Bug Music

So I'm reading David Rothenberg's Bug Music. It's good! I like it. But the quotations of Japanese poetry are pretty badly askew.

For example, as an epigraph we have:

Mushi kiku to
Honashi na kiku to
Betsu no mimi

Some hear bug music
Some hear people music
All depends on your ears

—Wâfu, 1866, Kyoto

Rothenberg cites another source for this (Land of the Locusts part 4, vol. 1, by Keith Kevan and Vernon Vickery), so these errors might not be due to him-or-his-editor, but...

  1. It should be "Hanashi wo", not "Honashi na"
  2. It should be "Wafû", not "Wâfu" (the poem is by Andō Harukaze 安藤和風, poet name Wafū 和風)
  3. The year definitely should not be 1866, as that was the year Wafū was born.

The closest thing to this haiku that I've been able to find was published in 1931, in a collection called Adabana (page 205):

Mushi kiku to/ hanashi kiku/ betsu-betsu no mimi
insects hear AND/ speech hear/ separate ears

This is a bit different from the cited version, but not in any way that matters. And it wouldn't be unusual for there to be multiple versions of the poem floating around, anyway.

The translation in the epigram is Rothenberg's, and I'm of two minds about it. There's nothing corresponding to "music" in the source, but this is clearly a bit of poetic license to match the title (and theme) of his book. Matching "bug music" with "people music," where the referent of the latter is just talking (hanashi), is a nice, sly joke.

On the other hand I have my doubts about "some... some... all depends on your ears". I don't think that Wafū was trying to divide humanity into refined bug-appreciators and anthropocentric brutes; I think his point was just that one listens to insects and speech in different ways. (Which is kind of ironic given the idea that later arose about Japanese speakers hearing insects, animals, bubbling brooks, etc. with the language-y part of their brain.)

Whatever, though: awkward misprint, difference of interpretation. On page 34 though we have this:

The voice "ta-te-te":
How do you produce the call?
The cicada's husk—
How can I leave my body?
I do not believe I know!
   —Fusatai Susume, c. 1186

This one appears in the Eikyū Hyakushu 永久百首, published in Eikyū 4, or 1116 CE. It's credited to 大進, "Daijin", full name given as 女房大臣 — "Nyōbō Daijin", or "Lady Daijin". I assume that "Fusatai Susume" is a misreading of the characters. The original is:

こゑたてて いかになくらむ うつせみの わか身からとは おもひしらすや
Koe tatete/ ika ni naku ramu/ utsusemi no/ wa ga migara to wa/ omoisirazu ya
How can it raise its voice and sing? Does it not realize that its being is in vain?

I don't claim to have produced the definitive translation there, but, for example, tatete in the first line is definitely "raise", not any sort of onomatopoeia. The call of the cicada (this poem is in the "cicada" section of the collection) was never written tatete, and the phrasing koe tatete is used for all kinds of animals, from frogs to deer. Similarly, it looks like "leave my body" comes from a misreading of migara (body, self) as mi kara (from the/my body). And so on.

Kevan's Land of the Locusts is cited for this one, too (vol. 2 this time), but there's no note about where the translation comes from. It may not be Rothenberg's. Still, it would have been nice if someone during the editing process had done a quick check through for issues like this. There isn't exactly a shortage of Japanese entomologists willing to talk about the long and proud history of their subject.

Nitpicking (ha!) aside, though, I do like this book. As a student of Japanese literature I dutifully noted the beauty of insect song, but this is the best book I've read on appreciating it as music.



"MinikuLOVE" is a service that will hold on to your old-flame memorabilia for you so that you don't have to worry about your current flame stumbling upon it while you're in the shower. You can also pay an exorbitant fee to have a professional recording made of any love letters that might be in the box.

Is this real? Is anything? I don't even know any more.

Certainly the parent company is real. The whole thing seems to basically be a stunt to promote their API.

Here's the linguistic side. Mini and "love" are from English, of course. Kura is a very old Japanese word for a storehouse, which may have originally derived from a word meaning "place where things go/sit", as seen in old words like takakura "high seat", negura "sleeping place [for birds]", etc. The non-obvious part is that in Japanese "love" traditionally becomes rabu — so "MinikuLOVE" is actually just "Minikura" + bu.



Another one from Satō Issai 佐藤一斎's 19th-century Genshi shiroku 言志四録 ("Saying what I think: Four records"):

Musical instruments are in the hall; they can be heard in every direction. This is renown. A boulder falls into a valley; the reverberations shake the very earth. This is accomplishment.

Here Satō is referring to the distinction Confucius makes in Analect 12.20 between 聞 ("renown", or "notoriety" in Legge's translation linked above) and 達 ("accomplishment", or "distinction" in Legge). Anyone can draw attention to themselves. Not everyone has the kind of virtuous gravitas that attracts attention naturally.



From Satō Issai 佐藤一斎's 19th-century Genshi shiroku 言志四録 ("Saying what I think: Four records"):

One gazes at the moon to appreciate its purity, not its phase or visibility. One gazes at the flowers to appreciate their vitality, not their color or fragrance.

So, for those keeping score at home, not only are we to look at the moon, not the finger, we must also avoid paying too much attention to whether the moon is full, obscured by clouds, etc.

Or, put a bit less facetiously, Satō is directing us to look beyond outer forms. I do not think it is a coincidence, for example, that this item mentions the moon and flowers specifically — a dyad symbolizing nature as an object of elegant appreciation in the Sinosphere generally ("春江花月夜"), and the subject of Japan's two great "viewing" traditions, hanami and tsukimi.

(Note also that the early history of hanami involved appreciation of plum (ume) blossoms rather than sakura; the specific flower viewed is clearly not the point.)

Update: Should that translation actually be something like "... appreciate its purity, which is not found within its phase or visibility"?



There were a few news stories last week about North Korean drones (in South Korea), but I didn't notice the linguistic connection until now.

According to the Washington Post, for example:

South Korean officials suspect the drones were from North Korea because Korean-language letters on their batteries are written in North Korean style, [Defense Ministry spokesman] Kwon [Kihyeon] said.

Chosun Online reports:


Roughly: "It was learned that the drone that crashed had "起用日" and "使用中止日" written on the batteries on its engine in Hangul. The character [corresponding to] "日" was written in the North Korean orthography, which differs from the South Korean."

An article from the JoongAng Ilbo further reports that "起用日" is not a word in use in South Korea at all, although they assume it means the day when the product began to be used.

The orthography in question was apparently "기용날자"; you can see a picture here. The South Korean way to write this would, I am given to understand, be "기용날짜". So the spelling is equivalent to nalja (North) or naljja (South), I guess. This seems to be a case of what Wikipedia calls Indication of tensed consonants after word endings that end with ㄹ, although that very heading appears to be a mistranslation: the Japanese version of that section clearly specifies word endings that include ㄹ, and notes that the two examples given are not exhaustive. In any case it appears to be a purely orthographic difference.

(Note: After figuring this out, I was able to search for "nalja" and "naljja" and found this article at the Kyunghyan Shinmun, which seems to back up what I pieced together. Whew.)

Any Koreanists in the audience want to correct and/or elaborate on this? For example, where did this difference come from in the first place — does it reflect regional variation or uneven evolution?



Here's a mysterious entry from the Shinsen inu tsukuba shū 新選犬筑波集 ("Newly selected mongrel Tsukuba anthology"):

Tsuki omoshirokarikeru yoru kuriuchi nado iu waza asobikeru ni:
  Yama no ha ni/ tsuki wa ide kuri/ muku yo kana
Playing "chestnuts" on a night with a brilliant moon:
   At the mountain's edge/ the moon comes out - a night to peel/ boiled chestnuts

So, the point of this poem is the overlap between tsuki wa ide (moon comes out) and idekuri ("boiled chestnuts"). I could not figure out a way to recreate anything corresponding to this in my translation. Ide is from ideru, a variant of contemporary yuderu "boil" (compare /iku/ vs /yuku/) which appears in the Jesuit Vocabulario:

Ide, zzuru, eta. Cozer couſas de comer.
Ide, zzuru, eta. Cook things to eat.

The mysterious part is that no-one knows what kuriuchi, which I have translated "chestnuts" and which literally means "chestnut-hitting," actually was. It's mentioned in a few contemporary sources, so it seems to have been a thing (as the kids say), but no-one bothered to actually write down the rules. The Nihon kokugo daijiten points out that we do know what "walnuts" (kurumiuchi) was — basically marbles, except with walnuts — and hypothesizes that "chestnuts" was similar.