History of Japanese Paper Fans

Brief histor yf Japanese fans

Paper fans symbolize Japan, right up there with giant robots, sushi, geisha, and kimono. While a humble part of fashion and summer, the fan has a history of its own. Japan isn’t unique in having fans. It’s the most convenient way to cool off, after all. A leaf or anything flexible can become a fan, but fans also served as part of ceremonies and as symbols of power. Egyptian Pharaohs owned large ceremonial fans as various stone carvings and wall paintings attest, but the oldest known surviving fans, two woven bamboo hand screens, were found in a Chinese tomb dating to around 2 BC (Yelavich, 2009). That’s the issue with fans–they didn’t survive.

Flyer for a play

Songs, plays, and other works contributed to the craze for all things Japan. Music Division, The New York Public Library. (1896 – 1896). The dear little Jappy-Jap-Jappy Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-fc3e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Victorian ladies developed a language for fans–just as they developed a language for flowers. Despite fans appearing throughout Japan, Japan didn’t develop a fan language. In fact, the Victorian love for fans came from contact with Japan and its exoticism. The Victorian fan language involved gestures such as touching the right cheek to mean “yes” and the left cheek for “no.” A fan snapped closed may signal jealousy, and a fan dropped to the floor is a pledge of fidelity (Yelavich, 2009). Fans retired in the West after World War I outside of dancing and a few other areas.  Ironically, the Japanese disdained the fans they exported to the Victorian West (Hart, 1893):

There is a grate [sic] difference between the excessively cheap, vulgar and trashy Japanese fans that are made to meet the foreign demand for such goods, and the exquisitely artistic fans used by the better class of Japanese society. The Japanese themselves have a most profound contempt for the cheap, gaudy, stenciled products, which are exported by the hundred thousand to meet the European demand, and no self respecting Japanese will either look upon or would use such products.

Japanese fans appeared throughout everyday life, especially for the aristocracy. People used them as memo pads, road maps, fashion, and as a part of etiquette. When offering a gift in the Edo period, you presented it on a half-open fan. When bowing on the floor, you laid your fan ahead of you. This little gesture actually saved a man’s life.

Japanese woman and fan

This photograph offers one example of a Japanese fan. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1900 – 1940). Portrait of Japanese woman. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c261ef12-e4aa-3577-e040-e00a18067776

Araki Murashige was a samurai caught in a conspiracy during the 1500s. The Lord Oda Nobunaga summoned him, but Araki wasn’t a fool. He knew his life was in danger, but he couldn’t ignore the summons. Well, at the time a vassal had to bow to his lord before entering a room in a way that brought his neck right above the groove that kept sliding doors in place. You can imagine how many used this to as a way to off someone they didn’t like. This happened to Araki. As he bowed, the double doors came flying at his throat, only to smash against his iron fan which he had placed inside the groove. Araki acted as if nothing had happened and Nobunga reported reconciled with him and granted favors (Casal, 1960).

The iron fan Araki carried, called a tessen, is a relative to the war fan, or gunsen, that generals used to signal troops on the battlefield. Both were made of steel, wood, and paper and lacquered to help them resist the weather and enemy weapons. They became a part of a sword dance style that appeared during the Meiji period as we shall see. The war fan descended from the Chinese practice of generals carrying a horse-tail whisk as a symbol of their power. In Japan, military leaders first used a tassel of leather or paper strips called a saihai to do the same, but steel war fans eventually replaced these symbols of power.

The Japanese History of the Fan

Fans of Naruto (no pun intended) should be familiar with the uchiwa. Several important characters bear its name and symbol. Uchiha, is quite close to uchiwa with how it’s written in Japanese. The clan symbol is the shape of the uchiwa fan too.

The oldest Japanese reference to a fan appears during the time of Emperor Yuryaku (457-479). The emperor ordered a purple, leaf-shaped fan attached to a pole that was meant to be an ornament for the palace (Casal, 1960). Hand-fans were imported into the Japanese court or were sent as gifts from the Chinese and Korea courts. However, a reference dating from 763 AD showed scholars also used fans. In the reference, the emperor grants permission to Jozo, a wise, old and sickly man to appear before him. The text also allows Jozo to carry his staff and uchiwa, a stiff, rounded fan. It shows how these expensive fans were exclusive to nobility.

Over time, folding fans replaced the stiff wooden fans of China. They came in two classes:  ogi, a folding wooden fan, and the sensu, a folding paper fan. We are more familiar with the sensu than the ogi.  Japan inveted the paper folding fan (Casal, 1960), but no one knows for certain who invented it. Of course, we do have a few stories.

One record states a hermit named Toyomaru made an expanding fan which he presented to the Emperor Tenchi (662-671).  But a more reliable record by the scholar Minamoto no Shitagau states many different fans existed at the court of Emperor Daigo (898-930),  including the folding fan. Fujiwara Tadahira (880-949) had a reputation for carrying a fan painted with a cuckoo, and he would always open his fan and imitate the cry of the bird. Over time, Chinese fans faded from the courts in favor of the Japanese invention. These fans were still large, however. Too large to tuck into a sleeve. Rather people tucked them into the sash or the breast of a kimono.

In another fun story about the paper fan’s invention, Emperor Gosanjo (1069-1073 AD) had a favorite fan with slats cracked in several places. He was a thrifty emperor and high-quality fans at the time could cost 15 bushels of rice. So he pasted paper at the back of the fan to keep it together, accidentally improving the functionality of the wooden fan and eventually leading to a fan that could be tucked into a kimono sleeve.

No matter who invented the folding paper fan, it become a part of Japanese culture. Different types of fans become associated with men and women and their social standing. For example, the hi-ogi was a fan for married court women. These wooden fans were painted like their paper cousins and ranged from 8 wooden slats to 40 narrow slats. Married court women would only carry the 25-28 slat varieties (Casal, 1960). Men carried the heavier 8-10 slatted iron or steel tessen. Paper fans during the Tokugawa period used as many as 3-5 sheets of paper to create their fans instead of 2 sheets for the front and back.

Sadly, despite their importance and commonality, wood-block printed fans and other paper fans are scarce. However, the stories that involve fans survive, such as this one about Yoshitsune (Casal 1960):

Once there was a battle between two armies, the Genji on the one hand and the Heike on the other, at Yashimae. The Genji force was drawn up on the shore, while the Heike men in boats on the sea were lined up opposite them. Suddenly a single small boat was dispatched from the Heike fleet. At her bow a long pole was set up, surmounted with an open red fan. In the boat a court lady beckoned to the Genji army, as though challenging them to shoot at the fan with an arrow. The boat was bobbing up and down on the waves, and the fan wheeling round and round in the wind. It was extremely difficult even for the most skillful archer to hit it at once. The commander of the Genji army, Yoshitsune, called out to his men: “Is there anyone who will shoot the fan off?” One of his retainers came forward and said: “There is a very skillful archer among us called Nasu no Yoichi, who can without fail kill two birds out of three flying in the air.”  The commander, pleased with the answer, summoned Nasu no Yoichi to appear before him, and ordered him to  try his skill.


Yoichi wished to be excused, but Yoshitsune insisted on his venturing it.


Resolved in his heart that in case he should miss the mark he would not live, he rode out into the sea, and looking forward with his bow ready, saw that the boat was rocking so much that he could not fix his aim. He shut his eyes in prayer for some time, and when he opened them he felt that his nerves were more composed, and the boat more tranquil. Setting a shaft to his bow, and taking his aim carefully at the object, he let it fly. The arrow hit the fan at the pivot, breaking it into two or three pieces, which flying up into the air, drifted slowly down upon the waves.


The Genji army, Yoshitsune himself among the rest, leaped for joy till the shore rang with rapture, and even their enemy, the Heike, spontaneously applauded by striking their weapons against the sides of their boats.

Fan and Sword Dancing

Sakakibara Kenkichi

Sakakibara Kenkichi helped develop the sword and fan fighting dance style.

As we’ve seen, fans have a long military history as a signal for war, as a defensive weapon, and as a part of military legend. The fan soon became a part of sword dances.

Sword dances date back to the Heian period (794-1185), but developed during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) and became the form we know of during the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji period saw the samurai class outlawed. The new laws forbade swords and traditional samurai hair styles and dress in public. Families who wanted to keep the samurai arts were forced to turn toward entertainment. Sakakibara Kenkichi formed a company in 1872 that did just that. The company toured and produced martial-arts inspired productions where ex-samurai would flash their swords and perform feats of skill. Martial art dances, kenbu, featured in these productions too (Fan and Sword, 2006).

After World War II, the Occupation Forces forbade the use of weapons in martial arts practice and entertainment, so kenbu performers substituted fans for their swords, changing the choreography as needed. The new style, called shibu, continued even after the the government lifted the weapons ban in the early 1950s. And many performers did both styles, sometimes separate and sometimes combined.

A few rules of the performance apply.

  • Performers never touch the sword beyond the spine of the blade. This not only avoids slicing off fingers, but also it avoids damaging the blade with sweat corrosion.
  • The sword always remains in the hand. There isn’t any sword tossing in the technique.

The fans used in these performances were modeled after the gunsen and tessen but were made of paper and wood instead of lacquer and steel. The latter would be too heavy to use in the dance.

The humble paper fan has a rich lore and history for being what is a throw-away item. It is possible that fan-culture will make a comeback as summers grow warmer and longer.  Fans would lend a personal touch, particularly if the fans are hand-made, to everyday life.


Casal, U.A. (1960). The Lore of the Japanese Fan. Monumenta Nipponica. 16 (1/2) 53-117.

The Fan and the Sword: Exploring Kenbu. (2006). Journal of Theatrical Combatives, 1.

Hart, E. (1893). Japanese Fans. The Decorator and Furnisher. 23 (1). 26.

Yelavich, S. (2009). A breezy history of hand-held fans. ID 56 (2). 88.

Japan and the Language of Flowers

“If I were asked to explain the Japanese spirit, I would say it is wild cherry blossoms glowing in the morning sun!”
— Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801)

Japan’s flower language isn’t as well develop as the West’s. Japan’s stories and theatre focused on humanizing plants as opposed to using them to convey emotions and messages. Victorian Europe took the language of flowers to an extreme, but Japan had its own set of symbols. Because anime has developed into an international medium, I’ll examine both Japan’s flower symbology and the West’s flower language. You will see both styles mixed in anime. 

Japan’s Language of Flowers

chrysanthemum seller in Japan c. 1890

A chrysanthemum seller in Japan, ca. 1890, photographer unknown, via Photographic Heritage

During the Heian period, the symbolism of flowers took off, appearing in noh, poetry, and the world’s first novel. However, Japanese language allows for an identification between human emotions and nature that English doesn’t really allow (Poulton, 1997). In Japanese culture, natural phenomena has a spiritual life and power of its own. Noh showcases this in its more than a dozen plays that feature a flower or tree revealing itself as an incarnation of a god or Buddha. Various folk stories feature trees and flower spirits that can marry humans and bear children. The Willow Wife is one of my favorites. This aspect of Japanese culture remains unique. We don’t find many European stories that allow plants to be Christian saints or to marry humans.

Hanami, or flower viewing, was popular during the Heian period. The cherry blossom became a favorite, representing the fleeting moments of life. But each season had its own flower. And not everyone loved the sakura. The poet Saigyo found his hermitage invaded by visitors wanting to see a nearby tree’s blossoms (Poulton, 1997). He doesn’t refuse them when they visit, but he grumbles about it in a poem:

The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom

Despite its popularity, the cherry blossom wasn’t the most important flower. Chrysanthemums became the symbol of the imperial house soon after they arrived from China. The flower became the imperial crest and the throne of the emperor was even named after it: the Chrysanthemum Throne (Lombardi, 2014). The flower meant the opposite of the cherry blossom: it represented longevity and power as opposed to transient beauty and gentleness.

While most flowers associated with Japanese women, the chrysanthemum directly associated with men. In the story of The Chrysanthemum Spirit, a young woman falls in love with a handsome courtier. She eventually finds out he is an autumn flower–the chrysanthemum–that took the shape of a human. The story “uses visual and poetic imagery traditionally associated with women to reframe reproductive potency in male terms (McCormick, 2013).”

Murasaki and Floral Characters

Japanese women with cherry blossomsWhile shapeshifting flowers remained popular in noh and traditional stories, Murasaki took the idea and converted it into indirect story telling in her Tale of Genji. The novel tells its story indirectly through what is left unsaid and it’s imagery. It’s a difficult read because of it’s layers. Murasaki used various flowers to represent character personalities, future events, themes, and more. She relied on the reader to put everything together.

Murasaki weaved the names of flowers into chapter titles to suggest the events that will happen and the characters associated with each chapter. Flower included: evening glory, saffron flower, hollyhock, orange blossoms, lavender, morning glory, plum, cherry blossoms, carnations, and many others. She gives many of the women in Genji’s life the names of flowers. They act as shorthand for the character of each woman and stand in for her.

In one scene, Genji and a woman named Yugao were having an affair. Yugao was a common flower at the time. It blooms only at night and dies soon after. During their trist, Murasaki makes repeated references to a blooming yugao, foreshadowing Yugao’s early death just a few scenes later (Kido, 1988). Murasaki makes other flower references to foreshadow Genji’s other affairs and the fates of each woman. Even Genji’s fall from grace can be seen in these flower symbols. Centuries later, Charlotte Bronte would adopt the same technique for her work.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

A flower is not a flower alone; a thousand thoughts invest it.

During the Victorian period, women often became amateur botanists. They began developing a complete language using flowers, but early dictionaries often contradicted each other (Engelhardt, 2013). Many of the definitions extend deep into history, such as the idea olive branches symbolize peace, roses symbolize love, and so on. Although the Victorian period saw codified symbols and expansion of the language, most of the floral code date to medieval and Renaissance literature (Rothenberg, 2006; Engelhardt, 2013).  But Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot used the symbols to construct a language fairly similar to Murasaki. Jane Eyre used flowers as sexual codes and to describe characters in shorthand as Murasaki did. For example, during a scene when Jane and Rochester take a walk, flowers appear throughout the description.  Engelhardt (2013) drops the emotional associations and meanings of the plants during the walk:

…edged with box [stoicism]; with apple trees [temptation], pear trees [comfort], and cherry trees [deception] on the one side, and a border on the other, full of all sorts of old-fashioned flowers, stocks [lasting beauty], sweet Williams [sensitivity], primroses [first youth; if evening, inconstancy], pansies [thoughts], mingled with southernwood
[jest/bantering], sweet-briar [I wound to heal], and various fragrant herbs. (249)

According to Engelhard (2013), Bronte seems to use the flowers to reveal the feelings of the lovers and of Rochester’s mysterious behavior in the scene. He is tempted (apple trees) to open his heart after years of being a stoic, but he realizes this would require deception (cherry trees) and ruining Jane’s beauty (stocks) because of her inexperience with love (primrose) and her sensitivity (sweet Williams). So Rochester jokes with her (southernwood) and hopes he will heal the pain of his marriage to Bertha (sweet-briar).

Victorian era coupleMost of the time, people used flowers to express embarrassing feelings, on par with what Bronte outlines with Rochester. In these floral dialogues, a lady or gentleman would ask a question or express an emotion by showing a flower. The other would then respond with their own flower. Flowers can be combined to form entire sentences, and the color of the flower can shift the meaning. So to carry Bronte’s illustration:

pink rose + cherry blossom + pink rose = desire to be educated in passion.

Pink roses have three meanings: desire, passion, and joy of life. Cherry blossoms equate with education. So the combination can also mean passion to be educated in desire, which still has the same general meaning.

Flowers and Their Meanings

Because the meanings of flowers were in dispute throughout the Victorian period, you may encounter some dictionaries that contradict what I list there.  As with any language, time and use can change the meanings of words.


Endresak, David, “Girl Power: Feminine Motifs in Japanese Popular Culture” (2006). Senior Honors Teses. 322. htp://commons.emich.edu/honors/322

Hoffman, Michael (2012) Sakura: Soul of Japan. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/03/25/general/sakura-soul-of-japan/.

Kido, Elissa (1988) Names, Naming, and Nature in the Tale of Genji. Literary Onomastics Studies. 15. Article 4.

Lombardi, Linda (2014) Chrysanthemums are more than just a symbol of autumn. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/10/27/national/chrysanthemums-just-symbol-autumn/

McCormick, Melissa. (2013) “Flower Personification and Imperial Regeneration in The Chrysanthemum Spirit.” In Amerika ni wattata monogatari-e. Tokyo: Perikansha.

Poulton, Mark. (1997) The Language of Flowers in the No Theatre. Japan Reveiw. 8. 39-55

Rothenberg, David (2006) The Marian Symbolism of Spring ca. 1200-ca.1500: Two Case Studies. Journal of Musicology Society. 59 (2) 319-398.

Felice Beato and Kimbei Kusakabe, Photographers of 1800s Japan

Kusakabe Kimbei - Girls shhowing the back styleThe mid-to-late 1800s marked a shift in Japanese history: the Meiji Restoration. The old guard, the Tokugawa Shogunate, with their isolationist attitudes were overthrown, and Japan began a miraculous modernization movement. When you consider the shift, it is amazing. Japan went from being primarily agriculturally-based in 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry of the US forced Japan to open to trade to the modernized military juggernaut of World War II just 86 years later. Most of us focus on military developments during this time, but the arts also flourished. Photography entered Japan just as woodblock prints, ukiyo-e, were the main form of popular art. Ukiyo-e laid the groundwork for Japanese photograph and their lovely hand-colored work.

Photography entered Japan through Nagasaki, the only trading port where the Tokugawa government allowed foreign traders, in 1848 (Gartlan, 2006). In 1854, photographer Eliphalet Brown Jr. return with Perry and took the first known photograph in Japan (Luppino, 2009). Soon after Japan opened, other photographers invaded, and they discovered a culture open to their art. The subjects of ukiyo-e–actors, geisha, sumo wrestlers, and landscapes–became popular subjects for the new tourist photography market. The port city of Yokohama became the center of this new industry. Almost 90% of photographs exported from Japan at the time came from Yokohama (Luppino, 2009). At the time, Westerners were fascinated by Japanese culture. Photographers saw the business opportunity of providing souvenir photos for tourists and selling photo books to people in Europe who weren’t able to travel to Japan. Felice Beato was the first to capitalize on this interest.

Felice Beato, Father of Japanese Photography

Yokohama Samurai

Yokohama Samurai

Born in Corfu, Italy Felice Beato (c1825-1907) became the first photographer to specialize in war photography. We know little about his early life, but he was known as an eccentric who favored colorful language and business scheming. After learning photography from his brother-in-law James Robertson–who married Beato’s sister in 1855, Beato joined Robertson on an expedition to photograph the Crimean War between Britain and Russia. The next year, Robertson sent Beato back to photograph the war’s aftermath, where Beato started his practice of arranging corpses for emotional effect. Robertson and Beato used a secret dry-plate method that allowed them to photograph in the field. The wet-plate photography at the time wasn’t suited for weather conditions and other issues associated with war photography. Their new technique allowed them to do what previous photographers couldn’t. Robertson and Beato traveled around the Mediterranean until Beato left for India in 1858 to photograph the massacre of Indian rebels fighting against Britain. Over the next 2 years, he worked as the semi-official photographer for the British army.

In the same year, Chinese tried to stop Britain’s export of Indian opium into China, and the British retaliated by attacking and sinking most of the Chinese navy and invading China. Beato traveled with the army throughout its campaign, taking photos of the aftermath of the war. His 100 photographs are the only surviving images of China before the 1870s. After returning to London, Beato decided to travel back to the Far East and settled in Yokohama, Japan for the next 20 years where he made several hundred images of Japan. Beato’s photos ranged from Japan’s landscape and architecture to its people. Considered the father of Japanese photography, his work provided the only record of the country during the 1860s.  He retained his interest in war photography: in 1871, the United States Navy appointed him the official photographer for their attack on Korea. After losing all of his money at the Yokohama silver exchange’s speculative market, he settled in Mandalay, Burma where he founded a photographic studio and sold local arts and crafts through the mail. He died in Burma in 1907 (Wilson, n.d; Gartlan, 2006).

Beato’s Influence on Japanese Photography

Felice Beato - The executioner

Felice Beato – The executioner

Beato’s studio set the standards for Japanese photography at the time, and his work shaped how Europeans and Americans viewed Japan. His work also shaped how Japan developed a new self-identity as the country transformed from a feudal society to an industrial society. Beato’s photographs helped Japan become aware of its appearance to the rest of the world. Luckily, he took Japanese culture seriously and tried to educate Westerners by adding descriptive captions below the photos. Instead of following western photographic conventions at the time, he tried to bring a Japanese aesthetic to his work. He like to photograph moments on the streets of Yokohama and arrange them in his studio when he could not (Luppino, 2009).

Beato’s studio inspired Japanese photographers to open their own studios, but the first native studios suffered from lack of resources and expertise. Shimooka Renjo (1823-1914) opened the first Japanese-operated studio in Yokohama. Uchida Kuichi (1845-1875) managed to attract the attention of Yokohama’s foreign residents but failed to get the interest of rich foreign travelers (Gartlan, 2006). However, Beato also employed many Japanese as assistants, giving them the training and connections they would need to succeed where other Japanese-owned studios failed. Beato hired ukiyo-e artists and colorists to paint photographs. In fact, Yokohama photography became associated with fine hand-colored photographs, painting details as fine as fingernails. These assistants became the pool that allowed Japanese photography to move away from foreign studios. Among these assistants arose Kusakabe Kimbei.

Kusakabe Kimbei, The Most Prolific Yokohama Photographer

View of Imaichi at Nikko Road by Kimbei Kusakabe

View of Imaichi at Nikko Road by Kimbei Kusakabe

Kusakabe Kimbei  (1841-1934) left his home in Kofu at the age of 15 or 16 to work at Beato’s studio. After 18 years of working with Beato, he set out to found is own studio in 1881 where he would produce 60% of surviving Yokohama photographs, making him the most prolific photographer of the time (Newton, 2008; Wakita, 2009). While Beato had respect for Japanese customs and tried to capture Japanese aesthetics, Kimbei used photography to capture the vanishing world of traditional Japan. At the time, women across all social classes were adopting Western hair styles and dress. Kimbei preferred to photograph tradition fashion, and he resisted Western introduced poses, such as women holding interlocked hands and other romanticized poses (Wakita, 2009). Instead, Kimbei embraced the bijinga, or pictures of beautiful women, tradition in ukiyo-e and adapted the woodblock print’s compositions.

He primarily hired geisha to pose for him for several reasons. First, social class mattered, and ordinary women wouldn’t pose because of their awareness of their class and of the wide audience the photographs would reach. Geisha were more comfortable with this because of their social status and because of their profession’s visibility. They also didn’t subscribe as readily to the concerns surrounding photography during its early years. Some people thought photography would steal the model’s life-blood, or cause a man’s shadow to weaken–I’m not sure exactly why this is a concern. Some thought every third person sitting in a photograph would die or suffer a shortened life span for each sitting they did (Wakita, 2009).

Because of this, Kimbei resorted to using just a few famous geisha. In fact, we even know their names: O-en, Ponta, Momoko, Tsumako, Azuma. and Miyako. However, this association of geisha and photography led to the public viewing geisha photographs as erotic works. A story in Tokyo shin hanjoki  talks about the embarrassment of young boys who were teased by other people as they tried to buy photographs of geisha (Wakita, 2009). Despite this, bijinga photos became popular. He often depicted women painting, reading, and playing instruments– the same type of scenes found in ukiyo-e. Women appeared as cultivated and traditional.

The Importance of Yokohama Photographs

Jinrikisha by Kusakabe Kimbei

Jinrikisha by Kusakabe Kimbei

Beato and Kimbei’s work, in particular, defined the period and how people thought of Japan at the time. They provided a window for the West to look into. At the time, Japan was an exotic place few knew anything about. While the Yokohama photographs catered to this audience, they also showed a country in a state of change. Old customs fell away as new, western ideas entered and mingled with tradition. Admittedly, some photographers of this period created works that would later be used to fuel the racial profiling and ranking by those in the West. On the whole. Yokohama’s wonderful hand-colored photos introduced a level of artistry that changed how people in the West considered photography.

Yokohama’s photographs helped lay the foundation for the export of anime and manga and other Japanese media. They introduced a sliver of Japanese culture that allowed people in the West to become familiar with the culture, even if at a superficial level. Over time, Japanese aesthetics, with a little Western convention to make them comfortable, became accepted. It wasn’t such a big deal to see people in kimono. This gradual trend sped up after World War II when the United States had more direct contact with Japanese culture during the occupation. However, Yokohama and the work of people like Lafcadio Hearn, who introduced the West to Japanese stories, laid the groundwork for the anime and manga we enjoy now. Yokohama photography marks the first time a Japanese-Western product was made and exported.  Manga and anime are also Japanese-Western products. Yokohama photographs tell stories in their own way; again, as manga and anime does.

Whereas Yokohama photograph combines Western technology with Japanese aesthetics, anime and manga reverse this. Anime and manga pull Western aesthetics, particularly those of Walt Disney, and combine with them Japanese technology. Over time, this created its own confluence of Japanese and Western styles we simply call the anime or manga style.

Finally, behind the photographs are people. We know next to nothing about Kimbei’s geisha models, but we can see them. We know their names more than a century later. Yokohama photographs, although they were meant for tourists, provide a glimpse at the lives of people long gone. They provide a glimpse at their stories. While today we don’t think images are a big deal–they are everywhere, after all–at the time they were shocked, awed, interested, frightened, and inspired. They allowed people to save a memory or see something they would never otherwise see. The demand for Yokohama photos and their subject matter reveals the interest people in the West had for Japan. The uniqueness of Japanese culture captured the imagination of the time and catered to an interest in something “pure.” That is, untainted by industrialization and mercantilism. Yes, this was an idealization, even a fetishization, of Japanese culture, but it came from a genuine interest in learning how other people live. The reasons behind why a photograph was taken matters as much as the subject of the image.

All of this aside, the Yokohama photos are simply beautiful. I’ve included a collection of them for you to enjoy.


Gartlan, Luke (2006) Types or Costumes? Reframing Early Yokohama Photographyt. Visual Resources 22 (3) 239-263.

Luppino, Tony (2009) Koshashin” A New Collection of Early Japanese Photography Captures a Moment of Change in 19th Century Japan. Arts of Asia 39 (3) 142-149.

Newton, G. (2008). Local heroes of early photography in Asia and the Pacific. Artonview, (53), 36-39.

Wakita, Mio (2009). Selling Japan: Kusakabe Kimbei’s Image of Japanese Women. History of Photography. 33 (2). 209-223.

Wilson, Michael (n.d.) Beato, Felice. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/41130

You can find most of these photographs at the New York Library Digital Collections, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection.


Manga and Your Mind: Manga, Autism, and the Benefits of Reading

One Punch man helps those with autism.Manga is good for your brain. Yep. You’ve read that right. In fact, reading manga may give you an advantage over those, like me, who grew up reading only traditional books. Manga benefits those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) too.

The medium requires a different set of skills than reading traditional books. Not to say traditional books are bad for your mind. It’s just that manga challenges the brain in different ways. Even Western comics like Batman and Superman don’t benefit your mind as manga does. Manga relies on images more for story telling then Western comics do. They have more images and fewer words (Rozema, 2015). The media has several layers of reading: images, words, Japanese onomatopoeia, and its own visual language. This combination means “…even proficient readers of English—who are not experienced with this level of multi-modality and have been socialized into more traditional, nonhypertext, storylines—may find manga, as we do, to be a challenging read (Schwartz, 2006).”

I’ve covered Japanese visual language and Japanese onomatopoeia. They combine to create a unique interplay between Japanese and Western cultures. Manga also has different identities and contexts that result from Japanese culture. All of which the reader needs to decipher. The immediacy of images, and the secondary nature of words, means readers can’t rely on explanations as with traditional books. It’s easier for books to explain a cultural context than an image which just shows that context and leaves it to the readers to understand it. But that gap is what makes manga good for our minds.

Reading manga requires practice

This spread from One Piece shows the complexity of manga reading. You’ll see the Japanese sound effect is a part of the artwork of the ship panel. The art shows the chaos and the action of the ship being split in two. The left panel’s vertical reading balances the right side’s chaos and action, giving the gaze a bit of a respite. It also serves to highlight the characters. The author drew the ship’s crew far smaller than the more important characters on the left panel.This helps with the reading flow.

Because English lacks the same number of onomatopoeia as Japanese, many manga translations leave the original Japanese intact. Over time, readers learn to decipher these fonts and words and associate them with certain types of actions. This is multimodal thinking can work without needing to look up a translation or transliteration. Although this can help. Multimodal thinking happens without our awareness. It comes from an accumulation of experiences with manga. That is part of the reason why regular manga readers don’t struggle with reading the book “backward” and reading pages right to left, left to right, and horizontally across two pages. As readers get involved with the story, they learn to read the rhythm of the images and follow them along with the text without much thought behind it. Learning happens without awareness.

Manga’s nonlinear storytelling requires readers to remember dozens of subplots and characters. Many deal with different viewpoints, such as gender swapping stories, along with coming-of-age stories and genres like Boy’s Love. “Thus, it is possible that manga story lines not only afford readers a nonlinear, rich imaginative read of the world but also tap into an array of complexities in human experiences toward which young adults seem to feel great affinity (Schwartz, 2006).” Manga reading skills transfer to other multimodal media that require reading images and words together. It encourages multidimensional thinking.

Anime and Autism

The immediacy of emotions in manga images helps those with autism.

From the manga Kimi no Iru Machi. The immediacy of these images and few words convey the emotions of the story without us needing to read the story.

The multimodal nature of manga may be why it helps those with ASD. While there isn’t a single usual case of ASD, there are 2 board diagnostic criteria (Rozema, 2015):

  1. deficits in social communication
  2. restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

Manga falls under the second criteria. Its focus on images and its visual language may appeal to teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and many autistic people are better at processing images than words (Rozema, 2015).

Manga’s visual language focuses on emotion. The manga face follows a general template–pointed chin, small nose, small mouth, large eyes–which is distinctly manga. The face is designed for emotional exaggeration, leaving hair, accessories, and details to separate one character from the next. Many with autism struggle with reading expressions, but manga faces exaggerate and simplify expressions, making them easier to read. The fact manga faces always look like manga faces allows teens with ASD to recognize them. Then the simple design feature that identifies each character helps those teens draw distinctions among those faces (Rozema, 2015). Think: Naruto’s cheek whiskers.

Manga also provides an ocean of information to dive into. There are hundreds of stories with a vast array of characters to learn. Dragonball has more than 500 chapters of characters, settings, and storylines to learn. Manga is meant to be disposable, printed on cheap paper as it is and rapidly produced. Yet, this creates depth through its sheer quantity. And most of it follows an established visual language, which allows readers to easily slip from world to world without having to relearn anything other than the rules for that story world. This helps those with ASD enjoy a wide array of stories. Many with ASD enjoy learning and memorizing a vast body of information surrounding their interest (Rozema, 2015).

Beyond the learning benefits, manga provides a shared interest that allows people to socialize easier. Because of this, manga provides a sanctuary for those who have high-functioning ASD. Manga attracts those who aren’t inclined toward verbal language so social awkwardness is fairly common and accepted.

Reading difficulty varies across manga, but all of them use cinematic storytelling methods.

From Shokugeki no Soma. This page is easier to read than One Piece’s spread, but it follows the same principles. Manga sits between reading a book and watching a film. You’ll notice in this page the cinematic techniques–establishing place shots, character close-up, a cut-shot, and a zoom-out–used in film. The designs and expressions tell the story while the text supports those visual elements.

Multimodal skills–the ability to decipher images and words and cultural contexts–help people succeed. Globalization with its cross-cultural interaction allows people with multimodal skills to thrive because they can better reason through language and cultural barriers. These skills also allow people to better navigate the glut of information that surrounds us. They can process image information faster and with more flexibility which is important with how the Internet pervades most aspects of work and life. Manga reading makes your mind more flexible because of how it encourages you to read right to left, left to right, images, Japanese onomatopoeia, Japanese cultural details, and more. This allows you to be more open to different cultures too.

Don’t sell manga reading short. Its reliance on images for narration benefits you as images and videos increasingly take over the written word’s dominance. Of course, there will always be a place for words and prose. Everyone should learn both skill sets.


Rozema, Robert (2015) Manga and the Autistic Mind. English Journal. 105 (1) 60-68.

Schwartz, Adam & Rubinstein-Avila, Eliane (2006) Understanding the Manga Hype: Uncovering the Multimodality of Comic-Book Literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 50 (1) 40-49.


Citrus: Lesbianism at All-Girls Schools

Citrus anime title card.Citrus is the first yuri anime I’ve watched from start to finish. The story follows the fraught romance between two step-sisters Yuzu and Mei. As you can expect from anime, they share little in common. Yuzu is a fun-loving city girl while Mei is cold and by-the-books. Yuzu feels conflicted about her feelings. After all, she’s never felt attraction toward a girl, and her attraction toward her younger sister Mei troubles her. She feels the need to be a good elder sister but her love goes beyond sibling love. The pair takes steps forward in their relationship only to back off again. This is a common theme in other relationship-focused anime I’ve seen. It can annoy some viewers, but it is pretty realistic.

As I watched the show, I pondered the relationship of lesbian attraction and all-girls schools. In Citrus, it seemed such romances were common but still ridiculed. I wanted to know how much of this was fantasy and how much was based on reality.

Same-Sex Schooling and Lesbianism – Past Views

Yuzu has a bubbly personalityIn the past, people in the West debated about the line between true homosexuality and situational-forced homosexuality. Girls who don’t define themselves as lesbian may have emotional and physical relationships while attending all-girls schools. But once they leave, they fall into heterosexual relationships and show no signs of wanting lesbian relationships (Steet, 1998).

In a 1962 study “Homosexual Behavior in a Correctional Institution for Adolescent Girls,” 69% of girls ages 12-18 had been involved in homosexual behavior or “girl stuff” as the girls called any “sexually tinged relationship between two girls.” However, when they leave the institution many also left the girl stuff behind. The behavior, at least according to these past studies, doesn’t link with identity. However, women’s schools have a long literary tradition of female homosexual identity in the West. The first story traces to 1762 with “A Description of Millennium Hall.”

Lillian Faderman, a social historian, argued the modern lesbian identity dates to the Scotch Verdict Trial of 1811 where two teachers in an all-girls school—Miss Woods and Miss Pirie—were accused of engaging in “improper” displays of affection in front of their charges and corrupting morals. The teachers were acquitted because the judges didn’t want to admit to the reality of female-female sex (Blackmer, 1995).

Many girls feel like their peers assume they are lesbians just because they attend an all-girls school (Bloom, 2009). Much of this is because of how closely lesbian identity in the West associates with all-girls school literature and the Scotch Verdict.  Yet, all-girls schools are strictly heteronormative.

All-Girls Schools and Forced Heterosexuality

Yuzu and Mei were often at odds.Catholic schools dominate American single-sex schools, so the teaching of the church shapes most single-sex schools (Love & Tolsolt, 2013):

Single-sex Catholic schools align fundamentally with Catholic doctrine in that students are seen either as male or female. Furthermore, single-sex Catholic schools are institutions that perpetuate socially constructed gender differences, normalize heterosexism, and through formal and informal school curriculum, ignore students who identify as queer.

According to the Catholic Church, acting on homosexual desire is a sin. Being a homosexual is a disorder, but as long you don’t act upon the feelings, you don’t sin. The church recognizes people are born queer, but it also expects them not to act upon this nature (Love & Tolsolt, 2013). Interestingly, we see a little of this in Citrus with Yuzu. In a few scenes, she feels wrong to feel and especially act on her attraction for Mei. Although she doesn’t conceptualize this as a sin, the act of kissing Mei weighs on her.

At these schools, dances can only happen with males and females, and even then contact is regulated. The church affirms homosexual identity and denounces discriminating against it even as it condemns acting upon that identity as a sin (Love & Tolsolt, 2013).  Now this may seem contradictory, but the concept of original sin clarifies this. According to the idea, everyone inherits Adam and Eve’s sinful nature. Homosexuality comes from that nature according to the doctrine. Acting on such nature creates sin in this view. For example, you may have the love for gambling in your nature, but as long as you don’t act upon it, you don’t commit the sin. The doctrine defines how Catholic all-girl schools function.

Yuzu's friends remained supportive and fairly well fleshed out. The very reason behind same-gender schools is heteronormative. Same-sex education “rests on the premise that boys and girls will work better separately because they’ll ogle each other too much if they’re together.” Acknowledging desires outside of the heterosexual undermines one of the main reasons behind same-sex education (Savino, 2003). Some people worry that students will resort to homosexual experimentation without a heterosexual outlet, as if the heterosexual identity is the default. Savino (2003) continues: “In this model, the same-sex education system can admit lesbian behavior exists while simultaneously dismissing it as sublimated heterosexual desire!”

Studies on the effectiveness of same-sex schools appear mixed. They appear to help minorities. The schools appear to remove distractions caused by the opposite gender, allowing students to be more open with each other and with their teachers, but trusting teacher-student relationships matter more (Hubbard, Datnow, 2005).


In Citrus, Yuzu worried about bullying in a few scenes. The same-sex school environment changes the nature of bullying. Girls show more relational-aggression than boys. Boys show more physical aggression. But because these are normal patterns, victimization happens when the opposite happens (Velaquez, 2010):

Among boys, victimization was associated with relational aggression but not physical aggression; conversely, among girls victimization was associated with physical aggression and not relational aggression.

Velaquez (2010) found girls in same-sex schools associate physical aggression as more negative than relationship bullying more than girls from mixed-sex schools. These schools seem to normalize the perception of physical aggression for both genders. This is likely because its seen more often with guys around than when there are all girls around. Although I have to admit that anecdotally I’ve seen more pushing and physical aggression from girls than from guys. Any behavior that deviates from the norms of peers attracts bullying, which explains Yuzu’s worry.


Mei and Yuzu together. I’ve focused on the US. This is partially because it’s the information I have and partially because anime is an international medium. A good portion of Japan’s school system was modeled after the West’s systems. Because of this, looking at US research can give us some insight as to the reality behind the same-sex school in Citrus.  Japan has a long unacknowledged history of lesbianism. Such encounters appear in various shunga and hinted-upon in Heian period literature. Yuri stories descend from these.

It looks as if the all-girls school in Citrus has some basis in reality. Same-sex schools are mostly heterosexual as an environment, but they can encourage limited homosexual relationships and experimentation. Many of these students aren’t lesbians. They could be considered bisexual, perhaps, or just situational-seeking relationships as some used to believe. So some of the side hints to this in the anime can be considered realistic.

Really, all of this just depends on the individual. When I was researching, some lesbian students found all-girl’s schools oppressive. Other interviews found them a welcome place to be themselves. Heterosexual girls felt the stigma of the literature surrounding all-girls schools. This combined with the fact they had few encounters with boy to make it difficult for them to relate to boys. The schools benefit some, and it hurts others.

As for Citrus, I found the anime interesting. Yuzu’s conflict backpedaled enough to feel realistic. Relationships don’t advance in a linear way, and the story does a good job showing that. Because it’s the first yuri I’ve watched to the end, I can’t comment how it compares. The fan-service remains standard fare for anime. You’ll see the usual accidental walk-ins during showers. Citrus shows topics like female masturbation as normal and common with how briskly it passes over them. If anything, the series felt too fast. Many conflicts and problems resolved too quickly. I was glad to see no one was an airhead. Even Yuzu had a sharp mind when she applied herself. She just didn’t have the interest to do so until she met Mei. Even the side characters felt intelligent.

The story isn’t the best (it’s uncomfortable at times), but anime lately have learned toward mediocre stories and unlikable or flat characters. The characters in Citrus suggested they have more depth than many characters in Spring’s anime line-up.


Blackmer, C. E. (1995). The finishing touch and the tradition of homoerotic girl’s school fictions. Review Of Contemporary Fiction, 1532.

Bloom, Adi (2009) Tart or Lesbian? How pupils at all-girls primaries live in fear of labels that stick. The Times Educational Supplement. No. 4841. 12.

Coren, Sidney & Luthar, Suniya. (2014) Pursuing perfection: distress and interpersonal functioning among adolescent boys in single-sex and co-educational independent schools. Psychology in the Schools 5 (9).

Hubbard, Lea & Datnow, Amanda (2005) Do Single-Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students? An Investigation of California’s Public Single-Gender Academics. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 36 (2) 115-131.

Love, Bettina & Tolsolt, Brandelyn (2013) Go Underground or in Your Face: Queer Students’ Negotiation of All-Girls Catholic Schools. Journal of LGBT Youth. 10. 186-207.

Savino, Kathleen (2003) Thighs Are Not Attractive, Ladies! Homophobia and Same-Sex Education. Off Our Backs. 33 (11/12) 25-28.

Steet, L. (1998). Girl Stuff: Same-Sex Relations in Girls’ Public Reform Schools and the Institutional Response. Educational Studies: A Journal In The Foundations Of Education, 29(4), 341-58.

Velaquez, Ana Maria & others (2010) Context-Dependent Victimization and Aggression: Differences Between All-Girl and Mixed-Sex Schools. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 56 (3) 283-302.

Sex, Zen, and Poetry. The Life of Ikkyu Sojun

A portrait of Ikkyu SojunWhen we think of monks, we think of bald guys sitting around praying and studying all day long. Monks shirk women, booze, and other worldly pleasures. Back in the 15th century, one Zen monk turned this tradition on its back. Ikkyu Sojun decided to be true to himself and that meant regular trips to brothels. Ikkyu decided to challenge the established practices of Zen by doing the opposite.

Ikkyu was born into the imperial household in1394 as the unrecognized child of the Emperor Gokomatsu. For reasons we don’t know, his mother fled the court before Ikkyu was born. We know little about her. In her only surviving letter, written shortly before her death, she urged Ikkyu to become such an outstanding priest that he might consider Shaka and Daruma, fathers of Zen Buddhism, his servants (Keene, 1966; Qui, 2001). In a postscript, she added a line that reveals a hint of her personality:

The man who is concerned only with expedients is no better than a dung-fly. Even if you know by heart the 80,000 holy teachings,unless you open to the full the eyes of your Buddhist nature, you will never be able to understand even what I have written in this letter.

His mother sent him to Ankokuji in Kyoto as an acolyte at the age of 5. For the next 10 years, he trained in Buddhist scriptures and Chinese classics. Ikkyu developed a reputation as a master of Chinese poetry, some of his earliest surviving poems dates to when he was between 12 and 14 years old.  In his teens, he grew tired of the status seeking of the temple and left to become a disciple of Ken’o Soi, an eccentric Zen master who refused to accept his seal of transmission, a document that certified his enlightenment and status as a Zen master. Ikkyu stayed with Ken’o until Ken’o’s death in 1414.

A surviving example of Ikkyu's handwriting. 15th century. Tokyo National Museum.

A surviving example of Ikkyu’s handwriting. 15th century. Tokyo National Museum.

After this, Ikkyu joined another hermitage under the harsh master Kaso. Kaso appears to have soured Ikkyu to the Zen establishment.  In 1420, Ikkyu had an enlightenment experience at the age of 26. During a late summer night, as the rain clouds hung low over a lake, Ikkyu sat in meditation in a small boat when he heard crows call. He suddenly cried out as realization struck him. After this experience, he became a Zen master in his own right; however, when Kaso presented the seal of transmission, Ikkyu refused it like his previous master did. This began his crazy career as a brothel regular and protester of established Zen.

Ikkyu believed in the Zen idea of the unity of opposites, the idea that light and dark were one. Despite his antics, Ikkyu took Zen seriously and attacked anyone he deemed lacking in sincere Zen spirit. In his poems, he loved to contrast the practice of Zen with explicit descriptions of sex. During his lifetime, Ikkyu saw the superficial Heian period end and the beginning of the Kamakura period. The Heian period’s flashiness rubbed off on the Zen establishment, troubling Ikkyu. One day, Ikkyu lost a favorite ink stick and became so upset he became sick. He used this to point out the superficial focus of his age (Qiu, 2001):

Aah, in today’s world, people are all crazy about treasures and wealth; to them an ink stick would be no more than a broken straw sandal. But I almost lost my life over a missing ink stick. I wonder if those who have many desires would feel a little shame when they heard this poem.

The transition between the Heian period to the Kamakura marked a time of violence. Ikkyu lived through wars between samurai families, peasant rebellions, and the destruction of Kyoto, the city of the Emperor. This time of upheaval explains why he tried to use pleasure and poetry to get through to people. Most of his poetry sliced at established Zen for allowing corruption to shape their purpose:

From the world of passions,

I return to the world beyond passions,

A moment of pause.

If the rain is to fall, let it fall;

If the wind is to blow, let it blow.

Ikkyu favored brothels over temples as places to meditate. It’s likely brothels provided a more receptive audience than monasteries for his teachings. Ikkyu taught sexual desire was a natural need, like the need for water. Denying sexual desire broke the purpose of Zen, which is to help a person discover their true nature. Sexual desire, according to Ikkyu, was a part of a person’s nature. In the poem titled “Fisherman” he denounces the values of Zen communities:

Learning the Way and studying Zen, one loses the Original Mind.

A fisherman’s song is worth a thousand pieces of gold.

Evening rain on Xiang River, the moon amid the clouds of Chu—

It’s boundless furyu to chant poems night after night.

Ikkyu not only ignored the practice of celibacy, but he also ignored grooming practices, sporting hair and a beard instead of the bald, clean shaven practices require of monks. A portrait drawn by his disciple Bokusai shows his unseemly appearance–to the eyes of other Zen priests Ikkyu looked unseemly (Keene, 1966). On New Year’s Day, Ikkyu would parade through the streets with a staff topped with a human skill to drive home the impermanence of life. Shock served Ikkyu well.

Ikkyu’s Furyu

A shunga painting based on Ikkyu's work.

A shunga painting based on one of Ikkyu’s pieces.

Furyu is a hard concept to define, and it stands at the heart of Ikkyu’s erratic behavior as a priest. The concept changed across the various periods of Japan. During the Heian period, furyu referred to the sensuous beauty of artificial objects and art. During the Edo period, long after Ikkyu’s death, the word came to focus on eroticism. Sex and sensuality remained attached to the word. Ikkyu’s furyu is best considered “an aesthetic of unconventionality celebrates the freest mind, which, to the orthodox point of view, is crazy and eccentric (Qiu, 2001).” This idea explains why Ikkyu frequented brothels. His antics tried to shake up the thinking of the time, breaking everything thought to define Zen Buddhism.  Ikkyu’s furyu retained its attachment with sexuality when he used the word in his poetry:

Furyu of the age, a fair lady;

Love songs, delicate feast, melodies exceptionally novel.

Singing a new song, I lot my heart to her lovely face and dimples,

As the flowering haitang [Chinese crabapple tree] of the Tianbao time, Mori, you are a sapling in the spring.

“Seeing My Beautiful Mori Taking a Nap,” uses furyu to equate Mori’s beauty as the peak of sensuousness. The Chinese crabapple tree was a symbol for beautiful women in Chinese poetry. Ikkyu used the word in both the expected way of the period and in his own way, adding to the complicated understanding of the word.

Ikkyu’s poetry reveals this complication through contrast. One moment he expresses doubt toward the value of the pleasure district:

Ten years in the gay quarters, and still I couldn’t exhaust the pleasures;

But I broke away and am living here in empty mountains and dark valleys.

In these favorable surroundings clouds blot out the world.

Then he turns around and writes as if he had no doubts about his way of life being compatible with Zen:

To sleep with a beautiful woman?

what a deep river of love!

Upstairs in a tall building the old Zen priest is singing.

I’ve had all the pleasure of embraces and kisses

With never a thought of sacrificing myself for others.

Ikkyu’s life acts as a koan. Despite his dislike for establishment, he became an abbot in 1474 of Daitokuji and managed to ease the conflicts between Daitokuji and Myoshinji schools of Zen. But his feelings about being an abbot remained mixed as his bitter poems from this period shows. He leaves the position shortly after taking it and returned to his previous lifestyle. In his final years, Ikkyu wrote erotic poems about a blind singer named Mori. He died in 1481 at 87 years old.

Ikkyu’s Legacy

A portrait of Ikkyu SojunIkkyu lived a life of contrasts. He knew the austere life of a traditional monk at an early age, and he knew the life of indulgent pleasures to be had at brothel and bar. Even for his time, his eccentricities were hard to understand. He spent his life slicing at establishment, showing how the extreme withdrawal from sexual desires was the same as indulging in them. He advocated for a balanced view by showing sexual desire was no different than thirsting for water.He denounced how the great Zen temples focused on increasing their wealth and power.

His messages strangely resonate with modern Christians. Christianity today focuses upon traditional purity and appearance while wealth and power corrupts churches. Ikkyu, in his crazy way, points out how religion labels everything in a ritualistic way, creating artificial divisions. These artificial divisions get in the way of understanding reality.

Ikkyu’s poems and prose capture a time of change and a complicated, eccentric figure in Japanese history.

I’ve left in the temple the things I’ve always used,

My wooden spoon and bamboo plate, hung up east of the wall.

I don’t want your useless furniture around me;

For years a peasant’s hat and cloak have been enough.


Keene, Donald (1966) The Portrait of Ikkyu. Archives of Asian Art. 20. 54-65.

Qiu, Peipei (2001) Aesthetic of Unconventionality: Furyu in Ikkyu’s Poety. Japanese Language and Literature. 35 (2). 135-156.

Sojun, Ikkyu and James Sanford (1980) Mandalas of the Heart. Two Prose Works by Ikkyo Sojun. Monumenta Nipponica. 35 (3). 273-298.