So there's a famous bilingual notice at Kōtoku-in, home of the Great Buddha of Kamakura, which reads:


Stranger whosoever thou art and what soever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages.

This is the Temple of BHUDDA and the gate of the Eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.


當山ハ數百年來ノ勤行絶ザル 聖靈ノ佛疆ナリ茲ニ詣ントスル善男善女ハ何人ヲ問ス何ノ宗教ヲ奉スルニ論ナク須ク下示ノ意ヲ道守スベシ


I haven't been able to find a reliable source on when this sign was posted, but it can't have been later than 1895 because that's the year that Natalie B. Grinnell published A Japanese Journey, which quotes the English half of the notice in full. She also offers an explanation for its existence:

Having gazed at Great Buddha until his silent majesty was indelibly impressed upon our minds, and having photographed him from every point, we followed a white clad priest through a low door in the side of the pedestal, and looked up through clouds of incense to the top of the figure. At the height of the shoulders was a wooden platform crowded with gilded copies of the great original, and in front of us was an altar on which a light has been burning, and incense smoking, night and day for many, many years. And all around, on the green undersurface of the bronze, as high as hands could reach, were scrawled in chalk, or scratched with a knife, the names of many individuals whom the fool-killer has not yet had time to remove from the face of the earth! So badly had many of these iconoclasts behaved, that at the entrance to one temple in Kamakura a board was nailed, on which was printed the following dignified and much-needed reproof...

The slight mismatch between the English and Japanese halves of the sign is interesting, too. The Japanese starts by explaining the hallowedness of the ground, and then, with an implied "therefore," explicitly directs all visitors, whosoever they be and whatsoever their creed, to take the final line to heart. The English, however, starts with that attention-grabbing "Stranger," which has no equivalent at all in the Japanese. It makes me wonder where it did come from; it reminds me of the Epitaph of Simonides; perhaps the prior had some help from a Classically educated English gentleman in translating his sign.

Other linguistic points of interest.

  • Misspelling of "Buddha". Well, that's what you get when you filter it through not one, not two, but three languages that don't distinguish aspiration the necessary way. (Or did ancient Chinese distinguish it?)
  • Translation of 如来, usually a Japanese calque for Tathāgata, as "the Eternal."

Popularity factor: 10


What I remember from the Kamakura Daibutsu is there's a sign that says in Japanese, "Hey, temple stamp books are a sacred thing for pilgrims! Don't put train stamps in them!" Mine, of course, is full of train stamps as well as temple calligraphy.


Thanks for sharing this. Whoever translated this into Classical English must have had some real respect for the temple. It's rare to see well written signs like this on temples, and I've never heard of such a notice outside Japan (British regularly defiled the Burmese temples by leaving their shoes on).


That little O Henry piece is a treasure.

Samir Unni:

It looks like the Japanese text originates from kanbun. Do you know what the source is?


My guess is that the prior just wrote it that way, in heavily kanbun-influenced Japanese. He would certainly have been familiar with the style, and all those sentences starting with "kore wa" and ending with "nari" aren't very Sinitic.


People were writing prefaces to books in kanbun in the 1890s besides. (Alas, it's fancy show-off kanbun more than just practical easier-to-read stuff.)

But no, I don't think it seems very kanbun-ish, not any more than a lot of non-poetic writing to me. Sure, Natsume Soseki it ain't. But it doesn't have some of the more marked signs of kanbun besides (just using 也 for なり isn't much of anything--talking more 不忍 for しのばず sorts); all the 再読字 are written fully out besides. (At least not any more than politicians using 如何 all the time.)


"Misspelling of "Buddha". Well, that's what you get when you filter it through not one, not two, but three languages that don't distinguish aspiration the necessary way. (Or did ancient Chinese distinguish it?)"

There was that whole thing on PMJS recently on the transcription of sanskrit, wherein this was addressed, I think.


It's true that the actual orthography doesn't require actual kanbun-style interpretation, but stuff like 茲二 and 須ク strikes me as pretty kanbun-y (although, as you say, that's not at all unusual for non-poetic writing of the Meiji period).

That was a great thread on PMJS. IIRC the conclusion was that in these transcriptions retroflex and non-retroflex /d/ were distinguished, but I don't remember aspiration receiving the same treatment.


The annual language survey is getting some coverage in the press again:


The Asahi summary is mostly behind a paywall:



Thanks for the reminder! I'll look into that more closely.

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