Another recent review at the Japan Times: James C. Dobbins' Jōdo Shinshū. This is one of those books I never anticipate getting rid of, even though by now I probably own half of the Japanese books Dobbins cites as sources.

I also wrote a short piece for Néojaponisme about book cover design.

A Tour of Tokyo's Bookstores at AbeBooks. I didn't realize so many were using AbeBooks to sell.

Here's something else I was reading recently: "Translating the Zen Phrase Book", by G. Victor Sōgen Hori. This is the translation that eventually got published as Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice, I assume (review here; introduction available here [pdf]). Pages 91 onwards are about the details of how Hori presents his translation; note that he provides a kundoku reading, which — I mean, I wonder if anyone is actually using these in their practice, reciting these incantations that are actually the result of semi-mechanically converting a line of written Chinese into a bare-minimum Japanese translation. And some of that Chinese would have wandered in from the Indic branch of IE, of course. Language is amazing.



Edwin "Gem-Glistening Cup" Cranston's 1993 "review" (really more of a page-by-page list of comments and corrections) of the Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature by Earl Miner, Hiroko Odagiri, and Robert E. Morrell is so impossibly learned that it's practically a course in Japanese literary history all by itself. Here's a short comment on mirrors from page 208; it goes off the rails a bit but I like it:

The article on Ōkagami [literally "the Great Mirror"] offers "a point of some comparative interest" concerning mirrors, suggesting the telescope as the Western counterpoint for the mirror as a device for seeing from afar. As an imaginary vehicle for getting around in the past, the time machine might be of more use to the historian. The thing about mirrors is that they look at you while you look at them. They are portals (portholes?) to a wish-world, East or West, but the vision they offer is mirror-reversed, as one might learn by stepping Through the Looking Glass. They are privy to the secrets of our vanity, ready to be consulted on who is fairest, to lure the Goddess from her cave, or return her Medusan image to the stone. They are the essence of bronze culture, Sun Kings, and crazy houses, and far too potent to be left to mere historiographers.

Cranston also quotes a great "Companion bon mot" on p212: "If Sei Shōnagon did not exist, there would be no one to invent her."


Et in Artadia ego

I reviewed Christine M. E. Guth's Hokusai book for the Japan Times. Verdict: Hokusai. In the course of writing this review I also realized that Gustav Eckstein's Hokusai: Play in fourteen scenes is basically just a rip-off of Edward Strange's Hokusai: The old man mad with painting.

Completely unrelated, but here's something amusing I noticed in Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa today. As far as I can tell from the context Mead is still talking about "the group of girls with whom I spent many months, the group of girls between ten and twenty years of age who lived in the three little villages on the lee side of the island of Tau."

In their use of language their immaturity was chiefly evidenced by a lack of familiarity with the courtesy language, and by much confusion in the use of the dual and of the inclusive and exclusive pronouns. These present about the same difficulty in their language as the use of a nominative after the verb "to be" in English.

This struck me as a very revealing comparison. I wonder if the similarities went deeper than Mead realized, in that the "confusion" she observed was actually just conflict between actual spoken Samoan versus some idealized form of the language that she had been taught was correct.

More about language in a footnote:

The children of this age already show a very curious example of a phonetic self-consciousness in which they are almost as acute and discriminating as their elders. When the missionaries reduced the language to writing, there was no k in the language, the k positions in other Polynesian dialects being filled in Samoan either with a t or a glottal stop. Soon after the printing of the Bible, and the standardisation of Samoan spelling, greater contact with Tonga introduced the k into the spoken language of Savai'i and Upolu, displacing the t but not replacing the glottal stop. Slowly this intrusive usage spread eastward over Samoa, the missionaries who controlled the schools and the printing press fighting a dogged and losing battle with the less musical k. To-day the t is the sound used in the speech of the educated and in the church, still conventionally retained in all spelling and used in speeches and on occasions demanding formality. The Manu'a children who had never been to the missionary boarding schools, used the k entirely. But they had heard the t in church and at school and were sufficiently conscious of the difference to rebuke me immediately if I slipped into the colloquial k which was their only speech habit, uttering the t sound for perhaps the first time in their lives to illustrate the correct pronunciation from which I, who was ostensibly learning to speak correctly, must not deviate. Such an ability to disassociate the sound used from the sound heard is remarkable in such very young children and indeed remarkable in any person who is not linguistically sophisticated.

I love this. Even in Mead's tropical idyll, there are peevers.

Incidentally here's what Wikipedia currently says about the k vs t thing:

The consonant system of colloquial Samoan ("casual Samoan", or "tautala leaga" as it is known) is slightly different from the literary language ("proper Samoan", or "tautala lelei"), and is referred to as K speech or K style. In colloquial speech, defined as taking place in casual social situations among intimates or in the home among familiars of equivalent social rank, /t/ is sometimes pronounced [k] and /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as [ŋ]. Additionally, /l/ is pronounced [ɾ] following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/. /s/ is less sibilant than in English, and /h/ and /r/ are found only in borrowings, with /s/ and /l/ sometimes being substituted for them.

The source is Galumalemana Afeleti L. Hunkin's Gagana Sāmoa: A Samoan Language Coursebook.