MomijiNCFall (2)


Yes, fall is already fully underway and before some of you experience the first hints of winter, I want to introduce a kozuka that I found quite wonderful a while ago and that I came across (in a book of course) the other day when looking for something different. It was rainy that day but temperatures and humidity were and are still quite high here in coastal North Carolina (see spooky accompanying pics), at least compared to the fall I was used to in Austria, and this, whilst in an autumnal mood anyway, inspired me to write a little bit around this kozuka. First of all, it is a work of the great master Gotô Ichijô (後藤一乗, 1791-1876) and is signed “Gotô Hokkyô Ichijô + kaô” (後藤法橋一乗). It is of shibuichi and not only the motif but also the color scheme is as much fall as it gets. The ground plate shows three maple leaves which are inlaid in suaka and gold hira-zôgan with the gourd carved out in takabori and decorated with gold and silver iroe. Please note that also the butt of the kozuka was accentuated with gold. The arrangement is excellent as just two maple leaves, which, being placed under the gourd, occupy felt the entire lower area of the kozuka, suggesting so a rural, forrest scene where the entire ground is covered with maple leaves. And the one atop, noticeably apart from the base, seems as if it is just falling down from a tree. But as the motif and color scheme of this kozuka works pretty much by itself as a “seasonal trigger object” for fall, there is more to it as the motif is actually also an allusion to a certain subject. When you have maple leaves combined with a gourd, you are certainly hinted at the Legend of Momiji (Momoji Densetsu, 紅葉伝説) which was later worked by Kanze Nobumitsu (観世信光, 1450-1516) into a play with the title Momijigari (紅葉狩) (later it was also converted into a Kabuki play of the same name).

MomijiIchijoPicture 1: kozuka by Gotô Ichijô

First about the legend. It tells of a couple from Aizu that remains childless for so long and that is finally desperate enough to pray to Tenma (天魔), a quite evil demon. As we know, praying to such a powerful evil force that might be comparable to “our” Satan in this context of old legends, is never a good thing but first everything looks fine as the couple is blessed in the seventh year of Jôhei (承平, 937) with a beautiful daughter which they name Kureha (呉葉). Growing up, Kureha turns out to be not only beautiful but also highly intelligent and capable of witchcraft. When she was against her will promised to the son of a local wealthy farmer, she created a doppelganger of herself who married the boy. But after leaving happily for some time, the false Kureha suddenly vanished into thin air and so also the real Kureha and her parents decided to leave and ended up in Kyôto where he changed her name to Momiji (紅葉). Smart as she was, she quickly absorbed aristocratic culture and eventually ended up becoming Minamoto no Tsunemoto’s (源経基, ?-961) concubine. She got pregnant, much to the dislike of Tsunemoto’s main wife who also got ill at the same time. So a high priest from Mt. Hiei ws consulted who told them that the illness goes back to a curse of Momiji and so Tsunemoto banished here to remote Togakushi (戸隠) in Shinano province. In fall of Tenryaku ten (天暦, 956) however, Momiji ended up in the village of Kinasa (鬼無里), back then named Minase (水無瀬), where she gave birth to a son. She took one of his father’s characters and named him Tsunewakamaru (経若丸). Momiji was held in high esteem by the local community as she not only brought them near the culture of Kyôto but also cured their illnesses, taught their boys reading and writing and arithmetic, and their daughters sewing. However, trying to copy everyday Kyôto life in rural Shinano province – the townsmen even made a small imperial palace-style mansion for her – made her miss the capital even more and so she eventually snapped. With Mt. Togakushi as a base, Momiji started to gather a band of robbers around her which raided neighboring villages every night, stealing money for her plan to return to Kyôto. Things were pretty bad and the story of the “Demoness of Togakushi” eventually reached the capital from where Emperor Reizei (冷泉天皇, 950-1011) sent Taira no Koremochi (平維茂) to deal with this problem. But as Momiji was capable of witchcraft, Koremochi couldn’t defeat here so he visited the Kitamuki-Kannon (北向観音) temple in nearby Bessho-Onsen (別所温泉) and prayed to Kannon. Well, Kannon heard his prayers and gave Koremochi via an appearing old priest a, quote, gôma no tsurugi (降魔の剣), a “Concquering the Devil Sword.” (Incidentally, in some versions of this legend this sword is the famous Kogarasu-maru.) With this sword, Koremochi was able to kill her and lo and behold, it was in fall, fall of the second year of Anna (安和, 969). This was also the reason why the local community renamed their village from Minase to Kinasa which means literally “no demon/devil village.”


Picture 2: Taira no Koremochi defeating Momiji.

So far the legend, of which of course several different versions are going round, introducing slightly different locations and protagonists, for example that it was not Taira no Koremochi who killed the demoness but Minamoto no Mitsunaka (源満仲, 912-997), using his sword Onikiri (鬼切). Now Kanze Nobumitsu worked this legend into a play, and his adaption is very exciting as it kind of starts quite innocently and reveals more and more what this is all about as the play goes on. Nobumitsu namely begins the drama with a noble woman and her retinues who went into the mountains to enjoy the maple leaves, a tradition that was and is also referred to as momojigari (lit. “maple leaves hunting,” or rather “going to view autumn foliage”). Then by chance, Taira no Koremochi, who is deer hunting with his men, comes across the women. First he tries to not get involved too much but they convince him to join their momijigari picnic in the course of which Koremochi gets drunk (thus the gourd on the kozuka) and falls asleep. Then comes the interlude that explains for the first time what this is all about. Whilst Koremochi sleeps and dreams, the deity Takeuchi (武内) appears (in Koremochi’s dream) and reveals – whilst rushing to the mountain, Mt. Togakushi – that the hero was not just for deer hunt in the area but was actually sent there by the Emperor to subjugate a local demoness, the noble woman. Takeuchi also says that the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman gave him the sacred order to help Koremochi, i.e. Nobumitsu deviates from the legend and replaces the Goddess of Mercy with the God of War, and just before Koremochi wakes up, Takeuchi places the divine sword he had been given by Hachiman for Koremochi in front of the latter. Of course Koremochi grasps the sword and eventually kills the demoness after a fierce eight.

But let me also introduce another, indirectly related kozuka in this context. It is a work by the late Edo-period Mito kinkô artist Uchikoshi Hirotoshi (打越弘寿). It depicts on the front three men sitting under a tree, having fun, and heating up sake by burning maple leaves they have picked up. And on the back side, a Chinese poem is engraved which goes:


Línjian nûanjîu shao-hóngxíe 
Shí-shàng tí shi fú lùtái.

In the forest, warming sake by burning maples leaves; 
Sweeping green moss from the stone to sit and compose poems.


Picture 3: kozuka signed cursive script “Ichijôsai Hirotoshi + kaô” (一乗斎弘寿)

The poem is by the Chinese poet and Tang Dynasty government official Bái Lètian (白楽天, Jap. Haku Rakuten, 772-846) who, as governor of three provinces, often made poems about his career, and as he was exiled and pardoned, many of them are very sentimental, an approach that of course perfectly matched the mood of aristocratic Kyôto at the time his poems made it over to Japan in the Heian period. And I said “indirectly related” because in one scene of Kanze Nobumitsu’s play Momijigari, when the two groups were enjoying the sake, the noble woman makes a reference to this very poem of Bái Lètian. And staying with sentimentality for a little, maple leaves and the custom of momijigari has this peculiar sentiment that goes along with so many traditional Japanese things that deeply root in Heian culture. The viewing of the very beautiful but quickly falling cherry blossoms in spring reminds one of the ephemeral nature of life for example, and by viewing gorgeous red maples leaves, one is at the same time made aware of the fact that with this coloring of the foliage, the time of abundance is definitely over and winter and all its hardships are approaching. It is this cruel certainty of facing the definite and irrevocable end of something that determines the peculiar feeling, not just that seasons are about to pass. In other words, there is absolutely no whatsoever hope that cherries might blossom for some more months or that summer comes back after leaves had turned that red…

So again, we have here a beautiful sword fitting that perfectly works just by itself as nice fall motif but if you dig deeper into the subject and get more and more versed in Japanese culture, so many things pop up when viewing a kozuka like this, e.g. old legends, adaptions of these old legends, artistocratic Heian culture sentiments, allusions, references, hidden meanings, symbolisms, and so on and so forth. As mentioned in several of my older, related posts, it is highly recommended not to stop at just saying: “Well, this is a nice fall-themed kozuka.”

MomijiNCFall (1)

2 thoughts on “Maples…

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