15 October 2017

Some Thoughts on Hyougemono and Kōraimono

"A month and a half and still no manga release, Hox?" Sorry, I swear I'm busy so the drought will continue probably for the remainder of this month. In the meantime, I offer this post on manga and history (though it's more about history) as an appeasement. The topic today will be about Kōraimono (高麗物) in Hyougemono.

Hopefully, you all know of the kickass manga that is Hyougemono. If not, get reading at once! It's got action, drama, brilliant reaction-faces, and AESTHETICS. Several years back, I was a little worried that nobody would ever pick it up despite the anime adaptation garnering some interest. I was then preoccupied with translating Sangokushi and I really didn't want to add to my ever-increasing to-translate list with another long series. So it was fucking awesome to see Oresama come along to not only tackle this project, but work on it from volume 1 rather than where the anime stopped at (middle of volume 9)! In fact, he's just a few chapters away from that point, so you should go to his site to THANK HIM and download his previous releases if you weren't aware.
Volume 2, page 3
That being said... I do want to bring up a translation issue (please don't hate me, Oresama). As seen above, the term Kōraichawan (高麗茶碗) has been translated as "Goryeo tea bowl." For the ~95% of you reading this post who have no idea what the fuck's a Goryeo (or Koryŏ under the McCune-Reischauer romanization), it's simply the name of the ruling dynasty of the Korean peninsula from 918 to 1392. Fun side facts: The word Korea is derived from Koryŏ and the Korean people who live in post-Soviet central Asian states are also known as "Koryo people." (most of them were deported from Manchuria to Central Asia in 1937 because Stalin thought they could be spies for Japan). Anyhoo, whenever Kōrai/Koryŏ is used in Hyougemono (set in the late 16th century), the Japanese characters are using it to refer to the geographical and cultural entity in the Korean peninsula rather than the political entity that stopped existing in 1392. As such, the proper translation for Kōraimono or Kōraichawan should respectively be "Korean objects" and "Korean tea bowls." The same logic in translation applies for a term like Karamono (唐物). While it literally means "Tang dynasty objects," Kara/Tang is something that has come to mean China in general, so it is translated as "Chinese objects." This convention isn't my unique invention or anything. This is how these terms are almost always translated in academia. Now, some of you might think, "Gee, that's an incredibly pedantic and petty point, you fucking nerd." But if you'd allow me to nerd-out a little more, I'm pointing this out because Korea is absolutely essential for understanding the development of Japanese tea bowls in the wabi-cha aesthetic in early modern Japan. It'll make sense if you keep reading.
Volume 8, page 47
In the image above, Sen no Rikyū specifically states in the original Japanese his predecessors brought light to the wabi-aesthetic best exemplified in Kōrai-Ido (高麗井戸) tea bowls. Unfortunately, Oresama for some reason translated Kōrai-Ido not as Korean Ido tea bowls, not even as "Goryeo Ido tea bowls," but as "foreign Ido tea bowls," which would be the least accurate of these three options. True, Korea would fall under "foreign" for Japan, but then so would China. This is a glaring translation error when you consider the history of Japanese tea culture development. In medieval Japan, it was the elaborate Karamono (Chinese objects) that was considered to be the most refined and beautiful. However, Murata Shukō (1423-1502) went against this trend and changed the course of Japanese tea culture by valuing the simplicity, crudeness, and even imperfection he perceived in Wamono (Japanese objects). This didn't mean that he rejected Karamono, however. His ultimate goal was try to harmonize Karamono and Wamono. This is expressly stated in his letter Kokoro no Fumi (Letter of the Heart): "In pursuing this way of tea, extreme care should be taken to harmonize Japanese and Chinese tastes."
Then came along a Murata Jukō-fanboy named Sen no Rikyū. Below is what the eminent historian of Japanese art and culture Isao Kumakuro wrote of Rikyū's innovation, as translated in Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu:
Rikyū, however, did not stop at harmonizing and mixing. Dynamically he interpreted the idea of blending Japanese and Chinese tastes as a quest for beauty not possessed by either. This was the beauty of "Korean things" (Kōrai-mono), which had a warmth unknown to the works of China and a delicacy of texture and craftsmanship not found in Japan. It was a beauty that accorded with the ideal of wabi.
Due to  Rikyū's immense influence on the subsequent development of Japanese tea culture, Kōraichawan (Korean tea bowls) became enormously popular from the late 16th century. This is clearly established in a study of Chakaiki (Chronicles of tea ceremonies) by Tani Akira and Sin Hangyun which you can see above. A similar conclusion was reached by historian Hayashiya Seizō, who found that whereas only 27 out of 124 recorded tea gatherings in 1555-1558 used Korean tea bowls, in 1573-1591, 566 of 1300 tea gatherings used Korean tea bowls. Such popularity notably contributed to a huge market for these items, which was only partly satisfied by official trade and unofficial trade (piracy).
The Japanese spoken by Korean actors in this movie was sooooo fucking bad. Ear-bleedingly bad.
It's for these reasons that the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) are sometimes known as the pottery wars (yakimono sensō 焼物戦争). I personally think that this term is kind of disrespectful, considering the several HUNDREDS of thousands of people killed, raped, and enslaved but whatever. A lot of Korean pottery makers were captured by Japanese armies in this war and resettled in Japan, where they would go on to create famous pottery-styles such as Satsuma-ware or Imari-ware. As much as I enjoy Hyougemono, which does highlight some of these Korean influences on Japanese tea culture as I discussed so far, I sometimes get the feeling that it's brushed aside as a side-influence rather than a major one by the mangaka Yamada Yoshihiro.
Wooden statue of Maitreya Buddha at Koryuji 
One reason why I'm bringing all this up is the English scholarship of Sino-Japanese cultural relations hugely overshadows that of Korean-Japanese cultural relations. This is partly because Chosŏn Korea was firmly within the Sinocentric regional order in early modern East Asia, so the topic of Sino-Japanese cultural relations seems so much more obvious. But it's also partly a consequence of geopolitics. Korea was a colony of Japan in the early 20th century and even after attaining independence, Americans have come to think of Japan as "their guy" in East Asia and China as "their enemy/rival," leaving Korea as some abstract bridge separating China and Japan. Remember all the hubub over NK this year? Recall how all the media outlets and the U.S. state was more concerned with finding a proper way to signal their attitude to China and Japan, while South Korea was simply an afterthought, if at all. Can't be helped though. If Japan is more of an American client state, South Korea is more of an American puppet state for the time being. So sometimes people get quite surprised when this "abstract bridge" in East Asia has an identity of its own and has actually influenced its neighbours as well. A good example of this is this article by art critic Holland Cotter of The New York Times, who initially thought he had his quintessential "Japanese experience" when he saw the wooden statue of Maitreya Buddha at Koryuji in Kyoto. He was thus quite surprised to find out that the statue he thought was the very embodiment of Japan itself was actually made in Korea and sent as a gift back in the 7th century.
As my final comment, please don't take me for some Koreaboo for writing this post. I'm honestly not that fond of Korean culture. I just like history. What I ultimately want to say with this post is that there's a sort of self-reinforcing tendency in the ways that we understand history, foreign cultures, or the world in general. For instance, 19th century and early 20th century ethnographers already came with the preconceived notion that sub-saharan African tribes must be primitive and unchanging in every possible way, and so their research conclusions tended to reinforce this. So it's good to challenge our assumptions every now and then and seriously consider unexplored avenues.

P.S. A lot of the shit I wrote in this post is shamelessly lifted from historian Nam-lin Hur's paper, "Korean Tea Bowls (Kōraichawan) and Japanese Wabicha: A Story of Acculturation in Premodern Northeast Asia." I knew if I just posted that paper, 0.1% of people would read it, hence this post. You can read the actual paper here though.


  1. Hi, Oresama here. I appreciate the feedback, especially from somebody who clearly knows a whole lot more about the subject than I do. As far as the Goryeo thing goes, I've been trying to stick to what they would have called the countries at the time rather than outright use China and Korea. Hence referring to China as Ming(明) and all that. Upon reading this though I looked up Goryeo tea bowls, and yeah it doesn't seem like they used the style featured in Hyouge Mono until after the Goryeo were long gone. I'll be the first to admit that names of tea stuff are some of the most difficult parts of Hyouge Mono for me, so I appreciate your pointing that out. I'll keep it in mind in the future, particularly as we start going into Korea.

    As for your second complaint, that's just my bad. I'm sure I've made a whole bunch of dumb mistakes like that if you took the time to look.

    1. Yeah no worries. Allah knows I've made worse translation mistakes before.

  2. The differences between oriental tea sets has always occupied a nook in my latent (lazy) curiosity and I've never bothered to look it up. It's been a very long while since I've last visited and it's already productive! Thanks for the tea bowl exposition and thanks for the Hyougemono recommendation.

    Many happy returns for the new year.

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