A paleographic puzzle

Here is a detail from the title page of Futari komuso 二人こむそう ("Two komusō), dated to 1812, by Santō Kyōden 山東京伝 (writer) and Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (illustrator).

So this is the title, 二人こむそう, with the "komusō" part arranged into the shape of an actual komusō, right? The only problem is, I can't quite work out how the arrangement works. The そ is pretty easy to see. Above it there's こ, in a variant form derived from 古 (or maybe it is 古, man'yōgana style — the distinction isn't really germane). But the む and the う elude me.


  1. The line with a twist on the right is a distended む (the modern kana). But in that case, what is the う? An ウ with the line at the top extending down through the crossbar, turned upside-down?
  2. The bottom left-hand corner is an ん, that is, the variant for む based on 无. But in that case, again, where is う?
  3. The right and bottom are all part of an upside-down mirror-image variant む based on 無. But the mirror-image thing makes this seem unlikely, and, once more, where is う?

Hope me, readers.

Popularity factor: 11


My best guess: http://www.timotarou.com/img/blog/100722_01.jpg


So this is like a serious writing system that people used to communicate with each other? For real?

Says the guy who loves the calligraphy of graffiti.


There aren't any variant kana after the こ part. But it's not a ん--see the line cutting through the bottom kana? That makes it a う, but highly stylized.


BTW, that's not a knife. This is a knife. http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=67043;type=101


So ん with a vertical line through it is う? Or is it just the bottom line (the hem) plus the vertical line? I'm totally unfamiliar with this way of writing う.

Carl: Well, this is obviously an art thing. They didn't go around writing everything in pictures (I mean, they already had kanji... this isn't a Yo Dawg-type pimp-my-orthography situation).


It's more that they're fudging the う by adding the little fillup at the end to make that hem, I think. I've seen the line through the curve of the う version before.

(They've also kinda distorted the top part of the む, which was another clue.)


Hmm. Maybe it is う, but closer to the original 宇, in the same manner as the こ=古 above. If we can assume the 宇 is also tilted to the left, then the middle vertical stroke might be easier to explain.


Also, I think that actually is む based on 無. It would explain the loop being on the right side, as well as the curve of the deep down-stroke below that.


I don't see it as a "mu" (む) more directly from 無 than it already is--I see the curve as being very distended. There's a bit of a line up after the look, so it reads to me like the line of む more than anything else.

But, like fingerprints, I think we have to agree this is NOT A SCIENCE.

(Is it me, or are Edo kana forms a little more standardized than Heian?)


After 500 years, they better be.


Well, the hairstyles got fussier in the same timespan....

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