The first tourist site we visited on our most recent trip to Japan was Yoshinogari Historical Park in Saga Prefecture, on a stretch of open countryside that turned up lots of artifacts from the Yayoi-period (roughly 300 B.C. to A.D. 300), including many large burial jars, when developers began to prepare the ground for a large shopping center. The site was then turned into an historical park featuring “one of Japan’s largest moat-encircled villages and ancient ruins.” In fact, another pair of visitors we met there were from Perth, Australia, a mother and her daughter who had won a national essay contest by presenting the case for Yoshinogari to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The signs describing the major features of the park were quadrilingual—in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese (simplified characters)—and one of the guides we met was a young lady from Dalian, China, who spoke some English and Russian in addition to Chinese and Japanese. (She was eager to practice her English, which was full of reading pronunciations.) Thanks to the helpful furigana on those signs, I learned a few new Japanese words and readings that were not even in my old Canon Wordtank G55 electronic dictionary. Here’s a sample.
土塁 dorui ‘earth fort, earthworks’ – The earliest forts in Japan apparently consisted of earthworks, palisades, and moats. The character 塁 ‘fort, rampart’ can be a synonym for 砦 toride ‘fort, stronghold, entrenchment’, but is now much more common in baseball, where it means ‘base’, as in 塁審 ruishin ‘base umpire’ or 塁打 ruida ‘base hit’.
環濠 kangou ‘ring trench‘ – The usual word for the ‘moat’ around Japanese castles is 堀 hori ‘ditch, canal’, related to the verb horu ‘to dig’. By itself, 濠 gou is better translated ‘trench’ (also ‘dugout, foxhole’), another product of digging. The character 環 kan ‘ring, circle, loop’ also occurs in 環境 kankyou ‘environment, circumstances’ (lit. ‘circle boundary’) and 環礁 kanshou ‘atoll’ (lit. ‘fringing sunken-rock’).
墳丘墓 funkyuubo ‘mound-hill-grave‘ – The common word for ‘grave’ is 墓 haka (Sino-Japanese bo) as in 墓石 boseki, hakaishi ‘tombstone’ or 墓堀 hakahori ‘grave digger’. A normal-sized grave mound is 墳墓 funbo ‘mound grave, tomb’, but a seriously hill-sized grave mound is 墳丘墓 funkyuubo (with 丘 ‘hill’, read oka in many placenames). Grave-mound building was carried to even greater extremes during the next major period of Japanese history, the Kofun 古墳 (‘old tomb’) period (c. 250–538).
巫女 fujo, miko ‘shaman, sorceress, shrine maiden’ – After immigration from the Korean peninsula began, but before Buddhism was established (during the 8th century), the chief spiritual practitioner in Japanese villages was a shaman, who was usually female, although the etymology of 神子 miko lit. ‘god-child’ is gender-neutral.