One hundred days

Onitsura (previously) sez:

The haiku masters of old said, "Better a single day joining in than a hundred days of practice"; attendance at haiku circles was what they deemed important. The words of substance and action for mountains, shores and dwellings; the working and fixing of phrases; the clashing and overlap of themes; the difficulties of these and other issues of criticism mean that a single day's participation can indeed be most important.

There is a lot of renga/haiku jargon in this. I'm not hip to the precise details, and would no doubt have gotten myself stabbed at a medieval renga party, but here are a few notes: "Words of substance and action" is an ad hoc translation of taiyū 体用, which literally means "body and effect", a scheme for dividing words on a certain topic. For example, when considering the ocean, "sea," "shore," and so on are "body" words, while "wave" and "roar" would be "effect" words. (This word/concept is not used in traditional waka criticism, raising the interesting question of who thought it up, and why.)

"Clashing" corresponds to sashiai 指合, also known as sarikirai 去り嫌い which refers to when too-similar words appear too close to each other (or, by extension, the rules to prevent this happening). "Overlap" corresponds to 輪廻, which means saṃsāra; in the context of renga/haiku it originally had a very precise definition which I am a bit fuzzy on but later evolved to mean ugly repetition in general (a subset of sashiai, I think).

The point of all this is that there are so many detailed rules for renga and haiku, rules dependent on context, that it becomes an intensely social activity. There is room for practice on your own, but if you can find a group to join and meet with regularly, you can save yourself 99 days. And this is quantitatively different from just having a circle of friends who also write poetry with whom you can exchange sonnets in progress and discuss the latest outrages of Lord Byron. (Although it's a bit more like the modern sort of workshop where people are encouraged to criticize everything down to the whitespace.)

I doubt I'm the first to make this analogy, but I guess you can liken renga to jazz in this respect. Alone, you can work on your technique, listen to and play along with classic records, read books on what scales and modes sound best over the diminished sixth and so on — but none of it will be that helpful unless you also find a way to get on the bandstand regularly. You can't get good at collaborating with others without, well, collaborating with others.



Another one from Nihongo no rekishi 日本語の歴史: narikizeme 成木責!

... [O]n Setsubun or New Year's Eve in households with fruit-bearing trees, one person climbs the tree while another stands in front of it with an axe and says to the tree, "Will you fruit well next year, or not?" The person at the top of the tree then answers, "I will fruit well, I will fruit well!" This, it is said, ensures that the tree will fruit well in the coming year.

I love the menace involved here. No wheedling or praying; just the glint of the axe and the pressure of Grice's Maxim of Relation.

Here's a blog entry with some more information about (slightly different) narikizeme rituals.



Here's a dubious but fun idea from Nihongo no rekishi 日本語の歴史 ("The History of Japanese", ed. Kamei Takashi 亀井孝, Ōtō Tokihiko 大藤時彦, Yamada Toshio 山田俊雄): (appearance, way, manner, thing, etc.) as a straight-up Japanese word, not a borrowing from Chinese.

In a section discussing the possibility of the earliest known stages of Japanese being several distinct dialects recombined shortly before people started writing things down, Kamei et al note that constructions like /omofaku/ 思はく and /ifaku/ 云はく, which are hard to translate but sort of mean "thinking" and "saying," are paralleled by constructions like /ifu yau/ 云ふやう with similar meanings. The argument is apparently that although this /yau/ ( in Modern Japanese) is assigned the kanji 様, it may actually derive from an earlier form like /yaku/, which would in turn share a common ancestor with the /-aku/ of /ifaku/. Brothers separated at birth, growing up in different dialects, and brought together again at last after some kind of political unification.

The first and most obvious counter-argument to this hypothesis is that bare vowels like the /u/ in /yau/ are only supposed to appear word-initially in Old Japanese: /yau/ shouldn't even be possible as a native word. The second counter-argument is the deeply suspicious timing of /yau/'s appearance: it can't be found in the Manyōshū (while /ifaku/ and /omofaku/ are in there a handful of times each), and the 日本国語大辞典 ("Shogakukan Unabridged Dictionary of the Japanese Language") goes so far as to say that it doesn't appear at all in Old (上代) Japanese, and didn't reach its peak until Late Middle (中世) Japanese.

To get around these problems, we end up having to argue that /yau/ remained hidden from Old Japanese in a related dialect that did allow bare vowels in the middle of words, only to be suddenly re-incorporated into the mainstream of the language just in time to look exactly like a borrowed Chinese word at a time when a lot of borrowed Chinese words were floating about. This seems an awfully long bow to draw, and I remain unconvinced.


Yone no zeni

Here's a tanka by Tachibana Akemi 橘曙覧, 19th-century man of letters, entitled "Times of poverty" (銭とぼしかりける時):

Yone no zeni/ nao tarazu nari/ uta o yomi/ fumi wo tsukurite/ uri-arikedomo
For rice my funds do not suffice/ Though poetry I do compose/ And writings put to paper/ All to peddle as I roam

I love that "though" (roughly corresponding to the nao in the original), as though traveling poetry salesmen were supposed to be on easy street.

The other interesting part of this poem is the spelling 泉 (usually meaning "spring (of water)") for zeni, "coins, money," usually spelt 銭 (the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of which, /sen/ is apparently the root of zeni itself). My edition of Tachibana's poetry (the Iwanami Bunko one, edited by Mizushima Naobumi and Hashimoto Masanobu) says that this spelling derives from imagery of money flowing like water. (Contrast with another old euphemism for money, 御足, "legs [+honorific]", allegedly because without money you won't go very far and/or because money gets around.)

Two poems later, he gets a bit Freudian:

Yowagoshi ni/ namamono tsukuru/ emishibito/ wa ga hi no moto no/ tachi ogami miyo
O ye barbarians with poorly-made swords at your waists, bow your heads before the swords of the Rising Sun

Given the time period, emishibito refers to us white people. It's a fair cop; I understand that our swords sucked in comparison.

But Tachibana's not all bad. He really liked fish:

Waza o nami/ shizuka ni asobu/ uo zo yoki/ yonaka akatsuki/ itsu mite mo hata
Having nothing to do/ they quietly sport/ how worthy are fish!/ at midnight, at dawn/ whenever you look at them, there they are



So the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites has a Japanese-language site now. It's still in beta, so who knows what kind of place it will eventually turn out to be, but there are already people giving detailed and correct answers to questions about classical Japanese grammar.

Here's a very interesting question about the etymology of 関手 ("functor"): it defeated me (although I did learn some interesting things, such as the fact that the modern Japanese word for "function" ultimately derives from a Chinese word 函数 which sounds like function); let's hope someone reading this can succeed where I failed.


White dogs were fighting

From a 1911 book of Ainu riddles by Frederick Starr and Oyabe Zenichiro 小矢部全一郎, Ainu nazo shū アイヌ謎集. Translations are mine... and from the Japanese — shame! I play a bit fast and loose with tenses and framing details and the like, but the substantives are all from the original.

Q: When going in, they face out; when going out, they face in. What are they?
A: Your calves.

Q: Both those who come from far away and those who come from very near are glad of it. What is it?
A: A toilet.

Q: A black dog was licked by a red dog. What was happening?
A: A cauldron was on the fire.

Q: Separated by a small hill, they never meet. What are they?
A: Your eyes.

Q: White dogs were fighting. What was happening?
A: Somebody was chewing.

I guess dogs were the go-to beast of metaphor-burden.