Oden outreach

I like the idea that someone working at a convenience store got paid to make this:

Interesting that maki ("wrap", sort of) got transliterated instead of translated.



Hey, I found another good item for my "Meiji writers complain about traditional Japanese literature" collection. This one is from part II of Yosano "Tekkan" Hiroshi 与謝野寛/鐵幹's 1894 The nation's death-knell: A denunciation of the unmanly waka of the contemporary age (亡国の音 現代の非丈夫的和歌を罵る):


There are proponents for the abolition of prostitution; there are proponents for the prohibition of alcohol. Why have we not yet seen a single advocate for the boycotting of contemporary waka?

In retrospect it seems bizarre to advocate, even tongue-in-cheek, for an official ban on a poetic form. But one must remember that 1894 was decades before the US would enact its ill-advised constitutional amendment prohibiting the limerick; Tekkan had no way of foreseeing the resultant explosion in crime and tourism to Nantucket, no matter how inevitable an outcome it seems to us in the modern age.

The title, 亡国の音, is actually a classical reference, specifically to the Record of music 樂記:

聲音之道、與政通矣 [...] 鄭衛之音、亂世之音也。比於慢矣。桑間濮上之音、亡國之音也。

There is an interaction between the words and [musical] airs (of the people) and the character of their government. ... The airs of Kang and Wei were those of an age of disorder, showing that those states were near such an abandoned condition. The airs near the river Pû, at the mulberry forest, were those of a state going to ruin. (Legge's translation)

"The airs near the river Pû" is a typically multi-layered classical reference; the best explanation I found in English is on John Thompson's qin page.



In The Shamisen: Tradition and Diversity (2010), Henry Johnson says:

Throughout its history in Japan since the late sixteenth century, the shamisen has been an instrument that ha shad a special association with blind men in several of its performance genres. The Tōdō, which means literally "this way" or "our way", was an organization of blind men, and music was one profession deemed suitable for this part of Japanese society. (p48)

I had never thought about the word "Tōdō" 当道 before. It's true that a naiive reading of the kanji would be "this way" or "our way", but is that really the etymology?

Apparently, yes! Nakayama Matsunosuke 中山松之助's entry for "Tōdō" in the Kokushi Daijiten 国史大辞典 quotes turns of phrase from Ryūen 龍円's Bunkidan 文机談 like "かゝる僧当道に侍らず" ("monks such as this are not of our way") to demonstrate that it was indeed a word used starting around the Kamakura period by professional musicians to describe what they did. ("Our thing.") This usage then expanded to refer to the group the players formed, and was eventually adopted by others to describe the group as well.

( is not exactly equivalent to "our" — it's more like "the X in question", so it certainly meets the minimum requirement of "not liable to cause Abbott-and-Costelloid confusion".)

The more you know!