Category Archives: history

#atozchallenge: R is for Rokurokubi


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2018

Rokurokubi. How’s that for a mouthful? It is a type of yokai that manifests only through women. This is unfortunate as well as being unfair. In many of the stories the men have committed whatever evil deed brings on the curse that transforms the unlucky woman into the creature whose neck extends to impossible lengths, allowing the head to cause all kinds of trouble.

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The rokurokubi is born of jealousy that poisons the spirit. This goes a long way toward explaining why rokurokubi are often found in brothels.

From Wikipedia:

In the late Edo period yomihon (illustrated novel), Rekkoku Kaidan Kikigaki Zōshi (列国怪談聞書帖) by Jippensha Ikku the author suggests the elongated necks of rokurokubi originate in the spiritual principle, karma. In Ikku’s work, Kaishin, a monk from Enshū and a woman called Oyotsu elope together. However, when Oyatsu collapsed from an illness, they ran out of money, so he killed her. When Kaishin eventually returned to secular life, he slept with a girl he met at an inn. When they sleep together, the girl’s neck stretched and her face becomes that of Oyotsu, who then told him about her resentment. Kaishin felt regretful his actions and proceeded to tell Oyatsu’s father everything. The girl’s father then told Kaishin that he has also killed a woman before. He stole her money and with it, he opened his inn. He had a daughter was born soon after who, due to karma, became a rokurokubi. Kaishin then reentered the priesthood. He built a grave for Oyotsu, said to be the Rokurokubi no Tsuka (Rokurokubi Mound), which told the story to future generations.[17]

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How could such a yokai enter the life of Dr. Harrington and his family? There are a lot of females in and around the household. Constance, Madelaine, Nurse Danforth, Julie Rose, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Rogers. There might be another woman or young lady among the expatriate community who finds herself caught in the eternal struggle of duty vs. emotion. Time will tell how the rokurokubi will find its way to Dr. Harrington’s door!

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#atozchallenge: Q is for Quack


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2018

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The Quack Doctor by Charles Green

 

Dr. Harrington has begun to realize that by bringing Western medicine to the Far East, he also has an opportunity to learn how the Far East has been keeping people alive and healthy for several thousand years.

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he.wikipedia.org

At this time in Victorian England, some impressive strides were being made regarding the causes of cholera epidemics and tuberculosis. However, general medical care had yet to fully embrace Pasteur’s discoveries regarding germs and the spread of disease. The wealthy could afford what passed for good health care. The poor, living in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation, had little if any recourse to serious medical care.

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Enter the quack, who promised this or that powder, pill, or colored syrup would bring the miracle cure everyone needed.

From The Online Etymology Dictionary:

quack (n.1)

“medical charlatan,” 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally “hawker of salve,” from Middle Dutch quacken “to brag, boast,” literally “to croak” (see quack (v.)) + salf “salve,” salven “to rub with ointment” (see salve (v.)). As an adjective from 1650s. The oldest attested form of the word in this sense in English is as a verb, “to play the quack” (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.
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Anatomical head. Edo period. Wax. 19thc-artworldwide.org

Were there quacks in Kyoto? Probably. The world was changing very quickly. Japanese people were eager to try the wonders from the West. Some of those wonders could be truly mind-boggling in their defiance of all reason and sense.

If you’d like to know more about medical quackery in this time period, I recommend The Quack Doctor, a site created by Caroline Rance. There you will find much that will both shock and amuse you.

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#atozchallenge: P is for Physician


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2018

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I routinely refer to my hero as Doctor Harrington, but he is in fact a physician. In the medical hierarchy of Victorian England, this was an important distinction.

From The Steampunk Tribune:

Physicians had the most prestige in the 1800s. They were called physicians because they only administered drugs, or “physic”. They did not deal with external injuries or perform surgeries or set bones or do physical exams, other than the patient’s pulse and urine. They took detailed case histories and then wrote out a prescription to be filled by an apothecary…To practice as a physician in London, you had to be licensed by the Royal College of Physicians. If, in addition, you had gone to Oxford or Cambridge, you could become a Fellow of the College (F.R.C.P.) too, which meant a good deal more status, exemption from unpleasant things like jury duty, and the right to a say in the internal governance of the college.

William Harrington has not yet been knighted by Queen Victoria, but spending three to five years serving the Crown in the Far East would certainly make him a strong candidate for such an honor. It would also qualify him for the Order of St. Michael and St. George, bestowed on civilians who have rendered extraordinary service to the Crown in a foreign country.

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AboutBritain.com

From Jane Austen’s World:

Doctors and physicians occupied the highest rung on the social ladder. Such citizens were considered gentleman because 1) their training did not include apprenticeship and 2) the profession excluded, supposedly, manual labor. Doctors were permitted to dine with the family during home visits, while other practitioners took dinner with the servants. A physician’s fee was wrapped and placed nearby, for theoretically gentleman did not accept money for their work.

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#atozchallenge: O is for Olivia Danforth


by Lillian Csernica on April 17, 2018

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Olivia Elspeth Danforth was born in London, England in 1840. Her father ran a tobacco shop. Thanks to a small inheritance, she had enough money to get an education. She worked hard and did not expect to marry at all, much less well. Olivia chose nursing because her mother said she had a talent for keeping her brothers and sisters healthy despite the diseases of the day.

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She graduated from The Nightingale Home and Training School for Nurses in 1870.

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Through Lady Dorothy Monroe, sister to Constance Harrington and patron of The Nightingale Home, Nurse Danforth found a position at Dr. Harrington’s newly opened practice.

Nurse Danforth acted as part-time nanny for Madelaine after she was born in 1871.

Constance thinks the world of Olivia Danforth, who has become as much a member of the family as one can who is not related by blood. Nurse Danforth knows this is a better life than she’d hoped for and counts her blessings every day. While her demeanor may be stern, she is fiercely loyal to the family. Nurse Danforth literally follows Dr. Harrington to the ends of the earth so she can remain close to Madelaine.

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#atozchallenge: N is for Netsuke


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2018

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In the Tokugawa period, yokai became very popular in ink paintings, woodblock prints, and carvings, especially the small and useful carvings known as netsuke. They were the must-have fashion accessory, so to speak.

A netsuke will play an important role in one of Dr. Harrington’s upcoming adventures. Given that he keeps attracting the attention of the gods and monsters of Japan, it seems reasonable to expect the netsuke to be carved in the shape of something supernatural.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

From the seventeenth through mid-nineteenth centuries, Japanese citizens of all classes wore the kimono—a simple T-shaped robe constructed with minimal cutting and tailoring—wrapped around the body and held in place with an obi sash. In order to carry small items such as tobacco, medicine, and seals, ingeniously constructed sagemono (a collective term for “hanging things”) were suspended on cords that hung from the obi sash (29.100.841). Stacked, nested containers, known as inrô, were specifically designed to hold medicine or seals (10.211.2081). Netsuke served as anchors or counterweights for inrô and sagemono (14.40.843a,b). A single cord was threaded through a cord channel on one side of the suspended container, through two holes (himotoshi) in the netsuke, then through the other side of the container, and knotted on the underside of the container (JP1954). A decorative bead, or ojime, slid along the cord between the netsuke and sagemono, allowing the user to open and close the container (14.40.878a,b).

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Drawing of a man wearing an inro suspended with the help of a netsuke and held together with an ojime. (Wikipedia.com)

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Netsuke are made from a dazzling variety of materials.

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A skeleton beating on a fish drum. Made from narwhal tusk. (pinterest.com)

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japaneseaesthetics.tumblr.com

Two of the most commonly used materials for netsuke were ivory and wood, with boxwood favored for its fine grain and durability. About 80 percent of surviving antique netsuke were carved in various types of native Japanese wood—cypress, cherry, black persimmon, yew, camphor, zelkova, and camellia. Elephant tusk ivory was one of the most popular materials for netsuke carvers for centuries (10.211.1444). With the enactment of international trade restrictions on elephant ivory in 1989, however, netsuke carvers turned to other sources, including fossilized mammoth and walrus tusks. Extant eighteenth- and nineteenth-century netsuke made of or inlaid with coral, shells, metals, ebony, porcelain (91.1.213), cloisonné,mother-of-pearl, and various nuts attest to the skilled carvers’ ingenuity in conveying the plasticity of these materials, despite their hardness and resistance to wear (10.211.780).

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A fox spirit pretending to be a priest. Made of wood. (pinterest.com)

 

The nure-onna, a monster with the head of a woman and the body of a snake. This one has a monkey on her back.

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Pumpkin, 19th Century, Hirado ware. Porcelain with blue glaze.

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#atozchallenge: M is for Madelaine


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2018

Madelaine Victoria Harrington is Dr. Harrington’s nine year old daughter. She is his only child and his first priority in life. The fever that renders her critically ill is the crisis that sets in motion the first story, In the Midnight Hour (Twelve Hours Later).

Madelaine is a genius. She gets on well with everyone, making friends quickly among the Japanese staff at Dr. Harrington’s Kyoto residence. Madelaine is keen to understand the mechanics of everything, including the social etiquette so important to Victorian England. Her open mind and intense curiosity serve her well in learning about Japan.

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She picks up languages quickly, which is essential when she begins studying the mythology and folklore of Japan. Her studies go a long way toward helping Dr. Harrington deal with the challenges he faces in each story.

Madelaine does a number of things that just happen while I’m writing. I had no idea she and the Abbot would develop such a close friendship. The Abbot loves children and Madelaine loves intelligent conversation, so they suit each other. There’s more to it, though. They both have a unique understanding of the supernatural. The respect goes both ways.

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Then there’s the clockwork dragon in Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later). I knew Madelaine was up to something, but I didn’t find out until her mother Constance discovered the secret project. I did have to work out the interior mechanics of the dragon. Fortunately, my husband is an engineer.

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#atozchallenge: L is for Loyalty


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2018

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Living as a member of the British expatriate community within the city of Kyoto, Dr. Harrington faces many challenges. I deliberately put him into situations that force him to make difficult choices. Again and again, he has to decide where his loyalty lies.

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Queen Victoria — Dr. Harrington must fulfill his duties and keep the Abbot in good health. Any lapse on his part will reflect badly on queen and country.

The Abbot — The image above shows Seihan Mori, the current Abbot of Kiyomizudera, using a calligraphy brush to make the kanji for the New Year. This kanji means “north.”

Dr. Harrington has been given the honor of ensuring the Abbot’s health. The Abbot is eighty-five. In A Demon in the Noonday Sun ( Twelve Hours Later), Dr. Harrington supervises the Abbot’s first use of his new steampunk wheelchair. While the Abbot is in fine health for a man of his age, he’s still fragile. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot himself sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that results in the Undersecretary forbidding the doctor to do anything of the kind.

 

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Sir George William Buchanan

His immediate superior, Alexander Thompson, Undersecretary for Technological Exchange — The image above is my model for Dr. Harrington’s boss. Thompson is utterly correct in everything he does, an ideal civil servant. That means there’s no way Dr. Harrington can explain the supernatural creatures that drag him away from the straight and narrow path Thompson expects him to walk.

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Constance and Madelaine — The safety and well-being of his wife and daughter are constantly at the forefront of Dr. Harrington’s thoughts. He accepted the posting to Kyoto in order to improve Madelaine’s prospects for a husband once the family returns to England.

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uniqueexplorer.blogspot.com

The burakumin — In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), the Abbot sends Dr. Harrington on a mission that opens his eyes to the existence of the lowest Japanese social class, one that still experiences discrimination even today. Dr. Harrington’s efforts to act on the Abbot’s instructions jeopardize everything he’s come to Japan to achieve.

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Being true to himself — William Harrington is a physician, a husband, a father, and a loyal subject of Queen Victoria. He has taken the Hippocratic Oath. He’s an honorable man of great integrity. Even so, he does have his weaknesses. Finding the right adversaries to test Dr. Harrington’s mettle among the gods and monsters of Japan is one of my greatest pleasures in writing the Kyoto Steampunk stories.

 

 

 

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#atozchallenge: K is for Kannon


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2018

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The Goddess of Mercy has many names. The most commonly known are Kwan Yin, Kanzeon Bosatsu, and Kannon. In the strictest sense she is a boddhisatva, a being who has achieved enlightenment and could merge with nirvana. Instead, she chooses to remain on earth and help others toward enlightenment.

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Throughout Japan there are many temples and shrines devoted to the Buddha and to the Shinto gods. Even when Kannon is not the main focus of a particular temple, you will often find a Kannon Hall where an image of the goddess resides.

Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple, is a key location in the Kyoto Steampunk series. On its famous cypress veranda, Dr. Harrington meets Kannon herself.

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#atozchallenge: J is for Julie Rose


by Lillian Csernica on April 11, 2018

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One day, during the time I was writing The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), I saw an ad for this coffee mug. Just on a whim, I posted the image and said the first person who bought me this mug would win a cameo appearance in my latest Kyoto Steampunk story.

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Within ten minutes, I got a reply from a very nice lady. She’d ordered the mug, emailed me the confirmation, and we had a deal! I ran around Pinterest looking for the right dress for her. After she chose the one she liked best, I set to work building her into the story. She became Julie Rose, daughter of another British expatriate family who lives in Kyoto. She makes an excellent companion for Madelaine, someone with whom she can practice Constance‘s lessons on etiquette and deportment.

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jodelights.com

I’m sure Julie Rose will be making more appearances as the series continues. My sincere thanks to the dear lady kind enough to provide me with this delightful coffee mug!

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#atozchallenge: I is for Ink


by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2018

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Ink, like tea and rice, is an essential part of Japanese culture.

In Pictures from the Water Trade, John David Morely writes a chapter devoted to shodo, or the art of calligraphy. The passion and the poetry of his writing make his account of his lessons in calligraphy a rare adventure. Of all the books I’ve read on a foreigner’s experiences in Japan, and I’m well into double digits, this book remains a favorite.

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The Abbot of Kiyomizudera creates ofuda to protect Dr. Harrington from the dangers he faces. Ofuda are Sanskrit sutras written on parchment using a calligraphy brush and traditional ink. The preparation of the ink alone is fascinating.

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From Wikipedia:

In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue. An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility, concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings.[4] Inksticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.

On Putting on Airs (Thirty Days Later), the Abbot provides Dr. Harrington with an ofuda to put on his front gate. Nothing supernatural with malignant intent can enter through that gateway. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), a yokai of considerably greater power and menace is hunting Dr. Harrington through Kyoto’s nighttime streets. This requires an ofuda to be carried by Dr. Harrington at all times!

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