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Ivory, over 1,000 years old...

Discussions and analysis of Elephant Ivory
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chonchon
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Postby chonchon » Mon Dec 08, 2014 11:24 am

At the Go-Taiten Imperial Accession to the Chrysanthemum throne, the Emperor and the nobles wear ritual Sokutai dress with a stone-studded belt, and carry a Shaku spatula symbol of authority upright in the right hand. This tradition was observed on the continent in China from classical times and passed over to Korea and Japan.

It just happens that I have three of these Shaku, made of different woods and usually just over 1 Shaku (30.5 cm) in length which may explain the use of the word. See attached photograph. Actually they are in reality mostly around 35 cm long.

Today I was wondering what the meaning hidden in these might be, and quite by coincidence discovered that of the materials they could be made of, ivory was considered the very best, and indeed laws were passed in 701 stipulating that nobles above a certain rank should carry an ivory Shaku! It adds, however, that ivory was extremely hard to come by.

For me, this added a dimension to my knowledge of the history and usage of ivory in Japan, from at least 1200 years ago and most likely far earlier.

The descending ranking of woods by sacred nature (?) I found also interesting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaku_%28ritual_baton%29



PS Re trade between China and Africa, "China and Africa have a history of trade relations, sometimes through third parties, dating back as far as 202 BC and AD 220".:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa%E2%80%93China_relations

Attachments
2141707_Ichii.JPG
2141708_Ichii2.JPG
2141716_3xShaku.JPG
Piers

Size is something.

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chonchon
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Postby chonchon » Tue Dec 09, 2014 1:42 am

In the same Wiki article the woods are listed three times, in slightly different ways.
1. "Usually made of woods like Japanese yew, holly, cherry, sakaki or *Japanese cedar"
2. "Oak is considered the best, followed in order by holly, cherry, sakaki and Japanese cedar."
3. "nobles of the fifth rank and above had to use an ivory shaku, while those below that rank were to use oak, Japanese yew, holly, cherry, sakaki, Japanese cedar, or other woods."

The three that I have would appear to be, from left: Japanese cedar (*Sugi is actually not cedar, see above, but cryptomeria, related to the Sequoia), in the middle Oak? (Kashiwa, Emperor/Daimyo Oak, a kind of Quercus) or possibly Yew (Ichii), and on the right Black Persimmon (Kurogaki).

Sakaki, which I had to look up, is a sacred tree often planted around the boundaries of shrines, written with the tree radical on the left, 木 and god 神 on the right, ie 榊
Piers

Size is something.

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souldeep
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Postby souldeep » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:20 am

What an abstract but fascinating discovery Piers.

I can't help thinking that these early Shaku may have been the forefather of today's commonly engaged technique - who holds the pillow hehe.

So - the hunt is on to find an Ivory Shaku. Are you aware of any currently in the marketplace?
Piglet: "Pooh?" Pooh: "Yes, Piglet?" Piglet: "I've been thinking..." Pooh: "That's a very good habit to get into to, Piglet." - A.A. Milne.

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AFNetsuke
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Postby AFNetsuke » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:01 pm

"Oak is considered the best, followed in order by holly, cherry, sakaki and Japanese cedar."

I wonder how they came up with that order, especially putting oak at the top. What else would have been made from oak? I don't recall hearing about or seeing items in oak. Did I just not know what the native species there looked like?
Alan

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souldeep
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Postby souldeep » Thu Dec 11, 2014 9:39 am

Alan - I would go for the obvious assumption and guess they based the value on rarity (combined with the wood quality) of resource.
Piglet: "Pooh?" Pooh: "Yes, Piglet?" Piglet: "I've been thinking..." Pooh: "That's a very good habit to get into to, Piglet." - A.A. Milne.

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chonchon
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Postby chonchon » Thu Dec 11, 2014 10:57 am

Oak was sacred to the Druids in pre-Roman Europe. Is it just a coincidence that the leaves of the Kashiwa oak were considered spiritually cleansing? Mochi Rice cakes are wrapped in oak leaves of May 5th, Children's Day. (Originally Boys' Day)

Red oak, Akagashi and white oak, Shiragashi being very hard and durable, although difficult to carve, were used for spear poles, and from the 1550s onwards for gun stocks in those areas of Japan where it grows/grew.

No, I have never seen an ivory one, but I wonder if there might not be an example in the Shoso-in Imperial Storehouse in Nara, packed with gorgeous artifacts from those times.
Piers

Size is something.


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