One of the more interesting extinct first-person pronouns of Japanese is shizu. Spelt 賤, meaning "base," or "lowly," this was popular among rakes and wags during the Edo period but is now restricted to certain professions carrying on Edo-period traditions (notably, entertainment).

Before this, it was an adjectival noun with the meanings, well, "base" or "lowly", as seen in this example from the "Yūgao" chapter of the Genji, where Genji lives like common people and does whatever common people do:


Which Suematsu "First English translator of Genji" Kenchō 末松謙澄 renders:

It was on the evening of the 15th of August when they [Genji and Yūgao] were together. The moonlight streamed through the crevices of the broken wall. To Genji such a scene was novel and peculiar. The dawn at length began to break, and from the surrounding houses the voices of the farmers might be heard talking.

One remarked, "How cool it is." Another, "There is not much hope for our crops this year." "My carrying business I do not expect to answer," responded the first speaker. "But are our neighbors listening!"

Well, he divides the dialog up differently, and I hope I haven't offended any farmers (typical viscount), but I think you get the idea.

Anyway, this shizu is commonly etymologically broken down to a /si/ meaning "lower" (thus related to shita/shimo 下, and maybe shizumu 沈む, etc.) and a voiced version of the /tu/ roughly corresponding to modern no in words like umitsuji 海つ路 "sea route."

So one interesting question is whether it is also related to the word shizuka 静か, which in modern usage means "quiet" or "still." /ka/ is just an adjective-forming affix, so morphologically it could be possible. Most sources seem fairly confident in linking /siduka/ to /sidumu/, and /sidumu/ to /sita/, and /sita/ to /sidu/, but there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to declare them all part of the same word-family without any reservations. (Although Orikuchi Shinobu 折口信夫 gave it a go. He argues that the root meaning is "sink," with "lower" being derived later.)

Anyway, if we can relate shizu 賤 to shizuka 静か and shita 下, we would have four words deriving from the same roots but meaning different things:

  • shizugokoro 静心 = "still heart/soul" (e.g.)
  • shizugokoro 賤心 = "base/lowly heart/soul"
  • shitagokoro 下心 = originally "secret heart/feelings" (e.g. in MYS 1308: "komoritaru/ a ga shitagokoro/ ko no ha shiru ramu" = "the leaves on the trees know the secret thoughts I hide"), later "secret intentions" or "ulterior motive"
  • shitagokoro 下心 = "lower heart": the radical at the bottom of kanji like 忘 and 悲 (okay, this one is kind of cheating)

Interestingly, in the essay I linked above, Orikuchi claims that the instances of 下心 in the Man'yōshū should be read read shizugokoro, but I can't find this reading in any modern edition I checked, so I'm not sure if this is a now-abandoned older reading or just Orikuchi being idiosyncratic (he notes even in the essay that others disagree).


Sude ni

Another one from Kinoshita Rigen:

From tree to tree, the hoarsening wind/ the calling birds
with song made sharp/ it is already winter

In modern Japanese sude ni almost invariably means "already," but in the olden days it could also mean "completely" (not to mention "verily" and "nearly", in combination with the right verb forms). I don't think that this usage was intended here, but the slowly widening frame of reference, from tree to wind to birdsong to season, did bring it to mind.



A tanka by Kinoshita Rigen, Taisho tanka poet extraordinaire:

The westering autumn sun across the paddies/
A local trains runs shadows over ripened heads of rice

I can use "westering", right? I mean... it's still a word, isn't it? Has increasing rarity made it less cliched? (Not that "秋の西日" is the most original phrase in Japanese.)

Some points of interest in this poem:

  • 田圃 for tanbo, "(rice) paddy". The 田 ("paddy") is probably legit, but the 圃 ("field") is ateji, and this spelling is no longer used for the word. The most popular etymology seems to relate the /bo/ to 面, /omo/ "[sur]face". It looks to me suspiciously like other /bo/ words like akanbo and sakuranbo, but I suppose it is distinct from them in that (a) it is not either animate or anthropomorphized, and (b) it does not have an older, long-/o/ form (akanbō, sakuranbō). (The 日本国語大辞典 does list a long-/o/ form as part of tanbōmichi "path between paddies", which actually predates any of their examples for short-/o/ tanbo, but they claim that the long-/o/ version evolved from the short-/o/ version rather than the other way around. Hmm.)
  • Tariho is usually spelt 垂穂 ("drooping rice-head") rather than 足穂 ("full rice-head"), but since the meaning is "a head of rice that droops under its own ripe weight" either works, really.
  • Kōgai densha 郊外電車, which I have translated "local train," basically refers to any non-exclusively-metropolitan train service (for example, a train that only runs through the suburbs, or a train connecting the suburbs with a metropolitan hub), but the combination of "suburb" and "rice paddy" seemed not to work in English.


Rosy-fingered dawn

Here's how Matsudaira handles the start of Book II of the Odyssey. First, for reference, Butler's version:

Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared Telemachus rose ...

And here's Matsudaira's version:

朝のまだきに生れ指ばら色の曙の女神が姿を現わすと、オデュッセウスの寵愛の息子は床から身を起こし ...

So the word madaki is a time word sort of meaning "soon", almost "too soon." There is actually a word, asamadaki, which means "early morning when dawn is just about to break" (and it can be used with madaki, giving you asamadaki madaki: "too early in the early morning"). So literally the above means something like:

When, born as the morning broke, the rosy-fingered goddess of dawn showed her form, Odysseus's beloved son rose from his bed ...

(Note that Matsudaira is presumably restoring a roundabout way of saying "Telemachus" that Butler has simplified.)

Part of the reason that I decided to read this book in Japanese is that I read Japanese much closer than I do English. I'd never really even thought about the way that "morning" and "dawn" are related in the standard English version of the epithet, but all those Japanese books and poems about Heian nobles getting up to mischief at various named points on the evening → noon spectrum have primed me to pay closer attention to this stuff in Japanese. And so it pleases me to notice that to be the goddess of dawn (akebono), you have to get up (that is, be born) pretty early (asa no madaki).


Sono hate wa

Currently reading Matsudaira Senshu 松平千秋's prose translation of the Odyssey for Iwanami Bunko.

Being unable to read the original, I can't comment on the quality of the translation per se, but I'm not in love with the way the dialogue reads in Japanese so far — the content is fresh and powerful, but it's hobbled by unremarkably modern verb endings and particles. I suppose this is a kind of Occidentalism, craving the archaic, but I would happily settle for cod bungo rather than a painstaking recreation of Old Japanese, and it isn't as if the modern syntax makes the work all that accessible — the sentences are still plenty long and complex.

Anyway, this made me wonder about earlier translations of Homer into Japanese, and I actually found one online: the Iliad, translated into non-metrical verse by Doi Bansui 土井晩翠. Here are Doi's opening lines, with Pope and Butler's for comparison:

Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

That's what I'm talking about! Doi also did the Odyssey but his version doesn't yet seem to be online. (I did find a Meiji-period book claiming to be a translation of the Odyssey, but it was really more of a paraphrase, and it skipped the Telemachy altogether.)

Final note about Iwanami's edition: if you look closely at the photograph on the cover you can see newsprint dots. This is not as far as I know an artifact of their cover printing process (I have Iwanami books of similar vintage with perfectly smooth cover images), so it was probably a case of simply not having access to any suitable high-res photographs of Greek art. But whatever the reason, I like the effect. It reminds me of cheaply printed schoolbooks and the stubborn democratization of the classics that they represented.


Noh vs rugby

Kikkawa Eishi 吉川英史's Nihon ongaku no seikaku 日本音楽の性格 ("The character of Japanese music") is an interesting book. For a book published in 1979, it spends a puzzling amount of time defending Japanese music against European classical tradition-centricism — that battle had already been won by then, surely — and is oddly vigorous, even anti-Western, in its working out of a Japanese musical aesthetic. This all makes more sense, though, when you read the afterword and learn that it was first published in an early form in 1948 — and had originally been scheduled for publication in 1943. Context is everything when it comes to sweeping cultural arguments.

Anyway, here's Kikkawa quoting Kanetsune Kiyosuke 兼常清佐 on Noh:

... It takes quite some time before the heavenly maiden dances her dance and Hagoromo comes to an end. Most people have begun to find it tedious by then. Indeed this tedium is something that, it seems, few people today can avoid feeling when watching Noh.

This is the complaint, and indeed the pace of Noh is leisurely in the extreme. For example, when the heavenly maiden I mentioned earlier makes her appearance, it can take three whole minutes to walk across the little bridge and reach the stage. When I timed a performance I attended the other day, I found that it took two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. When the dance began, I found that it took the actor ten seconds to move a fan from front to back, five or six seconds to make a ninety-degree turn, and fourteen seconds to go from one on-stage pillar to another. Think, dear reader, on how precious this two minutes and twenty-eight seconds would be in other contexts. In a moving picture, that much time could see a significant advancement of events. In rugby, the ball's location within the ground will have changed any number of times. [...] To we who are accustomed to movies, to rugby, to riding trains, Noh cannot be but unbearably boring. What is more, it can be of little emotional interest to us even if we endure this boredom.

"This is not a record of a Noh performance seen by Marco Polo or Columbus," notes Kikkawa. "Nor is it the yammering of an oaf..." He then talks about folk (minzoku) and culture and the maintenance thereof before arriving at his thundering conclusion:

I will add just one comment. If it is true that watching rugby and riding trains renders one unable to find Noh anything but tedious, then there are surely many people today who would cheerfully stop attending rugby matches, and walk instead of catching the train.

Eerily, I have recently expanded my daily walking routine one train journey's worth. Can it be coincidence that I also find myself growing more able to appreciate and parse traditional Japanese music?