Wordcatcher Tales: Miharashi, Okurina

As soon as I arrived at Kyoto Station, I got maps from the tourist information office, called the Palace Side Hotel to book a room for the night, and found a post office ATM to withdraw cash from my U.S. bank account. Then I headed straight for the top of Hieizan (比叡山), not for the famous Enryakuji (延暦寺) temple complex so much as for the panoramic views and the cooler air.
View of Otsu and Lake Biwa from Mt. Hiei, Kyoto, Japan
To get there I took a bus to the Demachiyanagi (出町柳) Station, where I bought a round-trip (往復 ōfuku lit. ‘go-again’) combined ticket (for about ¥2000) on the Eizan (叡山) Railway to Hiei Sanchō (比叡山頂 ‘Hiei Mountaintop’). The first leg to Yase-Hieizanguchi was by one-car train. (Yase 八瀬 ‘Eight Rapids’ is about where the upper eastern fork of the Kamo River, the Takano River, ceases to be navigable.) The next leg was by cable car to Keiburu Hiei, and the final leg was by ropeway to the “summit”—not actually the highest point, but close enough. The Eizan Railway opened in Taishō 14 (1925), the year my father was born.

(I can recall how much older it suddenly seemed to make my father when I first saw Taishō 14 on his Japanese driver’s license—he was a man from another era! He also happened to be the first foreign driver picked up for speeding down Shirakawa-dōri by the Sakyō-ku police with their newfangled radar gun in the late 1950s, when we still had an American car (a 1956 Chevy) and Shirakawa-dōri was still unpaved north of Kitashirakawa, where the road east went up through the mountains to Otsu City.)

From the top of the ropeway, you could look back down toward Kyoto, but the view of Lake Biwa was obstructed by the walls of Garden Museum Hiei (about which more later). So I paid the ¥1000 fee and walked along a path through a rose garden that offered beautiful views of Lake Biwa to my right. At the highest point on the path was a lookout point labeled 見晴らし on the guide map. Although I discerned the basic meaning from the kanji (‘see-clear’), I wasn’t sure how to pronounce the combination. The trailing kana (okurigana) indicated a native Japanese reading, and I had learned from listening to weather reports as a kid the verb ‘to be clear, to clear up’ (晴れる hareru), usually in the ubiquitous phrase 晴時々曇 hare, tokidoki kumori ‘clear, occasionally cloudy’. But I had not encountered the agentive transitive form, harasu, and I wasn’t sure if the combination of two verbs together was pronounced miharashi or mibarashi.

According to the New Nelson kanji dictionary, transitive harasu means to ‘dispel, clear away (gloom); refresh (oneself)’, and my Canon Wordtank electronic dictionary adds to ‘chase away the blues’ and ‘dispel doubts, clear oneself of a charge’. The nominalized verb combination miharashi means ‘view’ in the sense of ‘the viewer’s ability to see’, as in ‘observation platform’ or ‘lookout point’, and not ‘view’ in the sense of ‘that which is seen’ (景色 keshiki ‘scenery, landscape’).

Dengyō Daishi (Saichō) shrine at summit of Mt. Hiei, KyotoI was enjoying the lovely sights from the 見晴らし and the genuine sounds of real uguisu (Japanese bush warblers)—not the recordings they play in the massive urbanity of Kyoto Station—when I caught a glimpse of a Japanese red maple (momiji) and a Buddhist memorial in a sheltered nook off to the left. When I went down to investigate, I found a stele with the name Dengyō Daishi on it. I didn’t take the time to decipher the explanatory plaque, so I’m not sure about the exact significance of that spot, which was certainly out of place in a Garden Museum that otherwise celebrated French Impressionism.

Dengyō Daishi (傳教大師) was the posthumous name of Saichō (最澄, 767-822), the monk who brought back Tendai Buddhism from China, founded Enryakuji (still the headquarters of Tendai), and convinced the court to recognize Tendai as Japan’s first autonomous Buddhist sect (in 822). He was also the first Japanese monk to be awarded the posthumous title of Daishi ‘Great Master’ (in 866). The native Japanese word for posthumous title is okurina, clearly a compound etymologically, meaning something like ‘bestowal-name’ (贈り名), but it’s written with a single kanji, 諡, which otherwise seems to occur only in the Sino-Japanese compounds 諡号 shigō ‘posthumous name’ or 贈諡 zōshi ‘posthumous title’ (both synonyms of 贈号 zōgō lit. ‘bestowal-number/item/title/name’).

Dengyō (傳教, now usually written 伝教) means ‘transmit-teaching’, but 伝 has a lot of different shades of meaning. It occurs in 伝承 denshō ‘legend, tradition, folklore’, 伝言 dengon ‘verbal message’, 伝馬 tenma ‘post horse’, and 伝声器 denseiki ‘speaking tube’. But one of its most interesting compounds is 伝法 denbō lit. ‘spreading Buddhism’, but also ‘bullying, ostentatious bravado’, perhaps reflecting the behavior over many centuries of too many militant monks from Mt. Hiei.

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