Sword and Chrysanthemum in Eisental

From the East Kingdom comes this lovely report by Ii Saburou on the recent "Sword and Chrysanthemum" event in the Shire of Eisental. Reprinted with permission of the author. Below is my impression of the recent Eisental event, "Sword and Chrysanthemum" for which I and friend Aine gladly drove the 200 miles from Atlantia to attend. I was so blown away by the event that I felt that I need notify not only members of lists that I am on as to the accuracy and presentation of this event, but also certain other people who should know what is happening in the East Kingdom, in the Shire of Eisental. I hope that this praise might reach the ears of those who should hear it. I would include, in there, a request that the SCA Cooks List be notified of the achievements of Matsuyama Akiame if they have not already been made aware. The people of Eisental should rejoice at the presence of Matsuyama Mokurai and his lady in their midst! My report follows:


I just want everyone who wasn't there to know that they missed what could easily have been the best Japanese event ever thrown in the Knowne World. Despite the rain and poor weather, it was easily better than any SCA event I have ever been to.

The site was a retreat camp in Pennsylvania. Visitors were first greeted by the half-chrysanthemum banners that marked the event. The main hall was two stories and titled the 'shinden', with the gate and merchants below, and A&S and formal feast above. The fighting, due to the rain, was moved indoors to a gymnasium, and a demonstration of period martial arts was given at a gazebo out on the main lawn. The main kitchen and dining area was set aside as a public house for lunch and the informal feast.

Regrettably, the sumo and archery were cancelled due to the rain. However, that didn't stop the fighting. The sense of both persona play and chivalry had fighters and non-fighters alike coming out of the tournament in amazement. One person commented that it was the most courteous fighting they had seen in 10 years--more courteous than practices, even. No rhino-hiding, no excessive force--they only time people mentioned a bad blow was if they thought they had thrown one that shouldn't have been counted.

The winner of the tournament could not stay, unfortunately, and asked Koredono-gimi and his lady to attend the formal feast in his stead at the place of honor. They accepted, and their performance was excellent.

The formal feast was perhaps the height of the evening. The depth of the experience cannot be conveyed in words. Thirty places were prepared, and guests brought their own pillows. Swords were taken at the door and placed upon a rack during the feast. People doffed their shoes before entering from the wet outside. Sitting quietly, speaking perhaps in subdued tones, the diners waited in the dimmed light, four candles surrounding the feast hall.

Decorum was set by our honored guest, who performed in a manner of excellent taste. The feast was served as honzen-ryori, and the first set of dishes were brought forth on zen (small, individual, legged trays). Due to the poverty of the provinces, only one zen was available per person, so as further dishes were brought forth from the kitchen, empty dishes would be removed. Dinner started around the hour of the cock, and continued until the hour of the boar. Music played gently in the background, while etiquette was observed. Even westerners foreign to eastern ways were amazingly reserved in their expressions.

The formal feast, planned as san-ju jyu-nana-sai* was short four dishes due to an unsuspected lack of resources to serve them properly. Regardless of anything missing, the quality of everything was incredibly wonderful. There was a special treat in the Toukurage--jellyfish--which was added to the menu. With a slight bit of pickled plum paste for flavoring it was, surprisingly, one of my favorite dishes of the night. It was only rivaled by the maguro sashimi (tuna sashimi) served with edible shiso leaf. All of this was cooked by Matsuyama Akiame-no-kimi, of whom I would not hesitate to say probably has, currently, the most extensive knowledge of period Japanese foods of any person I am aware of in the SCA--and much of the world, for that matter. One would be hard-pressed to find such specialized and practiced knowledge in such bountiful quantity in any but the most esoteric of academicians.

At the end of the formal feast there was an appearance by a wandering yamabushi by the name of Kuji, who performed great feats of mystical power for the assembled guests. Unfortunately, many people had to leave soon after his departure, and there was not the time to relax and drink tea together as had been previously arranged. All of the guests went home in good cheer, however--but not before calling Matsuyama-dono and his lady forward and congratulating them both on an event that outshone all expectations. Some of the comments that were made and overheard:

"I have been in the society for over 20 years and this is the best event I have ever attended." "The fighting was more chivalrous than most practices." "Sir Koredono really helped set the tone for the tournament." "The feast was better than that of coronation!" -- from a member of a local cooks' guild "I have never been so transported as I was at this feast."

I hope that Matsuyama-dono and his lady were not too exhausted by this event that they will not hold it again, in the future. It was unfortunate that certain people who had volunteered to come had not been able to at the last minute. It was also regrettable that the weather seemed to have frightened many people away--those who let such things deter them missed something that will be remembered for years to come.

Eisental should be proud of this event. It can be very hard to try something new, and this event pulled it off in such a fantastic style that it was worth whatever costs were incurred to hold it. It will bring much honor and fame to Eisental and its inhabitants.

I look forward to future meetings, and am encouraged to look more deeply into trying something like this myself one day, though I cannot hope to rival this event.


* 3 soup, 17 side dishes