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Life style of ancient capital

We want to translate the high-quality life style from Heian period (The Heian period is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital) into modern life. Due to the true history.

The gift to the glittering precious person—the luxury crossed the ages

Written by Junko YAMAMOTO Illustration by Takiko KUROIWA

Junko YAMAMOTO
Researcher of literature of Heian period / professor of human culture department, Kyoto Gakuen University.
Born in 1960, Kanazawa ISHIGAWA. Researcher of literature of Heian period. Graduated from literature department of Kyoto University. She has been the instructor of Ishigawa prefectural Tatsumi Ga Oka high school, and finished the master course in the human・environment school of Kyoto University, and received the PhD qualification (Human・environment). Now working as a professor of History folk customs・Japanese language and culture in the Human Culture department in Kyoto Gakuen University. In 2007, won the 29th Suntory Literature Award by “The period of The Tale of Genji” (selected works of Asahi).

The volume “Hatsune” (the first singing) which described the view of the first month of the lunar year from The Tale of Genji. “there are no clouds in the sky of the new year” it’s so gratifying for the first passage was written from the scenery of the new year. Sanetaka SANJONISHI, a famous noble of Muromachi period (室町時代 Muromachi jidai, also known as the Muromachi era, the Ashikaga era, or the Ashikaga period is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573), read this volume as a new spring speech every year, and he recorded this in his dairies.

The nobles of Heian period would prepare the dresses before the new year. In the volume of “Hatsune”, for greet the new year, Hikaru Genji (the protagonist of Murasaki Shikibu’s important Heian-era Japanese novel The Tale of Genji) also did the preparation for the dresses for his gens. But for him, it was not a simple affair. He must prepare dresses for different people with different dispositions, for his wife and foster daughter who lived in the new building Rokujoin where was a luxury habitation covered an area of 17791 sq. Yd, and for his old lover who lived in somewhere else. “distribute dresses” (衣配り/nukikubari) is a famous scenery in The Tale of Genji.

Around Hikaru Genji, there were so many textiles that condense the craftsmen’s skills. “the gifts should be fit for the ladies’ dispositions respectively”, suggested by his wife, the lady Muraski, who was most beloved by Genji. The first gift was for her, Genji chose the most womanly and gorgeous tones dresses for her. The female dresses in Heian period, were dressed layer by layer in different colors, so the fabulous coordinates in beautiful colors could be seen from collars and cuffs like paper folding fan, and those coordinates even had names. Lady Murasaki’s dresses named “Kobai” (紅梅/red plum), they were several red gradation pieces of dresses. In addition, a piece of vine colored smock with luxuriant patterns draped over the dresses, they were such a luxurious and glossy set. On the other side, for Akaishi no Onkata, the mother of Genji’s seven-year-old daughter, on the basis of several overlapped dresses of dark purple, a white smock with a branch of plum and flying butterflies and bird design, draped over them. Both the colors and design were very noble, for who has been grown up at a place away from the capital, exuded noble character, the set of dresses had fit her perfectly. By the way the taste of Murasaki Shikibu (author of The Tale of Genji) was so outstanding.

The dyeing method of those dresses was recorded in the Engishiki (延喜式, “Procedures of the Engi Era”), the book about laws and customs in Heian period. With the sappan, trees are native to India · Malay Peninsula, and the rare Lithospermum erythrorhizon (grass for extracting purple dyes) etc., Sachio YOSHIOKA, the famous dyer of Kyoto, reproduced the craftwork, and praised by the world.

Just like “Kiwakoto” crossed the ages.

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