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.)

Popularity factor: 6


Meanwhile Vancouver picks a Sasquatch for Winter 2010. http://drawn.ca/2007/11/27/vancouver-2010-mascots-unveiled/

But yeah, that Sento-kun illustration is horrible. I'm trying to place the drawing style, and it reminds me of the sun-faded logo, on the truck of a local plumber.


I don't know the etymology of Asuka, but as someone who is widely read in Japanese matters I'm sure you're aware of the requirement introduced in ancient times for all Japanese place names to be written in two characters, presumably under the influence of Chinese. Thus 阿波 for Awa in Shikoku, and 淡路 (Road to Awa) for the island in the Inland Sea.

This is presumably why 明日香 came to be replaced by 飛鳥. Sorry for mentioning something you're no doubt already aware of. And as I said, nothing of this explains the use of either 飛鳥 or 明日香 to write "Asuka".

language hat:

But <i>I</i> was not aware of it, and I thank you for the information.

language hat:

Bah. Votre section de commentation est une bete feroce.


Actually, Bathrobe, I didn't know that (shameful gap in my knowledge there), but it would be a great explanation indeed. When was this rule promulgated? Was it Fudoki-related?


(And Languagehat, surely we're on tu terms by now? You can touch my upper arm if it helps make the transition easier.)

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