The straw and hempen raincoat (or cape) of feudal Japan is something you always see in the movies. Even Samurai Resurrection has the legendary duelist Araki Mataemon donning raincape all through when the weather is decidedly very clear.

The best traditional raincapes in Japan have been said of as being made by the artisans of Akita Prefecture. But the most famous folktale about raincapes originated near Tokyo.

Commander of the borderline garrison there, Ota Dokan, went hunting. He wasn't prepared for a drastic change of weather; he only wore 'torioigasa' -- the kind of straw hat usually donned on such non-warring outdoor excursions. But it rained out of the blue. Far from his HQ, Ota thought he wouldn't get a flu (whatever this was called in 1400's) if he could wait under some roof until the rain subsided.

Passing a lone house in a field, Ota dropped by; but he couldn't get in because the farmer and his wife wasn't there and only a teenage girl was at home. So he mounted back and asked the girl to lend him a raincoat.

The girl ran to the back of the house at once. Ota thought she fetched the raincoat. But she came back only with some white and yellow camellias. She handed the flowers to Ota, then ran into the house and bolted the door.



"What a barbaric girl with no manner at all!" Ota crushed the flowers under his horse's hoofs, and he gruntled all the way back to his castle, drenched.





A few weeks later, Ota went to Kyoto and had dinner with some courtiers. He remembered the incident and told the noblepersons that luckily he wasn't in a bad mood; and the girl was too young anyway so she might still learn some manners later.

Ota was surprised because all the courtiers laughed out loud.

"A barbarian girl, aye, Captain?" asked one of them after finishing his laugh. "Where have you been when you were supposed to be learning our classic literature? Have you forgotten a celebrated Yamato poet wrote 'Although the camellia has seven or eight petals/I grieve to say that it has no seed'?"

Ota slapped his forehead and finally laughed at himself with them.

'Seed', in Japanese, is 'mino'.

'Raincape', too, is 'mino'.

The girl of the field didn't have any raincoat at home, but she didn't dare to say it to the warrior; in her own girly way she decided to convey it poetically -- which was, alas, lost on the short-tempered Ota at the time.

Unfortunately, too, the girl was not a lady of the sedentary and closed-minded Heian era. The so-called 'poetic genius' of people like Sei Shonagon was secured to inifinity just by the same kind of act.



The Japanese traditional fan 'uchiwa' is much older than the folding fan ('sensu'). The first practically sprung out of the blue, being fashioned after leaves.

The second is often assumed to be imported directly from China. But the Japanese say that it has a history related to the samurai.

In this case, Taira clan.

Lady Taira Tameori was the fiancee of Taira Atsumori -- the young samurai who was made into a legend just for dying (click here for the complete story and pictures).

After the war, 1185, the Minamoto clan rounded up the survivors and either disposed of them by executions or put them into monasteries. Lady Tameori was among the latter.

One day, the Abbot of her monastery fell ill and rites were soon administered because no one hoped for his recovery. The unspecified illness was reportedly too severe.

Taking her turns for chanting Buddhist hymns by the bedside of the Abbot, Lady Tameori saw that he got a high fever. She folded a paper and fanned his head with it, all night.

In the morning he recovered a bit.

The next night Tameori asked to stand vigil again, and repeated fanning the Abbot.

In a few days the man truly recovered, and he attributed it not to Lady Tameori's care but to the fan.

From then on, folded paper fan was popularized; the more sophisticated design and the bamboo or wooden sticks to stretch the paper on were in due time incorporated.


fan vendor in Tokugawa era




That's the name of the cloth, not of any design on it.

'Bingo gasuri' is some woven cloth made of cotton, claimed by the Hiroshima Prefecture as its native product. The pictures are made of threads woven into the cloth, so there is nothing felt on the surface.

It all started in 1799 when Emperor Kuammu has moved the capital city to Kyoto (see History of Japan).

A strange boat was stranded at the beach of Bingo, and in it the people found seeds of cotton and a young Indian who couldn't explain why or how he got there, and not only because he couldn't speak Japanese -- the mystery was taken for granted as magical.

The man stayed in Mikawa and found a village named (what else but) 'the Indian village', AKA 'Tenjikumura' in Japanese. Another man, a Tibetan named Hata, taught how to make cotton thread and to weave it. The latter is immortalized in the Japanese lexicon since as 'hataori', i.e. 'weaver'.


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Pictures for this section are compiled by Obata Sugizo, Ryoku Nakane, Hasegawa Tomoko, Asada Kanae,
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