No-sword Kanji of the Year, 2005

After cursory perusal of the comments here much deliberation, I have settled on my choice for the 2005 No-sword Kanji of the Year. It is:

Containing elements from both of the "if not this year, then never" kanji on the shortlist -- 郵 (as in postal service) and 萌 (moe) -- it elements elephants the need to choose between them. Kicky, sexy, and archaic, its kun reading is shitomi, a kind of shutter to keep the wind and rain out. Learn it, live it, love it.


What does it have in its sleeveses?

中世なぞなぞ集』 (Chuusei nazonazo shuu) is, as the title says, a Collection of Medieval Riddles -- or, more accurately, a modern collection of several medieval collections of (medieval) riddles. Yes, I think I can safely say that this is the only book of medieval Japanese riddles you will ever need.

The Japanese word for "riddle" (nazo, or the SE Asia-style repeated version nazonazo) actually comes from 何ぞ, nanzo?, "What [is it/am I/etc.]?" The solution to solving a nazo of the variety depicted here lies not in "the more you take away, the bigger I become" logic tricks, but rather, word-, phone- and radicalplay. Here's an example from a 16th-century collection:

uhagie sitaru yuki zo / tae senu
snow with the top gone / without ceasing

Since the word for "snow" is yuki, and the "top" of this word (when written vertically as two kana: ゆき) is yu, the first line gives us ki. The second line actually requires us to think of another word for the idea of "always". The one we want is tsune (常). ki + tsune = kitsune, fox.

Virtually all of the riddles in the book shake out something like that. Some of them are ridiculously easy. Some of them are ridiculously hard, for one or more of several reasons:

  1. the answer is a word that is now archaic;
  2. they require a cryptic crossword-style understanding of conventions (e.g. tengu usually represents the sound ma, as in 魔, devil); or
  3. there are just too many possible solutions, Dan Brown-style.

A good example of the latter case is one where the entire clue is hotoke, "Buddha", from which we are supposed to get kusari, "chain", because Buddha makes suffering (ku) depart (sari). I mean, come on, medieval Japanese word-nerds. That's not a riddle. It's just a pun. Puns do not need to be collected for the ages.

Nevertheless, I have gathered together four riddles that I think a speaker and reader of modern Japanese might have a decent chance at solving. Easy to hard, hints if you need 'em for the harder ones. Answers in comments. (Note that I'm only throwing in the English translations as a CJ comprehension aid -- obviously, you really have to think about the original Japanese to get these.) (Later note: I just realized that I've mostly picked kanji-based ones. Oh well.)

  1. 廿人木にのぼる
    nizifunin ki ni noboru
    "Twenty people climbing a tree."
  2. かミをミればしもにありしもをみればかミにありはゝのハらをとをりて子のかたにあり
    kami wo mireba simo ni ari / simo wo mireba kami ni ari / haha no hara wo toworite / ko no kata ni ari
    "Look at the top, and it's on the bottom / look at the bottom and it's on top / it goes through the mother's middle / and is in the child's side."
  3. うへもなきおもひを仏ときたまふ
    uhe mo naki omohi wo hotoke tokitamahu
    "Buddha explains a thought with no top." (Hint.)
  4. きたみなミにしまで風の吹あれて
    kita minami nisi made kaze no hukiarete
    "The wind rages to the north, south and west..." (Hint, part 1. Hint, part 2.)


Cthulhu... Cthulhu!

So, for Christmas, I got the new-old silent movie version of The Call of Cthulhu. Short review: YES. Long review follows.

I have been a fan of Lovecraft since discovering his work in my teens. Like many other nerds, I was drawn by three main things: his hallucinogenic, overexcited style; his relative obscurity; and, finally, the by-fiat nature of his scare aesthetic.

You see, most artists, when trying to serve up ultimate cosmic horror, flail desperately and end up with a baroque collage of things that are already horrible, except flayed, and upside-down, and with guns on its shoulders. Lovecraft preferred to just state from the outset that what he was talking about was so very wrong that it couldn't be rendered in words, or any other way, and even if it could it would drive you mad, so just take his word for it, it was the worst thing ever.

But, as we all know, when a nerd hears "you literally cannot even imagine this" they take it as a personal challenge, and a rather insulting one at that. I honestly believe that this is one reason Lovecraft is so popular among my fellows. We all like to believe that we do understand, same as we all like to believe we are enlightened like Joshu. Also, we love those final scenes when his characters start ranting in italics.*

Anyway, this Unimaginability represents fifth-column pomo sabotage from within the story itself, and dooms any straight attempt to film Cthulhu to embarrassing failure. No CGI valley is uncanny enough to actually drive an audience mad. So what are filmmakers to do? The answer is as simple as it is brilliant: constrain themselves! And since the story itself dates from the 20s, a silent movie is the perfect solution. Man, it's genius.

You won't mistake this for an actual silent movie from the 20s. The visuals are just too clean, Mythoscope notwithstanding. But the sets are canvas and cardboard, the makeup is Nosferatutian, and in the end, the very visibility of their loving homage makes it much more enjoyable than a perfect pastiche would be.

And when the stop-motion Cthulhu comes out, it's glorious and hilarious and chilling, all at the same time. Goofy and Eerie are both subsets of Weird, after all... why shouldn't they overlap sometimes?

In summary, if you had a paperback Lovecraft collection in your teenage years too, you could do a lot worse than divert your next DVD-purchasing money quantum to this movie. It may not be high art, but believe me when I say that it is the absolute pinnacle of fan art.

* Lovecraft's, not Joshu's. Although that would be interesting. "Has a dog Buddha-mind?" "A mu so unfathomably oblique that even to glimpse its form by night, writhing in silhouette against the cold, distant stars, could reduce the feeble-minded to gibbering husks of humanity! ITS FIRE RADICAL! O, GOD, ITS HIDEOUS FLATTENED FIRE RADICAL!!!!!"


Everything you ever wanted to know about Shinto but were afraid the guys in black vans would punish you for asking

Kokugakuin University has your back. The Encyclopedia of Shinto is a remarkable resource, especially for one that's given away free, and there are some fascinating papers elsewhere in there.

But there is also much evidence that sun deities other than Amaterasu were worshiped. In the section of the Engishiki known as the "directory of names of kami" (Jinmyôchô), shrines with names like "Amateru-mitama Jinja" and dedicated to a variety of sun-deity were found throughout the capital region. Some commentators also hold the view that at the stage before Amaterasu became the imperial ancestral deity, the male solar deity Takamimusubi had that role, but that for a variety of reasons, he passed that status to the goddess Amaterasu.

Now that I did not know. But Joseph Campbell would be relieved to hear it.


This commercial about a 15-year-old "cream fairy" is highly illogical, captain

"I've come to pour the cream on!"

But... but... it's already on! That's the whole point of the "Cream on Pudding" product range!

Also, the part where she says "So, do you have, like, a girlfriend?" but then starts snickering before she can finish the subsequent offer to fill that particular role is cruel and unusual. And amusing!


"Bakunintin" gag redacted

Sometimes living in a very small market for secondhand English books has its advantages. You do get to see an awful lot of the weirder stuff that people brought to Tokyo and then tired of. Like Answers in Genesis, for instance, and comic books that include panels like this:

And I don't even need to explain what's going on here, because the whole thing is online. (Really should have checked that before I got the scanner out.)

I won't ruin the ending, but I think I can safely reveal that the Man gets certain things stuck to him.


Don't you know there's a war on?

Merry Christmas. Here is a poem by KITAHARA Hakushuu (北原白秋) called "Lone God" (独神, Hitorigami, this being a specialized term in Japanese theology referring to gods who were born alone rather than as part of a male-female pair.) Since much of it refers directly to the Kojiki, I've tried to align my translation to Basil Chamberlain's translation rather than reinventing the wheel.

When the Heaven and Earth began,
that time of boundless emptiness,
a lone god was born.
   Like unto a sprouting reed,
   O god so fresh and green. Bloo-bloop.

The land was young, like oil afloat,
or like a jellyfish, adrift--
a lone god, and no-one else.
   Like unto a sprouting reed,
   O god so fresh and green. Bloo-bloop.

No myriad things, not even light
or shade, no shade to comfort him--
a lone god, and stillness.
   Like unto a sprouting reed,
   O god so fresh and green. Bloo-bloop.

No end, for an eternity;
no end, and no written word--
a lone god hides his person.
   Like unto a sprouting reed,
   O god so fresh and green. Bloo-bloop.

No daytime and no nighttime, no,
no cold and no heat, no, not yet--
a lone god passes on.
   Like unto a sprouting reed,
   O god so fresh and green. Bloo-bloop.

Clearly, a key issue with this poem is how to translate こをろ (koworo), which I have rendered as "bloo-bloop". It is a direct reference to some rather mysterious mimesis in the Kojiki which goes nuboko wo sasiorosite kakitamaheba siho koworo-koworo ni kakinasite, "... pushed down the jewelled spear and stirred with it, whereupon, when they had stiffed the brine till it went curdle-curdle ..."* Although I am happy to defer to Chamberlain's grandiose phrasings in most areas, I am not happy with "curdle-curdle". But then, why "bloo-bloop"?

Well, the sound's clearly got something to do with liquid, and slightly sluggish, "curdled" liquid at that. Its 3-mora pattern makes it notably longer than (most) modern Japanese onomatopoeia (it's probably related to modern koro-koro/goro-goro, in fact), which made me add the extra "bloo-". And, of course, there's the jellyfish thing.

So, to summarize: why not?

* The original kanji, at least in my version, are "指下其沼矛以畫者鹽許々袁々呂々邇(此七字以音)畫鳴", which is interesting because (1) the kanji are written in the order ko ko wo wo ro ro ni (using repeat marks), rather than the actual order they're pronounced -- although other versions have them in the pronounced order -- and (2) the little side-note in parentheses there (in real texts, these characters are just written smaller) says "these seven characters are used for their sound [not their meaning]".


E to the izzar, N to the izzie

"Yo! This joint was brought to you by the signs 'W' and 'S', motherrespecters!"

"Word is bond, son! But let me clarify: we don't mean to dis the east side none, either!"

"Aw, heck no, M! You know they count to twelve same way we do!"

For this I became self-aware?

Robot becomes self-aware! Well, 70% of the time, at least. I guess that means it can only kill 70% of humanity. Keep at it, Meiji University!

In any case, I used my magical Japanese powers to find a page at the university which includes a video of the terrifying machine-man. Although, that blue LED looks like it's firing a lot more than 30% of the time.


Terror-fying secrets of the Sinister East

So I guess we still don't know if the whole Little Red Book Red Flag to DHS story is true or not, but it's sounding truer all the time -- truer, and even more hilarious! HAHAHA THEY ACTUALLY THINK MAOISTS ARE A THREAT. (UPDATE: Oh noes! It was a hoax!)

Anyway, since they seem to be prioritizing old Chinese book readers, and I presume they are scanning this blog automatically through Echelon, I thought it'd be best to warn them about an even more dangerous, dastardly, and -- dare I say it? -- inscrutable literary threat -- the Art of War!

In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.
A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind.

Support the troops! Protect the president! Ban canvas, percussion, and oxidization!


Communist anarchy?!

But that's the worst kind!

And don't miss the chilling portrayal of a school for terrorists and revolutionaries. You can tell the teacher is a dangerous man because he is clenching his fist as he lectures. [Thanks Sal. Update: Oh snap! You just threw me a link from BoingBoing, didn't you?! Doooh, I hate smurfs!]

While I'm posting links to amusing comic book panels, this one made me snicker. OK, I'm done.

I call it kawaychedelia

In 1973, a song called 『てんとう虫のサンバ』 (Tentoumushi no samba, "The ladybirds' samba") was a hit single. It was performed by Cherish, a duo consisting of MATSUZAKI Yoshitaka and MATSUI Etsuko, who would later marry. Music by MAGAINO Shunichi, lyrics by SAITOU Daizou, and they go a little something like...

You and I, in the land of dreams,
at a small chapel in the forest,
held our wedding ceremony.
You were shy, and the bugs all teased you,
Saying, "Come on, kiss her!"
So, tenderly, you did.
In red, blue and yellow,
The ladybirds came out,
And broke into a samba...


Frog lives underwater

Stop what you're doing, go to this post at BiblioOdyssey, and follow the instructions.

In the Edo period, people believed that kappa were real, and there were even specialist books about them. The most well-known of these was An Overview of Kappalogy (『水虎考略』), compiled by KOGA Touan (古賀侗庵) in 1820. The work shown here, Guide to [the?] 12 Types of Kappa (『水虎十二品之図』), is a collection of twelve images copied from the Overview with some extra details added. The Guide was authored by SAKAMOTO Kouen (坂本浩然), a court physician in Kii Province, and his younger brother SAKAMOTO Juntaku (坂本純沢), a court physician in Takatsuki, Settsu.

(I should probably note that I am lazily translating suiko (水虎, literally "water tiger") as kappa because although I can find webpages that allege a difference between the two terms, they certainly seem to be used synonymously here.)


More online primary sources

This one kid I used to teach loved this like a son: a dramatization of Perry's black ship-backed clash against the forces of keeping-Japan-closed-ization.

That link goes to a sounds-and-words only version; the original (?) flash animation can be found here (search for ペリー肉声 within the page if you have trouble), along with a whole lot of other Perry vehicles, including his version of that song which offers character analysis based on breast size preference.


How children perceive robots

"In the cases where children have vivid images of communication before the contact with a robot, when they cannot experience what they expected, the after image became less interesting." Lots more interesting stuff throughout the PaPeRo site. (I have a special fondness for robots that observe themselves via external cameras.)


Know your enemy

At last, the tragedy of Giant Octopus can be told!

On the remote Faro Island, a young native boy named Chikiro was told to procure some narcotic berry juice in order to assist the treatment of Kinsaburo Furue. The boy rushed across the rocky shore and made his way into a relatively large, grassy hut. In the distance behind him, his mother called out as she searched for her child. Little did either the boy or his mother know that something else was approaching the hut. The slithering sounds of a giant octopus slowly became audible as it appeared from behind a small hill. Inside the hut, Chikiro's mother located and reprimanded the boy, but the terrifying sight of the collapsing roof completely shifted her attention. The giant octopus had climbed onto the hut, seeking the berry juice inside...

This was an appalling breach of tribal etiquette; he should have burst through the wall of the hut, shouting "OH YEAH!"

Also, Frankenstein.

Dr. Yuzo Kawaji and Dr. Bowen both disembark for Germany to see Dr. Reisendorf, the man who had Frankenstein's heart before it was taken to Japan. Reisendorf explains that if the doctors truly want to find out if the child they have in custody is a descendent of the Frankenstein's monster, then all they have to do is severe one of the child's limbs. If the boy is in fact Frankenstein's monster, Reisendorf assures them that the creature will regenerate its missing limb.

Testable hypotheses are the foundation of modern Frankenscience.

For those who crave more Godzillaic wisdom, and have a few hours to spare, I recommend the Wikipedia entry.


And the magic ingredient is...

Mark over at Pinyin news scooped me on the 2005 Kanji of the Year -- it's 愛, of all things. Talk about unoriginal. Standard Tattoo Kanji #2, comin' right up!

(I would have gone with 郵, yuu, which in modern Japan signifies postal service and similar delivery schemes almost exclusively. Obviously, 郵 only even made the short list because of all the political hoo-hah about Koizumi and his party-splitting privatization plan this year, and it's not like it's ever going to get another chance to shine. Poor old 郵.)

Bonus rare old word that 愛 is often used to write: hasi (beloved/cute/longed for/neat-o/etc.), also a component in uruhasi (modern uruwashii) and hasikiyasi/hasikiyosi/hasikeyasi.


Don't worry. I'm sure this time, everyone in East Asia will be happy!

Yet another kanji encoding scheme font which is not new.

(Maybe I should clarify -- I don't mean to be entirely snarky; there is some interesting stuff on that site. E.G.)

Nosebleeds to sweep Japan

GOTO Maki, TAKAOKA Saki and MANDA Hisako are going to star in a "special drama" called Yubi ("Finger[s]") about a certain "lesbian world" where "love and hate mingle and swirl" (愛憎渦巻くレズビアンの世界). Goto and Takaoka will play actresses, Manda will play their wealthy patron, and all will get involved in a love triangle sure to be as dramatically scored as it is vaguely filmed.

Seriously, this can only be a positive development. Beautiful young actresses have, for far too long, been all but invisible to Japanese popular culture.


Of course my own room is so small that I can warm the entire space by vigorously consulting a dictionary

We have officially entered the cold time of year here in Tokyo, when to wear a hat is to feel as one normally does without a hat and to not wear a hat is to feel as one who wears a hat of ice. What I'm saying is I need to buy a hat.

One of the most enduring symbols of winter in Japan is the kotatsu*, an ingenious invention comprising a table, a heater underneath it, and a blanket on top to keep the heat in. Other countries may have invented and/or adopted methods like central heating and insulation to stay warm during the cold months, but a surprising number of my Japanese acquaintances are passionately attached to the "under the kotatsu is warm, everywhere else is cold" housekeeping system.

I suppose much affection will attach to any national method of not freezing to death with such a long history -- the Muromachi Period seems to be the generally accepted kick-off of the Japanese kotatsu (inspired by certain Chinese contrivances brought back to Japan by Zen monks**), which would make it a little younger than the European chimney, and indeed it does have similar connotations to the whitey fireplace: home, family, lazing. What it lacks are the connotations of romance and bearskin rugs; lovers sharing a kotatsu is a cozy image, not a passionate one, and for structural reasons it is far more difficult to make out with someone while you warm yourselves at a kotatsu than it is to perform a similar feat at a fireplace.

Speaking from personal experience I can say that it is so very warm within the kotatsu that the chill beyond its blanketic scope seems even harsher, setting up a terrible feedback loop and giving the device a certain comfy menace. Like a wily fairy, it offers what you want, and takes in return your ability to do without it.

Obligatory language note: According to the 日本語源大辞典, the kanji used to write kotatsu (炬燵, 火燵, etc.) are all ateji. It is most likely a direct borrowing from Chinese 火榻子, pronunced kwatahusi in Japanese at the time, which makes sense if it was originally a Chinese invention brought to Japan by those notorious foreign jargon importers the Buddhists.

Since the Great Importation, kotatsu have been too cozy for their own linguistic good -- they're now used as a mocking, disparaging element in words like kotatsu-byouhou ("kotatsu [military] tactics" -- pure theory, never tested in the real world) and kotatsu-benkei (basically the same thing as an uchi-benkei: someone who is meek and submissive while out in the world, but turns into a Benkei-like tough guy at home).

* Optional Wikipedia Warning Link: scatological jabber.
** "We may be ascetic, but we're not stupid".


It's OK, though, a lot of words begin with A

Motherlode of Japanese/English dictionaries and phrasebooks from the 1800s, including A through D of Hepburn's dictionary. Yeah, that Hepburn.

There's also Ernest Chamberlain's Handbook of Colloquial Japanese:

Aru hĭto ga naga-ya no mae wo tôrimasŭ toki, ishi ni tsumazukimashĭtareba, naga-ya no uchi no hĭto ga baka ni shĭte, "Aitata!" to koe wo kakemashĭta kara, tsumazuita hĭto wa, ima-imashii to omoimashĭta ga, waza to otonashĭku, "Iya! go men nasaimashĭ! Kemashĭta no wa, ishi ka to omoimashĭtara, anata no hana no saki deshĭta ka?" to iimashĭta.
A certain man, passing one day in front of a block of houses, tripped against a stone. Thereupon, some one inside the block of houses made fun of him, and cried out: "Oh! how I have hurt myself!" So he who had tripped constrained himself to be quiet (although he felt disgusted), and said: "Oh! pray excuse me, I thought that was it the tip of your nose?"

Sadly, Chamberlain totally ruins the punchline here; it should be something like "Oh! pray excuse me, I thought I tripped against a stone -- was it in fact the tip of your nose?"

The Okinawan book is disappointingly Standard. I wouldn't even bother.

That ain't a towel...

One final scan from Judoman:

This man is so tough that after bathing he dries himself with rope.

And not even with enough rope.


Memoirs of that one chick who was in the movie where the dudes flew over the forest. You know.

From Salon's review of MoaG:

Worse yet, the trailers I saw in the months before the picture opened didn't even mention the actresses' names, ostensibly because they're not big stars in America. Apparently, all the public has to know is that the movie stars "real" Asian actresses and thus must be suitably authentic -- why even bother with names?
... "Memoirs of a Geisha" has been marketed as if the movie itself had invented these stars, pulling them out of thin air, when in reality Yeoh and Gong have been starring in Asian pictures for nearly 20 years.

Wait, wait, wait. I thought the justification for using non-Japanese folks to fill the (specifically) Japanese roles was because there weren't enough big Japanese stars to make the movie otherwise. But now they've decided that the stars they did use aren't big enough either? Way to ensure that as many people as possible are insulted by all this! Sheesh.


Enough about Buddhism. Let's talk sin

If you've watched a Yakuza movie, you've probably seen a game of chou-han, the only game of chance whose most notable feature is what the house wears (specifically: no shirt, dragon/Kannon tattoos, and a haramaki). The basic rules are pretty simple: two dice are rolled and hidden under a cup. You bet on the sum being an even number (chou, or 丁) or an odd one (han, 半). If you're right, you double your money, minus the house's percentage. (In fact, in all the examples I've ever seen, the house reduces its risk to effectively zero by insisting that about half of the players bet on each of the options, so that the winners' payouts will always come from the other players' losses.)

What interests me about the game is, naturally, the language; there's a special term for each of the 21 possible face combinations. You can see 'em all here if you read Japanese. If you don't, read on.

  • When the two faces are the same, it's called "(whatever)-zoro no chou", for example, "san-zoro no chou" ("Even, both threes"). This is obviously derived to the verb sorou, to gather or to be all together.
  • In many of the terms, pin is used to mean "one". This is apparently from Portuguese.
  • Lots of the consonants have mutated in different ways over the centuries -- some have marged (3-6: san-nisa-ni), some have undergone renjou (連声), a type of liaison (3-1: san-ichisam-michi), and some have just gone berserk (3-6: san-rokusabu-roku)
  • There's also vowel change both simple (5: gogu) and complex (3: sansausou).
You could probably develop a whole curriculum module about the moraic nasal using nothing but dice terminology as source material, come to think of it.


The unequalled vehicle

The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, apparently mostly thanks to Charles Muller.

  • To threaten, menace, intimidate. [cmuller]
  • To scold, reprove. [cmuller]
  • [Buddhism] A sudden shout given during a Chan dialog. Used as an expression of wordless reality, or used by teachers to shock, awaken, or scold students. Also written 大喝, 一喝, 喝破. [cmuller]

It ain't free and open to all like JDIC, but even non-subscribers get up to 10 searches per day, and you can also apparently get a password in exchange for helping to write entries (which, let's face it, you would be able to do if you were in a position where you needed to run more than 10 searches a day on this dictionary.)

Or you could just check out Muller's digitized version of Soothill and Hodous's Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, which includes a fascinating forward about the digitization process:

I became ... quite likely the only other person besides Soothill, Hodous, and their editorial staff, to read the dictionary in its entirety, and as a result of this concentrated exposure to it, I was led, as a fellow lexicographer, to come away with an immense respect for efforts of its compilers. Very early in the age of attempts at mixed Chinese-Roman typesetting, and several decades before the advent of copy machines, these two men, working on different continents, sent their handwritten manuscript back and forth by ship over the Atlantic ocean no less than four times.

Serious scrutiny has led me to the conclusion that the work is, at least in terms of its translations from Chinese sources, fairly sound. Using modern computing technology in the process of adding this material to the DDB, we were able to benefit from the presence of digitized versions of the Fanyi mingyi ji and the Ding Fubao, which were checked (along with a wide range of other digitized resources) on the addition of each entry. This allowed us to add a good amount of information to the DDB from these sources that Soothill and Hodous—no doubt in the interest of economy—left out...


If links were food, these would be baked potatoes

Kabuki 21 is the single best website I have ever seen for specific Kabuki-related information and pictures.

Special bonus completely unrelated links: "The King and the God" and "Schleicher's Fable", two (ongoing) attempts at reconstructed Proto-Indo-European texts.

I don't think I understand Schleicher's Fable's Point, though. Is it that horses are assholes? Or that sheep need to learn to keep their damn grass-holes shut when other animals are trying to get they dray on?


Much taste and elaborate pains were expended

Now would be a real good time to go check out the Wikipedia entry for "Box". It is, as a commenter says on the discussion page, acutely foppish, and that's never a bad thing.

This post is not worksafe, especially if you're an elf

I know there are some people out there who just can't bear it when some underpaid shop assistant says "Happy Holidays!" to them instead of "Merry Christmas, Christmas being a holiday celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!"

But those people should thank Santa Claus for small favors. Because if they lived in Akihabara, they could see all kinds of things walking down the street. Things like...

To hell with tradition

Koto scores! Including a rather interesting-looking specification for ASCII notation. (Yes, yes, soulless etc.)

They seem to have a similar project for tabla as well, although even I have trouble imagining a world where this would be useful. Nevertheless, I am glad it exists.


This one has crying

So, at one point in the story our hero Kankurou sends his sweetheart Chizuru a letter. Her brother Shousuke, with whom Kankurou has a kind of friendly rivalry, discovers this and teases her until she lets him read it, but only if he promises not to laugh. Which leads to this exchange:

SHOUSUKE: えー ハイケイと…キツルサンオケンチテスカと…ホクモケンチテス…か。ふふ…なんだいこれ
(Let's see... "DEAR KIZURU, ARE YOU KENCHI? I AM KENCHI TOO..." Heh, what the heck is this?)

CHIZURU: 勘九郎さん……キとチをまちがっているのよ……それに濁点をうつ字をしらないから……
(Kankurou mixes up the characters for "chi" and "ki"... and he doesn't know how to use dakuten [those little dots that indicate the voiced version of a character... those two mistakes combined turn genki (ゲンキ) into kenchi (ケンチ)])

KANKUROU'S LETTER: ホクハ イマ フウライナカヤ トイフ トコロニ スンデイマス  ハヤクシコトヲミツケテ ハタラコウトオモッテイルノテスカ……ナカナカテチトウナ シコトカミツカリマセン…… ホクハアナタ二 トテモアイタイテス

SHOUSUKE: チクショウあいつ…こんなヘタクソな手紙なんか出しやがって ニクイ野郎だよ あいつは
(He's got a lot of nerve, sending you a crappy letter like this... what a jerk.)

But he isn't serious, you can see it in his face, and meanwhile Chizuru is already tearing up. I was moved myself. You don't often see period adventure stories going out of their way to acknowledge how much literacy must have meant to people, back before first- and even second-world societies started taking it for granted.

As I understand it, Japan was more literate than most feudal societies even before the Meiji Restoration began and the Ministry of Education was founded, but that literacy was still mostly restricted to the upper classes. You can kind of see here, dimly, what it must have been like during the transitional period, when even itinerant, unemployed judo guys could write a letter expressing their feelings -- and reasonably expect its recipient to be able to read it -- without any go-betweens or scribes or priests, for the first time in history.

(For those who came in late: all this is from Adventures of Judoman by Baron Yoshimoto.)


It's a man's, man's, man's Meiji era

Baron Yoshimoto's legendary manga 『柔侠伝』 is being republished in convenience store phone book format. I'm not sure how to pronounce this -- Juukanden? Juukyouden? or exactly what it means (my best guess is "Tales of a Judo Guy") but I do know one thing: it rules, and I'm going to do my part to remedy the lack of information about it available online.

Let me start with a lesson in Meiji mixed-bathing etiquette, as demonstrated by our hero YANAGI Kankurou. What do we do when we unexpectedly run into a lady of our acquaintance, suitably accompanied by her brother of course, while we are wearing only a fundoshi?


Let's see that again in close-up SCAN-O-VISION!

Seriously, this is an awesome work, with just the right mix of cheesy fisticuffs and period detail. A lot of the introductory panels for scenes are obviously photo-referenced, and they look fantastic. But that isn't to say that Yoshimoto can't draw up a storm even without a reference. As a special bonus, here's the title page for the chapter in which the above scene takes place.


Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

Justin finally started posting his scanslation of Keroro Gunsou, the manga about alien frogs. I recommend the checking of it out.


The decline and fall of the Western-Civ filter

So I picked up my copy of Shounen Magazine today (yeah, yeah... I read it for Kumeta Kouji's Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei, okay?) and noticed that idol 北乃きい, pronounced kitano kii, prefers to romanize her name "Kitano Kie".

(This is not just a Magazine thing. Her agency and her blog spell it that way too.)

Speaking as a finicky coot, this development is enough to make me want to write to the Times in sarcastic protest. I can live with romanization that ignores long/short vowel distinctions, and I can live with people who prefer variant but not ambiguous ways of spelling their name (e.g. TAKEMOTO "Shimotsuma Monogatari" Novala -- not "Nobara".) But "Kie" is straight-up confusion, my friend. /i/ and /e/ are separate in Japanese. We're living in a society. Are we going to start talking about "sushe" too? (Oh, snap! We are!)

On the other hand, speaking as an enthusiastic advocate of language change, especially for aesthetic reasons, I think "Kie" is a perfectly dandy spelling of what is after all an unusual name. Take the roman alphabet with my blessing, o model-managing brothers, and bend it to your will. It is your vaguely-linked-to-phonetics set of glyphs now. Let "E", which once represented a joyfully praying figure, express my giddy delirium as I anticipate idols named OoOiOoO* and ☆mni♡**.

(P.S. I am posting this on November 31st. I bet you didn't even think that was possible. EDIT: Crap, it defaulted to December 1st.)

* Pronounced "Yukiko".
** Pronounced "Aki".

Up close and deified

Man, you sure can zoom pretty far in to these Heian/Kamakura-period scroll paintings. And that's not all they have at emuseum.jp. Classical texts! Buddhism! Calligraphy!