Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kami 髪 (1)

In premodern Japan, hair is identified as a special locus of generative power, and of personality. For this reason there are a number of ways in which social power gets bound up with hair, and a lot of reasons to bind up hair. Here, for your consideration, are four examples:
(1) Hair is incorporated into embroideries of the Buddhas as a way of forging a link between the devotee and the Buddha represented in the embroidery (see ten Grotenhuis 1999);
(2) The American Orientalist Lafcadio Hearn reports seeing locks of hair bound to the gates of the Izumo shrine, which specializes in marriage (see Hearn 1894);
(3) Hearn also notes the circulation of stories in which wives unbind their hair when they go to sleep, whereupon the hair promptly transforms into serpents--symbols of poisonous desire, repressed during the daytime (see Hearn 1894; Matisoff 2002);
(4) Folklorist Yanagita Kunio also reported a number of folk practices and beliefs revolving around women's hair--the practice, for example, of boat captains keeping the hair of their wives or daughters onboard ship as a protective talisman (see Faure 2003).

This association of hair and a generativity which is at once the source of a lot of interest and a lot of anxiety might help to explain in part the concern we noted in Landor with the "hairiness" of the Ainu.