Archive for June, 2014

Resource: Electronic Kuzushiji Dictionary Database

Translating historical Japanese manuscripts can be challenging for a variety of reasons. One is that, despite the thousands of characters Japanese has to start with, historical writers weren’t content to just write them clearly. Japanese cursive uses “kuzushiji” (崩し字), or broken characters, hiragana or kanji that have been heavily stylized in any number of different ways. Since strokes blend together and shapes get simplified, it can be difficult to figure out the original character from the stylized form.

I just found a very useful resource for piecing apart these texts: the Electronic Kuzushiji Dictionary Database (page in Japanese). It lets you put in a character and see historical cursive versions of that character, with dated citations going back at least as far as the 16th century. While this isn’t super-useful if you’re totally uncertain, it can really help confirm guesses and narrow down possibilities for characters in manuscripts, and electronic dictionaries are nice and quick to search.

Hat tip: Naruhodo なるほど‘s “Introduction to kuzushiji 崩し字”, which is also a good overview of Japanese cursive characters in general.

Primary Source: Kenmon Shokamon

O-umajirushi is great for an idea of what mon were like in the Momoyama period, but what were they like before that? There are few earlier sources for mon other than depictions of battle scenes and similar. One that I have found, however, is Kenmon Shokamon (見聞諸家紋), which translates to “Various Observed Family Crests”. It’ss an excellent collection of a wide variety of earlier mon, some of which have been featured on this blog as “provincial samurai” mon. It was originally published around 1467–1470, and it features crests that were observed on the banners and camp curtains of the Ōnin War, which started the Sengoku period.(ja.wp:見聞諸家紋) It contains a variety of combinations and motifs that are rare or absent by the time of the later codifications. I recently got access to the full text of this source via Google Books and shenanigans, and it has plenty of interesting designs, featuring a wide selection of plovers and also including a phoenix, a horse, and a shrimp. It also features some unexpectedly pictorial designs that in some ways are more similar to the later Edo period designs than those in common use around the Momoyama period. Its selection of mon that combine multiple elements in different ways will be useful for those seeking to register mon in the SCA.

I haven’t had time for detailed analysis as of yet, but I present the text for your enjoyment:

Kenmon Shokamon