Exploring Japanese Hell.

“God of Heavenly Punishment.” From the scroll “Extermination of Evil” ( 1127 – 1192 AD).

As a child, growing up in Japan, there was one book that terrified me. Luckily, I didn’t own it. The red hardback sat on the bottom shelf in my friend’s room and every time I went over to play I could see it, out of the corner of my eye, staring me in the face. Once we pulled it out and flipped through the pages; each featured a grotesquely illustrated realm of hell with scenes of fire, torture, and suffering. It was, I assure you, a children’s book. But it was made for parents to use as leverage whenever their child acted up, or misbehaved. And boy was it effective.

These concepts of hell (jigoku; 地獄 in Japanese) are derived from ancient Buddhist scriptures, and I’m ceaselessly amazed by the imagination of the monks and artists who came up with so many different forms of punishment. The range from the fairly standard – being eaten alive by demons and dragons, or being torn apart at the crotch – to the more inventive – being forced to hold large stalks of daikon radish in your mouth and being used as a drumstick. Then, there’s my favorite: being flattened out by a roller and then cut up into soba noodles.

Now, a new art book that’s being released in October has collected a wide range of images that depict hell in Japanese art from the 12th century to the 19th century. The massive single-volume collection consists of almost 600 pages of works designated as Japanese National Treasures and features the various depictions of hell by artists such as Kazunobu Kanō,Yoshitoshi Tsukioka and the master of horror Kyōsai Kawanabe.

It’s currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Essays from historians of both Japanese art and Buddhism are also included in bilingual text. If you have kids you may (or may not) want to leave this book sitting around.

You can read, and see much more of the always gruesome hell at Spoon & Tamago.

Charting Confederate Symbols Alongside Social Movements.

150 Years of Iconography, courtesy of Southern Poverty Law Center. Sourced from their story, Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (click to enlarge).

[…] The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) began to catalog Confederate symbols around the country, stating: “There was no comprehensive database of such symbols…In an effort to assist the efforts of local communities to re-examine these symbols, the SPLC launched a catalog to study them.”

[…]

There were two major periods during which the dedication of Confederate monuments and other symbols spiked: the first two decades of the 20th century and, later, the Civil Rights movement. As they explain:

[T]wo distinct periods saw a significant rise in the dedication of monuments and other symbols. The first began around 1900, amid the period in which states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans and re-segregate society. This spike lasted well into the 1920s, a period that saw a dramatic resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

The second spike began in the early 1950s and lasted through the 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists. These two periods also coincided with the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War.

Take a look at the infographic. Note the massive cluster of dedications of monuments around the time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was being formed, and the dedications’ continued persistence during the KKK’s resurgence. Check out the sudden rise in the dedication of schools, named in honor of Confederate soldiers, almost immediately following Brown v. Board of Education. Note that there were less dedications of Confederate symbols during race riots, even a significant dip during the Detroit uprising of 1943.

You can trace a clear spike in the dedication of Confederate monuments whenever black Americans organized in a concrete way; when they were made visibly vulnerable — such as in the instance of uprisings — the commitment to Confederate symbolism tapered off.

According to this data, it’s clear that once black Americans sought their own agency or publicly defended their rights, white supremacists and Confederate apologists became eager to crowd around these monuments in tender affection and homage, to espouse this history. The monuments had a purpose, newly reinstated again and again, to revive and cherish white history each time minorities, especially black people, made themselves visible. The common refrain in support of the Confederate flag (“heritage, not hate”) quickly dies on its own sword. There’s no pride, except for the kind rooted in a fear of white erasure.

After mining the data, it’s clear white panic is real.

The full article is at Hyperallergic, and it’s excellent, and necessary reading, as many people seem to not know the full history of these monuments to hate. Recommended reading.

The Comfort of Cover.

A depiction of a 15th-century bed. Public Domain.

Blankets, sheets. Most people have trouble sleeping without them. I have a love/hate thing for them outside of the winter months, when I can’t pile enough of them on.

[…] Blankets are common, but not universal, to humans during sleep, at least in the modern day. But historically, the effort involved in weaving large sheets put blankets at much too high a price point for most to afford. From the linen bedsheets of Egypt around 3500 B.C. to wool sheets during the Roman empire straight through to cotton in medieval Europe, bed coverings were for the wealthy.

By the Early Modern period in Europe, which followed the Middle Ages, production had increased enough so that more middle-class people could afford bedding, though not easily. “The bed, throughout Western Europe at this time, was the most expensive item in the house,” says Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech who has written extensively about sleep. “It was the first major item that a newly married couple, if they had the wherewithal, would invest in.” The bed and bedding could make up about a third of the total value of an entire household’s possessions, which explains why bedsheets frequently showed up in wills.

In place of blankets and sheets, other sources of heat were common at night, usually from multiple people sharing a bed, or often livestock.

You can read all about this fascinating need shared by most people, and the reasons why, at Atlas Obscura.