Tuesday, December 27, 2011


This is the Buson poem I'm working on (writing) right now:
ふるいけに ぞうりしずみて みぞれかな

furuike ni zouri shizumite mizore kana

in the old pond, a sandal (草履) sinking—sleet
I find the image particularly relevant for Philadelphia, where the winters tend to be wet and cold and the surfaces slippery and icy, as opposed to the more substantial snowfalls in the suburbs. (Already this evening it's started in on the dreary kind of rain, when it's neither particularly raining nor particularly not raining but if you go out you're sure to be soaked.)

We've been playing around with the kana and hentaigana, but here's roughly (from sources—none mine) what I'm working on:

Tough to fit it all together in a way that makes sense, but it helps to have that long し to counterbalance the ふ. And this is patched together graphically, so the actual thing is much more connected. Long, long way to go.

Mysterious ん.

Recently I read somewhere that in some words some vowel + consonant + vowel combinations that now aren't always spelled with an ん used to be, and that in those cases although the kana has vanished it still affects pronunciation. I knew about あまり amari (あんまり anmari), and that it's sometimes a thing, particularly with female singers, to add that sound (as in Misora Hibari's "晴れる日(ん)が来るから" (hareru hi [n] ga kuru kara) and Miyuki Nakajima's "いつか、話せるひ(ん)が来るわ" (itsuka, hanaseru hi [n] ga kuru wa")—both very specific structures, but all that's occurring to me right now—and now in an e-mail from 先生 I see すんごく (vs すごく). What's going on here phonetically? When and how did this come about? Will have to look into it and find some more examples. There must be a known pattern.

トビラ, かな

We've begun the Tobira textbook, and I'm finding it at once easier and more difficult than the Genki books. The first lesson is on the basics of Japan itself—islands, cities, particles, etc.—which I don't think Genki covered at all. (先生 says Oosaka leadership wants to change the city's particle from 府, prefecture, to 都, capital—a particle currently enjoyed only by Toukyou itself! Kyouto is the only other 府. But apparently the people don't like the sound of Oosaka-to much less than Oosaka-fu. Politics of language!) Tobira also is much more kanji-dense, so it's a more difficult read, but it'll be good for me.

In 習字 we've begun writing winter haiku, and we got far enough with it last time to start working on placement of lines on the page (chirashi or tanzaku style). Because I need practice with both chirashi "theory" and reading/kanji, over the holiday break I've been working on 仮名精習, that amazing book of kana and chirashi theory, and pulling out any kanji/vocab I don't know. So, I think I'll end up with a very specific vocabulary.... 例えば、
  • 方向 houkou, direction (eg, of a line, or differentiating slightly in the directions of two lines)
  • ぬく nuku, a mysterious one that's usually in kana and seems to mean (sometimes) lifting the brush off the paper (eg, omitting it) or (sometimes) pulling one line out a bit past another (eg, extruding) 抜く, 貫く (ぬき筆)
  • 転折 tensetsu, a sudden turn (of the brush, as from horizontal downward)
  • 対向する taikou suru, "reverse direction", which seems to equate to gyakuhitsu 逆
and, my favorite so far,
  • 気脈 (kimyaku): "conspiracy / secret communication"—in this case, lines within a character that should connect continuously even when the brush isn't touching the paper

逆 is an interesting kanji. The radical is shinnyuu, walking/advancing (or a path or road, as in 道 or 通る), but funnily enough not used in 歩く. But the つくり is 屰, "disobedient", with similar meanings of reverse/inverse, a sense of going against the grain. Both carry readings of ギャク and さか・らう. As you might suspect, only one (逆) is still in general use. That radical itself doesn't seem to unite other kanji, but it does seem that that + 欠 "lack" + 厂 "cliff" appear together with some frequency. The meanings don't seem to unite much, but most have ケ-like readings. I'll have to check some of them out in Henshall.

There also are some kanji pairs that keep coming up and mean opposites—the lightness/darkness, thickness/thinness, etc., of lines. For most of them I know at least one of the kanji (or, at least, its kun'yomi) and can guess the other. Tough going, but worth it!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Last lesson, 日本語の先生 and I thought about the origins of "to drive" in English. Before cars, it had the sense of "to make someone or something do something" (人に何にかをさせること?), especially when otherwise that someone might do something else—eg, to drive cattle (making them run in the desired direction), a "slave-driver". The image that comes to mind is of cracking a whip. I guess the verb took on a vehicular sense when wagons were "driven" by horses or oxen, which in turn were "driven" by the driver. Then came "horseless carriages", whose engines were driven by drivers. Makes me wonder why trains are driven by "conductors"; I guess in that case (since the train is on tracks and can't really go anywhere you don't want it to) the sense is of a person who organizes things (as in orchestrating an orchestra), rather than strictly "driving". 面白いね、表現は。

買ったばかりの教科書が着いた! (New books!)

I'm stoked because two new books just arrived:
Tobira: 日本語の先生's recommended next textbook. I haven't had much of a chance to look through it yet (beyond waiting in line at the sandwich shop), but my goal is to get through at least the first chapter by next Wednesday's lesson. The reading is much more demanding than the Genki books, but although it's a long haul I think the challenge will be good for me. It also has an extensive multimedia component that I think will help, especially if I can pull any of it down to my phone.

Haruo Shirane's book on classical Japanese grammar: As we've been writing (and reading) haiku and tanka in 習字, I've wanted to better understand the grammar. I read a few web pages about it but wanted something deeper, and this book is pretty universally recommended. So far, I'm really liking the pedagogy—it's direct, frank, and well organized, and plenty of examples from classical texts. Definitely a reader-focused book.
Now, if I can just get through this weekend's work for the office....
I haven't been able to get to tea class in months. :-(

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Choosing a haiku to write for winter.

Time to pick a new haiku to practice writing in 習字 lessons! Endless possibilities, but I'd like to have practiced at least one from each of the four (relatively recent) masters (Bashou, Issa, Buson, and Shiki), so for now I'm focusing on them. Below are some winter haiku I've found online from Buson, with lame attempts at translation by me and no attempt whatsoever at poeticizing.

(I imagine most of them are way off, but it's the best I can do. I was fortunate to find a partial of Shirane's excellent textbook on classical Japanese, which I hope to have in hand soon, and some other resources, but still I find it very mysterious—though also very rewarding.)
kangetsu ya mon naki tera no amatakashi
winter moon—gateless temple, height of the sky

kangori ya kami no machi made kitarikeri
winter (cold-water) ablutions / arriving at (or due to) / the neighborhood of the gods (a red-light district? 京島原遊廓内)

iso chidori ashi o nurashite asobikeri
plover on rocky beach, dipping its foot into the water, playing

kitsunehi no moetsuku bakari kareobana
withered pampas grass—only the will o' the wisp glows

machibito no ashioto touki ochiba kana
distant footsteps of the person you're waiting for; fallen leaves

nishi fukeba, higashi (azuma?) ni tamaru ochiba kana
the west wind blows; fallen leaves gather in the east

fugu no omo sejou no hito o niramu kana
the puffer-fish's mask glowers at the people on land

kusa no ne o shizuka ni nurasu shigure kana
early winter drizzle...quietly soaks the camphor root

shigururu ya waga (ware) mo kojin no yoru ni niru
drizzling—i too look like an old man's night?

cha no hanaya ishi o megurite michi o toru
the flower-arranger for tea takes a path around the pebble

sato sugite Furue ni oshi o mitsuketari
passing beyond hometown, in Furue i see a mallard

kogarashi ya hatake no koseki (koishi) me ni miyuru
winter wind—the eye sees a pebble in the field

kogarashi ya konogoro made ha oki no furi (kaze)
blustery wind, until around now, silvergrass wind (or shaking/waving of silvergrass)

hatsuyuki no soko o tatakeba (hatakeba) take no tsuki
as the first snow ends, bamboo moon

suisen ya samuki miyako no koko kashiko
daffodil/narcissus, here and there in the cold capital

kono mura no hito ha saru nari fuyukitachi
winter trees—the people of this village are becoming monkeys

tabi haite neru yo mo nouki yumemi kana
socks on, a night to sleep? and maybe to dream

kouru hi no abura ukauka nezumi kana
oil of a frozen lamp; carelessly, a mouse

furuike ni zouri shizumite mizure kana
a sandal sinking into the old pond—sleet

shigururu ya nezumi no wataru koto no ue
Light winter rain like scampering rat's-feet over my koto

sagi nurete tsuru ni hi no teru (nichi no te) shigure kana
early winter rain—the heron soaked, the crane in sunshine?

ono haite kaori ni odoroku ya fuyu kodachi
axe cuts; surprised by fragrance from winter grove of trees

ware(waga, wa) o itau rinka kanya ni nabe o narasu
on a cold night, banging pots outside the houses of people who hate me

Bashou sa(ri)te sono nochi imada toshi kurezu
Bashou is gone, and never again will a year end as his did
(I hope one day my Japanese will be good enough to read Bashou's 奥の細道, which is possibly the coolest literary pilgrimage ever.)
(Side note: Shiki also is in Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame. That's beyond awesome.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back in 習字 lessons!

We haven't had shuuji lessons in a while; 先生 went back to Japan to visit, and in the time since her return our schedules have all been weird. But last Saturday we finally got back to it! We started a new poem for 散らし chirashi style, in hiragana and hentaigana—
はこねじを わがこえくれば 伊豆の海や 沖の小島に 波寄る見ゆ

いづのうみや おきのこじまに なみのよるみゆ

Hakoneji o waga koekureba
Izu no umi ya Oki no kojima ni
nami no yoru miyu
It's by Sanetomo MINAMOTO (源実朝—though I am lame enough to read his name as jitsu-asa), who lived (1192–1219) and reigned (1203–1219) in the Kamakura period and whose image appears at right. Seems he turned to poetry because his mother's father kept trying to bully him off the throne. (Reminder to self: track down Hyakunin Isshu.) That he didn't make it past 26 suggests he wasn't living in very safe times. Get this:
Under heavy snow on the evening of February 12, 1219 (Jōkyū 1, 26th day of the 1st month), Sanetomo was coming down from the Senior Shrine at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū after assisting to a ceremony celebrating his nomination to Udaijin. His nephew (the son of second shogun Minamoto no Yoriie) Kugyō (Minamoto no Yoshinari) came out from next to the stone stairway of the shrine, then suddenly attacked and assassinated him. For his act he was himself beheaded few hours later, thus bringing the Seiwa Genji line of the Minamoto clan and their rule in Kamakura to a sudden end.


Heavy. Here's a pic of the stairway to the Senior Shrine. Apparently the thousand-year-old ginkgo at left fell in a storm in 2010.

Last time we practiced the text up to や.

We're also working on five-character 行書 gyousho. My text is about opening windows/rafters and feeling slight coolness: 開軒納微涼. We practiced writing on long paper, on the floor; I settled on the paper in seiza, as if I were about to serve tea, but in fact the thing is to straddle the paper and slide the suzuri down as you go.

I mentioned that I'd asked 日本語の先生 about the origin of the kanji for mu (無), and 習字の先生 looked it up in 漢字語源, a book of kanji "etymology" (at least, origins). The book said mu was about storing things in kimono sleeves; that certainly works with the crying-face kanji—so symmetrical and with a definite feeling of hanging and swaying—but doesn't accord with Henshall's or 日本語の先生's explanation. Henshall says it's "of somewhat confused and obscure etymology"—a dancer with tasseled sleeves, with the four 点 meaning not fire, but actually "cease to be / die" (with an illustration that looks like 七 and probably, given "shichi"/"nana"/"shinu", is either exactly that or something close). The rest of his explanation is about confusing intermediate forms, and he lands on thinking of the grid part of 無 as a sheaf of wheat. I like 日本語の先生's explanation better: he explained it as person (hitoyane), barrel, and fire—so 無 is the feeling you get when you sink into a bath. (It came up as 習字の先生 was telling us about a visit to an 温泉 onsen, a hot spring.) The sleeve explanation certainly helps, but I can also see turning the "sleeve" version into the standard version if you just straighten out the curved bits.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I'm hoping to see 習字の先生 tomorrow, so I'm looking around online for an autumn-themed haiku to start working on. Found a potentially funny post on Yahoo Japan:
At first I was posting this because the question struck me as funny: "Are there any haiku about autumn?" Yes—several! But the third line confuses me: original de kigo o irete kudasai—please add seasonal keywords...to the original? using the original? I don't quite get the sense of it. The response haiku all seem to be original, though, so I guess the sense must be "make it original, and use seasonal words".

Too bad they're original, because I liked this one:
わたくしも 枯葉と一緒に 枯れて行く
wakushi mo kareha to issho ni kareteiku
I (too) (am) wither(ing) / will wither with the leaves
Not morose at all.

But back to 秋についての句。 Autumn themes/kigo include dragonflies, harvest, sunset, full moon, orchid, chrysanthemum, autumn leaves, fallen leaves, maple, mushrooms, deer, etc. I'm not sure how strictly autumnal I want to be, though; it's November, and we've already had our first snowfall, and though the sun is bright there's a persistent chill. Almost heavy-coat weather. So, probably nothing about harvests or even insects, particularly since it'll be a long time before I can write the new poem with even minimal competence.


So many choices; how does one begin? I was thinking of writing about maple leaves, but when I look out my window, I see that harsh sunlight that's peculiar to this time of year, the kind that soon will be glaring off the snow.

I can't overstate the coolness of this haiku database. I'm currently browsing in plant keywords, summer, set 2, and the subdivisions of this screen alone are incredibly detailed: new leaves, overgrowth, many leaves, darkness under trees, green shade, new persimmon leaves, new beech leaves, new evergreen oak leaves, new camphor leaves, young maple, summer willow, diseased leaves, and 38 more categories. Each category contains about 150 poems. So (per cursory math) there must be almost 2 million haiku here. Bewildering!

Well, it was Halloween just last week, and there are still lantern-light tours of Philadelphia going on, so maybe something about flickering light (明滅). Many options.

[time passes]

I think I'll go back to the one I liked so much at first, Bashou's "lonely road". I don't think I've written anything by Bashou, so.

この道や 行く人なしに 秋の暮れ

kono michi ya
yuku hito nashi ni
aki no kure

on this road,
no one is traveling
in the autumn dusk
Or something like that. Here's a page that explores the poem and some of its translations and interpretations. The dusk and loneliness push it winterward, and apparently it was written on November 13, so it seems a solid choice. And the thought has almost universal applications; I can see myself posting it outside my office at work. It's a bit dramatic, though, so I'll keep looking.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Unbearable fright.

From early times there are stories of the trials and tribulations involved in writing plaques for high palace buildings. For instance, in the Wei dynasty when the Ling Yun T'ai—a recreation pavilion "as high as the clouds"—was being built, Emperor Ming had the famous calligrapher Wei Tan write the plaque inscription. Wei had a platform built at a height of seventy-five meters and climbing to it, wrote the inscription. When he got down his hair had turned white from unbearable fright. He admonished his children not to become calligraphers.
—NAKATA Yujiro, The Art of Japanese Calligraphy
which I highly recommend

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

間違・う / 間違・える / 違・える (428 million ways to be wrong).

Thinking about "ma" (間) has brought back a question I've never quite been able to answer: the difference in meaning, if any, between 間違う (machigau) and 間違える (machigaeru). Both mean "to be mistaken / to make a mistake"; both combine 間 (the "ma" in question) with 違う (to be different); the difference in structure is in just the endings, -u vs -eru. The native speakers I've asked agreed that they're very similar, pretty much interchangeable. But I wonder whether, as in English, there are context-specific distinctions that people who know the language well make automatically in natural speech.

Google is very helpful for usage questions, and in this case it suggests that there are differences:

Google hits by form (in millions, searched in kana & kanji)

-u form-eru formratio (:1)
pol. (-masu) 0.110.520.21
short past20.4023.900.85
pol. past0.645.110.13
prov. (-ba)0.991.210.82
short neg.1.114.520.25
pol. neg.0.100.420.24

Only a very hazy index, and of course it's biased toward online use and doesn't tell us anything about regional usage or other forms or specific cases. But it does suggest that some distinctions exist. 間違う forms overall are about 60% more frequent than 間違える forms, and most of the individual differences are pretty marked; in only a few cases are the usage numbers comparable.

The definitions on Denshi Jisho are too general and too similar to help. Goo has much more detail and in fact lists them together as a set of three "quasi-synonyms" (類語, "ruigo"): machigau, machigaeru, and ayamaru, which is usually defined as "to apologize". (Will have to look into ayamaru and its several kanji later.) Here (with ayamari in advance for the many machigai in my rough translation) is what Goo says about them:
GENERAL MEANING (ayamaru / machigau / machigaeru)

to make an incorrect decision or judgment; also, an error or failure in action or behavior [ie, to be wrong about something]

USAGE (examples)

ayamaru: "to misjudge" (as an approx measurement with the eye); "to make a misstep" (physically miss one's footing); "to lose one's way" / "take the wrong path" (ikikata o machigaeru, "err in one's way of living", with machigaeru)

machigau: "the answer isn't wrong"; "that's wrong" (are ha machigatteiru)

machigaeru: "to mistake an umbrella for something else" (kasa o machigaeru); "mistakenly sent an invitation to Mr. Tamura rather than to Mr. Murata" (tamura-shi to murata-shi o machigaete, annaijou o dashita) [so, "to confuse two things" or "to mistake one thing for another"]

USAGE (distinctions)

1. used as a transitive verb, "ayamaru" means to acknowledge an incorrect judgment about something. [ie, to apologize] in the form "...o ayamaru", usually the error or acknowledgment goes in the "o" part. in many cases the form "ayamatta" is used intransitively to modify a noninflectable word (eg, "ayamatta kangae", "mistaken thought"), and used with the sense that one is wrong, said something false, judgment or understanding is incorrect. furthermore, currently there are many cases in which "ayamatte" is used with the sense of "inadvertently"/"accidentally", sort of like an adverb.

2. "machigau" is really an intransitive verb, and there are situations in which the two are not interchangeable. however, currently, it's almost the same as "machigaeru" (eg, "順番間違う, junban o machigau").

3. as an intransitive verb, "machigau" follows three rules of usage/meaning: (i) when pointing out a person's concrete/tangible "misses" or failures—"man, he messed up again!" (あいつまた間違った!)—the person becomes the subject. in these cases, the focus is on superficial action/behavior. this form is also used to address a lapse in behavior without mentioning the error in judgment. (ii) as with phrases like "your thinking is mistaken / you are mistaken in your thinking" (anata no kangae ha machigatteiru), it's used to mean adverse deeds or behaviors that result from a person's thinking, choices, or judgments; (iii) as with "the answer is wrong" (kotae ga machigatteiru), it's used to mean bad (incorrect) outcomes that result from errors of thought or judgment.

4. the intransitive "machigau" and "ayamaru" are [both] close in meaning to "to misjudge / make an incorrect decision". if you really want to distinguish them (!), "machigau" has the sense of making a more specific/concrete/tangible (gutaiteki) "miss", and "ayamaru" can say something's wrong without specifying the occasion or nature of the error and has a more more abstract feel. so, vs "your thinking is mistaken" (ayamaru), "your thinking is more mistaken" (machigau) has developed the nuance of more direct speech / more of a criticism. also, generally / in popular usage, "ayamaru" is more natural for ideas, cognition, etc., and "machigau" for cases in which concrete outcomes result from mistakes in thinking or judgment.

5. "machigaeru" is really/originally a transitive verb that corresponds to intransitive "machigau". "machigaeru" refers to superficial actions, like missing your fingering while playing the violin or making an error in a calculation or a response to a question—a glitch in thinking that results in an adverse outcome. Also used with the meaning of "to mistake/confuse" (torichigaeru): "confusing an umbrella" (with something else, I guess); "to mistake sugar for salt" (shio to satou o machigaeru).


chigaeru: to form an understanding or judgment or behave in a way that is not normal. also, to (be permitted to) be or behave in a way that differs from other things/people or the norm. "kotae o chigaeru" (miss the answer); "atama no suji o chigaeru" (pull/strain a muscle in one's head); "yarikata o chigaeru" (to do it wrong, to make an error in method).

(That's some tough language for me, so I'll have to take another look at it later vs the original. Caveat lector.)

So the apparent 2-to-1 frequency of machigau in the nominal and -te forms makes sense; probably machigai is more common (as a general "error") than machigae, and machigatte probably appears more frequently in compound use. 塩と砂糖を間違えて料理に置いてしまいました。"Mistaking it for salt, I (disastrously) put sugar on the food."—less specific, maybe, than uses for machigau.

Particles may shed some light, so here's a table of hits for GA+machiga- (subject marker) and O+machiga- (object marker):

ga o ratio
ga o ratio
-u 0.1 1.0 0.1 -eru 0.2 3.4 0.1
-tta 17.8 6.4 2.8 -eta 4.0 23.9 0.2
-ttara 0.5 0.2 2.0 -etara 0.3 1.5 0.2
-imasu 24.8 0.0 826.7 -emasu 0.1 0.5 0.1
-imashita 0.2 0.2 1.1 -emashita 0.6 5.2 0.1

Not as clear as I'd hoped. Overall, machigaeru strongly and consistently prefers o (ratio below 1), across the board, and machigau prefers ga (ratio above 1). But there's a lot of variation in machigau: the pref for ga in the -masu form is waaay higher than for anything else—more than 826-fold—but in the plain (short) form machigau seems to prefer o almost as strongly as machigaeru does. 変ですね。 Even weirder: that intense preference for ga in the polite machigau is not reflected in polite past machigau, which seems to use the two about equally. それを間違いました、それが間違いました。 それを間違えました。それを間違った、それを間違えた。

The Goo page on "machigai" also looks helpful, but that's for another time. And then there's the question of "ayamaru" and "ayamatsu"....and 過 (過つ/過ぎる/過去)....

All this came about originally because I was looking for a way to apologize for errors in an e-mail to 先生 without committing new ones! 間違ったら、どうもすみません。 ?

JLPT time again.

I'm thinking JLPT this year. I haven't yet signed up and don't know whether to attempt N4 or N3—especially since now that I'm back in grad school I have a lot to get done—but regardless the vocab and kanji practice is well worth it. I'm studying with an app called JLPT Study, at the N3 level, adding vocab and kanji as I go. December's still a few months away, so...maybe.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spiders and moons (習字).

In 習字 I'm working on that Issa poem that I really like:
くもの巣に 月さしこんで 夜のせみ

With 先生's patient help I got through some of the problems with it last time, but three big ones remain: さ to し (both さ and し), こ-ん (speed and lightness), 夜–の. I think all three problems are really about hand positioning. I've gotten better with the former two, but I'm still trying to make 夜–の feel natural....

Friday, July 22, 2011

茶の湯 (tea class)。

In tea class I'm still learning ryakubon (or 盆略手前, or お盆手前, or 略盆手前—short-form, tray-based tea), so last time I worked on entering and leaving the tea room, walking to place, etc., in addition to the ceremony itself and oshimai ("wrapping up"). I had some (very patient) guests, so we also went a bit deeper into the logistics of tea—how to keep sweets, tea, and tea items circulating in an orderly fashion (and avoid traffic jams—such as the one I caused when, as a guest at a demonstration ceremony, I neglected to finish my sweet before tea was served). The experience is very different when you're actually making a bowl of tea for someone, rather than doing a "dry run". Really makes you want to get the details right.

I was invited to stay for the advanced class; that's always a pleasure, as I can either hang out as last guest or just observe. The advanced students were working on 洗い茶巾 (araijakin), a nuance of 運び手前 (hakobidemae), a longer-form style that involves carrying in more items (including hishaku and mizuzashi), without a tray. I don't know much about araijakin (lit. "washing the tea cloth"), but it seems to be a "sidebar" in the ceremony, performed in July and August, of which the purpose is to refresh the guests with the tinkling sound of cool water dripping from the chakin (cloth) into the kensui (waste-water bowl). For the occasion one of the students used a more formal kensui—of some kind of metal (maybe bronze), rather than the usual glazed pottery—that made a beautiful ringing sound as the water dripped in.

I'm still new to tea, but the more I learn, the more I like. That the whole point of araijakin is for the guests to enjoy the sound of the dripping water is a very charming thing.

日本語のh力試験 (JLPT)。

It's that time again—JLPT season! Last year I signed up to try N3 (the new level 3, as restructured last year), but as the date approached I realized I was way behind and wouldn't be able to catch up in time, so I abandoned that effort. By this year's test, in December, I'll have an additional year of study and almost six months to prepare specifically, so maybe it can work. My biggest problems are vocabulary and kanji, so that's what I'll want to focus on.

The next question is which level to attempt. N1 and N2, the highest levels, are off the table for now—too far above my ability. I wouldn't want to take N5, since that's similar to the old level 4, which I passed two years ago. N4 seems very possible, but although it's more difficult than old 4 it's not very exciting to update "4" to "N4". N3 is a stretch right now but may be possible if I really apply myself. The deadline for registration seems to be September, so I'll have to decide by then whether and which; my strategy at the moment is to prepare sequentially—N5, then N4, then N3—and see where I stand come September. The tests are cumulative, so even the review will help.

So—ガンバリマショウね。 I've gathered some materials from the web and begun organizing. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What sci.lang.japan says about "obrigado".

4.1. Is arigatou (arigato) related to Portuguese "obrigado"?

No. Arigatou (ありがとう), the Japanese for "thank you", comes from arigatai (有難い), a conjunction of the verb aru, "to have", with the ending gatai (難い) which means "difficult". The "ou" ending comes from the conjunction of the adjectival arigataku with the polite verb gozaimasu (originally from gozaru).

Other common examples of this type of conjugation include omedetou gozaimasu (congratulations) from medetaku and ohayou gozaimasu (good morning) from hayaku. The word arigatai existed in Japanese long before the Japanese ever encountered Portuguese. It can be found in some of the earliest Japanese literature such as the manyoushuu.


So, that answers that. I still don't see why the adjective would go -ku before "gozaimasu", but I suppose it must be an old connection with the "-kunai" forms.

Not sure anyone would say it now, but maybe people said it then. I still don't really get how -ku + gozaimasu = -ou, but hey.

And why do "hayai" and "medetai" get the honorific o when "arigatai" doesn't?

お可笑しょうございます。 :-)

Friday, July 15, 2011

間 (spaces/pauses/intervals)。

Also at last tea class, お茶の先生 mentioned "ma" (間), "spaces" within a continuous temae in which you can take a moment to reflect, to center, or just to adjust anything that may have slipped out of alignment.* I wonder whether those spaces are thought of as they seem to be in shuuji—in a line of writing may be more or less continuous (連綿体), but even within the continuity there are "rest stops" where you can break the flow to adjust your brush positioning or to reconsider your character alignment, and then jump back in without any obvious break in the flow. I am very grateful for these spaces, because (as any writer can confirm) there are few things in this world more daunting than a blank sheet of paper.

I looked into 間 briefly yesterday, and it seems to be a particular kind of space (or way of thinking about space), a moving space—not just "negative space", an absence of things. There's a Wikipedia page on it (of course), but it's not super helpful if you don't already have an idea:
The spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation. In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

(I'm sure it can, but let's find some other ways to define it.)

A cursory google now yields some potentially useful sources. First, suspicion confirmed: the "ma" in "tokonoma" is indeed the same space (間), "toko" being either a floor or a bed. There seems to be a temporal component to it: "an empty place where various phenomena appear, pass by, and disappear. It teems with signs that exist in an infinite variety of freely ordered arrangements" (Isozaki, Ma: Space-Time in Japan). A butoh performer source target=_blank>expresses the same idea of hidden movement:

Movements become defined by the ma they involve. For example, if you are slapped in the face you will turn in one second and say “What was that for!” But there could also be a feeling that takes you four second to turn back from the slap and then say “What?” But it is never enough to just count out that ma (interval) one, two, three.... What we want is to find the emotion that occurs when you are slapped. It is not the interval count but what is nurtured in that time, what is hidden beneath it, what is moving.
Another source applies the concept to film (in the work of Yasujirou OZU):
Think of the Japanese art that you have seen, the extreme simplicity and economy, the empty spaces, the delicacy, the stylization (for example, of the woodblock prints that so contributed to the development of “modern art.”) Now how do you do that in cinema, a highly realistic art form in which the camera picks up everything in front of it?

... By refusing to use dissolves (after his early films), he forced himself to find ways to ease the viewer out of one scene and into another. Instead of a straightforward cut, he would put what are called “pillow shots” or “intermediate spaces” as transitions between scenes. These are “still life or neutral images in films that serve as visual and emotional resting points.” They tend to be subtle comments on the action. Sometimes they tell you a locale (Osaka castle or the famous Ryoan-ji garden in Kyoto). In these post-World War II films, these shots tended to be images of nature (suggesting these films’ recurring theme of nature’s cycling and human generations’ passing) or traditional Japanese objects (relating to the films’ general mistrust of modernization). Conversely, they can be smokestacks or industrial construction, again suggesting a questionable progress.

Interestingly, the Ozu writer also picks up the theme of appearances and disappearances within the space, things that are occurring, seen or unseen:
Ozu’s editing accounts for much of his “Japanese-ness.” These pillow shots that we don’t expect to appear, do appear. His films give us seemingly unimportant details (a stone step, a vase, a loaf of bread, a long train ride into Tokyo that we don’t expect). Conversely, shots that we expect to appear, don’t. In Late Spring, Noriko and a friend go to an art show, but we never see it Ozu sets up the possibility of a romance with her father’s research assistant, but cancels it. Most important, the whole film leads up to Noriko’s marriage, but we don’t see it or the man she marries (we are told just that he looks like Gary Cooper). In Early Summer, we never see the man Noriko’s family wants her to marry. We never see what goes on between Noriko and her chosen husband before she agrees to marry him. We don’t see that man’s being assigned to far-off Akita. In Tokyo Story, we do not see the parents visit their son in Osaka nor the mother fall ill.

Ozu’s style corresponds to the odd omissions and inclusions in Japanese painting. It leads to a kind of misdirection and disorientation and therefore a “making new” (a “defamiliarization” in the term of the Russian formalist critics). This newness focuses the attention of both Japanese and Western viewers.

And a very helpful summary that also differentiates 間 from 無, actual nothingness:
Mu means empty space, the space between things, and often Ozu’s camera seems pointed toward nothing (to the extent that is possible with a camera that picks up whatever is in front of it). Mu, that one character, is all that is inscribed on Ozu’s tomb. Ma refers to a space that gets filled. Ozu often shoots an empty room and then a character comes into it or he lingers on a room that a character has just left. Ma spaces are spaces for action, the quiet kind of conversational action that constitutes an Ozu masterpiece.
Again the idea of a space that may seem empty but in fact is active, vibrant with potential. Expectant: something just was there or soon will be. (But not necessarily what in English we'd call a "pregnant pause".) Very relevant for shuuji, I'd think, in which the choice of (or instinct around) what to show and not show is very important to successful work. Gyousho and sousho characters can sometimes be very free-form, but still there are parts you have to include if you want the characters to be readable (or, more likely, correct). Continuous renmentai writing shouldn't be too continuous; you should break the flow now and then, judiciously. I still have a lot of trouble spacing lines in chirashi, the spread-out style of writing poems; getting the characters, lines, spaces, and connections to harmonize is something I hope to achieve, to some degree, in the distant future.

I think we might also think of 間 in the aesthetic of shuuji, especially gyou and sou: part of the experience of viewing good shuuji is sensing the movements of the writer—the speed, pressure, and connectedness (shown or unshown) of the strokes, but also the state of mind of a person who was here, writing, but now is not.

(That "defamiliarization" is a particularly interesting point in all this. In college I studied postwar German and Japanese literature, and defamiliarization and alienation ["Verfremdungseffekt"] were major themes—stripping everyday objects, people, and places of their comforting familiarity. The effect can be pretty disturbing.)

Google Books also offers some useful stuff. Here's an explanation of ma with a broader historical perspective and an emphasis on martial arts:
Ma, a basic of strategy in the Japanese martial arts and Ways, seems to be one of those concepts rarely taught in any conscious manner to students anymore. It is found not only in the fighting arts of Japan, but in its art, and music, and architecture; even in the relationships people have with one another.

... [I]n Japan, the beat of early life was not determined by the strides of galloping horses.... In mountainside villages and rice fields, the tempo of daily life was set by the distinctly uneven rhythms of nature; the sudden clatter of a bamboo thicket in gusts of wind, the not-quite-steady plop of rain dripping off a thatched eave, the roar of an earth tremor followed by a seemingly endless, anticipatory pause. Within the silence of the bamboo grove before and after it has been stirred by a breeze, in the stillness following an earthquake, the moments between the dripping of raindrops, there are intervals. They are spaces in time that in Japanese are called ma.

That may be more poetic than we need, and it does seem to make some assumptions, but it's a helpful way to look at it as a more general aesthetic and philosophical principle. The chapter goes on to "karate dancing" and so on (and is worth a read). But this 間 seems particularly appropriate for physical pursuits like tea and martial arts, because between movements there is always some intention/anticipation. Particularly true for tea, as in most cases most people in the room will have a pretty clear idea of what the host will be doing next.

I'd like to read more specifically about ma and tea / (teahouse) architecture—such as this, on ma and "intimations" in architecturel this fascinating exploration of the structure and aesthetics of the Shoukintei teahouse in Kyouto; and anything I can find on 通天橋, the "pathway to heaven" bridges that span ma—but the space I'm currently in has become thick with expectancy that I'll get back to work. それでは。

There's also the question of why 間違う/える uses that 間—space + to be different = to be mistaken. And the related question of how 間違う and 間違える differ.

(*I asked what the protocol would be for a guest to, eg, align the lid of a natsume. 先生 said this can indeed be done, but it should be done after the guest manipulates the item, to avoid the overt implication that anyone in particular has misaligned it. Similarly, there are ways (involving math!) to ensure that the chawan and other dougu remain correctly oriented.)

(**I think I'll start referring to windows in South Philadelphia as tokonoma.)

血液型 (blood types)。

Last tea class, or just after, we talked about our blood type. Seems it's a thing in Japan to know people through their blood type (ketsuekigata), as it is here with the Zodiac. Wikipedia says that "blood type plays a much more prominent role in Japanese society than astrology does in the West". Here's that page's summary of traits:

Good thingsBad things
AEarnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient, responsibleFastidious, overearnest, stubborn, tense
BWild, active, doer, creative, passionate, strongSelfish, irresponsible, unforgiving, unpredictable
ABCool, controlled, rational, sociable, adaptableCritical, indecisive, forgetful, irresponsible, "split personality"
OAgreeable, sociable, optimisticVain, rude, jealous, arrogant

Apparently it's also thought of as a measure of compatibility. And it's super popular: "A series of four books that describe people's character by blood type ranked third, fourth, fifth and ninth on a list of best selling books in Japan in 2008 compiled by Tohan Corporation." 信じられない.

So a bit ago I was waiting for someone else to do something here at work, so I practiced Japanese (and had some fun) with online dating profiles on Yahoo Japan. (The text one finds on sites like Yahoo is great for relatively easy reading.) And there it is: blood type! Will have to learn more about that.

Monday, June 13, 2011

読めますか? (Mysterious tanzaku!)

Trying to read this tanzaku (from which I've removed the chop in the image), but there are some parts I can't make out. (Googling the phrases I think I can read hasn't helped.) Can anyone shed light?

It looks like something like


ichi ? ta ni
? no haru

The second character might be a hentaigana ゐ, or maybe an え. I guess "tani" might be a valley, but then we wouldn't have a preposition to end the first line. The first kanji in the last line—is it possible that's hoshi? "Hoshi no haru" would work metrically and with the second thought, of light (hikari) remaining (nokosu). Or am I completely off base?

ADDENDUM: Gave this some more thought on the way home. Is it possible that the beginning is 一枝(えだ)に? Then the thought would be 一枝に光残して、星の春:
in just one branch,
light remaining—
starry spring
Very pretty, and it would make sense with the prominence of ichi. But plausible? If not.... I think Ichieda is also a surname and a placename in northern Kyuushuu.

ADDENDUM: I showed this to 習字の先生, and she read it for me: 一枝にひかりのこして里の春。 Hito eda ni / hikari nokoshite / sato no haru. So that kanji is not hoshi, but sato, "village". 先生 says 里 and 春 often appear together.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

印鑑!! (We make stamps.)

Today in shuuji we picked our next poem—I asked 先生 to help me choose between two, the one I discussed with 日本語の先生 (心ここになきかなかぬかほととぎす) and that one by Issa about moonlight shining through a spider web (蜘の巣に月さしこんで夜のせみ). (Two insects in one poem! If we did kumo as two kanji, we'd have mushihen twice—two insects in the kanji. 蜘蛛。) We chose the cicada and spiderweb.

Then we took a stab at inkan (stamps)—shuuji friend Cさん and I are trying to do one with our sho name and one with another tensho character we've been working on, 和 for Cさん and 無 for me. I've been writing mu as one of the traditional crying faces. But we're thinking that for the stamp I'll try a lighter version that seems like it's exploding. (Both at right; 先生 drew these as options to consider.)

Today I worked on a seal with my sho name. I drew a bunch of variations with pencil and then fudepen, and 先生 helped me mold them into something workable. Then we glued the tracing paper onto a stamp base that 先生 had made—in my case, black walnut with a taigua nut surface. (Beautiful!) After the glue (のり) dried, we started in on the grinding, with fun tools that were either sanders or drills. Ultimately we got them to where we could test-stamp and then mark some edits for next time. We made my sho name look a bit like a face—I like to see Hotei in it—so I'm looking forward to stamping stuff with it.

Meanwhile, I have a lot to work on with my kana.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Maybe it would help if I starched my kofude 小筆. Probably the bristles are too long and loose.

Friday, June 10, 2011


本当に夏になっていますね。Philadelphia is becoming steamy and summery, as it must have been when Jefferson was writing the Declaration and everyone was arguing about it at Independence Hall. In waistcoats and breeches.

Much is going on. In 習字 we've been working with kana (tanzaku) and tensho; I've been writing 無, mu, which for whatever reason everyone seems to have represented (in the distant past) as crying faces. I have a page of them that I'll try to scan at some point. 面白いですね。 A whole page of mu, "nothing/not", written in tensho as various forms of weeping. どうしてだろうかなぁ。 習字の先生 has proposed we try carving 印鑑 (tensho seals); I'm loving the thought of stamping mu on things!

This weekend we'll pick new summer haiku to practice, so I've been translating from our options (for self and for a friend who doesn't read Japanese). We're really picking based on shapes, but it's nice to write something we understand and can think about and enjoy. Here's one that's not in our pages but that I really like:
kumo no su ni tsuki sashikonde yoru no semi
moonlight shining in the spider's web / night cicada

(or maybe)

cicada at night / moonlight streaming through a spiderweb

Issa, 1805. It reminds me of a bridge I used to visit. In the summer its lattice of metal became a vast apartment complex for chunky spiders, whose webs gleamed at night.

Thanks to 習字の先生 and another student, we now have a copy of かな精習 (kana seishuu), Kana Exercises. The title doesn't do it justice. It's full of explanations of history and movements—individual kana, groups of 2 or 3 or 4, hentaigana, placement on the page, etc. Enormously valuable for a student. I've used its examples to make hentaigana mini-flashcards, and I'm getting a little better at recognizing them when I see them in tanzaku &c. As 先生 says, some are more common than others; there are certain forms of の, に, た, か, &c., that seem to pop up in almost everything. And that れ based on 車 (kuruma, REN)—very recognizable. I think my favorite so far is this crazy け; it's like a little swordfight, then a fun loop like a ゆ, and then you can just drag it down the page.

At lessons I'm writing with a really cramped, tense hand. Stage fright. At home it's better, but it happens again whenever I use decent paper.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Have discovered a dramedy called タイガー&ドラゴン (Tiger & Dragon). The premise is that a yakuza debt collector goes to lean on a rakugo performer and somehow becomes involved in rakugo. The narrative flows between naturalism—or should I say realism?—and a fanciful rakugo setting. 信じられないですね。 I'm particularly up for it now because 日本語の先生 and I recently read 猫の皿 ("The Cat's Saucer") and 習字の先生 was kind enough to lend me some recordings of rakugo. Also, one of the principals in タイガー&ドラゴン is 西田敏行 (NISHIDA Toshiyuki), who also played Abbyさん's ramen-sensei in The Ramen Girl, a movie I find weirdly comforting. The one season of タイガー&ドラゴン can be had online.

Monday, April 18, 2011

短冊! (in which we try to write summer haiku)

Today in shuuji we chose our summer haiku and began practicing! It's a big step because although we've been working on 連綿体 (connected writing) and 変体仮名 (old phonetic uses of kanji) we haven't actually written poems with 小筆 (small brush). Here's mine, by TAKAHAMA Kyoshi (1874–1959):
kiri no hana / hikage o nazu ni / itarazaru
Ie, the paulownia has begun to flower but doesn't yet offer shade. Here's how we're doing it:
桐: kanji
の: hentaigana from 乃 (連綿体)
花: a new sousho form of hana
日: between gyousho and sousho
か: standard hiragana (連綿体)
げ: hentaigana from 希 (and a doozie, like this but with a super long tail) (連綿体)
を: hiragana, small and quiet
なずに: hiragana, with hentaigana 二 (連綿体)
い: hentaigana from 移 ()
た: hentaigana from 多 (kinda like this, but different)
ら: hentaigana from 羅 ()
ざ: hentaigana from 佐 ()
る: very small and subtle, I think hentaigana from 留
難しかったですが、非常に楽しかったです。 I have a long way to go before I can write it presentably, but hopefully with practice. Also have found this great archive of haiku, organized by poet and then by season. 習字を一緒に練習している友達の場合には。。。。 My friend who studies shuuji with me is doing one by Bashou about persimmons: 木の下に柿の花散る夕かな. Ki no shita ni / kaki no hana saru / yuube ka na. In the evening, persimmon blossoms spread beneath the trees.

Here in Philadelphia the cherry trees are in full bloom and very beautiful. Last Sunday was Sakura Sunday, our annual 花見. Throngs of people as always, and much fun. The Tamagawa taiko and dance troupe was visiting Philadelphia and performed—凄く上手だと思いますよ。 Amazing. I also was fortunate enough to see them at West Chester earlier this month.

Also bought three new calligraphy pieces at 櫻祭り: 春暁 (shungyou?) "daybreak in spring"; 春爛漫 (shunranman?) "glorious spring / spring is bustin' out all over"; and one in gyousho that starts with 桜 but otherwise for now remains shrouded in mystery. They're all written by the same person, who we were told lives in Japan. I can make out only some parts of the inkan.

Addendum: It's possible the piece that starts with sakura says 桜椋乱 (oomuran?)—the cherry trees and the muku trees are rioting / at war.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More on "kana" (哉).

I while back I was wondering whether the 切れ字 "kana" (哉) used in haiku is related to the ”かな(ぁ)" used now to indicate wondering. I'd read that as a kireji (cutting-word, 切れ字) it could end the verse and separate it from further verses in the same stream. Now I see in the (so reliable!) Wikipedia entry on kireji that it can also suggest "wonder"—though per the examples it seems to mean wonderment rather than wondering.

This I don't understand:
A kireji is typically positioned at the end of one of these three phrases. When it is placed at the end of the final phrase (i.e. the end of the verse), the kireji draws the reader back to the beginning, initiating a circular pattern.
How exactly does it do that? どうしてかな。面白い哉!

Friday, April 8, 2011

雨夜哉 (thematically linked haiku)。

A friend and I were discussing seasonal haiku the other day, and I came across one I really liked:根心に花を算える雨夜哉

negokoro ni
hana o kazoeru
amayo kana

while sleeping,
counting the (cherry) blossoms—
a rainy night

数えるの漢字が「旧字」という漢字で、今使いません。旧字 kyuuji = old-style kanji no longer in use.

I googled "雨夜哉" to see whether anything else would turn up in the setting of a rainy night (with that phrasing), just for fun, and things did:


pashi-pachi ha
kuri to shiraruru
amayo kana

the pitter-patter—
chestnuts and the well-known
rainy night


mi ni shimite
oto kiku hana no
amayo kana

the rainy night
when the sound of blossoms
penetrates the body


hina no mae
amayo kana

Humbled by
a young bird
on a rainy night


mizudori no
anata makase no
amayo kana

the rainy night
when you give in to (abandon yourself to)
the water-birds


ukitoki ha
kama no toone mo
amayo kana

the rainy season—
just the far-off sound of a toad
a rainy night

(Apologies for the many weak spots in my translations.)

This evening on the way to 太鼓 we wondered about the difference between 俳句 (haiku) and 川柳 (senryuu), and (via 携帯様) we learned that (1) senryuu end with an additional 7-7; (2) the tone is different—whereas haiku are about nature, senryuu tend to be comical, satirical, or sardonic, treating the more mundane things in life; and (3) because of this difference, senryuu don't need the formal elements of haiku, like 切地 (kireji, cutting particles) and 季語 (kigo, words that indicate the season in which the haiku is set). 習字の先生 says that haiku date more or less to the Edo period but senryuu go much further back, to Nara.

Here's an amazing database of example haiku (俳句例句), organized by either keywords or grammatical elements. It gets very specific with its categorizations. Some of the material in progress, but it's great for finding haiku by theme.

書道テレビ (Shodou TV)。

「書道テレビ」というインタネットテレビ局 (Shodou TV) starts June 1!
the channel is here

more about the project here

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


So strange how Fukushima (福島, a truly ironic name) has all but fallen from the headlines here in the US. That and the 地震 were all the news talked about for a few days, but then Libya happened, and I guess they figured out that the reactor story may take a long time to play out.

哉 (かな) 、「かなぁ」。

Have been looking through an Issa archive for summer haiku to learn to write in hiragana in 習字 and keep coming across, at the end of a poem, 哉 (かな/kana). Is it related to the wondering かな(ぁ)? Jisho has it as exclamatory—"what a...!" "how...!"—but also as "what" and "question mark". かなぁ in modern usage seems to be something like that, sometimes an interrogatory か + a wondering/internal なぁ. I don't know whether it's used outside of a sense of wondering.
古いかな。 furui ka na. I wonder if it's old.
悪く決まったかなぁ。 waruku kimatta ka naa. Maybe it was decided badly.
漢字の字源は何だろうかなぁ。 The parts are earth, mouth, and halberd. Jisho says it's archaic but still 人名用, jinmeiyou, pre-reform kanji still used in names.

Interestingly, it seems also to have the reading や ya. I wonder whether it was ever written as the "cutting particle" in haiku such as 木の陰や。 そんな説明は本当かなぁ。

Monday, February 28, 2011

アテジの例 (ateji)。

Just happened to be looking up めでたい on jisho.org, and here's what came up:
Granted, for each entry it says that the word is usually written with kana alone. But how interesting, that there seem to be no kanji associated with this word beyond sound—all examples seem to be jury-rigged to fit the phonetics. In the first, the kanji have readings of me (moku, an eye), de (deru/dasu, exiting), and tabi (do, a "time"/repetition). Me・de・ta・i. The second uses ai 愛, love, as the "m" component; Saiga turns up only two entries in which 愛 carries readings starting with "m", both cases asterisked:
めでる, mederu, to appreciate (eg, beauty) in a loving way: 花を愛でる
まな mana, beloved, as in 愛娘, beloved daughter
These really seem to be one-offs, 愛 forced into contexts in which it's not comfortable.

The third example in the above list uses 芽, め me, a sprout, for that sound. め・で・た・い.

So presumably when kanji were being fitted onto spoken Japanese, nobody came up with anything good for めでたい, and at some point someone stuck on 芽, 目, 出, 度, etc., because there ought to be something. Or, maybe there was a very good explanation at the time, which now either has been forgotten or is perfectly clear to people who understand Japanese much better than I do. Part of the adventure.

Speaking of: I still don't get the -ou and -i forms: めでたい, おめでとう; はやい, おはよう, etc. Interesting that the form that follows the -ou is not です(である), but just ある—not でございます but just ございます. So, 「おはようーさんです!」, but 「おはよう...ございます」.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

遺憾 / 判子。

「印鑑」という物と「判子」というのはどう違いますかと考えます。Both seem to mean "seal", and both turn up a lot of likely images on Google (inkan, hanko). Wikipedia says, "Inkan is the most comprehensive term; hanko tends to refer to seals used in less important documents." That makes sense given 子 (child) as the second kanji of 判子. All the subclasses of seals for personal use seem to include 印, which (as 判 seems to do) means an actual seal. Wiki also says that there are inexpensive, prefab seals, called 三文判 (sanmonban), available at stationery stores; there's that はん from 判子, so that's more support for hanko as less "weighty" versions of inkan. Wiki says that 三文 derives from the mon, a unit of currency—a three-mon seal, a cheapie. Wonder whether there's any relationship with the family crests, mon, worn on kimono—one, three, or five, with increasing degrees of formality. The "mon" kanji root is the same—in the kimono version, it's mon 文 with ito (thread) in the hen position (紋).

Kinda also makes me wonder whether there's any relationship between 門 "mon", phonetically a circle/circular object (unit of currency, or a crest) but in this kanji gate, and 円 (maru/en), meaning a circle/circular or a unit of currency (yen) but very similar structurally to 門. Neither of them remotely circular in shape. 面白い。

「元気」に比べて「Japanese Demystified」。

Reading through Japanese Demystified and finding a lot to like. A lot of it's material we've covered in Genki. It could use much more vocab but does group vocab meaningfully where present. It doesn't do much with kanji, but unlike some other books, it doesn't shy away from kanji and kana in its examples. Romaji is included throughout, which tends to grab the eye too fast but is great for moving quickly through examples. I definitely prefer the organization; its all-business approach is more structured and thorough and probably is better suited to an adult learner. The largely image-based approach in Genki certainly has value, in that it can create more direct associations in the memory than a strictly verbal approach can; but this book skips the very long dialogues and random vocab sections and offers some pieces of the puzzle that Genki omits.

An example of the thoroughness I like is in ch. 14, the section on auxiliary verbs that show timing or extent—just two four-line explanations, with a generous string of varied examples for each, but at least it discusses hajimeru, dasu, kakeru, owaru, tsuzukeru, yamu, nareru, sugiru, tsukusu, kiru, and makuru—verbs that function in pretty much the same way—all in the same place. I think Genki covers hajimeru, tsuzukeru, and owaru together and sugiru someplace else—at least, as of chapter 20 of 23—but this is much more helpful to me, in that it shows a broader range of expression based on a single structure. (I'd known that nareru was to get used to something, but nowhere had I seen that it could be used as -hajimeru, etc., can be used.) I also really like the breadth of the examples; they're ample but seem well chosen to reflect the syntax variants we're likely to encounter. (AはBより / BよりAは, etc.)

Definite kudos for using the words phonomime, phenomime, and psychomime—a far cry from メアリーのホームステー! (Not to harsh on メアリーさん at all, but her experience and mine are pretty different.)

A few discrepancies have jumped out as I've run through (270 pages this evening!) that I'm wondering about. Eg, Demystified says that we shouldn't use 上手 (jouzu) to refer to our own abilities but should instead use 得意 (tokui). テニスが得意です。 True? I think I remember Genki using just 上手 for all exercises. (What are you good at? テニスと料理が上手です。) I may be wrong about that.

Addendum: Another thing I like about JD is that, because it's meant for self-study, it includes exercises and tests with answer keys. And a nuance to the good point about structure: some of it seems a bit mislabeled, or at least there seems sometime to be a disconnect between the chapter and the lesson. And it introduces the locatory で only 200+ pages in. If I were writing a textbook, I'd cover で very early—first who did what, then when and where, and finally why and how. で would fit into where. りんごを食べました。 [Someone] ate an apple. Where? 家. At [someone's] house. Pretty basic stuff to be introducing so late, after far more complex stuff.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

-みたく / -みたいに。

Was just reading a forum page about -みたい, and whether it's used adverbially as an い adjective or a な adjective would be. Xみたいもの? Xみたいなもの? Xみたく走る? Xみたいに走る? Still trying to find a consensus on the page, but some people say they've heard other usage that's less than strictly correct, like 大丈夫ない (だいじょうばない, a な adjective ending in -ぶ conjugated as if it were a -ぶ verb) and 好きくない (すきくない, a な adjective conjugated as an い adjective). I guess that's the difference between 教育 (training, official speech) and the living language.

Reminds me of an anecdote that my French teacher related back when I was in school, about grammatical errors she'd heard on the train in Paris. It was comforting; as we all can confirm from experience, real people don't always follow grammatical rules. Recently I've been trying to look at N異本後 from a less "academic" viewpoint, to think of it as a tool to actually communicate with people, to get a message across, even if (as will be the case) my speech is full of errors. Errors can be corrected with time and attention; shyness can keep a person from making any progress at all. 恥ずかしすぎればなりませんね。 Litereally—no becoming.

Someone says daijoubanai may have come from a humorous comeback to the question "Daijoubu?" ("Everything OK?") no, no, DAIJOUBANAI! (instead of だいじょうぶじゃない, daijoubu ja nai). 方言ということは面白いですね。


There must be a word for that effect I like so much, when several different kanji can be used to write a single phonetic group (or several similar phonetic groups). Here's another one: あらた (a・rata), meaning "new/anew" or "again". It can be written adjectivally as 新た, as in 新たな物 (arata na mono), in which case it's the same kanji as あたらしい 新しい atara・shii, "new". But then it can also appear as 改める arata・meru, meaning to do something again (anew). So this phonetic grouping of あらた (with, perhaps, あたら) carries several kanji relating to new instances of things. This seems similar to かれる kareru, one I've mentioned before:
枯れる / kareru / to be (as a plant) completely withered or dried out (tree + old)
涸れる / kareru / to dry up (as a pond) (water + hardening, solidifying)
嗄れる / kareru / to dry out or rasp out (as a voice); to become hoarse (mouth + summer)
Of course, it may be just coincidence; that's always a danger. I started thinking of かれる when I encountered 「涙もかれ果てて」 in a Miyuki Nakajima song. 果てる hateru has a similar meaning of reaching an extreme, being exhausted, perishing—when one has reached the point at which tears are dried up, exhausted (枯れ果てる). I suppose that must be 枯, because the others seem NGU (not-general-use), not 常用.

I guess in general many of them have been consolidated into 常用 kanji, the everyday kanji; too bad. Too bad. The older forms have a lot of charm and are suggestive historically. I wonder whether 日本人 still recognize and understand those older forms, and whether those forms still carry any shades of meaning.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Writing in tensho makes me want to try carving something. 習字の先生 carves seals in tensho and made beautiful seals (判子 hanko) for us with our sho name. Of course, I then proceeded to stamp one of my better writings upside-down. Awesomeness. I asked whether that ruined it completely, and she said, "Yes."  (*´ο`*)

I haven't used my 判子 in months, but next time I'll be very careful how I position it.

Monday, February 7, 2011


A thing I don't love about Genki is how it treats vocabulary—it tends to base its word list for each lesson on its dialogue and examples. That's great as far as it goes, but it results in what seems to me a very uneven treatment; there are some complex words (and kanji) that appear early in the series and some very basic words (like "tree" and "wind") that appear almost at the end, and at no point are the words grouped by theme for easier memorization and retention.

But—hopefully, problem solved! I've bought a book that groups vocab by theme—business, weather, math, art, religion, the home, food, geography, など—and, unlike a vocab book I've had a while but don't use at all because it's all in ローマ字, Western type, and I have no idea what the kanji are—it includes kana, kanji, and roumaji. 凄い.

ところで、my new favorite kanji is 輿 (かご、こし). It means a litter or a palanquin. I enjoy its symmetry.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


習字の先生 also taught me a new word—that is, she used it to describe one of my strokes in tensho and, when I asked what it meant, suggested I ask 日本語の先生 about it. The word was さりげなく, which seems to mean that I wasn't paying enough attention to the ending of my stroke. That sounds like me; I tend to keep thinking about the next stroke, rather than "being in the moment" with the stroke I'm actually doing. (One of the many reasons why studying shuuji is good for me.)

さりげ contains two kanji, first 然る and then 気. 然り気ない、然り気無い、然り気無く。 The dictionaries translate it as "nonchalant(ly)". Unconcerned; in a casual manner. I admit I sometimes become impatient when kanji have many strokes. Kaisho is like that; sometimes I dread even starting a page of characters, because it'll be dozens of strokes before I've finished, each presenting a fresh opportunity for total failure. In most examples of 鳥 in tensho there are multiple "feathers" that descend from the right side in parallel—nowhere near as dynamic as sousho or even kaisho! But not being 然り気無い is something I need to work on, like not rushing my strokes.

(I wondered where I'd seen 然. Probably in 全然! Zen-zen is like "not at all", the first kanji being "everything" and the second, さる, being something like "-like".)

今日の習字: 連綿体、変体仮名、篆書。 (Calligraphy!)

Today's shuuji (習字) lesson was 連綿体 (renmentai, connected kana) ふる、さと、はな、ひと. ひと took me the longest, especially the line from the pickup after ひ to the cross in と. Then 変体仮名 (hentaigana), several forms of わ, one of which is actually based on 王, which apparently is something like わん in Chinese. My favorite was a form based on 倭; I feel extra lucky because we got to do 麦 mugi twice, once as 偏 (in 和) and once in the upper part of 旁 (in 倭). それから篆書, seal script, our first attempts. We "interviewed" several forms of 寒 and 鳥, and then I gave it a shot—very different from kaisho and gyousho, in that sometimes the best we can do is try to reproduce examples from the old masters, without necessarily knowing the stroke order or even, sometimes, the stroke count. The good side of that is that there's some freedom in it.

My 小筆 kofude was good to me today and gave me pretty clean lines in hentaigana, as long as I kept the ink thick. It responded well to renmen, too, though because the bristles aren't starched it can be difficult to maneuver. I used a larger sheep-bristle fude for tensho and had trouble sometimes achieving the stroke entrances and symmetry I wanted.

Whenever we're looking for examples of things, 先生 brings out amazing books, full of calligraphy by ancient and modern masters. Today it recalled a discussion I'd had with 日本語の先生 about honorifics with nouns—when is the teacher's book ご本 vs just plain old 本? If sensei actually wrote the book, it may be go-hon; if it's just a book that sensei happens to have, then maybe just hon. But everything is situational, and sensei's books today definitely felt like ご本, full of examples of skill that should be respected, especially since 先生の自分の先生 was in them.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

リルプリ、「アイドルール」。 !!!

うわぁ。 Just for kicks I went to YouTube and searched ビデオ (video) to see what would come up and be fun. This happened:

I have no idea what LilPri is supposed to be, but apparently it's from a "magical girl" anime based on something called a "card arcade game". Here's a blurb from Wikipedia:
The Fairytale World is in trouble. Its princesses and their respective worlds are disappearing, causing a ripple effect in the human world where their stories are popular. In order to save theFairytale World, the Queen sends three magic animals, Sei, Dai, and Ryoku, to the human world with magic gems to find three girls who can become the "Super Miracle Idols," the princesses Snow White, Cinderella, and Kaguya-hime. Those "princesses" end up being three little girls: Yukimori Ringo, Takashiro Layla, and Sasahara Natsuki. But the gems transform them into older singing superstars, and after their accidental debut at the singer Wish's concert, they become known as "Little Princesses," or "LilPri." Now they must collect Happiness Tones from humans in order to restore the Fairytale World.
Dealing with lyrics like these is tough for me because they so often seem fragmented, are hard to hear, and are pronounced (syllabicated) in unnatural ways, but here's a shot:

歌詞 kashi lyrics

アイドルールはキビしいルール アイドルールはキビしいルール
アイドルールはキビしいルール…アイドルール ルルル
AIDORU-RU ha KIBIshii RU-RU (2x)
idol rules are STRICT rules

AIDORU to shite ikiru kara ni ha
sore ha KIBISHII RU-RU ga aru no
if you want to live as an idol,
there are STRICT rules [you have to follow]
["kara ni" is new for me]

mukashi mukashi aru tokoro ni ita
HIROIN mitaku "gomen asobase"
long ago, [someone?] went to [was on a stage in] in a certain place
[and said,] like a heroine, "Pardon me"
or: like a heroine from a faraway land, long ago, say "Gomen asobase"
[can't tell whether that's あるところにいた, which could be "being in a certain place" or even "a (theatrical) stage in a certain place", or あるところに行った, "went to a certain place". the song does mention stages later, but it uses ステージ, SUTE-JI. "Gomen asobase" is something like "pardon me", a command form; I think somewhere in the video someone sorta curtseys to it, so it may suggest polite behavior, though I don't see how that's heroic. Maybe it makes more sense to run the lines together and think of it as いる..あるところにいたヘロインみたい. But I don't like that, because it seems like it would be いていた or 住んでいた。]

aruku sugata ha seiso ni walking
hanasu aite nya tenshi no smiling
when you're walking, walk brightly/cleanly
when you're speaking, smile like an angel
[清楚の楚 must be ateji, because it means a switch (as in a branch)...unless such things were used for cleaning. i don't know what to do with にゃ.]

PASUTERU iro no DORESU matottara
IME-JI changing "gomen asobase"
when you put on a dress in pastel colors,
and change your image, say, "Gomen asobase"
[i'm still going with the "here are the rules" structure throughout, though i'm not confident in it.]

nani o tabete mo BARA no iki o haki
neiki ha ii kedo, IBIKI ha DAME yo
even when eating something, [your] breath [must be] like a rose
breathing as one asleep (?) is great, but no snoring!
[that's pretty clearly 寝息, 寝る (to sleep) and 息 (breath)]

きっと今のは天使のフルート aiaiaiai
ONARA da nante tonde mo nai desu
kitto ima no ha tenshi no FURU-TO
flatulence is no good (unheard of!)
certainly, the current ... angels' flute
[今 の what? is this a comparison between flatulence and an angel's flute?!]

ai ai

大理石のステージの上 アイドルール
アールデコのイメージの中 アイドルール
dairiseki no SUTE-JI no ue, AIDORU-RU
on the marble stage, IDOL
among Art Deco images, IDOL

毎度キビシイルールも ルルル
ボーンボーン 12時の鐘が鳴り終わるまで つづけルール
アイドルール アイドルール アイドルール ルルルル
BO-N BO-N 12ji no kane ga nariowaru made tsudzukeRU-RU
every time, strict rules
BONG, BONG—they continue until the last stroke of the 12:00 bell


AIDORU to shite ikiru (W)ATASHI ha
kiyoku tadashii RU-RU ga aru no
i live as an IDOL
there are clear and correct rules [about it]

むかしむかしの 童話のように
mukashi mukashi no douwa no you ni
katari tsugarete "gomen asobase"
as in a fairy tale from long ago
that's passed down, "Gomen asobase!"

ai shi ai sare cute na seishin
hajiraimasu wa ATAMA de junshin
loving and being loved, a CUTE spirit
i'm/we're shy and pure/sincere

iro toridori no meiku hodokoshi
IME-JI changing "gomen asobase"
applying multicolored makeup,
appearance always changing, "Gomen asobase!"

ウフフはいいけど ガハハはダメよ
nani o mite(i)temo me no naka ni ha hoshi
UFUFU ha ii kedo GAHAHA ha dame yo
even when looking at something, stars in (our/my) eyes
chuckling/giggling is fine, but not laughing!

隣の人?は…赤の他人よ aiaiaiai
KARESHI da nante tondemo nai desu!
tonari no hito ha aka no tanin yo
no boyfriend(s)—no way!
neighbors are complete strangers
[why should you have to shun your neighbors to be an idol?]

シャンデリアの輝きを持って アイドルール
ロココ調のココロでさあ アイドルール
SHANDERIA no kagayaki o motte AIDORU-RU
with the glitter of a chandelier, idol(s)
heart(s) in the key of rococo, idol(s)
[source says that this 調 can be anything from tone/key/pitch to time/tempo to mood.]

きょうもキビシイルールで ルルル
ボーンボーン 12時の鐘が鳴りやまないから つづけルール
アイドルール アイドルール アイドルール ルルルル
BO-N BO-N 12ji no kane ga nariyamanai kara tsudzukeRURURU
even today, STRICT rules
DONG! DONG! the 12 o'clock bell hasn't stopped ringing, so they go on


aiai aiai

大理石のステージの上 アイドルール
アールデコのイメージの中 アイドルール
dairiseki no SUTE-JI no ue AIDORU-RU
on the marble stage, idol(s)
among Art Deco images, idol(s)

毎度キビシイルールも ルルル
ボーンボーン 12時の鐘が鳴り終わるまで つづけルール
アイドルール アイドルール アイドルール ルルルル
BON BON 12ji no kane ga nariowaru made tsudzukeRURURU
every time, STRICT rules
DONG! DONG! continuing until the last stroke of the 12 o'clock bell

信じられないですよ。 I guess Art Deco has changed a bit since my day. I think I'd be afraid to be around these idols when that 12 o'clock bell stops ringing. But maybe it'll help if I watch some of the episodes, which I can do here.