Category Archives: language

Wordcatcher Tales: Kamataki Sagyou

fishpress-sign

How to turn herring into fertilizer

The Historical Village of Hokkaido in Sapporo had a sign showing a fish press used by Hokkaido herring fishermen to turn their (once) bounteous catches into fertilizer for farms throughout Honshu, where it was highly valued. To make the sign easier for Japanese schoolchildren to read, many words are written in kana rather than kanji, and furigana provide readings for some of the remaining kanji. Here is some of the vocabulary from that sign, starting with the title on the bottom right, then working from the top right down to the bottom left.

釜焚き作業 kama-taki sagyou ‘kettle-firing work’ [the title]

ナガシ [流し] nagashi ‘sink, drainboard’

カマド [竈] kamado ‘cooking stove’

しめ木 shime-ki ‘press-tree’

胴枕 dou-makura ‘frame-pillow’

胴ぶた dou-buta ‘frame-lid’

しめ胴 shime-dou ‘press-frame’

マッカ (しめ木をかける) makka [fork?, notch?, hook?] (shimeki o kakeru ‘to hold the press-tree’)

ロクロ [轆轤] (しめ綱を巻いてしめ木を引き下げる) rokuro ‘capstan’ (shimetsuna o maite shimeki o hikisageru ‘winding the rope to pull down the press-tree’)

toi ‘drainpipe’

ハチゴウ hachigou ‘storage tank’

If anyone has better glosses for these terms, I’d be happy to hear them.

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Doshisha University’s Debt to Hakodate

From Hokkaido, A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan’s Northern Island, by Ann B. Irish (McFarland, 2009), pp. 93-94:

Hakodate played a small part in the life and adventures of Niijima Jo (westerners have anglicized his name in several ways and have referred to him as Joseph Hardy Neesima). He became a prominent Christian in nineteenth century Japan and is honored today as the founder of a distinguished private university in Kyoto, Doshisha. Niijima grew up in Edo. When he was a youth, a friend who knew of his interest in boats and seamanship told him of a vessel soon to sail to Hakodate. Niijima, who had a secret desire to visit a foreign land, thought he might be able to do so form Hakodate. He knew an influential man who obtained permission for the young man to take a trip north. After arrival in Hakodate in 1864, Niijima’s goal was to meet foreigners who could help him travel abroad. He soon met Father Nikolai, who engaged him as a Japanese language tutor. Meanwhile, an English trader agreed to teach the young Japanese man English.

Niijima desperately wanted to travel outside Japan, despite the government prohibition of this. After several months in Hakodate, his dream took shape. He made arrangements to slip out of the city and secretly board an American ship. Arriving in the United States via China, he studied for some ten years and adopted Christianity. After being baptized, he chose his western name to honor Alpheus Hardy, owner of the ship that had taken him to America. Niijima graduated from Amherst College, the first Japanese student ever to obtain a college degree in the United States. Returning to Japan, he founded the school in 1875 which grew into Doshisha University.

As Niijima’s story shows, because foreigners from several important nations lived in Hakodate, Japanese found the city a good place to study foreign languages and foreign ways, and a number of men who later served as interpreters learned languages there.

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Ainu Placenames and Counting System

From Hokkaido, A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan’s Northern Island, by Ann B. Irish (McFarland, 2009), pp. 35-36:

Many, many Hokkaido cities and towns, and even some on Honshu, have names derived from Ainu. “Sapporo” comes from an ancient Ainu name for the river there, either from sat poro pet, which would mean “big dry river” or sari poro pet, a reedy area by the river. The name of Wakkanai evolved from the Ainu term “yam wakkanay,” meaning cold water river.” Some people have thought that even Mt. Fuji’s name comes from an Ainu word, fuchi, the Ainu fire goddess, but linguists today generally dismiss this idea.

Shiraoi, a town on the coast between Muroran and Tomakomai, has long included a sizable Ainu community and now features an Ainu village for tourists. In Ainu, the town’s name may have meant “place with many horseflies.” John Batchelor wrote that it meant “the place where the tide comes out (over the land),” signifying high tides. When place names like this have been adapted into Japanese, they have been given written characters that fit their pronunciation. Shira [白] can mean “white” in Japanese and oi [老い] can mean “old age.” The two characters with these meanings and pronunciations are written today to indicate the town name “Shiraoi.” Near Shiraoi is the hot springs resort city of Noboribetsu. Nobori means “to ascend” or “to climb” in Japanese, and betsu is “special” or “different.” The Ainu name, pronounced in a somewhat similar way, meant merely “turbid river.” In this case, both Ainu and Japanese names are appropriate, for there are mountains in this town located along a river. Betsu, by the way, appears in many Hokkaido place names to represent the Ainu word pet, which means “river.”

The Ainu counting system differs from the Japanese, the number twenty playing a prominent role. The numbers one to five have their own names, as does ten. Six through nine are expressed as ten minus a number and the teens are expressed by numbers added to ten. Larger numbers are expressed as multiples of twenty, subtracting any amounts needed.

Here are some examples of numbers from The Language, Mythology, and Geographical Nomenclature of Japan Viewed in the Light of Aino Studies, by Basil Hall Chamberlain and John Batchelor (Imperial University of Japan, 1887):

p. 9: wan ’10’, shine-pe-wan ‘1 from 10 = 9′, tu-pe-wan ‘2 from 10 = 8′

p. 93: hot ne ’20’, tu hot ne ‘2 score = 40′,
shine ikashima hot ne ‘1 excess score = 21′
shine ikashima, wan e, tu hot ne ‘1 excess, 10 away, 2 score = 31′
tu-pe-san ikashima, wan e, ine hot ne ‘(2 from 10 =) 8 excess, 10 away, 4 score = 78′
tu-pe-san ikashima, ine hot ne ‘(2 from 10 =) 8 excess, 4 score = 88′
ashikne hot ne ‘5 score = 100′
wan e, tu-pe-san hot ne ’10 away, (2 from 10 =) 8 score = 150′

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Wordcatcher Tales: Fuki, Shishiudo

During our Japan Rail Pass travels in Hokkaido last month, we encountered not just hordes of Chinese tourists (mostly from Taiwan) inside the trains, but also hordes of two kinds of large, green, weedy plants in the scenery that passed by our train windows. Wooded areas were often full of plants we recognized from our past travels as fuki ‘butterbur’, while more open areas were often infested with what seemed to be a giant, atomic mutant variety of carrot or Queen Anne’s lace. We didn’t find out what the latter was until we saw a sign identifying it at Cape Nosappu, at Hokkaido’s (and Japan’s) easternmost point.

Fuki (フキ, also written 蕗、苳、款冬、菜蕗) ‘giant butterbur, bog rhubarb’– Petasites japonicus is quite edible after removing some of its astringency. It makes a variety of side dishes to go with rice in both Japan and Korea. (However, too much of it eaten over long periods might damage the liver.) We had encountered it in 2012 at Hikone Castle, where a smaller variety was labeled tsuwabuki, and also at Akita Castle grounds, where we also found butterbur designs on a manhole cover.

noroi-signShishiudo (シシウド, also called アンゼリカ anzerika) ‘angelica’ – Angelica is indeed a genus within the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), which includes carrots, Queen Anne’s lace, and many other plants, so my impressions of its taxonomic status were at least in the ballpark.

However, the Japanese generic name suggests that Angelica is a type of udo ‘Japanese spikenard, mountain asparagas’ (Aralia cordata), in the closely related Araliaceae family, which includes ivy. Indeed, before I found out its name, I thought of it as udo no taiboku ‘great tree of udo’ (implying something useless, of large size but no strength, like ‘all hat, no cattle’ in American, or at least Texan, English).

Two local species were identified on the sign at Cape Nosappu. Both common names are prefixed with ezo ‘Yezo (the old name for Hokkaido)':

エゾニュウ ezonyuu (Angelica ursina)

エゾノロイグサ ezo no yoroigusa (A. sachalinensis var. sachalinensis)

As the Japanese name of the latter suggests, both species seem closely related to the yoroigusa (Angelica dahurica) that grows elsewhere.

According to Wikipedia, Angelica dahurica is a wildly grown species of angelica native to Siberia, Russia Far East, Mongolia, Northeastern China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It tends to grow near river banks, along streams and among rocky shrubs. The root of the plant is widely used for its medicinal properties and is known to contain furanocoumarins and angelicotoxin. It is also commonly known as Chinese Angelica, Garden Angelica, Root of the Holy Ghost, and Wild Angelica, as well as its Chinese name, Bai Zhi (白芷).

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Catherine the Great Greek Wannabe

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 333-351:

More than any other Russian ruler, Catherine identified with the Greek cause. Under the growing influence of her most senior military commander, statesman and court favourite Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine even dreamed of re-creating the old Byzantine Empire on the ruins of the Ottoman. The French philosopher Voltaire, with whom the Empress corresponded, addressed her as ‘votre majesté impériale de l’église grecque’, while Baron Friedrich Grimm, her favourite German correspondent, referred to her as ‘l’Impératrice des Grecs’. Catherine conceived this Hellenic empire as a vast Orthodox imperium protected by Russia, whose Slavonic tongue had once been the lingua franca of the Byzantine Empire, according (erroneously) to the first great historian of Russia, Vasily Tatishchev. The Empress gave the name of Constantine – after both the first and the final emperor of Byzantium – to her second grandson. To commemorate his birth in 1779, she had minted special silver coins with the image of the great St Sophia church (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople, cruelly converted into a mosque since the Ottoman conquest. Instead of a minaret, the coin showed an Orthodox cross on the cupola of the former Byzantine basilica. To educate her grandson to become the ruler of this resurrected Eastern Empire, the Russian Empress brought nurses from Naxos to teach him Greek, a language which he spoke with great facility as an adult.

It was always unclear how serious she was about this ‘Greek Project’. In the form that it was drawn up by Count Bezborodko, her private secretary and virtual Foreign Minister, in 1780, the project involved nothing less than the expulsion of the Turks from Europe, the division of their Balkan territories between Russia and Austria, and the ‘re-establishment of the ancient Greek empire’ with Constantinople as its capital. Catherine discussed the project with the Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1781. They agreed on its desirability in an exchange of letters over the next year. But whether they intended to carry out the plan remains uncertain. Some historians have concluded that the Greek project was no more than a piece of neoclassical iconography, or political theatre, like the ‘Potemkin villages’, which played no real part in Russia’s foreign policy. But even if there was no concrete plan for immediate action, it does at least seem fairly clear that the project formed a part of Catherine’s general aims for the Russian Empire as a Black Sea power linked through trade and religion to the Orthodox world of the eastern Mediterranean, including Jerusalem.

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Literacy Spreads Nationalism

From Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2014), Kindle Loc. 242-270:

Until the development of rural schools and networks of communication, nationalism remained an élite urban movement for native language rights in schools and universities, literary publications and official life. Outside the towns its influence was limited. The peasants were barely conscious of their nationality. ‘I myself did not know that I was a Pole till I began to read books and papers,’ recalled a farmer after 1917. In many areas, such as Ukraine, Belorussia and the Caucasus, there was so much ethnic intermingling that it was difficult for anything more than a localized form of identity to take root in the popular consciousness. ‘Were one to ask the average peasant in the Ukraine his nationality,’ observed a British diplomat, ‘he would answer that he is Greek Orthodox; if pressed to say whether he is a Great Russian, a Pole or an Ukrainian, he would probably reply that he is a peasant; and if one insisted on knowing what language he spoke, he would say that he talked “the local tongue”.’

The growth of mass-based nationalist movements was contingent on the spread of rural schools and institutions, such as peasant unions and cooperatives, as well as on the opening up of remote country areas by roads and railways, postal services and telegraphs—all of which was happening very rapidly in the decades before 1917. The most successful movements combined the peasants’ struggle for the land (where it was owned by foreign landlords, officials and merchants) with the demand for native language rights, enabling the peasants to gain full access to schools, the courts and government.

This combination was the key to the success of the Ukrainian nationalist movement. In the Constituent Assembly elections of November 1917, the first democratic elections in the country’s history, 71 per cent of the Ukrainian peasants would vote for the nationalists—an astonishing shift in political awareness in only a generation. The movement organized the peasants in their struggle against foreign (mainly Russian and Polish) landowners and against the ‘foreign influence’ of the towns (dominated by the Russians, Jews and Poles). It is no coincidence that peasant uprisings erupted first, in 1902, in those regions around Poltava province where the Ukrainian nationalist movement was also most advanced.

Throughout Russia the impact of modernization—of towns and mass communications, the money economy and above all rural schools—gave rise to a generation of younger and more literate peasants who sought to overturn the patriarchal village world. Literacy rose from 21 per cent of the empire’s population in 1897 to 40 per cent on the eve of the First World War. The highest rural rates were among young men in those regions closest to the towns (nine out of ten peasant recruits into the Imperial army from the two provinces of Petersburg and Moscow were considered literate even by 1904). The link between literacy and revolution is a well-known historical phenomenon. The three great revolutions of modern European history—the English, the French and the Russian—all took place in societies where the rate of literacy was approaching 50 per cent. Literacy promotes the spread of new ideas and enables the peasant to master new technologies and bureaucratic skills. The local activists of the Russian Revolution were drawn mainly from this newly literate generation—the beneficiaries of the boom in rural schooling during the last decades of the old regime, now in large enough numbers to pass on the new ideas to those still illiterate. In its belated efforts to educate the common people, the tsarist regime was helping to dig its own grave.

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Wordcatcher Tales: ai no muchi, bentatsu, tekken seisai

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 5242-5252:

From the beginning of the Meiji period in the late 1800s, the military achieved unswerving discipline through a culture of physical abuse. As Japanese historian Yuki Tanaka would later explain: “Discipline was conducted through bentatsu [鞭撻 'whip-strike'] (the routine striking of soldiers), which was presented as an ‘act of love’ by the officers for the soldiers. Even the Japanese Navy—which was far more Westernized in conduct than the Army—adopted a practice of harsh discipline known as tekken seisai (the iron fist) [鉄拳制裁 'ironfist punishment'] in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. It was often called the ai-no-muchi, or ‘whip of love’ [愛の鞭 'love's whip'].”

Tanaka, one of the first Japanese scholars to objectively study his country’s war crimes—and then publish them for a Western audience—attributes the military’s behavior to a steady corruption of Bushido. By the time of the Asia-Pacific war, General Yamada’s original notion of death with honor had been warped into an ideology known as gyokusai: literally, “glorious self-annihilation.”

[There are two serious errors in the previous paragraph. First, Gamble means to refer to the "father of Japanese militarism" he has earlier mentioned, Gen. Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922), not a Gen. Yamada referenced nowhere else in the book. Second, although it is true that the real-world result of gyokusai ideology was often “glorious self-annihilation,” the term itself is highly figurative; its literal components are 玉砕 'jade/jewel-shatter', i.e., 'shattering of jewels' —J.]

Curious why so many of his countrymen had committed heinous acts during World War II, Tanaka evaluated numerous aspects of the system. “Japanese military forces,” he concluded, “tended to undervalue the strategic importance of minimizing casualties. This tendency increased as the emperor ideology gained hold over the minds of the Japanese people and reached its peak during World War II, when the gyokusai ideology emerged. Gyokusai held that a soldier was expected to fight to the end for the emperor. Even when the situation was becoming hopeless … the Japanese military command, instead of trying to minimize casualties, forced gyokusai on its soldiers … further diminishing its manpower.”

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First American Graves in Hakodate, First Japanese Graves in Honolulu

cemetery-foreigner-100mIn 1854, while Commodore Matthew C. Perry‘s U.S. Navy squadron was surveying the future treaty port of Hakodate on Hokkaido in 1854, two sailors aboard the USS Vandalia died. Seaman James C. Wolfe died on 25 May and Seaman G. W. Remick died on 27 May 1854. Both were interred in a seaside plot in what later became the city’s Foreign Cemetery, now a tourist attraction.

In 1860, as a result of Perry’s efforts in Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate dispatched its first embassy to the United States aboard the Kanrin Maru, a Dutch-built ship skippered by Katsu Kaishū. Also aboard was Fukuzawa Yukichi, perhaps Japan’s most effective early Westernizer.

The Kanrin Maru stopped at Honolulu on its return voyage to Japan, and so did many other ships of the fledgeling Imperial Japanese Navy after the Meiji Restoration of imperial rule in 1868. Many of the earliest Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i in 1868 and 1886 were interred in Makiki Cemetery, which thus came to include the first Japanese cemetery in Hawai‘i. In 1876, (Apprentice?) Seaman Second Class (二等若水夫 nitou waka suifu ‘2-class young waterman’) Arakawa Matajuro (荒川又十郎) of HIMS Tsukuba (筑波) died and was buried in what became the first Japanese Navy cemetery outside Japan. Twelve more enlisted men from the ironclad Ryūjō (龍驤) were buried in 1883. By 1899, seventeen IJN sailors were buried there.

The most interesting gravestone is that of Midshipman K. Hara of HIMS Takachiho (大日本軍艦高千穂), who died on 8 April 1894. (‘Midshipman’ translates 海軍少尉候補生 kaigun shōi kōhosei ‘navy ensign cadet’.) Hara’s is the only marker engraved in both English and Japanese. The former gives his year of death as 1894, while the latter says he died in Kigen 2554, exactly 660 years later. The Kigen (紀元 ‘record-origin’) calendar dates from 660 BC, when the Japanese empire’s mythical founder, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have begun his reign. Kigensetsu (紀元節 ‘record-origin-season’), 11 February, became a national Shinto holiday and festival season in 1872, during the early years of Emperor Meiji’s reign, but was abolished after World War II, then re-established in 1966.

The British-built, Naniwa-class cruiser Takachiho is also an interesting story. It is named for the town of Takachiho (in Miyazaki Prefecture), where Emperor Jimmu’s brothers are supposed to have come from; where his progenitor and Japan’s creator deity, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, is said to have spent time in a cave, hiding her light, before being lured back out; and to which Amaterasu later dispatched her grandson Ninigi to plant rice and found Japan’s imperial line. In the much more recent and less mythical past, the cruiser Takachiho had visited Honolulu in 1893, to protect its Japanese citizens and to show concern about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Makiki Cemetery lies on the outer slopes of Punchbowl Crater, which later became the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, housing the remains of thousands of members of the U.S. military, many of whom died fighting against Japan during the Pacific War (1941–45). It may seem ironical to have an Imperial Japanese Navy cemetery just below Punchbowl, but the Makiki Japanese cemetery marks a much longer period—a sesquicentennial—of productive cooperation between the United States and Japan.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Banrei-setsu, Bangu-setsu

sangaibanreiWhile exploring Makiki Cemetery in Honolulu, I came across a 三界萬靈碑 sangai banrei hi, that is, a stone monument (碑 hi, or tateishi ‘standing stone’) inscribed with 三界萬霊 sangai banrei (3-worlds 10,000-souls), which retired University of Hawai‘i religion professor George Tanabe nicely explained to a former student of his for an article in Hana Hou! magazine (vol. 8, no. 1, February/March 2005, p. 5):

“One of the worst things that can happen to the dead in Japanese Buddhism is to be uncared for,” George says, looking at the weeds, “so these people are in real trouble.” But towering over the other tombstones stands a large stone George calls a sangai banrei. “It’s put up in commemoration of the 10,000 spirits of the three worlds: past, present and future,” he explains, my Buddhism teacher come to life again. “It’s nobody’s grave but it’s everybody’s grave, so even if individual graves are abandoned, there’s always the big one to take care of everybody.”

The kanji meaning ‘10,000, myriad‘ occurs in “10,000” expressions, like the following two, new to me:

萬霊節 banrei-setsu (10,000-spirit-season) ‘All Souls Day’
萬愚節 bangu-setsu (10,000-folly-season) ‘April Fools Day’

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Wordcatcher Tales: Honi Kuu Okole, Ka Puhio Wela

At least two of the U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bombers that operated in the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II sported Hawaiian nicknames.

Honi Kuu Okole ‘Kiss My Ass’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010]) – The Hawaiian words would be spelled differently these days, but honi ‘kiss’ + ku‘u ‘my [beloved]‘ + ʻōkole ‘ass’ would seem to render ‘Kiss My Ass’ pretty effectively. However, I suspect the syntax might be more accurate if the verb were preceded by the auxiliary e that marks the imperative (or future).

Ka Puhio Wela – Though well-researched and well-written, Bruce Gamble’s Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945 (Zenith, 2013), p. 275, nevertheless repeats a bit of well-entrenched American military lore that is linguistically incorrect:

“One of the more creatively named bombers in the Fifth Air Force, the B-17 wore Double Trouble on the left side of the nose and Ka-Puhio-Wela, the Hawaiian phrase for double trouble [emphasis added], on the opposite side.”

There is no way to construe Ka Puhio Wela literally as ‘double trouble’. Ka ‘the’ and wela ‘hot, heat’ are pretty unambiguous, but puhio doesn’t show up in exactly that form in any of the major Hawaiian dictionaries. It may be an abbreviated form of pūhihio (= pūhiohio) ‘whirl, blow (like the wind)’ or ‘break wind’. By itself, the root hio can mean ‘a sweep or gust of wind’ or ‘to break wind silently’ (perhaps descended from an earlier Polynesian form *fio ‘whistle’). Another similar form, pūhiʻu (also spelled puhiu) means ‘to break wind audibly, rudely’. So the most literal English translation of Ka Puhio Wela may be ‘Hot Blast (of Wind)’ or ‘Hot Fart’.

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