Shichiku taizen (糸竹大全, "String and bamboo omnibus") is a book of and about shamisen, (hitoyogiri) shakuhachi and koto music, published in 1699 (although parts appeared in print earlier). Presumably the goal was to cash in on the demand for tripartite books about music first tapped by the 1664 Shichiku shoshinshū (糸竹初心集, "String and bamboo beginner's anthology"); parts of the Taizen even explicitly claim to remedy perceived defects in the older work, such as the lack of lyrics ("すでに糸竹初心抄 [sic!] 洞蕭鐘曲などいふありて世に弄時行といへども手のみありて曲なし今此書は九十の手に亂曲小唄の唱歌あまたをそへて吹ようを付きのふやけふエチリチをならふ童蒙達に便りす").

I don't have much to say about the book itself today, but the first part, about the hitoyogiri and originally published as a standalone work in 1687, has an interesting title: Ikanobori 紙鳶. This means "kite", and don't let the straight-from-Chinese kanji spelling ("paper hawk") fool you: the etymology is "squid streamer."

But wait — Wasn't the Japanese word for "kite" actually tako, homophonous with and probably deriving from the word for "octopus"? Turns out that tako is the Edo word for "kite", and up until the great linguistic levelling of the Meiji period the Kansai area used ika[nobori]. The Nihon kokugo daijiten points out that in the deep north and far west, there's still another family of words in use, based on the root hata (perhaps related to hata meaning "loom"?).

So the "center and periphery" model of language change would suggest that hata was the original word, later supplanted by tako, itself later replaced by ika (at least in the Kansai region — presumably the center shifted to Edo before the word was able to fully propagate, Maeda Isamu 前田勇's Edo-go no jiten (江戸語の辞典, "Dictionary of Edoese") has an entry for ikanobori, but calls it a loan (着用語) from the Kansai area (上方). Of course, the real story is probably more complicated than a simple wave-based model, but it seems that kites simply weren't mentioned in much writing between the Heian and Edo periods, and evidence is scarce. Makimura Shiyō 牧村史陽's Ōsaka kotoba jiten (大阪ことば事典, "Encyclopedia of Osakan dialect/words") has what looks like a pretty thorough if (understandably) Ōsaka-centric review of what historical evidence exists in its ikanobori entry.

But why is the flute section of the Shichiku taizen called "The Kite"? Because "more blowing means better results" — fuku ni agaru. This literally means "as [someone or something] blows, [someone or something [else]] rises," so it's a better pun in the original than my translation suggests.

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"tako, homophonous with and probably deriving from the word for 'octopus'": How did that derivation work, given that kites and octopuses don't seem to have much, if anything, in common? Did medieval Japanese kites look like octopuses, perhaps? Or was it something to do with the number eight?


Yes Patrick, te frame of a basic Japanese square kite is four crossed sticks, giving 8 "arms."



Thanks for that!

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