Retrospective comprehension

Another popular song via Kurata, this one from the 1920s and entitled Sendō kouta 船頭小歌 ("Song of the boatman"), with lyrics by NOGUCHI Ujō 野口雨情, music by NAKAYAMA Shimpei 中山晋平. I've translated it into a blues form as an act of ethnocentric violence which uproots the text from the language and culture that gave it life.

I'm just a clump of withered reeds on a dry riverbed
Yeah, I'm a bunch of withered reeds on a dry riverbed
You're nothing but dry reeds too, baby
No blossoms, already half-dead

But living or dying don't seem to matter no more
Living or dying don't seem to matter no more
Let's go down to the Tone River, baby
Find work pulling those oars

Through the rice growing wild, I see the rising moon
Oh, through the rice that grows wild, I see the rising moon
I'm headed for the Tone River
And I'll be leaving real soon

The wind blows cold on withered reeds like you and I
Yeah, the wind blows so coldly on old reeds like you and I
When you cry those hot tears
Maybe the moon will dry your eyes

As Sey NISHIMURA explains in "Retrospective Comprehension: Japanese Foretelling Songs", this song was thought guilty of terrible crimes against the nation:

Shortly after the earthquake [of 1923] [this song] came to be regarded as having foretold the destruction of Tokyo, predicting that the blossoming metropolis would be turned into a wilderness covered by plume grass [the "reeds" in my version]. Spreading among the shaken people, the allusive lyrics of the song persuaded so many that this song eventually became recorded as "the modern outbreak" of the foretelling songs.

Kurata provides a contemporary comment (also available here), from novelist KŌDA Rohan 幸田露伴:

Before the recent great earthquake and fire in which so many men and women died, a song beginning "I'm a bunch of withered reeds on a dry riverbed..." became popular, with even children joining in the singing, and particularly popular in Kōtō, both sung and whistled. This song's lyrics and melody alike were pathetic and miserable, enough to fill one with loathing. It began as a song in a movie, and so it was certainly not intended as a prophecy of the recent tragedy or anything like that, but now that the great earthquake and fire have occurred, and so many have indeed become like withered reeds on a dry riverbed [...] people have stopped singing the song entirely; still, it is unpleasant to recall.


The pinwheel is a lie

More from KURATA Yoshihiro's Archaeology of popular song:

In December of Meiji 10 [1877], TSUJI Shinji 辻新次 [who was vice-Minister of Education at the time], thinking that the Shōka shū 唱歌集 anthology [of songs for use in schools, with Western-style music and Japanese words] should not only "cultivate the students' moral character" but also "clear away the outdated conventions of folk song," ordered the revision of such songs as "Nemureyo ko" ("Sleep, child"). Here I give just the second verse:

  Sleep, child/ Children who sleep soundly/ get a pinwheel/ drums, and/ a flute/ Sleep, child
  ねむれよ子 よくねるこには 風車 つゞみに太鼓 ふえやるぞ ねむれよ子

These lyrics, Tsuji said [...] would be fine if you gave the child these gifts when they woke. But if you did not, you would have tricked the child into sleeping, and what kind of adult would a child habitually deceived by their mother grow up to be? In short, the lyrics would "damage their moral character." Remarks like this afford us considerable insight into the educational ideology of the Meiji period.

And, lo and behold, the official version has verses like this instead:

Sleep, child/ Children who sleep soundly are sure to obey their fathers/ Sleep, child
ねむれよ子 よくねるちごは ちゝのみの 父のおほせや まもるらん ねむれよ子

The more you read about the Meiji government's clumsy, knitting-with-cabers attempts at social engineering via musical education, the more you understand the success of the dōyō 童謡 movement: (relatively) non-goody-goody, non-lame songs for children, and no governmental interference. Because the government that is big enough to give you a pinwheel and a flute when you wake up is also big enough to take it away and make you obey instead.





Speaking of danna, here's a great anecdote from 1876 that I read in KURATA Yoshihiro 倉田喜弘's "Hayariuta" no kōkogaku 「はやり歌」の考古学 ("The archaeology of popular song").

So, it's the Shimpūren Rebellion. ŌTAGURO Tomoo 太田黒伴雄 and his band of two hundred-odd mutinous, barbarian-expelling ex-samurai have launched their surprise attack on the Kumamoto garrison, leaving hundreds of casualties. They've also invaded the official residences of and critically wounded prefectural governor YASUOKA Ryōsuke and garrison commander TANEDA Masaaki 種田政明.

However, Taneda's lover Kokatsu 小勝 escapes with her life. She's a geisha originally from Nihonbashi; he bought her contract out so that she could move with him to Kumamoto. Though wounded, she manages to get to a working telegraph station, and sends her mother the telegram that will make her immortal:

ダンナハイケナイ ワタシハテキズ
Danna wa ikenai. Watashi wa tekizu
[My] danna's done for. I'm wounded [but alive]

(Also reported as "...watashi wa teoi", basically the same meaning.)

What made this telegram so great? Well, writers like KANAGAKI Robun 仮名垣魯文 praised it as a model of the kind of clarity and precision that telegraphy demands. More importantly, though, it's made up of two sentences of seven mora each, which means that all you have to do is add a 7-5 ending to make it into a dodoitsu.

And that's just what people did: two good examples from Kurata's book are "And what have you been up to?" (soko de omae wa/ dō shita ka) and "Now, where can the money be?" (kane no arika wa/ doko ni aro). For a while it seems that publishing lists of these was a bit of a craze.

Summary: There's no tragedy that the media won't exploit if it helps them fill out the morning edition.


Ii ko imasse

Via languagehat, I learned of the World Loanword Database (WOLD). As the comments at the 'hat indicate, there may be room for discussion re the data (e.g. a bunch of proto-Malayo-Polynesian is in the donor list for Japanese — Ōno Susumu lives!), but there's still plenty to enjoy there. For example, the word danna 旦那, "husband, master, patron."

The immediate source of danna is Chinese tánnà 檀那. Chinese in turn borrowed it from Pali, where it was dāna दान and apparently meant "giving" or "generosity" in general — but, in the context of the Buddhism via which China imported it, the key meaning was alms.

The rest of the progression is obvious: from "alms" to "support for a temple" to "supporter of a temple" to "supporter in general" to a respectful term for someone at whose mercy your lifestyle is. And that's how Buddhist jargon provided the address term of choice for Kabukichō touts trying to lure drunken salarymen into establishments of ill repute. (Google results suggest that in the public consciousness, danna is roughly 50% as associated with this situation as shachō, "company president, [cas.] boss".)


Hamura vs Noh Hamlet

Here, again courtesy of Japan's Shakespeare Century 日本のシェイクスピア100年, is a picture of international geisha of mystery Sadayakko as "Orie" (おりゑ, corresponding to Ophelia) in the first Japanese production of Hamlet ever, which was produced in 1903 by her husband KAWAKAMI Otojirō's avant-garde theater company.

Kawakami's company had already produced Othello and The Merchant of Venice in 1903 before finally getting around to Hamlet; they were not time-wasters. On the other hand, NIKI Hisae characterizes their work as "sensational and melodramatic" and Kawakami himself as "a showman, who could not recognize the artistic value of the play." Ouch.

I haven't read any Kawakami-company scripts, but I have heard that, for example, the soliloquies were cut — even "to be or not to be" — so it seems fair to conclude that sensation and melodrama were prioritized over psychological portraiture. Kawakami also tended to modernize and localize the content of the plays: thus, Hamlet became a story set in contemporary Japan about Hamura and Orie instead of Hamlet and Ophelia.

Such shenanigans allowed TSUBOUCHI Shōyō to take the credit for the first modern performance of Shakespeare for his Bungei Kyōkai production of Hamlet later in the decade. What scholars mean by "modern" here is that it was a more or less faithful and complete translation, with no cut soliloquies (and absolutely no jōruri), plus the use of female actors for female parts — although, paradoxically, Shakespeare didn't do this (and Kawakami did).

Pioneering though it was, Shōyō's production had its critics. One of these critics was NATSUME Sōseki (for it is he), who wrote a typically crabby review for the papers in which he declared that "Shakespeare's plays, by their fundamental nature, do not permit translation into Japanese" (沙翁劇は其劇の根本性質として、日本語の翻訳を許さぬものである). If Shakespeare absolutely had to be translated, Sōseki went on, it should at least be done like a Noh play or something, reflecting the fact that Shakespeare's lines were poetry in an elevated style. (No idea if Sōseki was aware of Shōyō's jōruri Julius Caesar.)

Anyway, almost a century later, professor UEDA Kuniyoshi 上田邦義 took Sōseki's idea and ran with it. The result: Noh Hamlet [PDF]. According to Ueda's website, his tragedography also includes Noh Cleopatra and even Noh Murder in the Cathedral (insert "Who's on First" homage here). Be sure to check out his archives for performance videos.

To return to Noh Hamlet, here's an English backtranslation [PDF] of Noh Hamlet 2004:

Horatio: I am Horatio, who served Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. After his death, following his will, I have been travelling abroad to recount his tragic tale. Even now I deeply regret that, as he felt ill at ease about his heart when he was challenged to a fencing match by Laertes, I could not stop him from accepting it, and he lost his life. So long have I been absent from Denmark that I am now returning home to pay a visit to Hamlet’s as well as Ophelia’s grave. As I have hurried, I have already arrived at Ophelia’s grave. I will sit still and pray for her spirit.

Here in Northern Europe, spring has finally come. Blowing in the breeze, the violets, primroses, and buttercups are so lovely and wild that they remind me of Ophelia while she was alive. At her funeral, the queen offered flowers, saying, "Sweets to the sweet. Farewell. " It was here at this very spot.

I dearly remember Hamlet saying to me as his dying words: "If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, / Absent thee from felicity awhile, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, / To tell my story."

[A villager appears.]

Villager: To be or not to be, that is the question;
To be or not to be, that is the question ...

One final point of interest: Noh Hamlet incorporates shakuhachi. As SUGISAWA Haruko 杉澤陽子 explains in another paper [PDF], the shakuhachi is never used in modern performances of traditional noh but there was such a thing as "shakuhachi noh" in the Muromachi period: Zeami 世阿弥, in his Zeshiro rokujū igo sarugaku dangi 世子六十以後申楽談儀*, claims to have "gotten chills" (冷えに冷えたり) at the performance of Zōami 増阿弥, who was a dengaku performer and shakuhachi player active at the same time. This shakuhachi noh tradition, Sugisawa explains, is resurrected in Noh Hamlet to complement its zen-inspired, meditative nature. (Related: "Hamlet: A Study in Satori", by Ted Guhl.)

Hamlet: Know that happiness is most important. All people's—
Chorus: All people’s happiness and longevity, we pray.
Hamlet: Speak your mind—
Chorus: Speak your mind, do what you say, and do not fight. There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.
Hamlet: The rest is silence—
Chorus: The rest is silence. Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest; flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

* "Zeami, having reached sixty, raps about sarugaku". In modern times Zeami might have just called it "Sarugakuful me." (Back)


They yam what they yam

Just noticed this at the Kindai Digital Library site: a page linking to parodies of Sōseki's I Am a Cat.

From the top, you got I Am a Rat, I Am a Flea (an anti-how-to for raising fleas, with a supplement on how wives should behave: drinking and naturalist novels are right out), I Am a Kitten, and best of all, I Am a Frock Coat. You know you're in for some wide-ranging satire when you go from Darwin to the Russo-Japanese war in the first six pages.

Also, this illustration is totally boss:


Swords of freedom

TSUBOUCHI Shōyō's 1884 translation of Julius Caesar is notable for two things: (1) being the first ever translation of a full Shakespeare play into Japanese, and (2) being rendered jōruri-style, right down to the title: Shiizaru kidan: Jiyū no tachi, nagori no kireaji 該撒奇談 自由太刀餘波鋭鋒, that is "The Curious Tale of Caesar: The Swords of Freedom, and the Keenness of their Wake."

What does jōruri Shakespeare look like? Here's Shōyō's version of the first few lines of Marc Antony's rabble-rousing eulogy, plus the original English version from the First Folio (of course, Shōyō was probably working from a rather more refined edition):

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him:
The euill that men do, liues after them,
The good is oft enterred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar. The Noble Brutus,
Hath told you Caesar was Ambitious:
If it were so, it was a greeuous Fault,
And greeuously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Heere, vnder leaue of Brutus, and the rest
(For Brutus is an Honourable man,
So are they all; all Honourable men)
Come I to speake in Caesars Funerall.


The style is flowery and repetitive, which is to say jōruric, but the content is fairly close to the original — it's not even really worth back-translating. The main difference is the localized moral and philosophical references: for example, just before the "evil that men do lives after them" part, Shōyō inserts a Japanese proverb of similar import: Kōji mon wo idezu, akuji sen ri ni hashiru ("A good deed doesn't leave the house, a bad deed runs a thousand miles"; cf Twain's "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes"). Similarly, Antony's famous "honorable man" becomes a Confucian "至正至公の君子" or "正義の君子", that is, "righteous and just gentleman [jūnzǐ]."

No, the real difference lies not in the dialogue but... well, everywhere else. As Shōyō explains in the introduction, the reason he chose the jōruri form was because the original is "made up of dialogue alone" and not, therefore, a "script" 戯曲 as commonly understood in Japan at the time. In other words, he felt that he had do something about Shakespeare's notoriously sparse and unreliable stage directions if his translation was to be believable as a script for performance, and jōruri was the solution upon which he hit. (Not at random — Shōyō also believed that traditional Japanese theatre and Shakespeare shared a common sensibility that contemporary dramatists did not, and that kabuki in particular could and should be revitalized with elements mined from the works of the Bard.)

(Bibliographic aside: I first read about all this in detail in ONO Masashi's "Tsubouchi Shōyō and Shakespeare" 坪内逍遥とシェイクスピア, one of the essays in the excellent, ANZAI Tetsuo 安西徹雄-edited Japan's Shakespeare Century 日本のシェイクスピア100年.)

Anyway, here's an example of what it means to jōrurify Julius Caesar. Consider the original version of Caesar's death scene in Act III:

They stab Caesar.

Caes     Et Tu Brute? - Then fall Caesar.


It's very simple. Some modern editions specify that Casca stabs first, then Brutus and the others, but basically that's it. Shōyō, however, tells it thus:


Which, if you will permit a rather bombastic Englishification, works out something like this:

"But, Lord Caesar..." Casca says — "Bah!" replies Caesar, "Your prating is—" — As he turns, he frustrates the first dagger-thrust — His shoulder, grazed, lets flow a crimson tide of blood — "What is this?!" Caesar cries in shock, and twists to gain the upper hand, and Casca for his part feels pain invade his arm, and cries for help — The rest in grim agreement draw free hidden daggers from their sleeves — Now left and right and fore and flank, they strike as one, death whispers in the dark beneath the moon — Struggling under lightning-flashing blades — Kicking, Trampling — Fighting for his life, Caesar is become a raging lion — Well, now! here's the incident in the capitol, a rising to bring the lofty low, as a great mountain crumbles before raging waves — Marcus Brutus, who was watching all, runs up to Caesar, pushes dagger-point deep into Caesar's side — "Et tu, Brute?" — So Caesar speaks his final words — He pulls his cloak over his head, the better twenty wounds and more to bear — And so, amid the statues standing many in their rows, rolls the man to rest before the pedestal where Pompey stands, and there he breathes his last.

Trivia: although published in 1884, Shōyō's Julius Caesar wasn't staged until 1901. TOMIHARA Yoshiaki 富原芳彰 argues that this was almost certainly in response to the assassination of HOSHI Tōru 星亨, an ex-member of the Itō cabinet, in June of that year. [And I just noticed that later in his essay Tomihara discusses the characteristics of Shōyō's jōruri style using the exact same example as me. Crap.]