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.)