Monday, 31 May 2010

Amino Yoshihiko (9): "Igyô no ôken"

Just a few brief notes on Amino's Igyô no ôken (The heteromorph monarchy), a gem-like work from 1986. Especially the first chapters have a wonderfully light touch and capture interest. However, the last chapter – an analysis of Go-Daigo’s ”monarchy” – may be a bit problematic. I won't go into that here, since I’ve already treated Amino’s theses on this in a previous post along with Uesugi Satoshi’s criticism (here).

Igyô as fashion

The highlight of the book is the discussion of the heteromorph (irui igyô, a word connoting the inhuman, abnormal, or extraordinary) as fashion and its stigmatization in late medieval times as the dress of outcasts.

The word ”irui igyô” becomes frequent in the Kamakura period and is at first mostly used about devils (oni), goblins (tengu) or monsters (yôkai). Near the end of the period it starts to be used as a term about human beings (”Irui igyô ni shite yo no tsune ni arazu”). Interestingly, this derogatory term was often applied to people dressed in an outfit originally worn by people close to the sacred, such as pilgrims and yamabushi (mountain hermits and wandering monks).

This outfit could include wearing the forbidden dyed silk (suriginu) clothes, straw hat (minogasa), white headcloth or a veil, and persimmon-colored robes (kaki-katabira), using a long staff or club, and not tying one's hair. Already from the beginning this outfit seemed to have signalled being outside society. Thus the yamabushi were thought to have absorbed the spiritual power of the mountains and were regarded as "sacred beings outside humanity" (”hito naranu sei naru sonzai”) and were often associated with tengu. Bandits (akutô) also adopted the persimmon color to show that they were not bound by the rules of the profane world (Amino 1993:133f).

We can see the persimmon-colored yamabushi outfit on the illustration below, where it is worn by a tengu.

Another part of the "igyô" appearance involved covering one's face (fukumen). This was common among outcasts and beggars, but was by no means limited to them. For instance, it was also a widespread custom to cover one's face when going to pray at a temple, to listen to a sermon, or atttend a biwa-performance. Again this custom had to do with closeness to the sacred. To cover one's face meant to turn oneself into another and temporarily enter a sacred space (ibid 28, 111). Amino shows that it was related to the custom of peeping through one's folding fan or to watch something from behind one's sleeve whenever one happened to witness something out of the ordinary (ibid 104-115). Women also adopted the custom of covering one's face and used it to mix in with men, and it also became popular among bandits and travelling prostitutes (ibid 37, 136).

We can see a person peering through his fan here:

The straw hat too was originally the outfit of wandering monks. The ethnographer Orikuchi Shinobu points out that since ancient times it has been used as a means of disguise and considered part of the dress of gods and marebito (visiting deities). It was also associated with defeated minorities like the hayato or devils (oni). Today, one sees it on the popular figurines of tanuki (racoon dogs) outside restaurants and private houses. As I have already mentioned earlier, the staff or club (saibô) was once used in religious festivities.

The striking thing about these facts is of course that all this way of dressing later became a mark of social discrimination and associated above all with the hinin or outcasts. The process of how this happened is interesting and is a good indicator of the broader social trends during the late mittle ages. Amino shows that during the upheaval of the late Kamakura period, when the irui igyô appearance becomes widespread, and the following Nanbokuchô period, the igyô people apparently did not feel discriminated at all, but on the contrary showed off brazenly or fearlessly in public. It even became a vogue in many classes and strata including many artisans and performers. As we have seen it affected gender relations too, since women began to wear the (male) veil and mixed in with the men.

The hinin appear to have played a pioneering role in disseminating this fashion since they were the first to break the taboos and dress code regulations. Other groups in society quickly followed suit and this developed into the extravagant basara style that flourished during the Nanbokuchô era. As Amino points out, the dissemination of irui igyô was thus a direct reflection of the weakening of the hold of authorities on society. The social and political upheaval was also an upheaval in dress code (ibid 20, 37).

What impresses me most about Amino's analysis of this phenomenon is that he interprets it as an early form of fashion. This is a smart, decisive move which enables him to explain some curious facts, such as for instance how the monklike headcloth could be seen as an expression of the extravagant basara. This also thows light on the fact that so many groups in society - outcats, traders, bankers, artists, performers - dressed in monk-like appearance (zôgyô): it was chosen since an appearance indicating holiness or freedom from social conventions was attractive. Today we have become used to think of the "veil" as an indication of oppression of tight social control, but it medieval Japan it appears that the veil spread in society not because of tightening controls, but on the contrary because controls had broken down. The political chaos meant the liberation of fashion.

The similarity in dress among groups like monks, outcasts, merchants and bandits is also interesting since it probably indicated social proximity as well. The outcasts were still not superated as harshly from the rest of society as they would later be.

However, as political and social order reasserted itself in the Muromachi period and outcast discrimination started in earnest, the dress once considered holy – persimmon robe, straw hat, white head-cloth and deer-staff – became stigmatized as the mark of outcast status (ibid 38, 136-140).

The hidden tradition

Just one more remark. In this work we can also see an interesting feature of Amino’s view of history. History doesn't just consist of the the outwardly visible currents that dominate society in ordinary, well-ordered times. History also consists of a hidden or suberranean revolutionary bank of cultural memory that emerges in upheavals when it is liberated and revived. Thus the culture of irui igyô may have been suppressed in the Muromachi period, but it never perished completely. Even after the medieval epoch it lived on among the common people and was activated at times of rebellions.

Thus Amino shows that it was common for participants in popular uprisings (ikki) to declare themselves outcasts or beggars and to adopt the outfit of such groups - often involving straw hats or white headgear or using the color orange. One famous early instance was the bashaku ikki of 1496, in which people engaging in horse transport rose up against and defeated the invading forces of the feudal lord Saitô Myôjun, going to battle in orange clothes (Amino 1993:126-132; also cf. Katsumata 1982:122-126). This tradition continued in the ikki of the Edo period and surfaced in the Meiji period in the Movement for Freedom and People’s Rights with its slogan of “using the straw hat as shields and hoisting the straw flag [mushirobata, a flag traditionally used in ikki]”. By dressing to a man in the clothes of the discriminated, Amino states, the rebels  expressed the “freedom” of their act and their determination to fight the oppressors (Amino 1993:138f).

Acts of resistance against power - such as breaking a law or decree or defying a superior enemy - often seem to inspire feelings of the sacred. We can recall that acccording to Amino, the dress of the outcasts indicated a leave-taking of the ordinary profane world, a status of "not being of this world". Revolts certainly involve a break with the order of everyday, profane life.

In revolts, then, and in the freedom in which human beings choose to revolt, they re-establish a link to muen, to the realm beyond the reach of secular powers, which in ordinary times is buried and forgotten.


Amino, Yoshihiko (1993) Igyô no ôken (The heteromorph monarchy), Tokyo: Heibonsha.

Katsumata, Shizuo (1982) Ikki, Tokyo: Iwanami shinsho

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