Culture

Further Reading

Traditional Japanese will tell you that you cannot use the san or sama ending without a name to precede it. Its traditionally rude to call someone by their first name without their permission first. However Rokugan is not Japan and calling everyone Soshi-san but meaning two different people can be confusing. That said, here are the common suffixes and their meanings:

-chan, little with a feminine and familiar connotation. Usually used for children or for adult women with whom one is friends or family. Used toward anyone else, this is an insult.
-kun, indicating one is speaking to someone of lower station. Has a male connotation and can be used familiarly by a woman for a male friend or relative. Also used with male children. Using this term for someone of Status close to yours (or worse yet, above yours) is highly insulting.
-ko, little with a feminine connotation. Most commonly used to indicate that a bushi is female (“samurai-ko”).
-san, semi-informal term of respectful address for a peer. Usually used with someone within the same Rank of Status as you, but can also be used for someone with less Status if you wish to show respect or politeness. Mildly impolite when used with someone you do not know personally.
-dono, respectful deference. Used for addressing someone you know formally, who is at least one Status Rank higher than you.
-sama, extreme respect and obsequious deference. Used with strangers, or when addressing someone of at least two Status Rank higher than you, or with someone to whom you wish to show great respect. Can also be used insultingly by applying it inappropriately.

  • How to play Rokugani games:*
  • Correspondence and the Game of Letters*

Courtiers in Rokugan spend much time and effort each day in composing and sending letters to each other. A skilled courtier will maintain a steady flow of correspondence with dozens of people from across the Empire, dropping small tidbits of information to them and carefully reviewing the snippets of gossip they send him in return. For many courtiers, this network of correspondents is just as important, perhaps even more important, then the allies made in any particular court. Correspondence can build and alliance that lasts generations or begin a feud that lasts centuries. Indeed, a timely piece of information from the far side of the Empire can turn the entire course of negotiation, and a courtier’s fame and fortune can be founded, build, or shattered by a single letter.

Within the courts themselves, critics and blackmailers alike imply letters as their weapon of choice, and lovers use them as their most subtle but m ost direct gift. This continual flow of correspondence within a court is known as the “Game of Letters,” and it may be fairly said that such letters are in face the blood of the court, carrying gossip and wit to every guest. Unlike the letters sent to and from to those outside court, they are designed primarily to display skill and to manipulate others, rather than to convey information. And as with nearly all things associated with court, the Crane are masters of the art, indeed the ones who define it for all the other Clans. They study and pursue the “Game of Letters” with the same attention and focus they apply to all the rest of their duties. The game is quite ancient, and tales clam that the Hantei Genji, the Shining Prince, was one of its most skilled early practitioners. Many of the letter-writing conventions embraced by modern courtiers are believed to have been first developed and established by him.

Writing a letter for court is not as simple as it may appear. A courtly letter is not written casually, in the manner of a letter to a friend, or brusquely, as a commander might dictate orders fro his troops. Rather, the composition must be undertaken with precision and careful calculation, following a strict set of rules but exploiting those riles to amuse, confound, lure, entice, or provoke the recipient – or perhaps to achieve all those effects at once. Every part of the letter has significance, both in itself and symbolically, from the choice of paper to the manner of delivery. Truly skilled Crane correspondents can work profound meaning into the tiniest details of their letters.

First, the choice of paper is tremendously important. The color of the paper established mood, conveying a particular emotion to the reader. The texture and thickness of the paper can convey information as well – a thick, heavy paper suggest serious matters, while a thin tissue conveys a light-hearted or romantic mood. The size of the paper relative to the writing is also significant. For example, using a large piece of paper to convey a short message suggests a generosity or extravagance, while a small piece of paper crowded with writing conveys a subtle insult, suggesting the recipient is not worthy of more paper.

Second, of course, the the content itself. Traditional compositions for the Game of Letters follow a strict structure, a thirty-one syllable poem based on an image from nature. This conveys the author’s intent indirectly, much in the way that courtiers approach each other with indirect language during their negotiations. Although this form of letter is partly just a matter of upholding tradition, it also has a more practical value. Letters sent in court are almost never sealed, and any samurai can stop a servant in the halls and read what he is carrying. In fact, most courtiers take it for granted that their letters will be read by persons other than those whom they are ultimately addressed. This, their contents are designed to display the courtier’s wit and skill to everyone who reads them, rather than to communicate secrets. Skilled recipients can understand the letter even when the message is stated int he most indirect possible language, and this is intentional.

Third, the author must consider the brushwork. Like everything else in the letters, this conveys a message of its own, one that can be entirely at variance with the actual contents. An elegantly written message, each brush-stroke precise and flawless, could symbolize love or other deep care, or could simply be a way to showing off the writer’s skills and capabilities. Conversely, messy or uneven brush-work can suggest a lack of emotional control, or can be seen as an insult, suggesting the author does not care enough about the recipient to offer his best work. Most courtiers compose their letters several times to make sure they get the exact effects they want from their calligraphy.

Finally, the courtier must consider the packaging. Rokugan has several traditional styles of letter-folding, often quite elaborate, and some Clans have developed their own signature styles to show off their skills and discourage forgeries. Scorpion Clan courtiers are especially skilled at folding letters in ways that are fiendishly difficult to open without tearing. Again, different manners of folding convey different things – a casually folded letter suggest a lack of care on who reads it, while an elaborate folding implies great significance to the contents. Once the letter is folded, it is typically attached to a small object, such as a flower, a sprig from a tree, a tick of incense, or some other object, always something with a characteristic odor. The choice of what object and what odor is, of course, part of the message, and encapsulated the theme of the letter.

Even the choice of which servant will deliver the letter has its own meaning. An important servant implies that the recipient is also important. A minor servant implies that the recipient is of little note. Naturally, letters are never delivered personally, since that would defeat the while point of the game.

All courtiers are familiar with the Game of Letters, since it is a widespread and important part of court life. Dealing effectively with the Game is taken extremely seriously, especially major courts such as the Imperial Winter Court. Each letter must receive a reply, since otherwise the recipient is admitting the author’s superior wit. A single game will often continue for the entire duration of winter, and a single courtier can easily have a dozen correspondences continues at once.

The combination of paper, scent, style of poem, and accompanying item used in the Game of Letters are almost infinite. For example, an expression of love might be written on soft, rose-colored paper, with a poem comparing the recipient’s beauty to a favored animal or flower, and be accompanied by a sprig of oak, implying the author’s love is strong. Conversely, a letter imputing cowardice to a Crab bushi might be written on thick white paper (white, the color of death), with a poem describing a thick-witted crustacean drowning in its own shell, and be scented with bitter almonds. Not surprisingly, a skilled courtier with extensive training and experience in the Game of Letters can often guess the intent of a message without even opening it.

  • Go*

It has been said that the Fortunes created no better test of a man’s intellect than the game of Go. Elegant, simple and infinitely challenging. Go stands as the most popular and respected game in all Rokugan. More than a pastime, for many this strategy game is a passion. Samurai learn the game even as they learn to wield their swords and for many mastery of it proves more of a challenge than any school of bushido.

Go originated with the Fortunes and they still play it in the heavens. Some say that the thunder is merely the placing of stones upon the celestial board and that taifuns come as a result of particularly brilliant game play between two divine opponents. They in turn taught Go to the shugenja who spread its beauty and wisdom to the bushi. A test of pure strategy with military overtones, the game caught on like wildfire. In the centuries since it has become a vitally important intellectual and cultural pursuit within Rokugan. Countless texts and essays upon Go strategies and tactics exist, with more written each year.

Hundreds of years ago, the Emperor formally acknowledged the game’s importance by releasing a list of the foremost Go players in the realm. Every three years, players from across Rokugan come together to compete, not for money or prizes, but merely for the honor and status that attend victory. The clans and families compete furiously in such contests, although none, not even the Scorpions, would dare cheat or try to degrade the process. go’s beauty lies in the fact that it is pure and pristine, a direct challenge to the player’s minds without any outside interference.

Playing Go

Go is played on a grid made up of 19 by 19 intersecting lines and uses black and whites stones for game play. One players picks lack, the other takes white. Game play proceeds by placing one stone at a time upon an intersection on the board (not within the squares). Once a stone is placed it cannot be moved, although the opponent can capture it. The object of the game is to use your stones to claim territory on the board and capture your opponents stones by surrounding them with your own. When both players pass, the game ends and whoever has the most territory and captive stones wins the game.

Go offers tremendous opportunities for intuition, experimentation and strategizing, especially in its opening phases. The Go masters have cataloged thousands of opening strategies and ranked them according to effectiveness. Once a game begins, it can last for hours, sometimes even days. The psychological component of the game is almost as important as the game itself. Two opponents can chat amiably as they play or brood over the board in silence. It is of course always bad manners to criticize or comment upon another players moves.

At winter court, games of Go take on many additional subtexts. Two friends can use a game to plot strategy against enemies. More significantly, two rivals can take out their aggressions against each other over a board. The court watches such games closely and a victory never goes by without some comment of observation from the assembled nobles. The inability to play Go is viewed as being almost on par with being unable to wield a sword or write a good calligraphy: a sign of ill-breeding and low class.

A samurais personal Go set is an expression of both his status and his love for the game. Anyone who can afford one gladly pays the price for ivory, pearl and rare wood sets. Perhaps the most famous set belonged to the Go master Miya Tasumi. From childhood he showed great promise, but he let his natural talent go to his head and did not take the game seriously as he could have. He won game after game against masters from throughout Rokugan. Then, in a game watched by the Emperor himself, he lost to relatively minor challengers. Shamed and beaten, Tasumi withdrew into the wilderness to perfect his game. As a sacrifice to the gods and his own determination, he hunted down the finest and most dangerous beasts of the forest, killed them in honorable combat, and then stripped the flesh from their bones and carved a set of white Go stones. He never lost a match again. While few samurai take their obsession with the game to this level, the class probably spends more time than they should thinking about it.

  • Shogi*

Shogi is a type of chess. It was brought to Rokugan by the Unicorn and quickly became popular among the samurai caste. there were originally several different versions of it, but about 200 years ago Akodo Soko codified the variant that became the standard for the rest of Rokugan. Some of the other variants are still popular for casual play by Unicorn samurai, especially wit the Shinjo and Moto, but serious shogi is always played with Soko’s rule set. In honor of Soko’s achievement the Lion Clan grants the Grand Master of Shogi the title of soko-meijin and, if they are not already a member of the Lion Clan, honorary fealty to the Clan.

Shogi is played on a board with a 9 by 9 grid drawn upon it and two sets of nineteen playing pieces. the pieces are flat five-sided tiles of wood with a kanji denoting the name of the piece inked on. The tiles are also of varying sizes, with the more important pieces being larger than the lesser. Shogi allows for all pieces except king and gold general to be promoted and so the back of each promotable pieces has its promoted name written on it.

The names, numbers and moves of each piece areas follows:

King *(1): Moves one square in any direction.
*Rook
(1): Moves forwards or sideways as far as the player wishes.
Bishop *(1): Moves diagonally as far as the player wishes.
*Gold General
(2): Moves one square in any direction, except diagonally backwards.
Silver General (2): Moves one square forward or diagonally.
Knight (2): Moves two spaces forward or backward, then one space to the side. This is the only piece that can move over other pieces.
Lancer (2): Moves any number of squares forward.
Pawn (9): Moves forward one square at a time.

The moves of the promoted pieces are:
Promoted Rook: Retains its original movement and gains the king’s ability to move one space in any direction.
Promoted Bishop: Retains its original movement and gains the king’s ability to move one space in any direction.
Promoted Silver General: Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the gold general.
Promoted Knight: *Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the gold general.
*Promoted Lancer:
Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the gold general.
*Promoted Pawn: *Loses its original movement and gains the movement of the gold general.

Captured pieces are said to be “in hand” and are resources that a player can reintroduce into the game when they see fit. An opponent with pieces in hand, then, can launch an attack or shore up a defense by dropping a piece back into play on his move.

Unlike go, there is no tradition dictating the best materials for a shogi set. Because the names of the pieces are inked on them, a light-colored wood is always used for the tiles, but any wood can be used for the board.

  • Kemari*

Kemari is a courtly sport where the participants try to keep a ball moving through the air with their feet only – touching it with their hands is against the rules. It is played in a full courtly dress, complete with the tall peaked hats that male courtiers wear on formal occasions. This game can be played by all age groups irrespective of their gender and social rank.
*
Pitch*

Kemari is played in a 15 m square area on a flat area of land. Usually, a pine, a cherry, a willow, and a maple tree are planted at the corners of the square.
*
Members*

Generally, the game is played with 8 or 6 players. The players form a circle. In the case of the south facing court, the first four players, who are at the core of the game, stands to northwest, southeast, northeast, and southwest and in front of the trees, respectively. The rest of players called tsume assist with the game.

The dress used by players is a unique costume for Kemari. There are various categories having different color, pattern, and materials, depending on the players class.

Rules

The players enter the court by turns from the high rank. After the all players try to kick the ball, the player of the highest rank kicks off with the game. The players allow moving freely to follow the ball, but they should return to their original positions whenever play is interrupted. The ball is only kicked with the instep of the right foot just before the fall on the ground. When the first player catches the ball, the game is said to be over. The players go back to their seats by turns from the high rank. The period of the game is not fixed. But it usually takes about 15-20 minutes.

How many times a player can kick a ball before pass is a less important issue, however, three times kick is considered most appropriate. The players should not bend their feet, back, and arm and should not raise their right foot showing the sole of the foot.

In a culture as traditional and specific, everything has a second meaning. Regardless of application, whether it be the embroidery on a kimono or the scent on the most resent game-of-letters player, the symbolism is the same. Here are a few of the more popular choices:

  • Symbols:*
  • Color*
    Red: Happiness, marriage, prosperity
    Pink: Marriage
    Yellow: Against evil, for the dead, geo-mantic blessings
    Green: Eternity, family, harmony, health, peace, posterity
    Blue: Self-cultivation, wealth
    Purple: Wealth
    White: Children, helpful people, marriage, mourning, peace, purity, travel
    Gold: Strength, wealth
    Gray: Helpful people, travel
    Black: Career, evil influences, knowledge, mourning, penance, self-cultivation
  • Flora*
    Bamboo A symbol for longevity (it’s always got green shoots) as well as strength and grace (it bends readily but doesn’t break easily). In Chinese philosophy the straight stem of bamboo symbolizes the path towards enlightenment, the segments of the stem being the steps along the way.
    Carnation A symbol of betrothal or engagement.
    Chrysanthemum A symbol for long life, strength, courage, and dignity. Autumn
    Ginko Tree Long life, health, love
    Lotus A common symbol in Asian art, the lotus symbolizes birth and rebirth through the fact that the petals open when the sun comes out and close when the sun sets. Also a symbol for fertility, creation, and purity. The long stem symbolizes a connection to origins, while the flower represents the aspiration of reaching enlightenment. Bizarrely it also is used to symbolize modesty. Summer
    Peony Wealth and abundance in all things, Spring
    Pine Tree Long life and steadfastness
    Plum Tree Long life, Winter

When the bamboo and pine are displayed with plum blossoms, they are known as the Three Friends in Winter because they thrive even during the harsh winter months. They brighten up the landscape and keep the promise of springtime alive.

  • Fauna*
    Butterflies A popular subject among ancient poets because they represent joy and summertime.
    Cranes Often depicted beside pine trees because they both symbolize long life and age
    Carp Symbolizes a wish for good luck in business affairs.
    Goldfish Specifically refer to an abundance of gold, so they are seen as lucky animals.

Etiquette

There are many different customs in Rokugan, all of which if not followed correctly can destroy a samurais reputation or worse, have them meet their ancestors in an untimely manner. Everything has a meaning; everything is significant. A single action can start a war, and the right one can stop it. There are unwritten rules that a samurai goes by, many of which are taught early in life. I will only detail a few here, but I could probably write an entire book about Rokugani etiquette and still never cover all of it.

Gifts (As taken from Winter Court Kyuden Seppun)

In Rokugan, gifts are given to celebrate good service, to announce favor or disfavor with an individual, and to recognize service or honor. The value of a gift is not chosen for its monetary expense, but rather for its sentimental value. If a daimyo wanted to make a very public statement of favor toward his loyal servant, hed probably give them something dear to his heart, like his fathers fan, or the kimono that the Emperor Hantei 13th once wore while resting in his palace for the weekend. While many Western economies are based on the bartering system, Rokuganis is based on gift giving. While this may not seem to be a great difference, it is one of the most fundamental differences between western cultures and Rokugan. The way a Rokugani gives you a gift can tell you if he respects you, if he is a friend, or if he is your deadliest enemy. Because samurai are given everything they reasonably need, giving something for its usefulness is considered impolite, if not an outright insult to the samurai and his daimyo. Armor, weapons, horses all are provided by a samurais clan (or, by the Emperor or Emerald Champion, if they are in direct service to the Throne). A samurais response to being given money would be Are you implying that my daimyo doesnt provide for me?

Similarly, a gift of money is a veiled insult. If a samurai needs something, he asks his Lord: unless it is impossible or impractical, the samurai gets it. What the samurai cannot ask for is the honor of owning the favorite fan of Lady Kachiko, which she held at the coronation of Hantei the 38th now thats a gift!

Purchasing gifts can be an equally difficult task. Bartering or haggling over an item is considered dishonorable for a samurai, and often, if something must be purchased, a servant is sent to do so. However, if he is attempting to purchase a gift for, say the daimyo of the land, certain things must be taken into consideration. A daimyo can simply take anything in his province that he wishes. Its all his anyway; he just has to decide he wants it. Once he does, the heimin merchant is only too honored to give it to him (after all, its good for business when the daimyo selects your wares for his personal use). So, buying something as a gift isnt going to make too much of an impact. Its not a bad idea, but it is not going to get you into the Empress Winter Court.

Literally, in Rokugan, its the thought and presentation that counts, more than anything else. Significance, personal meaning, and enlightenment are all key words for gift-choices.

Gift giving has its own special rules, and if not followed, can insult the samurai in the most extreme fashion. Gift giving has an order, a very specific order, that must be followed before the gift can be accepted. When a samurai gives another a gift, the recipient must refuse it in a polite manner. The samurai giving the gift then offer it again, but with words explaining why the gift should be received. The recipient must then refuse once more, explaining why he is unworthy of such a gift. The samurai then presents the gift a third and final time, demonstrating his sincerity by continuing to offer it. Only after refusing the gift twice may the recipient accept the gift. This game is known to all samurai, but the Crab and Unicorn place less importance upon something they find to be so trivial, however even they follow customs when dealing with samurai outside their clan. (One of the my favorite stories with gift giving in it is the story of Akasha and how she came to be.)

Bathing

Bathing is extremely important in Rokugan. A samurai who is unclean and does not take proper care of their armor and weapons is treated no better than a mere peasant with a title. Nudity is not the same as it is in the modern day, samurai usually bathe in co-ed bathing areas, and are generally chaperoned when it is not available. Co-ed bathing is NOT encouraged (this is not a frat house), samurai of opposite genders in a bath house together is an abhorrent breach of etiquette and should not be done. Just remember, bathing is important, no matter where you are.

*Presenting Oneself
*

A samurai may be present himself before a ranking individual if he has been introduced by the shugenja or advisor to that noble lord. Often, if a lord wishes to see another daimyo’s retainer, he will have his advisor request that the retainer ask for an appointment with the lord. Then, the lord immediately sets the appointment date (often within hours) and has the meeting.
If the samurai is approaching the lord, he must first present himself, a copy of his chop or personal mon, and his questions to the house advisor. If this advisor is the lord’s wife or the first courtesan, it is sometimes appropriate for the asking samurai to provide a gift for her, as well as his information.

Entering and Exiting

A samurai’s house is a sacred place, filled with the spirit of his house and family, and respected by all members of the samurai caste. This respect even extends to enemies of the family, and people the samurai would consider ‘untrustworthy’. By carrying their weapons int o another samurai’s house, they disrespect a thousand years’ worth of ancestors, and risk angering their own.

When a samurai arrives at another samurai’s home, he is expected to announce himself to the gate man (usually a peasant or ji-samurai), and await the reception of his host or hostess. If the host is not at home, the game man will politely offer the visitor a cup of cha, telling them that host is unavailable, and will be back tomorrow. This is the conventional response, even if the samurai is away for several weeks. It is considered inappropriate to inquire the host’s whereabouts, as the host may be in fact home with a more prestigious visitor.

The common way to announce yourself when you arrive at the home of another samurai is to present a copy of your shop or personal mon to the gate man, with a short speech identifying yourself, any positions or rank you old, and your business inside the home. Even is the host is not at home, the samurai’s mon will be kept so that the host knows who his visitor is.

Asking to see a Lord

If a samurai have need to speak with their lord, it is proper for them to speak to the lord’s advisor or house shugenja and make an ‘appointment’ to formally discuss the matter. Even if the samurai sees his lord on a daily basis, any important or formal questions (such as permission to commit seppuku, get married, or journey out of the daimyo’s lands) must be handled appropriately.

Fans

One might think that on a cold winter’s night a fan has little use. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fan has many many uses, and cooling oneself is just the least imaginative of them. fans come in to basic types: flat fans that are always open, called uchiwa, and fans that folds, known as sunsu. Although both have their origins and primary functions as cooling devices or a means to fan the flames of a cook fire, they have developed other purposes as well. Samurai who lead troops into battle use a special type of flat fan when at war known as a tessen. There are even tales of a samurai using their tessen and even their paper fans as weapons.

It is however, the paper fan that finds the most use at Winter Court and in Rokugan society. As with every aspects of a samurai’s possessions, his or her fan is an important symbol of his importance and place int he world. Artists use the paper surface of the fan as a canvas for their craft, creating beautiful works of utilitarian art of their patrons. The fan’s decorations can consist of anything from clan symbols to landscapes to elegantly written poems in the finest calligraphy. One tale tells of a lord who had hundred of folding fans, each with a different poem written upon it. When a supplicant came before him he would hear the man out in silence, then draw forth a fan from his kimono, unfold it, and fan himself. The poem revealed gave the answer to the supplicant’s request. The lord, who despised dealing with such matters, never spoke a word.

The fan has other uses as well. Many at court, particularly women, use fans to hide their mouths while they speak. Those looking on from across a room or gardens cannot know whether she is speaking or not. The nobles at court have developed an entire body language of fan gestures. From the simple way a samurai waves his fan, unfolds it, points it or lets it rest in his hand, he conveys messages to others. Some of these are widely known, such as the habit of opening and then closing a fan when one becomes bored of a certain speaker, or the quick crack of a fan snapping open in anger at a perceived insult. Others are particular to clans or families, allowing them to communicate secrets in the open without others grasping their meaning. The Crane clan and Doji family in particular have a detailed and precise “fan language”.

Hairstyles and Makeup

Male samurai wear their hair long, and bound up in various styles. Though the classic style, in which the top of the head is shaved and the rest of the hair oiled into a queue that is folded forward over the crown, is popular, there are a number of other hairstyles. The simplest version is tying the hair into a knot or ponytail at the back of the head. Alternatively, the hair is wrapped with a ribbon so that it sticks out and up, like a brush; with this style, the crown may or may not be shaved. Many helmets have an opening on the back of the head through which the hair can be pulled.

Many Crane dye their hair white, in remembrance of Doji Hayaku, while some Lion dye theirs golden. The Dragon frequently shave their heads entirely, monk-style, and sometimes decorate their baldness with tattoos.

Samurai women (and geisha) wear their hair very long, either tied into a foxtail or piled up in elaborate braids and loops, secured by combs and pins. For a woman, having her hair cut off is a great mark of shame. Pale skin is prized, and even peasant women never expose their faces to the sun if they can help it.

How to write Poetry

A samurai skilled with a sword is once deadly. A samurai skilled in the arts, doubly so, as words are just as deadly as steel. — The Tao of Shinsei

A Brief History of Rhyme:

The art of poetry in the Emerald Empire of Rokugan has long evolved from it’s humble beginnings at the foundation of the Empire. It’s earliest beginnings, there were two types of poetry: Chouka (A long poem) and Tanka (A short poem), and the entire practice was then known as Waka. Key elements to these types of classical Rokugani poetry was that there was no concept of rhyming, and to do so was considered distasteful (meaning that one clearly was not skilled in poetry.)

The return of the Unicorn Clan to the Empire after years of exploration brought another format of poetry: travel poetry. Long influenced by the foreign cultures they encountered, Travel Poetry combines proverbs with poetry. Sometimes humorous, other times meant to teach a lesson, or to commemorate an event, they hold no strict rules in terms of how they are composed (other than heavy use of aliterations) in contrast to traditional Rokugani poetry, Unicorn Travel Poetry is as varied as the clan it originated from.

It was not until the 10th century when a poet by the name of Rezan (later Miya Rezan) created the simplified, three-line format of 5-7-5 of poetry, did haiku come into existence. Up until his arrival anything shorter than five lines was not even considered remotely poetic, but Rezan, who was heralded as perhaps the greatest poet in the history of the empire, shook up the very foundations of the art, and a new style was established. While haiku is perhaps the most predominate style in the Empire today, longer styles of poetry are still practiced.

The foremost collection of Rokugani poetry was compiled by Ikoma Ume and is titled “Manyoshu”, which covers such poets as Kakita Kiyomori, Akodo Tomei, and Miya Rezan, and is considered a must-have for any serious student of poetry.

Utterly all varieties of Rokugani poetry, from Tanka to Travel, and from love to political smears guised behind gilded words, all Rokugani poetry must utilize nature in one way or another. This cannot be avoided, and those who fail to integrate some manner of the natural world into their poem are considered uncouth and lacking in the skill.

Chouka consists of 5-7 sound units phrases repeated at least twice, and concludes with a 5-7-7 ending.

The briefest chka documented was made by Kitsu Okura and goes:

When I eat melons
My children come to my mind;
When I eat chestnuts
The longing is even worse.
Where do they come from,
Flickering before my eyes.
Making me helpless
Endlessly night after night.
Not letting me sleep in peace?

Tanka consists of five units (often treated as separate lines when Romanized or translated) usually with the following mora pattern:

5-7-5 / 7-7.

The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (“upper phrase” or “phrase of the Kami”), and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (“lower phrase”). Tanka is a much older form of poetry than haiku. In ancient times poems of this form were called hanka (“reverse poem”), since the 5-7-5-7-7 form derived from the conclusion (envoi) of a chka.

Also written by Kitsu Okura:

What are they to me,
Silver, or gold, or jewels?
How could they ever
Equal the greater treasure
That is a child? They can not.

The Heian period also saw the invention of a new tanka-based game: one poet recited or created half of a tanka, and the other finished it off. This sequential, collaborative tanka was called renga (“linked poem”).

When a person sends a haiku to a friend, it is a custom to send back a tanka.

What would Winter Court be without playful flirtations and marriage arrangements? Love and affections, too, have their place in Rokugani poetry. While not an actual “style” of poetry per say, it is not uncommon for lovers young and old to send a piece to their beloved, as a sign of affection, devotion, or unrequited longing. Never sent by courier, but delicately placed and styled for the intended, love poetry can be both subtle, bittersweet, and risque all at once.

Less formal, and therefore not as stringent with standards, love poetry is the unfiltered feelings and emotions made to paper, often disregarding poetical norms:

*Examples: *

If I might offer
To give my life in exchange
To one who would bear
The burden of this passion,
Ah, how easy death would be!

I shall think of you;
You too do not forget me:
Like the wind that sweeps
Ceaselessly across the bay,
Let us never cease our love

Pillows know, they say,
And so we slept without one.
Why then do rumors
Like swirling pillars of dust
Rise as high as the heavens?

O cord of life!
Threading through the jewel of my soul,
If you break, break nowl
My Strength will go if this continues,
Unable to bear such a fearful strain.

Even more bizarre than the rise in popularity of haiku in a time when Waka and Tanka were considered to be the height of poetic culture, was the introduction of Unicorn Travel Poetry. In bold contrast to traditional poetry, Travel Poetry consists of six lines — the first five expound the point, while the sixth neatly summarizes the entirety. The first two lines will utilize alliterations, the third will alliterate within itself, with the pattern repeating for the fourth, fifth, and sixth line.

A sub-type of Travel Poetry, known as “Death Poetry”, breaks the loose norms of traditional Travel Poetry and does not alliterate as to illustrate the “jarring nature of death”. The last line, however, never fits the expectation of the listener, which often catches them off-guard.

The most famous author of Travel Poetry was Ide Ludan, often wrote humorous poems, but it was his ode to Shinjo that garnered him his undying fame: it is the first poem most Unicorn children ever hear.

Weight and Wisdom

Better to have wisdom,
Best to have weight,
In the desolate desert,
A poor, strong man,
A prosperous, sickly man,
Under the heat and fire, how do they fare?

A Guide to Kimono

The culture and couture of kimono is long, winding, and as old as the Empire itself. The staple clothing of the entire culture, it comes in many shapes, variations, and fabrics, each uniquely suited to a personal’s social position, taste, season, type of occasion, formality, and the popular trend set at important courts throughout the year. Each ensemble can speak volumes about a person. A kimono consists of five basic parts:

Kimono Basics

Undergarment – For men, it is typically a fundoshi 1 of a natural fiber. For women, it is the hadajuban 2 and the nagajuban. The difference between the two is one is split between a top and lower skirt, and the nagajuban is a continuous piece, an under kimono in other words. The hadajuban is worn beneath the nagajuban, and is plain white or natural colored. The nagajuban is typically a color that compliments the full kimono ensemble, as it is only briefly seen when the sleeves or lower hem flutters.

Kimono – What is worn over the undergarments and makes up the primary ensemble, defined as a full length robe. Types and motifs vary by gender, age, social status, formality of occasion, and season. The younger you are, the more bright and bold the colors and designs are. The more venerable one becomes, the more subdued the entire ensemble will be.

Obi – Much as the Sun and Moon hold the Empire together, does the obi sash hold the kimono closed so one does not expose themselves immodestly. Like kimono, types of obi and motifs will vary by Types and motifs vary by gender, age, social status, formality of occasion, and season. The obi itself is just one part of the entire set of accessories needed to properly coordinate a kimono. More will follow in the postings to come.

Tabi – Simply, split-toed socks. There is an inlet for your big toe, and the other four share a space together. They are typically made of natural fibers such as hemp or cotton, but special occasions can call for silk. Come in a variety of colors, but white is the most pervasive color used.

Geta & Zori – Your fanicful footwear. Geta are sandals constructed primarily in wood, with a fabric thong to hold the foot in place. These are mostly worn during informal occasions. Zori, however, are more formal “slippers” that come in a variety of colors to match ensembles.

Women’s Kimono – Formal and Informal

In terms of fashion and clothing, the women of Rokugan are spoiled by options when it comes to their kimonos. Whether a day spent strolling the gardens or a heated day in court, regardless of the formality or occasion, the kimono worn by women do not disappoint. However, by their very nature, kimono are meant to promote a certain physical aesthetic, that is to say, they do not typically flatter the natural shape of women. Though clearly, throughout the ages, exceptions have been made and kimono customs across clans differ greatly.

Types of Kimono

Yukata – The most informal type of kimono, customarily made of cotton, ro, or lightweight hemp. This is mostly worn in the summer. It’s not uncommon for samurai to wear yukata (both during and out of the summer season) when in their home, when full formality is not needed. The designs on yukata are often very simplistic, usually a repeated pattern, and single colored.

Furisode – The most formal dress for young, unmarried women, which is worn for court, public showings, or other occasions that require to put on a good appearance (such as one’s gempukku). The furisode is easily recognised for it’s long flowing sleeves, and almost always feature beautiful and flamboyant patterns and colors.

Uchikake – Uchikake is worn for a variety of occasions, depending on it’s color and pattern. The most common use of uchikake is as an overcoat for women in winter, especially in court. Another use is for the wedding ceremony, when a white uchikake is worn over the red furisode (called a kakeshita), to symbolize the “death” of the bride for her family, and the red layer is for her “rebirth” into her new family.

Tomesode – This is a very formal dress for married women, which they will most often use when attending a wedding, or other celebrations. There are two types of tomosode: iro-tomosode and kuro-tomosode. Both are worn for formal occasions, but at events such as weddings, kuro-tomosodes tend to be the rule, as only the bride should be in color. The tomesode has notably shorter and more boxier sleeves than a furisode and many other kinds of kimono, clearly signalizing that this is a married woman.

Iromuji – This is simply the term used for a kimono that has been dyed in only one color. Sometimes during winter, women wear iromuji kimono as a second layer of clothing for extra warmth.

Houmongi – The Houmongi becomes the new daily garment for a married woman, and is often given as a wedding gift from her parents or a mother-in-law. This becomes the usual formal wear for married women, since they no longer wear the furisode. This also have shorter and boxier sleeves than the furisode, so it’s recognizable as the dress of a married woman.

Komon – Komon kimono are patterned kimono made by stencil dyeing, the fabric is usually figured silks, spun silks or crepe. It’s more formal than the yukata, but not so formal like the houmongo, tomesode, or furisode, so it is the most usual everyday wear for all women.

Types of Obi

Maru obi – The Maru obi is the most formal of all obi. It’s very long and very broad, and you need to fold it. The Maru obi is also very heavy, due to its contstruction. Maru obi are only worn with formal kimono, such as furisode, tomesode and houmongi.

Fukuro obi – This obi is also formal, but is not as heavy and long as the Maru obi. Women use these more often than Maru obi, as Maru obi is for the most formal of occassions. A Fukuro obi is worn with furisode, iromuji, tomesode, homoungi, and sometimes with komon.

Nagoya obi – This obi is already folded and sewn together (about halfway, so the folded part is wrapped around your stomach, while the unfolded part is for the bow), so you don’t have to fold it yourself. The nagoya obi is the obi that makes the square box knot at the back, and is commonly used by married women (though unmarried women can use it as well with no trouble). A Nagoya obi usually accompanies a tomesode, iromuji, houmongi or komon, and is considered an elegant obi that can be worn when the situation is not formal.

Hanhaba obi – Also known as “half-obi”, this obi is already folded and is the easiest obi to use, as it is lighter and shorter than the other obi. Hanhaba obi is the most informal of all the obi, and is only worn with yukata and sometimes with komon. In special occasions, women will wear these in conjunction with hakama.

Obi Accessories

Obijime – After a woman has tied her obi, she often adds a finishing touch to her attire by tying a colorful silk cord, called obijime, around her waist (then being in the center of the kimono). The obijime can be tied into many fanciful knots and shapes.

Obidome – These small pieces of “jewelry” are attached to the cords of the obijime. They often have the shapes of animals or mythical beings for good luck (such as cranes, turtles, houhous, dragons, ki-rin, etc).

Inro – Since the kimono has no pockets (and you don’t want to put everything in your sleeve), the inro is ideal to use. Most often used by men (since their sleeves are not ideally shaped to be used as a “pocket” like the women’s kimono), the inro hangs from a cord that is tied around the waist. Men usually tuck this cord under their obi, while women could hang it from their obijime.

Netsuke – Netsuke are small figurines that can be attached to obijime or other types of cord. It can hang at the end of an obijime, or it can serve as decoration for the cord holding the inro.

Obiage – Worn by women, obiage is a piece of fabric made of chirimen silk or shibori. After putting on the obi, the obiage is tied around the waist over the obi, and is then tucked into the obi, letting it show only a little (or as much as one feels like).

Miscellaneous Accessories

Haori – Haori is a short jacket worn over the kimono, tied together at the front by elegant silk cords. It is often adorned with the family crests or other auspicious motifs.

Michiyuki – This is a double-breasted, square-necked silk jacket or short “coat.” These usually have covered buttons and snaps. To look nice, a michiyuki needs to be fastened, and thus the size is more critical, than with haori.

Hakama – During special events, such as an exhibition of an art which one has dedicated themselves to, women will wear hakama. It is typical among samurai-ko, but only common for those in the bushi class. When they are worn for a formal occasion, they come right up beneath the bust.

Men’s Kimono – Formal and Informal

Men, however, are rather limited in what they can wear, as well as the amount of color and motifs used. This is contrast with women, whose ensembles are typically bright and boistrous, the men are more subdued and down to business.

Types of Kimono

Yukata – The most informal type of kimono, customarily made of cotton, ro, or lightweight hemp. This is mostly worn in the summer. It’s not uncommon for samurai to wear yukata (both during and out of the summer season) when in their home, when full formality is not needed. The designs on yukata are often very simplistic, usually a repeated pattern, and single colored.

Kimono – The men’s equivalent of a komon for women, it is a simple robe with a single color, and a design emblazoned across the back.

Types of Obi

Kaku – This is the type of obi used by men. It is not near as wide as the women’s obi (even the hanhaba) and is also much shorter. The kaku obi is worn much lower than a woman’s obi, where a woman’s obi encompasses as much as her waist as possible, while the kaku obi is tied above the hips. The kaku can be used for both formal and informal events, depending on the way it’s tied and it’s apperance.

Obi Accessories

Inro – Since the kimono has no pockets (and you don’t want to put everything in your sleeve), the inro is ideal to use. Most often used by men (since their sleeves are not ideally shaped to be used as a “pocket” like the women’s kimono), the inro hangs from a cord that is tied around the waist. Men usually tuck this cord under their obi, while women could hang it from their obijime.

Miscellaneous Accessories

Haori – Haori is a short jacket worn over the kimono, tied together at the front by elegant silk cords. It is often adorned with the family crests or other auspicious motifs.

Hakama – Most often paired with a man’s kimono, this is a staple of male dress.

A Guide to Weapons

A samurai’s duty is to serve his lord. And many samurai are prepared to give his life for his lord. And of course a mark of a samurai’s station is his daisho. And while many would liken court to a battlefield it is one in which steel is not always appropriate.

While a host would never deny a samurai his right to wear his wakazashi there are a few rules that must be observed. More so since it is the Empresses Winter Court.

A samurai is free to wear his daisho while explore the city and it’s environs. However when attending court and whenever with in the pressence of the Empress he may only wear his wakazashi. Likewise armor and tools of war (such as bows, pole arms, kama’s and other weapons) are not allowed to be worn. There are some exceptions of course (ie Bowsman challenge where a bow will be provided for the competitor).

A few additional exceptions to this rule. Notable the Emerald Champion, anyone on the Empress Guard, palace guards and imperial guards. If you feel your character may fit an exception please contact the GM’s and we will let you know.

While Crab samurai are given leeway in some courts it would be prudent to remember that this is the court of Empress Iweko I. Everyone is expected to be on their best behavior.

Culture

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