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Telling time in the Diaries of Yoshida Kanemi and Bonshun - Kenney

Elizabeth Kenney, Kansai Gaidai University Telling Time in the Diaries of Yoshida Kanemi and Bonshun

Elizabeth Kenney, Kansai Gaidai University

Telling Time in the Diaries of Yoshida Kanemi and Bonshun

My presentation focuses on diaries written by two half-brothers in the late Muromachi and early Edo periods. The elder brother, Yoshida Kanemi 吉田兼見 (1535-1610), was the chief priest of the politically and ideologically powerful Yoshida Shrine. The younger brother, Bonshun 梵舜 (1553-1632), was a Buddhist priest. Together, their diaries, Kanemi kyōki 兼見卿記 and Bonshun nikki 梵舜日記, cover more than sixty years, from 1570 to 1632. The diaries should allow us to understand something about how Kanemi and Bonshun viewed time in their lives.

Kanemi and Bonshun lived in violent times and were closely connected to the most important historical figures of the age. Historians of Japan have, for the most part, used the diaries as sources of information about momentous events in Japanese history, e.g., the death of Oda Nobunaga. In contrast, I am interested in what the diaries tell us about daily life at Yoshida Shrine. The brothers wrote about the weather, strange atmospheric phenomena, earthquakes and floods, dreams, political events, battles, executions, tea ceremonies and poetry parties, illness and medicine. My presentation at the 2014 European Association of Japanese Studies focused on the specifically religious elements in the diaries.

The years and the days of the months are clearly recorded. Sometimes the day in the sexagenary cycle is also noted. The diary entries are brief, and Kanemi and Bonshun usually did not include the quotidian details about which we are now curious. For example, Bonshun often records that relatives or friends came to breakfast 朝食, but he does not write at what time that morning meal was eaten. Activities are frequently described as occurring at a time of day: dawn 暁 (very rarely), early morning 早朝, evening 晩, night 夜. Bonshun rarely uses the Sino-Japanese “hours” to tell the time of an event. The examples I have found so far are: comments on the weather; important ceremonies; the burning of the Great Buddha Hall in 1602.