Yet in the shadows lurks the villainous Wet-Wipe Courtier

Finally, a solution to the imperial succession problem that everyone can get behind: pass the reins to the Handkerchief Prince (ハンカチ王子):

The same type of towel handkerchief used by Yuki Saito, a pitcher for Waseda Jitsugyo High School baseball team, which recently won the national high school baseball summer championship, is selling for prices in excess of 5,000 yen--more than 10 times its original price--on Internet auction sites.

Saito was dubbed the "handkerchief prince" by female fans who admired the dashing style in which he used a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his face while on the mound during the game at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture this month.

Judge the dashingocity of his Blue Handkerchief Style for yourself at YouTube.

(For the record, I don't find the "Handkerchief Prince" media frenzy any more or less ridiculous than, say, the media frenzy surrounding the Olympics. Running in a straight line for ten seconds, wiping yourself with a cloth; potato, potahto. Similarly, a bunch of people wanting to buy a handkerchief because of its association with the sports idol of the moment doesn't really seem any different to me from, say, the average Nike campaign.)


Another Nishiwaki poem

I had no idea you people were so Romantic.

I thought I had the Iwanami collection of Nishiwaki's poetry, but apparently either I don't or it's buried too deep in one of the boxes (I have no shelves). So I went prowling on the web and found what appears to be the entirety of 旅人かへらず ("The Traveler does not Return"), a very long work of his that begins like so:


Traveler, wait!
Before you wet your tongue
at this humble spring,
think, traveler through life!
You, too, are but a waterdrop
wrung from between the rocks.
Nor will this water of thought forever flow;
One day within forever it will run dry.
Ah, the jays, they cry too loudly.
Sometimes, from the water,
Phantom figures clad in flowers emerges.
To seek eternal life: this is a dream.
To long to throw one's thoughts
into the trickling, vanishing runnels of life,
and then fall from the precipice of forever
and fade away: this is reality.
So says the phantom kappa, leaving
the water to sport in villages and towns
when the river-weed grows long
in shadows cast by drifting clouds.

(Full disclosure: I got led astray by the movie Mizuchi, which is written 水霊 as well, but I'm pretty sure Nishiwaki meant what we in the modern word write 水玉 ("water-jewel", drop of water) here...)


Weekend gravure

So fate has delivered to me a small stack of 80s June magazines, documenting the early days of yaoi as a cultural force in Japan. Some of them appear to have belonged, at one time, to a "Private Gay Library."

Unfortunately they're in pretty rough condition and the binding makes them difficult to scan non-destructively, but I'll do what I can.

In the meantime, check this out -- predating Sandman by six years!

'For Morpheus'

Actually, I guess it's more like a Sandman/Hobbit crossover. The next page has some more photos and a poem by NISHIWAKI Junzaburō:

Rise and surface
O Muse
Thou hast of late in poesy
too deeply been concealed
The music of thy pipes the man of Abydos hears not
Let thy throat's curve the man of Abydos's
very heart become
'For Morpheus'


Cast into the outer darkness. No, even more outer

I'm sure everyone is sick to death of all that "save Pluto!" jive (my position: the more different official types of things there are in the solar system, the awesomer), but for those looking to start transpacific trouble, here's the official Japanese term for "dwarf planet": 矮惑星, pronounced waiwakusei.

Wakusei is the standard word for "planet." Etymologically, it means "lost/troubled star", maybe because they move around in the sky so much more than the actual stars. Wai, unsurprisingly, means "dwarf", and is used in Sino-Japanese words like 矮樹 (waiju, "small tree"), and ateji-style to write native Japanese/heavily Japanesified words like 矮鶏 (chabo, "bantam") and 矮人 (hikiudo, "dwarf" or "midget").

My dictionary tells me that the the part on the right is borrowed from 萎, "weaken, wither", while the 矢 radical on the left represents a person. This would make the character a very close relative of 倭, the original Chinese character for Japan, which many people suspect also meant "midget[land]."

Incidentally, I feel that we English speakers have lost a great opportunity to name Pluto and its brethren "strange dark orbs at the very rim of our solar system" ("stradorbs" for short).


I want these goddamned eight-headed snakes out of the goddamned Hi river!

Snakes on a Plane's official Japanese title apparently remains undecided. Here are the candidates I've seen online so far:

  1. スネークス・オン・ア・プレーン -- straight transliteration
  2. 飛行機に蛇 -- "Snakes [located] on a plane"
  3. 飛行機で蛇 -- "Snakes [doing something or having something done to them] on a plane"
  4. 蛇が飛行機の中に -- "Snakes [are located/have come] inside a plane"

Naturalment, the poetry of the original does not completely translate, but I think I like the fourth best. Although I would streamline it: 『蛇が飛行機に』 or 『蛇が機内に』 even. Maybe add an exclamation point.

I also chanced upon two Chinese titles. (UPDATE: And people got me hip to two more in comments, as well as helping with meanings; thanks, everybody! Errors remain mine.)

  1. 飛機上有蛇 -- "There are snakes on the plane" (Taiwan)
  2. 航班蛇患 -- "Snake woes on a flight" (mainland China); I guess you wouldn't want patrons to go in expecting a heartwarming comedy about lovable snakes on their way to Hawai'i or something
  3. 空中蛇灾 -- "Midair snake disaster" (mainland China)
  4. 毒蛇嚇機 -- "Venomous snakes threaten a plane" (?) (Hong Kong)

No idea whether any are official, but note the geography-based differences. The next time someone's all up in your grill like "But [your name here], even if simplified-to-traditional is one-to-many and therefore requires contextual parsing of some sort, traditional-to-simplified should be a trivial many-to-one mapping", you can just say "Oh yeah? And what about the lexical differences? What about SNAKES ON A PLANE?"


The truth about lies

Commenting on the anti-Buddha tanka quoted earlier this week, John asks:

Apparently うそ used to be written をそ. Is there anything interesting there? Is it the pronunciation of を that changed or the pronunciation of うそ?

This is a complicated question and I should warn everybody in advance that I don't have an actual answer.

First, a note: /uso/ is recorded centuries before Atsutane's time, in sources like the Kanginshū and the early 17th-C. Portuguese-Japanese dictionary Vocabvlario da Lingoa de Iapam. Atsutane's /woso/ is archaic at best.

That said... the pronunciation of を (originally /wo/) has changed, but it changed to /o/. /otoko/ (man) used to be /wotoko/, the MJ object-marking particle is pronounced /o/ but written を, etc. etc. And this change was entirely regular, so /woso/ → /uso/ would be an exception requiring an exceptional explanation. It turns out that this is not easy to find, and there may not be a direct connection between /woso/ and /uso/ at all.

In Norinaga's tanka, the key bit is not just /woso/ but the entire word /wosogoto/ (lies). This did survive into modern Japanese, in the expected form of /osogoto/, although I think it's a bit archaic now. So let's say the trail begins there.

Now, as it happens, the Kōjien definition includes a quotation from the Heian-period Ōgishō which is of interest:

The people of the eastern states call soragoto [lies] "osogoto".

So the /(w)oso/ → /uso/ theory would clearly involve this word coming from the east (and being abbreviated) and replacing the standard Heian /soragoto/ ("empty words"; the prefix /sora/ here is closely related [phonemically identical to, in fact] to the /sora/ that still means "sky" today). Interestingly, there are certain west:east::/u/:/o/ correspondences in very old Japanese sources. And you can see how /wo/ would become /u/ in the absence of a /wu/ mora. I think that eastern dialect thing is supposed to have faded out even before the Heian period, though, so I don't know how viable this idea is...

(From here)

... But, with the eastern connection in mind, another point of interest is a certain 東歌 ("eastern poem") in the Manyōshū which resembles Norinaga's tanka suspiciously closely:

可良須等布 於保乎曽杼里能 麻左R*尓毛 伎麻左奴伎美乎 許呂久等曽奈久
karasu tohu/ oho-woso-tori no/ masade ni mo/ kimasanu kimi wo/ "koroku" to zo naku
The oho-woso bird called the crow, though you have not really come, cries koroku!


  • /koroku/ -- Most modern commentators, including ITŌ Haku, seem to agree that /koroku/, while obviously imitating a crow call, can be interpreted as koro ku, "自来", "[someone] themself arrives". (Some slightly less modern commentators, including the Kōjien, identify the /ko/ with the /ko/ that means child, but ŌNO Susumu points out that it is not the right kind of /-o/.)
  • /oho-woso/ -- /oho/ is MJ /o:/, "big" or "great[ly]", and the /woso/ is generally glossed as "hasty". (Word on the streets is that it's related to the /wase/ meaning "early shoots" that you see in "Waseda" (早稲田), as in the university.)

... So the poem becomes one about an overeager crow announcing the beloved's arrival before they actually arrive. On the face of it, that doesn't give us any connection to /wosogoto/ or /uso/.

But, you know, people have changed their mind about what /ohowoso/ meant before. (Kigin thought it meant "eats a lot", from the OJ verb /wosu/, to eat.) Plus, it doesn't seem impossible that a word might wander from meaning "ill-considered, rash" to "inaccurate, untrue". Doubleplus, "bird which tells big fat lies" would work just as well if not better than "overly eager bird" in this context...

In any case, whether Norinaga's tanka is a direct reference to this one in the Manyōshū or not, he clearly identifies /woso/ as a word or at least a prefix meaning "lie", and attaches it to /-bito/ (person). (It doesn't make any sense to call Buddha "hasty" or "overeager", and the falsity of Buddhism is a repeated theme throughout the book.)

So you might conclude that the idea of /woso/ growing up to become /uso/, possibly after an incubation far from the capital in the eastern lands, is not entirely ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I have been saving a big complication: there was already an /uso/ in OJ. It meant "pursing your lips and blowing", "whistling", and this too survived into MJ (picking up a +archaic along the way).

Modern /uso/ meaning "lie" could clearly be a metaphorical derivative. /wosogoto/ could be, too, with some phoneme change thrown in. But it seems we don't have enough evidence to be sure exactly what went down.

Just to complicate things further, here are two bonus, totally unrelated proposed etymologies for /uso/, courtesy of the Nihon Gogen Daijiten:

  1. Related to the OJ verb /usu/ (to disappear, fade out, die)
  2. /so/ derived from /sora/, /u/ related to /uku/ (float; by extension, be worthless or silly.)

In conclusion: it's clear that Atsutane was using /woso/ to mean /uso/, but he may just have been mimicking a (much) older source, and the actual linguistic connection, if any, between /woso/ and /uso/ remains un-pinned down.

* R is supposed to be a character with the 人 radical on the left (like 化 or 仁) and 弖 on the right.


Hirohito's kokoro

Most people reading this blog probably know about Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Jinja, which commemorates/enshrines Japan's war dead -- including 14 class-A and over a thousand lesser war criminals. About a month ago, a document to light which (pace the possibility of forgery etc.) was written by TOMITA Tomohiko (富田朝彦), former head of the Imperial Household Agency (宮内庁長官), and records the Shōwa Emperor's decision not to visit the shrine because of the class-A criminals there.

You can find Japanese and English stories about the "Tomita Memo" here and there on the internets, and I don't like blogging about politics anyway, but my attention was caught by the memo's final phrase:

だから 私あれ以来参拝していない。 それが私の心だ
So, since then, I haven't worshipped [at Yasukuni]. That is my kokoro.

Kokoro is a tough word to Englishify. To put that more accurately, it doesn't map to English very neatly. Depending on context, it might be translated as "heart", "spirit", "soul", "feeling", "mind", "mood", "opinion", "sensibility", "hope", "situation", "meaning", "plan", "reason", "center", "topic", and I'm sure there are others, and that's only if you insist that the translation be a single noun like the source. For example, one of the articles I linked above goes with "feeling", but this article translates the relevant phrase as "That is from my heart."

In other news, jokey references to the memo in the form "だから私[あれ以来](action)していない。それが私の心だ" are already popping up. Good old tubes.


Part II: After you die

OK, where souls go.

First of all, as you might have guessed, Atsutane is not impressed by Buddhism's reincarnation theory. Nothing like it is mentioned in the Japanese sources, and it cannot, therefore, be true. He sums up his opinion in this Al Franken-like tanka which he credits to Norinaga:

「釈迦といふ 大をそ人の をそ言に をそ言そへて 人まどわすも」
The big fat liar named Sakyamuni
layers lie upon lie
leading people awry.

Nor does Atsutane believe that souls go to Yomi. This was and remains a popular belief, since it is where Izanami no Mikoto went after her unfortunate series of accidents involving the birth of a fire kami and being seen in an impure state by Izanami no Mikoto; it is also, Atsutane notes ominously, influenced by continental thinking (Buddhist and traditional Chinese).

But, in Atsutane's reading, it doesn't specifically say in the Kojiki that dead people go to Yomi. So where do they go? I'll spare you the analysis, but eventually Atsutane comes up with a two-tiered system he feels is supported by tradition.

  1. If you erected and worshipped at a shrine, sacred pillar, etc., while alive, your spirit goes there. (A lot of kami and emperors did this.)
  2. Otherwise, your spirit basically stays in the graveyard where your body was interred.

This, however, raises the awkward issue of why graveyards are so quiet. To get around this, Atsutane proposes a two-layered existence.

We, the living, find ourselves in the utsushiyo (現世) or "real world", where we are ruled over by a lineage of emperors as is only proper. The souls of the dead reside with the kami in the meifu (冥府, "dark administration") a.k.a. the yūmei (幽冥, "secluded darkness").

The two worlds are sort of superimposed on each other. In particular, residents of the meifu can quite easily act in the utsushiyo. ("This was true long ago and is true today, and so although I shall give no examples here I believe that everyone shall agree that it is obvious.") However, it is not given to us in the utsushiyo to see the meifu. After all, Atsutane explains, it is much easier to see into a bright place from a dark one than vice versa. I found this analogy quite eerie and entirely delicious.

And so we come to the end of our story. When we die, we go to be with the gods in a murky world that exists alongside the bright one we live in. If we had the foresight to build a holy place to go after we died, we go there; if not, we hang around our graves. So I guess those cemeteries with a view aren't so foolish after all.

Further reading.


In the beginning and for quite some time thereafter

I've been reading a book called Tama no mihashira (『霊の真柱』) written by HIRATA Atsutane (平田篤胤, 1776-1843). Plenty of interesting intellectual background is available online, but to give you the summary, it's an attempt at a complete cosmology, right down to settling the issue of where souls go when people die (霊の行方の安定), based entirely on close reading of ancient Japanese texts and certain trusted commentaries on them.

The reliance on Japanese sources only is key, and Atsutane can't go more than a few pages without harping on it. He has particular scorn for China and their habit of deducing things using logic and arguments, which he throws into the basket of kotowari (理).

He uses the same kind of logical tools, of course, but applies them more to analysis of ancient writings than extrapolation upon them. Still, there is obviously a hypocritical overlap.

On the other hand, he does seem to have a soft spot for empirical science -- at least where it supports his arguments.

In recent times, the peoples of distant western countries have ... from their roaming of the sea, made careful observations of the world and come to the conclusion that it is round and floats in space. This tells us that the old Chinese theories, which all differ in many respects and are based on kotowari and guesswork, are not to be trusted.

Anyway, Atsutane begins by retelling, with liberal quotation and careful exegesis, the standard Kojiki creation story. It starts with the birth of Everything, an undifferentiated glob, where several kami are born and "conceal their persons". Kami tend to create other kami in the Kojiki, which obviously raises the bootstrapping question. To his credit, Atsutane addresses it, but unfortunately his reply (quoting Motoori Norinaga, who he refers to as 師 (Teacher, Master)) is deeply unsatisfying.

It is asked, "If, as you say, the myriad things of this world were all born of Musubi no Kami, from what spirit were the Musubi no Kami themselves born?" Master [Norinaga] said, "There is no record of which spirit these kami were born from, and so we cannot know..."

... and I will spare you the protracted attack on independent thought which follows.

Anyway, kami are born etc. etc. (云々) and eventually, all the light stuff collects at the top of the jellyfish-like proto-universe and floats up to become Ame, roughly equivalent to heaven, while all the bad, heavy stuff sinks to the bottom and gloops out to become Yomi, the underworld. So at this point you have three globes, still linked in a chain. Our world is the one in the middle, not as good or light as Ame, but not as bad or dark as Yomi -- just what was left over. ("天は萌え上り、泉は垂れ下りて、跡に残れる物の、初て土の象を成し[た]".)

Atsutane notes that "The only correct characters for 'Yomi' are '夜見' ["night-view"]. '泉' ["fountain"] is particularly meaningless. However, since everyone is used to it, I shall write it thus. Do not be misled." Writing the word for 'underworld' with the characters 黄泉 is a direct borrowing from Chinese mythology, and so obviously Atsutane is against it.

A few kami later, including creators of Japan Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto, and the universe looks like the diagram I have included there to the right.

Now, in Atsutane's explanation, Ame is destined to become the sun, while Yomi becomes the moon. Yes, literally. But neither the moon nor the sun was connected to the earth in the early 1800s, so at some point the links -- which you can see in the diagram, and which are necessary to allow the kami to go from world to world as the Kojiki details -- must have been broken. Atsutane obviously can't give an exact date for when the cord was cut, but he has given it some serious thought:

When the multitudinous kami of Ame told the two kami [Izanami no Mikoto and Izanagi no Mikoto] to cause this land to coalesce and form, Ame and Earth were already separated. How do we know this? We know it from the words of the kami here. When it is said that the multitudinous kami of Ame were high in the heavens looking down and saw this land floating, and referred to it thus, it becomes clear to us at this point. If at this time Ame and Earth were not yet separated, then when this land, the root, floated, Ame should logically have floated with it; why then would they have pointed to this land and said "this floating land"?

I confess that I had to give it up for Atsutane's kotowari fu at this point, although clearly he has only proved that there was no rigid connection; an elastic connection could still have been in place. But no matter.

He continues in this vein through the entire "Age of the Gods" part of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, addressing such issues as how Izanami no Mikoto could possibly have given birth to entire continents (they grew after they were born, just like animals and plants do! Duh!); the process by which the true and uncorrupted Japanese records evolved into the bizarre but still recognizable Western version in which the creator couple's names are Adamu (安太牟) and Eha (延波); and what exactly Izanami no Mikoto and Izanagi no Mikoto were stirring in the beginning to make Japan -- the Kojiki says it was brine, but they hadn't made water yet. ("或人問ふ、「…其潮は水に非ずして何ぞ」" -- "Some people ask, '... If this brine was not water, then what was it?'" Add 'the hell' to taste, I presume. The answer, by the way, is: "Brine is not the same as regular water; there is no inconsistency.")

A great deal of rules lawyering and commentary juggling later -- the Manyoshu, amusingly, mostly ends up by the wayside, and Atsutane has particularly harsh words for poets who mistakenly envisage the sun as a thing that goes through Ame, rather than actually being Ame -- we end up with the universe as we know it. Japan is, of course, on top of the world (there is a complicated analogy involving heads and faces to explain why the sun nevertheless passes slightly to the south), and the unfortunate peoples of other countries, being further from Ame, are ignorant, wicked, and not very good-looking.

The scene is thus set for Atsutane to explore his main topic: where souls go when bodies die. Stay tuned for this tomorrow. Or not, if you already read it via that link at the top. But I also have a scathing tanka about Buddha for you.


Lost and found... and dead!

Coming soon to a theater near me: Otoshimono, a horror movie whose title means "the thing somebody dropped"* and whose tagline is, "You mustn't pick it up." ("拾っては、いけない。").

As I write this, the trailer remains unreleased. So how are we to decide if we want to see it or not? Simple: we can refer to the survey results the producers have helpfully included on the Otoshimono flier!

According to these pie charts, 86% of schoolgirls (n = 200) thought that the movie was either "good" or "very good". 83% thought it was "moving" or "very moving", while 81% thought it was "scary" or "very scary".

I suspect that this information was gathered for use during the distributor-hunting process and just got thrown onto the flier because they ran out of pictures of WAKATSUKI Chinatsu looking tense, but it's still fun to imagine other high school girls being swayed by it. "Yuka-nyan! What is the meaning of this proposal? You expect us to go see a movie that only 63% of those surveyed found 'exciting' or 'very exciting'?!" "But fully 90% said that their heart was warmed and/or touched!" "We've already seen three heart-warming movies this quarter! Get it together, woman, or I'll bust you back down to popcorn research!"

* Of course this is much more inelegant than the Japanese, which is a perfectly normal compound word derived from otosu (to drop) and mono (thing), exactly the same pattern as nomimono (drink-thing, beverage) and kimono (wear-thing, kimono or [very rarely, in MJ] just clothing in general). Anyway, since the direct translation is awkward, I imagine that if this sees an English-language release, the title will probably be Lost Property or something non-literal like that. Keep your eyes peeled!


Still semi-away, but I'll be back

Man, those maids will write anything on a plate!

Stay tuned early next week for cosmology.


You get strong winds in a typhoon


Just for one day

So I guess NBC has/is preparing a new show called Heroes, about, like, a bohemian artist who can paint the future, a telepathic cop, an invincible cheerleader, etc. etc., and a Japanese salariman who can stop time.

Because if there's one power Japanese salarimen need, it's the ability to stop time. Every night on the train I hear them complaining about how the day just flew by. "If only there were more hours in the day! Three hours of overtime is just enough to tantalize!" "I hear you, Yamada! You know yesterday my boss went home at 8:00? I almost cried! Say, would you pass me that tastefully-drawn manga featuring female characters who aren't sexual playthings?" "Sure! I'll trade you for that weekly newsmagazine without a photo of Yingling of Joytoy on the cover."

Also, this Japanese guy in Heroes has the most ostentatiously non-European clock I've ever seen:

It's OK, Heroes prop department, we use Roman numerals here too. Actually, to be honest, we just use our cellphones. If only because setting up a gigantic, easy-to-read clock directly in front of your face at your workstation is generally considered in poor taste.

Plus, I have to say, if you must use a clock with the Chinese numbers on it, you could at least put a little effort into it. Because that clock right there looks like someone threw the Californian intern a sharpie and a blank clockface and said "You've got thirty seconds!" Maybe I'm just not getting the design.


Research project

A few months ago, another book in the "manga essay collection about the author's husband" was released: ダーリンはアキバ系. Literally, this translates as "[My] darling is akiba-kei", but the English title given on the cover is "My husband is O-TA-KU."

The "darling"/"husband" thing can be accounted for fairly easily: we English speakers haven't really used "darling" as a third-person pronoun since the early 1900s, but some Japanese speakers still do; also, this genre began with the book Darling wa gaikokujin ("[My] darling is a foreigner"), and it set the tone.

The "akiba-kei"/"O-TA-KU" thing is more interesting, because it looks like a kind of loanword drift: presumably the translator decided that akiba-kei wouldn't be understood by English speakers, but rather than use a roughly equivalent native English word like "geek" or "nerd" (all arguments about the precise definitions and connotations of these terms aside), they used a different Japanese word with a similar meaning which had been borrowed into English a decade or so before. Maybe English only has room for one word meaning "+geeky +Japan"?

The hyphens are a mystery.


Press and all other forms of expression

I found this in a copy of Heibon Ponchi from the end of '81: the year in awkward pictures with topless girls in them.

"Lockheed trial nearing conclusion!" The bee thing is a pun so weak I won't even go into it. Presumably they just had an extra bee costume lying around and wanted to get some use out of it.

The next two are possibly a little more NSFW, so click at your own risk:


This week's Metropolis personals A for Effort Award goes to

Nice to meet you. 白人の男27さい。失指、元気、ともみかはらみたいな女す気です。野心があるの女性好きです。mailとしゃしのねがいします。 [Address redacted]

(Sic! throughout, explanatory link mine.) I think 失指 is an attempt at 紳士 (gentleman), but unfortunately (a) 失指 isn't a Japanese word (AFAIK?), and (b) if it were, it would mean "fingerless."

I don't know how often I'll be doing this, so I'd better get it all out now.

  • Aldo Kelrast Award for Creepy Phrasing: "If no-one cares about you, e-mail me."
  • I Love the 80s Award: "[S]eeking [...] race queen or model type."
  • Will Smith Award for Keeping it Real: "I'm seeking a JF who's real. I wear long sleeves in the summer and I am real."
  • Ayn Rand Memorial Award: "Always admire men with power and wealth. Prefer white American."
  • Faulkner Award for Heartrending Specificity: "Summer is coming. I do not want to spend it alone looking at a can of beans."

Honorable mention goes to the woman who spent her entire ad talking about how much she loves English guys, then finished with an e-mail address along the lines of "take_me_to_france@hotmail.com" (I don't want to publish the real one, obviously.)


Wild bears in Japanese poetry

There is a poem in the Manyōshū that goes a little something like this:

荒熊之 住云山之 師齒迫山 責而雖問 汝名者不告

araguma no / sumu to ihu yama / sihaseyama / semete tohu to mo / na ga na ha norazi

Translated literally, it means: "Mt Iwase, the mountain on which wild bears are said to live. Even if [someone] asks me insistently, [I] won't give up your name."

You might be thinking that the two halves of that have nothing to do with each other, meaning-wise, and you'd be right. So why are they together in one poem? KITAMURA Kigin's commentary 万葉拾穂抄 (Manyōshūsuishō) says of the first half:


That is, it's just a little prelude which sets the scene for the semete (insistently, forcibly) by its use of the place-name sihase, the se of which is written with the character 迫, which is used in the word semaru (draw near, narrow, become sticky [metaphorically, of a situation]), which is obviously related to the semete with which the second half begins.

Wild bears in Japanese poetry: used mainly to sex up multi-layered grapho-verbal puns.

(Okay, I admit, the wild bear mountain business is probably also intended to evoke the depth and passion of the speaker's feelings etc.)


Curse you, racists, for rendering the obvious pun title unusable

Via a comment at Language Hat (FOUR MORE YEARS!), I bring you a bunch of Japanese translations of Jabberwocky, kindly posted by Adam Rice.

I had seen one attempt at a Japanese Jabberwocky translation before, but it was just a straight rendering into flat, modern Japanese, with all of Carroll's nonsense words transliterated into katakana. Sadly, without the context of English (and its poetic tradition), the words lose all their power. It was the literary equivalent of a fake airstrip laboriously constructed out of coconuts.

The ones Adam has posted are generally much better, because the translators understand the idea, and use all the resources at their command to recreate not Jabberwocky itself, but what Jabberwocky would have been if Carroll had been Japanese.

So, for instance, most of them write in a pastiche of classical Japanese, with as many archaic verb endings and conjugations of beshi as possible. Some of them draw on the tradition of ateji, i.e. assigning Chinese characters to a word they have no historical or etymological association with. The word "Jabberwocky", for instance, is variously rendered as 邪婆有尾鬼 (wicked hag has-tail devil), 蛇馬魚鬼 (snake horse fish devil), etc., all pronounced as a reasonable Sino-Japanese approximation of the original English word.*

And, of course, morphemes are abused. "Slithy", for instance, gets translated into faithfully evocative nonsense like shinebai (shinayaka (lithe) + nebai (sticky)?) or nuranayaka (nuranura (sticky) + shinayaka?)... and so on.

My favorite of the lot is TAKAYAMA Hiroshi's, apparently from a 1980 translation of the Annotated Alice, which starts like this:

ゆうまだきにぞ ぬめぬらとおぶ
  にひろのちにや ころかしきりる
* Do I contradict myself by endorsing transliteration here? Only a little, because (a) it's not just transliteration, it's an excuse for written wordplay, and (b) I find direct transliteration of fake flora/fauna terms much more acceptable than direct translation of adjectives and the like.