Machi vs chimata

So a while ago Claytonian wondered what the difference between machi 街 and chimata 巷 was, since both can be translated as "the streets" and coupled with no akari to mean "lights of the streets" or "city lights." Let us examine the issue.

Etymologically, chimata comes from /ti/ "road" + /mata/ "fork," thus, a fork in the road, a crossroads. And, just as settlements and commerce tend to build up at crossroads, it eventually came to mean "streets [where people do business]" and, more metaphorically, "society" (e.g. chimata no uwasa, "word on the streets," "the word").

Here's a cool old poem (MYS 11/2506) featuring chimata in a less metaphorical way:

事霊 八十衢 夕占問 占正謂 妹相依
Kotodama no/ yaso no timata ni/ yuhuke tofu/ ura masa ni noru/ imo ha ahiyoramu
I went down to the (eighty-forked) crossroads where the kotodama dwell
And heard the news that the one I love, she loves me back as well
[Something something hoistin' my palanquin since I been gone]

(May have embellished that a bit.)

Machi, on the other hand, has an unclear etymology (maybe /ma/ as in "space" and /ti/ as in "road," or as in "earth"? opinions are divided) but in its earliest attested usage already refers to a division of land — as in, a rice field. This was inevitably expanded to refer also to subsections within palace and mansion grounds, and then to a concept roughly corresponding to "city block."

So a machi is a concrete thing. It is a sub-place, implicitly subordinate to a super-place; an area where things are. A chimata is not so much an area as a point through which things pass. A machi is an object; a chimata is a system. Thus, although the two words do have a synonomic overlap, chimata also covers some abstract, figurative territory which machi cannot reach.

Also, pragmatically speaking, because machi has been repurposed many times over the years to refer to specific configurations of streets and buildings, it has a more down-to-earth feel than chimata, which as far as I know has never been assigned a specific definition. Thus, chimata has a slightly more poetic flavor.


Pink Floyd as allegory for Sengoku history

Okay, so just throwing this out there. Oda Nobunaga is like Syd Barrett: the eccentric, art-loving genius with the vision of what is to come. He doesn't make it all the way there, though; he's felled by the enemy within (Akechi Mitshide).

His successor is Roger Waters, who therefore corresponds to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Waters/Hideyoshi takes what Barrett/Nobunaga left behind and develops it into an overwhelming success. And, like Hideyoshi, Waters is now remembered for the severity and iron-glovedness of his rule. The Odawara Siege corresponds to The Wall.

Now, here is where the problem arises: Hideyoshi's successor is Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate and kicked off the Edo period. David Gilmour's Pink Floyd — A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell — need to somehow correspond to two and a half centuries of peace, prosperity, and unparalleled artistic achievements. I do not see how this is possible.

I'm also not sure whether Sen no Rikyū is Nick Mason or Richard Wright.


Das Boot

So, there is a famous 8th-century poem about impermanence by Sami Mansei 沙弥満誓. It first appears in the Man'yōshū:

世間乎 何物尓将譬 旦開 榜去師船之 跡無如
Yo no naka wo/ nani ni tatohemu/ asabiraki/ kogi-inisi hune no/ ato naki gotosi
To what shall I compare the world? A boat is rowed away at dawn, and leaves no trace: it is like this

This is really rather cryptic — as far as I can tell, it is the tracelessness and not the boat itself to which the world is being compared — and so it turns up in later collections in many variants, most with the mysticism turned down:

Yo no naka wo/ nani ni tatohemu/ asaborake/ kogiyuku fune no/ ato no shiranami
To what shall I compare the world? The white waves left behind a boat that rows away in dawn's dim light

Much better! So it's as impermanent as sea foam. I believe on the official scale that's more impermanent than dew, but less than the tolling of a distant bell. Also note that according to Ōno Susumu, asaborake has a strong connotation of winter/autumn (as opposed to akebono, which is associated with spring and summer), so we are probably cold as well.

Here's the question, though: if we're floundering around in the spray, who's rowing the boat?


Fuseki chinboku

Here's a handy Sino-Japanese expression I recently learned: 浮石沈木, fuseki chinboku, or ishi o ukase, ki o shizumu: "float stone, sink wood." It's from a short passage in the Xīnyǔ 新語, attributed to Lù Jiǎ (?) 陸賈. Here's a quick and ugly translation of the original:


Dig: When enough people get to building things up and tearing them down, they can float stone and sink wood. When the wicked get to work, the straight becomes crooked, and when people don't understand what they see, white becomes black. Crooked and straight are different shapes, white and black are different tones: these are the easiest things to see in the world, but when people's eyes are mistaken or their spirits uncertain, that's when they go astray.

So 浮石沈木 refers to the madness of crowds: the failure of the noble and the success of the unworthy, driven by collective judgments that go against all logic. (Insert joke about your least favorite TV series/book/cultural phenomenon here.)



Lately a few people have inquired as to what in the good goddamn I think I'm doing posting about pre-Meiji Japanese writing as if it were legible. I don't usually post about this sort of thing, but since my own journey down this particular rabbit hole was complete serendipity, I figure that by passing on the information I might also free myself of its eldritch weight. You know, by transferring it to you. It's like The Ring except you have to sit down with a dictionary and puzzle over the curse for like half an hour before it can take effect.

So this was a couple of years ago now. I was trawling the discount shelves at the Junkudō home base in Ikebukuro when I came across this book: Genten de tanoshimu Edo no sekai — Edo no bungaku kara ukiyo-e/nishiki-e made 原典で楽しむ江戸の世界—江戸の文学から浮世絵・錦絵まで ("Enjoying die Edowelt through primary texts: from Edo literature to ukiyo-e/nishiki-e"), edited by Asano Akira 浅野晃 and Katō Mitsuo 加藤光男. There's nothing so astonishing about this book. It's just a collection of short extracts from famous books, presented in facsimile with a printed version of the text alongside and notes and mini-essays providing context along the way. But as I flicked through it, I realized: I could learn to read this stuff. And then I thought: If I were to devote hour upon hour to it, sacrificing entire evenings to the decipherment of marginal scrawls, with no way of even telling if I had arrived at the correct answer.

So it was from Genten de tanoshimu plus two more books I picked up almost at random on the way to the register, Kuzushi-ji sokushūchō: kindai hen くずし字速習帳 近代編 ("Speed-learning cursive exercise book: Modern texts"), ed. Munakata Kazushige 宗像和重 and Kanechiku Nobuyuki 兼築信行, and Murayama Garyū 村山臥龍's Sōsho no kuzushikata 草書のくずし方 ("The encursion of grass script"), that I learned that there is method to the madness of olden-times Japanese orthography.

It really doesn't take that long before things begin to clear up. There's more than one way to write most of the kana syllabary, but not an infinite number of ways. There's probably only three or four times as many hentaigana characters in regular use as there are modern kana, and given that you have to learn like 2000 kanji to read a newspaper in this country, a couple hundred extra kana aren't that much of a burden. As for the kanji themselves, it really doesn't take long before you start getting an almost mystical feel for the minute differences that distinguish ninben from sanzui. Except when they're indistinguishable, of course. Then you're just screwed. (Oh, or when the rest of the kanji is illegible. Or if it's a really common kanji like 日 or 出, which are always the hardest to get at first.)

To these books I added Kodama Kōta 児玉幸多's Kuzushi-ji kaidoku jiten: Kijō-ban くずし字解読時点:机上版 (Dictionary of cursive character decipherment: on-desk edition), which has proved invaluable, and I believe it was a commenter here who hipped me up to the University of Tokyo's electronic cursive character dictionary database (電子くずし字字典DB), which is mostly useful for confirming theories: "Okay, I'm pretty sure this is a 憑, but could it really be written like that? Let's find out..."

The final piece in the puzzle is texts to practice on, and here Waseda has you covered. There's all kinds of crazy stuff in this database, from stuff that everyone knows (Bashō, Ukiyoburo) to stuff that no-one knows (can't list it because I don't know it). And the greatest thing about it is that if you go deep enough, a print version of what you are reading may not even exist. You may be one of only a couple dozen people to have read the book in a century.

And it may contain fart jokes that you can use in your blog.



Shimin dōji jizukushi anken 四民童子字尽安見, which I suppose means something like "Simple guide to all [written] characters, for the children of all four occupations," is a 1716 kanji textbook by Matsui "Tosui" Shōzaemon (松井庄左衛門/兎睡).

After the illustrations at the beginning, what it amounts to is a long list of kanji used for words in different categories. Some of the categories are conceptual, like "same Japanese reading, different meaning" (同訓別格), like 犬 and 狗: both are pronounced inu ("dog"), Tosui explains, but the first is used for big dogs and the second for little ones. Most of the categories are typological, like "animals," "equestrian equipment," and "utensils for the 'three beverages' [tea, booze, and tobacco smoke]."

Waseda claims that there's Ainu in there, too, but I couldn't find any. I did find a category called Ikoku sōmoku 夷国草木, which could mean "grasses and trees of the country of the Ainu," but it seems to be a more general reference to foreign lands in general, containing mostly Sino-Japanese vocabulary for continental plants (e.g. enbuju 閻浮樹 = jambul).

Anyway, the 64th and final chapter is called "Rigiji shū" 理義字集. Rigiji has a very specific meaning today: characters formed by doubling or trebling other characters, like 晶 ("bright"), which is 日 ("sun") × 3. And indeed Tosui's first few columns of rigi characters fit that description. Here are a few examples that (as far as I know) are no longer in regular dictionaries:

Three moons (月) for sayuka, i.e. sayaka, "clear." I suppose this is a de- and then reconstructed variant of a similar character sometimes used to write this word: 𣇵, 日 ("sun") and 明 ("bright", itself decomposable into either "sun and moon" or "window and moon").
Three men (男) for tabakaru ("consider," "discuss," or "deceive"), placed alongside the much more orthodox character 姦: three women (女), meaning "wicked" or "noisy." As you might guess, this one is usually first in line when it's time to write about how the Chinese-character system reinforces sexist attitudes in society.
Three individuals (个) for tagau, "differ."
Three goods (吉) or three completions (了) for satoru, "realize, awaken, become enlightened."
Three dots for bussho i-ji 仏書伊字, a.k.a. i-ji santen: the vowel i in Siddhaṃ (known in Japanese Buddhism as bonji 梵字), which according to the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism entry by Charles Muller linked above was "used as a trope for 'neither the same nor different'" and for "the relationship between the dharma-body 法身, prajñā 般若 and 解脫 vimokṣa, all three being necessary to complete nirvāṇa." Which is all very interesting, but please don't let it obscure your view of the fact that Tosui is now applying analytical techniques based on Sinitic script to an East Asian glyph evolved from a letter in Siddhaṃ.
The triforce, glossed only as kaki. Oysters? Persimmons? I don't know.

On the next page, things degenerate rapidly:

A branching abstraction for ki no mata, "fork of a tree."
A barbed abstraction for tsuribari, "fishhook."
Strokes going left and right for hyorohyo to (?), "staggering" (with a helpful note explaining the character: "turn left, turn right")
A broken 行 ("go") for tatazumu, "stop, stand still."
A broken 門 ("gate") for (w)ehen (ゑへん), the sound someone makes when coughing. (Can this be right? Maybe it's a write-o for (w)ihen 違反, "break the rules/one's word"? That seems pretty far-fetched too though.)

These characters are clearly not made through reduplication, which suggests to me that Tosui understood rigiji to have a broader meaning: characters (字) to whose meaning (義) there is reason (理), as opposed to characters with phonetic components and so on. That, or he has successfully pulled off a three-century troll. (I'll just leave this here.)



Edo-period comic writer Ejima Kiseki 江島其磧, quoted by Tanaka Yuko 田中優子 in Edo no oto 江戸の音 ("The Sounds of Edo"):

Verily do the shamisen and the octopus madden the blood! (まことに三味線と蛸は血を狂わすものぞかし)

"I still have no idea what it would mean for the octopus to madden the blood," admits Tanaka, but she nevertheless cites this as an example of Edo-period attitudes to the still newly introduced shamisen: sexy and dangerous, and not so much a musical instrument as a tool of debauchery. Just like the ocarina today.


Happy new year!

2010 rather trailed off here at No-sword, didn't it? My apologies. I hope everyone enjoyed whatever holidays were coming to them over the year's-end/new-year season, and welcome to this Year of the (Younger-Brother) Metal Rabbit.

To celebrate, here is a detail from a picture signed "南巒". Waseda seem to identify this person with Suzuki(?) Nanrei 鈴木南嶺 — and since that final character seems like a plausible variant to me I see no reason to disagree.

What? Oh, yeah, the visuals.

Happy new year!