2014-09-18

Gagaku documentaries on YouTube

I just noticed that the William H. Malm-hosted documentary Gagaku: The Court Music of Japan is on YouTube in its entirety! Great watching if you're into gagaku (the court music of Japan).

The Kyoto City University of Arts' Research Center for Japanese Traditional Music (京都市立芸術大学 日本伝統音楽研究センター) has also put some interesting performances online, apparently reconstructed (by them) from Heian/Kamakura manuscripts rather than inheriting an active transmission. Seigaiha 青海波 ("Waves on the Blue Sea") is one of a series focusing on the music of the Tale of Genji (which you can see collected on this page); this solo koto performance of Bushō Taiheiraku 武昌太平楽 may be more to the tastes of those who for some reason don't enjoy high-register wind instruments playing slightly out of tune with each other. (Barbarians!)

Bonus: Here's another enjoyable documentary about the Music Department of the Imperial Household (宮内庁式部職楽部)'s appearance at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival. No Malm, but a lot of footage of actual court musicians explaining what it is they do and how they think.

2014-09-15

Readers as sons-in-law

Available on SHARP's "Translations" page right now: Peter Kornicki's translation [PDF] of a Hamada Keisuke 濱田啓介 article on Bakin and his market. As Kornicki explains in his introduction [PDF]:

Professor Hamada wrote this article at the age of 23 while a graduate student at Kyoto University and it rapidly achieved the status of a classic article. Its significance lies in its insistence, startling at the time, on the fundamental importance of appreciating the market place in which commercial fiction was produced in Japan.

A great quote in the paper from Kyōden on kashihon'ya, for-profit book lenders:

The publishers are the parents, those who are kind enough to read the books are the son-in-law and the kashihon'ya are the go-betweens. ... The son-in-law who reads the books tends not to like them but the kashihon'ya use their go-between language to say "I have got just the girl for you", making the best out of a bad job and persuading him, and so it is that an unpromising girl meets with a suitable son-in-law. This is entirely due to the persuasion of the go-between kashihon'ya whom we rely upon.

It's worth noting that kashihon'ya were an important part of the Japanese literary market well into the postwar period, and even today chains like Tsutaya rent out comic books along with DVDs and CDs.

2014-09-01

Falling leaves

Chūka jakuboku shishō 中華若木詩抄 ("Selection of Chinese and Japanese poetry") is a 16th-century-ish example of the shōmono 抄物 genre: books explaining classical or otherwise elevated literary works in the contemporary vocabulary. This shishō in particular is a sort of intro to Zen poetry for new initiates.

Number 218 in Ōtsuka Mitsunobu 大塚光信, Ozaki Yūjirō 尾崎雄二郎 and Asakura Hisashi 朝倉尚's 1995 edition for Iwanami Shoten is "Falling leaves" (落葉) by a 14th-century Rinzai monk from Tosa named Gidō Shūshin 義堂周信, and goes like this:

夜雨蕭々四五更
愁辺細聴至天明
開門試倚風前看
真个梧桐落葉声

The night is rainy — seu seu — into the early morn
Within the gloom I heard it all, and now the dawn is here
I open up the door, just to see what lies outside
The truth: the sound I heard was just the falling wutong leaves

Seu seu 蕭々 is, very conveniently, mimetic for lonely natural sounds and atmospheres in general, not just rain.

The bulk of the Chūka jakuboku shishō's commentary on this poem is about the fact that it contains its own title. Generally, we are told, it's better for this not to happen, although it's not so bad if it does. Better to use the title in the poem than to go to such tortuous lengths to avoid it that the poem itself suffers. On the other hand, if the characters of the title must be used in the poem, they should at least not appear together. Or maybe it's okay for them to appear like that if it's at the start of the first line, because after all that's how the Classic of Poetry is presented, and Du Fu was prone to this editorial technique too. But in this poem it appears in the fourth line! But this is an old (上古) poem, from the days before Jueju were "beautifully ordered". All in all, today's students should be wary of following its example too blindly.

(The editors of the Iwanami edition observe in a footnote that the schizophrenic back-and-forth in this passage looks like multiple editors arguing with each other, but the text itself does not delineate different voices.)

Incidentally, according to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the jakuboku 若木 in the title of this book originally (i.e. in Chinese) referred to a mythical tree at the westernmost extremity of the Earth, behind which the sun set. How did this come to mean "Japan"? Simple confusion with fusō 扶桑, a mythical tree at the easternmost extremity of the Earth, which had a much more logical association with Japan.

2014-08-18

Chossē

To prepare myself for the big-screen adaptation of Hot Road, Tsumugi Taku 紡木たく's legendary 1980s tale of bōsōzoku bikers and the 14-year-old girls who love them, I decided it was finally time to read the original manga. It's only four volumes long (two in bunkobon format) but it seems to go on forever, like a self-pitying sunset off the Shōnan coast.

It wasn't long before I came upon a word I didn't know: chossē (ちょっせー). It was clearly slang, and seemed kind of playfully derogatory, but what did it mean?

In this "Funky Tsūshin" column from 2007, Yasuda Akihiro 安田明洋 learns from "shun-san", the moderator of a major Hot Road fan site, that the word is roughly equivalent to torokusai, dassē (< dasai), or kakko warī (< kakkō warui), giving it a meaning somewhere around "pokey," "dumb," "lame," etc.

I wonder if it's related to chorokusai (< choroi), which has a similar meaning. Anime-related sources make this claim, but I can't find anything more scholarly.

2014-08-04

Crow

Poem #225 in the Kangin shū:

Karasu dani/ uki yo itoite/ sumizome ni/ sometaru ya/ mi o sumizome ni/ sometari
Has even the crow/ despising the world/ stained itself an inky black?/ stained its body/ inky black?

Ikeno Kenji 池野健二, editor of Iwanami's 1989 edition of this work, points out that many other poems from around this period compare the plumage of the crow to the traditionally black robes of the Buddhist priest, and that the crow as Buddhist imagery was not unheard of in other contexts.

For example, Nichiren's 1272 "Sado Letter" (佐渡御書) mentions casually that the crow is stained black by its past karma (烏の黒きも [...] も先業のつよくそみけるなるべし), and Nichiren in turn was quoting the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, in which the Buddha uses his knowledge of the reasons for the crow's blackness as an example of his omniscience of causes and conditions. ("阿難。我說佛法從因緣生。非取世間和合麤相。如來發明世出世法。知其本因隨所緣出。如是乃至恒沙界外一滴之雨。亦知頭數。現前種種松直棘曲鵠白烏玄。皆了元由。")

This is the point at which I should offer up some parallel examples from Western culture likening crows to priests, but unfortunately the only one that comes to mind is the second verse of "All This Time" by Sting.

2014-07-28

"And you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like..."

Signage in a BorneLund visited not long ago. The room on the left is for changing diapers. The one on the right is for bottle- and breastfeeding.

I'm about 85% sure that the joke is intentional.