Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sounds, meanings, kanji (元・本, gen/hon/moto).

Last night in 日本語の授業 we were going through the section 「相槌とフィラー」 from the とびら textbook, about the various conversational sounds and phrases that demonstrate that the listener is engaged and paying attention, or that express surprise, disbelief, etc. The phrase 自然 ("natural") kept coming up, as in 自然に話せるため。。。。 So I've been thinking about "shizen", and in particular about the kanji 然, "zen". Together, the kanji equate to something like "self-like", so that makes sense as "natural" and is reminiscent of many combinations with 元 and 本 (GEN, HON, moto, and other phonetically related kanji) that seem to imply "getting at the root" of something, or basic/original truth. 例えば。。。。
元気 genki, "original spirit" (health, vitality, etc.)
元素 genso, a chemical element (in which both kanji have meanings of origin)
元治 genji, origin
手 gende, motode, capital, the basic funding one starts with

元日・元旦 genjitsu (gennichi)/gentan, New Year's Day
元年 gennen, first year of a reign
元来(に)・元は genrai (ni), moto ha, primarily, originally
祖 genso, founder or originator ("root parent"? 租 also carries the kun'yomi おや, like 親さん)
本意・本音, hon'i/honne, one's true motive or intent
本気 honki, seriousness or truth
本家 main family, birthplace, originator
本土 hondo, one's home country
本部 honbu, headquarters
本義 hongi, true meaning
本字 honji, original (unsimplified) kanji
本当・ 當・ 真 honto(u)/honto(u)/honma, truth or reality
館 honkan, main building
質 honshitsu, essential nature
心 honshin, one's true feelings
本体 hontai, substance or real form
基・素・ moto, origin, source, basis, foundation, cause
元々・本々 motomoto/motomoto, originally, by its nature
Etc., etc. I'm sure some of these are used much more frequently than others, but they're all worth considering. This is a part of Japanese that I really enjoy: the often imperfect fit between phonetics (kun'yomi & on'yomi) and semantics. It seems that when kanji traveled to Japan and began to "take root", the Chinese "HON" and "GEN" sounds, associated with roots and origins, mingled with indigenous Japanese "moto", resulting in a kind of instability in both sounds and kanji (eg, gende/motode; 本々・元々). I guess the only way to navigate it all is to immerse and listen to people's usage.

(Perhaps coincidentally, that's also my favorite part of the legal system: laws as written almost never exactly fit the situation in question, so the legal system exists to resolve the discrepancies as far as possible and decide on a plan.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hyakunin Isshu again, and utagaruta.

After tea class today, Sさん was kind enough to drive me home. Turns out she's interested in 百人一首 (hyakunin isshu), collections (or, one collection in particular) of "100 people, 1 poem (each)". I learned a bit about it from 習字の先生 a few months ago and find it fascinating. And...Sさん has an app for it! Seems there are quite a few, actually, in English and Japanese and both. Looking forward to learning more. Sさん and I agreed that one day we'll play 歌がルタ (utagaruta) together, the card game in which you choose the second part of a famous poem (eg, from the Hyakunin Isshu) to match the sung or intoned first part, as fast as you can. Looks like there's a DS app for karuta:

And here's karuta at school:

It would take me years to actually be able to play that, but what a fun thing to learn! Sさん's app for 百人一首 also has the vocal track; I wonder how the singers learn to sing it.

Don't cha-no-yu from somewhere?

Beautiful Saturday morning to be back in tea class. It's been months—well, before last week—and I have an ankle injury, so my ryakubon was shaky at best. But everyone was patient, and we got through it. I need to practice a lot more before next time so my movements will be more fluid—ie, we can work on details rather than what comes next—and my fukusa will feel less inclined to fight me. I will say, though, that on the three bowls of tea I made I managed a pretty good froth. Usually my wrist tires, but not so much today.

I took along the kimono I bought at least year's 桜祭り here in Philly, a pleasant brown on the outside with a very fine black geometric pattern, almost Greek, and a royal blue inner lining. Subtle enough for tea. The group advised that I find an obi with gold threads would go well with it, so I'll have to look for one. Also, it turns out some of the sizing is off; it's a bit short for me, and a bit narrow for tea, and maybe the arms are a little short. Fortunately, we have a stitcher in the group who's worked on kimono before; she found within the lining all the extra fabric we'll need. So, yay. Chanoyu happy dance (which of course is done entirely in the heart, while externally one remains entirely calm)! Also still need other items (tabi, himo, juban, etc.).

I feel a little presumptuous, being such a beginner student and having a kimono. But, even at my low level, I can tell that some of the movements are what they are precisely because one is wearing a kimono—particularly, arms (sleeves) and knees—so maybe some things will feel more natural if I practice in appropriate clothing. Strange that the kimono process is so different between men and women: women's kimono require a much more complex infrastructure than do men's, which are put on pretty much exactly as you'd expect.