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”

english history · european history · history

The Tradition of Courtly Love

It’s time for February’s post and I thought it would be only fitting to write a post regarding the theme of love. As I was beginning my research and narrowing down different topics I came across a most amusing book, The Art of Courtly Love, written between 1174-1184 (dates are not precise) by a clergyman by the name of Andreas Capelanus (also known as Andreas the Chaplain). Requested by his patron, Countess Marie of Champagne (daughter of the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine and her first husband, Louis VII of France), this book outlines the rules of courtly love in the guise of a lesson to Andreas’ fictional friend, Walter (who it seems has just been rejected by his beloved). Yet, there is more to it than just Capelanus’s rules. This was an important part of social life in noble circles, at least so much so that Countess Marie requested a written work on it. The work of Andreas Capelanus spread far through courts across Europe and began to be printed in the 1400s. There is debate whether courtly love was actually practiced or if it was just a literary device, but, either way, it seems to have been important to society. In this post, I wanted to dive into some of the details regarding this tradition. One of the most surprising discovers is the appeal that courtly love may have held for women of this period which is supported through the patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie of Champagne. Continue reading “The Tradition of Courtly Love”

english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

Continue reading “Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?”

Asian History · history

The Undefeated Khutulun

Today I wanted to spotlight a really awesome (yet, forgotten) woman from history. She was the great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan, one of the most famous conquerors in history. Her father was Kaidu Khan and was descended from the third son of Genghis. She was born in 1260 and had fourteen male siblings. Her name was Khutulun meaning light of the moon.

Khutulun was a unique woman in the scope of world history. Her father raised her alongside her brothers where she became an expert horsewoman, learned the art of battle, and became a proficient wrestler. Mongol women in general lead a different lifestyle than Western woman. Mongol women were taught from a young age how to ride a horse proficiently (very important in a nomadic society) and taught to fight with a bow and arrow. The main weapon in a Mongol army was the bow and often women did fight alongside their men as cavalry archers. Most importantly, their fighting ability would be able to protect their homestead. Continue reading “The Undefeated Khutulun”

english history · history

The Mysterious Oath of 1064

What was William of Normandy’s reasoning to invade England? And did he really need one?

Technically, William’s claim was the strongest being a cousin of Edward the Confessor (at least stronger than both Hardrada and Harold). In William’s youth, he apparently met Edward the Confessor while Edward was in exile (due to the Viking takeover of England), they became friends, and Edward allegedly told William that he would name him his successor when the time came. It seems young William took that to heart, which is understandable. Once he became such a successful Duke and proved to everyone he was not just a bastard; he would want to expand his territory. Continue reading “The Mysterious Oath of 1064”

english history · history

The Epic Week of 1066!

Since the Battle of Hastings falls on October 14th this week I was interested in doing a week study of 1066; one of the most important years in English History. In this year the Anglo-Saxon era ends and the England we recognize begins. Often times many studies of English history do not even start until the rule of the Normans. The Norman Conquest in 1066 was the last time (even to the present day!) that England was conquered by a foreign power. To me, that is incredible. William the Conqueror certainly earned his name due to the others who followed in history failed to achieve this even with modern weaponry and advancements.

Due to the Norman conquest, the development of England went into a completely different direction. Continue reading “The Epic Week of 1066!”