JOK Notebook

The Sound of the Sea

I'm back from a restful vacation on the coast north of San Diego. Although I was sick with a cold the whole time, I eventually felt well enough to do my favorite thing—walk barefoot on the beach. 

How nice to return to my kanji life and to encounter not one but two terms about the sound of the sea. 

I spotted the first on Twitter when JapanVisitor posted a lovely photo of a restaurant sign in Yakushima on Kyushu. Here's the restaurant name:

潮騒 (しおさい: the roar of the sea)     tide + to make a noise

What a beautiful name! Of course, it's funny to see a horse (馬) in the middle! 

Shortly after that, I scrutinized an email in Japanese from HG, a Japanese friend who doesn't think highly of the film director Kore-eda and who spent the bulk of his message wondering if the subtitle writers have vastly improved the content of those movies. That, HG reasoned, would explain why Kore-eda is so much more popular outside of Japan than inside. 

HG noted that that sort of thing wouldn't be unprecedented. The translator Seidensticker may well have been responsible for Kawabata's Nobel Prize in Literature, and in fact Kawabata gave Seidensticker half of his prize money, said HG. He then made this observation:

I wonder if (the poems in) Satoshi Ueda’s Kaicho-on are even better than the originals. 

上田敏 (うえださとし: Satoshi Ueda, 1932–); 海潮音 (かいちょうおん: sound of the sea; sound of the waves); 原文 (げんぶん: the text; original); 以上 (いじょう: more than); うまい (skillful); 思う* (おもう: to think)

I had no idea, never having heard of Ueda and having no clue about what the original was. (Now I know. The book is an anthology of poems that Ueda translated from foreign languages.) 

Anyway, it felt special to revisit this concept so soon:

海潮音 (かいちょうおん: sound of the sea; sound of the waves)     sea + tide + sound

The breakdown is quite logical, and there are no horses this time! 

HG writes in a lively (and difficult!) way, always introducing me to new expressions, and I was particularly charmed by a sentence in which he said why he had left me a comment on the Joy o' Kanji Facebook page, only to erase it. I had been quite perplexed; I had copied his challenging message into a Word file, taken time to investigate each bit, consulted my proofreader about some parts, and then returned to answer the letter, only to find it gone! HG had moved the comments to a private message. But why? Here he explains:

I erased my comment because I felt like I was thoughtlessly setting foot in sacred territory.

神聖 (しんせい: holiness); 領域 (りょういき: area; territory); 土足で (どそくで: thoughtlessly); 足を踏み入れる (あしをふみいれる: to set foot in); 様 (よう: like); 私 (わたし: I); 消去 (しょうきょ: erasing)

I enjoyed spotting the 足で足 palindrome toward the beginning! Then I realized that the first 足 was part of this great word:

土足 (どそく: (1) shod feet; wearing shoes; (2) muddy feet; dirty feet)     dirt + feet

Ah, yes. Entering a sacred territory with shoes would be one of the biggest faux pas possible in Japan. (And isn't it interesting that that French term means "false step," as if every wrong move involves our feet?!)

But wait. It seems that I've taken too little of the sentence by considering only 土足. When you include the subsequent particle, the definition changes considerably. Here's Breen's listing:

土足で (どそくで: (1) with shoes on; (2) (often in the forms 土足で踏み込む and 土足で踏みにじる) rudely; thoughtlessly)

Aha, the second definition must apply because the sentence contains not 踏み込む but the similar 踏み入れる. I was still taking too little of the sentence! It was as if I were trying to take a photo but standing much too close to the object. I had to back up to fit it all into the frame, then back up another step, then another. That's so often the experience of interpreting a Japanese sentence; you need to know how far back to stand and which lens to use on your camera for the clearest picture!

So let's look at 土足で足を踏み入れる as one unit:

土足で足を踏み入れる (どそくであしをふみいれる: to set foot in (e.g. someone else's territory) rudely or thoughtlessly)

The dirty shoes have dropped out of the translation, sadly enough. But this phrase still produces a vivid mental image.

And to think of a Facebook page as being a sacred space with pristine tatami mats or centuries of religious somberness ... That's downright hilarious! After all, we're talking about the place where vicious fights constantly break out, prompting people to sever relationships in a few keystrokes. It's also the place where proper punctuation and spelling go to die. It's vulgar, it's irreverent ... I enjoy some things about Facebook, but sacred it's not!

As long as we're focusing on what is unclean, let's talk about pigs! The newest essay is all about pigs (and pork), which take the dirt level way beyond 土足! Here's a sneak preview:

Catch you back here next time!


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