Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kana Shodo Part 3

Brushstroke by Iida Kazuko Sensei


Uguisu no kasa otositaru tubaki kana

A wabler's hat
made it fallen
was the camellia

(Japanese bush wablers are tea green.)

translated by keiko amano

The first line from right: Uguisu no
Uguisu is a Japanese bush warbler. It sings a beautiful song, and its feathers are tea green.

The second line: kasa
Kasa is umbrella. Uguisu no kasa means “The umbrella of an Uguisu.” If you have seen camellia, you know what Basho meant by it. See the photo below.


The third line: Otoshitaru
Otoshitaru means dropped. As I mentioned many times before, the Japanese language naturally do not have the Western concept of subjects. So some people might say the subject of this haiku is a camellia, but technically speaking, there is no subject although the focus is on camellia. Because we have no plural/singular concept, you can form an image of a camellia among many other camellias around. How you vision the scene is up to you. Also, I want you to look at si (し) of otositaru. Doesn’t it make you see and feel as though a head of camellia is being descended? And then ru (る) at the end is a cute ru which was copied from a 1000 year old text. That ru looks to me simple and honest, not as sophisticated in form as the current ru (る).

The foruth line: tubaki ka (tubaki is in kanji)
One of the reasons I love this particular art of Kana Shodo is that Iida Kazuko sensei chose only one kanji. I think it is effective in design. It’s the only accent, and it’s appropriate.  椿(camellia) is made up by 木 (tree) and 春 (spring).  Camellia blooms in winter.  When we no longer spot colors in fields and hills, the colorful gorgeous flowers appear before us and fool our vision.
 And ka following tsubaki is not the same ka as the ka of kasa. This contrast is a device in design. It gives a different feel, gentler and less revealing, perhaps self-effacing. And this is an abrupt ending of the fourth line because this "kana" is a full ending. By leaving "ka" only in the fourth line and sending "na" to the fifth line is similar to splitting one English verb with two syllables into two. Crazy? Not in Japanese! In fact, crazier the better in my opinion. And no hyphen, of course. About crazier sho, if I find one sample on my mind, I'll show it to you.

The fifth line: na
This Na came from 那. It’s difficult to recognize it if you have never leanrned Kana Shodo. But a bit of mystery to audience is good, don’t you think so? If we figure the whole thing by the first sight, we have nothing to ask. No question, no conversation. The fun in Kana Shodo as well as any other Japanese traditional arts is in conversation. Just ask. We might not get right answer, but we always learn something.

Lastly but from the first sight,  we appreciate sho 書 (calligraphy) from a distance just like any other paintings.  The tranquil overall balance is deceiving.  As you probably found out by reading above, there are unusual twists and turns in compostition and a mystery in it.  And each person has unique thoughts about it.   What is your view?  How do you feel looking at it?  Rebb said once that it looked like crying when she saw a text from Genji Monogatari.  I thought her view was right to the point.  Those ancient characters cry and keep crying for sad events as well as happy occasions.  "A wet sleeve" appears quite often in poems and stories.  We might laugh, definitely including me, but "tradition" is like that.


ashok said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ashok said...

Keiko, I made a fantastic Kana Shodo for you in my blog just for fun and to wish you a happy new year. Hope you like it but I cannot read Japanese so you will have to read it for me :-)

keiko amano said...


Thank you. I left my message there. Yes, indeed, it was fantastic!

ashok said...

I guess I mystified you with that Kana Shodo, therefore I have put up a second one that is easy to interpret.

Jim said...

Good Afternoon Keiko Amano,
My name is Jim Daine and I found your blog doing a search for aristocratic Hiragana(I heard that once). I noticed that a lot of your work is similar to several documents that I have been trying to understand/translate. My Japanese is somewhat OK at best so I was wondering if you might be able to help me with understanding what is written. They are from a letter addressed to my Great-grandfather in 1906, Denver Colorado. It must be important because they were kept in a safe. I am trying to fill some family history. Thank you very much for your consideration,
Jim Daine

keiko amano said...


Long ago, I heard that Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif. had a day when people can bring their antique for evaluation. If I were you, I'll check with local Asia related museums first. And Japanese American National Museum, of course. For translation, you probably know more than I do, but American Translators' Association has good referral.

For important documents, you should be very careful. 1906 is the year after Russo Japanese War ended.