2015-03-23

The Martian

It might have been the recent PR about Ridley Scott's movie adaptation of The Martian, but I've seen the Japanese translation (by Onoda Kazuko 小野田和子) prominently displayed in a couple of bookstores recently. The translation of the title is interesting: Kasei no hito 火星の人, literally "Person of Mars."

Is there no word for "Martian" in Japanese? No, there is one: Kaseijin 火星人. The Kasei part means "Mars" (lit. "fire planet") and -jin, meaning "person," is the suffix used to form words such as Amerikajin, Nihonjin, Chikyūjin ("Earthling"), etc. You'll notice that -jin is written with the same Chinese character as hito in Kasei no hito; -jin is the Sino-Japanese pronunciation, while hito is native to Japan.

So it would have been possible to translate the title literally. Why wasn't this done? I poked around looking for opinions online, but there weren't many. A couple of people argued that Kaseijin implies, you know, a tentacley or at least green alien, so it wouldn't be appropriate for a story about a human stranded on Mars — but this is the case in English, too; that irony is the whole point of the title. This blog entry, interestingly, links the Japanese title to lightness and readability, which may well have been a consideration. (It's worth noting that Kasei no hito doesn't have any explicit meaning, either; it doesn't have the strong creature feature associations of "Martian," but neither does it necessarily imply that the "Person of Mars" is human.)

I wonder, actually, if the different titles might not reflect slightly different understandings of what it means to be an X-jin. Just as being stranded in Japan didn't make William Adams Japanese, so being stranded on Mars doesn't make Mark Watney a Martian, not even to the extent where the joke makes sense. Insisting on a connection between ethnicity and nationality isn't unique to or universal within Japan, of course, but I think it's fair to say that it's more common here than it is in California, where Martian author Andy Weir was raised.

(In a way, I guess this hypothesis is the same as the argument that Kaseijin implies a bug-eyed monster, really, just with the implicit connections to ideas of nationhood made more explicit.)

2015-03-16

The myth of the samurai

I've seen many references to Harold Bolitho's (apparently!) seminal paper The Myth of the Samurai over the years, and last week I realized that some kind soul had posted it online.

The samurai of the early period, therefore, would not seem to accord too well with the popular stereotype. Most of them were not really professionals: their code of ethics was, to say the least, elastic; they were probably as interested in survival as anybody else; and they were certainly — to judge from their obsession with land and taxes — not indifferent to this world's goods.

I don't suppose any of this is news to anyone reading this, but this essay was written in 1984, at the height of hysteria about the Japanese taking over the world economy with their ancient samurai work ethic. It's like the "Paid in Full" of things that interest me.

From the obituary linked above:

Known for his distinctive essays on cultural history, on topics ranging from travel and sumo wrestling to reincarnation, he had an unusual ability to carry a reader forward through the interest of the story being told, with the punch-line of an argument deferred. In his study of a case of metempsychosis (the transmigration of a soul), where a young boy in the early nineteenth century apparently backed up his claim to know the details of his previous life by supplying information only that previous soul could have known, Bolitho told the remarkable tale with zest and amusement; only toward the end did he bring forward the argument he wished to make about the world view of a famous scholar in the national studies school, Hirata Atsutane.

Sō iu mono ni/ watashi wa naritai.

2015-03-12

The Life and Times of Nishiari Bokusan

I just found out that Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler has made his MA thesis, Sōtō Zen in Meiji Japan: The Life and Times of Nishiari Bokusan, free for all to read.

[... W]hat I discovered in my study is obvious but important: the world of [Shunryū "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"] Suzuki Roshi's Zen training had very little to do with the world of Dōgen Zenji's Zen and Chan training. The Zen world that Suzuki Roshi trained in — a world he shared generally with people like Kishizawa Ian and Kōdō Sawaki and Hakuun Yasutani and Taizan Maezuki and Jōshū Sasaki — was not only centuries removed from Dōgen's monasticism but was in fact a world that had already been influenced by the West, had already been modernized and to some agree adapted to Western sensibilities and epistemologies.

In other words, much of the transformation of Zen that I have assumed took place in the West in the mid to late twentieth century in fact took place in Japan somewhat earlier. Specifically, it took place over the course of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) [...]

One undeniable proof of Zen's adaptation to the US: roshi, though loaned directly from Japanese rōshi, doesn't get any diacritic on its long "o". (Its usage is also subtly different in the English-speaking world — Stuart Lachs, for example, has argued that to English speakers "roshi" is used like "master" with the implication of some kind of spiritual or other attainment, while in Japan it often simply indicates seniority. The etymology of the word, after all, is just "venerable teacher" 老師.)

Jiryu (another macronless loan!) has also been writing a series of posts at his blog summarizing and ruminating on his findings, starting with Sex, War, and the Problem of Zen Precepts and Who Westernized Zen?

The precepts are a kind of empty space, and while the rhetoric of Zen precepts is that that space stays empty until filled by the needs of the situation, more often, I'm afraid, they just allow any preexisting views to come forth as the "flexible" or "appropriate" expression of precepts.

How else to explain Nishiari's support of the imperialist wars as in line with precepts and modern American Buddhist tolerance for sex out of wedlock as in alignment with the precept against fornication? These positions are more about the values of the social context than they are positions somehow dictated or even informed by Buddhist precepts.

2015-03-09

U no ji

For some reason I'm getting thousands of hits from Google News! I'm sorry, everyone, nothing on this site has been news since 1910.

So I was reading the Sankachōchūka again and I came upon this one from Shima Province:

今朝のうの字はうれしのうの字 消ゆる間もなきうの鏡
kesa no u no ji wa/ ureshi no u no ji/ kiyuru ma mo naki/ u no kagami
This morning's u/ is u for ureshii [happy]/ never disappearing for a moment/ the mirror of u

The edition I'm currently reading (Iwanami 1997, ed. Tomohisa, Yamauchi, Manabe, Moriyama, Ide, Hokama) calls this song "incomprehensible" (不可解). Their tentative interpretation: having spent the night with her lover, the narrator is happy, but seeing herself in the mirror before starting work for the day reminds her of how unpleasant (ushi, say) life really is. I don't really see why that's necessary; since X no kagami can mean "an exemplar of X," "the ideal X," couldn't it just be more happiness?

Looking up u-moji in Mashimo's 1967 Dictionary of Women's Language for clues, I found three unrelated entries. The first is u short for usa (as in, unpleasantness — nominalized form of the ushi above). This, he says, was used by Yoshiwara courtesans in their correspondence. The second is a kind of tea. The third is u short for uchikata, "wife," but I don't see how that could fit in either.

2015-03-02

Yagyū

Just one more post about sheep and goats...

Reading Konno Shinji 今野真二's new book, Sengoku no Nihongo 戦国の日本語 ("Sengoku Japanese"), I ran across the observation on pp138 that when goats appear in the 1593 Jesuit translation of Aesop's fables, they are called <yaguiǔ< (yagyū), a word which in contemporary Japanese is spelt 野牛 and covers a range of wild or at least free-ranging bovines: "wild ox", "bison", etc.

Yaguiǔno co to, vôcame no coto.

Yaguiǔno faua cusauo curaini noni izzuru toqi, codomoni iyvoqu yǒua: cono anano touo vchiyori yô togite iyo: nanito focayori yobi tataquto yǔtomo, va ga coyeto, mata conoyǒni tatacazuua, ſocotni firaqu nato yǔte deta. Vôcame fauano noni deta ſuqiuo nerǒte qite, fauano coyeuo nixete, ſono touo tatata. Yaguiǔno codomo vchicara qijte, coyeua fauano coyenaredomo, tono tataqiyǒua vôcame zoto yǔte chittomo aqenanda.

Xitagocoro.

Coua voyano yqenni tçuqu naraba, axijcotoua ſucoximo arumai: fauano yqenuo qicazuua, tachimachi miuomo, inochiuomo vxinauǒzu.
Of the kid, and the wolf.

When a goat mother went out to the fields to eat grass, she first said to her kid: keep the door to this hole closed well from the inside: whoever calls and knocks from outside, if it is not my voice, and a knock like this, do not rashly open the door; so saying, she went out. A wolf, seeing his chance as the mother went out into the fields, came and knocked on the door, imitating the mother's voice. The kid heard him from inside, but although the voice was his mother's voice, he knew from the knock that it was the wolf, and so saying, did not open the door a bit.

Moral.

Children who obey the warnings of their parents meet with not the slightest misfortune: if they do not listen to their mothers' warnings, they will quickly lose their bodies and their lives.

Theoretically this might represent a different version of this story, in which a buffalo calf huddles in a hole waiting for its mother to return, but elsewhere in the Jesuits' translation, the story of the Wolf and the Kid uses the same word, and a global change from goats to buffalo seems unlikely.

And indeed the Nippo Jisho backs this up:

Yaguiǔ. Nono vxi. Cabra, ou bode.
Yagyū. No no ushi. She-goat, or he-goat.

It does say no no ushi ("field ox"), but this is just an explanation of the kanji used to write the word: 野牛.

That said, it's curious that the only citations the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten has for this sense of yagyū are either Jesuit or Jesuit-derived (i.e. the later popularized version of Aesop's fables). I suppose it might have been a regionalism that Xavier & Co. unwittingly promoted to the standard, but if so, it was either a widespread one or a fairly easy spontaneous invention, because the NKD does mention that yagyū means "goat" in Gunma dialect halfway across the country.

2015-02-23

Sheepsfoot

After reading Victor Mair's post about the Year of the Ovicaprid, naturally the first thing I did was check to see if shoats, in the form of the character 羊, appear in the Man'yōshū. It turns out they do — sort of, in an oblique way.

They appear in two poems, #1857 and #3788. They look like this (via the Oxford Corpus of Old Japanese):

毎年 梅者開友 空蝉之 世人君蹄 春無有来
tosi no pa ni/ ume pa sakedomo/ utusemi no/ yo no pito kimi si/ paru nakarikyeri
"Every year, the plum trees blossom, but as a person in this hollow world, for you there is no spring."

(Many editors prefer to revise kimi to ware, giving the final line "...for me there is no spring.")

無耳之 池蹄恨之 吾妹兒之 來乍潜者 水波將涸
miminasi no/ ike si uramyesi/ wagimokwo ga/ kitutu kadukaba/ midu pa karenamu
"How detestable the lake at Mount Miminashi is. When my beloved came and sank into it, better the water had dried up."

(This is one of a set of three poems allegedly composed by three brothers distraught with grief after their competitive courting of the same woman ended with her throwing herself into a lake.)

In both case, we have not just 羊 but actually 羊蹄, literally "shoat's hoof," and in both cases it represents a single one-mora word, the (somewhat poorly understood, as far as I can see) emphatic particle /si/. Why? Because the plant known in Chinese as 羊蹄 — Rumex japonicus, apparently — was called, in Old Japanese, sinone, presumably literally something like "si root."

I'm honestly not sure whether to call this shakkun 借訓 ("borrowed readings", using kanji for sound alone) or gisho 戯書 ("playful writing", using kanji in a rebus-like or otherwise whimsical fashion). It is interesting that both instances of this usage are in very dark contexts, but I can't find any reference to this plant having ominous or depressing connotations so it's probably just a coincidence.