JOK Notebook

Forever Connected

I'm always impressed by how the body has given rise to fascinating figurative Japanese expressions. You'll find three in the following quiz. Match each to a definition (steering clear of the false definitions that I've thrown in for fun):

1. 頭に来る (あたまにくる)     head + to come

2. 脛に傷持つ (すねにきずもつ)     leg, shin + wound + to have

3. 掌中の (しょうちゅうのたま)     palm + in + jewel

a. to have a guilty conscience e. heavy-handedness
b. to get mad f. apple of one's eye
c. to act conceited g. dizziness
d. to have a chip on one's shoulder h. There's a bad apple in every barrel

I'll block the answers with a preview of the most recent essay:

Okay, here we go.

1.b. 頭に来る (あたまにくる: head + to come) means "to get mad."

The syntax "(body part) + に来る" generally means "to have something go wrong with a (body part)." If a boxer takes a hard punch and has trouble standing up, the Japanese call that 足に来る, where 足 (あし) means "legs." If one catches the flu and has loose stools as a result, people say 腹に来る, where 腹 (はら) means "belly." So it’s fairly likely that 頭に来る originally indicated a problem with the head.

Unfortunately, dictionaries don’t give a clear explanation about the idea behind this expression, but Nihon Kokugo Dai-Jiten says it refers to blood that rushes to the head because of anger, sadness, or fear. Kojien primarily defines 頭に来る as “to have alcohol or toxins go to the brain, causing one to act crazily,” with “to get angry” as a secondary definition. 

2.a. 脛に傷持つ (すねにきずもつ: leg, shin + wound + to have) means "to have a guilty conscience." The 脛 is non-Joyo, as is 疵 (きず: wound) in this alternate rendering: 脛に疵持つ.

My proofreader's sources don't indicate the idea behind this term. He assumes that the “wound” is a figurative reference to guilt about the past but has no idea why the shin would be involved.

3.f. 掌中の珠 (しょうちゅうのたま: palm + in + jewel) means "apple of one's eye." If a father regards his daughter as his 掌中の珠, it feels to him as if she's a gem in his hand. This doesn't have to do with controlling or manipulating her. Rather, he feels that she's close to him.

At the heart of the expression lies this one, which is a different matter:

掌中 (しょうちゅう: in the hand; (something) easily manipulated)     palm + in

Speaking of hands, I recently received a beautiful gift from Japan with this label on the packaging, and 手 (hand) is the first kanji:

The first line is by far the hardest to read:

Handmade decorative paper with colorful patterns

手漉き (てすき : “handmade" (esp. paper)); 
千代紙* (ちよがみ: decorative paper with colorful patterns)

Wow, look what happened to the 紙! The non-Joyo 漉 means "to manufacture paper."

The subsequent writing is much more legible:

Set of washi papers

和紙* (わし: Japanese paper)

12 pieces of decorative paper with colorful patterns

-枚* (-まい: counter for flat things)

12 pieces with all kinds of washi

-づくし (-尽くし: all kinds of)

Containing 24 pieces (of paper)

-入 (-いり: containing)

A few notes are in order:

• Inside 千代紙 (ちよがみ: decorative paper with colorful patterns) lies 千代 (ちよ: (1) thousand years; (2) very long period; forever), but why? Various sources provide these theories: 

1. The paper features cranes or turtles, both of which represent long life (千代). 
2. The paper was used in Chiyoda (千代田) Castle in Edo (the old name for Tokyo). 

• Glancing at づくし, I immediately assumed that it was just -作り (-づくり: making) in another form. When I dug into the matter, I was surprised to find that づくし corresponds to -尽くし (all kinds of). Furthermore, I was thrown off to learn that 尽 is a Joyo kanji. It doesn't look as though it would be!

• I've blogged before about multiple suffixes in a row, and yet they never fail to surprise me. We have another example with 24枚入. It's more common to see this type of -入 as -入り, but I suppose they decided it was time to stop writing with 入. I'll make the same decision now!



Right after I wrote this blog I headed to San Francisco for dinner at a place called Tsunami, where I saw this saké barrel:

What's this?! Could that really be 千代?! Indeed, 千代むすび is the name of a saké brewery (ちよむすび), so named in the hopes that the saké would be a bond to connect (むすび or 結び) people forever (千代). How about that?! I now feel forever connected to the word 千代!


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