J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Holy Mirrors!

Holy Mirrors!
Originally uploaded by timtak
Mirrors have been regarded as sacred at least since the Han Dynasty in China. Many of these mirrors and from the subsequent Wei dynasty have been found in Japan. They bore images of gods and sacred animals particularly the Chinese dragon (1,2) . They were very popular, and possibly later manufactured, in Japan. The bronze mirrors are found in great number in ancient (kofun period) burial mounds in Japan. In the biggest archeological find of 33 mirrors, the mirrors were placed surrounding the coffin such that their reflective surface faced the deceased. The Han mirrors were "magic" in that while they reflected they were also able to project an image usually of the deities and animals on the back and refered to as "light passing mirrors" (透明鑑) (Needham, 1965, p.xlic; Needham & Wang, 1977, pp. 96-97).This magic property is due to the their method of construction. When polishing the reflective face of the mirror, the patter on the back influences the pressure brought to bear on the reflective surface and change the extent to which it is concave. Muraoka also claims that Differences in the (slight) "inequality of curvature" (Ayrton & Perry, 1878, p 139; see also Thompson, 1897, and Needham & Wang, 1977, p96 for a diagram) of the mirror result in the mirror reflecting light bearing the pattern shown on the reverse. More recent research has elucidated the precise mathematical model describing the optics of these mirrors as a laplacian image (Berry, 2006), a type of spatial filter today used for edge detection and to blend two images together. It is not known whether the mirrors popular in ancient Japan were also able to project, but later during the Nara period mirrors were found to concel magic Buddhist images, and during the Edo period, concealed Christians (Kurishitan) concealed images of the cross or of the Holy Mary within their bronze "magic" mirrors. Mirrors in Japan contined to be made of brass, until the arrival of Western glass mirrors, and were "magic" in that they displayed the patter on their reverse when reflecting sunlight or other powerful light source (Thompson, 1897). Ayrton (Ayrton & Perry, 1878; Ayrton & Pollock, 1879) claims that in Japan mirror vendors were unaware of the "light passing" quality, and that there is no mention of this 'magical' quality known to Han Chinese in Japanese texts. Even a Japanese mirror maker was unaware of how to make magic mirrors though had inadvertently made one himself by extensive polishing a mirror with a design on its back (Ayrton & Perry, 1878, p135). Unlike the ancient Korean mirror top right (3), the ancient Han and Japanese mirrors were made to be rotated, displaying images in the four directions of the compas. The reason for the holes in the central "breast" (or nipple) is unclear but it is found to be pierced with a hole (of varying shape depending upon the manufacturer) from which the mirror was suspended by a rope. Bearing in mind that the images on the mirrors required that the mirrors be rotated, the central nodule might also have enabled the mirrors to be spun like a top. I am not sure why someone would want to spin a mirror but my son does (see the toy explained later). I would very much like to see what the reflected "magic" image becomes when spun. The creatures on the reverse will be merged in the reflected image but probably not in a laplacian way - just as concentric circles. If anyone has a magic mirror I would like them to try spinning it to see. Skipping the holy mirrors in shrines, mirror rice cakes, and the mirror held by the Japanese version of Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, King Enma, which holds a record of ones life, and, jumping to the present day... Mirrors are popular in the transformational items used by Japanese superheros. The early 1970's Mirror Man transformed using a Shinto amulet infront of any mirror or reflecting surface. Shinkenja, a group of Super Sentai or Power Rangers, that transforms thanks to their ability to write and then spin Chinese characters in the air, also transforms with the aid of an Inro Maru (4) upon which is affixed a inscribed disk. When the disk is attactched to the mirror the super hero inside the mirror is displayed. Transformation (henshin) by means of a mirror is popular too among Japanese femail super heros notably Himitsu no Akko Chan (Secret Akko), who could change into many things that were displayed in her mirror, sailor moon, and OshareMajo (6). The female super heroes mirrors usually make noises rather than contain inscriptions. The latest greatest Kamen Rider OOO sometimes transforms by means of his Taja-Spina which spins three of his totem-badge "coins" inside a mirror (video). In this ancient tradition we see recurrence of the following themes 1) Mirrors being of great benefit to the bearer enabling him to transform. 2) Mirrors containing hidden deities 3) Mirrors being associated with symbols: iconic marks, and incantations. 4) Mirrors being made to be rotated or spun. Thanks to James Ewing for the Mirror Man (Mira-man) reference and to Tomomi Noguchi for the Ojamajo Doremi reference, and to Taku Shimonuri and my son Ray for getting me interested in Japanese superheros. Addendum One of My students (A Ms. Tanaka, and a book about the cute in Japan) pointed out that the Japanese are into round things, and it seems to me that this Japanese preference for the round may originate in the mirror. Anpanman and Doraemon and many "characters" have round faces The Japanese Flag features a circle representing the sun and the mirror Japanese coats of arms (kamon) Japanese holy mirrors are round "Mirror rice cakes", and many other kinds of rice cake, are round The Sumo ring is round Pictures of the floating world (Ukiyoe) often portray the sitter in a round background Japanese groups always have to end up by standing in a round The Japanese are fond of domes and have many of the biggest The Japanese are fond of seals (inkan), which are round Japanese groups just can't help standing in a round The taiko drum is round The mitsudomoe is round Mount Fuji is round But then there are probably round things in every culture? Bibliography Created using Zotero Ayrton, W. E., & Perry, J. (1878). The Magic Mirror of Japan. Part I. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 28(190-195), 127–148. Ayrton, W. E., & Pollock, W. F. (1879). The mirror of Japan and its magic quality. London: Royal Institution of Great Britain. Needham, J. (1965). Science and Civilisation in China: Physics and physical technology. Mechanical engineering. Cambridge University Press. Needham, J., & Wang, L. (1977). Science and Civilisation in China: Physics and physical technology. I, Physics. Cambridge University Press. Berry, M. V. (2006). Oriental magic mirrors and the Laplacian image. European journal of physics, 27, 109. Retrieved from www.phy.bris.ac.uk/people/Berry_mv/the_papers/berry383.pdf Spatial Filters - Laplacian/Laplacian of Gaussian. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2012, from homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/rbf/HIPR2/log.htm Thompson, S. P. (1897). Light Visible and Invisible: A Series of Lectures at Royal Institution of Great Britain. Macmillan. Retrieved from www.archive.org/stream/lightvisibleinvi00thomuoft#page/50...

Very interesting, well written blog!
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.