Thursday, May 21, 2015

Felice Beato - Japan in 1865

portraits of Samurai and Courtesans of the Edo period (1865), Japan.

More about Felice Beato here.

I'm taking a writing class again and here is an excerpt by Sei Shonagon, a Japanese lady courtier of even longer ago (the 10th - 11th centuries!) from a reading assignment we had last week.  I think it's a perfect match to the photos here.  

And too funny really, because her list of things from the Pillow Book

could really have been made yesterday.

The lesson of that particular class was: What affects you about good writing?  It's universality.  How a good or great book can speak to every human and their experience.

And so.....from Sei Shonagon:

 Rare Things --- 

A son-in-law who's praised by his wife's father. Likewise, a wife who's loved by her mother-in-law. 

A pair of silver tweezers that can actually pull out hairs properly.

A retainer who doesn't speak ill of his master.

A person who is without a single quirk. Someone who's superior in both appearance and character, and who's remained utterly blameless throughout his long dealings with the world.

You never find an instance of two people living together who continue to be overawed by each other's excellence and always treat each other with scrupulous care and respect, so such a relationship is obviously a great rarity. 

Copying out a tale or a volume of poems without smearing any ink on the book you're copying from. If you're copying it from some beautiful bound book, you try to take immense care, but somehow you always manage to get ink on it.

Two women, let alone a man and a woman, who vow themselves to each other forever, and actually manage to remain on good terms to the end.” 

Hateful Things ---

One is just about to be told some interesting piece of news when a baby starts crying.

A flight of crows circle over with loud caws.

An admirer has come on a clandestine visit, but a dog catches sight of him and starts barking. One feels like killing the beast.

One has been foolish enough to invite a man to spend the night in an unsuitable place -- and then he starts snoring. 

One has gone to bed and is about to doze off when a mosquito appears, announcing himself in a reedy voice. One can actually feel the wind made by his wings, and, slight though it is, one finds it hateful in the extreme.

A carriage passes by with a nasty, creaking noise. Annoying to think that the passengers may not even be aware of this! If I am traveling in someone's carriage and I hear it creaking, I dislike not only the noise but the owner of the carriage.

A lover who is leaving at dawn announces that he has to find his fan and his paper. "I know I put them somewhere last night," he says. Since it is pitch-dark, he gropes about the room, bumping into the furniture and muttering, "Strange! Where can they be?" Finally he discovers the objects. He thrusts the paper into the breast of his robe with a great rustling sound; then he snaps open his fan and busily fans away with it. Only now is he ready to take his leave. What charmless behavior! "Hateful" is an understatement.

A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time. He drags himself out of bed with a look of dismay on his face. The lady urges him on: "Come, my friend, it's getting light. You don't want anyone to find you here." He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave. Once up, he does not instantly pull on his trousers. Instead, he comes close to the lady and whispers whatever was left unsaid during the night. Even when he is dressed, he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash.  Presently he raises the lattice, and the two lovers stand together by the side door while he tells her how he dreads the coming day, which will keep them apart; then he slips away. The lady watches him go, and this moment of parting will remain among her most charming memories. 

Indeed, one's attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking. When he jumps out of bed, scurries about the room, tightly fastens his trouser-sash, rolls up the sleeves of his Court cloak, over-robe, or hunting costume, stuffs his belongings into the breast of his robe and then briskly secures the outer sash -- one really begins to hate him.

All these things could have been written by Colette don't you think? And if not Jerry Seinfeld, maybe Elaine Bennis!  Timeless, universal.

HAVE A LOVELY WEEKEND!   I hope you don't encounter Hateful Things!


  1. J'ai un livre rassemblant ces photos et lu Sei Shonagon... dans ma "japonothèque" bien fournir, mais j'ai plaisir de les retrouver ici... petits morceaux de sagesse qu'il est bon de se remettre en mémoire.

  2. These are delightful! How I laughed at the tweezers and mosquitoes especially. :-)

  3. tee hee... these are great observations of life! the images are growing on me, over the years. i'm intrigued by the entirety of japan, i cannot explain, and vintagey-coloured-phots such as these do move me so. n♥