Things Japanese/Numerical Categories
Numerical Categories. Number has long exercised a peculiar fascination over the Far-Eastern mind. European languages, no doubt, have such expressions as "the Four Cardinal Virtues" and "the Seven Deadly Sins;" but it is no part of our mental disposition to divide up and parcel out almost all things visible and invisible into numerical categories fixed by unchanging custom, as is the case among the nations from India eastward. The Chinese speak of their "Three Religions," of "the Three Forms of Obedience," "the Four Classics," "the Five Duties," "the Eight Diagrams," "the Four-and-Twenty Paragons of Filial Piety," whole pages of their books of reference being devoted to lists of expressions of this kind. The Japanese have followed suit. They have adopted most of the Chinese numerical categories, and have invented new ones of their own. Here are ten of the commonest (ten being the Japanese dozen), chosen from among many scores:
The Three Views (三景), namely, Matsushima near Sendai in the North, Miyajima in the Inland Sea, and Ama-no-Hashidale on the Sea of Japan. These are considered the three most beautiful places in the empire.
The Three Capitals and Five Ports (三府五港). The former are Tōkyō, Kyōto, and Ōsaka; the latter are Yokohama, Kōbe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Hakodate.
The Five Festivals (五節句). They are the 7th January, the 3rd March, the 5th May, the 7th July, and the 9th September. (See Article on Festivals.)
"The Seven Herbs of Autumn" (秋の七草), sung by Japanese poets from very early times:—
- Obana, Kuzu-hana,
The hagi is the lespedeza. The obana is identified with the flowering eulalia (susuki), a beautiful tall grass which sways in the wind and seems to beckon to the wanderer over pathless moors. The kuzu is the pueraria, which bears masses of purple blossom. The nadeshiko is the wild pink; the ominaeshi, a tiny yellow flower, the patrinia. The fuji-bakama, with small pink and white flowers, is the eupatorium. The asa-gao, in modern usage, is the convolvulus; but this is said to be an imported plant, and the asa-gao of early days was probably either the platycodon grandiflorum or else an althea.
[There are also Seven Herbs of Spring (春の七草); but these are of a more homely nature,—parsley, chickweed, etc.—and are made into a sort of thick soup, which is eaten on the seventh day of the first moon, with a view to warding off all diseases during the coming year.]
"The Eight Views" (八景). Following an old Chinese precedent, almost every picturesque neighbourhood in Japan has its eight views. The best-known are "the Eight Views of Lake Biwa" (Ōmi Hakkei), which are enumerated as follows:—the autumn moon seen from Ishiyama, the evening snow on Hirayama, the sunset at Seta, the evening bell of Miidera, the boats sailing back from Yabase, the bright sky with a breeze at Awazu, rain by night at Karasaki, and the wild geese alighting at Katata. Pretty and thoroughly Oriental ideas,—are they not?
"The Eight Great Islands (大八洲), namely, the eight largest islands of the Japanese archipelago; hence, in poetical parlance, Japan itself.
"One-and-Twenty Great Anthologies" (二十一代 集). These are the standard collections of Japanese classical poetry, brought together by Imperial command during the middle ages,—the first in A.D. 905, the last circa 1440.
"The Three-and-Thirty Places" (三十三所) sacred to Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy.
"The Six-and-Thirty Poetical Geniuses" (三十六歌仙). A full list of their names is given in Anderson's Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Paintings, p. 145.
"The Fifty-Three Stages" (五十三次) on the Tōkaidō. Though the railway has done away with the old Tōkaidō journey by road, these fifty-three stages will always remain familiar to lovers of Japanese painting in the colour-prints of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and other old-time artists.
- This list in verse of the flowers in question is by Yamanoe-no-Okura a poet of the first half of ths eighth century.