Thursday, February 12


This blog is (clearly) defunct. I have started a new website here.

Wednesday, February 28

Mana 101 真名の基礎

Matt at No-Sword introduced me to a text called the Shinji (or Mana) Ise Monogatari, an edition of the Tales of Ise written entirely in kanji. I at first assumed it was the creation of some mad Edo-era Confucian, but it’s actually credited in the text to Prince Tomohira, a famous poet of the turn of the tenth century. This attribution is almost certainly false, as the introduction to Nara Women’s University’s scan of the text states, but it is still believed to date back to before the fourteenth century (note however that the scanned copy is a much later woodblock print, published in 1643).

The text is written in “mana,” sometimes called “man’yôgana” in modern scholarship, but the meaning of these terms can seem very fuzzy at times, so I thought it would be useful to go through a section of it to introduce some of the orthographic techniques it uses.
Here we have the main text of the first few lines of the tale:
Here is the kana gloss, which runs parallel to the kanji text in this edition:
Here is the same passage as it appears in a modern edition of the text (the Iwanami Bunko edition edited by Ôtsu Yûichi):
A translation into English:
Long ago, a man, having reached the age of maturity, went hunting at Kasuga Village in Nara where he had some land. In that village a nubile pair of sisters lived. This man caught a glimpse of them. So unexpectedly incongruous were they in this ancient village that his heart was thrown into confusion.

If we punctuate the kanji following the modern edition we get something like this:
A few things are immediately obvious. First, there is extensive use of kanji here purely for their phonetic value. For example, every sentence ends with the characters 遣利 (Early Middle Chinese kʰjian-liʰ), used to phonetically represent the classical Japanese verbal suffix keri (indicating retrospection), and the character 尓 (simplified variant of 爾, EMC ɲi) is used for the case marker ni.* On the other hand, many characters are used for their meaning to represent Japanese words, as in the first few words of the passage: 昔 mukashi (long ago), 男 otoko (a man), and the compound 裹頭 (Mandarin guotou), a term for the crowning at a coming-of-age ceremony, here representing the Classical Japanese uhikauburi [初冠]. For the most part, this corresponds very closely to the mixed orthography of modern Japanese, which uses kanji for substantives and verbal stems, and phonetic graphs for particles and suffixes. But there are several interesting peculiarities to this “mana” writing:
  1. Not all particles are represented phonetically: the character 而 is repeatedly used to write the Classical Japanese particle te. This has no phonetic basis, but is rather because the connective use of 而 in Chinese roughly corresponds to the use of the gerund suffix te in Japanese.
  2. In the first sentence, 雁徃遣利 is read as “kari ni inikeri” [he went hunting]. “Kari” means “hunt” in Classical Japanese, but it is homophonous with the word for goose, so the Chinese character for goose 雁 is used here to phonetically represent the homonym. (David Lurie has referred to these as vernacular phonographs, as opposed to the more common sinitic phonographs like 尓 as に).
  3. The text does not always maintain a one-to-one correspondence between kanji and vernacular words. The word otoko [man] is represented both by 男 (as in modern orthography) and by the compound 壯士 (which means something like “a man in his prime”).
  4. Occasionally, as in the beginning of the fourth sentence, the text adopts Chinese grammatical order to represent a phrase. Here the negative marker 不 comes at the beginning of the phrase omohoezu, though it corresponds to the suffix zu at the end of the Japanese phrase.

This text is a great example of the richness of premodern Japanese writing practices, and of the problems with trying to draw a neat line between kana and kanbun writing.

* Early Middle Chinese reconstructions taken from Edwin Pulleyblank’s Lexicon (UBC Press 1991).

Thursday, February 22

When the Master sighed

Another entry from Kôko nichiroku:


The Laoxuean biji says, “When the people of Shu saw someone admirable, they would say ‘wuhu’ (J. oko). At something base they would say ‘yixi’ (J. iki).” I have been seeing this phrase “oko” all over the place in contemporary writing for a while now. The colloquialism “ikisugimono” is perhaps derived from “too yixi” (ikisugi).
I too have seen wuhu/oko all over the place in contemporary Japanese writing. It’s usually glossed as “aa”, and according to the standard Sino-Japanese dictionaries I’ve checked, the second compound should be vocalized the same way.
    Morohashi’s Dai Kan-Wa jiten defines “wuhu” as “the sound of a sigh,” and gives several early citations from it, including one from the Analects: 「子曰,嗚呼,曾謂泰山不如林放乎」(“The Master said, ‘Alas! Who would have thought that Mount T’ai would suffer in comparison with Lin Fang.’” Lau trans.). “Yixi” is defined as a sound of admiration, of frustration, or of disdain, but the only example given for the latter is the same source that Teikan cites, Lu You’s (1125–1210) Laoxuean biji, which seems a little suspicious. Both Ciyuan and the Wang Li gu Hanyu zidian take the safer route of simply defining it as a “exclamation/interjection” (歎詞).
    Edwin Pulleyblank gives the Early Middle Chinese (ca. 5th-6th centuries C.E.) reconstructed pronunciation of “wuhu” as “?ɔxɔ”, where ɔ represents a “lower mid back rounded vowel”, so we get something like “ah-ha” but with a glottal stop at the beginning. “Yixi” is similarly “?ɨxɨ”, so the same opening consonants but with a close central unrounded vowel instead (ehe?). Of course, Early Middle Chinese is still centuries after the earliest recorded uses of these words, so we can only turn to Karlgren for a reconstruction of the Zhou-era pronunciation. He gives “˙o χo” (which is pretty much the same as Pulleyblank’s corresponding EMC version) and “˙ḭəg ngḭəg” (which is very different). I’m a little wary of the latter just because its hard to imagine a sigh ending with a guttural consonant, but maybe it’s something like “argh!”
    As for Teikan’s theory about “ikisugimono”, which according to the Kinsei kamigatago jiten means someone forward, arrogant, or impudent, I guess it seems unlikely.

Wednesday, January 3

Reading of a Late Tang Poem

A Japanese prose interpretation of Li Shangyin’s “The Inlaid Harp” [Jin se], by Takahashi Kazumi.

    Now, here is a brocade-patterned harp that lost he who was meant to play it and lies abandoned. It is said that long ago, Fu Xi once destroyed a fifty-string harp because its sound was so sad, and strangely enough this inlaid harp has fifty strings as well. Along each of these many strings, and the frets that support them, lie the memories of my glorious youth. Though these strings may break, they cannot perish, these memories of love.
    Long ago, it’s said that Zhuangzi dreamed he had become a butterfly, such was the freedom he felt that, when he had awakened, he did not know whether he or the butterfly was the dream. Those dreamlike days of love, even now when I must awaken from them, make me rather doubt the truth of my life now, left behind alone. So too, it is said that long ago the Emperor Wang, even after his flesh had rotted away, consigned his vernal thoughts to the cuckoo. The obsessions of love in this way remained behind as the voice of a bird weeping day and night.
    I think of long ago. When you plucked upon this brocade-patterned harp, I was a keen audience for its sounds. When, playing, your thoughts traveled beyond the seas, I immediately thought of the ocean glimmering under the bright moon; when your heart was in the mountains, I knew at once that the music was the warm sunlight on Jade Mountain. But now, even in the blue sea that comes to mind this moonlit night, your image only makes me drip tears like mermaids’ pearls, and when I chase you in my daydreams, like Zi Yu you turn to smoke before we can embrace.
    But I wonder: my despair, these thoughts of mine so dim and indistinct, have they only become this way now in my memory? No. For, these things now so difficult to pin down were no different long ago; already in that time our reality was swathed in haze.

Friday, December 22

Going Home

Final three pages of a diary, kept by Nagai Kafû during his years in the United States and France, 1903–1908.

March 18. Feel a cold coming on, couldn’t focus on reading.
March 19. Made a plan for a novel describing the lives of Japanese living in the U.S.
March 20. Received another letter from father. It appears my fate has been sealed, and I’m to return to Japan once and for all. Though I have already come to terms with this, I nonetheless felt a sudden shock.
March 21 (Saturday). As dawn came, neither awake nor asleep I mulled over my future. There are two options before me: Shall I return to my country and become a writer in wretched poverty? Or shall I go back to New York where Edith awaits me, and resume a life of sin? I wracked my brain, but could not come to a decision.
March 23. Saw Professor Anesaki.
March 24. I’ve felt ill for several days, and find the preparations for my journey so tiresome I can’t bear it. In the afternoon I took to bed to recover.
March 25. No matter what I do, I still don’t feel like I’m actually leaving France. My bags are already packed, and yet I feel as though were going to remain forever in Paris, instead of merely passing through as a tourist.
March 26. Took a last walk through Lyon for old time’s sake. Still feel rotten. I’m worried that my fatigue is such I won’t even be able to make the journey.
March 27. Went to dinner with Mr. Nakasa, assistant manager at the bank. Walking home late I crossed the Pont Lafayette and for some reason on this night the sound of the Rhone was not wild and thrashing, but instead I found the lapping of waves against the ships along the shore indescribably peaceful. The night was clear, warm, and still. Thinking I would never see the Rhone again, I leaned against the railing and wept.
March 28 (Saturday). Clear all day today, like it was summer. I wanted to stay just one more day in Lyon, but finally made up my mind to board the train for Paris. The sun was just about to set as we passed out of Dijon, when I thought of what awaited me upon my return home and felt a bottomless melancholy. Will arrive in Paris at twelve o’clock. I plan to spend the night at an inn near the station and then move to the Latin Quarter tomorrow morning.
March 29 (Sunday). Walked around the city all day. Exhausted, I fell asleep and for some reason had a dream in which I saw my mother in the beauty of her youth. I was startled and awoke. It was three o’clock in the morning, and I could hear rain falling.
March 30. In the afternoon saw sculpture of Maupassant in Parc Monceau. Evening, went to opera.
March 31. Day, Musée du Luxembourg. Evening, Montmartre.
April 1. Day, Musée du Louvre. Evening, the Odéon.
April 2. Day, the boulevards. Evening, the Concert Rouge.
April 3. Day, Musée du Luxembourg. Evening, the Opéra-Comique.
April 4 (Saturday). Day, Boulevard, Stock Exchange, La Madeleine. Evening, .
April 5 (Sunday). Day, Père Lachaise Cemetery. Night, Concert Rouge.
April 6. Day, Montmartre Cemetery. Night, Casino Montmartre.
May 28. Left Paris. Arrived in London after dark.
May 29. Stayed in London.
May 30 (Saturday). Set sail at twelve o’clock.