Oh please let ruffs be in this season

KANNO Miho on More magazine, 2008/07:



Sagawa Chika in stereo

So there I was, just having completed a translation of SAGAWA Chika's "Morning bread" (朝のパン), and looking around for a good Sagawa link, when I find a whole bunch of Sagawa translated by NAKAYASU Sawako. D'oh!

But it occurs to me that there may be some value in a little compare-and-contrast, and so:

One morning I see friend on friend escaping from the window.

Green insect seduction. In the orchard a woman whose socks have been removed is killed. Morning in a top hat from behind the orchard follows. Green-printed newspaper under its arm.

In the end I too must come down from the hill.
The street cafés are beautiful glass spheres and in brown fluid drown a gang of men.
Their clothing through the fluid spreads.

La madame du monocle tears up her bread at last and throws it true.

I make no apologies for being more partial to mine—it is, after all, mine—but nor do I pretend that mine supersedes Nakayasu's or renders it irrelevant. A few notes on the differences between Nakayasu's version and my own are listed below (the original can be found here—search for "朝のパン").

  • "In the morning" vs "one morning": Nakayasu's is a more accurate translation of the original, which is simply asa with a comma ("朝、"). I strayed for the sake of the sound.
  • "Several friends" vs "friend on friend": The original is ikutari mo no tomora (幾人もの友等). I feel that the mo conveys a sensation that there are unusually many friends, and wrote it that way, but my repetition of "friend" is an innovation with nothing to justify it.
  • "Temptation of the green insect" vs "Green insect seduction": I chose to reflect the order of the original; Nakayasu's translation, being a more natural English phrase, is closer to the original's normalcy level.
  • "Silk hat" vs "top hat": The original Japanese is shiruku hatto ("silk hat", obviously), but it refers to what is in English invariably called a "top hat". Transliteration vs translation. In a poem like this, it's debatable which approach is better.
  • "City cafés" vs "street cafes": The original word for city/street is 街, which can mean either. Again, I went for euphony.
  • "Wheat-colored" vs "brown": The original is mugi-iro, 麦色, quite obviously "wheat-colored". My switch to "brown" robs the poem of something—possibly something quite important given the theme of bread. (That "bread" in the final line is even spelt 麺飽, using kanji that emphasize bread's wheat-flour provenance.) Here's what happened: the phrase "in brown fluid drown a gang of men" came to me at once and I loved it too much to abandon. I still love it, in fact, so much so that I suspect it may be one of those darlings writers are constantly being urged to kill.
  • "Madam with the monocle" vs "La madame du monocle": This is total whimsy on my part. The original is monokuru no madamu (モノクルのマダム), and the katakana plus the fact that both words came (originally) from French made me decide to throw it all the way back to the Gallic tongue. This is probably one of those decisions I'll come to regret like a college Hallowe'en costume.
  • "Hurls it at them" vs "throws it true": Nakayasu has the better verb, I end the sentence stronger. The original is nagetsukeru (投げつける), with target unstated. I think it's probably safe to presume, as Nakayasu does, that the bread was thrown at the men drowning in the spheres, but I wanted to avoid that assumption.


Natsu ururu

Kirin's new tea brand this summer has a name that I really dig: Ururu cha (潤る茶).


Ururu! A new word invented for the occasion, a Dawn-like sudden relative of such real modern words as uruosu (provide moisture to), a novel cadence of ancient tones implying hitherto unheard-of thirst-quenching abilities that are nevertheless fully compatible with wind chimes, cicada-fancying, and any other national summer tradition you might care to name.

Did they purposefully model it on old bigrade verb endings? Did they create it anew by adding the verb ending -ru to the stem uru, like modern creations takuru (take a taxi) and makuru (eat at McD_____ds)? Did they start with Urueru cha (潤える茶) and remove the え for design reasons? Or Uruu cha (潤う茶) and reject it as too close to mercenary uru (sell)—or too thinly /r/'d, unable to evoke words like urara (clear skies)? Were they inspired by the Japanese pronunciation of Uluru, which achieved fame here as the titular-in-the-original Center of the World in Socrates in Love? So many possibilities! (All right, it probably wasn't Uluru.)

Nor miss the commercial, which features some of the finest vintage 80s fantasy-girlfriend summer horseplay you're likely to see outside of... uh, any other commercial on Japanese TV between June and September.


Sento out!

Via Kikko we learn that universally despised and feared Nara 1300th-anniversary mascot Sento-kun is to get the boot, replaced by whoever wins on this page. (Asahi explains that technically, Sento-kun will still be the official mascot, but local business and other grass-roots anti-Sento-kun elements will use the favorite as chosen in this poll instead.)

I was never opposed to Sento-kun in principle—Buddha-looking kid with deer horns, what's not to love?—but the execution was just awful. You know that ugly mid-20th-century East Asian style of popular design where everyone was rounded and red-lipped and rosy-cheeked? With uncomfortable attention to detail on the lashes and so on? Yeah, like a modern update of that, except soulless and plastic.

Also, his name. He's the mascot of the 1300th anniversary of the capital's move from Fujiwara to Nara, thus ushering in the Nara period. The word for moving the capital is sento (遷都). That's it. There's no gag. Just an awkward pause.


There are a couple of Manyōshū poems (you knew this was coming) on the subject of sento. One of them is about the very sento that Sento-kun senlebratos, and is therefore attributed to Empress Genmei, who although not, it seems, the original architect of the move, was in charge at the time. It goes:

Tobu tori no/ Asuka no sato wo/ okite inaba/ kimi ga atari ha/ miezu ka mo aramu
"Asuka of the soaring birds: If I were to depart from this village, would where you are no longer be within my sight?"

Note the spelling of Asuka: 明日香 ("fragrance of tomorrow"). This is the spelling used for the modern village on the site (founded via a merger of smaller villages in 1956), but the ancient capital is, nowadays, invariably spelt 飛鳥 ("soaring birds").

On the other hand, the poem does use 飛鳥 (with a sensible pronunciation) as a pillow word for 明日香. This is key. Very common way to pair these two phrases in the Manyōshū—so much so that MOTOORI Norinaga believed that the original spelling was 明日香, with 飛鳥 assigned later due to pillow-word influence. As far as I know, his explanation is still considered viable. If true, this poem would date from before the change.

(Mind you, "fragrance of tomorrow" seems like a really unlikely original etymology for the placename.)


Ainu, Utari, Ainu

The Hokkaidō Utari Kyōkai (Hokkaido Utari Association, in English) was founded in 1930 as the Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai. It used that name until 1961, at which point it became the Hokkaidō Utari Kyōkai. Last week, though, they announced that as of next April they will change their name back to the "Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai". Why the change? What is the difference between Ainu and utari?

Ainu is obviously the name used to refer to the Ainu as a people distinct from other peoples; this is directly from the Ainu word aynu which means, predictably, "man" or "person" (as opposed to "supernatural being").

Utari is a more interesting word. As a loan word in Japanese, it is usually glossed as "compatriot" ("同胞", dōhō), which usually implies "fellow Ainu". Its etymology in Ainu is more interesting. In CHIRI Yukie's yukar, the word utar means "family" or "fellows", sometimes "people doing X [as opposed to people not doing X]"; it is also borrowed as a plural marker in some cases. Utari is a form meaning "family or fellows of..." It appears once in Chiri's work, in the song of the sea god (Repun Kamui):

otasut kotan/ kotan kor nispa/ kor utari
opittano/ kotcake ne/ un koyayirayke/ katuhu

"The chief of Otasut village, representing all of [the village]'s utari, thanked me and explained the situation..."

(Acknowledgment: Found via KIRIKAE Hideo's 『アイヌ神謡集辞典』 (Ainu Yukar Lexicon), a truly marvelous resource.)

Ainu have been using utari as a loanword in Japanese, with exactly this politically-charged meaning, for a very long time. I first learned of it from Japanese verse by IBOSHI Hokuto (1901–1929), for example:

昔に恥じよ 覚めよ ウタリー

"The strong ones!"—so were the Ainu named.
Shamed by the past/ Awaken, utari!


Utari long gone/ From the ancient village in Furubira*/ Where my heart shines

Clearly what he means here is utari, in the sense of "my comrades" or "my fellow Ainu". Elsewhere, he erases even this ambiguity by using the phrase an utari, "my utari":

アヌタリー(同族)の墓地でありしと云ふ山も とむらふ人なき熊笹の薮

The mountain, too, said to be a burial ground for my utari
A scrub of kumazasa, with no-one to tend the graves

Another revealing passage:

アイヌ! と只一言が何よりの侮辱となって憤怒に燃る


Ainu! Just one word/ Become the greatest of insults/ I burn with rage
What?! Eat shit!/ I shout, but then/ A long, lonely silence

The original meaning of the word long forgotten, what an insulting pronoun it has become—Assimilation has already gone too far—To lash out at the shallow ideas of this age, say it with intent: "I am an Ainu"—A reactionary way of thinking—I know this, all of it, but ... I still lack discipline ... I laugh bitterly at my own cowardice.

The idea that Ainu were a lesser form of life was very common in Iboshi's time, so much so that to call someone an Ainu (or to use it as a "pronoun", in his words: "Get out of here, Ainu") was indeed an insult. Many of the Ainu themselves responded to this by trying to "pass", to assimilate with and disappear into the Japanese population. The government word for this was 同化 ("assimilation" or "homogenization" in English). Iboshi and others like him detested this state of affairs, and wanted to stand and fight instead, but it seems that they were in the minority.

Now, the Hokkaidō Ainu Kyōkai was originally formed and run by The Man, with the explicit aim of speeding the assimilation process. They had no reason to choose any name but the most obvious one. The organization was reformed after the war, but as far as I can tell lapsed into inactivity until the 1960s, when a new wave of activists kick-started it with the name change. The Asahi story on the current name change says that the change was motivated by the desire to make it easier for people to join and identify with the organization even if they associated the word Ainu with bigotry and other unpleasantness (アイヌという言葉が差別的な意味で使われていたことがあり、入会時などの心理的な抵抗を軽減させる).

Now, though, the association has apparently decided that the time is right to change back. That the word "Ainu" is no longer an automatic slur (pace the continued existence of bigots) was obviously a necessary condition for this, but doesn't seem to be a sufficient one. Chief director of the Association, Katō Tadashi, solved the mystery by explaining that the direct motivator was the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People last year. As Kjeld Duits reported last October, the Japanese government supported the declaration but doesn't accept its applicability to Hokkaido; as minister for foreign affairs Machimura Nobutaka put it at a September press conference in September, "In Japan, the conclusion that the Ainu are an indigenous people has not been reached (日本ではアイヌ民族を先住民族であると結論を出しておりません)".

Since then, Ainu groups have been building up steam on a number of campaigns to get that official recognition (which Kato, for example, expects to lead to better education for Ainu and the right to "use national and prefectural forests there on a priority basis for their traditional ceremonies and hunting". This is why, for example, you had the Ainu Utari Renrakukai on the streets of Tokyo in March collecting signatures for a petition to that effect (2ch backlash), and why a trans-party governmental working group has coalesced with the stated aim of resolving the issue to everyone's satisfaction. MACHIMURA's comment: "I am aware of this activity within the Diet, but nothing has been decided about what will be done as a government (国会での動きは承知しているが、政府としてどうするとは何ら決めていない)".

So the idea is that reverting to the name "Hokkaido Ainu Association" will help the association in question in terms of both clarity of message and general visibility. The unease of the majority with granting new concessions to a group based on what they consider ancient history—exactly the same phenomenon you see in Australia and the U.S. w/r/t the indigenous peoples there—is probably going to be a larger problem for them, but I suppose adopting the language of the majority must have some value as a symbolic gesture.

* Furubira is an Ainu place name whose meaning isn't known for sure, although Wikipedia quotes "red cliff" (hure-pira) and "hill cliff" (hur-pira) as two possible explanations. (Back)


Fuji, Murakami and a can

New article at Neojaponisme: "Fuji as collaboratrice".

I also recommend Daniel Morales's "Murakami Haruki B-sides" for those into the books and such.

Finally, here is a picture of a woman throwing a can at a man. The sound effect is kaaan!. This is the kind of thing that makes my day.

(From TAKAHASHI Rumiko's Maison Ikkoku.)


When I said I wanted a reservation, this isn't what I had in mind

Fancy-pants restaurant chain Senba Kitchō, who you might remember spent a few good weeks in the media doghouse late last year after their labeling misdeeds came to light, are in even deeper trouble following revelations that they have been re-serving leftovers:

The restaurant's head chef admitted at a press conference on Friday that the restaurant had been using the leftovers of six dishes, such as sweetfish broiled with salt, since five or six years ago.

But [...] sources said the restaurant had actually been reusing a wider range of food items, including broiled fish and beef that had been left untouched by customers, by cooking them again and serving them sometimes in boxed meals.

This is, if I may use a technical term, gross. It is also a terrible slur on the memory of YUKI Teiichi (湯木貞一), who founded the original Kitchō and was widely respected not only for his culinary talents but also his dedication to keeping traditions like the tea ceremony alive and relevant in the context of modern hospitality. (Senba Kitchō is a spin-off business run by Teiichi's daughter YUKI Sachiko (湯木佐知子) and her husband YUKI Masanori (湯木正徳), who married into the family and took their name.)

The story got even better when Sachiko held a press conference a few days after the revelations to announce that she didn't like the word "leftovers" (食べ残し) and would prefer that the media use the term "cuisine that was served but left untouched" (お出しして残された『お料理』), KTHXBYE:


The distinction being drawn here is between the verbs tabenokosu and nokosu. Nokosu means "leave behind, leave untouched". Tabenokosu is from taberu (eat) + nokosu, thus "to leave uneaten". It seems that Yuki would argue that if a dish remains entirely untouched, the verb tabenokosu can not apply to that dish because no actual eating has taken place.

Sadly for her, most people, including myself, judge "eating" to begin at the instant that an item of food is served: after that point, it is ritually unclean. Whether a bite has literally been taken out of it or not is an "accident" in the technical sense, a entirely irrelevant to the question of leftoversheit.

Here is where, if I were writing a column for a foreign newspaper, I would explain that the Senba Kitchō management team's real crime in the eyes of Japan is their lack of hansei—self-reflection, regret, soul-searching. But that would be meaningless exoticization. Is there any human society in which wrongdoers who fail to show regret get forgiven anyway? (Except for the world of high finance, of course. Boom boom!)

No, if anything, Yuki's sheer chutzpah has made her almost a folk hero. Remember that cringetastic press event at which reporters clearly overheard Yuki herself whispering instructions to her son Kikurō, and then when they asked her directly if she didn't plan to resign from the board, she claimed to be hard of hearing? Good times. Beat Takeshi wanted to give her an award for it (she declined through an intermediary). This latest performance is just one more scream of buckling steel from the never-ending trainwreck that is Senba Kitchō... and humans love to rubberneck.


Intelligence for women

Here is the chapter on "intelligence" (智能) in the Treasury of women's morality (女徳寶鑑), written by ASAKA Gorō (安積五郎) and TANAKA Tōsuke (田中登作) and published in 1894.

The Imperial Rescript [on Education] directs us to "cultivate [our] intelligence" (智能ヲ啓發シ), and so you must be sure to begin polishing your wits at an early age. Otherwise, you would be unable to tell good from bad or right from wrong, which would make you unable to think of a way to help your parents if some calamity befell them; unable to protect your husband if he were in danger; put bluntly, you would be like a worthless puppet, a very fool. Never let the guidance of the Imperial Rescript slip from your mind.

The Wife of Yamana Toyokuni

YAMANA Toyokuni (山名豊國), Buddhist name Zenkō (禪高), had a wife whose name is no longer known. One night, several dozen bandits invaded their residence. No-one else being home at the time, Toyokuni seized a spear and stood against them himself. His wife gathered up an armful of kosode and, concealing herself behind a door, threw them and threw them at the swords of the bandits.

The bandits were vexed to find their blades entangled in the kosode, and Toyokuni seized the opportunity to attack. After he had struck down a few of the intruders, the rest scattered and fled.

The Wife of Takahashi Sakuzaemon

The man known as TAKAHASHI Sakuzaemon (高橋作左衛門) was originally a low-ranking official (同心) in Osaka, but his talent for astronomy eventually saw him promoted to the post of astronomer to the Edo Shogunate, where he excelled.

While he was still in Osaka, his residence had a garden in which there was a large oak tree. Because people in his neighborhood would sneak in by night and steal the acorns, Sakuzaemon would keep watch all night and not sleep a wink.

One day, Sakuzaemon's wife, after observing that her husband was not at home, cut the tree down from the root. When Sakuzaemon returned home and saw this, he was shocked and alarmed.


"What is the meaning of this?" Sakuzaemon asked.

"I had the tree cut down," his wife said calmly.

"How could you do such a thing?!" he demanded.

"I am certain that you will revive the fortunes of this family through astronomy," she replied. "I have foreseen it. How unfortunate, then, how wasteful, that you should be distracted for the sake of that tree when you are already busy every night climbing onto the roof and observing the sky until dawn. When I realized that if the tree were gone you could devote yourself fully to astronomy, I took the necessary measures."

O knowledge-seeker, study, watch and study is the rule;
Who speaks of good and bad without such study is a fool!


—Anthology of Everyday Self-Discipline (日用心法鈔)

Toyokuni's wife's quick thinking is all the more impressive for the fact that it predated the Home Alone series by centuries. Sakuzaemon's wife loses style points for starting with the brute-force solution, unless we reframe it as a story about her thinking of a good excuse to get rid of that damn tree.

That final poem is one of KOBORI Enshū's (Sen no Rikyū's* variant is 習ひつつ、見てこそ習え、習はずに、よしあしいふは、愚かなりけり).

* I love the final paragraph about Rikyū and Hideyoshi at the bottom of that link above: "When TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, the supreme ruler at that time, visited Rikyu, it is said that Rikyu clipped and threw away all the rare morning glory flowers he had except one, and used it as decoration to welcome and entertain Hideyoshi. However the tense atmosphere created by the tea ceremony turned into a more serious tension as relations between the two men became strained. Eventually Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to commit seppuku (disembowelment), a death penalty." Tough crowd. (Back)


Edo mythbusting

A rough translation of MOTOORI Norinaga's "comments about the principle of yin and yang made while answering a question from MINAMIKAWA "Bunboku" Kinkei (南川金渓) about Shintō", from the Suzuya tōmon roku:

First, there are many things in our world that are paired, such as heaven and earth, sun and moon, man and woman, day and night, and water and fire. The existence of so many such pairs is often attributed to the principle of yin and yang, but this is most certainly not the case. It is a natural phenomenon. Consider: If you have one thing, and add another thing, you have two things. Or if you have one thing and divide it once, it becomes two things. Because this is the case, we would expect many things to occur in twos. In fact, things that occur singly are even more common than pairs; people simply do not notice them.

To use the human body as an example: Ears, eyes, hands, feet, and the like are paired, but heads and noses and mouths and navels are not. If the yin/yang principle were true, we would expect everything to occur in twos. Since this is not the case, we can conclude that there is no particular reason that some things occurring singly, others in twos, and some rare things even in threes: they just do. [...]

It is true that things that occur in twos often seem to be in opposition, but this has nothing to do with yin and yang either. Consider: A pair is only a pair if it includes a "this" and a separate "that". [...] But when such an arrangement is considered in isolation, with no context, the difference between "this" and "that" cannot but be an opposition. It is also commonplace for a thing that does not necessarily appear in pairs to be associated with another thing in order to form a pattern of opposition. The idea of yin and yang is in every respect an empty one, a term invented simply to be applied to things occuring in twos.

Of course this hard-headed critical thinking would be a lot more impressive if it weren't floating in a sea of Kojiki-based explanations of which kinds of kami can die and which kind can't, why it makes no sense for humans to go anywhere but Yomi when they die, and so on.

Update! More Motoori (on an unrelated topic) at BMSF.



A lot of Japanese medical terminology is actually Sino-Japanese: whether imported from mainland China or invented here, the morphemes used are of Chinese rather than Japanese origin. In particular, almost all of the organs have Sino-Japanese names, and the exceptions like kimo ("liver") and harawata ("guts") carry so much synecdocheic and metaphorical baggage that they are basically useless for medical purposes.

But people have been hunting and cutting up animals out here on the archipelago much longer than they have been learning Chinese, and their native vocabulary of words for internal organs was surprisingly rich, given how entirely it was abandoned in favor of a more prestigious and specific Sino-Japanese substitute.

(Acknowledgment: This list of examples comes from Ōno Susumu's Nihongo Sōdan.)

  • Lungs (MJ: hai, 肺) were called fukufukushi, maybe related to fuku ("blow", "breathe", etc.) and/or fukureru ("swell") and/or fukuro ("bag").
  • The spleen (MJ: hizō, 脾臓) was called the yokoshi, maybe because it is to the side (yoko) of the liver/stomach blob?
  • The large and small intestine (MJ: daichō, 大腸, and shōchō, 小腸) were the harawata ("belly wata")/ōwata ("big wata") and hosowata ("skinny wata"). Wata may be related to the wata that means "cotton". Note that harawata as a word is still around, although now as then it can also mean "guts" or "sub-stomach digestive system in general".
  • The stomach (MJ: i, 胃) was also known as the kusobukuro ("shit bag"), although again this term could apply to the entire digestive system. (Kusowata, "shit wata", was another of the general wata terms.) In Donkey-Saddle Bridge (驢鞍橋), SUZUKI Shōsan famously said that to "discard this bag of shit" (i.e. body) without regret or hesitation was the essence and indeed entirety of Buddhism ("後世を願うというは、この糞袋を何とも思わず打ち捨てること也。ここを仕習うより別の仏法を知らず"), but I am not sure if this usage can claim direct descent from the word meaning "stomach" or whether it was invented anew out of contempt for the body in general.
  • On that note, the bladder (MJ: bōkō, 膀胱) was the yubaribukuro ("piss-bag"). Yubari is from yumari, yu (warm water) + mari (evacuation). (The verb maru is obsolete now, but it appears in Manyōshū poem #3832: kura tatemu/ kuso tohoku mare, "I'm going to build a shed/ Do your business far away from it".)