Vegder's Blog

September 13, 2010

Sado Island – 佐渡島 – Sadogashima

One thing leads to another –

To the left is a detail from a Hiorshige print.

The photo on the left shows the large field at Turtle Rock (佐渡島の大野亀岩) on Sado Island was posted at commons.wikimedia by Soica2001.

“One thing leads to another” is the title to a 1983 song by the Fixx, a group which made every attempt to sound ‘deep’ and cerebral (but wasn’t. They also gave us “Saved by Zero”, but that is for later, if ever.)  Those words came to mind the other day when I was doing research on the Japanese phrase for roiling seas, araumi (荒海). As it turns out the great poet Bashō used that term in a haiku which also mentions Sado Island. That got me thinking – something I don’t always do as I am sure you can tell: Why not start a post on Sado Island? It will probably the shortest post of them all. But then… but then… but then… I started looking into it and now I don’t know how to contain what I have found in a reasonable space. And, I am only a few days into this. It can only get worse (or better, depending on your perspective).

One thing to note: This post could not have formed properly without the invaluable assistance (and brainstorming with) of Eikei (英渓), a very  special contributor to my other web site.

Bashō’s Sado haiku and a comment (or two) –

What a rough sea it is!
Over the isle of Sado
Lies the Milky Way

“From the place called Izumozaki in the province of Echigo, Sado Island, it is said, is eighteen li away on the sea. With the cragginess of its valleys and peaks clearly visible, it lies on its side in the sea, thirty-odd li from east to west. Light mists of early fall not rising yet, and the waves not high, I feel as though I could touch it with my hands as I look at it. On the island great quantities of gold well up and in that regard it is a most auspicious island. But from past to present a place of exile for felons and traitors, it has become a distressing name. The thought terrifies me. As the evening moon sets, the surface of the sea becomes quite dark. The shapes of the mountains are still visible through the clouds, and the sound of waves is saddening as I listen.” From Bashō’s Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages.

“The modern novelist Kawabata Yasunari was so moved by this verse that in the climax of his masterpiece, Snow Country, Bashō’s River of Heaven becomes a principal actor. The protagonist Shimamura looks up into the night sky and feels himself floating into the Milky Way and wonders: ‘Was this the bright vastness the poet Bashō saw when he wrote Heaven’s River arched over a stormy sea?’ A fire rages nearby, with sparks rising to the stars. ‘And the River of Heaven, like a great aurora, flowed through his body to stand at the edges of the earth. There was a quiet, chilly loneliness in it, and a sort of voluptuous astonishment.’ The novel concludes with this sentence: ‘As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and Heaven’s River flowed down inside him with a roar.’ ” From Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho translated and introduced by David Barnhill. Kawabata Yasunari (川端康成: 1899-1972) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968.

So, what are we looking at?

The largest Japanese island in the Sea of Japan. It lies about 13.67 miles off the coast of Niigata – of which it is a part. It comprises 330 square miles with two verdant mountain ranges interspersed with beautiful valleys and plains.


Above is a map of Sado Island posted at wikipedia.org by Tensaibuta. I reversed the coloring.

And what do we know?

We know that Sado Island is mentioned in the 2nd oldest chronicle of the Japan, the Nihongi: Chronicle of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. The first reference is to the fact that this island is considered one of the progeny born of the union of the creator gods Izanagi and Izanami. Later it says that “At Cape Minabe, on the northern side of the Island of Sado, there arrived men of Su-shēn in a boat, and staid there. During the spring and summer they caught fish, which they used for food. The men of that island said they were not human beings. They also called them devils, and did not dare go near them.” This is from W. G. Aston’s translation. He says that the ‘men of Su-shēn‘ were probably related to the ancestors of the Manchus.

Sado’s birth was also mentioned in the Kojiki (古事記), Japan’s oldest chronicle.

From the Middle Ages until 1589 they were ruled by the Homma clan (本間氏). That is, until they were overwhelmed by Uesugi Kagekatsu (上衫景勝: 1555-1623).

It is a mountainous island. The highest peak in the north is 3,848′ while in the south there is one that is 5,380. It was an independent province until 1871 when it was placed under the control of Niigata, formerly known as Echigo.

Exile: anguish, grief, heartache, emotional distress, pain and suffering… and in some cases relief

The ex-Emperor Juntoku (順徳天皇: 1197-1242) – The 84th emperor was sent to Sado Island in 1221 after he had joined his father the retired emperor Go Toba in an attempt to wrest power away from the Kamakura shogunate. “The events of the Jōkyū Disturbance took place in the fifth and sixth month of 1221. By the end of the seventh month, Yoshitoki had banished Go-Toba and Juntoku to the Oki Islands and Sado Island, and had replaced the three-year-old Emperor Chūkyō, Juntoku’s son, with a nine-year-old sovereign Go-Horikawa.” From a 15th account: The Clear Mirror: A Chronicle of the Japanese Court During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). Juntoku died there in 1242. While there he received news of his son’s death at the age of sixteen.

This is a detail from the print series Ogura Imitation of the Hundred Poets showing the Emperor Juntoku. It is from a promised gift of Professor Arthur Miller to the British Museum. (© Trustees of the British Museum)

The poem in the text shown above reads:

The hundredfold palace!
even in the
shinobu grass
on its old eaves,
I find a past for which
I long yet ever more.

Written about 8 years before his exile it still may indicate a wish for the good ol’ days while “…deploring the decline of righteous government and the fortunes of the imperial house.” In 1909 William Porter pointed out that shinobu can mean ‘a creeping vine’ or ‘to long for.’

It is said that while on Sado Juntoku devoted himself to Buddhism ‘night and day’ in hopes that it would help.

The ex-emp was the author of a book of poetry criticism and the Kimpishō (禁秘抄) which was about court ceremonies.

Nichiren (日蓮: 1222-1282) – Sent to Sado Island in 1271.

The second of Nichiren’s five greatest works, the Kaimoku shō or The Opening of the Eyes, was written while in exile. ‘The Eyes’ are the eyes of the all humanity opened to the wonders of the Lotus Sutra. “The work was written on Sado Island… His life on this forbidding island was full of hardships; his hut was open to the wind and snow and he lacked food, clothing and writing materials. In addition to his physical suffering he was greatly troubled by the news that many of his followers in Kamakura had abandoned their faith. Feeling himself haunted by the shadow of death, he wrote this treatise to encourage his disciples as though it were his last will and testament.” Quoted from the Selected Writings of Nichiren.

Both of the images shown above catch the moment. The one on the left is by Kuniyoshi. On the right is the priest taking shelter in his hut. This image is by Yoshitoshi and is shown courtesy of LACMA. One author wrote: “…somehow [Nichiren] survived in a bleak hut… half-starved…” Not only was he deprived, but somehow he was able to crystallize his thoughts that each man had the Buddha-nature within him.

The true Buddha is a common mortal,
A common mortal the true Buddha

I can tell you one thing: If I had had to endure such a harsh winter in such a harsh place I would never have made it until the Spring and if I had – if I was still conscious – I would have wished I hadn’t.

Nichiren was no shrinking violet. He wrote that he composed The Opening of the Eyes because there was a possibility that he was going to be beheaded. He said that he had to get the word out before anything untoward might happen to him. “The essential message in this work is that the destiny of Japan depends solely upon me. A house without pillars collapses and a person without a soul is dead. I am the soul of the people of Japan.”

In the 3rd month of 1274 he was pardoned, returned to Kamakura and then retired to Mt. Minobu in the 5th month. Five months later the Mongol’s attacked threatening invasion just as he had predicted. But this is outside of my topic here.

Kyōgoku Tamekane (京極為兼: 1254-1332) – Steven D. Carter wrote: “By all accounts one of the most original of medieval poets, Kyōgoku Tamekane… was also one of the ages most forceful personalities, a man whose precocious talent had a profound impact on an entire generation.”  Tamekane has the distinction of having been exiled to Sado twice: once in 1298 and again in 1316.   George Samson on the other hand called him a “…clever statesman…” Later he added: “It is clear that Tamekane, though a sensitive and gifted poet and a good scholar, had a disagreeable side to his character and gave offence to many of his associates. He is described as jealous and intolerant; and it must be said that from very early times in the disputes between schools of poetry acrimony was the rule and sharp practice not the exception.” Maybe this accounted for some of the animosity felt toward him. On a personal note: One always hears that if you don’t want to rock the boat socially you don’t discuss religion or politics in polite society. It would seem that in the late 13th to early 14th century you would want to avoid the subject of poetry too. On the other hand, social standing often depended on sponsoring poetry and poets – so what was a person to do? Besides, Robert Huey has pointed out: “What is a good poem in one environment may be inappropriate in another.”

So? What was the crime that got him exiled twice? That is not a simple question to answer. No one knows the exact events that forced him to sent away. Maybe there were none. What we do know is that he was born into a family that was divided in its loyalties – both politically and poetically. One branch was more conservative and the other was more adventurous – at least when it came to compositions. They formed two distinct schools and at times were bitterly opposed to each other. (Actually there was a third poetic branch, but why complicate things more than we have to.)  Tamekane was the “…guiding spirit of one of the combatant poetic schools…. he was clearly the dominant personality among the innovators and a poet of the first rank.” Carter noted that “…no student of late medieval uta can begin his study of a poet of that ear without first situating him in relation to the camps of Tamekane and Tameyo [who led the traditionalist faction].”

When one group was in the ascendancy the other suffered. Thrown into this mix was a third faction and that was the shogunate. They decided who became emperor and while it wasn’t always one side and then the other basically that is how it evened out for a while. Despite his brilliance and ambition Tamekane was either a member of the ‘in’ crowd or ‘out’ crowd. Since he ended up on the wrong side of a power grab and he ended up paying the consequences.

Sansom noted in A History of Japan 1334-1615: “The biography of Tamekane is of special interest, for it shows the link between poetry and politics which is a traditional feature of Court life in Japan. It is always the Court that leads the way in the encouragement of poets, in the compilation of anthologies, and in the establishment of a canon of verse; and because poetry is of such importance, it is almost inevitable that quarrels between schools of poetry should be reflected in political strife.”

One poem translated by Robert Huey expresses the emotions Tamekane must have felt while on Sado. Although I am not sure when this poem was composed it captures the moment perfectly.

Spring remembrances remain
On the beach from which I gaze
At evening, as the wind subsides;
The boat rowed off in parting
Fills me with sad longing.

Of course, these last lines could have been written about the departure of  a lover, but I have chosen to exile motif interpretation instead. A completely subjective decision with no basis in fact.

“There is a collection of poems called Tamekanekyō Kashū (literally, Tamekane’s House Collection) containing a number of poems on the subject of exile to Sado. Despite the title this is not a collection Tamekane assembled, but a late 15th century compilation. Tamekane did, however, produce a few works of interest, if not surpassing literary merit, during or shortly after his exile.” (Robert Huey, see below.) Later Huey wrote: “During his years in Sado Tamekane also produced several elaborate acrostics, of which three have survived. One is a set of thirty-one poems in which the initial syllables of the five lines make a thirty-second poem, and the final syllables make a thirty-third. Both of the poems so produced deal with the theme of exile…” Edward Cranston, citing Huey’s writing on this subject, notes: “All are devotional, prayers to Buddhist and Shintō deities, designed to bring about a turn for the better in the author’s fortunes.”


Above is a version of Huey’s rendition of one of the acrostics – and it clearly shows the genius of the original. This is from an illustration published in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies from December 1995.

Hino Suketomo (日野資朝: ca. 1290-1332)  – Suketomo and Tamekane both figure in Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō as tranlated, in this case, by Donald Keene. In entry #153 it says: “When the Major Counselor and Lay Priest Tamekane had been arrested and led off to Rokuhara surrounded by soldiers, Lord Suketomo saw him near Ichijō. He exclaimed, ‘How I envy him! What a marvelous last remembrance to have of this life.” Keene noted that the Rokuhara was a place in Kyoto from which the Hojō regents governed the city. He also commented that “Suketomo thought it would be wonderful to end one’s days so spectacularly; he could not foresee that he would die in a similar manner.”

“In 1324, the bakufu received word that an anti-Kamakura uprising was being plotted by a small group of courtiers, minor warriors, and monks, and that the ringleaders were two mid-level figures, Hino Suketomo and Hino Toshimoto, who were among Go-Daigo’s closest associates, and who had been traveling over the countryside in a covert search for military support. The bakufu quickly crushed the conspiracy and exiled Suketomo to Sado Island.” The others were released.” From a 15th account: The Clear Mirror: A Chronicle of the Japanese Court During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). “Afterwards, when Takatoki exiled Go-Daigo to the Oki islands, he had Suketomo assassinated by Homma Yamashiro-nyūdō, governor of Sado.” Quoted from: Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan by E. Papinot.

Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥元清: 1363-1443) – Exiled to Sado in 1434 after the death of his favorite son. Zeami was the greatest figure in the history of the Nō theater – said to have composed 30 some plays.

“The No dramatist Zeami, in his Kintōsho (Writings from the Isle of Gold), relates a touching story about a poem Tamekane is supposed to have composed when he heard the hotogisu (cuckoo) sing at Yahata Shrine on Sado Island. Zeami, himself in exile, asked the shrine attendant why the hotogisu did not sing at this particular shrine and was told that long ago Tamekane had composed a poem there asking the birds to leave because their song made him long for Kyoto.”

When you call I hear you.
When I hear you I miss
The capital.
So please pass by this place,
O mountain cuckoo!

“Charming as this story is, the poem is not found among Tamekane’s works and is probably a local legend. Even so, the tale does not relate a certain truth about the loneliness of exile.” Quoted from: Kyōgoku Tamekane: Poetry and Politics in Late Kamakura Japan by Robert Huey.

“Zeami’s last days are less shrouded in mystery than most of the events of his life, for he left us a first-hand record of his exile on Sado in Kintōsho. The work is a collection of eight pieces of recitation and singing in the noh style, though the formal demands of these pieces keep the reader at some distance from Zeami’s personal experience on the island, they show a surprisingly fresh and at times even cheerful picture of the old master. It cannot have been easy for him at seventy-two to leave the capital and make the journey north to Wakasa and from there across the sea to the southern coast of Sado, but there is no hint of bitterness, even in the earliest parts of the work, and toward the end, the tone becomes surprisingly like that of the waki noh, auspicious and felicitous. Zeami displays his erudition unassisted by reference works – these he must have left in the capital – and he sees himself in the tradition of others who were exiled to Sado. He specifically mentions the Former Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242) and the poet Kyōgoku Tamekane (1254-1332), and his own experience is shaped in part by what he has learned of theirs.” From:  Zeami’s Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo by Thomas Hare.

Hare repeats a story about how and why Zeami may have been pardoned. Supposedly the playwright sent 7 to 10 plays he was said to have composed while on Sado to the priest Ikkyū (1394-1481) who presented them to the emperor. The emperor was so impressed, or so the story goes, he pardoned Zeami.

Sado and Nō: Shakespeare

Dampū (壇風), a tale of revenge which relates to Sado. Some attribute this play to Zeami while others say it is anonymous. Donald Keene lists it as a miscellaneous or demon play and notes that it is still being produced today. There is a modern translation of this play by Mae Smethurst, but I haven’t read it yet. If I ever do I will update. Or… maybe… you could update me first.

Today, Yukio Ninagawa (蜷川幸雄: 1935 – ) has used Nō theater stages on Sado are being used to perform the plays of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedies. In 2001 Dennis Kennedy in his Looking at Shakespeare: A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Performance noted that there were still 35 outdoor Nō stages. It seemed significant to him that Zeami who was born 200 years before Shakespeare should have landed on Sado Island. “When Ninagawa visited the place he was struck by how weather-beaten the stages are – he found them, he said, lovely and quite magical, ‘as though the dead were looking down on me from the sky.’ ” Kennedy says that Ninagawa gave special attention to the Tempest because of the kinship between the magic of Prospero stranded in a strange land and the trials of Zeami himself.

Frederick Kiefer in 2003 in his Shakespeare’s Visual Theatre: Staging the Personified Characters was more direct in his comparison: “The locale became Sado, a bleak island in the Sea of Japan. Prospero became Neami, a founder of Noh theatre, banished to that island in 1434.”

Ninagawa’s Tempest was subtitled “A Rehearsal of a Noh Play on the Island of Sado”. “It was first performed in Tokyo 1n 1987 and then at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988.” This is from Akihiko Senda’s 1998  essay in Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage.

As for the setting Ninagawa mused: “Some suggested the Bermudas would be the best setting, and that I should travel abroad for fresh inspiration. I hate traveling…. but I did [go there].” Ninagawa was sick the whole time he was there and stayed in his hotel room. Should the play be set in the Bermuda? The South Seas? “An island where convicts were exiled? Then I thought of Sado Island in Japan should be the place! Zeami (the Shakespeare of Noh theatre) was exiled there. For the Japanese, Sado Island is also a place where convicts were sent…. With this decision made, I came back to Japan, then set straight off to Sado Island. I discovered there are thirty-two ancient Noh stages on the island, all of them open to the elements.” Quoted from Shakespeare and the Idea of Late Writing: Authorship in the Proximity of Death by Gordon McMullen, 2007.

Gold n’ whores – (with pictures, too!)

   Hiroshige I © Trustees of the British Museum

Long before major discoveries of gold were found on Sado ‘golden sands’ were mentioned in both the Konjaku monogatari shū (今昔物語集) and the Uji Dainagon Monogatari (宇治大納言物語) from the Heian times.

Hiroshige’s 1853 print (above left) of the Sado Kinzan Gold Mine (佐渡金山) opened in 1601 near Aikawa (相川). Naturally there was a gold-rush at the beginning and vagrants were shipped over to the island to work as slave laborers. The mine was finally closed in 1867, but not completely. Aikawa was a boom town growing from a small hamlet to a population of nearly 100,000 in the 18th century and greater than the population of the whole island even now. Today Aikawa’s size is much closer to what it was before the discovery. “The mine finally ceased working in 1989 and one section has been turned into a museum where visitors descend into the chilly depths to see displays of mechanical puppets complete with sound effects to portray the tough existence led by miners in the past. [¶] The museum annex [seen below] has models to explain the process of refining, trading and pressing the gold into coins. One showcase has miniature figures of miners shown splashing out their wages on wine and women. To reach the exit, you have to negotiate your way through an assault course of souvenir shops.” Wine and women! “A short walk beyond the museum, further up the mountain, is Dōyu no Wareto (Sado Gold Mine), the original open-cast mine where you can still see the remains of the workings.” (This is from Japan, 4th edition, published by Lonely Planet.) A French historical encyclopedia says that the mines were sold to the Mitsubishi (三菱) group in 1896 and that they were mined until 1952.

   Modern pic posted by Aney at commons.wikimedia.

There was a mint for casting gold coins near the mines until ca. 1720.

Will Ferguson in his Hitching Rides with Buddha it says: “At the height of the gold rush, the main site was near the boom town of Aikawa, the Klondike of Japan, a brawling community of gold miners, samurai overlords, imported prostitutes, wealthy wine merchants, assorted mountebanks, and thousands upon thousands of slave labourers. It was a major, albeit makeshift city. Today, little is left of Aikawa to remind you of its once reckless past.” Ferguson describes the current museum there as a “…Disneyland of the Oppressed…” Thousands of slaves died in the mines and life expectancy was a mere four years once a worker arrived there.

   Hiroshige II © Trustees of the British Museum

Supposedly at their most productive the mines near Aikawa produced up to 100 tons of gold annually up until the mid-18th century. After that they were lucky to eek out 1 ton a year. Prior to the discovery of gold in several places in Japan in the 16th century the Japanese imported it mainly through trade with the Portuguese and the Dutch. Silver was also found in abundance at the Aikawa mines.

In Earthquakes and Animals: From Folk Legends to Science Motoji Ikeya citing a passage in an 1830 book stating “…the miners used to leave the mine whenever fogs appeared, interpreting them as pre-earthquake phenomenon. The fogs were thought to have formed by the emanation of ‘earth air’ (gas).” Later the author adds: “The oldest record of earthquake clouds is found in Egyptian mythology, but Aristotle also discussed earthquake gas…. a similar story by Alexander von Humboldt in South America: fogs covered the epicenter area before a large earthquake and the miners working there – like the miners on Sado Island – left quickly warning of a coming quake because of the sudden fog.”

No wonder the people on Sado were skittish when it came to earthquakes. In 1802 they experienced a doozy of an earthquake – one that legends are made of. Modern scientists have said that this is one of those events which only happens every 5 to 6,000 years. But tell that the people who lived through it. If they thought fog’s forewarned of tremors who can blame them. The one caveat: This most recent super-event was not as dramatic as those which preceded it at regular intervals.

There are accounts of P.O.W./slave laborers who were killed in the mines intentionally at the end of World War II. It is somewhat like the mythical burial of the living workers on the Egyptian pyramids to keep the secrets of the location of the pharoahs’ tombs.

Joseph Needham in his monumental series, Science and Civilization in China, noted that the Japanese held their gads with tongs or pincers when digging for gold – something the Chinese didn’t do. He also published a 1904  illustration showing a mid-19th century mine shaft with a large, circular fan installed for ventilation at a point at which there is a major bend. This is also something the Chinese employed. Another illustration is a ‘water ladder’ bailing system from Sado Island.


The Sado Island whores Yonosuke is peering at. An illustration from one of the editions of Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Man.

Ivan Morris, in his notes to a translation of another of Saikaku’s novels, that in all of Japan in the 17th century there were only five places where customers could find the services of the highest rank of courtesan/prostitutes. One was the Yoshiwara in Edo, the Shimabara in Kyōto, the Shinmachi in Ōsaka, Maruyama in Nagasaki and Kanayama on Sado Island. “As befitted their elevated position,they were extremely rare.”  In Nagasaki they made up only 2% of that cities prostitutes. Since it took a lot of money to buy the favors of such skilled women I guess all of that gold mining hardly went to waste.

Puppets and drums – and maybe a touch of fascism?

These are only related distantly, very distantly. The island has its own special form of puppetry called bun’ya named after a popular singer, Bun’ya Okamoto (岡本文弥: 1633-94). “Another center of folk puppets is Sado Island…. Popular in Osaka in the 1670s, it was supplanted by the gidayu bushi style of narration (named for Takemoto Gidayū) during the Genroku era (1688-1704). Rather than die out, bun’ya bushi became established on Sado Island in the nineteenth century, it was being performed as an accompaniment to puppet dramas. It has been said that the upper classes of  Sado had recitation and the general populace had bun’ya puppet theater, which still survives in the town of Niibo on Sado. Bun’ya puppets – along with sekkyo (another type of narrative style) and noroma puppets, which are also associated with Sado – are manipulated by one person.” From The Folk Performing Arts: Traditional Culture in Contemporary Japan by Barbara Thornbury.

As for Kodo, the drummers known so well around the world today, William Malm, an expert on traditional Japanese music says this new form developed on Sado from Japanese youth emulation of (hippie) commune life in the West.


Kodo taiko drum posted at commons.wikimedia by Brian Adler.

Jim Cathcart wrote in a 1993 Japan Times article: “The simple, pure rhythm of the drum as a representation of a baby’s heartbeat resonating throughout the womb is the primary tenet in Kodo’s philosophy. They embrace the universality of their philosophy to promote spiritual and global harmony.”

In the beginning…

The Expulsion from the Garden: (Biblical stuff here – including the ever famous Hagar and Ishmael)

Some other famous exiles – but just a few: Of Gods and Men

Are you with me so far? Euripedes tells the story of the fall of the House of Cadmus where Dionysus bewitches Agave into believing that she is killing a lion when, in fact, she is killing her own son, Pentheus, the protector of his clan and their rule over Thebes. For this transgression Agave and her sisters are exiled from their home forever and their parents, Harmony and Cadmus, are turned into snakes – a fate later reversed by Harmony’s father, but not before the couple suffered even more than they already had. (Some accounts say they were turned into beautiful snakes as though that would be some kind of consolation.)

St. John on Patmos

Domitian was not a nice guy. In fact, he had an entire persecution named after him. Euseubius noted that this Roman emperor not only picked on family members, but “for good measure… persecuted the Jews as well.” He banished John the Apostle to Patmos and this may have been a good thing because in the end we got the Book of Revelation . “Patmos was used by the Romans as a place to banish criminals, who were forced to work at hard labor in the mines and quarries of the island. Because Christians were regarded as criminals by the Roman emperor Domitian (ruled A.D. 81-96), the apostle John probably suffered from harsh treatment during his exile on Patmos. An early Christian tradition said John was in exile for 18 months.” (This last part was quoted from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary.)

While John was doing time on Isle of Patmos (パトモス島) the Lord was said to have appeared to him and revealing the spiritual end game which John wrote down for posterity’s sake. It is a dark tale with its seven seals and seven trumpets and loads of fire and brimstone. There is an army of locusts with faces like humans, wearing golden helmets, hair like that of women, teeth like those of lions. There is the Beast. Pestilence and fornication. The number 666. The Whore of Babylon. And in the end eternal damnation for the wicked and salvation for the good.

To the left are 2 of Dürer’s woodcuts. They are so graphic you would think that he was there when John got the Word.

Below on the left is an photo of Patmos posted by KF and found at commons.wikimedia. It looks more like a vacation spot, but surely was bleaker at the time of John. The picture next to it is from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry posted at the same site by Petrusbarbygere. Below those is a shot of rock on Patmos that just seemed too good not to add to the lot. We have Kalogeropoulos to thank for this one.

Napoleon on Elba, Napoleon on St. Helena, Napoleon brought low by his wallpaper –

Many people believe that Oscar Wilde’s last words went something like “This wallpaper! It’s killing me! Either it goes or I do” and he did. Supposedly those were his dying words, but, alas the story is apocryphal. His last recorded words were actually far more pedestrian. At least it sounds like something he would have said while occupying a squalid flat in Paris, a city where he was living in exile. Ironically,  it  may really have been the wallpaper that killed Napoleon. That is one theory. The wallpaper in his quarters in St. Helena, because of the climate there combined with the process by which the paper had been made, gave of fumes rich in arsenic which the emperor would have inhaled on a daily basis. Wild(e) isn’t it? True or not it is interesting.


Above on the left is an anonymous colored lithograph of Napoleon (ナポレオン)  as a gardener while in exile on St. Helena (セントヘレナとう)  – the picture on the right. Both images are posted at commons.wikimedia. The first on was placed there by Misa 123a and the photo is attributed to Andrew Neaum.


Above is a NOAA photo of part of the coast of Pitcairn Island. It was posted at commons.wikimedia by Jake73. Pitcairn (ピトケア) is where Fletcher Christian and his band of Bounty mutineers fled to try to avoid capture. A self-imposed exile.

Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, was forced into exile in Mexico where he and his wife were taken in by Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo – until they argued and the Trotskys had to move out to less secure surroundings. Shortly after that Trotsky was murdered. It was 1940 two years after his son was assassinated in a Paris hospital. Trotsky should have seen this coming because the painter Siqueiros is said to have led a mob in attacking Trotsky’s house three months before others succeeded where Siqueiros had failed.  Even the poet Pablo Neruda got into the act. He was suspended from his job with the Chilean diplomatic corps for helping Siqueiros get away.

After Lenin died Trotsky made his move for leadership. Gorbachev later wrote: “Trotskyism was a political current whose ideologists took cover behind leftist pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric, and who in effect assumed a defeatist posture. This was essentially an attack on Leninism all down the line. The matter practically concerned the future of socialism in our country, the fate of the revolution.” By 1929 Trotsky was exiled.

Below is a detail of a Polish propaganda poster posted at commons.wikimedia by Christos Varsos. As you can see from its gruesome nature many people blamed Trotsky for the deaths of millions. They may not have been far wrong in that.

Exile and wit –

Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary defined exile as “One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.”

Poetry in motion* – Hasui visits Sado Island

“In August he [i.e., Hasui] went to north-western Japan, stopping at Niigata, Sado island, Ojiya and Naoetsu. From thse experiences came the twenty-eight prints of the Tabi miyage dai nishū (Souvenirs of travel, second series…).” (This from information provided in an essay by Kendall H. Brown.) Hasui was a giant of 20th century print making and, as I recall, he was the first, maybe only, Japanese print designer named an official national treasure – in 1956. He died on November 27, 1957.

*Another song from 1983 was She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby. Great song, still makes me laugh. One of the lines says: “It’s poetry in motion…” That always got me. I seem a little fixated, don’t I? Don’t answer that.

Mano Bay – August 9, 1921

Moonlight over Lake Kamo – August 16, 1921

Kamo-ko is described as a large saltwater lake. The town of Ryōtsu (両津) nearby occupies mostly a small strip of land inserting itself between the sea and the lake which is now used for oyster farming. In the 7th chapter of the anonymous 15th century tale Yoshitsune (Gikeiki) the hero was caught in a storm at sea. ” ‘We’ll simply have to go where the wind takes us,’  they said. They lowered the sail and turned the boat toward Sado Island, hoping to land at Kamo Lagoon; but towering waves barred the way, and soon the winds sent them in the direction of Matsukage, where a new gale whistled down fiercely from Shirayama Peak and drove them away from Sado toward Cape Suzu in Noto [to the south-southwest].”

The next day Kamoson – August 17, 1921

The definitive expert on Hasui, Narazaki referred to the buildings in this print as ‘dilapidated’. I would disagree and call them charmingly rustic.

Aikawa-chō, on the other side of the island – August 18, 1921

Doin’ laundry near Ogi (小木)  – August 19, 1921

Ogi is described in tour guides as a sleepy little fishing village. Donald Keene once noted that “Ogi was formerly known for its geishas, presumably because life was hard in that fishing village, and there were not many alternatives than to send one’s attractive daughters to geisha establishments.” A visit to the local museum mostly reminded Keene of how bleak life must have been here. Even the clothes were ‘faded and drab’ and monotonous. Later when he was at Aikawa he “…did not explore the remains of the gold mine [because he imagined that he] would have found them more depressing…”  [than Ogi.]

On the other hand, it does have its tub boats or taraibune (船盥). In one book it notes that “At Ogi… local women paddle washtub boats around the bay to collect shellfish. You can rent washtub boats, too, but steering is tricky!” Some people refer to them as hangiri (切半 or  切飯), another term for a flat bottomed bowl for preparing sushi.

A hangiri posted at commons.wikimedia by Feòrag NicBhrìde. In 2003 Donald Richie wrote a book review for the Japan Times on The Tub Boats of  Sado Island by Douglas Brooks. Some of the boats are rectangular, but most are round. There is a practical reason: the coastline is so rugged and irregular that round boats navigate better than other shapes. “There are various accounts of its origins. One is that someone cut a big miso barrel in half and started using it as a boat. Indeed, the common name of the craft is hangiri or “half barrel,” though the proper name of the vessel is taraibune. Another is that a trough once floated away and the neighbors, seeing that it could navigate the furrowed coast, started using it as skiff.” As of the time of this review the last of the master craftsmen who built taraibune had died, but not before he had demonstrated his skill to Brooks who has tried to keep the process alive.

Snow at Ogi at dawn – December 1921

Snowing at Ebisu – December 1921

Snowing at Nishimikawazaka – December 1921

A few native born islanders –

Kita Ikki (北一輝: 1883-1937), a radical thinker, at times branded a Marxist and at other times a fascist. Executed by the state in 1937 for his supposed role in an attempted coup.

Arita Hachirō (有田八郎: 1884-1965) was appointed vice prime-minister in 1932. In 1936 he became minister of foreign affairs. He had served as ambassador to Germany, Austria and Belgium between 1934-36 and as ambassador to China in 1936. Can you imagine? I can’t. Not only that but he seems to have survived fairly well because in 1952 he was elected to the Diet.

Tsuchida Bakusen (土田麦僊: 1887-1936) who was a Buddhist monk in Kyoto when he decided to become an artist. Below is a Japanese postage stamp honoring this artist.

The super-prolific writer Hayashi Fubō (林不忘: 1900-35) lived in the United States for six years and produced one novel called Tekisasu mushuki or Homeless in Texas (テキサス無宿)  from 1928.

A fairy underworld with a wondrous badger realm – Carmen Blacker says that Yanagita, the great Japanese student of folklore, told the story of an miraculous underworld which can only be found through a hole in the ground on Sado Island. It is guarded by a nushi (主) or warden, a badger called Denzaburō. “Once or twice a man made his way down the hole, to find himself in a magnificent royal palace, where the badger family, attired in gorgeous robes, were eating delicious food.” Blacker notes that if a person was in need of special cups or bowls the badgers would lend them to them, but only until someone failed to return any of them promptly after use or if one was lost, damaged or destroyed. Then all bets were off for all future human requests. (This part was added on September 19, 2011.)

This post is filling out nicely. In fact, it may already be a bit overweight, but it still isn’t finished. So, please come back often and see what has developed.

Also, for more information about Japanese prints and culture please visit my other web site at http://www.printsofjapan.com/. On the home page click on one of the pages in the section called “Links to our index/glossary pages” and you will get a better idea of what I mean.

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