Shōsan on Daruma's nen

I've almost finished reading Donkey-saddle bridge 驢鞍橋. Almost.


The master said, "A certain old man was once asked, 'Do those who are ignorant (迷の者) become ghosts, or those who are enlightened (悟の者)?' The old man said, 'Those who are ignorant do. Enlightened people becoming ghosts is like no Latinos in Manhattan: it just can't happen.' 'If that's so,' said the other guy, 'Why did Daruma [Bodhidharma] appear on Mount Kataoka? Was he an ignorant person?' The old man had no reply."

The master then explained what the old man had not been able to, saying, "It is mindfulness (念) that becomes a ghost. Daruma had the mindfulness of wanting to spread the Law to Japan, and so he appeared on Mount Kataoka. Those who are ignorant have ignorant mindfulness. Those who are enlightened have enlightened mindfulness."

What did you say about me?

There is a tendency for records of the words and deeds of a departed master to follow a certain pattern of argumentation: someone says "If A and B, then C. But C is absurd. What's up with that?", and then the master replies, without missing a beat, "You're overlooking X, which prevents C and causes D instead." Here, the structure is more satisfying: we get to enjoy the total pwnage of a substitute master before the boss steps in and resolves the contradiction. Like I said last time: readable.

On words: the key terms in this passage are 迷 (mayoi), 悟 (satori), and 念 (nen). These are all Buddhist jargon and so their translation in an isolated excerpt is both tricky and, arguably, moot.

迷 refers, roughly, to the state of attachment to the delusions that prevent one from grasping the truth (as outlined by Buddhism). 悟 is the exact opposite: it is the state of having become free of 迷 and thus experience truth.

My choice of "enlightenment" from the latter was more or less predetermined by my very first exposure to Buddhist writings of any kind: Paul Reps's Zen flesh, zen bones, which blew my arrogant and ridiculous teenaged mind. I had the Pelican paperback, acquired secondhand with tragicomic inscription: "ROBYN/ WITH MUCH LOVE FROM NICK 14-2-82/ HAPPY ZEN VALENTINE'S DAY." I have a hardcover copy of the book now, too, and in any case I've pieced together much of the content in its original Chinese and/or Japanese form... but I expect to be taking Nick's fliegende Geschenk down from the bookshelf every now and then until I either die or go blind.

Anyhow, I eventually deduced that the sentences like "with that, the monk was enlightened", which appear so often in Reps' translation, usually signal a 悟 in the original. And so the association, in my mind, between 悟 and "enlightenment" is to me as classical tonality was to pre-(arbitrary date here) composers: a foundation stone in my language-cathedral, something that could in theory be replaced, but not without first preparing some kind of linguistic Komposition mit zwölf nur aufeinander bezogenen Tönen to keep me from backsliding.

迷 being the opposite of 悟, its translation must therefore be the opposite of "enlightenment." There are many candidates for this "error" and "delusion" are possible, as are more metaphorical ideas about "straying" or what have you. Ultimately I chose "ignorance" because (a) it's short and flips easily between noun, adjective, and verb; (b) it's insulting, which was necessary for the Daruma bit to work; and (c) to me at least it suggests the absence of enlightenment more than the presence of obscurity, so it works well as an opposite.

念 was also more or less out of my hands. In Buddhist contexts 念 is often a Chinese translation of sati (Pali) or smṛti (Sanskrit), which is the seventh element of the Eightfold Path. "Mindfulness" is the standard English translation as far as I can tell, but it's a bit unsatisfying that unlike "enlightenment" vs "ignorance", "mindfulness" isn't really meaningful unless you're already familiar with Buddhism and, well, mindfulness.

Oh yeah: about Mount Kataoka. There is an old tale that Bodhidharma was seen on the road after his death, heading south from where he'd worked in China, carrying a single sandal. When asked where he was going, he would reply "Home." Eventually this story made its way back to the monks who'd buried him in China, who decided to open his grave and investigate the matter. When they did, all they found inside was a single sandal.

Later, in Japan, a story started going around about Prince Shōtoku stumbling over a starving beggar at the foot of Mount Kataoka, and giving him food, drink, and a purple raiment to keep him warm. The beggar died anyway, but when his grave was opened later (what was it with opening graves back then?), all that they found inside was... the purple raiment. A fiber match and a similar M.O. was enough to get a legend started back then, and, long story short, now Kataoka boasts a Daruma Temple.

Bonus link: long and involved article about Daruma, smallpox, and the color red by Bernard Faure.


Fountain of age

A tale of filial piety from SUZUKI Shōsan 鈴木正三's Donkey-saddle bridge 驢鞍橋 (previously:



A visitor one day said: "They say that a certain Daimyō's wife feels so bad about having someone else clean her outhouse after she gets it all disgusting that she tips the cleaner." Hearing this, the Master said: "Well, well, what a rare bird! What an excellent thing to do! I'm going to have to work up a cleaning roster for when people get together here too. It's wrong for someone who cares about the afterlife to make others do that kind of work for them. [...]

"This reminds me of an old story. There was once a scholar who spent the night at a mountain temple. In the morning, when he saw the boy of twelve or thirteen who lived there, he said: 'Last night that boy looked like he'd be dead within three days, but today he looks like he might live until he's eighty. To extend your life by seventy years overnight is quite a marvel. What manner of virtue has been aroused within you, what kind of good deed did you do?' he asked. Everyone else in the temple was equally surprised and asked for details too. 'Please, guv'nor,' the boy said, 'I don't remember no good deed. Last night when I went to the outhouse, the floor was so disgusting that it was almost unbearable, even for just a few minutes, but then it occurred to me: I could hardly stand it here even for a moment, but even when my mother had been covered in shit and piss, she hadn't think of it as suffering at all — no, she'd just thought I was more adorable than ever. How could I ever repay such deep love? Well, as a first step, I used my hands to clean the outhouse floor. I don't remember anything else to speak of.' Everyone was very moved by the boy's meritorious deed. Isn't that a great story?

Shōsan's appeal, for me, lies as much in his language as anything else. He was liable to slip into casual speech or dialect when dealing with ordinary folks, and even when he stays in a fairly high register, as he does here, the result is still freakishly easy reading.

In this passage there are several great words or turns of phrase. Setsuin 雪陰, for example: a sadly extinct Buddhist word for "outhouse," with several competing etymologies half-submerged in the murk of pre-modernity.

Musa(k)i is another good one, an adjective meaning "disgusting, vulgar, greedy," which survives nowadays as a prefix: musakurushii ("messy, dishevelled", from musa + kurushii, "trying, painful"); musaboru ("crave, lust after", from musa + horu, "want").

More obscurely: 扨 for sate I have discussed before. (抔 for nado also gets a good workout in this book.) And the use of ゑ instead of へ for the directional particle is, if I am not mistaken, in accordance with the erroneous style decreed by Fujiwara Teika himself.



Noticed in Bic Camera the other day: Elecom's range of web camera/headset/mic peripherals. Recommended usage patterns are conveyed via goofy headlines and cartoons, like this one:

Wai-wai kaiwa, for raucous conversations involving many people at once (wai-wai is mimetic). Here we clearly have city-living family members talking to their daikon-farming (grand)parents out in the country.

Or this one:

Terebi minagara tsūwa, "Talk on the phone while watching TV"—for those times when your boss decides to blow off some steam right when your favorite comedy duo takes the stage.

Or this one, my favorite:

Mune-kyun ♥ tsūwa. Tsūwa means "phone conversation," as above, and mune-kyun is that pleasantly tight sensation (kyun, more mimesis) you get in your chest (mune) when you see something with irresistible appeal.

What makes this one-eared mic headset so appealing? That would be the pink pom-pom styling on the mic. Close-up picture here courtesy of an apparently satisfied customer.

(Am I crazy, by the way, or is the woman in the cartoon teaching that guy a language?)


Inverse in letters

  1. The mysterious Sgt. Tanuki's review of the latest Akutagawa prize-winning novel, Potosu raimu no fune ポトスライムの船 ("The Lime Pothos Boat").

    One of the things Tsumura gains by breaking away from the first-person fixation of most A-Prize bait is the chance to create more than one actual character. The story is seen through Nagase’s eyes, but we get to know several of the women around her, including her mother, three of her college friends, and one of her coworkers. The result is a sort of composite portrait of two generations of women living in the age of divorce and more-or-less full female participation in the economy.
  2. New from the Yes We Cannery: Vertical-talkin' Goethe!

    (From the latest episode of KUMETA Kōji's Sayonara Zetsubō-sensei)


Can we?

That Obama's "Yes, we can" slogan has been appropriated by various parties here in Japan (and, I expect, elsewhere) for unrelated purposes is not a new observation. What I want to note is an interesting variant on the slogan I have noticed recently.

For example: the Japanese Red Cross's spring blood drive is using "We can" and "I can" as slogans on their own, without the "Yes." If you look at the "We can" commercial in particular, you'll note the emphasis on dekiru, a Japanese verb meaning "to be able to", i.e. "can."

In my dialect, just saying "we can" with no pre-existing context is quite odd. You can say "We can do it," or you can respond to questions like "Who can do it?"/"Can you do it?" with "We can," but you can't just start an exchange with "We can." Can being an auxiliary verb, it needs a main verb on the table too or it just doesn't work.

Part of the genius of "Yes, we can" as a slogan was that the "Yes" conjured up an illusory context enabling the punchy brevity of the rest. Meaning-wise, "Yes, we can" is technically just as vague as "we can do it," but because it sounds like the answer to a question, it has the ring of directness and determination even though the question itself is left unsaid. "Can!" is also a stronger ending than a limp tail of placceholders.

I want to argue that the Japanese Red Cross and similar naked "We can" sloganeers do not get this. They think that "we can" is analogous to dekiru, which can be used to open an exchange because it is not functionally an auxiliary verb. The logical conclusion is that cutting off the "Yes" will make the slogan even punchier—more closely analogous to a simple "Dekiru!"

And in fact, let it be noted that they are probably right. Native English speakers are only an insignificant fraction of the audience that the Japanese Red Cross is targeting here. It doesn't matter what we think. All that matters is how the slogan sounds to native Japanese speakers who are familiar with the "(Yes,) X can" construction thanks to Obamania.

Addendum 1: I had another example of the awkward "We can": a series of English textbooks for kids called We Can!, published by McGraw-Hill apparently starting in October 2008. However, in this this blog post, co-author MATSUKA Yōko 松香洋子 seems to be claiming that she chose the title long before Obama started campaigning. (Either way, We Can! still sounds weird to me, but maybe that's why McGraw-Hill aren't knocking on my door with a book contract right now.)

Addendum 2: Obviously, "[X] can!" existed as a construction in Japanese English before Obama. Prime example: U-Can, an educational outfit that's been around for years. But I do think that Obama's campaign has given it a new popularity.


Woolf, love and enka

Three links today:

  1. YAMABAYASHI Tomoki on Virginia WOOLF on Arthur WALEY's English translation of the Tale of Genji. Only one quote, but worth it. I really want to dig up that 1925 Vogue review [!] now.
  2. Ai ("Love"), an animated short by KURI Yōji 久里 洋二 with music (concrète) by Takemitsu Tōru. I'd heard this piece before but had no idea that it went with images; shouts-out to Caleb "Classical-Drone" Deupree for hipping me up.
  3. Enka as Supergenre, my new piece at Neojaponisme about UMEZU Kazutoki's new album Umezu Kazutoki plays the ENKA (梅津和時、演歌を吹く—note Classically-flavored non-marking of subject).


Hattori and Fukube

Pronouncing the surname "Hattori" (服部) "Fukube" is a classic kanji goof; so much so that chefs with the surname Hattori can get a laugh by naming their restaurant "Fukube". There are allegedly some families that really do pronounce it "Fukube," but I've never run into any myself.

Hattori derives from hata-ori 機織り → hatori, roughly equivalent to the English surname "Weaver." Hence the kanji 服部: 服, which is indeed pronounced fuku in most contexts, means "clothing," and the 部 means "clan" or "house." (There's nothing corresponding to the 部 in the modern pronunciation hattori, but hatoribe was another older version that has died out now.)

In Seishi 姓氏 ("Surnames"), HIGUCHI Kiyoyuki 樋口清之 and NIWA Motoji 丹羽基二 list several subgroups within the general class of Weavers:

  • Kanhatori 神服部, who wove clothes for Shinto priests.
  • Kurehatori 呉服部, who immigrated from the Wu 呉 kingdom on the mainland (this surname survived separately from Hattori, in the form Gofuku 呉服*).
  • Tonhatori 殿服部, who used a kind of horizontal loom (?) called a tanabata (c.f. the festival centered on a mythical weaver and her ox-herding boyfriend).

Higuchi and Niwa also note that, Wu kingdom branch notwithstanding, the Yamato Hatoris were said to be descended from the gods: specifically, Ame no Minakanushi no Mikoto 天御中主命 ("exalted master of the august center of the heavens"), via his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Ame no Mihoko no Mikoto 天御鉾命 ("august spear of the heavens"). "No doubt [the Yamato Hatori] were a tribe of some power in ancient times," observe the authors. You just don't fuck with weavers.

Complicating the issue is the fact that fukube is a real word in Japanese — actually, it's a couple. One fukube is an older version of fugu; another means "gourd." Shiki use the latter in one of his sickbed haiku:


The doctor next door (?) made an ikebana stand out of a gourd, arranged a camellia in it and sent it to me. An amusing fellow.
   Here's a screwball for you/ Goes by the name of/ "Gourdhouse Camellia"

I think you had to be there. Probably also wouldn't have hurt to be bored enough by your immediate surroundings to write haiku like "Not even the sound/ of the breadseller's drum/ Long, long day" (パン売の太鼓も鳴らず日の永き).

* Just to clear things up: the character 呉 is pronounced in Chinese, go in Sino-Japanese, and kure in Japano-Japanese. (Back)