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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Departmental suzerain agata no atae


In

all eras sisters might marry the same man, and polygamy was common. A Chinese book, compiled in the early years of the Christian epoch, speaks of women being so numerous in Japan that nobles had four or five wives and commoners two or three. Of course, the reason assigned for this custom is incorrect: not plenitude of females but desire of abundant progeny was primarily the cause. It is notable that although the line between nobles and commoners was strictly drawn and rigidly observed, it did not extend to marriage in one sense: a nobleman could always take a wife or a concubine from the family of an inferior. In fact, orders were commonly issued to this or that province to furnish so many ladies-in-waiting (uneme)--a term having deeper significance than it suggests--and several instances are recorded of sovereigns summoning to court girls famed for beauty. That no distinction was made between wives and concubines has been alleged, but is not confirmed by the annals. Differentiation by rank appears to have been always practised, and the offspring was certainly thus distinguished.

BIRTH AND EDUCATION

A child in ancient Japan was born under considerable difficulties: its mother had to segregate herself in a parturition hut (ubuya), whence even light was excluded and where she was cut off from all attendance. This strange custom was an outcome of the Shinto canon of purity. Soon after birth, a child received from

its mother a name generally containing some appropriate personal reference. In the most ancient times each person (so far as we can judge) bore one name, or rather one string of words compounded together into a sort of personal designation. But already at the dawn of the historical epoch we are met by the mention of surnames and of "gentile names bestowed by the sovereign as a recompense for some noteworthy deed."* These names constantly occur. The principal of them are suzerain (atae), departmental suzerain (agata-no-atae), departmental lord (agata-no-nushi), Court noble (ason), territorial lord (inaki), lord (iratsuko), lady (iratsume), duke (kimi), ruler (miyatsuko), chief (muraji), grandee (omi), noble (sukune), and lord (wake). In the case of the Emperors there are also canonical names, which were applied at a comparatively late date in imitation of Chinese usages, and which may be said to have completely replaced the names borne during life. Thus, the Emperor known to posterity as Jimmu was called Iware in life, the Emperor named Homuda while he sat on the throne is now designated Ojin, and the Emperor who ruled as Osazaki is remembered as Nintoku. In the Imperial family, and doubtless in the households of the nobility, wet-nurses were employed, if necessary, as also were bathing-women, washing-women, and rice-chewers.**

*B.H. Chamberlain.

**"Rice, which is mainly carbohydrate, is transformed into grape-sugar by the action of the saliva. This practice is still common in China and used to be so in Japan where it is now rarely met with. It was employed only until dentition was complete." (Munro.)

"To what we should call education, whether mental or physical, there is absolutely no reference made in the histories. All that can be inferred is that, when old enough to do so; the boys began to follow one of the callings of hunter or fisherman, while the girls stayed at home weaving the garments of the family. There was a great deal of fighting, generally of a treacherous kind, in the intervals of which the warriors occupied themselves in cultivating patches of ground."*


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