Disabled people and musicians in Tokyo in 1805

Kidai Shōran (煕代勝覧) depicted several disabled people in the City of Edo (present Tokyo) in the early 19th century.

In the Edo period (1603-1867) when knowledge on nutrition was lacking, considerable number of Japanese suffered from beriberi, or kakke (脚気) in Japanese. Beriberi is a nervous system ailment caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 in the diet. Since wealthy people used to eat white rice lacking vitamin B1 as a staple food, beriberi was more rampant among them rather than among poor people, who used to eat brown rice. Symptoms of beriberi include weakness and pain in the legs, and those who suffer from them are unable to walk on their own. One such person is depicted in Kidai Shōran.

A man on a wheeled board is rowing it with sticks in his hands. It seems that the wheeled board was a common device for disabled people in pre-modern Japan; I have seen an another painting scroll, which was painted in the 15-16th century, that depicted a person on a similar vehicle. The decent clothes of the man in the illustration suggest that he is a relatively wealthy person - perhaps a retired merchant.

Another illness from which considerable number of people suffered was that of teeth. There were doctors who took care of teeth, but their remedy was basically just extracting the decayed teeth. How did those who lost teeth take their meal? Kidai Shoran depicts a solution for them - dentures. The scroll does not depict a denture itself but depicts a denture shop.

The sign on the shop reads from right to left, in accordance with Japanese writing custom at the period, "御入歯" (On-ireba), which means "denture" in English. Denture in the Edo period was wooden one as reported in the Japan Times last year. The following photo and quote is from the JT article.

A ditch in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, has yielded a common form of early false teeth — an 18th century set of wooden choppers, indicating Japan, like other parts of the world, turned to wood in the days before gold and ceramic crowns.

The highly sophisticated carved wooden dentures found in Yokkaichi indicate elderly people of that time, before modern dentistry, were able to overcome tooth loss and the subsequent difficulty in eating.

The partial plate includes eight life-size teeth. It was carved out of boxwood and measures some 6.2 cm wide, 2 cm high and 5.5 cm deep.

The quality compares favorably with similar wooden teeth discovered elsewhere, demonstrating that the Japanese dental artisans' wooden teeth were among the best in the world, experts say.
Loosing teeth is not so a serious problem as other disability that may affect one's survival. Loosing eyesight was one serious problem in pre-modern period when social security system was lacking. The following illustration shows a sightless person in the Edo period. He is carrying a biwa lute (琵琶) on his back.

Sightless people in the Edo period used to join an organization which were run by sightless people themselves, in which they learnt techniques of massage to earn their living as masseurs. Also taught in the organization was how to play music instruments such as biwa lute and koto harp (琴, which was also called (箏)). If one was found to be talented in playing music, he was trained to be a musician so that he could earn his living either as a biwa player or as a koto player. Since Tokugawa Shogunate gave sightless people privilege to monopolize the businesses of masseurs and the biwa/koto players, sightless people could have relatively good income to make their living, and many famous sightless musicians appeared in succession during the Edo period. This webpage has a good article on the history of koto music in Japan; it mentions several famous sightless musicians in the Edo period. (Yatsuhashi Kengyo, Ikuta Kengyo, Yamada Kengyo and Kitajima Kengyo mentioned in the article are all sightless people, although it is not clearly stated in the text.)

The following video clip shows a koto music, "Rokudan no Shirabe" (Melody of Six Movements), composed in the mid-17th century by a sightless koto master, Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685).

Koto players usually stayed in their home, and there they earned their living by playing koto or by teaching people how to play it. In contrast, biwa players wandered through the country carrying their biwa lutes, as shown in the illustration mentioned above. They were like Celtic bards. Their major repertoire was the Tale of Heike, a historical epic of the 12th-century Genpei War. They chanted the historic epic accompanying themselves on the biwa lute. Some records say that it took 90-120 hours to chant the whole story of the Tale of Heike. Since it was a hard task for both the players and audience, biwa players usually performed several climax parts of the epic in a performance. The following video clip is a performance of the Tale of Heike by Nobuko Kawashima. Editing of the clip is rather poor but you would see how biwa performance was like.

As anyone would guess, it required a good memory to remember the whole text of the Tale of Heike. Some sightless people in the Edo period, however, went further to remember tons of classic Japanese texts. The one staying on top of them is a sightless scholar, Hanawa Hoki-ichi (塙 保己一) (1746-1821), who finished a 670-volume compilation of Japanese old documents, Gunsho Ruiju (群書類従), in 1819. You can read a concise biography of Hanawa Hokiichi in this webpage. Motoori Haruniwa (1763-1828), a pioneer of Japanese linguistics, is also a famous sightless scholar in the Edo period.

Let's return to the subject of music. Kidai Shōran (煕代勝覧) depicts another kind of Edo musicians. The people in the following illustration are Buddhist monks playing shakuhachi flutes in front of an umbrella shop. They are wearing baskets on their head.

They look mysterious, don't they? They are komusō (虚無僧), who are monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism. Literal meaning of Komusō is "monks of nothingness". The following quote is from Wikipedia.
Komusō were characterised by the straw basket (a sedge or reed hood named a tengai) worn on the head, manifesting the absence of specific ego. They are also known for playing solo pieces on the shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). These pieces, called honkyoku ("original pieces") were played during a meditative practice called suizen, for alms and as a method of attaining enlightenment.
Since the Tokugawa shogunate granted komuso the privilege of traveling through Japan without hindrance, there were many komuso who were wandering throughout the country. It is believed that at least some of komuso were working as spies of the Tokugawa Shogunate seeking for intelligence of feudal lords who would possibly rebel against the Shogunate. In the late 1970s, NHK aired a TV drama series entitled "Naruto Hichō" (鳴門秘帖, or "Secret Note of Naruto"), main character of which was a komuso who were trying to get intelligence of a feudal lord who was trying to raise a rebellion against the Shogunate. I was totally absorbed in the drama when I was a child.

After the Meiji Restoration, Meiji Government banned the Fuke school of Buddhism suspecting possible connection of Komuso with the Tokugawa Shogunate. Later in 1888, however, a Buddhist temple for Komuso, Myōanji temple [Japanese], was allowed to be constructed in the ground of Tofukuji temple, which is a temple complex in Kyoto. So you can see Komuso in present Japan if you are lucky.

Japanese old instruments are not commonly practiced by the Japanese now, but there are some good players. The following video clip is from a performance by a biwa player Yukihiro Goto and a shakuhachi player Akihito Obama.

I will write about carts and vehicles depicted in Kidai Shoran in next update. The update will be slow as always. Please be patient!

Related Posts:
(1) Tokyo in 1805
(2) People in Tokyo in 1805
(3) Disabled people and musicians in Tokyo in 1805 (This post)


People in Tokyo in 1805

Kidai Shoran (煕代勝覧) painted at c.a. 1805 depicted various people in the Edo period (1603-1867).

These people are commoners. The left panel shows two men and a male child. The left guy in the panel is wearing only kimono, and the right guy in the same panel is wearing a haori (羽織) jacket over his kimono. Wearing haori jacket was considered to be more formal than wearing only kimono. The style of wearing kimono without haori jacket was called kinagashi (着流し) and considered to be a casual style. On the right panel, two people are chatting with each other in a store in the kinagashi style. The man on the left is a merchant. Can you find an abacus, a necessity of merchants, in front of him? Japanese people had been using abacuses, or soroban (算盤) in Japanese, for calculation before electric calculators became popular in the late 1970s.

When people wore kimono, they considered it important to keep the lower part of kimono around the legs neat. Unintentional exposure of legs was regarded as clumsy and a bad manner even when they were working. When people do muscular labor, however, it is impossible to keep their legs unexposed. In such situations, they intentionally exposed their legs from the beginning by rolling the lower part of their kimono up above their waists. The lower part of the kimono was fixed at the waist by inserting it under the belt on the back. The man in the left panel is doing that. This style was called shirippashori (尻っぱしょり) and often regarded as manly and "cool". The man on the right is wearing a short kimono instead of doing shirippashori. Both men are wearing hachimaki (鉢巻), or Japanese-style headbands. They are for avoiding sweat to enter into their eyes.

The left panel shows a mother in a green kimono and her daughter in a yellowish one. They are wearing kimono in a formal way at the period; the mother, or a married woman, has a knot of the belt, or obi (帯), in front, whereas the daughter, or an unmarried woman, has the knot on her back. Since the knot in front interferes with the movement of the upper body, the habit of married women to make knots in front was gradually changed to make the knot on the back in the late Edo period. So women today make the knot on their back regardless of their marital status. Also seen in the illustration in the left panel is that the daughter is wearing a kimono with long sleeves, or furisode (振り袖). This habit that unmarried women wear long-sleeved kimono is still seen in Japan. The middle and right panels show women wearing scarves called okoso-zukin (御高祖頭巾). Okoso-zukin started to be in fashion among women in the 1720s-1730s, and it had been popular among women until Meiji period (1868-1912). The following photo was taken in the early Meiji period.

The women in the following illustration is carrying something wrapped in furoshiki (風呂敷).

They seem to have bought many goods. Furoshiki is just a large square cloth, but it is convenient for wrapping and carrying goods of various sizes. You can see how various goods are wrapped in furoshiki here.

The men in the above illustrations are samurai in full dress, indicating that they are on duty. They are wearing kamishimo jackets on the upper bodies and hakama trousers on the lower part of their bodies. Kamishimo was a jacket evolved from jinbaori (陣羽織) jacket worn over yoroi armor. The shoulder line of kamishimo was kept straight by inserting baleen. Both men are wearing swords on their waists. Samurai always wore two swords; one was a long sword, which is called katana (刀), and another was a short sword called wakizashi (脇差). Can you find two swords on the waist of each samurai?

These samurai are wearing hakama trousers. They are wearing haori jackets instead of kamishimo jackets, indicating that they are off duty. The samurai in the above illustrations would look to be relaxed when compared to the samurai in the previous illustrations, wouldn't they? Even when they are off duty, however, samurai almost always wore hakama when they went outside. It was a preparation for a possible accidental fight. If they fight in kinagashi style without hakama trousers, they would have to expose their legs during the fight, which was regarded as clumsy as I mentioned earlier.

These people are servants of samurai. Have you noticed that each guy is wearing only a single sword? Although I am not sure, their swords are probably wakizashi, or short swords, which were not regarded as katana. They are doing shirippasyori by folding the lower part of their kimono since they have to work around for their masters.

This is a tea stand on the street. On the right bench are two commoners. The man on the left bench is perhaps a samurai. The waitress serving tea is wearing a small red apron. We can still find similar tea houses in the grounds of some Buddhist temples in Kyoto.

Here I stop writing today. I will write more about people in Kidai Shoran in the next update. The update will be slow as always. Please be patient!

Related Post:
(1) Tokyo in 1805
(2) People in Tokyo in 1805 (this post)
(3) Disabled people and musicians in Tokyo in 1805


Tokyo in 1805

Kidai Shōran (煕代勝覧) is a 12-metre-long picture scroll which describes a street in the City of Edo (present Tokyo). It was painted approximately 200 years ago, ca.1805. The street corresponds to a part of present Chuo-dori street, which is between JR Kanda Station and Tokyo Metro Nihonbashi Station shown in red in the above map. The painting provides the exact location of buildings along the street and daily lives of people there at the time.

The above illustration is from the right-most part of Kidai Shōran. The bridge at the right side was called Imagawa-bashi (今川橋), or Imagawa Bridge. There is no bridge at the site now, but the name of the bridge remains as a name of a crossing. The following google street view shows a southward view from the Imagawa-bashi crossing, which corresponds to the leftward view from the bridge in the above illustration.

View Larger Map

Can you differentiate samurai from commoners in the illustration? Samurai have swords on their waists.

The fashion and stuff in the Edo period may look strange for those who are unfamiliar with them. I'll get into some details of them in the posts to follow. Please don't expect, however, quick update in this blog; it takes much time for me to write anything in English.

Related post:
(2) People in Tokyo in 1805
(3) Disabled people and musicians in Tokyo in 1805