Friday linkdump: Sadism, pornography, and fashion

Links to things of interest. Maybe I'll do this once a fortnight or so.

Simpsons manga. Interesting, but disappointing. The decision to avoid Simpsonian gags in favor of tired old "bad translation" ones is baffling. (I did like Krusty's cameo, though.) Via ¡Journalista!

Excerpts from the 1937 moviefication of Ozaki Kōyō's Konjiki yasha (金色夜叉, "The Golden Demon") on YouTube. This book was one of the two or three biggest-selling novels of the Meiji period, best remembered today for its frontispiece by Takeuchi Keishū depicting the shocking climax of Volume 1 ('"So, you still plan to marry him, then? After everything I've said? Cheating bitch! Whore!" -- So shouting, Kan'ichi raised his foot high and kicked Miya's delicate back. She fell to the ground and rolled onto her side...') Sculpture, kamikiri, kokeshi... Burned on the culture, friends.

Speaking of the Meiji period: English translation of Shōsetsu shinsui (小説神髄: "Essence of the novel") by Tsubouchi Shōyō (坪内逍遥).

In Japan the novel has traditionally been seen as an instrument of education. It has often been asserted that its primary object is to encourage virtue and condemn vice. In reality, however, the only really popular stories are those which are sadistic or pornographic. Very few people even so much as glance at more serious offerings. Novelists lack self-respect. They are slaves to public opinion and puppets of fashion, falling over themselves to pander to the tastes of the times with erotic love stories and bloodthirsty period pieces, always following the latest fashion. Yet even so, they find it difficult to abandon the outward appearance of moralizing. In their determined attempts to accommodate it, they present a distorted view of human nature, misrepresent social conditions, and devise illogical plots. ... I myself have been fond of novels since my youth.

Moving back to modern times... Tokyo Street Sketches: Trend-Hunting Field Notes (東京ストリートスケッチ-流行採集フィールドノート-). Fashion sketch blog, with daily updates. See also artist Mari's earlier fashion ukiyo-e.

And finally, something to think about.


Oshare sin fronteras

"おしゃれニスタ100人の夏流行!" is the main cover headline on this month's Zipper. It promises information about the summer fashions of 100 "osharenistas", which is Japanese oshare (cool, hip, witty, sophisticated) + Spanish-turned-English -nista (as in "fashionista").

Note that the suffix is -nista rather than -ista (which is what should be expected, strictly, given that the original English/Spanish referents are fashion+ista ← Sandin(o)+ista and so the morpheme is clearly -ista, cognate with English -ist, I assume). This is because of the pattern set by fashionista when it was borrowed: the pronunciation in English is fashio-nista, not fashion-ista, and so the Japanese borrowing is fasshonisuta rather than fasshon'isuta.

(Theoretically, since fashion had already been borrowed as fasshon, some anal person could have just added an -ista to the pre-existing loan word rather than borrowing the whole thing afresh. However, if they'd done this, the result (/fasshon.isuta/) would have a moraic nasal immediately followed by a vowel, and Japanese hates that shit. It already spent centuries smearing Chinese loan words like /han.ou/ (反応) into /han.nou/; it don't need the same aggravation from yet another source language.)

Given that fashionista already existed as a loan word, the use of osharenista instead is actually quite revealing. Consider the roots of the word oshare: it's attested at least back to the Edo period, and may be related to modern zareru (戯れる: "play", "be witty", "be elegant", etc.) or perhaps sareru (曝れる: "left to dry in the sun"). Centuries ago, to be oshare was more about general sophistication than fashionable clothing. Particularly vital was an easy familiarity with the pleasure quarters, where the culture was continually being forged anew.

Familiarity with hired female companionship is less oshare today, but the word oshare is still readily applicable to things other than your personal appearance -- apartments, jobs, parties, etc. In fact, unless these areas of your life are as oshare as your wardrobe, you are probably not very oshare at all.

So the 100 people advertised on the cover are not just fashionable -- they are living la dolce vita in general, if I may mix cultural traditions. A fashionista is distant, flawless, stilettoed; her inner life is inaccessible and in any case irrelevant. An osharenista has a unique look and works part-time in a hip little underground cafe/recording studio. You may want to look like a fashionista sometimes, but you want to live like an osharenista all the time. And that's what Zipper is selling.

Then again, I'm a nerd. So what do I know about oshare?


Flower trolleys

Hana-densha (花電車, "flower [=lavishly decorated] trains/trolleys") are what happens when you let engineers and modernity loose on traditional Japanese matsuri pageantry. Tracks and electricity replace shoulders and sweat, but the aesthetics are as lurid and exuberant as ever. Here are three hana-densha postcards I picked up recently in Kamakura.

This hana-densha, entitled 慶祝 ("Joy and celebration") was created to celebrate the new National Diet Building in 1936. When all the light bulbs were shining, it was visible from space.

Something completely different stylistically: 麒麟の苑 ("Garden of the Kirin"). Why kirin? Because kirin herald the coming of a great ruler, and this hana-densha was put on rails to celebrate an Emperor's accession to the throne (大礼). I think it was probably the Shōwa emperor, but I can't say for sure. Note that there are two beasts on the float.

My third and final example is a garish return to form: 御国の榮 ("Glory of the nation"). This is Disney's Small World ride turned inside-out: you stand still while the children ride past, and instead of promoting global harmony they trumpet their own nation's dominance. Both boys are uniformed.

(Note for Googlers: This page has no information about the Boredoms' bass player's other band or the burlesque terminology [sub-note: don't believe everything WaiWai says about sex or words].)


Per Comic Charge ad astra

Here's a panel from "DT-matic" (DT = dōtei = virgin), a comic by ISHIKAWA Takumi currently running in Comic Charge.

All three of the people floating in space are (biologically) men who gained magical powers upon reaching the age of 30 without losing their virginity. The amount of magic they can perform in a given day is directly proportional to the number of times they masturbate. The character in the distance recently turned 30 and is not quite in control of his powers; he sent himself into space in a desperate attempt to flee the character at bottom left, who identifies as female and was trying to magically seduce him. (The character on the right seems to have somehow escaped from The Simpsons.)

This, in a magazine that promotes the new Evangelion project non-stop and recently started running Gundam-themed gag strips. I'm sure that it makes economic sense to target 30something nerds who are isolated from human society and constantly masturbating, but they could stand to be a little subtler about it.

"DT-matic" was originally introduced as part of Project Show More Breasts, which began around, oh, issue 3. Things peaked in issue 4, and now the secondary sexual characteristics have subsided to a dull but constant buzz. It's been a real education.

Oh, Comic Charge! I kid because I love.

In closing, an obligatory Heppoko scan:


Kid-quick in the servant's quarters

New word for today: kobayai. Ko (child) + [rendaku] + hayai (fast, early, hasty) = "Unusually fertile, quick to fall pregnant". Not to be confused with the surname Kobayashi, despite the vast number of folks bearing that surname today.

Obligato-unsavory senryū (online source):

わたくしは 子早い方と 下女おどし
Watakushi wa/ kobayai hō to/ gejo odoshi
'I'm the baby-prone sort,' warns the maid.

In Japan as in many other countries, maids as a group inspired desire, jealousy, and resentment. Senryū writers knew that zingers could be squeezed from this sort of foolishness like juice from a self-important orange, and so many a seventeen-syllable verse revolved around a young, crafty maid putting one over on her employers. One of my favorites, for the imagery rather than the wit:

Gejo e hai/ sakin ga aru no de/ haimodori
Creep into the maid's room-- someone's already there. Creep back.

(Yes, I did award it bonus points for giving an Eastern-nasalized sakin ga the same mora count as the modern/standard saki ga. Why do you ask?)


Earthquakes and cream

Being crushed under a falling pillar has historically been one of the better ways to be killed by an earthquake in Japan. The survivors of the quake itself had to deal with devastating city-wide fires for days afterward, and then poverty, starvation, and disease in the weeks and months that followed. Plus, if primary sources are to be believed, the populace could also expect constant taunting by anthropomorphic catfish, and the wealthy were all too vulnerable to... gold disease.

The nishiki-e a portion of which is shown at right, Fat cats with gold disease (長者金の病ひ), depicts three victims of this unique affliction. As you can see, it causes them to lose wealth. From both ends. Explosively.

"Losing it all like this is just unbearable; I try to hold it in, but my ass has just gotten so loose..." sighs one. The second wishes aloud for a doctor to cure him, but observes that "as the state of our guts gets worse, the world gets better and better" (わたくしどものはらあんばいハわるくなりますかハりよのなかハじうぶんよくなる). The third, cheered by this thought, decides to go for one more "big katamari".

Uncharacteristic generosity is, clearly, one side effect of gold disease. It may be that their hearts grew three sizes that day. (Certainly many other internal organs would have to have stretched considerably to pass Edo currency.)

For another example, go here and search for "持○長者" ("Super-rich fat cats"). These three have big plans. "Let's choose those suffering the most and help them out," says one. "Surely there could be no greater charity than this!" (The word I translate as "charity" is 陰徳, which means "an act of generosity/kindness performed in secret"; given the source of the donation, I think this secrecy is well advised.)

"Yes, yes!" cries another. "Children with no parents, parents with no children, blind people, old people, that's who we should give alms to." The caption ends feverishly envisioning the extension of this generosity to everyone whose house was damaged in the quake. In the bottom right corner, the rich are urged to "clean out their filled-up stomachs" (たまりしはらのそうじしたまへ).

My final example, explicitly drawing the connection: gold disease cures the disease of poverty (ひんのやまひ).

Let me summarize. Hoarded wealth is a kind of constipation. Earthquakes are a laxative, freeing liquid assets to circulate among tradesmen. This is the basis of a healthy capitalist economy, but some oversight by catfish is required to ensure that everything -- and everyone -- runs smoothly.


Learning German in Taishō Japan

I accidentally left Lectures on German Reader 1 (獨文讀本巻之一講義) on the train last week, putting the kybosh on my plans to blog about it then. Luckily, a few awkward phone conversations* located it at the end of the line I ride to work, and now I have it back again.

First published in 1913, the book was apparently based on an existing German Reader 1 by Herren Ōmura, Yamaguchi and Taniguchi. The added "lecture" (講義) component includes word-by-word glosses and in-depth discussion of difficult structures. Here's a sample:

Äsop reiste einmal in eine kleine Stadt. Unterwegs begegnete er einem Reisenden. Dieser grüßte ihn und fragte: „Wie lange muß ich gehen, bis ich jene Stadt erreiche, die wir von weitem sehen?“ „Geh!“ antwortete Äsop.

I think that the best way to re-member the Japanese translation they have in mind is:


Note especially the numbers 1-7 in the traveler's question. They tell the Japanese reader what order the pieces would be in if the sentence was Japanese. I suspect that this notation is descended from the kaeriten used in kanbun.

Note also, gentle reader, that Aesop is a complete asshole. The rest of the story is as follows: Aesop continues to respond to the traveler's polite inquiries with a rude "Go!" until the traveler finally gives up and starts walking. Aesop then calls after him: "Two hours!" The traveler turns back: "Why didn't you tell me that before?" Aesop: "I didn't know how long it'd take you to walk there until I saw how fast you could walk." The traveler then injures Aesop grievously. (Okay, I made that last part up. But it should have been in there.)

Update: Mea culpa! See comments. Finally: have you ever wondered what's under the stamp-and-seal on the copyright page of expensive and/or classy Japanese books?

Me either, but it turns out it's a notice saying "UNAUTHORIZED COPY". This is the default case for any book published under this system; it can only be overriden by placing the magic seal of authenticity atop it. (I think in the case of this book, though, the seal just fell off.)

* "German? Well... half of it is. The other half's in Meiji-Taishō Japanese. ... You know, nari and so on. ... Look, can you just check for a book that's one hundred years old? It shouldn't be hard to pick out." (Back)


'He is GLINGING. He did the same thing yesterday.'

Found via Wikipedia's entry on the wug test: the original wug pictures!

More wugalia at Topics in Language Acquisition. And yes, those t-shirts are for sale.

Non-linguistic major readers may also be interested to know that in other contexts, the word wug means something quite different: specifically, that class of fauna which includes worms and bugs (as opposed to fish, birds, mammals, etc. [warning: PDF; PIE; laryngeals]).

You can say that again!


How I knew that Nosongdang's Record of the Journey to Japan would be worth reading

Early in his journey, Nosongdang, a.k.a. Song Hui-Gyeong (宋希璟/송희경), passes through Anpyeong. The town's name is written 安平; the kanji mean, roughly, "safe and peaceful". On this hinges the comment that made me decide to pick up the book:


Pass Anpyeong station. Mountain road is stony and dangerous; horses keep freaking out. Why do they call this station "safe and peaceful" anyway? The mismatch between name and reality boggles the mind.

You cannot go wrong with a bitchy 15th-century travelogue, especially one that crosses national borders. I can't wait until he hits Japan.


Spontaneous pictures

Basil Hall CHAMBERLAIN's Japanese Things: Being Notes on Various Subjects Connected with Japan contains, under the cringe-inducing heading "English as she is Japped", many examples of Meiji-period English bloopers.

Clearly, the predominance of handwriting back then was a major factor in producing teratography like "There is no neceity exklain ally aeknorulebqe by thebll customers." But one of the errors is far, far more interesting. I'll let Chamberlain set the scene:

[A guidebook briefly mentioned] is, however, eclipsed by "A Guide on Hakone,"--a perfect jewel, which sells on the spot for "30 zonts.". Here is part of its description of the locality in question:--Whenever we visit the place, the first pleasure to be longed, is the view of Fuji Mountain and its summit is covered with permanent undissolving snow, and its regular configuration hanging down the sky like an opened white fan, may be looked long at equal shape from several regions surrounding it. Every one who saw it ever has nothing but applause. It casts the shadow in a contrary direction on still glassy face of lake as I have just described. Buildings of Imperial Solitary Palace, scenery of Gongen, all are spontaneous pictures.

There is nothing remarkable about this, in my opinion, until you get to that "spontaneous pictures" thing. This phrase is fun because it echoes some of the ambiguity and Western-influenced language evolution of its time.

The Japanese which inspired "spontaneous" was, I am quite sure, "自然の". In modern Japanese, you would almost always understand this to mean "of nature, natural". The writer wants to say that the scenery of Gongen etc. is as beautiful to behold as a picture conceived and created by a conscious human artist.

But the word they used was "spontaneous", not "natural", and this is because the two-kanji word 自然 originally had a more abstract meaning which you can get a feel for by, say, comparing the last sentence of several translations of Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching, the original of which was "人法地, 地法天, 天法道, 道法自然".

The identification of 自然 with "nature" as a concrete thing -- the set of all forests, lakes, etc. -- was, by contrast, a Meiji innovation, heavily influenced by Western thought. This guy claims that 自然 wasn't even used casually as a noun until the 1880s.

An unskilled translator who chose the wrong word from his J-E dictionary could make the same mistake today, obviously. But there is something evocative, for me, in the idea of someone more than a century ago, setting out to write a sales pitch for at a Western audience, using Western ideas that had already been successfully imported into Japanese thought-- and then stumbling at the final hurdle of getting it back into English. All the more so when you consider that what trips the writer up here is the legacy of a parallel process in which Chinese words and ideas were imported wholesale. All this, and who knows what other factors I remain completely ignorant of, tucked between two words in a casual description of some cheap pamphlet.



So I'm tumbling in the crowd-surf at Nagata-chō station when I come upon the billboard extrusion of this campaign:

... and I'm all like, "Im in Ayase what? Raizing my d00dz? S@v0ring the bittersweet symbolism of the 5akura? You can't end that sentence there, Park Town Higashiayase!"

Getting no satisfaction from their smug O RLY owl mascot, I visited their webpage and was disappointed to find that the UR stands for "Urban Renaissance" and that they seek to create cities where people lead "animated lifestyles". (Like Neo-Tokyo?)

Note that the lamp post is an the overpowering presence in this picture, taller than any other single object. The design also seems to imply that only this lamp post is keeping the dark, menacing wilderness at bay to the right. I'm not sure what this means. "Nature, but not too much"?


Sakanoue's grave

Rellax, everyone. The grave of SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro has been even more found.

See, everyone used to to thought it was on at the brown dot on the linked map, but turns out it's probably at the red dot nearby, said red dot being an old grave site discovered in the Taishō period. The researcher responsible for this new information is YOSHIKAWA Shinji of Kyōto University (seems he has a knack for these things).

Seems that Yoshikawa was reading some very old administrative notes in Kiyomizu-dera, which Tamuramaro is said to have built, when he found an entry which designated "the water-fields, land-fields, and hills of Kurisu Village, Kuita West Town, Road 7, Uji County, Yamashiro Province" (山城国宇治郡七条咋田西里栗栖村) as Tamuramaro's grave. (No doubt the address actually went on to include [alright, began with] "the world, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe", but this part was eaten by worms.)

Cross-referencing this with an old map in Tokyo revealed that the grave was... really quite close to where everyone had always assumed it was. And taking up some prime farmland, apparently.

Tamuramaro is most famous for his real-life anti-Emishi campaign across the mainland, but in later centuries he evolved into an all-purpose folk hero, protecting the people from various monsters. This same tradition sees him finding and marrying one Akutama, who is variously described as a beautiful but fierce oni, an ugly but tough human, a beautiful human who looked ugly to anyone unworthy to see her, etc. She is mentioned, briefly, in this intriguing paper.


Know'st thou the land where lemon-trees do bloom?

One Hundred Japanese Books for Children (1868-1945) -- in English, with descriptions and pictures. Go on. Click. It's Friday. Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • Kimi yo shiru ya, minami no kuni (1926) -- The title is a reference to Goethe's "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn", and "illustrations of beautiful girls with a somewhat sad countenance" are heavily featured. If this book were any more Taishō it would die of consumption.
  • Jagaa no me (1928) -- "The protagonist is Kuroda Morio, a boy whose father was a Japanese colonel and mother was an offspring of the Incan Empire. He and Kyôshin'ô (an offspring of Qing dynasty), Chôya (Kyôshin'ô's man), Kinka (a daughter between Kyôshin'ô and a Japanese woman), and an mixed blooded Indian confront the Jaguar and his soldiers, and seize the treasure of the Incan Empire. This story owes much to action movies [...]: the setting in San Francisco and Arizona, a disguise, a kidnapping, a circus, cowboys, poisonous gas, car and motorboat chases, hard action, quick change of scenes, and so on." ("And so on"? What else could there be?!)
  • Sekai kunizukushi (1869) -- "An elementary book of geology written for the enlightenment of 'women and children' during the Meiji era." Transcriptions of the text up top.
  • Akai hata (1930) -- Poetry for children, quickly banned, because "[f]olktales and nursery rhymes are parodied, animals such as horse, sparrow, parrot and goat are used as symbols of exploited laborers, and expressions like directly giving cheers for the proletariat can be found here and there." The Korean on the cover is interesting; I assume Makimoto's intention was to signal solidarity rather than approve of Japan's imperialist activities on the continent.
  • Momotaro, or, Little Peachling (1885) -- Yep, in translation. Read the whole thing online.