The *ing that should not be

Here is a fine example of a Japanese pun using (originally) English words that does not work in English:

"ジャージでチャージの話をします," begins the Suica mascot penguin. Jaaji de chaaji no hanashi wo shimasu: "Wearing a tracksuit, I'm going to talk about [re]charg[ing your Suica card]." (Suica is a rechargable card that you can use to pay for train rides and buy goods at some establishments in or near train stations.)

The entire ad relies on lame pun on chaaji (charge) and jaaji ("Jersey", i.e. "tracksuit", in my English). What interests me is that "charge" and "jersey" aren't even close to pun material in English. The standard katakanafication process has wrought truly drastic changes here.

And just for kicks, here's a photo showcasing one of the cheap effects my new phone can overlay on images unexplained phenomena by a pair of mysterious standing stones in Omiya:



Going over the edge of the world

The sounds of the termination shock. Enjoy it while it's still awe-inspiring (i.e. before someone makes an action movie called Termination Shock about a hard-bitten astronaut cop with one last case to crack before retirement.)

The Japanese for "termination shock" is 末端衝撃波面 ("Edge shock wave boundary") or 音速面 ("Sound speed boundary", I assume because the termination shock is where the solar wind finally slows down to subsonic speeds). I learnt this from a rather awesome E->J dictionary of astronomy terms hosted by the Japanese translation of the Astronomy Picture of the Day.


A poem about me

(written by one of my students)

I'm as baffled as you are.


Excerpts from an article about dating techniques from a 20-year-old Japanese magazine for teenage boys, #1

Picking up a girl you don't know on a school trip
... 2. While sightseeing at a temple (continued)

Get close to the girl you're after by bragging, "I'm the son of this temple's head priest! Those guys make a lot of money, you know." Nobody would tell a crazy lie like this, so she's sure to believe you.


Someone commission a Randy Newman/Lyle Lovett number

Today is the Koujien's fiftieth birthday!

A direct descendent of the 1935 Jien (『辞苑』, "Garden/Meadow of Words/Language"), the first Koujien (『広辞苑』, "Expanded 辞苑") was published in 1955. They've kept up a steady schedule of about one new edition every decade, and we're currently on the 5th (and due for an update!) Wikipedia also lists several intriguing-sounding books about the Koujien.

There's some mildly interesting stuff (in Japanese) at the official site, including a page about the unsung heroes of the Koujien, such as...

The Tsuji College of the Culinary Arts

The Koujien has 230,000 entries. This includes many "encyclopedia-style" entries, which we have written and double-checked for us by foremost experts in the appropriate field. For the fifth edition, the Tsuji College of the Culinary Arts kindly agreed to edit the "food and drink" entries for us. "It really brought home to me again how wide-ranging the entries and definitions are. There were terms like nobusama and tachibanayaki that you just don't hear these days -- we had to check them in old reference books, and there were a lot of originally foreign foods that are prepared differently or use different ingredients in their home countries -- we really had to work our brains to make our explanations simple and clear." This dedicated editorial attitude makes the Koujien the reliable reference work that it has become.

According to the Koujien (of course):

  • nobusama (野衾) is "tenderised 'little bird' and sea bream, briefly boiled and then simmered with lightly sliced/peeled abalone shaped into something like a bag" (yes, it's all simple and clear to me now -- maybe it's just because I don't understand how any amount of peeling or slicing could shape an abalone into a bag) -- or, alternately, "a kind of flying squirrel";
  • tachibanayaki (橘焼) is "Ground fish meat made into small balls and dyed yellow with jasmine, simmered with miso sauce, and stuck on a trifoliate orange branch".



"If you leak this to anyone else I will split your spine and cut you in half at the waist."

When I get really serious about searching for obscure Chinese poets, I always seem to find something unrelated but nevertheless fascinating at idiocentrism.com. This time it was the Sheng-wu Ch'in-cheng Lu, "one of the primary texts on the life and career of Chinggis Qan". Here's a short extract, plus longer footnote:

Galloping their steeds the charging army rode off.
[At this time our forces had a man named Taqaiqa in Jamuqa's army.] The Emperor’s Jeuret follower Cha'u'ur was his relative and went to visit. They happened to be riding together. Cha'u'ur did not know about the plot. Taqaiqa tapped him on the side with his whip. Cha'u'ur looked back to see Taqaiqa looking at him. Realizing Taqaiqa wanted to say something, Cha'u'ur dismounted as if to urinate. Taqaiqa then told him about the river covenant, saying, ["The situation is now critical. Where are you going to go?" Cha'u'ur was alarmed; on his way home, he encountered the Qorula Yesügei. He told him about the situation and was going to go to tell the Emperor.]
NOTE: The first two sentences could also be "...the charging troop rode off toward our forces. There was among [Jamuqa's] troops a soldier named Taqaiqa." (This would have to be the translation if the Chinese verb fu requires a destination.) I have chosen this version because I do not believe that Jamuqa's troops went off directly to attack Temüjin's forces, but rather to gather their own forces for the attack. If they had attacked immediately, there would not have been time to warn Temüjin. (A few lines further down we see wagon-yurts on their way to Jamuqa's camp, indicating that Jamuqa's force was still assembling.)
It is my interpretation that Taqaiqa was either unwillingly in Jamuqa's camp, or else deliberately there as a spy, but could not risk going directly to Temüjin and needed to find an intermediary. When Cha'u'ur happened to come to visit a relative in Taqaiqa's camp (not Taqaiqa himself), Taqaiqa took advantage of the opportunity to get word to Temüjin, knowing that Cha'u'ur was a supporter of Temüjin. "As if to urinate" is Wang Kuo-wei’s interpretation.

Submitted without comment

"quoniam prosperitas stultos semper inflat et mundana tranquillitas vigorem enervat animi et per carnales illecebras facile resolvit, cum iam me solum in mundo superesse philosophum estimarem nec ullam ulterius inquietationem formidarem, frena libidini cepi laxare..."


I mostly owned Mandarin and HBJ editions, it seems

Via Bookslut: the covers of every edition of every Stanislaw Lem book ever (maybe).

A little heat arrives

Rikka has ended and 小満 (Shouman) has begun. Apparently originally referred to as 盈満 (Eiman, "waxing full"), it literally means something like "waxing (満) a little (小)" now, I think, because this is the time of year when things do.

The three subseasons in Japan are:

  1. 蚕起食桑 (Kaiko Okotte Kuwa o Kurau), "Silkworms get up and start eating mulberry"
  2. 紅花栄 (Kouka Sakau), "Safflowers flourish"
  3. 麦秋至 (Bakushuu Itaru), "Wheat harvest arrives"
Meanwhile, in China:
  1. 苦菜秀, "苦菜 excels [at blooming]" (苦菜 is variously identified as "Korean lettuce", "rabbit milkweed", etc.
  2. 靡草死, "靡草 [withers and] dies" (靡草 apparently refers to something like shepherd's purse)
  3. 小暑至, "A little heat arrives"

A trickle of strangers were all that were left alive

Tanks in Roppongi! At a special event celebrating the imminent opening of Sengoku Jieitai 1549!

OK, they weren't really tanks. They were "giant armored vehicles" (巨大装甲車).

I also found this handy page about the older Sengoku Jieitai book/movie*, which has the same basic setup (SDF travels back in time, fights Nobunaga) but different characters.

* Released in English as G.I. Samurai, a fact I never get tired of.


Because I know you all love posts about Japanese punctuation

So, following up on my previous post, which in comments developed into a discussion of Sino-Japanese "repeat previous character/s" marks, I found the mother of all "long wave" characters in an episode of Crayon Shin-chan (『クレヨンしんちゃん』, Kureyon Shinchan, a long-running gag manga (and anime) about a little boy called NOHARA "Shin-chan" Shinnosuke). Check it out:

The rightmost speech balloon is a train announcement saying that they've reached Action Zoo (don't ask). What's actually written there is "アクション動物園前 /\", which expands to "アクション動物園前 アクション動物園前": "Akushon Doubutsuen-mae, Akushon Doubutsuen-mae." The "long wave" here is repeating nine characters corresponding to twelve morae.

Well, I thought it was impressive.

Incidentally, Crayon Shin-chan is written and drawn by USUI Yoshito (臼井義人) and I love it, non-ironically. It makes me laugh out loud constantly. And his mother and teacher are total foxes.

He likes big butts and he cannot lie

Haiku lesson has rolled around again and as usual there are some great ones. My favorite so far has been this effort from a second-year boy, on the theme of "Las Vegas":

Sexy gals
Fat ass

Close second, this one on "Batman" (yes, inspired by the Composite Superman):

Leather smell
Deep voice
Man smell

I hasten to add that these are not examples of unintentional non-native-speaker goofs -- the authors and their friends found them hilarious too.

Stretching the idiom

"Merrill Lynch Japan president bullish on being a woman."

Marco! I need five hundred -- no, a thousand! -- shares of being a woman! No, to hell with it, I'll just get the operation! Put me through to Dr Riviera!


So I guess there are even Vampire Squid now.

I bet all the other squid tease them for their lame poetry. "'Tortured by the weight of a thousand fathoms, I swim in eternal night, feeding just to stay alive' -- hello! We're squid!"


Paper plays online

Kamishibai (紙芝居, "paper plays"*) were the missing link in Japan between theatre and TV. DoCoMo has a few post-war examples of the art archived online for your pleasure.

The site's all in Japanese, but it's not hard to navigate. There are three main sections: cartoons, action/adventure, and other. When you find one that looks interesting, click through to it. Then, if you're lucky, you'll see one or both of these buttons below the title card:

  • 一覧表示: view images and explanatory text (説明文) only.
  • 動画実演: play video, which includes narration and sound effects. (You'll have to choose whether you have an IDSN (slow) or ADSL (fast) connection on the next page.)
Note that not all of the items in the catalogue have video, and a lot of them don't even have still images. Bummer.

* Where "play" is 芝居, "be on the grass" (i.e. what commoners did as they watched plays).


New Bass Harp post

On this day in 1949, UNNO Juuza died. He was the father of modern Japanese science fiction.

Like most "father of X-ese science fiction" figures worldwide, he didn't just write sf. He also wrote mysteries, adventures, magical realism, and I recently discovered that he even wrote scripts for radio plays about schoolkids. And so I decided to translate one of them.

This radio play was broadcast in 1938, which was before Japan drew America into the Pacific war -- but they had already been occupying Manchuria for years, and Korea for decades. And Unno wasn't exactly a conscientious objector, either -- he wrote military sf during the war and was in the navy himself. It was apparently a great shock to him when Japan lost.

So, although I haven't done painstaking research into his life, I'd suggest that we can reasonably assume that the uncritically nationalistic elements in his work -- including this play -- are expressions of his personal beliefs, rather than, say, attempts to undermine and satirise the political movements of the day.

I'm posting Act 1 today. It's like a weird cross between 1930s nationalist sloganeering and an Enid Blighton boarding-school story. (Ironically, the part that seems the most immediately shocking today -- the bit right at the start where students in the background tease each other about their skin color -- is, as far as I can tell, the most innocent; the idea of the Japanese as a single, unique race was very much in effect in 1938, so it's about standards of beauty rather than race. I believe that a modern equivalent in English-speaking countries might be teasing someone for having a goofy-looking chin, or red hair and freckles.)

Act 2 will come tomorrow, and Act 3 on Thursday (They aren't really connected to each other.)

This is why I use the whiteboard when I play English shiritori

... "OK, now a word starting with W."


"Why. OK, next, a word starting with Y."


"You. Next word starts with U." ...


"Because you used robots to deceive me, I've decided you're unworthy to be my partners!"

Today, as part of a pictorial teaching aid in a "five senses" bit, I achieved perhaps my greatest success since arriving in Japan: I introduced my students to the Composite Superman.

"It's Batman!" said some. "No, it's Superman!" said others. "You're all wrong!" I cried, spitting on decades of teaching theory re negative vs positive reinforcement. "It's the Composite Superman!"

"Konsei choujin," explained my co-teacher helpfully. (混成超人)

"I don't like Batman," complained one student.

"Just look at the Superman half, then," I suggested.

But he wasn't satisfied. "Batman's kind of... dark," he said. (Kind of?) "If he's a hero, why does he act so scary?"

"Because 'criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot'!" I recited impatiently. "What do they teach you kids in school?"

"You're our teacher!"

Nor were they happy when I drew a line connecting the sense of hearing to the Composite Superman's Batman ear.

"He can't hear through that," they scoffed.

"Of course he can. It's an ear, isn't it?" I demanded.

"It's just for show!"

"Batman is the world's greatest detective. He probably has sonar in there or something."

"Then that would be the sense of sonar."

"That's a subset of hearing!"

"No it isn't!"

"I'm not even going to argue with you about whether or not the Composite Superman has sonar in one ear, and if so whether that counts as hearing or not," I said. But, sadly, I already had.


Confidential to Searcher at Dogpile.com

Suke suke (透け透け or just スケスケ) has nothing to do with -suke (-助). Suke suke means "see-through" and is usually found before a word like ブラウス (blouse) or 水着 (swimsuit). I hope this helps you.

(It's also possible that you're misspelling suki suki (好き好き) which is basically "I love it/you/him/etc." + "squee".)


Self-indulgent weekend post

When I got to Shibuya today the sky was blue and Moyai statue had a single cigarette-box tear in its eye. I got my fried pork cutlet and curry fix from Joytime, sitting behind a couple arguing in Japanese and French (I think), and then went across Scramble Intersection into the medina. Two guys were raising skateboards triumphantly right in the middle of the crossing, beaming up at the Starbucks windows where a friend was presumably taking their photo. I raised the V as I passed, just in case.

I passed a woman wearing a pants suit and doing a half-hearted robot outside a shoe store and began the serious business of wandering around aimlessly. (So aimlessly that I almost went inside Museum for Ships, but realised at the last minute that it was a clothing store, not a repository of nautical artifacts.) I ended up in 730, a cafe that always has something Jamaican on the sound system and looks exactly like the overhead view you'll find on that website if you keep clicking through the javascript. They also sell customised lighters that one of the baristas makes.

There I drank some delicious "pu'er tea", wondering what the second character in the name (普洱) meant and kind of wishing I'd brought my dictionary. My rule of thumb when confronting Chinese goods with unknown characters in their names is to assume that the characters refer to place of origin, and apparently good ol' thumby came through for me again.

When I came out, the eastern half of the sky was dazzlingly sunny but the other half was still a gnarled mess of rainclouds, which were still raining on Shibuya. I darted rhythmically from awning to awning down the street, turning sideways to dive through temporary gaps between guys with sideways trucker caps and girls in silky skirts with ribbons and pockets, all the while wondering if this counted as a doshaburi and what the dosha- (土砂) in that word means anyway. The raindrops are so big they feel like earth and sand? Or is it just mimesis and ateji? (But mostly I was looking at the skirts.)

Just outside the station, I saw a guy in a Basquiat t-shirt with his arm around his girlfriend's head as he held the umbrella above them both. Too great a height difference can do strange things to a relationship.


He liked circus folk

Today is the 52nd anniversary of KUNIYOSHI Yasuo's death, so let's all check out the small gallery online at the Kuniyoshi Yasuo Museum. I like "At Work".


Obvious Superman references are also dicks

Everyone's familiar, I hope, with Superman is a Dick. But what I didn't know was that superheroic dickishness has even reached Japan.

Here's the setup: it's a Doraemon comic, the plot of which is usually:

  1. Nobita is in trouble (or just inconvenienced, or bored)
  2. Doraemon produces a high-tech gadget to solve the problem
  3. Nobita gets cocky, over- or misuses the gadget, and gets himself in even worse trouble.

This particular comic begins with Nobita playing with a kendama in his room, and getting the ball to land in the cup for the first time in his life. Excited, he decides to go out (carefully balancing the ball as it is) and show his supporting characters friends. Doraemon tags along as usual.

But halfway to the door, his mother stops him. Her hanko has fallen down behind a desk, and she wants help getting it out. Nobita flees, but Doraemon stays behind and produces a box of eggs containing fictional characters. He breaks one open and Tom Thumb appears in a puff of smoke. Tom gets the hanko and then vanishes. "They disappear when their task is done," Doraemon explains.

Meanwhile, at the park, Gian and Suneo are unimpressed with Nobita's feat. So unimpressed that they beat him up and run off with the kendama. Nobita runs home to Sleeping Beauty washing the floor and soon gets the whole story from Doraemon. Once he understands the procedure, he immediately breaks open the Arsene Lupin egg.

Lupin steals the kendama back, but Gian and Suneo know that Nobita is behind the heist, because at Lupin's insistence Nobita hand-delivered the traditional letter to them beforehand: "I will steal your kendama today at 2:30 p.m. Erect your defences as you will. --Arsene Lupin."

So when Nobita goes to show Shizuko (another of his friends, and also his future wife) his kendama skill, Gian and Suneo chase him back into his house angrily -- though what they're angry about I do not know, since Lupin only stole back what was already Nobita's. Anyway, that's when Nobita gets an idea...

It's "Mighty Man", also known as "as close as our lawyers would let us get to Superman".

Nobita: "Mighty Man! I want to show Shizu-chan how I can get the ball into the cup."

Mighty Man: "I understand. I won't allow anyone to interfere until you show her your cup-and-ball skills."

On the way to Shizuka's house, Mighty Man takes care of Gian and Suneo:

Nobita: "That'll do!"

(Damn, Mighty Man, they're just kids.)

Predictably, on Shizuka's doorstep, Nobita can't perform.

Nobita: "It went so well before..."

Shizuka: "I'm kind of busy..."

So Nobita turns to leave, and Shizuka starts to go inside. But...

Mighty Man won't allow it.

Mighty Man: "Keep trying."

Nobita: "It's OK, you can vanish!"

Mighty Man: "NO, I CAN'T!"

Mighty Man: "I can't vanish until my task is complete! Now get that ball into that cup successfully!"

And so...

Nobita's mother: "Excuse me, but it's time for dinner..."


What a dick. Doraemon rules.


I want more life, friend

In Japanese, if someone (incorrectly) says you're dead, you can respond with something that loosely translates as "Don't just kill me!" ("俺を勝手に殺すな!"). You can also complain on behalf of other people: "人を勝手に殺すな!"

This is obviously not the primary, literal sense of "kill" (殺す), because no-one actually physically dies. But on the other hand I don't think it's in the same category as metaphorical "killings" like "that guy just kills me".

Instead, I would interpret it as meaning something like "don't kill the representation of me in your discourse." So the killing is a literal ending of a life, but the life in question is not a physical one.

I don't think we can do that in English. The closest thing I can think of is saying something like "Do you think J.K. Rowling will kill Harry Potter in the last book?", but I'm not sure if that can apply to non-fictional characters too: "In my new alternate history, I kill Hitler at age 10" seems a bit off to me. (And actually I would strongly prefer "kill off" in both cases, not "kill".)

And either way, I'm pretty sure that we can't talk about rhetorical killings that take place in spoken conversation rather than carefully constructed prose. But I could be wrong. Anybody?


Every which way but you's (OK, that was terrible)

ButterflyBlue has a cool post about people's tendency to assume that names in their preferred language are "real", a phenomenon for which she has coined the word "bilasu".

It's an interesting question, and I wonder if she or I have any legally-oriented readers who can tell us how these things tend to work on the "official" documents. I also have to admit that a quick glance at drinks in the supermarket didn't turn up any counter-examples to her "English-labelled products in Japan are also labelled in katakana" observation, except for DAKARA (which I already mentioned).

I have occasionally wondered what the generally accepted way to handle things like book titles is -- when referring to a Japanese book in English, there are often many layers of title to choose from:

  1. A Japanese title (which may include Roman characters) (『蛇にピアス』)
  2. The Japanese title in Romaji, with English loanwords left in Japanese pronunciation... (Hebi ni Piasu)
  3. ... or normalised (Hebi ni Pierce)
  4. An English "alternate title" included for good measure on the cover but not on the copyright information page, which may or may not be an accurate translation of the Japanese title (Snakes and Earrings)
  5. An English title which is a more accurate (but usually clumsier) translation of the Japanese title (Snakes and Piercings)

Since I'm a nerdy completist and this is my blog (dammit), I usually try to include as many of these as I can -- but I wouldn't try to get away with that writing for a newspaper or something.


Old Starsky and Hutches

And the 9th TEZUKA Osamu Cultural Prize for manga goes to...

Pluto. Which is based on a story by... uh... Tezuka Osamu. Ahem.

They should consider themselves very lucky that Foetry already shut down.

Reach out and help someone

So in my post about Japanese "dream" words, I mentioned the word 夢助, yumesuke, and translated it as "Dreamer Joe". What I meant by this was that 助, -suke, is a common element in boys' names*, and has been for a long time -- so long that people generally interpret a novel phrase of the form "LEXEME + -suke" as either a playful reference to the LEXEME itself, or a mock "name" indicating a person who is prone to or known for LEXEME. It's a bit of an old-fashioned construction now, but not archaic. A few other -suke words of this type in the Kojien include:

  • 芋助 -- imosuke -- "Potato-suke": a country bumpkin (imo can also mean this on its own) or a dolt in general
  • 円助 -- yensuke -- "Yen-suke": Edo slang for "one yen"
  • 半助 -- hansuke -- "Half-suke": Edo slang for "half a yen"; OR a slacker
  • 豆助 -- mamesuke -- "Bean-suke": Shrimp, shorty
  • 凸助 -- dekosuke -- "Convex-suke": Person with a bulging forehead
  • 寝坊助 -- nebosuke -- "Sleep-monk-suke": Sleepyhead
  • 飲助 -- nomisuke -- "Drink-suke": Drunkard
  • 浮助 -- ukisuke -- "Floating-suke": a playboy, a cad ("floating" is an element in all kinds of words relating to transience, pleasure, unfaithfulness...)
  • 露助 -- rosuke -- "Russia-suke": A Russian. Possibly inspired by "Russkii"!

As you can see, it's not generally used to compliment people (no offence to Russians), although of course these terms can be used affectionately (a teacher I know calls his daughter chibisuke, "Shorty").

So what does suke actually mean? Put simply, it means "help". It's an element in a lot of old titles and job descriptions, such as 衛府佐, wefu-no-suke, "defence-office-help", Vice Minister of the Office of Defence, a general term for a whole lot of more closely specified positions in the old government. The suke, by the way, corresponds to the "Vice Minister".

But wait a minute, you say. Isn't there a verb that means "help" and is very like suke? Why, yes there is! It's 助ける, tasukeru, even written with the same kanji. Modern 助ける derives from old 助く, tasuku, which in turn probably comes from ta (hand) + suku (verbal form of suke).

Although this guy thinks that the ta is from Tamil tan, some kind of emphasis prefix.

But if the intra-Japanese etymology is true**, it makes the word 手助け (tedasuke, "hand-help", a helping hand) seem a bit silly. At the very least it suggests an extremely strong urge to add "hand" to words meaning "help", even if a hidden hand is already in there.

But wait, I have more! Most etymologists seem to agree that 助く is related to 救う, sukuu, "help, save". But the real question is: is 救う related to the other sukuu: 掬う, "pick [flowers], snatch up"?

The Iwanami Old Japanese dictionary seems to think so, and it's not difficult to imagine how things might have evolved ("to snatch something -> to snatch someone from the jaws of peril -> to help someone in general"). Still, I'm getting a bit out of my depth so let's end things here.

* Other kanji used to represent suke in names include 介, 輔, 佐, 祐, 典, and about a trillion others.

** Another word with an initial ta suspected of originally meaning "hand": tako, "octopus".


Embarrassing conversation with a student

STUDENT: Hey, Matt-sensei, what are you reading?
ME: (showing cover) "An Instance of the Fingerpost".
S: A what?
M: "An Instance of the Fingerpost".
S: What does that mean?
M: ... I don't know.
S: (laughs at me until he almost dies)

This must be what people mean when they talk about overly clever postmodernists ruining the joy of literature.

Vending machine adventures

I just realised, or perhaps re-realised, today that there's a beverage in my school vending machine called REAL GOLD.

Seriously. Think about that. It's REAL GOLD. REAL GOLD! Isn't that either blatant false advertising, or an unbelievably toxic concoction that most definitely should not be offered to schoolchildren?

It does give me a kind of post-scarcity post-human utopian thrill to imagine a world in which heavy-metal-metabolising cyborgs can buy a can of real gold for just 90 Yen, though. No, I lied, it doesn't. They would at least have to be using New Yen or GalactoCredits for the idea to thrill me.

Last week, they added a new beverage to the machine's range. Unfortunately, they didn't think very hard about where to put the "new" badge, and it covers up part of the logo. Renaming the product:

active die!


The wisdom of getting another PR push

For some reason this Heart Sutra-based book from last year is back in the New Releases section at my local bookstore. It's called 『生きて死ぬ智慧』 (Ikite Shinu Chie, "Living and Dying Wisdom", p'raps?) and it includes a translation/commentary by YANAGISAWA "one of the greatest life scientists in Japan" Keiko (柳澤桂子) and pictures by HORI Fumiko (堀文子). Apparently an English translation is also included. You can look at some sample pages here.

As this multilingual version of the Heart Sutra shows, the original isn't very long, but this book elaborates on it plenty. For instances, after the framing device, the original (well, in Chinese) opens 舎利子,色不異空,空不異色,色即是空,空即是色 ("O Sariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, nor emptiness from form; form itself is emptiness, and emptiness form"). But the Ikite Shinu Chie version covers that same ground with something I quickly translate as:

Listen! We exist in a vast universe. However, there is nothing that can be called form in the universe. There is no truth. The universe is full of particles; the particles move and swirl freely and change form, becoming still when their relationships are in equilibrium...

And actually goes on for a few lines more. So you can see it's a rather sweeping modernisation, designed specifically to acknowledge the modern scientific view of reality.

Sariputra/Shariputra, incidentally, has some truly zany stories attached to him. My favorite is the one where he meets a guy who says "Alas, my mother is sick and the doctor says only a monk's eyeball can cure her!", so Sariputra pulls out his left eye and gives it to him. But then the guy says "No! It has to be the right eye, not the left!" So Sariputra sighs and pulls out his other eye and hands it over. Then the guy sniffs it and says "This is too stinky to give to my mother, you stinky-eyed fool!", throws it on the ground and stamps on it for good measure.

At which point Sariputra is just about to give up monking forever when the guy reveals that he was actually a Deva all along, come to test Sariputra's devotion. Which I'm sure made Sariputra feel a lot better. Although in some versions he never tells Sariputra what was going on, and Sariputra does give up monking, and suffers in hell for a while.


Some cool dream-related Japanese words and phrases

  • 夢 -- yume -- a dream
  • 逆夢 -- sakayume -- "opposite dream": a dream the contents of which are contrary to reality
  • 正夢 -- masayume -- "true dream": a dream which later comes true
  • 初夢 -- hatsuyume -- "first dream": the first dream one has in a new year
  • 現の夢 -- utsutsu no yume -- the "dream of reality": our dreamlike, fragile world
  • 夢助 -- yumesuke -- "Dreamer Joe": someone who (a) sleeps a lot or (b) acts dreamily while awake
  • 夢主 -- yumenushi -- "dream proprietor": the dreamer of a dream (used in fortune-telling contexts, etc.)
  • 夢人 -- yumebito -- "dream person": a person one meets in a dream
  • 客夢 -- kakumu -- "guest dream": a dream one has away from home
  • 夢は五臓のわざ -- yume wa gozou no waza -- "dreams are the work of your Five Organs": something said to comfort folks who have had a bad dream (the Five Organs are the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys -- it's a traditional Chinese medicine thing)
  • 夢中説夢 -- mu chuu setsu mu -- "within a dream, explaining the dream": i.e. what Buddhist preachers are, metaphorically, doing (according to their ontology)


Today is too many days

Going backwards in time from most recently instated, today is:

Children's Day (こどもの日): Nationwide public holiday and the end of Golden Week. We are also supposed to appreciate our mothers on this day. Thanks, mum!

The Boy's Festival (端午の節句): Apparently, the word 端午 (tango) -- literally "Beginning Horse", perhaps -- originally referred the fifth day of any given lunar month (the fifth day being the first Horse day in the month), and the の節句 (no sekku, roughly "seasonal festival") was later added to distinguish between all these other tangos and the one that occurs on the fifth month of each year, which is specifically the Boy's Festival. Clear?

So the carp streamers and things are not really for the postwar Children's Day itself, but rather for the older festival, Boy's Day. This is why you see them referred to in old sayings like the one Wikipedia helpfully mentions:

Edokko wa gogatsu no koi no fukinagashi, kuchisaki bakari de harawata wa nashi
Edo folks are May carp streamers, all mouth and no guts

Zing! That's a 5-7-5-8-7 syllable structure, by the way. I'm not sure if it's a senryuu + explanatory comment or a satirical tanka. (And do I dare hope that the rhyme is intentional?)

And finally, this year, today is also the beginning of the calendar section after Kokuu -- namely, 立夏 (rikka), which means "Summer Begins". Yes! It is now officially summer in Japan. Cicadae who do not start going min min, jiit jiit or at the very least kanakanakana as of this evening are liable to heavy penalties.

The three subseasons of Rikka would be:

  1. 蛙始鳴, kaeru hajimete naku: Frogs Begin to Call. (Or, in China, 螻蝈鳴, which Wikipedia says means the same thing except it specifies tree frogs.)
  2. 蚯蚓出, kyuuin izuru: Worms Come Out.
  3. 竹笋生, chikukan shouzu: Bamboo Shoots Emerge. (Or, in China, 王瓜生, which means "王瓜 Emerge/Begin to Grow/etc." I'm not sure but I think those are called "snake gourds" in English.)


Just look for the red, itchy door inside the Hostographical Pavilion

There comes a time in every man's life when he must go to the Meguro Parasitological Museum. For me, that time was today.

The web is full of blog posts and travel guides detailing the many grotesque wonders lurking in the MPM's formaldehyde, so I won't repeat it all. But I will say there were some crazy old books in there, and in the gift shop I bought a copy of 『寄生虫博士の中国トイレ旅行記』 ("Toilets in China: a Parasitologist's Travels", maybe), by SUZUKI Noriji, which looks like just the thing to keep me out here on the archipelago forever. (Or at least until they get those superatmospheric rocket planes working so that I can duck back to Japan when nature calls.)

Probably the single most disturbing thing about that whole place was a picture someone had drawn in the guestbook, of Doraemon with an alarmingly large worm coming out of his rear end. (No, I lie. The single most disturbing thing was a particular photo on the second floor, and I imagine that everyone who has been to the MPM knows exactly the photo I mean.)


Osaka sign language

I can't even remember why I started pursuing this train of thought, but (if you speak Japanese) check out this neat page about Osaka sign language.

Immediate fun: fingerspell something in yubimoji (指文字). (Osaka yubimoji seem to be the same as the standard JSL [= Tokyo] version.)

There are also interesting sections about Osaka place names, and a table showing the differences between Osaka and Tokyo signs for common words.

SORRY (gomen nasai)

OSAKA: Touch your chin with the end of your thumb and fold your other four fingers into a ko shape (コ) while lowering your head slightly.
TOKYO: Pinch the area between your eyebrows with the thumb and forefinger of your right hand, then straighten your right hand and bring it forward and down from your brow.

"Sorry I did something that made you wrinkle your brow in frustration or worry", is apparently the etymology for that last one.

For English speakers: this palimpsesty collection of lectures and e-mails about ASL grammar is interesting too.


Japanese palindromes

絵里絵, pronounced erie: a kanji palindrome. Other kanji palindromes that spring to mind are 日曜日 ("Sunday") and 一対一 ("one on one").

Then there are "radical palindromes", like 林 ("grove") or -- if you're writing from top to bottom -- 昌 ("clear", "shining"). And here's one that's two characters long: 明日 ("tomorrow").*

Of course, word and phrase palindromes aren't very exciting. Sentences are where it's at. The Japanese word for "palindrome" is 回文, kaibun, and googling that brings up a few sites, such as this one (scroll past the English puns), which even has moraic-palindrome tanka:

叫ぶとも 遠き五月雨 汝は知らじ 離なれた岬 音も飛ぶ今朝
さけぶとも とおきさみだれ なはしらじ はなれたみさき おともとぶけさ
sakebu tomo tooki samidare na wa shiraji hanareta misaki oto mo tobu kesa
oh, it will cry
the distant May rain
unknown to you
a cape far away
even sounds fly this morning

Note that:

  • wa is considered ha (which is how it's written)
  • Voiced morae are considered identical to their unvoiced equivalents (shi/ji, ta/da)
* Technically, the 日 at the bottom of 昌 is a 曰; and the 日 at the left of 明 is a 冏; but I'm going to go with "how they are written in modern Japanese" rather than "how they were written millennia ago on tortoise shells" as the standard for identity.


Not guilty, y'all got to feel me

Learnt from a friend of a friend: the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music University Art Museum (東京芸実大学大学美術館 東京藝術大学大学美術館)'s collection database is online and searchable.

The pages are in Japanese, but since a lot of the entries have an English title and Romanised artist name in their metadata, you might find some interesting stuff even if you can't enter Japanese search terms. 作品名 means "title of piece", 作者名 means "name of artist", and 検索 means "search".

Not all of the works in the database have visuals attached, but a lot of them do, including my beloved 少女新聞を読む.

On ka

I was reading a book a few days ago and I came across the word か細い: kabosoi, hosoi (slim) with a mysterious ka prefix. To judge from the context, it didn't seem very different in meaning from plain old hosoi, but that ka at the start bugged me. I'd seen it before in か弱い (kayowai), which, again, didn't seem to differ much from regular yowai (weak or delicate).

So, I decided to look it up in the ol' Iwanami dictionary of old-school Japanese, my most trusted single source for this kind of thing. According to the Iwanami editors:

  1. It can be found in the oldest Japanese texts.
  2. It basically means "seems" or "-looking". So か弱い means "weak-looking" (or "delicate-looking", etc.)
  3. It is related to the ka at the end of words like shizuka (quiet, peaceful) and yutaka (rich, abundant). (These words are much more common, even today.)
  4. By the Heian era, these kas had spawned ke and ge, but I'm not even going to get into all the subtle distinctions and nuances in meaning there.

Here's a か黒き (ka-black) in context, from the Manyoushuu:

可母自毛能 宇伎祢乎須礼婆 美奈能和多 可具呂伎可美尓 都由曽於伎尓家類
鴨じもの 浮寝をすれば 蜷の腸 か黒き髪に 露ぞ置きにける
kamo-jimono / ukine wo sureba / mina no wata / kaguroki kami ni / tsuyu zo okinikeru
Like the wild ducks
I float adrift by night
And so the dew has settled
on my hair,
which was once black
as a univalve's guts.

蜷の腸, "a [certain type of] univalve's guts", is a pillow-word for か黒き (or variant か黒し) -- neither of them appear anywhere in the Manyoushuu unaccompanied by the other.