JOK Notebook

Sleep Like a Kanji: "Womansword," Round 3

For the third week in a row, I'm indulging my endless fascination with Kittredge Cherry's wonderful book Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women. As I said in blogs two weeks ago and last week, the book has umpteen things going for it, as well as a glaring kanji deficit. I've therefore taken on the fun project of writing supplementary material in these JOK Notebook posts, mostly in the form of quizzes.

Sleep Like a Kanji

Here's the first quiz for today. Which kanji shape are you supposed to assume when sharing a bed with your baby:    

a. tree
b. river    
c. wind
d. child

To block the answer, I'll mention that one word for "co-sleeping" (i.e., sleeping right beside a baby or lying beside the child until it falls asleep) is soine, according to Cherry. She means this term:

添い寝 or 添寝 (そいね: sleeping together)     to get close + sleeping

I didn't recognize the first kanji until I connected it with 添付 (てんぷ: attachment), a word I've used in countless emails.

Okay, the answer to the quiz is b. river (川). That is, as Cherry explains, "A proverb advises parents to 'Sleep in the form of a river' (Kawa no ji ni neru)" (pp. 117–118). More romaji! The italicized words correspond to this saying:

Sleep in the form of a river
(Lit., Sleep in the river kanji (shape))

川 (かわ: river); 字 (じ: character); 寝る (ねる: to sleep)

I love when the Japanese describe things by referring to the shape of a kanji! Of course, if you go to bed and think about kanji, you might be too excited to fall asleep! 

Birth Huts

Right on the heels of one quiz, I'll launch into another. Here's a fascinating passage from the same part of the book (on motherhood):

Babies used to be born in small buildings constructed for that purpose, called "birth huts" (san-goya or ubuya). In some villages in Fukui Prefecture, women continued to give birth in these huts until around 1965. When a woman's time was at hand, she was likely to be attended not only by her mother, but also by other female relatives and neighbors, as well as the midwife, who was called a "birth granny" (sanba). This intimate community of experienced child-bearers would provide encouragement, advice, and massages for the woman in labor, which is called "battle-pain" (jintsu), written with a character (jin) usually used in military contexts. Women were expected to endure this pain silently.... Men were absolutely forbidden to enter. One other presence was welcomed to the birth hut in order to safeguard the delivery: the birth god (ubugami), the only deity who is considered immune to pollution from birth-related blood (pp. 113–114).

Match the italicized words with the kanji:

1. san-goya a. 産屋
2. ubuya b. 陣痛
3. sanba c. 産神
4. jintsu d. 産小屋
5. ubugami e. 産婆

This time I'll block the answers with a sneak preview of the newest essay, the last to post in 2016!

Okay, here we go. Note that four of the compounds contain 産 (birth), two featuring the Joyo on-yomi サン and two showcasing the Joyo kun-yomi うぶ.

1.d. San-goya (さんごや: birth huts) corresponds to 産小屋. That wasn't easy to figure out unless you knew 小屋 (こや: hut, little + house) and recognized that it had been voiced.

2.a. Ubuya (うぶや: birth huts) is 産屋. That was hard if you didn't know the yomi うぶ (as I did not)!    

3.e. Sanba (さんば: birth granny) goes with 産婆. That might have been doable if you remembered 婆 as "old woman" from last week's blog.

4.b. Jintsu (じんつう: battle-pain) matches 陣痛. However, this 陣 does not quite mean "battle." According to Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten and Kanjigen, the 陣 here comes from a counter for "attacks" of wind or rain, as in 一陣の風 (いちじんのかせ: a blast of wind) or 一陣の雨 (いちじんのあめ: a rain shower). People use this counter to mean that something attacks in waves, just as military forces do in battle, and just as pain does when a woman is giving birth.

5.c. Ubugami (うぶがみ: birth god) is rendered as 産神 (birth + god). It's pretty cool to think that there's a birth god out there, though I'm sure most women in labor feel ungodly pain, not a deity's presence!

Working World

Let's move from "Motherhood" to "Work Outside the Home," the next section of the book. What do you think this term could mean:

内職 (ないしょく)     inside + employment

a. someone in the inner circle of corporate decision makers
b. employee lacking a window office
c. side job
d. employee with lifelong job security

I'll block the answer by mentioning a very cool passage. It took only one sentence to make my mind race:

Another, less common word for ... street peddlers is katsugiya, literally "shoulder-burden peddler," which can also refer to people who carry a bundle of superstitions in their mind (p. 126).

Here was my train of thought on reading this: I've written an essay about the shoulder kanji 肩,  I know there's no way it carries any part of the yomi katsugiya. Oh, she means 担 (929: to shoulder, carry), where 担 represents the verb "to shoulder" (担ぐ, かつぐ) but not the body part "shoulder." 

And here's the way to write katsugiya "properly":

担ぎ屋 or かつぎ屋 (かつぎや: (1) superstitious person; (2) practical joker; (3) peddler; itinerant salesman; blackmarket peddler (after WWII))

Well, that sheds light on Cherry's reference to superstitions, but I'm still confused. The 担ぎ屋 listing comes from Breen, who sends us from that entry to this one:

縁起を担ぐ (えんぎをかつぐ: to be superstitious; believe in omens)

Okay, more confusion. I turn to my proofreader, who has good answers. His sources (Kojien and Nihon Kokugo Dai-Jiten) indicate that the original expression was as follows:

御幣を担ぐ (ごへいをかつぐ: to be religious, be superstitious)

The 御幣 refers to a sacred Shinto staff with hanging paper streamers. In Shinto rituals, people literally shoulder these gigantic, unwieldy decorated poles. So to shoulder (担ぐ) a staff (御幣) is to be religious or superstitious. Eventually, the Japanese replaced 御幣 with 縁起 (omen) in the expression but left 担ぐ unchanged. 

That was quite a detour! Here's how the passage about female peddlers continues:

These women bring remembrance of humanity's enormous capacity to survive hardship and, more importantly from their perspective, they bring vegetables. In the Tokyo area, they journey six days a week from the countryside to sell produce in the neighborhoods of the central city. They used to grow the crops themselves, too, but now many buy them from neighboring farmers.... Some remain bent over after they have laid out their vegetables for inspection, as if another load were still weighing them down.... It's rare to see a man in this line of work, partly because agriculture has become a largely female trade in Japan. In 1980, women comprised sixty-two percent of the farm labor force, and more than a fifth of them were age sixty or over.... Wives are the mainstay of Japanese agriculture now... (pp. 126–127).

I figured there were no longer any such peddlers, at least in Tokyo, and my proofreader feels that that's generally true, but he recalls seeing an elderly female peddler on a Tokyo train some 10 years ago. On her back she carried a bag (likely of produce) that rivaled her torso in size. He has also found a 2014 video and a 2012 article about a woman still peddling in the Ginza section of Tokyo well into her 80s.

Cherry's description of bent-over women recalls the wonderful 2002 Korean film The Way Home. You can see from a trailer how the elderly protagonist (who peddled melons) was bent at a 90-degree angle.

Okay, let me finally return to the quiz question. I know I left you hanging—unless you forgot about it altogether! 

The answer is c. That is, 内職 (ないしょく: inside + employment) means "side job." Strictly speaking, the term refers to work you do outside of or instead of a regular day job, maybe from home. Broadly speaking, 内職 means "doing something other than what one’s supposed to be doing," including secretly studying math in an English class. Used in this sense, the word has a negative nuance.

As Cherry notes, "The term originated in feudal times, when it was applied to the side jobs of samurai. In 1983, over a million females did piecework at home, from sewing on buttons to cutting electrical wires ..." (p. 134). Cutting wires?! Really?!

And things have come full circle, at least in the United States, where many people are doing side work (including driving for Uber or Instacart) just to make ends meet. To put it in Pulp Fiction terms, we've gone medieval on someone's ass!

Happy Holidays to all of you! 


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments