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)

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Matt: Are you sure that says "unauthorized copy" and not "copying prohibited"? It could be read that way (in Chinese, at least).


D'oh! You're completely right. If I had bothered to glance at a dictionary before posting, I would have learnt that it's a set legal phrase that means, as you say, "Copying prohibited" or "All rights reserved". Truly, pride and a total lack of legal knowledge come before a fall.


I'm actually more interested in hearing more about aforementioned "awkward phone conversations."

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