I can't remember if I posted about this before or not

Spotted in the bookstore the other day: a bilingual, facing-pages edition of William N. Porter's early 20th-century translation of the Tosa Nikki (『土佐日記』, or "Diary of [a person from] Tosa [Province]").

There can't be many people who know enough or are interested enough in classical Japanese to benefit from this book yet don't know enough modern Japanese to benefit more from a regular edition aimed at the Japanese-speaking market.

Still, more bilingual editions (of anything) in circulation can only be good for the aliens who will have to sift through the rubble of the Earthling civilisations and learn our languages through comparative hyperphilology. (They will probably already speak Japanese, having been drawn here in the first place by the desire to buy Inu-Yasha merchandise.)

One notable fact about the Tosa Nikki is that although it was probably written by a man (the governer of Tosa himself, in fact), he claims to be a woman. This is doubly funny when you consider that the work starts:

"[I], a woman, have decided to try my hand at one of those 'diary' things that men write."

When I first read this, I thought I'd misunderstood -- one thousand years later, the Japanese "diary-like book" canon is practically a female-only zone. Of course there are some exceptions, but...

Also, did you notice the womuna there? Part of the onna (女, woman) family tree, which also includes wouna and began, I believe, with the eerily-similar-to-English womina. If I were a 19th-Century crank, I'd be proposing links between Indo-European and Japanese right about now. (Although I'd probably get shot down by another crank smugly informing me that "woman" was just a shortened form of "woe-to-man".)

Finally, not to undercut Tuttle or anything, but if you weren't married to the whole "book" thing, you could also read G. W. Sargent's translation of the work here, crossreferencing it with one or both of the two editions of the Japanese text available at UVa. Or perhaps you'd prefer a CJ-MJ edition.

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I'm embarassed to say I don't remember for sure, but didn't male diaries written in Chinese precede the wave of classic female works? I thought his pose as a woman was a clever way to excuse himself for writing--god forbid--in his own language. But that he casually thereby also broke ground for the flowering after him. Does he have a female predecessor I've misplaced chronologically?


Aha, thanks! Sorry I followed it up with a post about flaming skeletons.

I think you're right about that (you sound like you know more about it than me) -- I'm sure his opening sentence made sense at the time. I was just using my 20/20 hindsight to make fun of him since nowadays all we really care about is the stuff that women wrote in, as you say, god forbid, their own language.

While I'm at it, I'd also like to mock him for not having invented ice-cream, or the skateboard. Sucker!


And don't forget a bit of taunting for the baggy pants and silly hats, eh?

As I remember what little I learned about the period, elessorn is right. Official documents were written in kambun and proficiency therein was a must to be considered a manly man. The Chinese diaries were probably an imitation of some Chinese school...but here we have reached the level of my literary incompetence.

(Speaking of which, can you think of a comparable Western male author who wrote as woman? Plenty of examples in the other direction, but I'm drawing a blank at the moment...!?!)


Actually, I kind of like those hats.

The only thing that immediately comes to mind from the world of English Lit is the Wife of Bath bit in the Canterbury Tales. But that only works if you think of the CT as an allegedly true travelogue rather than a bunch of, well, tales.

It seems to me that Pope or Swift or one of those curmudgeonly types must have done something of the sort, too, but I can't identify a particular piece.

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