Monthly Archives: March 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Hata, Hi, Tateito, Yokoito

Ashikaga was once an important center for Japanese textile manufacturing, dating back to the days of silkworm-raising. In the early days of Japan’s industrial revolution, there were waterwheels (水車 mizuguruma) all over this piedmont town. Nowadays, the textile industry has left town, leaving behind a legacy of handicraft artisans, fine textile shops, and a few working pieces of machinery in a “play-learn” emporium (遊学館 yuugakkan), where you can learn how to weave a coaster on a small floor loom. (It costs ¥400 and usually takes 30-45 minutes.) Last week, while my visiting in-laws were trying their hands at weaving, I stood around translating, looking up words in my electronic dictionary, and listening to the two old timers who were demonstrating a braiding machine and a spinning machine that was plying thread from bobbins onto reels (clockwise on one side, counterclockwise on the other). They were excited to have an interested audience for a change.

One of the best things about doing fieldwork in a second language is that you often learn new things in the process, and also get a better command of vocabulary in your primary language. I learned a lot of English fish names a couple of decades ago when I elicited the local names for several hundred fish in a coastal language of New Guinea. Here are a few items of useful vocabulary from my 遊学館 experience.

hata, loom – The Chinese character with which Japanese hata is written also indicates all manner of new-fangled machinery, such as 洗濯機 sentakki ‘washing machine’, 飛行機 hikouki ‘flying machine (= airplane)’, and the Japanese ‘machine man’ superhero Kikaida. So now ‘loom’ can also be rendered as 織機 shokki ‘weaving machine’, and ‘power loom’ as 機械機 kikaibata (lit. ‘machine loom’). Worse yet, the same character also occurs in the famous Sinitic compound meaning ‘crisis’: 危機 kiki, danger + something not quite equal to opportunity—more like ‘wit, resource, device’.

hi, shuttle – In sharp contrast to 機 ‘loom’, the character for ‘shuttle’ is rare enough that my electronic dictionary ranks it last among the ten kanji pronounced hi and Microsoft’s Japanese-language input system doesn’t even offer it among its 42 ways to write the syllable hi. I had to go copy the character from In any case, most Japanese are quite familiar with the word adapted from English: シャトル shatoru, as in shatoru basu and supeesu shatoru.

縦糸 tateito, warp thread; 横糸 yokoito, weft thread – The terms that translate ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ render a whole range of similar oppositions: 縦引き鋸 tatebiki nokogiriripsaw‘ vs. 横切り yokogiricross-cut saw‘; 縦波 tatenami ‘longitudinal wave’ vs. 横波 yokonami ‘broadside wave, cross sea’; 縦揺れ tateyure ‘pitch (of a ship)’ vs. 横揺れ yokoyure ‘roll (or a ship)’; 縦書き tategaki ‘vertical writing’ vs. 横書き yokogaki ‘horizontal writing’. Finally, the highest rank in sumo is the 横綱 yokozuna (lit. ‘horizontal rope’), who is entitled to wear the ceremonial rope (綱 tsuna) across his waist.

Postscript: Weave : Weft :: Heave : Heft :: Leave : Left :: Bereave : Bereft. Can you think of any more English words that follow this pattern? Aha! Language Hat adds Cleave : Cleft.

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The Second Most Jewish Cabinet

Ynetnews reports on the Jewish scene–in Chile:

The newly elected Chilean government is the most Jewish government in the world, with three Jewish ministers and one deputy minister serving in the cabinet, Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.

Another report tabulates elected officials.

The country which has the largest number of Jewish elected officials is Britain, where 61 legislative posts are occupied by Jews: 7 Barons, 37 Lords and 17 MPs.

The United States ranks second with 37 Jewish lawmakers, 11 Senators and 26 Congressmen.

France and Ukraine are third with 15 Jewish members of parliament each.

via The Head Heeb

UPDATE: I excerpted the first paragraph of the story, but should have quoted the headline and subhead, which follow.

Most Jewish gov’t outside Israel – in Chile
Following the Israeli government, the newly elected Chilean cabinet is the most Jewish government in the world, with three Jewish ministers, one deputy minister serving in government
Itamar Eichner

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Russian Myths about Ukraine and Belarus

David MacDuff of A Step at a Time has translated an interesting article on Russian myths about recent developments in Ukraine and Belarus. Here’s the lead-in.

“The Russian ruling class and its entourage of experts, attempting to react to the events in Ukraine and in Belarus, have created a number of absorbing cliches which may possibly have a reassuring effect on them, and perhaps bolster up their self-confidence, but which in reality cause doubts about the adequacy of their ideas about the world. I will list the most popular arguments to which our ruling elite resorts, interpreting the development of the two states mentioned above,” writes political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in Vedomosti, RF.

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Vengeful Attacks on Burmese Buddhists, 1943

The negative consequence of the first Arakan campaign [on Burma’s border with Assam] was further to envenom relations between the Arakanese Buddhists and the local Muslim population. Zainuddin, a Muslim civil officer posted to the areas which the British temporarily reconquered in Arakan, wrote a confidential account of the hostility between the communities. The British Baluch troops in the area treated the local Buddhist population very badly, he recorded, telling them that the Muslims who had suffered at their hands during the Japanese invasion of the previous year ‘would take full revenge on the Arakanese “Mugs”‘. The coolies and other camp followers who flooded into the region in the wake of the British stole large numbers of local boats and brutalized the people. Zainuddin compared the British treatment of the civilian population very unfavourably with that of the Japanese. Indeed, [Viceroy of India] Wavell himself was worried by rumours that British troops had shot out of hand village headmen in Japanese-occupied areas. All in all, these events seem to reverse the usual stereotypes of Japanese brutality and British solicitude for the civilian population. They were also part of a pattern common to the whole crescent [of British colonies in Southeast Asia]: inter-community conflict became endemic in the wake of the fighting and would persist for at least a generation. Finally, Zainuddin delivered his most savage observation. On the appearance of the Japanese the indifferent and lethargic British troops ‘began to run as no deer had ever run when chased by a tiger’.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 275-276

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Vengeful Attacks on Singapore Civilians, 1942

Singapore city was placed under the Kempeitai, the military police, who moved into a Japanese hotel, the Toyo on Queen Street, and set up road blocks. These checkpoints were volatile places. The soldiers manning them reacted violently to the confusion and resistance that ensued when people began to move around again in search of family and food. But people had learned from tales of the China campaign that a sentry was a ‘mighty lord’, and that to bow to him was to show the respect due to the Emperor himself. This offended the Muslims: to them, it was ‘as if we pray’.

Malaya had been bombarded with the crude racial stereotypes of Japanese in British propaganda and in the cartoon art of the [overseas Chinese] National Salvation movement. People were unprepared for the tough, bearded men they encountered in the first wave of the occupation; they were noxious too from two months in the field. They were not prepared either, despite the grim predictions, for the full savagery of their arrival. The hospitals were the first target. At Alexandra Hospital in Singapore, after the bitter fighting nearby on the western outskirts of the city, a terrible retribution was taken. The doctors who met the Japanese at the hospital entrance were slaughtered and many patients were bayoneted in their beds. Around 400 others were crowded into an outhouse overnight, later to be killed. The Asian doctors on duty were aghast as they watched the soldiers smashing the X-ray machinery. ‘Why were they like lunatics, their eyes, just like lunatics?’

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 208-209

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Wordcatcher Tales: Japonica

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

What particular plant did Henry Reed intend to refer to in this poem? (I remember reading it in an English lit class during my freshman year at the University of Richmond in the spring of 1968—before I dropped out of ROTC, and then out of college altogether, ending up in the Army anyway.) I’m guessing either camellia or Japanese quince, both of which bloom in the spring.

My Canon Wordtank edition of Reader’s English–Japanese Dictionary lists three Japanese entries for English japonica, each telling its own story: ツバキ (camellia), ボケ (Japanese quince), and サルスベリ (crape myrtle).

椿 tsubaki, Camellia japonica – The cherry blossoms are getting all the attention in the Kanto (Greater Tokyo) area these days as they reach their peak, but the light pink to dark crimson camellias have been in full flower for a few weeks already. A great variety of cultivars of Camellia japonica are all over the place, often in hedges.

木瓜 boke, Chaenomeles speciosa – Japanese quince is also known as Chaenomeles japonica. The normal Sino-Japanese reading for the name of the plant should be mokka (< moku ‘tree’ + ka ‘melon’), the name owing something to its melonlike fruit. Another name for a flowering tree formed on the same pattern is 木蓮 or 木蘭 mokuren (lit. ‘tree lotus’ or ‘tree orchid’), Magnolia liliflora or lily magnolia. A slightly different variety of Magnolia, Magnolia kobus—from its Japanese name 辛夷 kobushi—is in full, brilliant white bloom these days.

百日紅 sarusuberi (lit. ‘monkey slide’), Lagerstroemina indica – The native Japanese name for crape myrtle describes its smooth (guavalike) trunk and stems, while the Chinese characters describe the flowers, but the two names bear no relation to each other beyond referring to the same plant. You can pronounce the name of the plant according to the characters as hyakunichikou (lit. ‘hundred day red’), but I’m not sure how many Japanese speakers would recognize it by that name on first hearing it. (I would have spelled the name in English as crepe myrtle, but the spelling crape myrtle generates a much larger number of hits on


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Sour Views of Vinegar Joe Stilwell

Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell was determined to avenge the defeat that his American and Chinese forces had suffered during the withdrawal of 1942. His ostensible aim was to capture the aerodromes in far northern Burma, especially the one at Myitkyina …. There were two problems about this. The first was Stilwell’s aggressive and misanthropic character and, in particular, his contempt for his allies; the second was that neither move was particularly strategically desirable.

Stilwell was professional soldier who had spent much time in China, but his long service had not instilled in him any great respect for the Chinese. As commander-in-chief of Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist armies he carried on a running war with Chiang’s other commanders. His disagreements with Chiang over strategy soured relations between the two to the point where the continuation of Stilwell’s command was constantly in question. In Stilwell’s letters home, Chiang became ‘Peanut’, corrupt, obstinate and dominated by his wife, ‘Madame’, and later by his mistress, a nurse several decades his junior. Stilwell portrayed Chiang as hesitant and defensive, unwilling to commit his troops to an attack against the Japanese on the Burma front, afraid of both the Chinese communists and of his own generals. In fact, Chiang was a more astute general than might have appeared. He knew that the real danger to his government lay in a Japanese attack from the north against embattled Chungking. He did not want to send his best troops off to Myitkyina and was perfectly correct in his assessment of the communists, who were hoping to infiltrate into Nationalist China’s territories from the north in the rear of any Japanese advance. Chiang refused to do anything much in Burma until the Allies agreed to put in an amphibious expedition on its southern coast. This again was sensible….

Stilwell’s view of the British was scarcely better than his view of the Chinese. He regarded them as effete, defensive and disorganized. In a later visit to India he marked down [Viceroy] Wavell as a beaten man. The India of which the British were so proud was a pit of famished inefficiency, even more backward than China…. Mountbatten, who assumed the position of Supreme Commander Southeast Asia in the summer of 1943, was simply a ‘glamour boy’, a matinee idol with ‘nice eye-lashes’. This was ironic since Stilwell’s own reputation in America and outside was partly a media creation. He was the gritty American fighter struggling against Chink and Limey obstruction to take the war to the Japs, a poor man’s General MacArthur. The disdain was mutual. Alan Brooke recorded: ‘Except for the fact that he was a stout hearted fighter suitable to lead a brigade of Chinese scallywags, I could see no qualities in him.’ He was an inept tactician and ‘did a vast amount of harm by vitiating the relations between the Americans and British both in India and Burma’. The British high command were very dismissive of the Chinese, too. They suspected them, as Wavell had done in 1942, of having ‘imperial’ designs on north Burma.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 270-272

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Foreigners Excel at National Sport: Sumo

Overlapping and eclipsed by Japan’s tortuous but exciting road to victory in the first World Baseball Classic and the start of Japan’s national high school baseball tournament at storied Koshien Stadium has been a rather exciting Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, where the foreigners were cheered as robustly as the Japanese—and did better, too.

The Estonian Baruto (the “Balt”) won the Juryo division (like North American baseball’s AAA league) with a perfect 15-0 record, the first rikishi to do so in over 40 years (since Kitanofuji).

Going into the final day, two Mongolians were tied for the lead in the Makuuchi division (the “majors”), with records of 13-1: yokozuna (grand champion) Asashoryu and sekiwake (junior champion) Hakuho. Moreover, Asashoryu’s only loss was to Hakuho, who had also beaten him in the previous tournament, so they were not scheduled to face off again—unless both lost on the final day. And, sure enough, both did lose. Hakuho fell to veteran Kaio, who was once again on the verge of demotion unless he maintained a winning record (the win put him at 8-7), while Asashoryu fell to ozeki (champion) Tochiazuma, who had been bucking for promotion to yokozuna, but whose 12-3 record—without a tournament win—won’t be good enough. So after all the regular bouts of the final day, Asashoryu and Hakuho had to come back and fight a deciding match, which Asashoryu had to struggle to win. So Asashoryu wins his 16th tournament, and Hakuho wins his 3rd outstanding performance award (and probably a promotion to ozeki).

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Wordcatcher Tales: Shinobazu Ike

The other day, this Outlier took his in-laws down to Ueno station to pick up our 1-week JR rail passes and take a peek to see how the cherry blossoms were coming along at Ueno Park. The blossoms were just beginning to appear, and so were the snack and sake vendors.

One spot we lingered at was 不忍池 Shinobazu Ike, the name of which illustrates two troublesome aspects of Japanese attempts to write their own language using only Chinese characters.

The name of the pond is written in kanbun, a contorted method of rendering Japanese by means of Chinese syntax. The written Chinese characters, in order, translate as ‘not hide pond’, but the spoken Japanese, in morpheme order, translates as ‘hideth-not pond’. (The verb 忍ぶ shinobu has a range of meanings and, frankly, I’m not sure which one was intended by the placenamers.) The -zu ending is just a more formal and archaic version of the negative -nai. Wikipedia explains the contortions of kanbun rather succinctly, wherein Chinese sentences are read as Japanese in a sort of simultaneous translation (saving the verb to the end, and so forth).

The term 池 ike for the body of water is sometimes translated ‘lake’. As kids in Kyoto, we used to ride our bicycles up to a then rustic reservoir called Takaragaike ‘Treasure Lake’, now the site of a fancy international conference center. But the usual Japanese term for larger lakes is mizuumi, which is transparently composed of 水 mizu ‘(fresh)water’ + 海 umi ‘sea’ but written with a single Chinese character, 湖 (pronounced hu in Chinese and ko in Sino-Japanese, as in Biwa-ko ‘Lake Biwa’). A similar bit of Japanese morphology obscured by a single Chinese character is 雷 ‘thunder’ (Chinese lei, Sino-Japanese rai), which probably could have been rendered as 神鳴り kami-nari ‘god-sound’.

William Wetherall has a lot more on happenings around 不忍池 in a fascinating compilation on Bakumatsu and Early Meiji Newspapers. Here’s how he explains why he translates the 1868 experiment 江湖新聞 (Koko Shinbun, lit. ‘riverlake news’) as World News:

Though “koko” (C. jianghu), literally “rivers and lakes”, is nearly a dead word in Japanese today, it was a fairly common expression in the mid-19th century. It is the keyword in the title of the column that reported stories of social and human interest in Tokyo nichinichi shinbun in 1872. It was part of the title of a popular book in 1873. And it appeared in the inaugural issue of the news nishikie in 1874.

In references to classical China and Zen, “koko” it is pronounced “goko”. [With regard to] China, it refers to the world of the Yangzi river (Changjiang) and Dongting lake, and in certain Chinese folklore it alludes to the fighting spirit of outcasts who protect themselves with martial arts. As a Zen term, it signifies a place where monks and other practitioners gather from all quarters. If all roads lead to Rome, then the whole world is in Rome.

In the title of Koko shinbun, “koko” signifies the “world” or “society” one lives in — much like “sanga” (mountains and rivers) is a somewhat nostalgic reference to one’s country as a homeland. In this sense it is very close to its general usage in Chinese today to mean the wide (and sometimes an idealized) world.

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Nature of Japanese Settlers in Korea

Andrei Lankov in The Korea Times profiles the early Japanese settlers in Korea.

Japanese newspapers and booklets made it clear that a move to Korea would be different from, say, migration to the United States (a very popular option in the Japan of the early 1900s). Those Japanese who moved to the United States could expect to find only low-level manual jobs. Those who chose Korea were to form the privileged colonial elite. As a book for prospective migrants frankly said: “In Korea one can carry on an independent enterprise with oneself as master, freely able to employ Koreans at low wages and tell them what to do”. A colonizer’s dream, indeed….

A majority of the Japanese migrants did not come from the privileged classes. For many a misfit adventures in a new colony looked like an attractive proposition. However, not all the newcomers were losers. In the 1900s and 1910s, Korea also was an attractive market for Japanese skilled labour. The Koreans provided cheap unskilled labour for a number of projects undertaken by the colonial administration, but they worked under supervision of the Japanese clerks and foremen. The number of Koreans who had modern technical skills was minimal, and the Japanese artisans and craftsmen enjoyed good wages. Around 1909, a shoemaker would earn on average 0.75 yen daily in Japan, but in Korea his average wage would be twice as high (about 1.4 yen) while the costs of living would be much less.

Most of those men were bachelors or moved to Korea without their families, so the country attracted a number of Japanese full and part-time prostitutes. In 1907 there were 4,253 women whose official occupation was politely described as ‘geishas’ or ‘waitresses’. Their arrival marked the introduction of the mass-oriented sex industry in Korea (for earlier Korean courtesans, known as kisaeng, did not perceive the sex-for-cash component as major part of their vocation ㅡ and their services, sexual or otherwise, were too expensive for the average commoner).

via The Marmot

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