Category Archives: frivolity

Playing Concentration or Memory, Heian Style

 A primary conceit of the current age is that everything today is somehow new or original, completely different from anything of the past.

We’re in the “digital age”, and internet has changed everything. We live in democracies – everything is totally unique.

But the Heian era is proof that this is not the case.  Take a simple game that was played in the Heian era, known as “Kai-Awase”.  “Awase,” meaning “matchings” or “joinings.”  An aristocrat would have a set of 360 pairs of clam shells, which would be painted on the inside with either images, or perhaps poetry lines.

The images on the inner shells were fairly typical themes for the era – poetry, seasonal, literary, flowers, or perhaps noblemen gently weeping by a moonlit pond. Each clam shell would have an exact replica.

The game was played in the following manner. All of the shells would be placed face down on the floor. Each player would take turns flipping over the shells and attempting to find the shell’s match. Whomever found more matches would win the game. ….sound familiar?

This is pretty much the exact same game as Memory, or Concentration, a game nearly every Kindergartner plays with regular playing cards or pieces of cardboard with pictures of cartoon animals. The rules haven’t even changed.  It was played literally the exact same way over 1,100 years ago.  Feel perhaps a little closer to the Heian era? You probably mastered one of their games before learning to read.






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Filed under frivolity, games, sedentariness, the past

An Ideal Heian Gift

What could be a better holiday present than a Kai-Awase clam shell game set with Heian poets and their particular poems hand painted on the inner shells? This evening, while feasting with friends and family or watching television, spare a moment to have an inner feeling of melancholic regret – you could have given or received THIS.

Better luck next year.


Filed under frivolity, games, poetry

Is that what I think it is?


A Heian paper doll?

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Filed under dolls, frivolity, robes

A Conundrum…

The back has a Fujiwara crest.

The back has a Fujiwara crest.


Filed under embarrassment, frivolity

Looking Inward

Heian people were not interested in much outside of the mores of Heian society. There was little emphasis on intellectual curiosity or the study of foreign lands. Rather, one obsessed over, as we’ve seen, handwriting, poetry recitation skills, learning Chinese (only if you were a man, God help you), weeping, gossip, nature as seen through your carriage or bedroom window, behaving properly, wearing the right colored robe to that particular ceremony, and various Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies throughout the year.

Therefore, one wonders what a Heian aristocrat might make of a blog dedicated to their particular curious world. Though they would certainly understand being obsessed with their own social circle (and indeed they were, and we have all the writings about the same people and their goings on to prove it), the concept of learning and writing about a particular culture of a particular era would have struck them as strange. What, perchance, would they make of someone ordering these Heian-era dolls from Ebay?

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Filed under dolls, frivolity, insularity