Koto no okori

So very early in the first chapter of the Genji monogatari, public opinion turns against Genji's mother, with courtiers saying:

"Morokosi ni mo, kakaru koto no okori ni koso, yo mo midare asikarikere."
China DAT TOPIC-EMPH, such-a:RENTAI thing GEN happening DAT FOCUS-KOSO, world TOPIC-EMPH become-disordered:RENYO be-bad.MODAL-PAST:IZEN

Arikawa Takehiko's modern edition of Kitamura Kigin's Kogetsu shū quotes Motoori Norinaga's Tama no ogushi on this passage as follows (Kigin II.5):


One must read first "kakaru" ["such a"], and then "koto no okori" ["thing GEN happening"]. To read "kakaru koto no" ["such-a thing GEN"] as continuous [= as a constituent] is wrong. "Okori" is 起り ["happening"] and is like saying "beginning". To interpret it as 驕 ["Pride", "luxury"] is an error.

Motoori is arguing that the second sentence should be analyzed as in (1) below, and not as in (2):

  1. ... [kakaru [koto no okori]] ni koso ...
    [such-a [thing GEN happening]]
    "Such a happening-of-a-thing, such an occurrence"
  2. ... [[kakaru koto] no okori
    [[such-a thing] GEN happening]
    "The happening of such a thing, such a thing's occurrence"

What difference does this make to the translation? Behold the many versions:

SuematsuThere had been instances in China in which favoritism such as this had caused national disturbance and disaster ... (19)
Waley... [I]n the Land Beyond the Sea such happenings had led to riot and disaster. (7)
SeidenstickerIn China just such an unreasoning passion had been the undoing of an emperor and had spread turmoil through the land. (19)
TylerSuch things had led to disorder and ruin even in China ... (3)

Suematsu's "favoritism" and Seidensticker's "unreasoning passion" both seem to accept the 驕 interpretation Motoori dismisses, although it's possible that both are interpolations, consciously added for an expected audience of enfeebled oafs unable to remember events for more than a sentence at a can has cheezburger lol.

Royall's "such things had led to" seems to be Motoori's forbidden [[kakaru koto] no okori] construction, although it could just be that he is translating koto no okori as "things." (Royall is also the only translator who has "even in China" for morokosi ni mo, which is interesting, but I think I side with the [tacit] "in China, as well" of the other translators.)

Really Waley is the only translator that unambiguously follows Motoori's dictates: "such happenings" is clearly "[kakaru [koto no okori]]". Waley also deserves credit for trying to do something interesting with Morokoshi, an old word that means "China" but certainly feels more like "the Land Beyond the Sea", at least to the modern reader.

Motoori is, of course, not the final authority on these matters, but his interpretations are still highly influential in the world of Genji scholarship. For example, the Shōgakukan Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 新編日本古典文学全集 edition has koto no okori footnoted (Murasaki/Abe et al. 15):

"Koto no okori" as one phrase. Cause, origin.


  • Kitamura, Kigin 北村季吟s. Genji Monogatari: Kogetsu shū (zōchō): Jō. Ed. Arikawa Takehiko 有川武彦. 1982. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002.
  • Murasaki Shikibu. Genji Monogatari 源氏物語. In Abe, Akio 阿部昭夫; Akiyama, Ken 秋山 虔; Imai, Gen'ei 今井源衛; and Suzuki, Hideo 鈴木日出男, eds. Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 20-25. Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1994-1998.
  • —. Seidensticker, Edward G, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 1976. New York: Everyman's Library, 1993.
  • —. Suematsu, Kenchō 末松謙澄, English trans. Genji Monogatari. 1900. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1997.
  • —. Tyler, Royall, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 2001. New York: Penguin, 2002.
  • —. Waley, Arthur, English trans. The Tale of Genji. 1925-1933. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1986.

Popularity factor: 4


Would "Cathay" be a reasonable rendering of Morokoshi?


I would be okay with it. The old-timey, vaguely "over there" feeling is pretty similar. Waley might have wanted to avoid it because he felt that since "Morokoshi" has a few putative etymologies involving "myriad", "crossing", "came (here)" etc. it would be better to use a phrase than a real (!) place name... or he might just not have wanted to remind readers of Ezra Pound's translations.


Would "The Land of Fried Chicken" be a reasonable rendering of Morokoshi?


I would absolutely be okay with that.

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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