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 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.