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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.
A translation of a unique 17th-century compendium of samurai heraldry, annotated with the symbolism and stories behind the banners.
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Status Update

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I know I've quieted down a bit since the Kickstarter funded, but never fear, I've been hard at work. I've just finished my first translation pass through Volume 5. One more volume to go, and then it's time to loop back and flesh things out: biographical notes, mon explanations, stories, that sort of thing.

So, what have I been discovering as I go through O-umajirushi? All sorts of things. But one of the strangest that I've come across is this:

Many of the captions in O-umajirushi are repeated in different entries, since many samurai had the same general classes of banners and other devices. This one, however, is unique. In three lines, it reads "koshisashi oyako sannin-no".

The first line is the most straight-forward part. "Sashi" means "identifying", and is used frequently elsewhere in O-umajirushi. "Koshi" refers to the waist or the lower back. So, a "koshisashi" is literally a lower-back identifying object. It actually refers to a device worn on a pole that goes through the back of the obi (sash), rather than one attached to armor higher up.

Now, the next line: "oyako". When I saw that, I instantly thought of something completely unrelated to heraldry. Namely, this:

"Oyakodon" by kina3 - Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
"Oyakodon" by kina3 - Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Literally, "oyako" means "mother and child" or "parents and child". This idiom is used, a little disturbingly, in the name of a popular rice bowl combining chicken and egg: oyakodon. So, why is it being used here?

The third line might help clarify. It reads "sannin-no", meaning "three people's". But it's not trying to say that this device was inherited, or used by multiple people, or anything like that. Actually, I believe it's trying to clarify the image. Look again at the picture of this device; it looks like some sort of massive tassel. Or is it multiple separate tassels? "Oyako" indicates the arrangement of tassels, but it could still be two tassels ("mother and child") or three tassels ("parents and child"). The last line serves to clarify that the arrangement is three people, two parents and a child; that is, three tassels.

Whether this caption recorded a popular name for this device or whether these lines were additions to clarify the image is unclear. Nevertheless, this type of metaphor stands out from the more straightforward captions in most of O-umajirushi.

Now, back to Volume 6 for me. Until next time, enjoy autumn!

Tieg Zaharia, Chris Olsen, and 14 more people like this update.

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    1. James Closs on September 27, 2014

      Haha, I thought of Oyakodon too. Cool notes!