Category Archives: Uncategorized

Modern Heian Kyo

The New York Times’ Travel Section this week has a multitude of articles about travel to Asia, and there are two articles about Kyoto alone.


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Be Extremely Repetitive in Your Use of Vocabulary

I know I am!

Heian literature requires a  great deal of effort to translate from the original Japanese, and must be altered totally from its initial form. Why might that be, you ask? A common Heian literary conceit, which was considered elegant at the time, was the excessive overuse of a single adjective in a sentence – to the point of using a strong adjective perhaps  four times in the same sentence.

Sei Shonagon in “The Pillow Book” frequently used adjectives such as “charming” over and over and over again in an anecdote. Were such a passage directly translated, the meaning of the writing would be utterly lost on a modern day reader. It would be far too boring and mind-numbingly repetitive.

On the other hand, perhaps this repetitiveness isn’t too far from the experience of the modern day literature fan. Many writers today, whether of novels, newspaper articles, or blogs, seem to re-use the same vocabulary.

I know I overuse the words ridiculous, hilarious, weird, amazing, awesome, and random. Maybe that assortment of words captures my particular take on life.  Possibly I should start looking at a thesaurus every once in a while.

If anyone calls you out on your slim vocabulary or overuse of a few choice adjectives, turn the tables on them. “Oh, I do that on purpose,” you’ll say. “I find it elegant. It’s very Heian.”

They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. You win.


Filed under Literature, Shonagon, translation, Uncategorized

No One Likes a Lazy Exorcist

There are times in life when one hires a religious figure to complete a ceremony or needed task. Whether it is a priest, pastor, rabbi, or shaman, sometimes a spiritual authority is needed and thus summoned. We expect the figure to behave with the requisite solemnity or authority of someone in such a post. However, at times this is not what happens. A minister at a wedding stumbles over the vows, or a priest sneezes from an excessive amount of incense. Hateful!

So goes another anecdote from Sei Shonagon’s Most Hateful List:

“Someone has suddenly fallen ill and one summons the exorcist. Since he is not at home, one has to send messengers to look for him. After one has had a long, fretful wait, the exorcist finally arrives, and with a sigh of relief one asks him to start his incantations. But perhaps he has been exorcising too many evil spirits lately, for hardly has he installed himself and begun praying when his voice becomes drowsy. Oh, how hateful!”

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Filed under exorcism, Pillow Book, Shonagon, superstition, Uncategorized

The 1300th Anniversary of Nara

Nara is home to the largest Buddha in Japan, built about half a century before the Heian period officially begins.

The Heian period officially starts in 794, the year that Imperial Capital of Japan moved from Nara to Heian Kyo, or modern day Kyoto.  This year is Nara’s 1300th anniversary, and there will be myriad festivals and celebrations in the city throughout the coming year.

Todaiji, the Temple housing the giant Buddhas.

Nara is a very charming small city, totally underrated in comparison to Kyoto. While it is understandable that many visitors to Kansai would bypass it in favor of the much-larger Kyoto, it’s a shame, because Nara never became a huge city and retains the feeling of a small ancient imperial capital.

Also, there are tame deer you can hand-feed buckwheat cookies.


Filed under buddhism, festivals, travel, Uncategorized

A Charming Heian Card for Modernity

For sending your friend a witty poem.

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“Genji”, Anime – Style

With those overly realistic eyebrows and blondish hair, that woman would not be considered a beauty by Heian standards. And as for the man - he doesn't look plump at all!


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More Evidence of Enduring Popularity

A Heian lady with uncharateristically large eyes.

A Heian lady with uncharateristically large eyes.

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