Ending in tears

You know how when your printer gets a paper jam, and you open the cover to remove the jammed paper, and you start to pull the paper out but it tears in your hand, leaving you holding a scrap of the edge while the rest remains wedged between the rollers?

I learned recently that the Japanese word for this is nakiwakare (泣き別れ). It literally translates as "parting ways [while] weeping" and is attested as far back as the Manyōshū. (The paper jam-related usage is not the first hyperbolic-metaphorical one, obviously.)

(On strict pseudoscientific linguistic principles, I should use this lexical oddity as an excuse to make up something about how the unique Japanese aesthetic sensibility finds beauty in sadness, and draw a related analogy between the fleeting glory of the cherry blossoms and the ink cartridge business in general. But I couldn't find a classical citation for "toner smears of the heart".)


Documentation bug in 18th-Century Edo

The Yakusha-banashi (役者論語) is a collection of advice and warnings for kabuki actors, by kabuki actors, compiled in the 1770s by (non-actor, I think) HACHIMONJA Jishō (八文舎自笑). This puts it somewhere between the invention of the revolving stage and the first performance of Tōkaidō Yotsuya kwaidan.

The collection starts off grandly with a chapter entitled "One hundred comments on stagecraft" (舞臺百ヶ條) by SUGI Kyūbei (杉九兵衛). "The truth of comedy arises from falsehood; the humor itself must come from truth." Hey, this isn't bad! you think. I bet I could sell this to MBAs as a two-day session for $400 a head. But then you reach the end of the seventh comment, and read this sentence:


"The comments after this were eaten by insects and are illegible. How lamentable, how lamentable!"

Yeah, sure they were.


Advice for new women

Some allegorical illustrations by YAGURUMA Ryō from ŌSHIMA Shūichi's 1950 新しい婦人の處世讀本 ("Life skills reader for new women"). "New" means "post-war" here, rather than "post-op". We know this because the very first sentence of the introduction refers to the "new road" that "suddenly opened" for Japan "five years ago now" (what's that, Shūichi? did something happen in 1945?), and the last chapter of the book is all about how vitally important it is for women to vote. But in between, there's the standard mixture of sound advice (don't marry playboys) and, uh, authentic period atmosphere (get up before your husband does and put some make-up on for him).

This man is so irresistibly drawn to the Kannon-like floating head's Allure of the Heart that he doesn't even notice the 1920s French hooker on the left there, representing the Allure of the Flesh.

It is a wife's responsibility to keep her husband healthy and free of unitard-clad illness. With judo, if necessary.

In fact, a wife carries the health of her entire household on her back. I love the extreme realism of this image, right down to the strap holding the baby in place.

Widows who remarry should learn to blow out the memory of their first husband like a candle. No, really. Look at how sad yet accepting the ex-husband's face is. (This also serves as a meta-allegory for how to deal with the Events that led to the opening up Ōshima's New Road five years ago, of course...)

A woman's caress even has the power to heal a man's suffering heart. Or crush him like a bug.

There are no words.

This book is also notable for its use of a bold font which makes subtle changes to certain characters, most noticeably turning the little verticalish comma-like stroke at the top of 良, 新, etc. into a disconnected horizontal line:


Hommes, ycy n'a point de mocquerie

When Iwanami Bunko made bookmarks in the late 1970s, they didn't kid around.

This delightful number is advertising their edition of Villon's complete poetic works, and contains the first stanza of the "Ballad of the Hanged", plus a grueseome woodcut of des pendus themselves, flesh pointedly devoree et pourrie. (No, I don't know why there are only three of them.)

The translator for the Iwanami edition was Francophile writer and translator SUZUKI Shintarō, a Meiji man who left behind a gloriously archaic body of work. You can check out the first few lines of the "Ballad" in Suzuki's translation here: わが亡き後にながらふる一切衆生よ...

That 一切衆生 (= freres humains) is actually Buddhist jargon. 一切 means "all", and 衆生 was the original Chinese translation for Sanskrit sattva as in "living things", replaced by 有情 ("possessors of feelings") in later translated Chinese texts. Interesting to see a word like that into a translation of so desperately Christian a poem. Presumably Suzuki decided that it wasn't that Buddhist a concept, and/or liked the distant echo of a grand, sweeping spirituality that it evokes.


Art update

Lyrics for the Super Mario Bro theme. They concern themselves chiefly with Mario's remarkable vigor. (Japanese text here. Note competing lyrics on the right. I understand that in the western counties there is a variant in which Mario is identified with Cromwell.)


Comic Charge, Issue 1

The first issue of Kadokawa's new biweekly manga magazine Comic Charge (so called because it allegedly "recharges working men") is out, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of it I enjoyed.

The series that intrigued me the most was KIYOHARA Natsuno's mangafication of TSUTSUI Yasutaka's 70s novel about a telepathic maid, Eight views of a family (家族八景). Kiyohara's execution is like TAKEHISA Yumeji meets UCHIDA Shungiku, and I dig it.

Then you have the stuff like SHIBUYA Chokkaku and ISHIKAWA Katsuya's Heppoko (roughly translatable as "Fartles"), about a bare-assed, high jink-prone "space potato" who befriends a high school girl and her family. (Incidentally, Japan : potato :: anglosphere : baked beans.)

What? No, I don't see any need to consider the psychosexual implications of a comic about a barbarous, naked alien that farts in the face of a young woman identified as a member of a group which has been romanticized and sexualized in every available medium for decades but with whom intimate relations are in reality forbidden to the magazine's target readership by social and ethical norms. Let's move along.

If you like your fantasy comics a little higher of brow, I can strongly recommend SHIRIAGARI Kotobuki's Jōmon CEO, the title of which reveals its only joke, but which made me laugh anyway.

Special "I forgot to scan a panel" award goes to SADAMOTO Yoshiyuki and TAKA Hamako's Archaic Smile, which is drawn in a low-key but appealing hand and has one of those left-field yet satisfying premises that manga specialize in. I won't give it away, but sculpture is involved.

(The ratio of non-fantasy to fantasy was actually much higher than this post might suggest, but I figured that scans of a farting potato would bring more joy to the world than scans of a semi-realistic surgeon standing in a hospital corridor.)


Bonchô says: Meh

The Kyorai-shô is a book of haikai commentary collated by ex-samurai turned Bashô disciple Kyorai, and although it is quite tough going even in a modern, printed edition (let alone a dakuten-free monster like this), it's full of human drama, like this early passage where Kyorai and his fellow disciple Bonchô, with whom he co-edited the Monkey's Rain-cape (Saru mino) anthology, bicker about their editorial duties:

此木戸や鎖のさゝれて冬の月 其角

猿蓑撰の時に此句書おくり冬の月霜の月置わつらひ侍るよし聞ゆ 衆議冬の月による 先師曰其角か冬霜に煩ふへき句にもあらすとて冬の月に定め入集させられける はしめは文字つまりて柴戸とよめたり 然るに出版の後大津より先師の文に柴の戸にあらす此木戸なり かゝる秀逸は一句も大切なり たとへ出版におよふともいそき改むへしとなり 凡兆曰柴の戸此木戸させる勝劣なし 去来曰此月を柴の戸に寄て見れは尋常の気色なり 是を城門にうつして見れは其風情あはれに物凄きいかはかりなし 実も其角か冬霜にわつらへるもことはりなり

Which is to say:

This castle gate, chained shut / Winter moon -- Kikaku

This poem was sent in while we were choosing poems for the Monkey's Rain-cape, and I heard that he couldn't decide if it should be "winter moon" or "November" ["moon of frost"]. We all agreed that "winter moon" was better. Bashô was like, "Eh, it isn't like this is such a great 'ku that Kikaku would care anyway," and settled on "winter moon".

[Also,] at first we read the first two characters as one: "brushwood [fence] gate" (柴戸). But after we went to press, we got a letter from Bashô, who was in Ōtsu at the time. "It's not 'brushwood gate', it's 'this castle gate' (此木戸)," he said. "Every single line matters with brilliance like this. Fix it quickly, even if you have to republish." Bonchô was all, "Changing 'brushwood gate' to 'this castle gate' won't even make a difference," but I was like, "You put the moon up against the brushwood fence gate, and it's just another rustic scene. But shine it on a castle gate, and the aware is off the charts. Of course Kikaku would care whether it was "winter moon" or "November".

It is not recorded whether Bonchô, at this point, actually punched Kyorai, or just rolled his eyes.

Some people attribute Kyorai's strong opinion here partly to nostalgia for his castle-heavy military life, but even putting that aside, Japanese poems about tumbledown huts outnumber those about castles by a hojillion to one. For variety's sake alone you have to prefer the castle interpretation. Also, who chains their brushwood fence shut? Someone could just kick it open.

Another popular interpretation of the poem is that the 木戸 cited is not a castle gate, but rather one of the gates throughout Edo that were closed after curfew, and the narrator is not a mysterious figure standing before a silent fortress at midnight, but simply a drunkard who failed to think ahead.

Anyway, this problem could have been solved if Kikaku had written kono with kana (この) instead of kanji (此), and in subsequent editions of the Rain-cape, that's exactly what they did. (It's in the middle, directly to the left of the gutter.)


Do manga characters look 'white'?

Matt Thorn sez: no!

The Japanese are not Other within their own borders, and therefore drawn (or painted or sculpted) representations of, by and for Japanese do not, as a rule, include stereotyped racial markers. A circle with two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth is, by default, Japanese.

Yes. Similarly, when a white person looks at a henohenomoheji face, they usually don't see a Japanese person there, despite the obvious and extreme Japaneseness of its provenance.

On the other hand, a hemamushiyo-nyūdō does look like a specifically Asian sage, at least to me... but I'm pretty sure that's because of the robe.

In other news, commenting has been adjusted so that links will work... I think.


Character simplification trivia

"Shibuya" is written 渋谷 in kanji. That first kanji is actually simplified; it was originally 澁. Here's a close-up:

澁 → 渋

At first glance, it strikes some people (hi L.!) as odd that the simplified part should still end up so fiddly. Why a four-stroke pattern instead of just a cross? What's the point of simplifying characters if you're going to choke halfway?

The explanation isn't too complicated, but let me rewind a bit. A lot of characters were simplified by applying global rules of the form:

Xcomplex + c

Xsimple + c

For example:

XcomplexXsimpleOld charactersSimplified characters
佛, 拂仏, 払
糸言糸戀, 灣恋, 湾

But 渋 is in a class of characters which were simplified by a subtly different kind of rule. A couple more examples from the same class should make it obvious what the rule is:

攝 → 摂
壘 → 塁

Yep: it means "add two of what's above", or:

Xtop + 2Xbottom + c

Xtop + 4-stroke pattern + c

(But see footnote*.) The four-stroke pattern itself is actually a stylized way of writing two odoriji ("repeat" signs), and is quite venerable in its own right. For example, characters like 蟲 and 轟 didn't get officially simplified (UPDATE: 蟲 totally did get simplified, to 虫. See comments!), probably due to their rarity, but in old-school handwriting they often got the four-stroke treatment.

Anyway, keeping parts like the bottom of 渋 four unconnected strokes instead of a unified cross was probably driven, consciously or otherwise, by a desire to indicate its divisibility into two equivalent elements. And now you know... the rest of the story.

Bonus puzzle: Name the other, very common, simplification that means (among other things) "two of anything, side by side."

* Common exception: the 品 in 區 always gets simplified as a group to 区 (鷗外 → 鴎外, 毆る → 殴る, etc.)


You're not hardcore unless you live hardcore

What do you do if you're in an airborne plane and the front landing gear won't extend? If you're on ANA flight 1603 from Ōsaka to Kōchi, you land that bad boy anyway. [English news link.]

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Kansai folks are hardcore. I hear the pilot didn't even notice until one of the cabin attendants yelled "Woooo! All systems 100% badass!" and high-fived him afterwards.

Useful phrase of the day: dōtai chakuriku (胴体着陸, "fuselage touchdown", "belly landing").


F-ing motesto

Has it been a week already? How time flies when you forget your Google password and have to wait five days for them to let you try answering your secret question.

This post is just for Language Hat, to protect him from the leering beer-man.

F-ing motesto news! For all your f-ing needs -- now with mo' better testo. Oh, Fukuske [such!]... don't ever change.

(Motesto, n.: moteru ("be desired, popular") stocking.)


Separated at vat?

Hon-nama: it'll twist your face into a rictus of diabolic glee!



Today is hina matsuri here in Japan, and instead of rehashing the same stuff you can read everywhere, I thought I'd share some scans of the assembly instructions for a hina-style doll display from a few decades ago. (Thanks, T!) I put all the images up on Flickr as the set "Hina matsuri how-to", but here are a couple of highlights:

The first thing you have to do when setting up your hina matsuri display is put the framework together. If you have a full seven-layer model, this can involve some tricky balancing, so be sure to wear a mini-skirt under your apron.

Once the hard work is done, a mysterious and more modestly clad woman takes over in glorious color to spread the red cloth and cover it in dolls, miniature swords, etc. Yeah, these things are more or less equivalent to Christmas trees, except with more choking hazards.

Check out the manufacturer's logo:

"Akase". This is a Japanese surname, not wildly uncommon. This much slicker modern-day Akase is old enough to be them, but I have neither hard evidence nor the slightest inclination to search for any.

Extra credit quiz: How much gender-related imagery can you find in this stylized depiction of the empress and emperor at the top of the staircase?