Saturday, November 5, 2016

A blazing autumn for us all.

Thinking about forms of prostration, in the last post, gave me the fun image of fully "prostrating" (in the Catholic sense) oneself in a 4.5-mat chashitsu. It would take up most of the room, and one's papers would fall from one's obi into the inset stove.... I feel a poem coming on!

ro ni kaishi ochi
atsui aki

face-down on the mats
papers slip into the fire—
a very warm autumn!

...or something like that. I was trying to do something more tankaësque, with 炎秋になり, or at least a good 哉, and to play with a too-hot fire vs the cold of an autumn/winter tearoom, but maybe later. There must be set phrases in classical poetry to describe warm/mild winters. Maybe a specific plant or bird. I'll have to check some kigo dictionaries.

And I'm not sure what I did with 落 was legal. It feels right, though—continuous—and fits the meter. I think I'd prefer 秋暑い. Hmm.

真礼 and 土下座—bowing or prostrating oneself?

In lessons in chanoyu 茶の湯, Tea ceremony, we've done three kinds of bow (rei 礼), aligning with the shin-gyou-sou hierarchy of formality:
  • the shin (真, "true"?) bow, the most formal, for entering and exiting the space, etc
  • the gyou (行) "moving" bow, about halfway down, as for passing tea, or 道具 Tea implements for perusal, to the next guest
  • the sou (草) "grass" bow, just touching the mat and nodding as an acknowledgment (eg, while passing food), especially when you need things to keep moving

I've only heard these terms, so I can't be sure; the bow on entering and leaving class itself may in fact be a 師礼 (shirei), a bow to the teacher, though how that would differ from shin, I'm not sure.

I gather the shin-gyou-sou paradigm applies to other contexts in Japanese culture; certainly it's there in calligraphy (書道)—kaisho 楷書 as, though maybe not most formal, standard; 行書 as the more fluid "cursive script"; 草書 as writing so stylized and/or introspective as often to be illegible.

Recently I've learned of the phrase dogeza 土下座, which is literally down-ground-position but can be translated as "prostrating oneself"; in practice it seems similar to the shin 真 bow. How are these different? Are they?

In Tea class, the shin bow is done from seiza (kneeling), hands fully down on the mat at chest level, fingers and thumb together, elbows out, nose almost to the mat. It's measured and respectful in Tea, though I guess not always in other contexts:

To me, the English phrase to prostrate oneself means something else entirely: It's a body position derived from Catholicism, expressing total subjugation, repentance, humility. Body face-down on the floor, feet together, arms either at the sides or out at a right angle, to form a cross:

But a search turns up far more instances of 土下座 as prostration, so I must just be thinking of it from my own background.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

愚 is what makes it tape instead of paper.

So, I wanted to write iki (息, breath/breathing) for my desk at work, as a reminder. (I can be kinda intense; I forget to breathe.) I was paging through The Book for examples—kokoro radical, ten strokes—and happened onto this bit of wonderfulness.

The writer is Zangzhen, apparently considered one of the two greatest calligraphers of the Tang dynasty (7th to 10th centuries) and particularly good at cursive, fluid writing. ("The crazy Zhang and the drunk Su"—just my kind of crowd.)

I love looking through these examples by the old masters; I wouldn't say you can feel the person who was writing, but you can feel the energy with which the writing was done. Some writings are Correct and authoritative; some are somber or subdued; many are playful or energetic; some are made to look like something else. There's an expressiveness to kanji that English, love it though I do, doesn't afford.

The kanji in question isn't iki; it's one I found along the way. Not surprisingly, it's 愚 (gu), foolishness—in this expression, a foolishness which literally surpasseth the margins. I enjoy its lightness, indifference, dancingness. I loved writing yama in gyousho for the same reason: It always seemed to be running. (行、走)

I'd better write 愚, too, for around the house. Or maybe have it tattooed onto my face.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


It's difficult to develop a curriculum for the JLPT. Should I focus on grammar books? Vocab? Read newspapers? Read manga? Watch and transcribe videos? Focus on kanji by school grade? By frequency? By radical? All of the above? I have two sets of kanji flashcards (in addition to those I made for myself, which omit English entirely), but each has the character and then maybe ten Japanese and Chinese readings. So, do I test myself on all readings, meanings, verb forms, and compounds of every kanji? I'd never get anywhere, and anyway recognizing them in a text isn't the same as producing them with a pen, which is far from producing them with a brush, and typing them in a US-based IME is different again. Right now, I'm thinking I'll continue with textbooks—though Genki does tend to focus on the plight of the student abroad, which means a lot of vocab I won't need for newspapers and novels, and Tobira tends to highlight cultural elements that I want to learn about but that won't necessarily help me on the JLPT. It seems like I need grammar and functional vocab, with kanji studies as dictated by the reading, all done with a notebook and pen at hand to help with writing and memorization. I've tutored in French and English, so curriculum is dear to my heart, but Japanese does pose some unique problems, especially when the learning is directed toward a very specific but undefined goal....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Transcribing passenger records, Japan to Brazil, 1936

I like a challenge, so ひまのとき, I transcribe old records for genealogists / family historians / historians who may be interested. I take on the records that no one else wants—18th-century Italian baptisms, 16th-century French that's impossible to read, passenger lists in Japanese. Puzzling out the geographical locations and family names is what I call fun, and it's good practice in reading and kanji. Some of the writing seems surprisingly calligraphic.

It's that time again....

JLPT registration begins August 29! I could use something to focus on right now, so I'm thinking maybe try for the N4—I managed to succeed in former 4 years ago and am doing very well on practice tests—or, if I'm ambitious, N3. Reading through Tobira. Really, ひさしぶりなので, I should head back to the first Genki; I need the review. I'm surprised how quickly it's coming back to me, though; with some things I'm reading, it takes me longer to think of the word in English than to understand it in Japanese. Good sign. Closely following the Emperor's hints at abdicating, or at being permitted to do so. Ramifications are major!

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Looks like Rikumo has been around for a while, in Calowhill, and I just haven't known about it. Well, now I do! So it counts as new. Right?

Anyway, seeing Rikumo has happened at an opportune time for inspiration. I haven't pursued any of my Japanese studies in years, at this point, for various life reasons, but very recently I've been missing it intensely and have wanted to start again. I even have had the same fantasy I have every year, to take the JLPT, at whatever level seems feasible. My apartment has a decent layout for a chashitsu, even with machiai and mizuya.... Hmm....

What I really miss is studying the language, especially poetry and shodou. I have blog drafts from 2013 and 2014 about verb forms and tanka. Sometimes I practice shodou on cheap paper, but I always feel it's just not good enough; as with the language, I can imitate, but never seem to get the nuances. Some studies really do require a highly skilled teacher. But, however much remedial practice it may need, my brush shall rise again!


On my way home from brunch today, I passed a new store (Walnut between 12th and 13th, south side) called Rikumo. I had time only to press my face against the glass, and make a note to visit later, but it looks like a world of wonders—including actual dougu! Even in the window, chasen, chashaku, and what looked like a bowl for koicha, and in the distance I could see tetsubin. Who thought we'd have a store in Center City that sold tetsubin? I don't know how long it's-a-been there (はは), but I'll be thrilled if it can find a steady customer base at that location and will continue with events &c. (The online presence looks great, too, though of course it's better to see things in person, especially when they're ceremonially meaningful.) I'd love to hear what chanoyu fans think of what's available, especially the matcha (Ippodo, Kannoshiro; at the Ippodo site you can even search by Tea discipline). I didn't see tatami or shodou supplies, but hey. 仕方が無いね. We'll always have the good people at Awesome Art Supply.