In ancient China, corners of rooms were thought of as places where evil spirits can hide easily. Underground grave chambers of nobility are represented by the form 亜 (亞) indicating the four reeled off corners.
Ancient clan ‘insignia’ also had the standard form of 亞 with several inscriptions inside. As a rare example, among the inscriptions there also is an equivalent of the element 莫 (meaning ‘dark’). As in the later Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) style, however, the form 亞 which means ‘grave’ did not remain, here also the lineage of the common explanation as ‘natural’ (not underground) grave as is usual also in traditional grave geomancy will be introduced in the following.
墓 is usually categorized as picto-phonetic character, here it is regarded as a pictograph in the first line. The character combines the upper part 艸 ‘grass’ and 日 ‘sun’ with the lower part, 艸 ‘grass’ and 土 ‘soil,’ showing a state of freshly green sprouting grass. With its sunshine, the bright shining sun fills the grassy plain with vivid life. This shows the ideal of the corpse returning to the soil and to nature. According to Yin-Yang thought, there has to be a balance of the sun (Yang) and the earth or soil (Yin).
The character 親 ‘parent(s)’ shows the custom of ancestor commemoration for the repose of the soul of special deceased, the parents. East Asia has the custom of writing the name of the deceased on a wooden ancestral name tablet. The left part of this character consists of 辛 and 木, with 辛 showing a needle with handle. I was a custom to go into the forest to elect the wood for the coffin or memorial tablet, throwing the needle for electing the wood in what is a kind of divine judgment. The right part 見 is the form of a human being worshipping the soul dwelling in the ancestral tablet in respect and deference. The 目 of 見 is the head of a human being with mainly the eyes and 儿 shows the legs.
This character teaches that in China and in East Asia, in addition to the grave itself, from ancient times on, the souls of ancestors were revered in the form of memorial tablets, thus becoming a spiritual place of support for one’s heart. In ancient China, there were several discussions about the right way of holding funerals among the various schools of thought and philosophy; however, no school ever advocated the abolition of memorial tablets.
This character cannot be seen among the tortoise plastron, bone, or bronze inscription characters but from the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal script on. Certainly, it can be divided into a left and right part. It, however, would be too rash to jump to an A+B style mathematical explanation. Dr. Shirakawa summarizes: “The meaning is to realize an oath.”
Rather than a mere superficial interpretation like that of a 言 ‘kotoba: word’ that 成る ‘naru: realizes,’ one has to take the customs and religion of ancient China into consideration here. As was pointed out in the explanation of 信, the 口 of the lower part 言 is a vessel for putting in prayer writings. The meaning of the upper part with its four horizontal lines is hard to understand from the form of the Common Use Kanji. Its original form and meaning has to be understood in the context of the tattoo and ritual body painting culture. It shows the form of an instrument, a needle with a handle for tattooing. Already this part 言 only has the meaning of words of oath to the gods.
The part 成 shows the form of the ritual of completion performed after the making of a 戈 ‘hoko: halberd’ is finished, adding a decoration. This means that the left and right character parts have their origin in religion.
The character form has a left and a right side, which both, in the tortoise plastron and bone characters, were used with the meaning of the present complete character, of ‘army,’ or ‘master, instructor.’ The first form of 師 appearing in the tortoise plastron and bone characters is the left part of the character resembling the form of a big piece of meat fried on a skewer. It depicts the piece of meat the departing army uses to worship the ancestors when going to war praying for victory in war; by this time it alone had the meaning ‘army.’ The army always carried this meat around with it. The right part is the form of a knife with a blood stopper and a handle. Apart from the meaning ‘army,’ 師 was also used with the meaning of the person that has the authority to cut this meat. From the background that after retirement from active service these persons often were in charge of youth education, it also was used with the meaning ‘teacher.’
In contrast to ceremonies in Buddhism, the custom of offering meat afterwards was continued in Confucianism. In the realm of Confucianism, i.e. China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan, when worshipping the previous sages and teachers of ancient China as, for example, in the 釈奠 ‘Sekiten, (Shakuten, Sakuten): Big Ceremony of Confucius Worship’ this is an important element of the ritual. In Japan, for example, meat also is at the center of the worship rituals for Confucius at the ‘Yushima Seido: Yushima Confucius Shrine’ in Tokyo.
Besides, the character form of 帥 ‘Sui: general, leader’ may well seem to resemble 師, if, however, one has a look at the tortoise plastron and bone characters, the left part depicts the doors of a board enshrining deities, and the right part 巾 shows a cloth. It is of a completely different lineage.
The umbrella was invented in ancient China as a canopy to be held over a nobleman. In 552, during the Asuka period, the umbrella was introduced to Japan through Kudara (the Korean peninsula) as part of Buddhist ceremonies.
The umbrella in Japan was originally called 'kinugasa', but because it came from China ('kara'), it was also called 'karakasa'. The original form of the umbrella was improved over time: the center tube and ribs were made from bamboo, and the covering was made from oilpaper, waterproofed with persimmon, linseed oil and China wood oil. Despite its strong water resistance, its major flaws were that it was neither light nor durable.
There are two types of Japanese umbrella: the bangasa (coarse oilpaper umbrella) and janomegasa (snake-eye umbrella/paper umbrella). The janomegasa is made from paper, is blue in the center and at the edges, and white in between, and looks like the eye of a snake when viewed from above. This umbrella does have variations, such as painted black rings on the surface and the application of other astringent materials.
Currently, the kano umbrella, made in Kano, Gifu Prefecture, is proud to be to the only place in Japan to be a major producer of traditional Japanese umbrellas.
A Japanese-style room is never without tatami mats. Many of the items and influences in Japanese cultures came from foreign countries, such as ancient China or the Korean Peninsula. But tatami were invented through the Japanese people's wisdom of living.
The history of tatami dates back 1000 years. In the Heian period, tatami were very expensive. They were installed in the mansions of the nobility and there are extant paintings of people sitting on tatami.
Tatami materials include rushes or rice straw. The stalks of these plants have fine cavities like spider-webs, which absorb moisture and harmful organic substances. Moreover, the cavities act as air-cushions to keep people from injury. The rough surface of tatami stimulates the soles of feet which in turn helps activate the brain. In addition, the unique smell of the rushes has an effect like aromatherapy.
Tatami remind us of the best of Japanese traditions.