100 years of spring brooks

"Haru no ogawa" (春の小川, "Spring brook"; painful MIDI; jazzy YouTube) is a kid's song known to everyone who grew up in Japan thanks to its long history in the education department: almost a century! Not many people know that the lyrics have changed twice over the years, though.

Wikipedia has a good summary. Here's the original first verse, from the 1912 version published in official Education Department materials for fourth-graders:

Haru no ogawa wa/ sara-sara nagaru
Kishi no sumire ya/ renge no hana ni
Nioi medetaku/ iro utsukushiku
Sake yo sake yo to/ sasayaku gotoku
Smoothly, smoothly flows the brook/ now that spring has come again.
To the violets on the bank/ and the lotus blossoms too,
"Let your fragrance joyful be/ and your colors beautiful:
"Bloom ye, bloom!" -- Thus the brook/ seems to whisper to them all.

Note the nagaru, a classical verb form that even in 1912 was long gone from spoken language, and the gotoku, an adverbial form of gotoshi ("like, similar to") to which the same applies.

In 1942, poet HAYASHI Ryūha rewrote it in more natural spoken language, for materials aimed at third-graders:

Haru no ogawa wa/ sara-sara iku yo
Kishi no sumire ya/ renge no hana ni
Sugata yasashiku/ iro utsukushiku
Saiteiru ne to, sasayakinagara
Smoothly, smoothly goes the brook/ now that spring has come again.
To the violets on the bank/ and the lotus blossoms too,
"How your form is kind and gentle/ and your colors beautiful,
"As you bloom!" says the brook/ in a whisper as it goes.

You can see that he's dropped nagaru and gotoku. It looks like medetaku was deemed too stuffy, too, and for some reason Hayashi changed the brook's line from an order to an observation.

This was revised again in 1947:

Haru no ogawa wa/ sara-sara iku yo
Kishi no sumire ya/ renge no hana ni
Sugata yasashiku/ iro utsukushiku
Sake yo sake yo to/ sasayakinagara
Smoothly, smoothly goes the brook/ now that spring has come again.
To the violets on the bank/ and the lotus blossoms too,
"Let your form be kind and gentle/ and your colors beautiful:
"Bloom ye, bloom!" says the brook/ in a whisper as it goes.

The only change here was the restoration of the imperative form in the last line. Presumably they decided that whatever was gained by making the brook less pushy wasn't worth the inconsistency it caused with the second verse, which had started with Asobe asobe to ("Play ye, play!") since 1912.

Japan has a large body of "official folk music" like this: songs that everyone knows, that have evolved over the years, but which have relatively recent origins—specifically, the mid-to-late-Meiji push to get European harmony into Japanese schools. It took hold and has held up surprisingly well, when you consider that it was an œuvre largely produced by contractors to government specifications.


Lakes, meadows, rising woods, and all your own

TANEDA Santōka on walking, one of my own favorite summer pastimes.




In Zen there is a saying: "Step by step, arrival" (hoho tōchaku, 歩々到着). It means that each step is itself an arrival, that each step is the shedding of a step. It seems to have something in common with the adage "Sit for a moment and for a moment you are a Buddha."

I walked, kept walking, because I wanted to walk—no, because I had to walk—no, no, because I was incapable of not walking—I walked, I am still walking. I walked yesterday, I walked today, and I must walk tomorrow too, and again the day after that—

Tree shoots grass shoots keep on walking
Tsuku-tsuku-bōshi cicada on a journey with no end
Today on today's road the dandelions bloomed
Idle useless me, walking

That "idle useless" in the last line corresponds to a dō shiyō mo nai in the original. This construction can often be translated almost literally as "there's nothing I/you/anyone can do [about it]", but when used in a sentence like this it gets harder: "I, about whom no-one can do anything, am walking" is in terms of tone a complete inversion of the original. I chose recreation over translation qua translation in order to retain the romantic self-deprecation of the original.

Also, Google produces evidence that the tsuku-tsuku-bōshi (Meimuna_opalifera) is known as the "last-summer cicada" in English, but that one's new to me. Tsuku-tsuku-bōshi is an onomatopoeic representation of its cry.


Furuya's cacography

FURUYA Usamaru (古屋兎丸)'s mid-00s series π (Pai) is one of those problem comics: it's so inventive and accomplished you want to spread the word, but whenever you try to do so you sound like a creep. "Yeah, it's about a boy who objectifies the female body to a mystical extent. The whole thing is a riff on the pun between π-the-constant and pai-the-morpheme-that-means-'breast'. You'll love it, Sister!" (Aoi hana poses similar problems.)

Here is part of a panel from π:

I will not explain why our hero, Yumeto, is hallucinating an encounter with a badly-drawn version of a classmate, or why her speech is unintelligible. It is that unintelligibility that I admire.

In fact, though, what she's saying isn't completely unintelligible. The first three characters look a lot like お早う, "Good morning!" Over on the right, she has to be saying something like oboetete kureta no ne ("You remembered! I'm so glad!"): you can see a deformed ボ (bo), a katakana ヱ (e), a flipped and mangled 嬉 (ure[shii]).

I don't know exactly what she's saying. Maybe no-one this side of the page does. But when he laboriously assembled this collection of East Asian typographic elements, Furuya knew exactly what it said. I call that art.



Debakame (出歯亀) is a Japanese word that originally meant "peeping Tom and murderer" but now generally just means "peeping Tom" when used at all. The etymology is simple: in 1908, a known pepping Tom named IKEDA Kametarō (池田亀太郎), a.k.a. Deba no Kamekichi (出歯の亀吉; "Bucktooth Kammo", in Australian translation), was arrested for and found guilty of murdering a woman on her way back from the public baths. (See Wikipedia for discussion of his possible innocence, and an aside noting that it is not a crime to use infra-red imaging to watch people having sex outdoors at night. Stay classy, Wikipedia!)

MORI Ōgai mentions him in Vita Sexualis:

そのうちに出歯亀(でばかめ)事件というのが現われた。出歯亀という職人が不断女湯を覗く癖があって、あるとき湯から帰る女の跡を附けて行って、暴行を加えたのである。 [...] それが一時世間の大問題に膨脹(ぼうちょう)する。所謂(いわゆる)自然主義と聯絡(れんらく)を附けられる。出歯亀主義という自然主義の別名が出来る。出歯るという動詞が出来て流行する。

At around this time the Debakame Incident occurred. There was a worker named Debakame who had a habit of peeping in on the women's baths, and one day he followed a woman home from the baths and assaulted her. [...] This incident grew into a huge public issue for a time. Connections were made to the Naturalist movement in literature. Some even took to calling Naturalism "Debakame-ism." The verb debaru [出歯る] was coined and became popular for a while.

Having read my share of Naturalist novels in the original, it is almost unbelievable to me that they should be accused of being too stimulating, but there you have it.

Note that debaru follows exactly the same pattern as celebrated/reviled modern coinages makuru (go to McDonalds), takuru (take a taxi), etc. (Presumably Mori was aware of and is not confusing it with the other debaru, 出張る, meaning "stick out".)


The poem that rhymed too much

Courtesy of TSUBOI Shōgorō (1863-1913), archaeologist/anthropologist. Note that it also uses a 7/5 mora pattern, as most "free" poetry of the time did.

Iki no deiri to/ karada no chi
Shika no mi narazu/ yoki kokochi
Kiyoki tamashii/ kore inochi
Tokei no meguri/ hayaku tachi
Niwaka ni kawaru/ hari no ichi
Toshi wa sugu to mo/ waza to sachi
Naki wa sunawachi/ munōmuchi
Ōku kangae/ ki o tamochi
Yoki hataraki o/ naseru nochi
Nagashi to iwan/ kono inochi

Prose translation:

The in-and-out of the breath, the blood of the body—not only this, but also right feelings, a pure spirit: this is life. Around the clock we quickly move—how eagerly the hands change! Who though years pass has no trade or fortune is, in short, incompetent and ignorant. Think widely and deeply, maintain your spirits, and let us call this life long only after we have done good works.



Suntory advertises Pepsi Nex as a sort of alternadrink. The campaigns avoid cola-standard healthy-'n'-active imagery in favor of a context-free white void; spokespeople float within this and address the viewer directly. The conceptual content, though, is not rebellious in the slightest. In fact, I'm starting to suspect they're just doing it to save money.

Take this summer's new TV commercials. Why set up a festival shoot with at least two stars and a bunch of extras when you can just have OKADA Jun'ichi from V6 throw it out there as a possibility? Why cast half a dozen healthy kids for a "horseplay on the beach" bit when you can just film MATSUMOTO Jun from Arashi gettin' wacky? And why try to persuade Karina to go along with a bikini scene when your audience will titillate themselves into a collective froth at the mere suggestion of one?

That last one is the least subtle. It also differs from the others in that Karina's monologue is about her (Pepsi Nex-i-verse) self, not hypothetical fireworks or yakisoba. "I bought this intense bathing suit! I can't tell you what's so intense about it, but... I guess you could say it's thanks to [Pepsi Nex being] zero-calorie." That last sentence is for the ladies.

The poster campaign pares the concept back to the bone: a fully-clad Karina posing coquettishly under the headline "BATHING SUIT." ("水着。")


Note the period. "BATHING SUIT. I'm just sayin'."

TODO: Claim link to Japanese artistic tradition of "saying by leaving unsaid". Haiku? Brush-and-ink landscapes? Work in definition of yugen?

Also coming out from Suntory soon: Lucky Cider (with Kirakira Sparkle). Straight outta the 80s. The tagline is pretty non-committal, though: "You gotta have dreams and stuff" (夢とか、持たなきゃ).


Taishō Cherry Orchard

Having fallen in with a bad crowd, I am reading a 1923 edition of Вишнёвый сад (The Cherry Orchard), with translation by Jenny Covan and romanization by the Council for Period Detail: Tchekhoff, Liuboff, Firce. It's so old that the "Passer-by" (Прохожий) of Act II is "A Tramp". It's so old that the introduction (by editor Oliver M. Sayler) ends like this:

Nor is it remarkable that the Moscow Art Theatre holds "The Cherry Orchard" almost as holy ground. With this play it bade goodbye to a fellow-craftsman with whom its destiny was strangely intertwined. Its various rôles have been guarded jealously by the actors who first embodied them. And so to-day [!] nearly two decades after, Stanislavsky still plays Gaieff; Mme. Knipper, the playwright's widow, Mme. Ranevskaya; Leonidiff, Lopakhin; Moskvin, the blundering clerk Yepikhodoff; Gribunin, the garrulous landowner Semyonoff-Pishchik; and Alexandroff, the footman Yasha.

(I think that's the right Gribunin... but who was Alexandroff?)

I wasn't sure whether to blame the awkwardness of Yasha calling Dunyasha a "small cucumber" instead of a "little cucumber" on the age of the translation, but then I found another translation of a Russian work which seems to date from 1898 and which does it the expected way:

'O my lieutenant!
My little cucumber!
My little love!
Dance with me, my little dove!'

Best of all, it has margin notes in the old orthography!

patchouli = インド人の用ふる香料

インド人の用ふる香料, "Perfume used by Indians", but written using 用ふる mochifuru, attributive form of mochifu ( = modern mochiiru, "use").

Elsewhere, "frivolous" is glossed as fuwafuwa [shita], spelt ふはふは (fuhafuha). Heron is 蒼鷺, with the furigana awosagi. Intellectually you know that people used to write this way—that it was the standard spelling of Japanese—but it's a thrill to see it scrawled in the margin.

And there are some vocabulary differences too. "Cockroach" is glossed as aburamushi, but nowadays most people would say gokiburi (or maybe that's just a Tokyo thing?). "Between you and me and the gatepost" is koko-kiri no hanashi, an extinct ancestor of koko dake no hanashi ("a conversation only for here [not to be repeated elsewhere]").

Also, the Moscow Art Theatre really knew how to stage a play. Check out this photograph of Act III:

The climax of Act III in Tchekhoff's "The Cherry Orchard," at the Moscow Art Theatre

It's like a clown car in there.


The sounds of summer

Koto virtuouso MIYAGI Michio on summer nights:

In summer, I open the window when darkness falls to let in the breeze as I turn to my work. Deep into the night I work, listening to the trams and trains and cars outside, the sounds of the city; but as it grows later they settle naturally into silence, until all I hear is a distant motorcycle patrolling the town.

Recommended listening: Miyagi's Kohen no yūbe (湖辺の夕, "Lakeside evening"), available in two parts here—with Miyagi on kokyū!—if you scroll down to "Victor 51041".

It's rare to find shakuhachi and kokyū together in the same performance of music like this, by the way. The shakuhachi is generally understood to have usurped the kokyū as the sinuous, high-pitched melody line in sankyoku (三曲, [traditional] trio pieces). So this is kind of like a sax-trumpet-piano trio, and I think even if you generally find most traditional koto-based Japanese music much of a muchness you will find it intriguing.

Also recommended for on that same page: Kotori no uta (小鳥の歌, "Song of the birds"), side A of Victor 50366. Two shakuhachi plus Miyagi on koto thrash out something cute and perky for your morning ablutions.