Dann ist das in meinem Herzen

Soprano Mitsuko Shirai, as quoted by Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer in his book of conversations with Hosokawa Toshio, Toshio Hosokawa: Stille und Klang, Schatten und Licht:

Wenn ich auf Japanish "ich" singe, ist das einen Meter von mir weg, aber wenn ich in einem deutschen Lied, einem Schubert-Lied "ich" singe, dann ist das in meinem Herzen.

The context is Sparrer and Hosokawa having the usual discussion of communitarianism vs individualism (sparked by Hosokawa remarking that his grandmother had very little "Ich"), so I assume that we are to take Shirai's remarks as emblematic of contrasting cultural attitudes to the self. But I couldn't help thinking that the paucity of Japanese Lieder-qua-Lieder (Romantic poetry + piano) on a Schubertian level may also be at work here.

Bonus Shirai, from Benjamin Ivry's "Mitsuko Shirai and the Art of German Lieder":

The Japanese music critics were about to give us a prize for one of our CDs, but none of them knew enough German to say whether my pronunciation of the language was truly idiomatic. So they consulted a German colleague in Tokyo, and he assured them that my German was fine. So we got the prize, after all.



Another one from the Gōdanshō 江談抄, while I have it down from the shelf (specifically, Yamane Taisuke 山根對助 and Satake Akihiro 佐竹昭広's 2005 edition for Iwanami Shoten's Shin Nihon Bungaku Taikei series). This one is attributed to "江相公", "Associate Counselor [Ō]e", which Yamane and Satake note might be either Ōe no Asatsuna 大江朝綱 or Ōe no Otohito 大江音人 (Asatsuna's father), but probably the former since the notes on the next poem unambiguously refer to Asatsuna with the same terminology.

The context: "On growing a mulberry tree under the southern staircase."

莫言撫養猶如子 此字反音是息郎
Don't say I care for and raise it as if it were [my] child/ The fǎnqiè of the character ["mulberry tree"] is "son-boy"

"Mulberry tree" is written 桑, sang in the Baxter/Sagart reconstruction of Middle Chinese. The Kangxi Dictionary gives the pronunciation instructions "息郎切", meaning "initial from 息, rhyme from 郎". In MC again, these were sik and lang respectively: s- + -ang = sang. (This also works if you break up the current Sino-Japanese pronunciations, but Mandarin has changed too much.)

Now 息 originally means "breath", but eventually developed the meaning "child" (Kroll marks this as a medieval meaning). Meanwhile 郎 was a respectful term for a gentleman, then for a youth in general, finally coming to imply "son" (this may be Japan-only). So this poem is one big dictionary joke: Of course I treat my mulberry trees like my kids! The two words used to explain the pronunciation of the very word "mulberry tree" imply "son"!

A further note to this poem says:


People at the time praised this [poem]. A person envious of [the author's] accomplishment said, "[He] thought of this poem first and then planted [the tree]." The Associate Counselor heard this and laughed.

Notice that the esteemed Associate Counselor didn't deny the accusation.


Azuma kagami and Wuqi jing bu

From the weird footnotes to history department: "Azuma kagami and Wuqi jing bu: Historical Evidence of Sino-Japanese Cultural Interaction" [PDF], a 1980 paper by Feng Zuozhe and Wang Xiaoqiu translated in 2003 by Joshua F. Fogel for Sino-Japanese Studies.

In the Qianlong 乾隆 period, the following case cropped up unexpectedly. At this time, the Qing government prohibited the local minting of private currency. There was discovered by chance along a certain coastal area a copper coin on which was cast the characters "Guanyong tongbao" 寛永通宝 (Japanese, "Kan'ei tsūhō" or "currency of the Kan'ei reign period"). The official in the Board of Revenue which handled financial administrative matters reported to the emperor that China had never had the reign title "Guanyong," and that he did [not] know from whence this money had come to China. The Qianlong Emperor soon ordered his provincial magistrates to investigate the background of this currency, but no one knew anything. "The prefects and district magistrates were all flustered and at a loss as to what to do." Finally, a scholar from the Suzhou area by the name of Wang Huiyin 王慧音 realized that it was a Japanese coin. The basis for his judgment was the mention of a Japanese reign period "Kan'ei" in the essay "Wuqi jing ba" in Zhu Yizun's Pushu ting ti [juan 44]. He reasoned further that it was highly probable that this coin was carried home by a Chinese merchant returning from Japan where he had bartered with copper. Based on the facts contained in Wang Huiyin's analysis, the Jiangsu 江蘇 Provincial Governor Chen Hongmou 陳宏謀 reported to the throne and resolved this difficult matter. "It was only because a literatus knew the title Azuma kagami, but when he sought out this book he was unable to obtain it."

Although highly dissatisfied with the state of Chinese scholarship on Japan in the late Ming and early Qing, everyone was hoping for the publication of a detailed introduction on the situation in Japan. For a long time, no one wrote such an introductory work which was accurate in its details. Finally, in the Jiaqing reign period, a "classical scholar from a remote area" (Wujiang 吳江 county, Jiangsu) by the name of Weng Guangping 翁広平, "devoted seven years and went through five drafts in composing the Wugi jing bu [Emendations to the Azuma kagami].

Weng's quoted commentary on the Azuma kagami will amuse any connoisseur of grave Sinitic scholasticism. (Sample: "Did it have to record the weather for every day of every month?")

Turns out that Sino-Japanese Studes has a whole page of articles in PDF form, if that's your thing.



Tom Mazanec has started "a new series of blog posts called Sidestreets."

These are the extraneous historical and cultural details that I come across on a daily basis but contribute nothing to the arguments I develop in my research. They are the shiny little nuggets of ordinary rock that are sifted out when you pan for gold. They are all the roads not taken because they probably lead to dead ends.

The first post is about "ash animals." I realized after posting my comment there that these turn up in the (ca 1000 CE) Wakan Rōeishū 和漢朗詠集 too, in a Chinese poem in the "Fireplace" (炉火) section by Sugawara no Sukeaki 菅原輔昭, one of the Thirty-Six Heian-era Immortals of Poetry (中古三十六歌仙, not to be confused with the original Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry):

I may have been drunk beneath the nightingales and flowers on many occasions/ But how could I depart from my place by the ash animal these days?

The ash-animal here is understood not just to be for warmth, but also for warming up drinks. (Side-note: Given the Japanese reading sumi, in Japan at least they were probably understood to be made of charcoal rather than ash, but I'll stick with Tom's terminology.) Kōda Toshio 甲田利雄's 1987 edition of the Gōdanshō, which also contains this poem, includes a note alongside it (p 413): "獣炭羊琇所作也". This more or less means "Ash animals: as made by Yáng Xiù", explicitly linking this poem to precisely the criticisms of Yáng mentioned by Tom. Not to make a point about inequality, mind you — just so that we realize that Sugawara is actually heating up some booze in the second line there. (The WR was a collection of poems to be sung by the literate elite of Heian Japan — not a group overburdened with egalitarian ideals.)

In other words: as much as he enjoyed drinking outside in spring, by winter Sugawara was a slave to the ash animal. Pretty much the kotatsu of Heian Japan, then.


Especially the syncopations

The Pali Text Society has let A. K. Warder's Pāli Metre fall out of print, and are now offering it in PDF format instead: here.

§30. The standpoint of the present work is more independent of the traditions of Greek scholars than these other contributions, or those of Helmer Smith, have been. There appears to be no reason to suppose that the Indian rhythms had any special resemblance to the rhythms of Greek metres. On the contrary the impression of the present writer is that those Western scholars with a Western Classical education who read, for example, ("Classical") Sanskrit poetry according to the habits of scansion they acquired when studying Greek poetry, thereby destroy the beauty, the variety and especially the syncopations of the Indian rhythms. Indian scholars do not recite Sanskrit poetry in that manner. Their renderings encouraged the present writer to follow his inclination as a music lover (with more training in music, Western and Indian, than in Greek and Latin), fascinated by what appeared to him to be the musical rhythms of, in particular, akṣaracchandases ("fixed syllabic" metres), to take the Sanskrit patterns in a strictly "measured" manner. Instead of reducing them to the regular feet of Greek metrics, through anceps, "drag" and the like, he thus realized an immense variety of different rhythms. If the scansion of all these akṣaracchandases should be limited to a few trochaic, dactylic, etc., patterns as in Greek, why are there so many of them in regular and carefully contrasted use?

(For a less exhaustive overview of the topic, try Ven. Ānandajoti's Outline of the Metres in the Pāḷi Canon.)



Today I read Ōno Yasuhiro 大野雍煕's "Man'yōshū to kosenryū bungei ku", an article about early literary senryū (as opposed to senryū about daily life, love, etc.) that refer to the Man'yōshū. This is the funniest example it records.

The Man'yōshū poem referred to is #1511, in volume 8:

暮去者 小倉乃山尓 鳴鹿者 今夜波不鳴 寐宿家良思母
yupu sareba/ wogura no yama ni/ naku sika pa/ koyopi pa nakazu/ inenikyerasi mo

It is attributed to Emperor Jomei (593-641), and because it is so famous I can offer you three different translations (thanks, Google Books!):

  • The deer at Ogura Mountain, which cries when evening arrives, appears to have fallen asleep without crying (Shirane: 29)
  • The deer in Ogura Mountain cry, when the evening comes, but they are not crying tonight, so they have probably gone to sleep (Frellesvig: 117)
  • The deer that cry/ On Ogura when evening falls/ Have not cried out/ Upon the mountain slopes tonight—/It must be they have gone to sleep (Cranston: 165)

And here is the senryū parodying it:

妻を乞ふ 鹿に寝兼る 嵯峨の奥
tsuma wo kou/ shika ni nekanuru/ Saga no oku
Can't sleep for deer crying for a mate:/ Outer Saga

Ōno acknowledges that there are several other well-known poems about deer calling at night, but still believes that this refers to the MYS poem in particular (or the closely related #1664), I suppose because of the shared reference to a specific place.

Works cited

  • Cranston, Edwin A. A Waka Anthology: Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • Frellesvig, Bjarke. "On the interpretation of written sources as evidence for the phonology of earlier language stages - with special regard to the reconstruction of early Old Japanese." Copenhagen Working Papers in Linguistics 4 (1996): 97-130.
  • Ōno, Yasuhiro 大野雍煕. "Man'yōshū to kosenryū bungei ku" 万葉集と古川柳文芸句. Man'yō to sono dentō 万葉とその伝統. Ed. Ōkubo, Tadasi 大久保正. Tokyo: Ōfūsha, 1980. 342-369.
  • Shirane, Haruo. Japan and the Culture of Four Seasons: Nature, Literature and the Arts. Chicago: Columbia University Press, 2013.


New old book site

Nihon no Furuhonya ("Used Bookstores of Japan"), the giant search engine run by the Japanese Association of Dealers in Old Books, has been given a facelift. It looks great, even if it did come at the cost of everyone's watchlists. (They let us download them in CSV format beforehand, but I bet a lot of people didn't notice the warning and are quite unhappy right now.)

Things were a bit dicey for a few hours on Monday, but I didn't mind because thanks to those problems I discovered their wonderfully human Twitter account, @koshojp. "I don't know anything about the site update, to be honest," (わたしもリニューアルについては、正直さっぱりわからぬといっていいくらい) they admitted just before noon. A few hours later, it was "I- I can't connect to the site..." (さ、サイトに接続できない…). All hashtagged!

I found this completely charming in a way that a slick, polished "social media strategy" could never be, although admittedly I might have felt differently if I were a book dealer whose livelihood was being affected.


Bring back footnotes

As languagehat notes, the Murty Classical Library of India has published its first five books. The MCLI has a whole page about design and typography, and indeed the pages are clean and beautiful. But I am writing this post to argue that some of that beauty comes at the expense of function. Specifically, I think they should use footnotes instead of endnotes.

Check out the sample page spread for Charles Hallisey's translation of the Therīgāthā. It's beautiful, and I can confirm that it looks even better in person. So crisp! So clean! And yet...

Look at the Pali text on the left. Note 1 observes that verse 19 is the same as verse 82 later in the book. Note 2 reports that the Pali Text Society edition of the text has the variant reading "jentī" for "jentā". And so on. This is useful information — but is it really best hidden away on page 243 at the end of the book? Wouldn't it be easier to grasp the import of notes about the text if they were on the same page as the text? Putting these notes in a footer would actually make the text itself cleaner, since you could just refer to line numbers instead of marking affected words.

In the translation on the right, notice is that both "Your" and "I" are endnoted. In fact, the first word of every poem-group is endnoted to a summary of what Dhammapāla's commentary on the Therīgāthā says about the author of that group. I appreciate the inclusion of these mini-biographies, but what a kludgy way to do it! Footnoting the first word is tolerable when that word is "Your" and "I", but when a poem-group starts with "After" or "Furrowing", the arbitrariness of the system is painfully apparent. This is endnoting gone horribly wrong.

In fact, let's go further: Why not put this information right there on the page, instead of hiding it at the end? There's already some information from the commentarial tradition rather than the text there ("Spoken by the Buddha to her as instruction" and so on); it wouldn't hurt to add more in a suitably humble point size. And again, in that case you would need actual notes hanging off other words at all. The page would be cleaner.

Footnotes also give translators options. I don't want to criticize Hallisey's inclusion of etymological information about names in extra lines prepended to the relevant poems ("Your name means..."). He explicitly mentions the system in his introduction and sets the line off from the rest of the text; no harm done, and on the same page as the poem itself is a better place for the information than at the back of the book. But if footnotes were also allowed, that would open up a third way, a compromise that allows extra information on the page but not in the poems, and that might be just what some projects need.

Clean and simple is beautiful. A clear eye-path from A to B is pleasant. But these are facing-page translations. Their use case is slow, meandering consumption, with the attention drifting back and forth from source to target. Adding a few extra stops in the form of same-page footnotes isn't going to do any harm, and could do a lot of good. Let's stop the madness.

(All this goes for the MCLI's two footnote-free sister series, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library and the I Tatti Renaissance Library, too, by the way. Some of the volumes in the DOML don't even signal that there are endnotes — no numbers, no symbols, nothing. You just have to flip to the back and try your luck. I find this more distracting, myself, since it means I'm constantly flipping back and forth to make sure I haven't missed anything.)


Moral decay and sordid criminality

An endorsement from the back cover of Tim Flannery's The Birth of Melbourne:

'Fascinating...lifts the curtain on the respectable facade of Marvellous Melbourne to reveal it as more of a boom-and-bust frontier town...a tale of dispossession, slaughter and environmental destruction inflicted so swiftly through greed and mismanagement that it almost beggars belief. It is a story of moral decay and sordid criminality.'

At this point you're nodding gravely: dispossession, slaughter, sordid criminality — sounds about right for early Australian history. But then you notice the byline:

Sydney Morning Herald

And suddenly the whole preceding paragraph looks like two scruffy boys in a trenchcoat, one sitting on the other's shoulders so as to imitate an adult, testifying gravely in the witness box that Bugs O'Leary did indeed steal Old Lady McCourt's prize petunias.


Inoue's bed

Meiji intellectual and yōkai-ologist Inoue Enryō 井上円了 wrote many books [PDF], but one of the more obscure ones is Kairyō shin'an no yume 改良新案の夢, "Dream of New Reform Proposals." This was a short collection of essays outlining his ideas for improved blackboards, lighting, abacus technique, anti-seasickness measures, etc. Here is an unpolished translation of essay 31, about shindai (literally "sleeping platform," usually correspoding to English "bed").

Hearing someone muse once that if one made a shindai in the closet and at night simply went inside and slept there one would eliminate the inconvenience of laying out and then putting away one's futon every day and simplify one's life greatly, I found myself in agreement with the idea; and yet to put it into practice the sliding closet door (fusama) must be improved. In summer winter, if one were to close the door to sleep, the warmth would be rather convenient, but at the same time one would have to improve the circulation of the air. In summer, to prevent attack by mosquitos, a mosquito net would have to be hung before the door. Accordingly, I have a different proposal: the use of the tokonoma as a shindai. The closet is used for storing a range of things, but the tokonoma has no role in the room outside its aesthetic one. As a result, although it is used for decorative purposes during the day, by night it remains unused. Thus, I propose making the tokonoma one step higher than usual, creating a shindai within it, and covering this in turn with a board which can be removed at night, allowing one to recline at one's ease. This is another new proposal.

This is kind of like finding it so bothersome to make the bed every morning that you replace your mantlepiece with a deep, narrow recess in the wall, containing a large horizontal board on casters that fits mostly inside by day and rolls out to sleep on by night.

(By which I mean, a marvelous idea whose time has surely come.)


Racy cross-sex pairing

Spotted in Maurice Bloch's "Kinship terms are not kinship" Doug Jones' "Human kinship, from conceptual structure to grammar": a half-glimpsed vision of a translation police state.

There are many other ways of classifying cousins and other kin. For example, French makes a sex distinction among cousins that English and Seneca don’t. Consider the French movie title Cousin, Cousine: A close translation, following anthropological convention, would be Parent's Sibling's Son, Parent's Sibling's Daughter. But the English language remake of the movie was instead entitled Cousins, losing the racy cross-sex pairing of the original.

It's that "instead ... losing" that gets me — it seems to suggest that the title Parent's Sibling's Son, Parent's Sibling's Daughter, whatever its failings, would at least have been racy.


A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese

My copy of Paul W. Kroll's Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (Language Log post) has arrived. I'm not expert enough in the field to offer a proper review, but I thought posting a few thoughts might be helpful to folks who are in a similar position to me and still on the fence (i.e., "I have multiple Chinese-Japanese dictionaries covering this stuff; do I really need a new Chinese-English one?")

First thought, just to get it out of the way: This book is reasonably priced. Complaining about academic book prices is a hobbyhorse of mine — one that has deformed into an alarmingly deep U from overuse — but $50 US for a 700-page reference work is a great deal. Brill deserves credit for keeping this book within the reach of actual students.

Second thought: The samples that have been online for a while now are nicely representative of the dictionary as a whole. As you can see, the definitions are clear and succinct, divided up and ordered in ways that constitute intelligible and helpful mnemonic stories of expanding and evolving meaning.

I say "mnemonic stories" because as far as I can tell there's no strict policy of arranging senses within entries in order of emergence, earliest to latest. No doubt in most cases this was the approach taken, if only because that would generally give you the most logical "story", but the entries themselves don't contain much in the way of specific dating at all — just the "(med.)" that identifies senses that arose in the medieval period, which means roughly 200-900 CE in this context.

To give a concrete example, if you were reading some Sima Xiangru, and you were wondering which of the various senses of a given word were current in 150 BCE, which archaic, and which anachronistic, the most help this book can offer in most cases is ruling out the medieval senses.

This isn't meant as a criticism, though — this is all by design. Here's Kroll in the introduction (online here, presumably because the whole book is also available from Pleco):

The magnitude of compiling a dictionary that might rectify or at least improve this situation [the lack of "a Chinese-English dictionary that focuses specifically on premodern texts"] has been a ready deterrent for a long time. The abandonment in 1955 of the Harvard-Yenching Institute project for a comprehensive Chinese-English Dictionary served to depress hopes substantially.1

This is the footnote:

1. Especially with the realization of what would ultimately be required, seeing that the "preliminary print" of a fascicle giving the entry on the single graph zi 子 ran to sixty-eight double-column pages.

And so, Kroll says,

[i]t is of no use if we allow the perfect to be forever the enemy of the good. [...] Hence, the present work which, imperfect as it is, hopes to make a start toward the ultimate dictionary we all desire.

To summarize, this is a dictionary "for practical use in reading and translating," as Kroll puts it. It is not suitable for apparatus-in-Latin hardcore philology, and makes no claims to the contrary.

Moving on, one noteworthy aspect of the book is its focus on "binomes." This is Kroll's term for words like 蜿蜒 ("sliding and slithering") and 逍遥 ("easy and effortless, footloose and fancy-free, free and easy") — "two-syllable words, usually alliterative or rhyming in structure. [...] Binomes have been appropriately characterized as Gestalt constructions, comprising more than the sum of their parts, or as impressifs gesturing towards a certain imagistic effect but without a rigidly fixed semantic core." (Kroll's introduction again.) Apparently a special effort was made to include these, and (as the definitions above suggest) their English translations are carefully crafted to have a similarly evocative feel.

I also found the dictionary's coverage of Buddhist terms to be very satisfying. Proper nouns are outside the scope of the book as a general rule, so you won't find any mention of Bodhidharma or Vimalakīrti under the entries for 達 or 維 respectively. But meanings that fit within a single character are reliably there; for example, the entry for 止 includes the specialist Buddhist sense as a translation of śamatha, and the entry for 與 mentions its role marking the object of the verb in Buddhist texts.

Finally, having the interest in Japan that I do, I appreciate the inclusion of Middle Chinese reconstructions right there in the entry, since they're usually more relevant to me than the Mandarin pronunciation.

All in all, and having given the dictionary a test run through a couple of poems and some sutra text, this is a book I foresee making good use of in future.


Cicada pee

Tracking down the book that San'yūtei Kinba III's "Argot Etymology" was originally published in, Ukiyo Dango 浮世断語 ["Pronouncements on the floating world", I guess], I found that it contained quite a few essays concerned with language — as you'd expect from a rakugo storyteller, really.

One of them, "The words and insults of old" (Mukashi no kotoba to waruguchi), contained a long list of truly awful puns. Representative example: "July spear" (shichigatsu no yari) for bonyari (vague, absent-minded, idle), because of the Bon festival in July.

Another: "cicada pee" (semi no shonben). This is glossed as simply zūzūshii (brazen, shameless). I assume that the joke here is zūzū (sound of a cicada) + shii (sound of peeing), but to be honest I've never seen cicada calls written as zūzū before. (Jiijii, yes, but not zūzū.) While trying to Bing up confirmation, I found this page, which actually lists two different meanings: ki ni kakaru ("be worried about something," an idiom literally meaning "it hangs on one's "; this happens to be homophonous with a phrase meaning "it gets on the trees"), and urayamashii ("be envious"; this one works because cicadas pee (shii, remember) in the mountains out back (urayama).

So it looks like the fact that "cicada pee" can be forced into a punny double meaning is a common joke, even if the actual double meaning used varies a bit.

(Incidentally, Kinba offers a different pun for ki ni kakaru: "a woodcutter's lunchbox" (kikori no bentō), because it hangs (kakaru) on a tree (ki).)


Public domain day 2015

I wrote a short piece about Public Domain Day 2015 for Néojaponisme that you might enjoy. (Don't worry, the entire second half is about argot number words!)


The Satake compactification

Reading the question "Have there been efforts to introduce non Greek or Latin alphabets into mathematics?" at Mathematics Stack Exchange, I noticed this in an answer by Dan Peterson:

Let X be a quotient of a bounded symmetric domain by an arithmetic group. [...] Namikawa tried to popularize the notation X for the Satake compactification. サ is katakana, the first initial of Satake. It did not stick.

Intriguing! I tried to find more on this, but the closest I got was Yuji Odaka's "Tropically compactify moduli via Gromov-Hausdorff collapse", which uses the notation X, with a footnote:

The character "さ" is Hiragana type character which we pronouce "SA", the first syllable of Satake and the idea of using this character is after Namikawa’s book [Nam2] which used Katakana "サ" instead (but we japaneses rarely use katakana for writing japanese name). The corresponding Kanji character 佐 is more normal.

So apparently part of the reason it did not stick is disagreement even within the Japanese-speaking mathematics community over which type of character to use. (You see? East Asian orthography really does retard the progress of the sciences!)

"[Nam2]" is a reference to this book:

[Nam2] Y. Namikawa, Toroidal Compactification of Siegel Spaces, Lecture Notes in Mathematics, vol. 812 (1980).

... which is, alas, not in any library collection I have easy access to and too expensive to buy for blog research. Here the trail went cold, in other words.


Start of year

Happy new year, everyone! Here's a story that isn't technically about the new year but doesn't fit anywhere else. It's from Kita Seiro 北静廬's Baien Nikki 梅園日記 ("Plum garden diary"), quoted in Inagaki Shisei 稲垣史生's Edo hennen jiten 江戶編年事典 ("Chronological Edo Encyclopedia"), on page 471-472:

Around the summer of Bunka 11 [1814], on a certain mountain in a certain province, a monkey spoke like a person, saying, "Many people have died of the diseases going around this year. If you put out a kadomatsu and eat zōni as if this year had finished and the new year arrived, you will surely be spared." Many indeed were those who did as instructed.

This, Inagaki notes, was known as hayari shōgatsu, literally something like "popular new year" or "new year as fad." This sort of manual fast-forwarding of a calendrical period judged inauspicious was actually not uncommon in Japan. For example, it was not unheard of for people finding themselves at a dangerous age on new year's day (because remember, back then everyone turned one year older when the year changed — the individual birthday had yet to be imported from the west) to celebrate new year's again on the first of the second month. Here's a paper in Japanese on the topic by Hirayama Toshijirō 平山敏治郎 with much more detail.

(I'm not sure how common it was to take medical advice from wild animals but I have a feeling it wasn't as rare as one might have hoped.)