Cherry Blossoms and Kojiki in The New Yorker

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Ross Bender

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Apr 18, 2021, 12:57:10 PMApr 18
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In the April 12 issue of the New Yorker which arrived yesterday I was stunned to find mention of the Kojiki. It appeared in "The Talk of the Town" by Elizabeth Kolbert. The piece mentions that last month in Kyoto the peak bloom was the earliest in 1200 years and were a sign of climate change. BTW the April 19 issue cover is "Cherry-Blossom Gift" by Ryo Takemasa.

I'm curious to know where the "date of the peak bloom" first appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works.

Ross Bender

"The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works."

GUELBERG Niels

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Apr 19, 2021, 1:30:51 AMApr 19
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Dear Ross,

I have discussed the shift from plum blossoms to cherry blossoms in a paper published in 1992. 
It is written in german, later translated into dutch:

Hefte für Ostasiatische Literatur 12 (1992/03), pp. 95-106
"Japanische Kirschblüten duften nicht"

There are some interesting examples in early Heian kanshi (translated in my paper).

Niels


差出人: pm...@googlegroups.com <pm...@googlegroups.com> が Ross Bender <rosslyn...@gmail.com> の代理で送信
送信日時: 2021年4月17日 21:34
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件名: [PMJS] Cherry Blossoms and Kojiki in The New Yorker
 
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Bruce Batten

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Apr 19, 2021, 1:31:43 AMApr 19
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Dear Ross,

Thanks for the  post about the New Yorker.

The dates of peak blooms mostly come from official histories (Rikkokushi), other historical works (Nihon kiryaku, Fusō ryakki, etc.), and aristocratic diaries, not “poems and other literary works.” The earliest mentions seem to be from the 9th century. The authority on this topic is Yasuyuki Aono at Osaka Prefectural University.

See, among many other works:


Aono, Yasuyuki, and Keiko Kazui. "Phenological Data Series of Cherry Tree Flowering in Kyoto, Japan, and Its Application to Reconstruction of Springtime Temperatures since the 9th Century." International Journal of Climatology 28, no. 7 (2008): 905-14.
Aono, Yasuyuki, and Shizuka Saito. "Clarifying Springtime Temperature Reconstructions of the Medieval Period by Gap-Filling the Cherry Blossom Phenological Data Series at Kyoto, Japan." International Journal of Biometeorology 43, no. 2 (2010): 211-19.

Bruce Batten

Ross Bender

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Apr 19, 2021, 12:07:01 PMApr 19
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Thanks to Bruce Batten for the valuable pointer to the work of Dr. Aono. His spreadsheet indeed shows the first mention of a cherry blossom date in 812, in the Nihon Kōki日本後紀. However when I searched text I found the first mention in 831. This is Tenchō 8.2.16 (March 23, 831 in the Julian calendar.). Aono does give this listing for 831, although I don't understand his dating system -- 
831 96 406 1 NIHON-KOKI

《卷卅九逸文(『類聚國史』・『日本紀略』)天長八年(八三一)二月乙酉【十六】》○(『類聚國史』三二遊宴九九叙位・『日本紀略』)乙酉。天子於掖庭曲宴。翫殿前桜華也。后宮辨設珍物。皇太子已下源氏大夫已上、得陪殿上。特喚文人令賦桜花。恩杯無算、群臣飽酔。賜禄有差。后宮屬以上、亦賜御衣。授大進正六位上藤原朝臣春津從五位下。无位橘朝臣園子從五位下。」

Here is a scan of the entry from Tei Morita's gendaiyaku (Kodansha, 2007, volume 3):

Nihon Koki Tencho 8.2.16.jpg

A good bit of Nihon Kōki has been lost, and thus editors depend on Ruijū Kokushi 類聚國史 for the text. It's possible that the text I use is incomplete. The whole topic is fascinating. I'm still trying to locate the "first reference" to cherry blossoms in Kojiki.

Ross Bender

Alexander Vovin

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Apr 19, 2021, 12:07:17 PMApr 19
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In the Man'yōshū plum blossoms are way more frequent (119 tokens) than cherry blossoms (18 tokens). The reference to a respective peak of blooming (sakari) appears 3 times for ume2 (5.850-851, 8.1640) and twice for sakura (10.1855 (may be arguable), and 18.4074.
I am puzzled by sakura in the Kojiki: a quick perusal through 古事記総索引 reveals its attestations only in the placename Sakurawi ( 櫻 井). There is one attestation in the Nihon shoki kayō 67.

Alexander Vovin
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Richard Bowring

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Apr 19, 2021, 8:30:42 PMApr 19
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For Ross:
Aono’s dating system. I presume the second figure is the number of days since the beginning of that particular year, and the third number is the equivalent in the Gregorian calendar. 406 being sixth of April.
I am slightly surprised anyone is taking something seriously just because it is in the New Yorker. Kojiki is obviously a mistake. 
Richard Bowring

On 19 Apr 2021, at 17:07, Ross Bender <rosslyn...@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks to Bruce Batten for the valuable pointer to the work of Dr. Aono. His spreadsheet indeed shows the first mention of a cherry blossom date in 812, in the Nihon Kōki日本後紀. However when I searched text I found the first mention in 831. This is Tenchō 8.2.16 (March 23, 831 in the Julian calendar.). Aono does give this listing for 831, although I don't understand his dating system -- 
831 96 406 1 NIHON-KOKI

《卷卅九逸文(『類聚國史』・『日本紀略』)天長八年(八三一)二月乙酉【十六】》○(『類聚國史』三二遊宴九九叙位・『日本紀略』)乙酉。天子於掖庭曲宴。翫殿前桜華也。后宮辨設珍物。皇太子已下源氏大夫已上、得陪殿上。特喚文人令賦桜花。恩杯無算、群臣飽酔。賜禄有差。后宮屬以上、亦賜御衣。授大進正六位上藤原朝臣春津從五位下。无位橘朝臣園子從五位下。」

Here is a scan of the entry from Tei Morita's gendaiyaku (Kodansha, 2007, volume 3):

<Nihon Koki Tencho 8.2.16.jpg>

A good bit of Nihon Kōki has been lost, and thus editors depend on Ruijū Kokushi 類聚國史 for the text. It's possible that the text I use is incomplete. The whole topic is fascinating. I'm still trying to locate the "first reference" to cherry blossoms in Kojiki.

Ross Bender

On Mon, Apr 19, 2021 at 1:31 AM Bruce Batten <br...@obirin.ac.jp> wrote:
Dear Ross,

Thanks for the  post about the New Yorker.

The dates of peak blooms mostly come from official histories (Rikkokushi), other historical works (Nihon kiryaku, Fusō ryakki, etc.), and aristocratic diaries, not “poems and other literary works.” The earliest mentions seem to be from the 9th century. The authority on this topic is Yasuyuki Aono at Osaka Prefectural University.

See, among many other works:


Aono, Yasuyuki, and Keiko Kazui. "Phenological Data Series of Cherry Tree Flowering in Kyoto, Japan, and Its Application to Reconstruction of Springtime Temperatures since the 9th Century." International Journal of Climatology 28, no. 7 (2008): 905-14.
Aono, Yasuyuki, and Shizuka Saito. "Clarifying Springtime Temperature Reconstructions of the Medieval Period by Gap-Filling the Cherry Blossom Phenological Data Series at Kyoto, Japan." International Journal of Biometeorology 43, no. 2 (2010): 211-19.

Bruce Batten


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Bruce Batten

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Apr 19, 2021, 8:31:44 PMApr 19
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Hello Ross,

Thanks for your input. 

Just for reference, Aono's dating system seems to be as follows; in your example, 831 is the year, 96 is the consecutively numbered day of the year, and 406 is April 6 in the Gregorian (not Julian) calendar. (I don’t know enough about western calendars to speculate as to why one would be preferable to the other.)

I agree; this is a really interesting topic.

Bruce Batten

On Apr 19, 2021, at 23:33, Ross Bender <rosslyn...@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks to Bruce Batten for the valuable pointer to the work of Dr. Aono. His spreadsheet indeed shows the first mention of a cherry blossom date in 812, in the Nihon Kōki日本後紀. However when I searched text I found the first mention in 831. This is Tenchō 8.2.16 (March 23, 831 in the Julian calendar.). Aono does give this listing for 831, although I don't understand his dating system -- 
831 96 406 1 NIHON-KOKI

《卷卅九逸文(『類聚國史』・『日本紀略』)天長八年(八三一)二月乙酉【十六】》○(『類聚國史』三二遊宴九九叙位・『日本紀略』)乙酉。天子於掖庭曲宴。翫殿前桜華也。后宮辨設珍物。皇太子已下源氏大夫已上、得陪殿上。特喚文人令賦桜花。恩杯無算、群臣飽酔。賜禄有差。后宮屬以上、亦賜御衣。授大進正六位上藤原朝臣春津從五位下。无位橘朝臣園子從五位下。」

Here is a scan of the entry from Tei Morita's gendaiyaku (Kodansha, 2007, volume 3):

<Nihon Koki Tencho 8.2.16.jpg>

A good bit of Nihon Kōki has been lost, and thus editors depend on Ruijū Kokushi 類聚國史 for the text. It's possible that the text I use is incomplete. The whole topic is fascinating. I'm still trying to locate the "first reference" to cherry blossoms in Kojiki.

Ross Bender

On Mon, Apr 19, 2021 at 1:31 AM Bruce Batten <br...@obirin.ac.jp> wrote:
Dear Ross,

Thanks for the  post about the New Yorker.

The dates of peak blooms mostly come from official histories (Rikkokushi), other historical works (Nihon kiryaku, Fusō ryakki, etc.), and aristocratic diaries, not “poems and other literary works.” The earliest mentions seem to be from the 9th century. The authority on this topic is Yasuyuki Aono at Osaka Prefectural University.

See, among many other works:


Aono, Yasuyuki, and Keiko Kazui. "Phenological Data Series of Cherry Tree Flowering in Kyoto, Japan, and Its Application to Reconstruction of Springtime Temperatures since the 9th Century." International Journal of Climatology 28, no. 7 (2008): 905-14.
Aono, Yasuyuki, and Shizuka Saito. "Clarifying Springtime Temperature Reconstructions of the Medieval Period by Gap-Filling the Cherry Blossom Phenological Data Series at Kyoto, Japan." International Journal of Biometeorology 43, no. 2 (2010): 211-19.

Bruce Batten


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Bruce Batten

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Apr 19, 2021, 8:31:54 PMApr 19
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p.s. I take back my comment about western calendars; Aono is using the Gregorian calendar for consistency, i.e., to make comparisons with other periods and the present possible/meaningful.

Bruce Batten

S. Tsumura

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Apr 20, 2021, 4:21:17 AMApr 20
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About the use of western calendars:
The Julian calendar shifted little by little over the centuries with respect to the solar year, (about 3/4 day a century), while the Gregorian calendar change is negligible, a main reason for the change to the Gregorian calendar. The spring equinox of 831 was on March 17th Julian, March 21st Gregorian; by 1582 the spring equinox was on March 10, Julian. So for comparing seasonal phenomena, the Gregorian calendar is more relevant as for any century we can just use the current solar year dates. However, in general, most tables and historians use the Julian calendar for dates before Oct. 5, 1582.

By the way, I believe that 831/2/16 乙酉 is April 4, 831, not March 28.

Susan Tsumura

robin d. gill

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Apr 20, 2021, 4:26:55 AMApr 20
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This is re early history but i find the later changes interesting.  
Cherry blossoms were women fighting off male wind.
But w/ neo-shintoism became bushi/samurai dying w/ no complaint to serve their master
AS the most well known writer re cherry blossoms wrote (and i took pains to translate in my Cherry Blossom Epiphany) ,
what we have is a collective blossom vs the individ flowers of the West. THAT, not M vs F is the main difference. rdg



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S. Tsumura

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Apr 20, 2021, 9:22:25 AMApr 20
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Dear Ross,

I found the first two references in Dr. Aono’s work. In the 9th century the Julian and Gregorian calendar were 4 days apart, so searching the Nihon Kôki on his dates:

Gregorian April 1, 812 was Julian March 28, and (by NengoCalc) 2/12 辛丑
《卷廿二弘仁三年(八一二)二月辛丑【十二】》○辛丑。幸神泉苑。覽花樹。命文人賦詩。賜綿有差。花宴P5176之節始於此矣。

Gregorian April 15, 815 was Julian April 11, and 2/28 庚午
《卷廿四弘仁六年(八一五)二月庚午【廿八】》○庚午。幸神泉苑。花宴。命文人賦詩。侍臣及文人賜綿有差

These of course only mention flowering trees or just flowers, but they were certainly too late for plum blossoms.
Also the one you mentioned:
Gregorian April 6, 831 was Julian April 2, and 2/16 乙酉
《卷卅九逸文(『類聚國史』・『日本紀略』)天長八年(八三一)二月乙酉【十六】》○(『類聚國史』三二遊宴九九叙位・『日本紀略』)乙酉。天子於掖庭曲宴。翫殿前桜華也。后宮辨設珍物。

Susan Tsumura


> On Apr 19, 2021, at 23:33, Ross Bender <rosslyn...@gmail.com> wrote:
>

Ross Bender

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Apr 20, 2021, 9:22:33 AMApr 20
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Thanks to Susan Tsumura for the clarifications on the Julian vs. Gregorian calendars. I see that I was mistaken about the Julian date for Tenchō 8.2.16 -- it should be April 2, 831 (not March 23 as I originally wrote, but also not April 4 as Tsumura has it. )

 

Japanese date:

天長八年二月十六日

Western date:

2.4.831 (Sunday)

Cyclic Signs:

乙酉、辛亥 (Day, Year)

 

BTW I always use Matthias Schemm's extremely useful NengoCalc for conversion of dates. Some years ago a helpful librarian here on PMJS told me about it.

 

NengoCalc (yukikurete.de)

 

But this whole discussion brings up a matter that is often overlooked, namely that when historians and others use dates in writing about premodern Japan often they refer to e.g. "the second month of 831" when they are mixing a year in the Western calendar with the second month in the Japanese lunar calendar. Many times this leads to inaccuracies. For Tenchō 8.1.1 is actually February 16, 831 while the last day of the lunar year Tenchō 8.12.30 is February 5, 832. Thus if a writer refers to "the eleventh month of 831" they are mistakenly referring to a date in January of 832.


My explanation is likely as clear as mud, but it does seem that scholars need some consistency. Perhaps the major journals could pay more attention to this.


Ross Bender

 


Laffin, Christina

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Apr 20, 2021, 6:17:33 PMApr 20
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Dear PMJS readers,

 

For those curious about the process behind the New Yorker article: I suspect the author, who is best known for writing about climate change, read about cherry trees blossoming early in Japan based on mainstream science news and then produced the short piece consulting limited sources. A fact checker contacted me with a request to confirm some of the sentences. I then sent a couple of messages explaining why some of the content seemed misguided or required sourcing but did not see more until I read the post from Ross about the Kojiki reference in the New Yorker.

 

Perhaps mainstream periodicals and magazines could benefit from the shared expertise of the PMJS community ; )

 

Christina

 

Dr. Christina Laffin (she/her)
Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture, Department of Asian Studies
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus | Musqueam Traditional Territory

 

From: pm...@googlegroups.com <pm...@googlegroups.com> On Behalf Of Ross Bender
Sent: Tuesday, April 20, 2021 5:52 AM
To: pmjs <pm...@googlegroups.com>
Subject: Re: [PMJS] Cherry Blossoms and Kojiki in The New Yorker

 

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S. Tsumura

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Apr 21, 2021, 6:51:20 AMApr 21
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> On Apr 20, 2021, at 21:52, Ross Bender <rosslyn...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> But this whole discussion brings up a matter that is often overlooked, namely that when historians and others use dates in writing about premodern Japan often they refer to e.g. "the second month of 831" when they are mixing a year in the Western calendar with the second month in the Japanese lunar calendar. Many times this leads to inaccuracies. For Tenchō 8.1.1 is actually February 16, 831 while the last day of the lunar year Tenchō 8.12.30 is February 5, 832. Thus if a writer refers to "the eleventh month of 831" they are mistakenly referring to a date in January of 832.
>
Dear Ross,
I have worked a lot on this question and am writing about it. It seems standard to refer to the whole of a Japanese year by the AD number of the western year it started in.
For example Tenchô 8/12/7 is glossed as being in 831, as here:
《卷卅九逸文(『類聚國史』九九叙位)天長八年(八三一)十二月辛未【七】》○辛未
This seems to be the most normal practice when giving dates using the lunar calendar by my observations, though I have come across a few exceptions.

Trying to use the Jan-Dec years with the lunar calendar creates several problems. One is that to know the year one needs to know the lunar month; in the case of the 11th and 12th months one often needs to know even the day, always in the case of the intercalary 11th month. That information might not be available. "The eleventh month of 831" spans December 831 and January 832. Also, if we say the "7th day of the 12th month of 832" we do not know whether it means January 10, 832 or December 29, 832. So I think that referring to any date in Tenchô 8 as being in 831 remains the best solution. Of course one might have to mention something about it in an introduction.

I hope I explained clearly.
Susan Tsumura
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