In Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Instruction: Moving Forward by Looking Back [PDF], Joseph Keola Donaghy sez (emphasis added):

There is little documentation of the arrival of the guitar [in Hawaiʻi], and there appears to be even less of the development of slack key guitar. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Hawaiian language newspapers became the source of much information regarding Hawaiʻi’s rich oral history and society of that era, but there seemed to be little interest on the part of Hawaiians and others in documenting the use of the guitar in everyday life (Kanahele, 1979, p. 351). I tested this statement by searching the Ulukau Hawaiian Electronic Library, which contains approximately 7,000 text-searchable pages from Hawaiian newspapers printed between 1834 and 1948. Those pages contain only three references to "guitar," the earliest occurring in 1868, and 17 references to the partially transliterated "gita," the earliest found in 1862. The fully transliterated term kika occurs 165 times in the archive; however, in only three occurrences did the term refer to a guitar, the earliest appearing in the May 21, 1925, issue of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, one of the most prominent and longest-running Hawaiian language newspapers. The other occurrences of kika in the newspapers referred to a cigar or a tiger.

Because, of course, Hawaiian's limited consonant inventory makes /k/ the closest match not only to /k/ but also to /g/, /s/, /t/, and several other English phonemes. Elbert and Pukui use kika as an example when discussing loanwords in their Hawaiian Grammar, section 2.9.1:

We see that k, the most common Hawaiian consonant, is substituted for ten English consonant sounds. The Hawaiian word spelled kika has four variant spellings (tita 'sister', sida 'cider', tiga 'tiger', and kika 'cassia')—all from English. The only native kika means 'slippery'.

In the early days of Hawaiian it was more common to transcribe loan words with an orthography more suggestive of their origins, regardless of their actual pronunciation; thus <tiga> for /kika/ meaning "tiger", <sida> for "cider" — note that this one preserves the sound of the original rather than the spelling. But perhaps because these phonemes were not, in fact, distinguished, this sort of thing was eventually abandoned.

(Seriously, what kind of crazy language would force its speakers to learn an orthography preserving source information about loan words even though that information was (a) imperceptible in the borrowing language, and (b) easily reconstructible from context anyway?)

Kika shows up in Royal Hawaiian Hotel, by Mary Pulaʻa Robins, "written in honor of the present Royal Hawaiian Hotel when it was opened in 1927," as Elbert and Mahoe put it in Nā mele o Hawaiʻi Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs. Here's the start of their transcription + translation, basically the same as what's at the link above for our purposes:

Uluwehiwehi ʻoe i kaʻu ʻike la,
E ka Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

A he nani la, ke hulali nei,
A he nani māoli nō.

Ka moena weleweka moe kāua la,
He pakika he paheʻe maikaʻi nei [...]
You are festive to see,
O Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Beauty gleaming,
True beauty

Velvet beds we sleep upon,
Smooth, soft and good [...]

(Okay, it's not exactly kika — it's kika plus the prefix pa-, which Elbert and Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary defines: "Prefix to many bases, with general meaning of "in the nature of, having the quality of.")

But wait! Why don't E & P mention "cigar" or "guitar" in their discussion of kika? Because those were actually loaned as kīkā — note long vowels. Not homophonous — but, again, early Hawaiian orthography was a lot less strict about including those macrons (not to mention the ʻokina).


A talking dictionary of Ainu

From the "Why didn't I already know about this?" files: A talking dictionary of Ainu: a new version of Kanazawa's Ainu conversational dictionary, with recordings of Mrs Setsu Kurokawa (some background info).

Umma ka wa rapan.
馬 ~の上 から 下りる しなさい
【名】 【位名】 【格助】 【自】 【終助】
「馬から下りなさい」 "Get off the horse."


Western tofu

Interesting passage in Sammy I. Tsunematsu's translation of Natsume Sōseki's Bungei no tetsugakuteki kiso 文芸の哲学的基礎 ("The philosophical foundations of literature"). Here Sōseki is talking about Guy de Maupassant's short story La parure ("The necklace").

One day, the wife, carrying a bamboo basket or something similar, left the house to buy Western tofu and unexpectedly met the woman who had lent her the diamond necklace some years before.

First of all, it's not a mistranslation; the original clearly says "bamboo basket" and "western tofu":


Nor is it Maupassant exhibiting the old Japanism, as a look at the original will confirm:

Or, un dimanche, comme elle était allée faire un tour aux Champs-Elysées pour se délasser des besognes de la semaine [...]
Then, one Sunday, when she was going to make a tour on the Champs-Elysées for to de-tire herself of the doings of the week [...]

So what is it? A joke!

Sōseki may not have remembered exactly why Maupassant's heroine was out and about, but he didn't seriously think it might have been to buy any sort of tofu. He lived in England for two years. He knew very well that Europeans did not even know what tofu was, let along go out with a traditional Japanese basket to buy it. No, what we have here is an intentionally ridiculous hyperlocalization conveying two things: (1) these details are not the important ones, and (2) this is a casual and fun story. Sōseki: proto-Kate Beaton.

(One change to Tsunematsu's translation I might have suggested is "to buy Western tofu or something" instead of just "to buy Western tofu," to to keep the handwave quotient as high as the original's. The explicit lack of concern for detail is how the joke works.)



Another squib for the Japan Times, this time on Hee-Jin Kim's Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist. Earlier editions of this book had the title Dōgen Kigen: Mystical Realist. Why the change? I have no idea.

According to Wikipedia, Kigen 希玄 was what Dōgen changed his 号 (name/handle/etc.) to in 1246, seven years before his death. This 1978 paper (direct PDF link) by Azuma Ryūshin 東隆眞, "On Dōgen's and imina," offers a more nuanced view, arguing that "Kigen" was a sort of extra name Dōgen started using around that time (without actually abandoning "Dōgen"), and that there is no 13th-century evidence for the Edo-and-after tradition that it was his first monkly name, etc. "Eihei," meanwhile, refers to Eihei-ji, the temple Dōgen founded in 1244, and this was apparently something his disciples and descendants applied to him.

Perhaps the change from "Dōgen Kigen" to "Eihei Dōgen" in the book's title reflects work like Azuma Ryūshin's about the shakiness of the evidence for "Kigen"'s importance — certainly "Eihei Dōgen" seems to be the more popular appellation now (although just "Dōgen", possibly with the added honorific "Zenji" ("Zen master") is even more common as far as I can tell.

Or perhaps there were copyright/catalogue issues and they just had to change the title a bit.

Special bonus paper from Prof. Azuma: On the Buddhist terms in the first Japanese translation of Qur'an (1) [in Japanese]. (Spoilers: There are some.)



I haven't seen Dennis Washburn's new translation of the Genji Monogatari, but here's something from Ian Buruma's review upon the reading of which I was like whoa:

Washburn’s efforts at clarity can sometimes be jarring, too, especially in passages having to do with sexual attraction and seduction. [...] [Genji] ends up more or less kidnapping Murasaki and sets her up as a wife-to-be in a private residence, where she plays with her dolls, even as the Shining Prince treats her with a rather scandalous degree of intimacy. It sometimes puzzled her female attendants, in Seidensticker’s crisp words, "that she should still be such a child. It did not occur to them that she was in fact not yet a wife." Washburn renders the same passage as follows: "The people who served at Genji’s mansion had found her childish behavior, which could be quite pronounced at times, awkward and inappropriate, and yet they had no idea that she was in fact a wife in name only, for Genji had not yet had sex with her even though they slept together."

Here's how the passage appears in Ikeda's Genji Monogatari Taisei (I.244-245):


(Ikeda doesn't list any textual variants worth noting here.)

So the part corresponding to "had not yet had sex with her" is yodukanu (よつかぬ above), a negative form of the verb yoduku 世付く. Can this really support such a bald translation?

Well, yes and no. The base meaning of the verb is something like "be or act according to the commonly understood ways of the world," but there was a well understood set of secondary meanings along the lines of "behave like a couple is expected to." Since this is being paired with the actual sleeping together (that's the そひふし part - sohibusi 添い臥し), I think it's quite reasonable to interpret a lack of sex as the phenomenon that is being alluded to here.

And yet — it feels a bit, well, un-Genji-like, doesn't it? A little too frank. The whole reason Heian literature used turns of phrase like yoduku was because that sort of cryptic allusiveness was prized, while flat description was scorned. The Genji Monogatari is notorious for its vagueness, leading pretty much all translators (I think -- maybe not Tyler?) to add dialog tags identifying speakers and so on. I don't think many readers would object to that. But what about ambiguities and haziness that the author included on purpose?

It sounds like Washburn's translation will be the clearest and easiest to follow yet. The question I guess is what has been sacrificed to achieve that clarity, and whether it was worth it.



I wrote a piece about dad music for Néojaponisme, and about Kwaidan for the Japan Times.

In other news, I was reading Philip Flavin's chapter on koto music in the Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music (ed. Alison McQueen Tokita, David W. Hughes) and I found this:

Most of Hirano [Kenji]'s important scholarly works — as with many other Japanese musicologists — are found in the detailed explanations accompanying record collections. (These collections are prohibitively expensive and soon out of print.)

I mean, the collections referred to are prohibitively expensive, it's true. But the book containing these sentences costs £85.50 with direct-from-publisher web purchase discount. The kettle may be jumbo-sized, but that doesn't make the pot any less black.

(Incidentally, those collections do have one merit in their pricing scheme: transparency. One CD in Japan costs 3000 yen + tax; a 60-CD box set costs 180,000 yen + tax. Done.)


Hyakunin Isshu at BCU

Check this out: the University of British Columbia Library's Digital Collections department has just launched a Hyakunin Isshu 百人一首 ("One hundred people [who write poetry], one poem [each]") collection. Interesting feature: it allows for downloads of entire books as PDF files.


Invented traditions and OCR

I wrote another article for the Japan Times! This one is nominally about a proposed new culinary tradition called "nagoshi gohan," but my goal was to contextualize this proposal and show that it really isn't that odd.

Meanwhile, premodern cursive Japanese OCR is now susceptible to OCR. At the risk of being quoted in Buzzfeed 2030's 1028 Times a Human Amusingly Embodied the Hubris that Led to Their Current Situation, I'll point out that what's being OCRed here is, by Japanese cursive standards, pretty tame. The hand is regular, and while it's not a perfect grid of squares, it mostly breaks down to well-defined rectangular cells. (You can get a closer look at the page shown in the example here.) It'll be interesting to see how far down Crazy Road this technology can purse Japanese writing.