Ancient History · art history · Asian History · history

Women and the Evolution of Writing

I started to learn Japanese a couple months ago. It has always been something I wanted to do, but I had never really had the motivation until now. I have always wanted to travel to Japan and that is one of my main goals in studying the language (it is also something to look forward too once the COVID pandemic has died down). I believe it is really important to learn at least some parts of the language and culture of the place you want to travel to. It will enrich the overall experience.

One important part of studying Japanese is familiarizing oneself with the writing system. A combination of three different systems are used: hiragana, katakana and kanji. I wanted to know more about why three systems were used, so I began to research. To my surprise, I actually discovered a very interesting piece of women’s history.

To give a brief overview of the three types of writing systems (note: I am not an expert as I am still learning myself). Kanji developed first and is adapted from Chinese characters. These symbols are used to represent entire words. Hiragana and Katakana use characters to represent the 46 sounds used to make up Japanese words. Each character is a syllable.

Japanese Writing, A Beautifully Complex System — Smashing Magazine
Examples of the different forms

As stated above, Kanji was the first writing form to be developed. In medieval Japan, only elite male members of the imperial court could use this form of writing. All official documents were written in Kanji and (like most places in the world at the time) politics was the domain of men. Women were not allowed an education in writing as they did not belong in the public sphere. Based on the standards of the era, women would never have a place in the government of their country. Without the ability to write, there was no way for women of medieval Japan to express themselves. Yet, the women of the Japanese court were innovators.

The women developed onnade (“Women’s Writing”) which was an early form of the modern kana (hiragana, katakana). The origin of this name was obvious as it was very popular for women to use this writing system. They used onnade to express themselves through poetry, letters/personal correspondence, and literature. There were many female novelists who came from this era. The most famous was Lady Murasaki Shikibu. She wrote The Tale of Genji in the early 11th century (which has been considered the world’s first novel). Lady Murasaki was an imperial lady-in-waiting and a noblewoman who used the onnade to compose this work. The Tale of Genji centers around a charismatic fallen prince and recounts his adventures ( and lovers). Besides Lady Murasaki, there were many talented women in the court around the same time such as Sei Shonagon, Izumi Shikibu, and Akazome Emon. All of the women during this period took something (writing, in this case) that had been taken away from them and made it their own. They created art and spread ideas around the court.

The Tale of Genji — a radiant collection of art inspired by the world's  first novel | Financial Times
Lady Murasaki

Naturally, this writing system was looked down upon by the male members of the court. Those who were part of the education system and those of society’s elite felt that the only the Kanji they used on official documents meant anything. Yet, eventually, the kana became more popular as it was easier and filled in the gaps of the language that Kanji left out. This was especially important for male novelists as the centuries went on. Japanese women of the medieval period took action to form their own ways of communication. They filled in any gaps that their lack of education produced. .

It was not only in Japan that women helped to influence the development of language/writing. Women in the west also had a hand in developing their local vernaculars. In medieval Europe, Latin was the language of the church and other official documents. As the fad of courtly romance rose, many noble women began to commission books written in the “common” tongue (not Latin) as it was easier for them and a wider range of the population to understand. This even included a famous women’s health text that was translated into many “common” tongues (English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, etc) , so more women could better educate themselves about their body and reproductive health. This was titled “The Trotula”.

GIRLBOSS MOOD: Little is known about the Japanese author, Murasaki Shikibu  credited with writing the… | Japanese art, Japanese painting, Japanese  woodblock printing

As I learned more about how the Japanese writing systems were developed, I was pleasantly surprised to find that women actually developed many of the writing systems that are used today. In 1900, an official writing system was established in Japan using hiragana, katakana and kanji. This is what is seen today. Based on my research, it seems that the original hiragana had many more symbols, but the amount was reduced to help create a more streamlined system. These stories fascinate me as it shows that even though women were denied the education they deserved, and were blocked from exchanging ideas through the written word, they became innovators and developed their own way of communication. They did not need to follow the “status quo” had already been set out for them.

Japan Travel Tips: 8 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Japan | LIVE  JAPAN travel guide

Sources:

https://beyond-calligraphy.com/2013/03/22/the-beauty-of-inefficiency-a-story-about-traditional-hiragana/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/26/saving-woman-hand-the-artist-rescuing-female-only-writing

https://medium.com/pomme-de-terre/the-sexist-history-behind-the-development-of-hiragana-e9f5676ab1f9

https://www.languagemagazine.com/2017/12/08/rise-women-birth-languages/

https://www.britannica.com/place/Japan/The-Heian-period-794-1185#ref168070

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/japan-kana-shodo-women-calligraphy-hnk-intl/index.html

Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Origins of Quarantine

Our world has changed drastically over the course of just a few weeks due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. I haven’t been to the office in weeks, trips have been cancelled and I have seen very few people for the month of March.  We depend on so much, but don’t realize it until it is gone. Yet, it has this time has given me more time to focus on other hobbies, including writing more for this blog. Across the world we are all going a bit stir crazy in quarantine, but this is not the first-time humans had to isolate themselves in order to protect others.

Continue reading “Origins of Quarantine”

Ancient History · Asian History · biography · european history · history

The Trung Sisters and the use of Morality Laws in Empire      

Throughout history, morality laws have been used by empires to place restrictions on society in order to create a specific image and enforce power. Many times, these laws would especially affect a specific group within the population. The post this month will compare two different ancient cultures and reveal how ancient morality laws were used to place controls on women. It will explore how these restrictions were to help create the ideal society that the leaders envisioned. In the process, some amazing heroines, The Trung sisters of Vietnam, will be highlighted. Even in the current era, morality laws can still be found. In the past decade there have been many debates which affect marriage rights, healthcare, and the choices of particular groups in our society. Many of the ancient laws that are discussed here will seem outdated, but it is interesting to compare to the discussions happening in our world today.

Continue reading “The Trung Sisters and the use of Morality Laws in Empire      “

Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall

The final season of the popular show Game of Thrones is almost upon us, but much of the world that George R.R. Martin created was inspired by true events. This would include Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. These walls were the boundary of the known world for the Romans during the second century. Just as fan favorite, Jon Snow, looked out into the great unknown from atop the icy Wall, it would have been just as intimidating for the Romans who looked over these historical walls at the expanse of Scotland. They were at the edge of their known world, which could have been very intimidating. So, while there may not have been white walkers, to the Romans, there could have been anything.

Image result for the wall game of thrones
The Wall from HBO’s Game of Thrones

With this post I wanted to pay more attention to the lesser known Antonine Wall rather than the more established Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall was the furthest point that the Roman empire stretched into Britannia. It was only manned for about twenty five years before the wall was abandoned. The wall cut modern Scotland in half as it crossed the land between Clyde to Forth (about 37 miles long). It was made mostly out of layers of turf rather than stone (like Hadrian’s) with a deep ditch that ran along with it. Forts would have been laid out along the wall, including Rough Castle, which would hold the 7,000 men that would have been stationed there. There would have also been a military service road that connected those at the wall with the rest of the empire in Britain. Continue reading “Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall”

Ancient History · english history · history

Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 2

Part 1! Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 1

As seen in my previous post, Boudica had surpassed all expectations. She shocked the ancient world by inspiring an army of thousands of Britons to finally take back what had been theirs originally. They were fighting against the abuses her people had faced for seventeen years at the hands of the Romans. Boudica and her warriors had burnt the great city of Camulodunum to the ground and decimated the ninth legion. Fear spread quickly across the the land, but Governor Paulinus was not about to be defeated…

Boudica’s next target was Londinium (modern day London), which (at the time) was a relatively new city. It was created to be a trading port with the continent and was mostly populated by traders, craftsmen, and wealthy citizens. Londinium was estimated to have a population of about 30,000. This wealthy city was ripe for looting and, unfortunately for the citizens, there was no military presence (especially with the ninth legion now inoperable). The second legion was called in to fight, yet they failed to arrive. The people of Londinium knew that they were ill prepared. Continue reading “Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 2”

Ancient History · english history · history

Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 1

This is a post (well now posts) I have been looking forward to creating for a while. It is the story of Boudica, the warrior queen, who led her army of Britons on to fight against their Roman oppressors in 60 AD. Not much is known about her personally, yet her legend lives on through books, shows, statues, art, etc. The name Boudica is easiest to understand as a Celtic version of Victoria, this meaning Victory. There is speculation whether this was truly her name, or a title given to her. Before I begin her tale, we must discuss some background knowledge of Romanized Britannia that will give context to the story. Also, note that most of the primary sources historians use are Roman writings of the events and archaeological evidence. There are no written sources from the Britons themselves. Continue reading “Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 1”

American History · Ancient History · history

The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern

Happy Halloween everyone!!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up and be someone else for a day. I love the candy and, most of all, carving pumpkins! Where did these traditions come from? As I wrote in my Druids post the other week, many of these traditions are derived from extremely old sources.

Halloween itself finds its origins in the ancient Celtic/Druid festival of Samhain. The Celts believed that just before winter the barriers between our world and the world of the dead were much thinner than usual. The souls of the dead, it was believed, were able to roam between the worlds as they pleased. Continue reading “The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern”

Ancient History · english history · history

The Power of the Druids

It’s almost Halloween so let’s talk about magic in history! I’ve always wanted to learn more about the Celts and especially the druids. Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about the druids except through outside Roman sources, which are naturally biased. There were no written records coming directly from the druids or the Celtic civilizations. There are a lot of misconceptions about the druids due to Roman influence, but also many things that I personally did not know before.

The druids were considered extremely powerful in Celtic society and were basically untouchable. They were society’s religious leaders, people of wisdom and essentially their own separate entity which could overrule most others in society. Being the highest members in society it was stated that they were exempt from taxes, from military service, and almost above the law. They were able to, in a way, to excommunicate people Continue reading “The Power of the Druids”