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.
Last night and into the morning, a new blizzard hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, bringing with it a good half foot of snow or more. While this winter has been particularly cold, and being cooped up indoors induces a form of winter madness in all but the hardiest souls, waking up to newly fallen snow is an undeniably joyous aspect to an otherwise frozen, barren season.
“The Pillow Book” famously starts with the line “in spring, it is the dawn”, as Sei Shonagon poetically describes the loveliest time of day per season. In winter, it is the early morning:
“In winter the early mornings. It is beautiful indeed when snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season’s mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes” —-Sei Shonagon
Frozen salt marsh.
A flock of crows on slushy ice of brackish water.
An aristocratic Heian woman did not move very often. She would not have played sports, nor would she have spent time on long solitary walks. Instead, wealthy women lived extremely sedentary lives, spending much of their time sitting around, playing board games with others, practicing penmanship, or eagerly anticipating a response to a sent poem. This is yet another reason why Heian women dominated Japanese literature of the period to such a degree – there was nothing else to do but sit and write.
Sitting on the floor > than sitting on an exercise bike.
To modernize this behavior, spend your time sitting around your room. Talk to your friends on the phone or online. Start writing in a notebook or a blog. Or just feel melancholy. The choice is yours!
But whatever you do, don’t go for a jog. It’s really not very Heian.