A bit over-charged with psychological analysis

The National Library of Australia's Trove has an online newspaper archive covering most of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth. It's really very well put together in terms of searchability, browsability, and even linkability. Here's the Literature column from the Hobart Mercury, 1913-12-14, the bulk of which is about Natsume Sōseki:

Those in any degree familiar with both English and Japanese modern literature (writes Mr. J. Ingram Bryan in the "Athenæum") will doubtless admit that what George Meredith has been to the one, Soseki Natsume is to the other—a searcher of human motives, revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart. Indeed, Natsume himself would be content lo class himself there; for he has confessedly taken Meredith as his master and model.

The novels of Soseki Natsume, the most noted name in modern Japanese fiction, indicate rather a marked tendency to didacticism, and are perhaps a bit over-charged with psychological analysis. Art here is found in lusty embrace with philosophy; and his men and women reveal themselves by their subtle play on one another in the slow progress of situations lifelike in their apparent unimportance. Philosophy, like a shroud, surrounds the characters he depicts, and the majority of an ever over-hasty public usually give up in weariness, if not despair. But for those with an ear for truth divinely put there is an enthralling style, which leads the searcher on; and in a world where wisdom is not dead, Natsume will have a constant and growing circle of select readers. On the whole, however, he has been as much neglected by his fellow-countrymen as George Meredith was by English readers during the early part of his literary career.

I don't know about that. There are very few writers who do better for themselves in terms of non-neglect than being able to quit their day job and write full-time, as Sōseki did.

The approach to Natsume should be made through his early history, of which his writings are a strong reflection. Born in 1867 in the present Japanese capital, like another name of note in Japanese fiction, Koda Rohan, Natsume quickly gave evidence of having inherited the Tokyo spirit what, in the vernacular, is called the Edo-ko kishitsu, which displays itself in a tendency to improvidence and a general indifference to social conventions. It has long been tho boast of the Tokyo man that he never keeps his money over night, and that he is more proud of intellectual superiority than of any other excellence. To Kyoto for beauty, but to Yedo for men, was the old aphorism, which Natsume in his personality well bears out. But in recent years he has become rather an invalid, a state to some extent reflected in the satire and cynicism of his later volumes of fiction. [...]

(Short run-down of Sōseki's stay in London snipped)

It is, of course, impossible here to review the numerous volumes of fiction that have [...] flowed from his pen [since returning from abroad], but two of the most popular may be mentioned as indicating the character of a certain type of Japanese fiction. "Wagahai wa Neko Nari" ("I am a Cat"), one of the most widely read of his novels, is something after the manner of E. A. Hoffmann's "Kater Murr", and is richly charged with a sort of droll humour.

Note that the actual title is Wagahai wa neko de aru; nari is just a trifle too old-fashioned. It's interesting though that you can't make this mistake unless you are familiar enough with archaic Japanese to overshoot like that, like misremembering a quote as using "thinketh" instead of "thinks" in English.

It is the autobiography of a cat which lives in the home of a school teacher, Mr. Sneeze, in Tokyo, and the animal gives its impressions of the family and the various guests entertained in the home, including poets, literary men, students, the new woman, and even thieves and robbers that sneak in at night. The whole is deliciously tinctured with epigram and satire. Another popular volume is "Bochan" [sic!] ("My Young Man"), a book somewhat after the manner of "Tom Brown's School Days." For aptness of local colour and unerring depiction of social life with all its whims and vices this volume is a masterpiece. It has all the intensity of Dickens as well as his deep sympathy with the oppressed, but all in the manner of Meredith. This being true, his characters naturally speak in a manner and indulge in a tone somewhat foreign to the average Japanese. Most of Natsume's other volumes are too much taken up with philosophical disquisitions and recondite matters to become popular.

I found this statement baffling at first. Then I rechecked the date and realized it was one year before the first serialization of Kokoro. Win some, lose some.

Bonus link: I found a huge list of Wagahai wa neko de aru parodies, from 1907's I am a rat through 1942's I am electricity to 2001's I am a nameneko.



A few days ago, someone e-mailed me about a matter which had, it seems, been puzzling them for a long time: Why are so many Japanese women named "Bookmark"? I decided to share my answer here too.

First, some background. The Japanese for "bookmark," in the sense of "item which marks one's place in a book" rather than the newer, web browser-related sense, is shiori, usually written 栞. Shiori is also a feminine given name. The kanji are often different, but still: wouldn't that just make it like naming your kid "Bookmarque"?

Well, not really. The first thing to keep in mind is that "Shiori" is, at this point in time at least, independent as a name. It works the same way in English. When you run into a boy named "Hunter" or a girl named "Piper," you don't immediately visualize them hunting or piping: you parse their names as names. (You may be a crotchety holdout who refuses to acknowledge these as acceptable given names, but I'm sure even in that case you can see the general principle.) That's not to say that the original meaning isn't accessible, but it isn't in most cases a very important part of the name.

Okay, but even so — at some point, someone had to name the first girl-baby "Shiori." Didn't they feel even a little bit weird using a homophone for "bookmark"?

Again, the answer is that they probably did not. Even if that parent was specifically alluding to a real word pronounced shiori, and not just putting sounds together, there are multiple ways to interpret the word shiori, and "bookmark" just happens to be the English translation of the one encountered most often in daily life.

Let's look at that one first. Bookmark-shiori is usually described as a metaphoric extension of the nominalization of shi-oru, 枝折 "fold-branch." This is a verb meaning "to bend/break branches as one proceeds through a forest, in order to mark one's trail." Here's one of the examples in Ōno's Dictionary of Classical Japanese, a poem by Saigyō Hōshi:

furu yuki ni/ shiworishi shiba mo/ uzumorete/ omowanu yama ni/ fuyugomorinuru
The fallen snow has buried even the broken branches that were my guide; I find myself a-winter in mountains unknown

(Side issue #1: What, then, is shi supposed to be? I'm not sure, but it seems to appear in lots of other old botanical words, like shiba for "grass" and/or "small trees/bushes" and shida for "fern", so I'm going to assume it's a solved problem somewhere musty. Side issue #2: My beard is not luxurious enough to allow a- as a productive prefix. For this I have no reply.)

Anyway, from "path of broken branches through the forest" the way to "guide (in general)" — many pre-modern reference books were entitled X no shiori, "A guide to X" — and "notification of where one is (in a book)" is pretty clear. There are holdouts who claim that the shi in bookmark-shiori is the Sino-Japanese reading of 紙, paper — and they might even be right; certainly I'd be astonished if that pun hadn't occurred to anyone during the Edo period.

So, we can already say two things: First, parents might intend the name to just mean "guide" in general: wanting your kid to be an example to others, to always end up on the right path, whatever. Second, even if parents had the meaning of "bookmark" specifically in mind, shiori isn't as boring and functional a word as, well, "bookmark." It has rustic and even lyrical qualities. (Here's a blog post making basically this argument in response to an interlocutor who is saying "My name just means 'bookmark'!", with commenters saying such things as "I just yesterday decided to give my child the name 'Shiori' (栞莉) when she's born, because I love books!", and "I named my daughter 'Shiori' (栞里) because I want her to be an example to others!")

Another well-known shiori, although we may be moving even further away from the name now, is the shiori of Bashō's aesthetics: a sort of deep sympathy for the subject. For example, Bashō specifically praised the shiori of the following poem by his disciple (in haikai; and teacher in painting) Morikawa Kyoriku 森川許六:

Tōdango mo/ kotsubu ni narinu/ aki no kaze
Even the "ten dumplings"/ are become mere grains/ the autumn wind

"Ten dumplings" were (and are) a speciality of Utsunoya Pass in what is now Shizuoka, so on the surface this is a simple lament that things ain't what they used to be and remember when you were a kid and the apples were bigger and tastier? But in it, Bashō apparently saw a deeper sympathy for the topic: tough times up in the pass, the embaddening of all things, etc.

Incidentally, it's possible that this shiori comes from similar places to the first one I described. To see this we would have to go back to the Man'yōshū-old verb shioreru which meant "to be weighed/pushed down by something," first literally (branches in the snow or wind) and then metaphorically (people in dysfunctional relationships). From the Genji monogatari, chapter 2:

「... 心には忘れずながら、消息などもせで久しくはべりしに、むげに思ひしをれて心細かりければ、幼き者などもありしに思ひわづらひて、撫子の花を折りておこせたりし」とて涙ぐみたり。
"... Though I had not forgotten her it had been some time since even my last letter; she became most downhearted and lonely, and worried about the little one who was there also, and picked and sent me a nadeshiko flower [with a letter, natch]," said [Tō no Chūjō], tearing up.

Anyway, you can see how this might be a variant of the same shi-oru as above, although different ideas have been proposed: it's the shi from shinayaka (lithe) or shimo (down)! no, it's the shio meaning "salt", as in tears! etc.

Oh, and there's one more shiori I may as well mention: a gesture in noh indicating sorrow.



Here is a tale of stone-cold Warring States badassery I first encountered in ITŌ Gingetsu 伊藤銀月's Nihon keigo shi 日本警語史 ("History of Japanese wit [sort of]" — there's probably a whole post lurking in the translation of 警語, to be honest). I pieced the whole story together from what appears to be the original and some commentary scattered here and there around the web.

So we're in China, specifically in Qin, at the end of the Warring States Period (late 3rd C BCE). The king of Qin, soon to become first emperor of a unified China, noticed that despite his prolonged conquerings, there's a fifty-li holdout fief called Anling 安陵 which remains independent, like "a firefly before the sun," as Itō puts it. (They may or may not have had a druid brewing them magic potions with which to go on wacky adventures.)

So the king of Qin sends a messenger to the lord of Anling and says "I would exchange five hundred li of land for Anling. Will you accept my offer?"

"Great king, you are generous," replies the lord of Anling. "To trade large for small would be most magnanimous. However, I received this land from my king, and I must defend it to the last. I will not make the exchange."

The king of Qin isn't happy with this, so the lord of Anling sends a diplomat called Tang Qie 唐且, or maybe Tang Ju 唐雎, to Qin. "Diplome the place up a little, see if you can bring back some booze," he no doubt said.

"I offer to exchange five hundred li of land for Anling," says the king of Qin to Tang Qie, "But the lord of Anling refuses me. Why? Qin has crushed Han and destroyed Wei. Your lord remains on his fifty li of land only because I consider him a worthy man, and have yet to turn my attention to him. And yet, when I offer to embiggen his holdings tenwise, he defies me. Is it to insult me that he does this?"

"No," Tang Qie replies, "It is not. My lord received the land from his king, charged with its defense. He would not make the exchange even for a thousand li; why then should he for five hundred?"

The king of Qin flies into a rage. "Have you heard of the Wrath of Heaven's Son?" he asks.

"I have not," replies Tang Qie.

"A million corpses, a thousand li of flowing blood: such is the Wrath of Heaven's Son!"

"Great king," Tang Qie replies, "Have you heard of the Wrath of the Common Man?"

"The Wrath of the Common Man?" The king of Qin sneers. "He throws off his cap, he goes barefoot, he beats his head against the ground."

"Such is the wrath of the man in the street," Tang Qie concedes, "But not the wrath of the warrior, which rather is Zhuan Zhu's assassination of King Liao, heralded by comets covering the moon; Nie Zheng's assassination of Han Kui, declared by a white rainbow piercing the sun; Yao Li's assassination of Qingji, as a blue eagle savaged the roof of his quarters. These three were all unexalted warriors, nursing their wrath within themselves until an eerie sign descended from heaven — and, once I am added to their number, there will soon be four such men.

"Two corpses, five paces of flowing blood, all under heaven in mourning clothes: such is the Wrath of the Common Man, which falls upon you today!" And Tang Qie's blade appears in his hand as he leaps to his feet.

The king of Qin goes pale, and he kneels in apology. "Be seated, sir, I implore you," he says. "There is no need to go to such extremes; I understand now. The reason that Anling retains its fifty li even as Han and Wei crumble is because it is served by men like you."

(Note: "Wrath of the Common Man" is literally "Wrath of the [People who Wear] Garments of Cloth", 布衣之怒. This requires a bit of cultural interpretation to dig, but the opposition to "Son of Heaven" is, I think, quite clear. I toyed with other terms, like "Wrath of the Unexalted," "Wrath of the Unfancy," but ultimately went for the Copland reference because I'm populist like that.)



Listening to Brad Smith's MOON8 was like mainlining my childhood. It also reminded me of something awesome: that in Japan, The Dark Side of the Moon is called Kyōki 狂気 ("Mad").

It's hard to say why this is such a great hōdai 邦題 ("[this-]country title"). It's not that the album would have been better named Mad in English, but saying it so baldly in Japanese puts the album in a whole new light. It's even mildly shocking: in broadcast media, the word kyōki is a low-level "problem word" due to its perceived offensiveness to the mentally ill. (It's still considered better than kichigai "crazy", though.)

The power of kyōki does get drained a bit by its use as a blunt instrument to translate the title of the final song, "Eclipse": "Kyōki nisshoku" 狂気日食, "Eclipse of madness." "Brain Damage," meanwhile, is "Kyōjin wa kokoro ni" 狂人は心に, "The madman is in [the/my/your/our] soul."

But there is no excuse, none, for having translated "The Great Gig in the Sky" as "Kokū no skyatto" 虚空のスキャット, "Scat in the void."

Pink Floyd are actually well-known for their hōdai; cf labored discussion. Atom Heart Mother is often cited as an example, even though this was just a literal translation: Genshi shinbo 原子心母, "Atom -heart - mother." I guess going with the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of the second half is what makes it great. [Thanks for the correction on this, Mulboyne + david.]

And you know who picked those two hōdai, by the way? That's right: current CEO of Universal Music Japan, ISHIZAKA Keiichi 石坂敬一. At least, that's what this article says.

That article also has a categorized run-down of the various kinds of hōdai, from more or less embellished translations ("Sultans of Swing" = "Kanashiki sarutan," "Woeful sultans") to stripped-down English phrases ("Sunshine of your Love" = "Sanshain rabu") to basically free remakes ("I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" = "Dame na boku," "Worthless me"). And it's part six in a series! 1, 2, 3 (mostly about Pink Floyd and Pulse), 4, 5, 6, 7.

Bonus, linked from part 3 of the above: Blog post by a guy who claims to have hōdaized The Division Bell Tsui 対 ("Opposite, facing") — apparently it took him a whole week of agonizing over the artwork and lyrics, and he prepared a veritable thesis defense to get it approved — and Pulse Kyōi 驚異 ("Marvel, astonishment").

He also has an interview with UDA Akinori 宇田明則, who gave A Momentary Lapse of Reason its hōdai, Utsu 鬱 ("Depression, melancholy"):

From the moment I was assigned to Pink Floyd, I knew I wanted to follow the tradition and give something a hōdai too. So I studied the sound and the lyrics, and after a lot of agonizing, came up with one that referred to the original: Risei sōshitsu 理性喪失 ("Loss of reason") [...] My boss at the time was like, "Eh, it's kind of long. A Pink Floyd hōdai has to be shorter than that. In the end he even said, "Yeah, for Pink Floyd you want just one character."

No word on whether Uda countered with "It's okay, boss, it hasn't really been Pink Floyd since Roger Waters left." (Yeah, I went there.)

Final bonus: Original hōdai for Pink Floyd songs. "See Emily Play" was "Emirii wa purei gaaru" ("Emily is a playgirl"), reflecting the spirit of the times a bit too enthusiastically. Piper at the Gates of Dawn = Saikederikku no shin'ei ("Fresh-picked psychedelia"). And best of all, "Take up Thy Stethoscope and Walk" as "Koi no chōshinki", which is to say "Stethoscope of love."


Flatter, toady

These past few days have pressed me, a little, for time, so here are two newspaper cartoons from Meiji 10 (1877). The cartoonist is HONDA Kinkichirō 本多錦吉郎 and the original place of publication was the Marumaru chinbun 團團珍聞, one of the Meiji era's great satirical newsmagazines — but I saw it in SHIMIZU Isao 清水勲 and YUMOTO Kōichi 湯本豪一's 1989 collection, Meiji man'yōshū (明治漫葉集, "Myriad Meiji mirth").

First up, we have the "Gekkyū-tori" 月給鳥, "monthly-salary bird":

This is a pun on 月給取り, "receiving a monthly salary." At the time, to mock such people was, it seems, the done thing. Who knows? We might get down to that point again eventually.

The caption here (I'm not sure if it was Honda's original or rewritten by Shimizu and Yumoto) is: "Gathers in Western-style buildings, sleeps with mistress-bird by night. Its call is 'Money, money'" (洋館作りに集まり、夜は妾鳥を抱く。鳴き声はマネー、マネー). Outward indications of Westernization were irresistible targets for post-Perry Japanese satirists, who saw quite clearly the vanity and hypocrisy (both imported and native) that no top hat or monocle could conceal.

Next up, the "Ganari-ya" 我鳴屋, "braggart", a pun on kanariya, "canary":

Caption sez:

Some cry 'Discontent, discontent; rights of the people, rights of the people," while some, of the subspecies Preeneria, are kept in newsrooms and cry 'Flatter, toady' (不平、不平、民権、民権と鳴くものや、亜種の物知り気鳥の中に新聞社にかわれてオベッカ、ベンチャラと鳴くものもある)

Note that this guy is wearing Japanese clothes. He may be an asshole, but he's our asshole.

(Note: Preenaria in the above corresponds to monoshiri-kidori in the original, which literally translates to "person who pretends to know a lot" plus a pun on "bird" (tori).)