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Let's talk holly. The standard translation (by Matsuzaki Isao 松崎功, about whom I know nothing) of Deck the halls starts out:

Hiiragi kazarou, fa ra ra etc.
Haregi ni kigaete, fa ra ra etc.
Karoru o utaou, fa ra ra etc.
Tanoshii kono toki, fa ra ra etc.

Let us decorate with [false] holly, fa la la etc.
Changing into our best clothes, fa la la etc.
Let us sing carols, fa la la etc.
[At] this jolly time, fa la la etc.

It's rearranged and simplified a bit, but you can see it's all there. But what's up with the holly?

Hiiragi is often pressed into service as a Japanese translation for "holly" (in the Christmassy sense), but in fact it's a different plant: Osmanthus heterophyllus, a.k.a. "false holly". Completely different order from actual holly.

As Wikipedia notes, the Old Japanese ancestor of hiiragi appears in the Kojiki. Etymologically it's supposed to be mimetic of the painful aftereffects of touching the plant (and therefore related to words like modern-day piri-piri, signifying among other things the mouthfeel of a spicy curry). The word also appears in the 10th-century Tosa Nikki:


In Flora Best Harris's translation:

1st Day, First Month.—New Year's day; but the ship still remains in the same place. Expecting to make use of the spicy flavor provided for our wine, it had been fastened on the roof of the cabin at nights, but the wind happening to rise, it was carried away, and lost in the sea. Besides, as this place is in the rural regions, we were not able to purchase potatoes, rice cakes, or edible seaweed; so that our only feast was soup made with the fish called "ai" dried and pressed; and with this as a relish we sipped our wine.

No doubt the ai, as he entered our lips, thought to himself:

"How luckless am I to be saluted by the lips of ancients like these!"

We on our part thought only of Kyoto with longings in which regret was mingled. "I wonder," we said to each other," how it is in Kyoto to day. Are the decorations of straw rope, the Nayoshi's head, holly, and the like displayed before the Imperial Gateway?"

As you can see, it isn't translated "holly," but rather — oh. Come on, Flora Best Harris, you had one job!

Merry Christmas, thanks for reading, and see you next year!

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The first sentence of the translation baffled me until I read the Japanese. I think "spicy flavouring" might have worked better...


Yeah, I had to read it a couple of times myself. (Still clearer than Genji though.)

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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