Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saikaku and Impure Words

I was reading Five Women Who Pursued Their Love (好色五人女 Kōshoku Gonin Onna, published in 1685) by Ihara Saikaku (1642 – 1693)

The story is from the feudal period. Men and women had no freedom and woman had it worse. If she fell in love and followed her heart, the fate would surely end in tragedy. It's a novel about five women and three of them are known to be based on true events. Their names are Onatsu, Osen, Osan, Oshichi, and Oman. Prefix O is honorific but they weren't respected. Saikaku was extremely talented poet, novelist, and although he is not defined as a playwright, to me he is. His novels are so vivid in descriptions, playwrights had easy time converting into plays, kabuki, and jyoruri. He put all his talents into his art and created a new genre that is still enjoyed even today.

One of the disciplines Ihara Saikaku had was to limit his usage of the words starting with a dakuon (murky or impure sounds) which is such as b, d, g, j, z.  The first chapter of "Five Women Who Pursued Their Love" has five titles and those include only one word starts with voiced.  It's 状箱 jyobako(money box). Money is quite often considered dirty in our literature.  The first word of the fourth title is the only one. This is, I believe, intentional, following the tradition of the Japanese literature, which I think idiosyncratic. Such discrimination was, at first, to be highly sophisticated trend, following, I believe, Mandarin. Mandarin does not contain any dakuon. If we follow idiosyncrasy for hundreds of years, it simply remains forever.

1. koi wa yami yoru o hiru no kuni
                             murotu ni kakurenaki otoko ari
2. kukeobi yori arawaruru fumi
                              himechi ni miyako masari no onna ari
3. taiko ni yoru sisimahi
                haya waza wa kosodemaku no naka ni ari
4. Jyoubako ha yado ni oite kita otoko
                            kokoroate no setahi ookini chikahi ari
5. inochino uchino nanajyaku ryou no kane
                             yoni hayari uta kikeha aware ari

Just for a record I checked the rest of the chapters and found five titles each and found only one other word starting with a voiced consonant. It's the fourth title of the fourth chapter and the word is bakemono which means goblins.  It's coincidence that even in English the word starts with a voiced consonant, g.

This is a photo of one of local bridges near my place in Yokohama. We all call it hanamibashi はなみばし instead of hanamihashi はなみはし. That is called rendaku 連濁 sequential voicing. This new engraved style followed the old traditional writing.  Yes, in Saikaku's writing, I see his effort in less usage of  even rendaku.

We all carry on traditions without much thinking but we need to know the original intention and process. Yes, it's history.  Don't blindly accept anything like a narcissist.

In sutra, the meaning of 差別 (discrimination) is for the purpose of improvement, not for negative purpose, according to a Buddhist.  I think the meaning of some words in sutra are quite different from our daily usage.


Emiliano Baird said...

Hello Ms. Amano,
I am Emiliano Baird and I love your posts. Recently did I just discover your blog; I have almost read each one you have written, my favorite so far is the "Pickle Shop" story.
I like to write also, especially though my love is for painting.
I hope we can come in contact with each other.

Emiliano Baird

keiko amano said...

Hello Emilliano,

Thank you for reading my posts. I'm glad you like "Pickle Story." I'll let the employees of Subway in San Dimas next time I'm there. They keep teasing me about it every time I go there.

Lately I post more on FB. I like your profile photo and the Japanese cat photo. Very nice.



ZACL said...

I am not sure I would blindly agree with the Buddhist philosophical point at the end of your post. It has merit, I agree, but rigidly applying it also weakens it. There is a circumstantial element to its application that adheres at a personal level, not necessarily at a general one.

Blogging is a writing form that requires discipline and tidiness of thought. I think.

keiko amano said...

Thank you, ZACL, for your comment.
You're right about that. I reworked for my translation so I would update the post as below.

In Buddhist sutra, the meaning of 差別 (discrimination) is for the purpose of improvement, not for negative purpose, according to a Buddhist. I trust his interpretation of the word.

Emiliano Baird said...

Yes, please do Ms. Keiko (/^u^\)!
It was so cute tale! (... They shouldn't tease you, but your friends looking for that man!)
I have an FB myself. May I befriend you or "like" your page? I just start my own Google Blog, this is the URL address: , Thank you for liking my PF pics and Neko pic. It is a work of Hokusai and the cats represent a different travel station of the Tokaido highway. Best to you! Thank you!

keiko amano said...

Yes, Emilliano, please send your friend request. Thank you.