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Spann – San Fran http://socialinsanfrancisco.com Join the Fun! Fri, 16 Feb 2018 11:57:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Seahorses and Pipefish: Cousins of the Reef http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/seahorses-and-pipefish-cousins-of-the-reef/ Sat, 13 Sep 2014 04:50:17 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2923

by Susan Spann

Most people recognize seahorses at once, almost instinctively. Their distinctive bodies and curled-up tails are familiar even to those who have never seen one in an aquarium or the wild.

14F26 Ghillie

Pipefish are more unusual, and far less commonly recognized, even though they’re one of the seahorse’s closest relatives. Most people consider pipefish odd-looking, almost snake-like creatures. Their tiny mouths and slender bodies look alien, and little like a seahorse.

14F24 Red and Pipe

Even so, seahorses and pipefish both belong to the syngnathid family, which also includes the leafy and weedy sea dragons. The family name derives from the Greek words meaning “fused jaw,” and refers to the snout-like mouth and jaw structures unique to these lovely creatures.

Syngnathids are predatory ambush hunters, which means they either sneak up on their prey or wait for it to move within striking reach. When prey enters the strike zone, the seahorse (or pipefish, or dragon) gets it snout up close and strikes at the food by contracting the muscles near their heads, sucking the prey through the snout with an audible SNICK. This distinctive sound has resulted in many seahorse breeders and fanciers referring to the seahorse’s feeding mechanism as the “snick.”

Both seahorses and pipefish can be kept in captivity (though most states make owning sea dragons illegal, due to their threatened status). However, they are among the most difficult aquatic creatures to raise and keep in captivity, and require specialized setups and tank mates to thrive.

Since sygnathids can pass diseases from one species to another, especially when mixing wild-caught specimens with captive-bred ones, it’s recommended to keep a single species seahorses or pipefish, and not mixing species in a single tank. The exception is keeping a single species of pipefish with a single, hardy seahorse species; in that case, a keeper should introduce pipefish first, and keep them alive for at least six months before introducing a single, robust seahorse species. (Hippocampus erectus is a good choice.) Even then, it’s a risk, but it can be done.

14E03 Ghillie

People often try to keep seahorses with more aggressive species, such as tangs, marine angelfish, or triggers. This usually results in an early death for the seahorse, either through harassment or starvation. Kept properly, however, seahorses and pipefish make lovely, relaxing additions to a soft-coral reef, and can live for many years.

Unlike many salt-water fish, seahorses and pipefish actually enjoy interacting with humans and watching the world outside the tank.  They’re active, unusual pets that people rarely see, and though they do require a bit more care and maintenance than other aquarium residents, a dedicated hobbyist may find them more rewarding too.

 ***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).
 

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Hanging Out With a Noren http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/hanging-out-with-a-noren/ Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:23:19 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2890

By Susan Spann

If you’ve eaten sushi anywhere, or visited Japan, you’ve probably seen a noren–though you might not have realized it at the time. 

13E-Wiki-Noren-Amagase

Noren are traditional Japanese doorway hangings. Most noren are constructed from fabric panels, with a slit up the center. They hang in the doorway in place of a door (or, more commonly, when the door is open) and act as a kind of screen, allowing passage through the door.

Sometimes people use noren on interior doors, but traditionally, the noren was used on the outside of a business, as a kind of dual-purpose sign. During the medieval era, Japanese businesses hung a noren in the entrance during business hours. The presence of the noren indicated the shop was open for business, while no noren in the doorway meant the shop was closed. In many parts of Japan, that tradition continues to this day.

Many businesses use noren for decorative purposes too, similar to the way a Western shop might use a colorful flag or banner. The noren retains its traditional meaning and purpose, but — like so many aspects of traditional Japanese culture — it has adapted to meet the needs of modern culture.

During the medieval period, many noren were made from indigo-colored cloth, with white characters announcing the name and, sometimes, the nature of the business. The names of commercial businesses often ended in -ya (meaning “house of”), and the use of the name on the noren represented an early form of advertising.

Modern Japanese businesses continue to use the noren, as the image above* demonstrates. The photograph shows a fabric shop in Nara, Japan, with a noren displayed at the entrance. Customers walk between the hanging panels to enter the shop, and at closing time the owners put the noren away for the night, keeping it clean and letting customers know the shop has closed.

In modern businesses, the noren serves as a combination of sign and decoration. Japanese bathhouses often use color as a form of identification also: men’s bathhouses use blue noren, while those catering to women often use red ones. In both cases, the noren are usually emblazoned with the character (or hiragana) meaning “hot water” to indicate the establishment is a bathhouse.

So…now that you know…had you seen a noren before? I bet you had!

*(image credit: Amagase; image obtained through Wikipedia Commons, and licensed for re-publication under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

 ***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

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Beautiful, Bombproof Bonsai http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/beautiful-bombproof-bonsai/ Sat, 23 Aug 2014 06:44:22 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2874

by Susan Spann

Most people have seen a bonsai tree, and most of us know they come from Japan–or at least, that the techniques and art form are Japanese in origin.

14H22 bonsai(pd)

But many people don’t realize how ancient the art of bonsai really is, or what amazing stories some of its oldest living specimens can tell.

***

The oldest bonsai trees in the world are more than 1,000 years old. Most of them now reside in museums, but each has a documented history of more than ten centuries.

One of the most remarkable bonsai lives in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C. The tree is a Japanese white pine, known as the Yamaki pine after its cultivator, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki. It was 400 years old, and living at Yamaki’s home in the city of Hiroshima, on the morning of August 6, 1945. At 8:15 a.m., the atomic bomb fell on the city–and exploded less than two miles from Yamaki’s home. “A large stone wall” shielded the pine, and several other bonsai trees, from the explosion. The tree’s survival is nothing short of a miracle.

This white pine is merely one of millions of bonsai trees “in training” around the world. Many are only a few years old; some count their age in centuries. Regardless of age, all bonsai owe their starts to an art which originated in China and moved to Japan between the fifth and seventh centuries.

***

14H22 Woman with Bonsai (1777)The earliest Japanese written references to trees raised in pots and cultivated to take on curious shapes (which reflected the Japanese sense of beauty in nature) occurred before the year 1000.

The art of bonsai cultivation (then called hachi-no-ki or “the bowl’s tree”)  grew in popularity during Japan’s medieval period, when images of bonsai trees began showing up not only in literary works but also on painted scrolls.

A famous Noh drama (Japanese traditional play) involves a man who burns his beloved bonsai trees to warm a traveling monk on a winter night.

People began referring to these special trees, and the art that creates them, as “bonsai” during the 19th century. The term derives from the Chinese word “penzai,” which was the original name for the art of cultivating trees in small containers.

***

Japanese artisans and bonsai aficionados have written books, articles, and treatises on the various methods and techniques of bonsai cultivation for many centuries. Techniques are passed down from master to student, and the best and most dedicated bonsai masters, like Masaru Yamaki, create living masterpieces which are admired around the world.

The art of bonsai grew from Japanese appreciation of natural forms, beauty and the strength of living trees. Bonsai attempts to cultivate age and strength in miniature, along with a sense of balance, peace, and serenity. These qualities are all too often missing in our busy lives.   

14H22 Bonsai (1800s)

One of the best parts of bonsai, for me, is the fact that you don’t have to be a master, or dedicate your life to the art, to raise and enjoy these special trees. Anyone with the time and patience can raise a bonsai tree, and bring a bit of ancient Japan into even the most modern, urbanized life.

 ***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

* All images copyright Susan Spann (2013).
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Bumblebees of the Sea http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/bumblebees-of-the-sea/ Sat, 16 Aug 2014 07:14:34 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2851

by Susan Spann

I’m not only a mystery writer and ninja enthusiast–I’m also an avid aquarium keeper. As such, I often have the chance to share some things most people never see. In the coming weeks, my Saturday posts will sometimes share a glimpse into my watery world.

Today, we’re taking a look at a creature most people have never heard of: the bumblebee snail (Pusiostoma mendicaria).

14H15 Bumblebee Snails

In most places, snails are considered pests. Gardeners salt them, freshwater fish-keepers pluck them from plants, and people often step on them in the street. But in the marine aquarium, snails take on an entirely different perspective: they’re an important part of the “clean-up crew.” On the reef (both captive and in the wild) snails eat algae, detritus, leftover food and … poop. Yep, I said it: snails will even eat poop.

Bumblebee snails are native to the shallow, reef-filled waters of Fiji and other tropical islands. They’re small (about the size of a jelly belly jellybean) and considered “reef safe” for home aquariums because they don’t eat living corals or fish. Instead, these opportunistic omnivores feed mostly on detritus and “leftovers” ( uneaten fish food … and the aforementioned poop).

If you have a reef aquarium, and want to purchase bumblebee snails, you can find them at almost any reputable fish store. Like most invertebrates, they will need a 45-minute acclimatization drip before you put them in the tank. Acclimatization is an important part of the acquisition process, because it ensures that the snails’ bodies have time to adjust to any differences in temperature and salinity. If you dump them straight into the tank, they will often die from shock. (This is true of almost all fish and invertebrates, incidentally — running a long enough acclimatization drip will dramatically increase the survival rate of new specimens in your aquarium.)

14H15 Bumblebees acclimatizing

You can see an acclimatization drip in action in the photo. The flexible tubing connects to my tank, and the little blue head on the end allows me to set and adjust the rate of flow.

(The larger shell at the center is a halloween hermit I brought home the same day as these bumblebee snails.)

After the drip comes the drop – right into the reef, where bumblebee snails will quickly make themselves at home. When roaming around the rocks, you’ll often see them “sniffing” the water with little snorkel-like proboscises that they use to detect their food.

14H15 Bumblebee on RockBumblebee snails are more difficult to see in the wild, because they hide in caves and under overhangs during the daylight hours. Their yellow and black striped shells are too easy for predators to see in daylight.  On wild reefs, and in home aquariums, bumblebee snails  venture out mostly at feeding time and at night.

As snails go, bumblebees are one of the few that meet with nearly universal approval, even from people who usually don’t like snails. Most people don’t consider snails “cute” under normal circumstances – but in the case of bumblebees, I think we can make an exception.

***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

* All images copyright Susan Spann (2013).
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Shinobi Shuko: the Ninja’s Climbing Claws http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/shinobi-shuko-the-ninjas-climbing-claws/ Sat, 09 Aug 2014 07:22:18 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2829

by Susan Spann

Ninjas are famous for climbing walls with the ease and grace of a spider. According to legend, ninjas could scale even impossibly high, completely polished surfaces with ease. Some myths even claimed they could fly.

Ninja sketch by Hokusai (1760-1849)

Ninja sketch by Hokusai (1760-1849)

In reality, ninjas were highly trained assassins and spies–not supernatural beings with magical skills. They couldn’t fly, but they did possess the ability to scale walls that would stop most people, partly due to a set of metal claws called shuko (or, sometimes, shinobi shuko–since shinobi is the more traditional Japanese word for “ninja”). Traditionally, shuko were made of metal. They consisted of metal bands (or occasionally, leather ones) which slipped over the ninja’s hands, with a set of spikes that protruded forward from the wearer’s palm. Like many ninja weapons, shinobi shuko were multifunctional. The claws gave the wearer a solid grip when climbing walls or trees, and also served as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat. The ease and speed with which a shuko-wearing ninja could scale a wall and disappear helped add to the legends surrounding the ninja’s supernatural strength and amazing skills. Ninjas really were strong, and agile, and highly trained in stealth and combat, but it was shuko and skill, not magic, that let them climb those walls so fast. Shinobi shuko were first developed during the medieval period, or possibly even earlier. Some histories attribute the invention of this ninja tool to the Tokugare ninja clan, though the exact date and place of the claws’ invention has either been lost to history or remains a secret (like much historical ninja lore). Over time, the use of shuko spread throughout the different ninja clans. These, like other useful, multi-purpose weapons, soon became a standard part of the standard shinobi arsenal. The construction and appearance of the weapon varied, from clan to clan and over time, but the basic appearance and function of the tool was fairly constant. Among the common variations: use of leather rather than metal bands, adjustable claws (as opposed to fixed ones), and different numbers of claw spikes (usually from two to four, though five-clawed shuko did exist). Many ninjas also used spiked foot bands to complement shuko when climbing or to aid with grip when hiding in elevated, precarious places. Spiked bands worn on the feet were called ashiko, and were usually designed to slip on over shoes or other footwear. In some cases, ashiko were designed with thongs that slipped between the wearer’s big toe and second toe–much like the thong on modern-day flip-flops–to help keep the spiked foot bands in place. Whether worn on the hands or on the feet, the shinobi’s spiked bands facilitated climbing and aided the ninja in close combat. Although familiar to ninja fans, shuko and ashiko are less-well known to Westerners generally, even though most ninja would have carried them on every mission.

14H08 Kumawakamaru (Kuniyoshi) pd

Many popular myths and legends about the ninja are untrue. Their skill at scaling vertical walls, however, is one that has its root in truth. With the aid of shuko (and ashiko), Japanese ninjas really could run up a wall much faster, and with more confidence, than other people can.

***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books. Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

* Both images: public domain, original copyright expired by law due to length of time after original creation.
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Seppuku: Ritual Suicide in Samurai Japan http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/seppuku-ritual-suicide-in-samurai-japan/ Sat, 02 Aug 2014 07:17:52 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2786

by Susan Spann

Seppuku (sometimes also referred to as hara-kiri) is a form of Japanese ritual suicide.

Many Westerners recognize this Japanese form of suicide, in which a person (often, but not always, male) slits his own stomach with a sword, disemboweling himself and causing his own death.

Seppuku has a long and complex history in Japan. The first recorded act of seppuku was committed by a samurai warrior and poet named Minamoto no Yorimasa, who committed suicide rather than letting his enemies capture him at the end of a battle (which Yorimasa lost).

14H01 Seppuku

Throughout most of Japanese history, only samurai were allowed to commit seppuku. Commoners committed suicide too, but usually accomplished their “self-determination” in other ways.

During the medieval period, samurai committed seppuku for several reasons, most commonly to avoid being captured after losing a battle (following the example of Minamoto no Yorimasa), or as a penalty for shameful or criminal activity. Samurai also committed seppuku to expunge the shame of outliving their liege lord, particularly if the lord was killed in battle or by an assassin — things the lord’s retainers were supposed to prevent.

Many Westerners think of suicide as an “escape” from life, but the practice of seppuku focused on the samurai’s honor rather than on his death. By committing seppuku, a samurai could maintain, regain, or prevent the loss of honor, for himself and also for his extended family. Because of this, a samurai who committed seppuku was often revered after his death. Defeated or dishonored samurai who chose surrender (or punishment) rather than committing suicide often found themselves reviled and disdained.

During the seppuku ritual, the samurai stabbed himself in the stomach with a dagger or short sword and then made a horizontal cut across his abdomen. (In some recorded cases, the samurai then reached into his belly and pulled out his own entrails.)

As the ritual developed during the medieval period, samurai committing seppuku often arranged for a “second” (called the kaishakunin) whose role was to stand behind the samurai committing seppuku and cut off the dying person’s head to end his suffering. In some cases, the decapitation came as soon as the samurai committing seppuku plunged the dagger into his belly, but the bravest samurai ordered the kaishakunin to wait until the dagger had completed its cut across the abdomen. This meant a much more painful death, but gained the dying samurai much more honor.

When helping with a suicide, the kaishakunin tried to strike the dying man’s neck hard enough to sever the spine but also delicately enough to leave the dead man’s head attached–if possible hanging from the neck by a narrow strip of skin. Severing the head completely dishonored both the samurai committing seppuku and also the kaishakunin, so the role of “second” was given only to men who possessed superior control of their swords.

Traditionally, a kaishakunin was only available to samurai who committed seppuku for honorable reasons. Men who were forced to commit suicide because of disgraceful actions or as a result of criminal acts were not permitted kaishakunin, and were forced to die an agonizing death from disembowelment alone. (This death which could take anywhere from several minutes to several days.)

14G01 Akashi_Gidayu_writing_his_death_poem_before_comitting_Seppuku

Before committing seppuku, a samurai typically wrote a “death poem” (jisei) which the Japanese considered important because a person facing imminent death was believed to have special insight into the nature of not only death, but the value of life as well.

People interested in learning more about this unique and historically important ritual may want to read Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide, by Andrew Rankin, whose book contains a great deal of historical and anecdotal information about seppuku and its role in Japanese culture.

***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

* Both images: public domain, original copyright expired by law due to length of time after original creation.
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The Mysteries of Miso http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/the-mysteries-of-miso/ Sat, 19 Jul 2014 07:26:38 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2760

by Susan Spann

Many Westerners consider “miso” synonymous with “soup,” primarily because many of us had our first introduction to this Japanese specialty in that form. In the United States in particular, miso soup has become a familiar offering in Japanese restaurants and sushi bars.

SN390002

But miso isn’t just for soup.

Miso is actually a traditional form of seasoning made by fermenting grain or soybeans with a specific fungus (Aspergillus oryzae, or, in Japanese, kojikin). Kojikin is a filamentous fungus … essentially, a mold … which humans first turned to domestic use over 2,000 years ago.

In its newly-fermented form, miso is a thick paste which can be used to season various kinds of food. When mixed with soup stock (usually a fish-based stock called “dashi”), miso takes the form of the miso soup so many of us have eaten in Japanese restaurants.

The earliest reported use of miso in Japan dates to the Jōmon period (14,000 B.C.-300B.C.). Back then, it was known as “hishio” – a word which refers to salty seasonings made from grain, sometimes with the addition of fish or fish paste.

“Miso” as we know it today (or approximately the miso we know and love, anyway) dates to the Muromachi period – the era of Medieval Japanese history when shoguns, and their samurai retainers, ruled Japan.

During the medieval era, Japanese monks started grinding the soybeans before fermentation, a change which ultimately resulted in the paste-like miso we know today.

14G Miso

Miso varies fairly widely in taste, aroma, and texture, but all miso falls into one of three basic varieties: red, white, and “mixed”(which is composed of red and white in varying proportions). Much of the miso Westerners taste is made from soybeans (the most common type) but miso can also be made from grains, including millet, wheat, rice, and barley (just to name a few).

Red miso has a stronger taste than the white miso most Westerners consider the “standard” form. For that reason, many people need to develop a taste for the red and mixed varieties, by trying them in smaller amounts or by tasting them repeatedly over time.

Like yoghurt, miso contains live cultures and loses some of its health benefits when overcooking kills the cultured organisms. For that reason, miso is often added after or near the end of the cooking process. This differs from other seasonings, which usually get added early on. In the case of miso, however, the benefits of living cultures outweigh the extra flavor that results from early addition.

And now you know a little more about miso.

***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

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In Japan, the Floors Can Sing http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/in-japan-the-floors-can-sing/ Sat, 12 Jul 2014 07:01:57 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2746

by Susan Spann

In medieval Japan, some castles (and other buildings) were constructed with special floors that made a squeaking or chirping sound to alert the residents to intruders (or anyone else) walking across the floorboards. Visitors can still see and experience these “nightingale floors” at a number of Japanese landmarks, including Nijo Castle in Kyoto.

Modern myths claim these floors were designed to prevent shinobi (aka “ninja”) assassins from harming the occupants. If a ninja tried to cross the floor at night, either alone or as part of an attacking force, the singing floors would alert the watchmen and other occupants of the house or castle.

14G11 Samurai pursuit

In reality, foiling assassinations was only part of the reason for these special floors. During the medieval era, wealthy samurai faced many threats, and ninja assassins were only one.  Thieves were as big a threat then as now (if not more so, in some cases), as were sneaky or nosy guests, as well as clandestine, midnight attacks by many different kinds of enemy forces. 

Squeaking floors could alert a host to guests moving through the house in the night, but also gave notice of servants walking in places where they didn’t belong, and even teenagers sneaking out for clandestine “adventures” — a problem which has existed as long as teenagers have!

Does she hear an intruder, or just a sneaky teenager?

Does she hear an intruder, or just a sneaky teenager?

The special, “singing” floors were called uguisubari, which translates “nightingale floors,” because of the chirping noise the floorboards made.

The full, literal translation is “floor with the sound of a nightingale from the straining floorboards” – but “nightingale floors” gets the idea across without the extra verbiage.

Architecturally, the floors were constructed with nails positioned to rub against a metal jacket or clamp when someone or something placed pressure on the boards. If you’d like to see (and hear) these famous floors, there are several good videos on YouTube.

In modern times, people spend a lot of time and money to ensure that hardwood floors are properly “de-squeaked” and that family and visitors can walk across them without a sound. We’ve moved from squeaky floors to less immediately intrusive electronic alarms for doors and windows. However, if you consider the ingenuity involved in constructing an effective alarm for houses without the benefits of electricity or other modern conveniences, I think you’ll agree the nightingale floors are a pretty ingenious solution.

Finding a way to create an alarm without the benefits of modern bells and whistles (literally as well as figuratively) is a clever and intricate example of architects using design to solve a real-world problem.

***

Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

 

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Independence Day Trivia – How Much Do You Know? http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/independence-day-trivia-how-much-do-you-know/ Sat, 05 Jul 2014 07:21:20 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2724

 by Susan Spann

Most of us know that the July 4th holiday (celebrated in the United States) is also known as Independence Day.

However … how much do you really know about the day that most of us spend by the pool, eating hot dogs, until it gets dark enough to blow things up?

Fireworks 2

Let’s look at some Independence Day trivia that might just get you an extra ice cream sundae (or at least impress your friends) at next year’s barbecue:

Let’s see how much you know….

Independence Day Trivia!

— The legal separation of the 13 U.S. colonies from Britain actually occurred on July 2, 1776 – the date the Continental Congress voted to approve the “resolution of independence” (which was signed by the delegates on July 4).

— John Adams, the founding father who nominated Thomas Jefferson to write the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, actually wanted the nation to celebrate Independence Day on July 2. (Unlike his nomination of Jefferson, that idea got voted down in favor of the day the first three delegates actually signed the document – July 4.)

— John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826 – the fiftieth anniversary of the (initial) signing of the original Declaration of Independence.

— A third U.S. President also died on July 4 (in 1831). Can you name him? (Answer below.)

— Do you know which U.S. President was born on July 4? (Answer below.)

Spirit of 76

Bonus: Fireworks Trivia!

— In the 1980s, professional fireworks shows lasted, on average, five times longer than they do now. (Then: 50-60 minutes. Now: only 20 minutes.)

— People who work in fireworks factories wear 100% cotton garments from head to toe (including underwear). This is to prevent static electricity, and avoid accidental fires and explosions.

— In early gunpowder factories, it was considered bad luck to talk about dying or accidents on the job. The workers developed a euphemism: “going across the river” – which developed because the factories usually sat on a river bank, and had an intentionally weakened wall on the river side. This ensured that any explosions blew out the wall that faced the river, avoiding accidental deaths to people walking or working on other sides of the building. It also sent the unfortunate victims out in that direction … “across the river.”

— Most people know that fireworks were originally invented in China … but did you know that the first European fireworks were manufactured in Italy? It’s true!

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Trivia Answers:

The three U.S. Presidents who died on July 4 are John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe (1831).

Calvin Coolidge was the only U.S. President born on July 4 (1872).

 

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Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

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Shuriken: the Ninja Star http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/shuriken-the-ninja-star/ Sat, 28 Jun 2014 09:42:05 +0000 http://socialinsanfrancisco.com/?p=2693

by Susan Spann

If I asked you to name a ninja weapon, the most common answers would be a sword and a shuriken, which many people call a “throwing star.”

In reality, “shuriken” translates “behind-the-hand knife” or “hand-hidden blade,” meaning a knife or blade which a person can easily conceal in the hand. And despite all the untrue myths about ninjas, they really did use shuriken–though not always in the way that you might think.

Most Westerners think of the shuriken as a star-shaped throwing weapon with dangerous, sometimes poisoned, tips (hence the popular name “throwing star”). However, shuriken weren’t always thrown … and they weren’t always shaped like a star.14F27 Bo Shuriken

BO SHURIKEN

Bo shuriken (also called “stick shuriken”) were essentially sharpened iron spikes, either square or rounded in shape. These were generally thrown, though ninjas (also called “shinobi”) also used them for stabbing in close combat.

HIRA SHURIKEN

When most Westerners talk about “shuriken,” they generally mean the flat hira shuriken (also called “shaken”), which came in a variety of shapes, including the familiar five and six-armed star-shaped versions. In addition to the star-shaped types, hira shuriken came in crosses, triangles, and even swastikas–a shape and symbol that had a very different meaning before the twentieth century.

In addition to its utility as a throwing weapon, the shuriken made an efficient fist load weapon for hand to hand combat. Careful placement of the hand allowed the spikes to protrude through the fingers, while the shape of the weapon helped make the grip secure.

A MULTI-PURPOSE WEAPON

The shuriken demonstrates a cardinal aspect of shinobi weapons and other gear: the multi-purpose nature of the tool. Since ninjas worked in secret, and needed to avoid detection, lightweight gear and minimal baggage were vital to their survival. A tool which filled many different roles was better than one which had only a single or limited range of purposes.

A ninja could use a shuriken as a throwing weapon, a stabbing weapon, a cutting tool, and in any other circumstance when a thrown or hand-held blade might come in handy. Although the shuriken’s primary purpose was as a weapon, shinobi training taught ninjas to be resourceful, creative thinkers and problem solvers.

An ideal setting for a shuriken attack

An ideal setting for a shuriken attack

The shuriken remains an iconic ninja weapon to this day because of its dramatic, easily-concealed nature. Let’s face it–shuriken are cool. They fit the popular image of the black-clad ninja sneaking into a castle to assassinate a samurai…and, as it happens, they fit the history too.

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Susan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014, from Minotaur Books.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

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