’Twas well we had your pencil and your tongue

Great article by De-Min Tao on “mutual understanding and misunderstanding among Japanese, Americans, and Chinese, and the status of Chinese as a negotiating language in the communications of two non-Chinese speaking nations”: “Negotiating Language in the Opening of Japan: Luo Sen’s Journal of Perry’s 1854 Expedition.”

When talking about the opening of Japan in 1853-54, many people simply assume that the negotiations were carried on with the assistance of English and Japanese interpreters, as bilateral talks between the two nations would be today. Few give any attention to the question of what languages were actually used. As a matter of fact, Chinese and Dutch were the principal languages employed.

[…]

[Samuel Wells] Williams was hired as the chief interpreter despite having told Perry clearly at their initial meeting in 1853 that “I had never learned much more Japanese than was necessary to speak with ignorant sailors who were unable to read even their own books, and that practice in even this imperfect medium had been suspended for nearly nine years.” He considered himself “ill prepared upon the duties of this position.”

Williams did speak Chinese, of course, but “still needed a Chinese assistant to help him polish his translations and copy them in elegant calligraphy that would impress the Japanese officials with whom Perry would be conducting diplomacy.” (This is basically why I started printing labels for the envelopes I use to send out invoices.) So he hired…

[…] his Chinese tutor, an old man named Sieh 薛. It would seem that the choice was not carefully made, for Sieh was actually an incurable opium addict. Smoking heavily during the voyage, he eventually died a month before the Kurihama meeting, when the fleet was still anchoring in Ryukyu.

Luo Sen was Sieh’s replacement.

Luo Sen (Xiangqiao 向喬, ca. 1821-ca. 1899) was from Nanhai 南海 county in Guangdong province. At the time Williams employed him, he was doing business in Hong Kong, and his occupation brought him into contact with Englishmen and Americans. Asked by a friendly Japanese official why he had accepted a position with Perry’s expedition, Luo frankly confessed that his dissatisfaction with Qing officialdom had entered into his decision:

During the war with the English [the Opium War], I led a body of braves, and put forth all my strength in the service of my country. Yet afterwards the officers of the government, bent on nothing but gain, made no account of my devotion and efforts. It was this neglect which set my mind on traveling abroad, and led me to my present position on board this steamer.

The whole article is full of this stuff—vivid detail, quotations from diaries. Absolutely fantastic reading.

JAH-Q 2 debut

Volume 2 of the Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q) (love the acronym) is now online in its entirety for your reading pleasure. (Also available as one big PDF at editor Cynthia Bogel’s faculty member page.) Bogel sez:

JAH-Q is an annual double-blind, peer-reviewed publication in English. We consider research articles, state-of-the-field essays, and short reports (conferences and other events) on Asian humanities subjects (broadly defined) for publication.

Issue 2 includes an article by Pawel Pachciarek on Kusama Yayoi (“[I also] explore potential Zen Buddhist influences in her unpublished play script ‘The Gorilla Lady’”); Elizabeth Tinsley’s consideration of Matsui Fuyuko and Itō Seiu in the context of kusōzu, a genre of painting depicting the female body in progressive stages of decay (don’t worry, it’s a Buddhist thing); and a review of Heather Blair’s Real and Imagined: The Peak of Gold in Heian Japan:

It achieves what all books should but few do: it is historically and philologically rigorous, determinedly interdisciplinary, theoretically sophisticated, and lucidly written. This brilliant book should go down as a classic, serving as a model for how place and pilgrimage should be studied both in Japanese religions and beyond.

Publisher Harvard University Press claims that the book draws on “archival sources, archaeological materials, noblemen’s journals, sutras, official histories, and vernacular narratives,” so philological rigor wouldn’t have been a trivial matter.

Omitted

The coldest line in the Man’yōshū isn’t actually in a poem. It’s in the note about the author that comes afterwards. Here it is with the poem for context; this is MYS 8/1428, in a “Spring: Miscellaneous” section. Original orthography taken from Man’yōshū kensaku, the latest iteration of the venerable MYS search system from Yamaguchi University.

草香山歌一首

忍照 難波乎過而 打靡 草香乃山乎 暮晩尓 吾越来者 山毛世尓 咲有馬酔木乃 不悪 君乎何時 徃而早将見

(ositeru / nanipa wo sugwite / uti-nabiku / kusaka no yama wo / yupugure ni / wa ga kwoye-kureba / yama mo se ni / sakyeru asibi no / asikaranu / kimi wo itu si ka / yukite paya mimu)

右一首依作者微不顕名字

The content is fairly unremarkable:

One poem about Mount Kusaka [part of Mount Ikoma]

Passing Oshiteru [Cranston suggests “[of the] Shining Waves”] Naniwa, Mount Kusaka I cross as evening falls; crowding the mountain in bloom, the ashibi (Japanese andromeda) are not bad; when shall I arrive and see not-bad you next?

The first two thirds of the poem are all leading up to asikaranu (not bad), which puns on asibi (modern ashibi or asebi, and functions as a pivot to get us from the vivid but objective description of the journey to the inner thoughts of the journeyer. Who indeed has not longed for their not-bad beloved after extended separation?

(Since the actual text of the source is just 不悪, i.e. not represented phonemically, some people use another reading of 悪 to render the relevant word nikukaranu [“not loathsome”], but this doesn’t really do it for me.)

Moving on, here’s the note about the author:

The author of the preceding poem being of low status, their name is omitted

Not “unknown,” but “omitted.” Intentionally. I guess this is what happens when your commitments to literary meritocracy and aristocracy conflict. I’m sure the poet was promised a lot of exposure, though.

(According to Satake Akihiro et al, who edited the Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系 edition of the MYS, this is the only such note in the collection.

Tan-tan Tanzaku

Happy Tanabata! Here’s a poem by Noguchi Ujō 野口雨情 in honor of the occasion. According to Aozora Bunko, this was first published in the July 1933 edition of Shōgaku Ninensei (“Elementary school second-grader”) magazine.

Mainen shichigatsu
Nanoka ni wa

Tan-tan Tanabata
Hoshi matsuri

Tan-tan Tanabata
Kita naraba

Tan-tan tanzaku
Uta kaite

Tanzaku tsurushita
Take tatete

Tan-tan tanabata
Matsurimashō

And in quick and inelegant English translation:

Every year in the seventh month
On the seventh day

Tan-tan Tanabata
The star festival

Tan-tan Tanabata:
When it has arrived

Tan-tan tanzaku:
Write a poem

The tanzaku hung,
Raise the bamboo

Tan-tan Tanabata:
Let’s celebrate

Ujō is often praised for the mysterious and somewhat melancholy depth of his writing for children, but as this example shows he was not above straight-ahead soundplay.

“Raise [literally “stand up”] the bamboo”: Back in the Edo period, people really took this seriously. A picture like this (Hiroshige, 1857) shows clearly that the tanzaku-laden bamboo was raised well above the roofs. Now even the de facto official Tanabata song, “Tanabata-sama,” has the tanzaku swaying nokiba ni, “eaves-LOC,” which is at best “by the eaves” and more naturally “under (i.e. hanging from) the eaves.”

Beorht wæron burgræced   burnsele monige
heah horngestreon   heresweg micel
meodoheall monig   mondreama full
oþþæt þæt onwende   wyrd seo swiþe

See you in 2019, everyone!

The University of Tokyo’s East Asian Classical Studies department has posted some reading lists prepared by its faculty members. The level appears to be “serious introductory,” although of course for us non-native speakers there can be a bit of a disconnect between our level of interest and our ability to read books at that level. Still, if you’re sure you’re interested in how the Heian nobility read Chinese texts aloud, how better to familiarize yourself with the field and its terminology than by reading Heian jidai no kanbun kundokugo ni tsukite no kenkyū?

(Via Kasama Shoin)

Not the whole truth

The ultimate act of love? The truth behind Japan’s charaben culture” by Joshua Paul Dale is a pretty good popular intro to decorative food in Japan, but it contained one of my pet peeves:

Kawaii literally means “able to be loved” […]

Etymologically speaking, the direct ancestor of kawaii is kawayui, which can be traced back (with appropriate sound/morphology rewind: kahayusi, however you wanna pronounce that) to the end of the Heian period. This in turn is widely considered to derive from kahahayusi, roughly “flushed of face,” to do with embarrassment, pity, etc.

Dale is referring to the standard kanji spelling of kawaii, 可愛い, which can indeed be parsed “able to be loved.” But this spelling has nothing to do with the etymology and was applied long after the word came to be. To say that kawaii “literally means” this is oversimplified at best, misleading at worst. Oh well.

I have another objection to the article, actually: when it finally gets around to “the truth behind Japan’s charaben culture,” it doesn’t even touch on what we might call the “dark side” of charaben. I mean, consider this:

After all, these creations prove a mother’s dedication towards her child, not to mention her creative prowess.

I’m sure that for most mothers who make charaben, it is indeed a way to express maternal love. But given the whole “prove a mother’s dedication” thing, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine how, in some environments, peer pressure could transform charaben into a de facto public-facing obligation (falling entirely on the mother, natch). And indeed you do hear stories like this. I know it would have been a downer after the charaben Instagram success story talk, but I feel like it could at least have been mentioned.

Songs of People at Work and Play

Arbiter have released the fifth volume of their Japanese Traditional Music series: Songs of People at Work and Play. As usual, there’s a long blog post about it with background, plus links to the liner notes, additional notes (texts and translations), and Japanese notes. So note enthusiasts are very well served here.

For those who came in late, the Japanese Traditional Music series is a cleaned-up and digitized version of a government-sponsored 60-shellac-disc anthology of traditional Japanese music from the early 1940s. 60 discs = 120 sides, and since there are 24 tracks on each of Arbiter’s releases, this fifth volume concludes the set. They’re all on Apple Music, too.

Umi no sachi, Yama no sachi

Kyushu University have made two ehaisho 絵俳書 “illustrated haiku books” from the 1760s available online: Umi no sachi 海の幸 (“Bounty of the mountains”) and its sequel Yama no sachi 山の幸 (“Bounty of the sea”), edited by Sekijukan Shūkoku 石寿観秀国, illustrated by Katsuma Ryūsui 勝間竜水. Pictures of marine and montane (respectively) flora and fauna, plus haiku to go with.

These two books join the rest of KU’s Rare Books Collection (check the “With fulltext” option to limit your search to items that you can view online). They’re also at Waseda University’s Japanese and Chinese Classics, but the versions there appear to be different and KU’s scans are much crisper.

(Via Kasama Shoin.)

New Aozora Bunko search engine

Hoyt Long and the ARTFL project have released a decent search interface for Aozora Bunko. There’s even a video tutorial on YouTube, so masochists needn’t feel left out. (To be fair, I wouldn’t want to spend hours taking screenshots and assembling them into a written guide either.)

The announcement blog post promises “additional tutorials and information about the history and make-up of this unique collection”—sounds good!

No-one tells me anything (Medieval French edition)

Last October, the Works of Guillaume Machaut project finally released volume 1 of The Complete Poems and Music: The Debate Series. (You can read the whole thing, including translation by R. Barton Palmer, online at that link.)

Car tant m’a fait compaignie
Que c’est niant dou depart,
Ne que jamais, par nul art,
Soit sa pointure garie.