannot comment on them, but maybe there are some medical properties to this method that our modern minds cannot understand. If someone is interested in the matter try and contact Goble at the University of Oregon
Maybe Tom Conlan has looked at some wound reports from the Nanbokucho period which attest to warriors losing their guts, but I doubt they were so descriptive. Again, Karl Friday might have something to say about different technologies for removing the guts of the opponent with swords and like weapons. I would be eager to hear from both scholars.
complete as of 2001/02/08
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