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.