The "water of youth" (/wotimidu/) mentioned in last Thursday's post also appears under another name in an essay by Nikolai Nevsky: the incomplete second part of "Tsuki to fushi" 月と不死, collected in the book of the same title. The original is in Japanese; here's an unpolished translation.

On August 17, Taisho 15 [1926], while on the steamer from Harimizu Bay [on Miyako-jima] Naha, Okinawa, I recorded the intriguing legend of the Akariyazagama as related by Mr Kiyomura Kōnin 慶世村恒任 of Hirara. Mr Kiyomura heard it from his grandmother.

I will put off publishing the original text [in Miyako] for now and instead translate it into Japanese...

It seems that the original text was in Nevsky's archives, by the way.

Anyway, the story starts long ago when people first began to live on Miyako. The Sun and Moon decided to present the human race with a longevity medicine that would allow us to retain the beauty we have at birth forever, so they sent the Akariyazagama with two buckets, one containing the water of youth, and one the water of death. Predictably, things go awry, a snake ends up bathing in our water of youth, and the Akariyazagama decides to let humanity bathe in the water of death because that was all that was left.

Here are the phrases Nevsky uses for "water of youth" and "water of death", complete with his phonemic transcription:

  • 変若水 (sïlimizï)
  • 死水 (sïnimizï)

<sïnimizï> is presumably structurally parallel to Japanese shinimizu, i.e. the verb /sin/ (die) + the noun /mizu/ (water) — although in Japanese the word means "water you give to someone as they are dying," so presumably sïnimizï and shinimizu are not cognate even if their component parts are.

Re the first one, I don't understand exactly why there's an <l> in there (could it just be a misprint for <d>?), but since in Japanese it's consistently transcribed as シジミズ (shijimizu), I suppose that the first element is the word commonly transcribed as shiji these days. In Okinawan religion, William P. Lebra describes it this way:

The concept of shiji appears to have undergone considerable revision in recent centuries and to persist in a modified form today. Many people are vague or utterly confused as to its meaning, and leading Okinawan scholars disagree as to its interpretation. Shimabukuro describes it as kami spirit, "shinrei" in Japanese, while Nakahara regards it as a spirit force or power, "reiriki" in Japanese. The distinction hinges essentially on whether shiji is construed as kami spirit or as a force or power emanating and detachable from the kami and hence mana-like. In his study of the Omoro Sōshi (a collection of 1,553 songs, largely of a religious nature dating from prior to the seventeenth century), Nakahara has amassed impressive evidence showing that the high status of female religious functionaries in ancient times rested on their power to invoke and attach shiji. Those things and persons possessing shiji had great power. Shiji present in the water of a well was beneficial to the users; a ship with shiji enjoyed safety at sea; a ruler with shiji was superhuman. (Lebra 1966: 26-27)

(Emphasis mine.)

The OS lyrics do mention shiji a lot. It's spelled せぢ, and isn't cognate to anything in mainland Japanese as far as I know (although the 日本国語大辞典 offers the kanji spelling 勢頭 without any particular explanation or justification). Just paging through the OS lyrics I find multiple examples in the first dozen or so, like #8:

みこゑしゃり、おそわ... (Nakahara and Hokama 1965: 64)

Using Hokama Moriyoshi's Japanese translations for Iwanami as a trot, I get something like: "As the Kikoe-ōkimi/chifijin has bestowed the shiji of the Kyō no uchi, let the islands be at peace, let your voice be heard to keep us safe..." Clearly I need to get much more familiar with this material.

Works cited

  • Hokama, Moriyoshi 外間守善, ed. Omoro Sōshi I おもろさうし 上. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2000.
  • Lebra, William P. Okinawan Religion. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1966.
  • Nakahara, Zenchū 仲原善忠 and Hokama, Moriyoshi 外間守善, eds. Kōhon Omoro Sōshi 校本おもろさうし. Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1965.
  • Nevsky, Nikolai (ed. Oka Masao 岡正雄). Tsuki to Fushi 月と不死. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1971.
  • Nihon Kokugo Daijiten 日本国語大辞典. Shōgakukan 小学館. JapanKnowledge. Web.

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I would think some of the lack of clarity on the *kami* issue would also complicate Okinawan *shiji*....


Nah, it's cool! Any lingering ambiguity can surely be eliminated by defining everything else relative to noroi and/or imi.

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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