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A translation of a unique 17th-century compendium of samurai heraldry, annotated with the symbolism and stories behind the banners.
A translation of a unique 17th-century compendium of samurai heraldry, annotated with the symbolism and stories behind the banners.
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Posted by Xavid (Creator)

Time keeps marching on. We just had our first snowfall here, and winter looms ahead. Meanwhile, I've been hard at work on O-umajirushi.

After finishing my first translation pass, there was still a lot to be figured out. What do all these banners and standards depict, and what are the stories behind them? Who are the people who used these banners, really? Most of the samurai in O-umajirushi are referred to as something like "Hayashi, Tamba-no-kami", which means "Hayashi, Lord of Tamba". At the time, it was presumably well-known which member of the Hayashi clan was being referred to. But O-umajirushi doesn't specify the full name or any other biographical information, so it can be hard to find out more about any particular individual or how the various samurai are related to each other.

Who holds a given title can change over time; for example, O-umajirushi records four samurai from different families who at one time were Lord of Kai. In addition, titles can also be passed down within a family, making it ambiguous which individual O-umajirushi is referring to. So, what's a researcher to do?

For me, my first stop is here:

The Harvard-Yenching Library has a great selection of Asian books, including all sorts of historical Japanese reference works. When I want to know how far back a given Japanese word can be dated, I can pick up their Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (Japan National Language Great Dictionary) and check out the citations. And here I found a very useful book, Sengoku Jinmei Jiten (Sengoku Personal Name Encyclopedia), which has entries for thousands of important individuals from the Sengoku Era (the period of conflict of the 15th and 16th centuries) in alphabetical order complete with lists of titles. I was using this book so heavily, I used some of the Kickstarter funds to pick up my own copy.

While the Jinmei Jiten is very useful, it doesn't have everyone I'm looking for. Particularly, it is missing some individuals who only came into prominence after the start of the Edo period (i.e., the early 17th century). While there are plenty of other references in the Yenching, the most useful source I've found for these individuals is online. Edo Jidai Daimyō Sōran (Edo Period Daimyō Guide) is a collection of biographical information about a wide range of individuals from the Edo period. The information it collects comes from a manuscript called Kansei Chōshū Shoka Fu (Kansei [Era] Revised Various Families Genealogy), published around 1800.  This is an excellent complement to the Jinmei Jiten: sometimes spotty on earlier individuals, but comprehensive and detailed on those from the 17th century.

And the detail in the Daimyō Sōran shines some light on the big picture, as well. One of the samurai described in O-umajirushi is Kamei, Lord of Noto. From this source, I discovered that no member of that family was Lord of Noto until Kamei Koremasa was granted that title in 1635. Therefore, I believe that the earliest O-umajirushi can have been written is 1635, narrowing the range from the commonly-cited 1624–1644.

And so, I continue on, with about a hundred more names to track down and partway through a pass adding detail about the elements used in banners and standards. My goal is to have the manuscript complete by the end of the year, to leave plenty of time for printing and shipping to get you all your books in February. But there's still much research, expansion, and editing to go before then. So, back to the joyous grindstone for me!

Marsinah1, Seth Crofton, and 12 more people like this update.


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    1. James Closs on

      Sounds intense. Have fun in the stacks.

    2. Xavid Creator on

      Thanks everyone for your support!

      I'll definitely let the NDL know when I send them their copy, though I don't know how interested they'll be. (I'm still annoyed that the World Digital Library neither responded to my message about the errors in their description of O-umajirushi ( nor corrected them.)

    3. Charlie 'Tater' Dodge on

      I love how secondary research helps explain and sometimes reveal new things about the original question. Once your complete with this Kickstarter you should contact the NDL about your findings in narrowing the publication date.

    4. Brian Hayes on

      Your updates are serious and strong, and interesting too. Following along with your discoveries and labor reveals a sincere fellow and a worthy quest. What's better than that for an investment? It's as if the book is merely the footnote on the prize. My message is to never be impatient. I, for one, hereby promise never to heckle you for deliver or behave like a petty vulture on your back. I merely wish you can be warmed by all of us, eager sponsors helping you build results that will make you proud.

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      brandon sherman on

      I can't wait to own this book.

    6. TS Luikart

      I am SO happy this book got funded. Wish I had it before I worked on Tenra Bansho Zero. ;)