Play that organ, woman

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the West!

I always thought it was bigger than that.

This illustration appeared in the 1923 edition of HAGIWARA Sakutarō's Aoneko 青猫, right before a poem called "The Black Organ" (黒い風琴). I have included a quick translation of the first stanza below. If possible, hire a skilled Jim Morrison impersonator to read it to you.

The Black Organ

Play that organ/ Woman
Put on that black dress
And seat yourself before that organ
Your fingers are to crawl across it
Lightly/ gently/ solemnly/ like the sound of falling snow......
Play that organ/ Woman ...

The poem continues in a similar vein for two more stanzas, but the most notable thing about it, in my opinion, is Hagiwara spelling "requiem" れくれえむ (rekureemu). We know he actually meant "requiem" because in other places he used れくれえむ as furigana for kanji like 鎮魂楽 ("music for pacifying souls").


Myōtōrai myōtōda

The traditional shakuhachi creation myth begins in 9th-century China, with a fellow named Pǔhuà 普化, pronounced "Fuke" in Japanese. Pǔhuà didn't even play the flute, and for centuries after his death was known primarily for his bizarre guest appearances in the records of Línjì "Shouting and Hitting" Yìxuán (a.k.i.J.a. Rinzai). Nevertheless, the wandering shakuhachi-playing monks and rascals of medieval Japan deemed him the founder of the Fuke sect to which they claimed allegiance, and this has remained the official story ever since, notably recorded in the Fuke sect's Edo-period Kyotaku denki 虚鐸傳記 ("Transmitted record of the empty bell").

Pǔhuà, the KD informs us, had a habit of roaming the streets ringing a bell and saying cryptic things (this part was borrowed from the Records of Rinzai). This so impressed a certain would-be but rejected disciple named Zhāng Bó 張伯 (a.k.i.J.a. Chō Haku) that Zhāng went ahead and made the first shakuhachi. He then used it to imitate the sound of Pǔhuà's bell. Thus the hollow flute is the "empty bell", and you have compositions named things like "Empty bell" (虚鈴, "Kyorei") and "Yearning for the bell" (鈴慕, "Reibo").

I'm not going to get into the actual historicity of all this, because Max DEEG already wrote an excellent paper [PDF] on the topic (f'rex: "It is important to keep in mind that the term Fuke-shū does not actually occur before the Denki [...] In my opinion, this clearly shows that it was the tradition of the Denki which first capitalised on the name of Fuke"). But as you might expect I have read the Kyotaku denki (specifically, 虚鐸傳記國字解, the 1781 edition containing commentary and explanation in regular Japanese) and today I thought I would talk about the most arcane part of the text: the words Pǔhuà cried in the streets as he rang his bell.

The original Chinese given in the Kyotaku denki, directly copied from the Records of Rinzai, is:


Deeg provides this translation for the version in the KD (after the Koji ruien 古事類苑):

If there comes a bright head I beat the bright head; if there comes a dark head I beat the dark head; if all the four directions and all the eight sides come I beat like a whirlwind; if the void comes I beat with the pestle.

... And this translation for the original in the Rinzai (after Iriya 1989):

"If my common essence [lit.: a bright head] comes I hit my common essence; if there comes my hidden essence [lit.: a dark head] I beat the hidden essence; if all the four directions and all eight sides come I beat like a whirlwind; if heaven (or: void) comes I beat like a pestle."

Christopher BLASDEL has translated Pǔhuà's words thus:

If attacked from the light, I will strike back to the light. If attacked from the dark, I will strike back in the dark. If attacked from all four quarters, I will strike back as the whirlwind. If attacked from emptiness, I will lash out like a flail.

And in 1977, TSUGE Gen'ichi's published an English translation of the Kyotaku denki that had Pǔhuà saying this:

Myōtōrai myōtōda, antōrai antōda. Shihō hachimenrai (ya), senpūda. Kokūrai (ya), rengada. "If attacked in the light, I will strike back in the light. If attacked in the dark, I will strike in the dark. If attacked from all quarters, I will strike as a whirlwind does. If attacked from the empty sky, I will thrash with a flail."

Tsuge is not just being pendantic in including the Sino-Japanese pronunciation here. The Kokuji kai part of the KD — that is, the part that explains what it means in Japanese — does the exact same thing. 振鐸遊干市對人毎曰 is glossed in furigana as Taku o furutte, ichi ni asonde hito ni mukatte wa tsune ni iwaku ("roam the streets shaking his bell, saying to everyone he met..."), but the magic phrase is furiganified only as Myōtōrai myōtōda.... Tsuge, therefore, is simply maintaining an extra layer of foreignness that was there in the original.

However, the Kokuji kai includes explanations as well as glosses. Here's what it has to say about Pǔhuà's routine:


In English:

These are the words of Pǔhuà [Fuke] and therefore the supreme truth which the komusō make their central principle. Reasoning about these words leads only to secondary truths.

Here the author is very careful to insist that the "central principle" (本則) of the Fuke sect is (a) ineffable and (b) authentically and inalterably a part of the established Zen tradition on the mainland — because, remember, these words of Pǔhuà's come from another document which was already 100% respectable.

Nevertheless I shall translate and explicate them to some extent. First, "Myōtōrai myōtōda" means "Come openly and I shall strike openly. Come by darkness and I shall strike in the darkness." The character "tō" [頭] means that the strike will be immediate upon meeting. It is the same meaning as "When a native comes, a native appears [in the mirror]; when a foreigner comes, a foreigner appears."

This is a quote from the Blue Cliff Record, or maybe more directly Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō.

"In a well-lit place, in the light; in a dark place, by darkness; our Law does not distinguish between light and darkness, nor between man and woman, wealth and poverty, wisdom and foolishness, the light-souled and the dark-souled": this is what is meant by "Antōrai ya antōda."

Note that some extra syllables are starting to creep into the mantra; this is probably where Tsuge got them.

"Shihō hachimenrai ya, senpūda" means "Come from all around me, from every direction, and I shall strike like a whirlwind." Here he calls his sermon a whirlwind because he is out in the streets of the market.

I'm not quite sure what the intended connection here is. I think it might be that the word used for "whirlwind" in Japanese here, tsujikaze, includes (and is etymologically related to) the word tsuji, meaning "crossroads."

"Kokūrai ya, rengada" means "Come from nothingness and I will strike like one threshing wheat with a flail." The staff which so strikes is a welcome staff indeed. These words are a staff that enlightens people, a call that awakens the sleeping multitude. Taking pity on all sentient beings, who are between darkness and light as they pass between birth and death, he became a mendicant out of kindness to help all beings attain Buddhahood. Enter a school of the Law, learn the way of Zen and meet with an enlightened teacher to learn the details.

I'm not done yet. Checking my two different Iwanami editions of the Rinzai roku, I find agreement that the 明 ("light" or "bright") here implies distinction or differentiation, whereas 暗 ("dark") implies the opposite — unity, equality. (Naturally, these are two sides of the same coin: "平等即差別、差別即平等".) They also tend to prefer translations like 受ける (receive), 応じる (reply) and 始末する (dispose of) to plain old 打つ (strike, beat). IRIYA Yoshitaka 入谷義高 further claims that Pǔhuà's words are mostly in three-character phrases because he was actually singing them to a three-character rhythm characteristic of popular songs at the time.

In closing, I humbly offer a new Pǔhuà translation for the ages, distilled from a loving mash of all of the information above.

There once was a Buddhist named Pǔhuà
Who said "Light or dark, I'm where you are!
"Come from all sides? I'll whirl!
"Come from nowhere? I'll flail!"
That obliging old Buddhist named Pǔhuà!


Macaroons and amedama

I have a new piece up at Néojaponisme: Haters gonna hate: Mori Ōgai on translation. The comments have turned into an argument about fansubbing (featuring haters).

The term used for the boy whom Nora has carry the Christmas tree home I translated denbin 傳便. This is an error; it should rather be what was once called a kobashiri 小走, a "messenger boy" in the West of today — so I was informed, with a knowing look. But the first city in our country to have "messenger boys" was Kokura in Kyushu, and this is where the word denbin was first coined.

Bonus fact: Ōgai went further than just using the word denbin — he added an explanation: "man who stands at the crossroads and waits for someone to hire his services" (辻に立ちて人に雇はるゝ男), which come to think of it might cause misunderstandings today. In the original, the word seems to be bybud, translated porter here. I don't know what text Ōgai worked from.


Cake pot corner

Here is a recipe for cake (kasutera, natch) from 19th-century Japanese recipe book Teisa hiroku 鼎左秘録 ("Left-of-the-kettle secret record"):

  • One egg
  • Sugar, ten monme (about 35 g)
  • Flour, ten monme (about 35 g)
Mix the preceding three items well in a bowl, then spread thick paper inside a pot, and pour the mixture in ["どろりと"]. Put the lid on, and on it place an extremely strong flame. Below the pot place an extremely weak flame, so weak that it is barely even there, and bake. To determine whether baked or not, insert a single rice stalk into the pot. If the cake is evenly baked, the stalk will come out clean, with nothing sticking to it; if not, the cake mixture will stick to the stalk.

If you don't have a "cake pot" (kasutera nabe), a square copper pot available in a wide variety of sizes, don't worry: you can use a regular copper pot, and borrow the candle dish from a lantern to use as a lid. You're welcome, and please let me know how it turns out. (If you don't have the candle dish from a lantern, you're out of luck.)

I read this recipe in SUZUKI Shin'ichi and MATSUMOTO Nakako's Kinsei kashi seihō sho shūsei 近世菓子製法書集成 ("Collection of early modern dessert recipe books"), volume II. Suzuki and Matsumoto note that "flame above and below, with the flame above stronger, is well and good, but having the lower flame 'so weak that it is barely even there' is going too far." Quite.


The songs of the waking/ birds

I got food poisoning from an oyster. I'll never eat those things again. Or would that be letting them win?

Here is a quick link to a new blog started by friend and collaborator Eric Selland: The New Modernism. The inaugural post is about, and entitled, American poets and the popular perception of Japanese poetry.

[Kenneth] Rexroth takes a special interest in the feminine aspects of the classical work and produces fluid, lyric translations which, in many cases accentuate sexual content in a much more direct or literal way than in the original poems. A direct inheritor of the Pound tradition, Rexroth’s framing of Japanese poetry continues the sense of exotic, ancient beauty existing outside time. [...] An important element is added to this formula when Rexroth publishes his second edition of classical Japanese poetry in 1974. Embedded cleverly in this volume are the poems of an invented contemporary woman, Marichiko, living in Kyoto near a Buddhist temple complete with an invented goddess of sex. Here Rexroth completes the tropes of Edward Fitzgerald in his rewriting of Omar Khayyam but one ups him in providing not only the ultimate heterosexual male fantasy, but precisely the image that American capitalism’s cultural hegemony in Asia desires. Another interesting, as well as ironic point here is that, of all the Japanese translations that Rexroth produced, it was the Poems of Marichiko, Rexroth’s own work, which most impressed and influenced poets such as Robert Creeley.

Protip: The best Marichiko poems are the ones that sound like they were generated by cutting up the Japanese canon and pulling phrases out of an eboshi:

I waited all night.
By midnight I was on fire.
In the dawn, hoping
To find a dream of you,
I laid my weary head
On my folded arms,
But the songs of the waking
Birds tormented me.


This world of ours, before we
Can know its fleeting sorrows,
We enter it through tears.
Do the reverberations
Of the evening bell of
The mountain temple ever
Totally die away? [...]

No, Marichiko, they just become ever more barnacled with footnotes.

Anyway, the essay is a bit compressed, having once been a spoken presentation, and no doubt many of the readers of this blog will find some of the material a bit basic (or infuriating; I am cringing in anticipation of the withering Languagehat rebuttal of the bits about Pound), but as a scene-setter I think it works marvelously.

Next question: Why is everybody and her PhD supervisor so into Japanese modernism now, and is this intense scrutiny what is rapidly making it as distant and idealized as the hazy, blurred-together premodernity it upstaged?


I remember my first beer

Ah, Coming of Age Day! When young men first don with purpose the suits they will, if their parents' prayers are answered, wear for at least 80% of their waking adult life, while their female counterparts dress up in a fashion they are unlikely to repeat ever again! Today No-sword presents some advice for these newly-minted adults from FUKUZAWA Yukichi:


Life is like a play. A talented actor might become a beggar, a total ham might become a nobleman. Either way, don't take it too seriously—just throw yourself whole-heartedly into everything you do.

The Japanese for "ham" is daikon yakusha, literally "daikon actor," for reasons unknown at present. Several convoluted etymological hypotheses have been proposed, but they all rely on puns that aren't that interesting if you don't speak Japanese.

Anyway, it goes back to at least Edo times and appears in a few senryu, although the real daikon stars of Edo senryū were the daiko[n] musha, "daikon warriors" (大根武者), who first appeared in the surreal 68th chapter of the Tsureuzure-gusa. In Porter's translation (1914):

In Tsukushi there was a certain Governor, who for many a year used to eat a couple of toasted radishes each morning as an excellent specific for all kinds of ailments.

Once the enemy, choosing a time when there were no troops in the official Residence, came on to the attack and surrounded it. But a couple of warriors came out of the building, who heedless of their own lives fought bravely and drove them all back again. Thinking this very remarkable (the Governor) said, 'By rights there should have been nobody here; what men are you who have fought like this?' And they replied, 'We are the radishes which you have so trustfully eaten morning after morning for years past' [年来頼みて、朝な朝な召しつる土大根らに候う]; and then they vanished.

Thus, if only you have perfect faith in anything, you will gain your reward [深く信をいたしぬれば、かゝる徳もありけるにこそ].

Which just goes to show that vegetables can be good for your health in all kinds of unexpected ways.



One of the joys of learning enough classical Chinese to get yourself in trouble is the ability to go back to the source of interesting East Asian factoids you heard when you were a kid, and see what they were really about. For example, I distinctly recall reading about supernovae like the ones in 1006 and 1054, and how they had been dated precisely by cross-referencing records from various record-keeping civilizations—including China's, where they were called "guest stars." Really?

Yes! The word is 客星, pronounced kakusei or kyakusei in Japanese, and the components do indeed add up to "guest" + "star." ("Visitor" might be a better translation than "guest," especially in this age of television, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to be polite.) The word can also mean "comet"—Y.-N. CHING and Y.-L. Huang call 客星 "the common term for transient events such as comets and supernovae, where the meaning of the omen stressed its transience."

In Japanese letters, kakusei famously appears in FUJIWARA no Teika 藤原定家's Meigetsu ki 明月記 ("Chronicle of the Bright Moon"), which despite the fancy name was just a personal diary and blog-style trivia collection. Although Teika didn't witness the kakusei he lists — the information was "cribbed from those that actually looked at the sky", as Mumeishu put it in a comment earlier in the week — the factoids do come after a few days of excited entries about a comet (that is, a kakusei) that he himself saw in 1230, according to the entry at muyuuan linked above.

Here's Teika on the 1054 supernova, one of the more famous ancient supernovae because it eventually became the Crab Nebula and we can still see that today.


[Reign of] Emperor Reizei II, second year of Tengi, middle third of fourth month: from the hour of the Ox onwards, guest star seen at degree [= right declension] of Shi and Shin [觜 and 参, a.k.a. Meissa and Mintaka] towards the east. Shone near star Tenkan [天関, a.k.a. Zeta Tauri]. In size like unto Year Star [歳星, a.k.a. Jupiter].

Here's a page with a diagram of all of the above. Modern scholars tend to assume that "fourth month" was a brusho for "fifth month," based on what would actually have been visible from Earth at the time.

Side note: Why is Jupiter, usually called 木星 ("Star of the element of wood") in modern Japanese, called the "Year Star" (歳星) here? Turns out that the term "Year Star" dates back to ancient China, and was bestowed on Jupiter after somebody noticed that it took about 12 years to circle the sun, meaning that it moved around one-twelfth of the celestial equator each year. This division into twelfths was important to Chinese astronomers, so a planet that moved into a different twelfth each year was notable. And eventually this same division evolved into the twelve-year cycle of "Chinese astrology" that we all know and love.



To review: Moonrise gets later as the moon progresses through its phases. The new moon rises early in the morning, the first-quarter moon just before noon, the full moon early in the evening, and the waning moon later and later at night until it finally finds itself rising early in the morning as a new moon again and Bella and Edward can be together at last.

This fact, like all moon-related phenomena visible to the naked eye, has made its way into the Japanese poetic vocabulary:

  • Tachimachizuki 立待月 = "Stand-and-wait moon" = Moon on 17th day of lunar cycle (rises about 7:00)
  • Imachizuki 居待月 = "Sit-and-wait moon" = Moon on 18th day (rises about 8:00)
  • Nemachizuki 寝待月 or Fushimachizuki 臥待月 = "Lie-down-and-wait moon" = Moon on 19th day (rises about 9:00)
  • Fukemachizuki 更待月 = "Wait-until-the-middle-of-the-night moon" = Moon on 20th day (rises about 10:00)

Note that tachimachizuki is basically the same construction as tachimachi, the adverb spelt 忽ち (thanks to the kanbun influence) and meaning "right away" or "suddenly."

Also note that this set of words is probably quite old. We can make this hypothesis because the word used for the step between "stand" (tatsu) and "lie down" (neru) is iru, a verb which originally (1000+ years ago) meant "sit, be seated" but now generally just means "be, exist [+animate]." If the word imachizuki had been invented less than maybe 800 years ago we would really expect it to be suwarimachizuki, from suwaru, which is the currently popular word for "sit" that started to take over in the late Heian period IIRC).

And indeed if we search the Man'yōshū we find it used in a chōka attributed to the mysterious WAKAMIYA no Ayumaro 若宮年魚麻呂, about whom nothing is known.

海若者 霊寸物香 淡路嶋 中尓立置而 白浪乎 伊与尓廻之 座待月 開乃門従者 暮去者 塩乎令満 明去者 塩乎令于 塩左為能 浪乎恐美 淡路嶋礒隠居而 何時鴨 此夜乃将明跡 <侍>従尓 寐乃不勝宿者 瀧上乃 淺野之雉 開去歳 立動良之 率兒等 安倍而榜出牟 尓波母之頭氣師

海神は くすしきものか 淡路島 中に立て置きて 白波を 伊予に廻らし 居待月 明石の門ゆは 夕されば 潮を満たしめ 明けされば 潮を干しむ 潮騒の 波を畏み 淡路島 礒隠り居て いつしかも この夜の明けむと さもらふに 寐の寝かてねば 滝の上の 浅野の雉 明けぬとし 立ち騒くらしいざ子ども あへて漕ぎ出む 庭も静けし

watatumi ha/ kususiki mono ka/ ahadi-sima/ naka ni tate okite/ siranami wo/ iyo ni megurasi/ wimatiduki/ akasi no toyu ha/ yuhu sareba/ siho wo mitasime / ake sareba/ siho wo hisimu/ sihosawi no/ nami wo kasikomi/ ahadi-sima/ isogakuri wite/ itusikamo/ kono yo no akemu to/ samorafu ni/ i no nekateneba/ taki no uhe no/ asano no kigisi/ akenu to si/ tati sawaku rasi/ iza kodomo/ ahete kogi demu/ niha mo sidukesi

Ocean!   Old in mystery
Wide around the Isle   of Awaji, from which
Waves roll out,   white-tipped, to Iyo
Awaited sitting, moon-  bright straits of Akashi
You raise the tide   come twilight, and come
the dawn, you bring the tide   back down again
Fearful of the wavesounds   we fell upon the wide
shores of the Isle   of Awaji, where we wondered
if that night   would never end
Until, above the falls,   a pheasant called,
and then another, in the lowgrass   announcing the arrival
of the dawn. "Come!"   I cried, "Come, boys!
"Let us make haste! The waves   are wild no more!"

(Uh, in this poem imachizuki is just a pillow-word and doesn't actually mean anything.)