Back in 2011, some broken ninth-century pottery with hiragana written on it was unearthed at the site of Fujiwara no Yoshimi's residence. It wasn't clear what the writing on it meant, and the official best guess was that it was "いくよしみすらキれ□□ち" (ikuyo shimi sura kire ___ ___ chi - the blanks are illegible or missing), which is basically nonsense. But, good news! Professor Nanjō Kayo 南條佳代 of Bukkyō University (specialty: kana calligraphy of the Heian period) may have solved the mystery.

According to Nanjō's analysis, the shards were misread. You can see a visual summary here, but basically her argument is that the shard actually says "いくよしもあらし わかみを" (ikuyo shi mo arashi / waka mi wo), which, with voicing added, is a fragment of this Kokin waka shū poem (author unknown):

Ikuyo shimo/ araji wa ga mi wo/ nazo mo kaku/ ama no karu mo ni/ omoi-midaruru
"I surely will not live forever; why then, must my thoughts be as tangled and snarled as the seaweed the fisherwomen harvest?"

As someone still very much struggling with the vast mass of tangled seaweed that is premodern (particularly pre-Edo) Japanese orthography — not to mention all the poems I'm supposed to have memorized before I read any of the subsequent literature — it's very reassuring to learn that even the real experts need a few years to think about these things.



The koto piece "Kogō no kyoku" ("The Song of Kogō") and the Noh play Kogō (translation and more by Michael Watson available here) are both based on the same well-known episode in the Heike monogatari.

To summarize, Emperor Takakura's beloved Kogō has fled to Saga fearing the wrath of Taira no Kiyomori (to whose daughter Taira no Tokuko Emperor Takakura was already married). The Emperor sends Nakakuni to find Kogō based on a single lead: she's staying in a place with a "single-hinged folding door", kata-orido. Fortunately, Nakakuni hears her playing her koto and singing of her love for the Emperor as he passes by that door, and after taking out his flute to play along a little, successfully completes his mission. The image of Nakakuni and Kogō separated by the kata-orido was a very popular one (try looking in museum catalogs for "Nakakuni"), but more interesting to me is the fate of the word kata-orido.

Paul S. Atkins points out in Revealed identity: the Noh plays of Komparu Zenchiku that kata-orido is one of the "few distinctive phrases [in the Noh play] that can be directly identified as coming from Heike". The koto piece has slightly more Heike material (for example, it opens with the extended Heike quotation "'Ojika naku kono yamazato' to eiji ken, Saga no atari no aki no koro....," i.e. "Saga in autumn, of which the poet sang, 'This mountain village where the stags call'..."), but the word kata-orido retains a particular importance in the lyrics — it comes at a major climax right before the instrumental break diegetically representing Kogō's playing.

The fact is that by the Edo period at the latest the word kata-orido had become sufficient to evoke the whole scene. Consider this senryū from Haikai mutamagawa:

垣間見の 尻ハ出て居 片折戸
The peeper's / butt is sticking out/ kata-orido

In Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies, R.H. Blyth translates this:

Out of the wicket/ Protrude the buttocks/ Of the peeping chap

... but this will not do. The joke here is the sudden reveal that the ridiculous peeping Tom of the first two lines (all right, ku) is actually the noble Nakakuni — that we have been tricked into seeing the Kogō episode as a case of sordid voyeurism. All accomplished with a single word that, etymologically/morphologically speaking, doesn't even hint at the weight it carries.


Knife and fork

From Okada Tetsu 岡田哲's Meiji yōshoku kotohajime 明治洋食事始め ("The dawn of Western food [culture in Japan] during the Meiji period") (Kōdansha 2012):

When eating Western cuisine, to use a knife and fork required truly death-defying courage. Ōno Tanizō 大野谷蔵 of the Kaiyōtei 開陽亭in Yokohama, recalls guests coming for Western food in the early days of that restaurant who cut the inside of their mouths terribly using the knives and forks that were supplied instead of chopsticks. Nor did they know how to deal with the soup. Some would pick up the soup dish and try to drink directly from it as if it were a miso soup bowl, only to drench themselves in hot soup from chest to lap. Others would spear chunks of meat on their knives, then withdraw the knives from their closed mouths and slice open their lips. Such mishaps were an almost daily occurence.

Chopsticks can be a challenge at first, but at least you can't cut yourself on them.


Gagaku documentaries on YouTube

I just noticed that the William H. Malm-hosted documentary Gagaku: The Court Music of Japan is on YouTube in its entirety! Great watching if you're into gagaku (the court music of Japan).

The Kyoto City University of Arts' Research Center for Japanese Traditional Music (京都市立芸術大学 日本伝統音楽研究センター) has also put some interesting performances online, apparently reconstructed (by them) from Heian/Kamakura manuscripts rather than inheriting an active transmission. Seigaiha 青海波 ("Waves on the Blue Sea") is one of a series focusing on the music of the Tale of Genji (which you can see collected on this page); this solo koto performance of Bushō Taiheiraku 武昌太平楽 may be more to the tastes of those who for some reason don't enjoy high-register wind instruments playing slightly out of tune with each other. (Barbarians!)

Bonus: Here's another enjoyable documentary about the Music Department of the Imperial Household (宮内庁式部職楽部)'s appearance at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival. No Malm, but a lot of footage of actual court musicians explaining what it is they do and how they think.


Readers as sons-in-law

Available on SHARP's "Translations" page right now: Peter Kornicki's translation [PDF] of a Hamada Keisuke 濱田啓介 article on Bakin and his market. As Kornicki explains in his introduction [PDF]:

Professor Hamada wrote this article at the age of 23 while a graduate student at Kyoto University and it rapidly achieved the status of a classic article. Its significance lies in its insistence, startling at the time, on the fundamental importance of appreciating the market place in which commercial fiction was produced in Japan.

A great quote in the paper from Kyōden on kashihon'ya, for-profit book lenders:

The publishers are the parents, those who are kind enough to read the books are the son-in-law and the kashihon'ya are the go-betweens. ... The son-in-law who reads the books tends not to like them but the kashihon'ya use their go-between language to say "I have got just the girl for you", making the best out of a bad job and persuading him, and so it is that an unpromising girl meets with a suitable son-in-law. This is entirely due to the persuasion of the go-between kashihon'ya whom we rely upon.

It's worth noting that kashihon'ya were an important part of the Japanese literary market well into the postwar period, and even today chains like Tsutaya rent out comic books along with DVDs and CDs.


Falling leaves

Chūka jakuboku shishō 中華若木詩抄 ("Selection of Chinese and Japanese poetry") is a 16th-century-ish example of the shōmono 抄物 genre: books explaining classical or otherwise elevated literary works in the contemporary vocabulary. This shishō in particular is a sort of intro to Zen poetry for new initiates.

Number 218 in Ōtsuka Mitsunobu 大塚光信, Ozaki Yūjirō 尾崎雄二郎 and Asakura Hisashi 朝倉尚's 1995 edition for Iwanami Shoten is "Falling leaves" (落葉) by a 14th-century Rinzai monk from Tosa named Gidō Shūshin 義堂周信, and goes like this:


The night is rainy — seu seu — into the early morn
Within the gloom I heard it all, and now the dawn is here
I open up the door, just to see what lies outside
The truth: the sound I heard was just the falling wutong leaves

Seu seu 蕭々 is, very conveniently, mimetic for lonely natural sounds and atmospheres in general, not just rain.

The bulk of the Chūka jakuboku shishō's commentary on this poem is about the fact that it contains its own title. Generally, we are told, it's better for this not to happen, although it's not so bad if it does. Better to use the title in the poem than to go to such tortuous lengths to avoid it that the poem itself suffers. On the other hand, if the characters of the title must be used in the poem, they should at least not appear together. Or maybe it's okay for them to appear like that if it's at the start of the first line, because after all that's how the Classic of Poetry is presented, and Du Fu was prone to this editorial technique too. But in this poem it appears in the fourth line! But this is an old (上古) poem, from the days before Jueju were "beautifully ordered". All in all, today's students should be wary of following its example too blindly.

(The editors of the Iwanami edition observe in a footnote that the schizophrenic back-and-forth in this passage looks like multiple editors arguing with each other, but the text itself does not delineate different voices.)

Incidentally, according to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the jakuboku 若木 in the title of this book originally (i.e. in Chinese) referred to a mythical tree at the westernmost extremity of the Earth, behind which the sun set. How did this come to mean "Japan"? Simple confusion with fusō 扶桑, a mythical tree at the easternmost extremity of the Earth, which had a much more logical association with Japan.