This has got to be the greatest example of ateji ever: kokkuri, the etymologically onomatopoeic name for a table-turning-style divination game hugely popular in the post-Meiji Restoration period, spelt "狐狗狸": "Kitsune, tengu, tanuki".

What is interesting is, as Michael Dylan Foster points out in Pandemonium and parade: Japanese monsters and the culture of yōkai, is that

this association of the kitsune, tengu, and tanuki transcends the name of the game and comes to be literally embedded in the practice. [Early kokkuri debunker Inoue] Enryō's informant from Miyagi Prefecture, for example, describes the construction of the apparatus: "Into the bamboo rods insert tags inscribed with the words kitsune, tengu, and tanuki" [...] And in Ibaraki Prefecture: "Trace the characters on the underside of a tray with the tip of your finger, and cover with a cloth" [...] The inscription of these three yōkai endows the otherwise mundane structure with a supernatural quality. Operating through the principles of sympathetic magic, the graphs serve as metonymic representations, their presence a sort of lightning rod to call down the spirits they signify.

"This picture shows [each person using] one hand, but [in reality] both hands must be placed [on the apparatus]."

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Leonardo Boiko:

Surely kanji work as symbolic, not metonymic, magic? Metonymic sympathetic magic would use tanuki hairs or something. A case could be made for pictographs as working within the law of similarity (Pierce’s “icon”), but…

Speaking of ateji, I just spotted a neat one in the ending lyrics for Tenkū Senki Shurato: 迷図 to spell メイズ。


Yes, now that you mention it "metonymic" doesn't seem like quite the right word here. I suppose the idea is that "kitsune" etc. (really all just words for animals) are metonymy for the idea of magic in general, although it's a bit undermined by the fact that... well, actual kitsune etc. were supposed to possess the kokkuri-san (at least in some traditions).


Remove the tengu and this word becomes 狐狸, a swindler. In fact, a book I just read refers to a Chinese-style seance that most present believed to be a failure, and it says that they considered it to be a 狐狸 (i.e. a trickster spirit) and not a true 神. Interesting that kokkuri-san would call for people to summon these lower spirits, known for tricking and bewitching people, and not any actual ghosts or ancestors.


It is kind of ironic, isn't it? Presumably 狐狗狸 was just a nicely magical-seeming ateji someone came up with, and the idea that ACTUAL foxes etc. would possess the device arose as a result of this character choice.


Your blog engine can't handle the macron in the next post's title. You probably need to go back and rename the post and/or upgrade your blog.


My blog can handle it, but apparently my host can't...

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