Category Archives: language

Buddhist Survivals in Buryatia

From In Siberia, by Colin Thubron (HarperCollins, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2868-2883, 2923-2939:

Buryatia. Mongols who had settled here a millennium ago, absorbing the local tribes, her people had sometimes allied themselves with czarist Russia against the harsh Mongolian regimes to their south. They were skilled stock-breeders and metallurgists, more numerous and organised than the tribespeople in the far north. Their ancestors had ridden with Genghis Khan. In the ungiving pastures of Transbaikal which we were entering, they had been converted to Buddhism by Mongolian and Tibetan missionaries, and alone among indigenous Siberians they possessed a written language. But even during childhood the woman had sensed in her parents the terror and bewilderment of the thirties: the forced collectivisation, the disappearance of the kulaks and lamas, the destruction of the monasteries.

She sees her Buryat identity fading down the generations. She has not thought of it much before, she says; but now I sense her hunting after half-discarded memories, a definition of her people, her mother, herself.

In a village somewhere east of Ulan Ude, she remembers, her grandparents kept a scroll painted with the Buddha and fringed in blue silk. It seemed very old. But it was the caressing silk border which the small girl remembered, not the sage it enframed. There were three statuettes of the Buddha too, to which the old people burnt incense and offered meat and fruit. Sometimes the girl would watch secretly to catch the Buddhas eating. She remembers the cupboard where they sat, how its doors opened after Stalin’s death, and the sleepy fumes of incense.

‘Every morning they offered the Buddhas tea and milk, then sprinkled it to the corners of the porch. That’s how Buddhism survived–in secret, the old people remembering. In Stalin’s day they rolled up the scroll with their prayer-books in a wooden box, and buried them under the house. But our family’s clan still had an altar on a hill, where they offered sacrifices.’ She frowns with remembered rebellion. ‘I wasn’t allowed to go, because I was a girl. But my brother told me about it.’

I had heard of a whole museum mured up in the cathedral, but it was closed to public view. Was it possible to…? The cat walked between us like a mascot.

Yes, it was possible. As the woman mounted the tower’s stair and unlocked door after armoured door a rich and incoherent maze came to light. Inside had been hoarded not the relics of Christian Orthodoxy but the accumulated treasures of Buddhist monasteries and temples salvaged in the hours before their demolition. Earmarked for display in a museum to promote atheism, then preserved for some future archive of their own, they waited here in glimmering profusion, sometimes stacked pell-mell among Cossack ploughs and harness, more often ranked in half-documented cabinets to themselves.

I examined them in ignorant wonder. In the gloom hundreds of Buddhas lifted their gilded hands in peace or teaching. Gifts from Tibet, Mongolia, China, even Cambodia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a few were very old. They sat or stood in bronze, gold, gypsum, papier maché. Their smiles filled the dark. Three thousand scroll-paintings crowded the shelves with Tibetan manuscripts and Chinese silks and a medley of temple instruments and regalia–ceremonial horns and the masks of lamaist mystery plays, whose actor-monks glowered out through slavering jaws or demon eyes. Sunlight penetrated only in mote-heavy beams, too weak to fade the sacred banners or illumine the fertility deities coupled in Tantric bliss. I began to lose all sense of age or worth. A horse-headed lute curved beside a ninth-century Indian Buddha, the household altar of a Buryat chief among the bric-a-brac of early tea-merchants.

The collective memory of Buryatia, it seemed, had been incarcerated in these once-Christian walls, and left to die. Of the forty-seven monasteries flourishing in the 1920s, all were gone by 1939. But Buddhism was reviving, said the woman, as she locked the last doors behind me. There were many little monasteries and temples she knew of, newly scattered through the region, and the greatest was only twenty miles away. The outer door clanged shut. The white cat was waiting in the grass. You could take a bus anywhere into the country, she said, and hear the lamas praying again.

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Filed under language, migration, nationalism, religion, Russia, USSR

Wordcatcher Tales: Tobruk, Feldwebel

I learned two new German military terms from my recent reading about how D-Day was experienced by the German military.

Tobruk – Several of the soldiers interviewed in D DAY Through German Eyes – Wehrmacht Soldier Accounts of June 6th 1944, by Holger Eckhertz (DTZ History, 2015) referred to their bunkers as Tobruks. I could guess its etymology—from Tobruk in Libya, the site of famous battles during World War II—but couldn’t visualize what kind of bunker it might be. Fortunately there are lots of images of tobruk bunkers in Wikimedia Commons, and a very informative site about the Regelbau architecture of German fortifications from the World War II era. Here’s how the latter source defines a Tobruk:

The Tobruk or “ringstellung” is basically a reinforced foxhole, some with a small, two-man habitat attached to it. The simplest version is named Bauform 201 or 58c, but a a variety of bunkers emerged from it. Tobruks are also an integral part of many larger bunkers, where they serve as observation posts and machinegun positions.

Feldwebel – None of the German military ranks are translated in The Germans in Normandy, by Richard Hargreaves (Pen and Sword, 2006). Perhaps the author simply wanted to avoid having to choose between, say, private first class and lance corporal to translate Gefreiter or Sturmmann (‘stormtrooper’, the SS paramilitary equivalent). There is lots of variation across anglophone militaries, and especially across various service branches. But perhaps the author also wanted an easy way to signal the distinction between Wehrmacht (regular army) ranks and their Waffen-SS equivalents. For instance, an SS-Hauptsturmführer is equivalent to a Wehrmacht Hauptmann (Army captain).

One of the Wehrmacht ranks I was surprised not to recognize was Feldwebel ‘sergeant’. (The same term has been borrowed by several other European armies, including those of Russia and Sweden.) It dates back to the early days of massed infantry tactics that required careful alignment of troops wielding pikes or firing muskets. The Feldwebel was the person who kept the troops in the field properly aligned.

German Wikipedia says Feldwebel derives from Old High German weibôn ‘sich hin und her bewegen’ (‘to go back and forth’) but doesn’t cite a source, and translates Webel as Gerichtsdiener (‘court usher’). The Swiss German rank is Feldweibel, related to Weibel (also Amtsweibel or Amtsdiener), the officer in charge of protocol in various official gatherings.

English Wikipedia cites the same Old High German etymology but translates Webel too simply as ‘usher’ (as in court usher, Gentleman Usher of the Royal Household and of various anglophone parliaments, or White House Chief Usher). If I had to put a contemporary label on all these formal order-keeping roles, I would lump them into the category of sergeant-at-arms, rather than usher. (It’s ironic that “sergeant-at-arms” now distinguishes various sorts of civilian order-keepers from military order-keeping sergeants.)

French Wikipedia gives Feldwebel a slightly different etymology (also without citing a source): “vieil allemand waibel, pièce de métier à tisser servant à ramener tous les fils sur la ligne (peigne)” (‘Old German waibel, the loom piece serving to keep all the threads aligned [comb]’).

The last etymology seems to me to get closer to the source of the term Webel, a Middle High German cognate of English weft, according to Guus Kroonen’s The Proto-Germanic n-stems.: A study in diachronic morphophonology (Rodopi, 2011). The weft threads are those that go back and forth (‘sich hin und her bewegen’) across the warp threads to weave fabrics on a loom.

This reminds me of the first line of the first dialog I had to memorize when I took the Romanian language course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in 1969: “Bună ziua, Domnule Locotenent!” (“Guten Tag, Herr Leutnant!”)

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Post-Soviet Status: “Respected Thief”

From Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, by Philip Shishkin (Yale, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2402-25:

Kyrgyzstan is a very small country, so rumors and news have a way of traveling fast in the overlapping circles of the country’s movers and shakers who booze, gossip, and do business together. Out of that cauldron, Ibraimova fished out a troubling morsel of scuttlebutt: a contract to kill Sadyrkulov had already been placed with a notorious mobster named Kamchi Kolbayev, a baby-faced, thirty-seven-year-old Don Corleone of Kyrgyzstan.

Following a long Soviet criminal tradition, Kolbayev was the so-called respected thief, a crowned prince of jailhouse aristocracy now entrusted by his colleagues to rule a vast criminal empire according to an informal code of “understandings” that are ruthless but noble, as any bleeding-heart mobster will tell you. Respected thieves require official protection, or at least acquiescence, and Kolbayev’s rise up the criminal food chain coincided with the entrenchment of the Bakiyev regime and the elevation of [his brother] Janysh. Kamchi benefited greatly from the murder of a major competitor: Ryspek Akhmatbayev, the Robin Hood who once dominated the country’s criminal underworld, won a parliamentary seat, and died in a flurry of gunfire outside a mosque.

Kamchi fared much better. One November evening in 2008, crime bosses from across the former Soviet Union gathered in a fancy Moscow restaurant to discuss pressing business matters and anoint new respected thieves. According to a Russian newspaper account of the meeting, the guests included such colorfully nicknamed individuals as Basil the Resurrected, Hamlet, Railcar, the Ogre, the Little Japanese Man, and Granpa Hassan. Kamchi was there too, and his peers crowned the Kyrgyz as a “respected thief,” elevating him to the rarefied top rung of organized crime. The title, peculiar to the Soviet criminal underworld, denotes an eventful life lived according to a rigorous criminal code that prohibits any normal employment, prescribes utter disdain for law enforcement, and usually involves significant prison stints and elaborately coded tattoos. Very few criminals rise to the rank of respected thief, whose closest international equivalent might be the Italian mafia’s capo di tutti cappi. (The original Russian term, Vor v Zakone, is often translated as Thief-in-Law, which is confusing as it conjures a meddlesome mother-in-law.)

A couple of years after attaining the respected-thief status, Kamchi became big enough to land on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of major transnational crime figures whose assets are subject to a freeze. The U.S. government identified Kamchi as a key member of the Brothers’ Circle (formerly known as Family of Eleven, and the Twenty), a multiethnic criminal group spread across the former Soviet Union and active in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. “The Brothers’ Circle serves as a coordinating body for several criminal networks, mediating disputes between the individual criminal networks and directing member criminal activity globally,” the Treasury Department says. Tagged by President Obama as “a significant narcotics trafficker” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, Kamchi serves as the Brothers’ Circle’s overseer for Central Asia, a principal staging ground for global trafficking of Afghan heroin.

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Evangelizing Japanese in Hawai‘i, 1915

From “Events in Hawaii,” by F. S. Scudder, in The Christian Movement in the Japanese Empire, including Korea and Formosa, a Year Book for 1915 (Conference of Federated Missions, Japan, 1915), pp. 333-336.

Interchanges – Our geographic situation has furnished us, as usual, special opportunities of brotherly service. In May, 1914, the visit of the training ships Asama and Azuma gave many Americans the privilege of becoming acquainted with Rear-Admiral Kuroi, whose noble character won the admiration of ail who met him. It was a happy coincidence that while a party of prominent citizens of Hawaii were touring Japan and daily receiving the highest courtesies in that Land of the Rising Sun, we of the setting sun should have the opportunity of offering the first welcome to these men of the Japanese navy on their visit to various American ports.

A band of thirty young men, wearing a “Y” on their sleeves, and representing the Japanese Y.M.C.A. tendered their services as guides throughout the city and vicinity of Honolulu. An international welcome service was held both in Honolulu and Hilo, in each of which no less than 1,000 people gathered. At the Honolulu service, the picture of Admiral Kuroi, seated between Governor Pink­ham and Admiral Moore, and in the midst of a group of fifteen other prominent citizens of Honolulu, was one that called out from many the remark, “How could those two Admirals ever be conceived as being ranged on different sides in a conflict.” Such services certainly tend to bind us together in sympathy, respect and mutual interest.

Peace Scholarship Students – Another incident evoking interesting comment was the coming of three more Peace Scholars from Japan to the Mid-Pacific Institute. That the sending these three boys should have been deemed of sufficient importance to draw together at the home of the Prime Minister of Japan a number of the leaders of great movements in that Empire, shows the remarkable way in which the master minds of Japan foster, from its tiniest beginnings, the ideal of world peace.

In the great pageant of Peace given at the Mid-pacific carnival in February of this year, no part called forth more unanimous admiration than that taken by the Japanese. Not alone the exquisite beauty of their costumes, but the dignity and unequalled decorum of the participants were conspicuous.

No account of the year’s activities would be complete, without mention of the definite efforts put forth to bring about mutual understanding between the people of America and Japan. Central Union Church gave its minister, Rev. Doremus Scudder, D.D., leave of absence for three months, to join with Rev. S. L. Gulick, D.D., in a campaign of good-will in the United States. The results of this campaign, though of far-reaching impor­tance, are not yet made public. This was followed by the visit of Doctors Mathews and Gulick on their way to and from Japan, and on his return trip, Dr. Gulick made a tour of these Islands, investigating the condition of the Japanese here and the estimate put upon them by the people of Hawaii. Dr. Gulick’s report of this investigation will prove of intense interest and value.

Rev. S. Kimura made a three months’ evangelistic campaign in the Islands, deeply stirring the Churches of all nationalities, and giving a strong forward impetus to the work among the Japanese.

The Hongwanji Buddhists are planning to erect a temple in Honolulu costing $100,000.

Young Japan in Hawaii – One of the big problems of missions in the ever-changing condition of Hawaii is that presented by the changing language of the people. Looking at this from the Japanese side alone, it is of serious proportions, as will be noticed from the following considerations, but what is here said in reference to the Japanese is likewise applicable to the youth of all other nationalities growing up in our midst.

An On-coming Problem
The Japanese population in the Hawaiian Islands is about 90,000
Of these the number born in the Islands is approximately 23,000
The yearly increase by children born in Hawaii is about 3,000

Here in a nutshell we have a problem which may be outlined as follows: Since the immigration of Japanese, excepting of brides, is practically discontinued, the increase of the Japanese population must henceforth be chiefly of those born in the Islands–who are educated in the public schools and whose knowledge of the Japanese tongue, after they are eight or ten years of age, becomes less and less, while English becomes their favourite language. By the time they are old enough to attend church services we are in danger of losing all influence over them, for on the one hand, their knowledge of Japanese is so limited that they can not understand the sermons preached by Japanese ministers, and on the other hand, even our best qualified Japanese ministers are not equal to preaching in English acceptably to those youths who have attended our public schools, and acquired English through play and study from their childhood days.

What can be done for these on-coming thousands of young men and women who are thus growing up among us? Shall they go to English speaking Churches? The question answers itself; for, outside of Honolulu, the Churches of all denominations in these Islands which have English services can be counted on the fingers of both hands [emphasis added]. That is sufficient evidence of the need for inaugurating English services throughout all the Islands.

Buildings Ready – Church buildings are already available, each nationality being fairly well provided with suitable buildings, but unless these Churches are quick to adapt themselves to the changing order, they will soon be ministering to a small body of old people, while the great body of our young people will be unshepherded.

Who, then, shall be secured to conduct these English services? To place in the field additional missionaries from the mainland [U.S.], even if it were possible, would be inadequate; for the present generation, at least, the ministers to the different nationalities should be related by blood to the people they are to serve.

Need of Dual Ministry – It is evident then, that while utilizing the present church buildings as permanent centres of rel1g1ous life we must have a bi-lingual ministry if we aim to reach both the old and the young, and as the difficulties in the way of securing one man who will speak the two languages are practically insuperable, we must begin as rapidly as possible to provide each of these Churches with an associate minister, of its own national type, who shall take charge of the English work.

This may seem like a staggering financial proposition, but it is not more staggering than the thought of a whole generation of the youth of all natioµalities growing up without religious guidance, and hence setting back the moral development of our people indefinitely. The unique situation calls for unusual outlay. The time has come when we must face the fact and plan to meet it with a definite programme.

Question of Expense – The sooner the problem is faced, however, the less the expense involved. By beginning at once to adapt ourselves to it, placing in the field one new man at a time and locating him at a strategic centre, the initial expense would be moderate, and the help thus given would so strengthen the Churches that they would move more rapidly towards self-support, thus keeping down the annual increase to a reasonable sum.

Our first aim, it would seem, should be to place one English speaking Japanese minister on each of the four Islands where we have Japanese work, who should institute a regular English service in each Church as often as the size of his circuit will permit, and then, from this beginning, to go on increasing the number of our English speaking preachers till every Church has its dual ministry.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Shoyu-making Terms

On our latest visit to Japan, we explored the Shirakabe (white-wall) historic district of Yanai City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. One of the most interesting Edo Period buildings was the old Sagawa Shoyu brewery now turned into a museum and shop. The most linguistically interesting exhibit was the following chart of the shoyu-making process (醤油の作り方工程 shouyu no tsukurikata koutei).

Shoyu-making process

Shoyu-making process

It starts on the left with the three main ingredients:

  • mugi ‘wheat or barley’, which you roast (煎る iru [also written 炒る]) and crack (ひきわる hikiwaru [or 砕く kudaku ‘crush’]}
  • mame ‘[soy]bean’ (大豆 daizu lit. ‘big-bean’), which you steam (蒸す musu)
  • 種麴 tanekouji (lit. ‘seed-malt’) ‘malt starter (Aspergillus bacilli)’

Mix (まぜる mazeru [also written 混ぜる]) them to form the malt (麴 kouji) and let it ferment (仕込 shikomu).

Add malt to brine (塩水 shiomizu/ensui ‘salt-water’) while stirring with a paddle (櫂 kai) to make a mash (もろみ moromi).

After it reaches maturity (熟成 jukusei), press it (しぼる shiboru) to separate the liquid raw shoyu (生醤油 kijouyu, namashouyu) from the raw dregs (生揚 kiage, namaage).

The raw shoyu is heated (火入 hiire ‘fire-insert’) (pasteurized) to make regular refined shoyu (醤油).

The solid dregs have many other uses. In 1781, a brewer in Yanai combined the dregs (instead of brine) with a new batch of malt to make Yanai’s trademark 甘露醤油 Kanro Shouyu lit. ‘sweet-dew shoyu’, more prosaically known as 再仕込み醤油 sai-shikomi shouyu ‘refermented shoyu’, which has a lighter taste (淡口 usukuchi) especially suitable for delicate sashimi. This process is outlined in the bottom line of the chart above. (The Sagawa shop offers small spray bottles of Sweet Dew soy sauce.)

The Kikkoman Institute for International Food Culture publishes an English-language bulletin called Food Culture that contains an interesting series of articles by food historian Ryoichi Iino on the History of Shoyu.
1. Origins of fermented sho (Ch. jiang) in China and use in Heian Japan
2. Use of sho in Heian and Kamakura periods, decline of liquid sho in favor of miso
3. Uses of miso and rise of shoyu and tamari in pre-Edo Period
4. Production and diffusion of shoyu in the Edo Period

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Filed under food, industry, Japan, language

Wordcatcher Tales: Goze

From The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan, by Alan Booth (Weatherhill, 1985), p. 130:

Well into the twentieth century this stretch of coast was the haunt of the goze [瞽女 ‘blind-woman’]—blind wandering shamisen players who trudged through the villages of the old province of Echigo, from wedding to wedding, from festival to festival, begging food and lodging in return for a song. All were women (though the shamisen is an instrument traditionally taken up by the blind of both sexes), and most were members of a strictly hierarchical society that organized them into small dependent bands. The younger and more ambitious of the goze might supplement their pittance of an income by selling their bodies at the village fairs, though if this were known to the society, they would quickly find themselves stripped of companionship and forced to wander through the Back of Japan alone, with only a stick and their songs to survive on.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Bandori, Quaintify

From The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan, by Alan Booth (Weatherhill, 1985), pp. 106-107:

Willow trees line the old green streams that crisscross the streets of Tsuruoka, and the streams are walled like the castle moats they once were. The day was immensely hot, with the humidity of gathering rain. In twenty minutes my clothes were soaked, and before I was even out of the city I stopped to cool off in the Chido Museum and dripped my way round a fine collection of ornamental bandori—the backpacks used by country people for humping firewood, vegetables, and kids. The most elaborate of these were the iwai-bandori, designed for carrying wedding trousseaus, and the colors and patterns reminded me of the Navajo rugs I had once seen in New Mexico. (Speaking of the Navajo, I have often wondered why people who strive to depict the Japanese as quaint have never resorted to the Red Indian ploy. The written character for “moon,” for instance, is the same as the written character for “month,” so the Japanese, like the Hollywood redskins, speak of things happening “many moons ago.” To my knowledge, no one—not even the most frantic quaintifier—has ever translated the expression that way, but the quaintifying industry is alive and kicking, and if the Japanese would only start wearing feathers on their heads the oversight could quickly be expunged.)

In the grounds of the museum stood several “old” buildings—a town hall (1881), a police station (1884)—so revered for having survived a century that they had been lugged from their original sites and painstakingly reconstructed. There was also a fine old three-story farmhouse. (It had a warm thatched roof and high paper windows, and on the timber floors of its second and third stories, the old silkworm trays and frames stood intact. This solid old farmhouse had been trundled plank by plank from a little mountain village some sixteen kilometers outside Tsuruoka, and was now fenced off behind a turnstile earning money for the proprietors of the Chido Museum. I wonder what the villagers had had to say, and whether they had put on their war paint.

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