JOK Notebook

Transported to Battleship Island

Writing about kanji always transports me to unexpected and wonderful places, one path leading to another and then another. So it was with essay 1795 on 泡 (bubble). The Verbal Logic Quiz involves a book of photos with a yojijukugo containing 泡 on the cover:

Here are the first two lines:

Gunkanjima Building Number 30

軍艦島 (ぐんかんじま: Gunkanjima, a nickname for Hashima Island); -号 (-ごう: number); -棟 (-とう: building) 

Examining that book cover took me to 軍艦島 (ぐんかんじま: Gunkanjima), or Battleship (軍艦) Island (島), the nickname of an island that strongly resembles a battleship

Photo Credit: Hisagi (氷鷺)

One of more than five hundred uninhabited islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, this is officially called Hashima Island (端島, はしま).

Wikipedia provides this useful background story: 

Coal was first discovered on the island around 1810, and the island was permanently populated from 1887 to 1974 as a seabed coal mining facility. Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha bought the island in 1890 and began extracting coal from undersea mines, while seawalls and land reclamation (which tripled the size of the island) were constructed. 

Underwater coal mining?! I had no idea such a thing was possible! I can't even imagine how that would work.

After people began relying on petroleum products rather than coal as an energy source, the island was swiftly evacuated in 1974, all the buildings left to crumble.

Wanting to know more about the place, I ended up on a fascinating blog post filled with striking photos, vivid writing (including a reference to "beautiful scenes of destruction"), and great information. The blogger (a British photographer and explorer who is fluent in Japanese) later wrote a follow-up post after revisiting the island with a crew making a documentary. From that second post I learned that Gunkanjima was once the "most densely populated city in the world." That's quite a statement! 

The two posts are in English but contain a smattering of Japanese, either in romaji or in kanji. I tried to figure out what those words and characters represented. I'll share them with you as a Quick Quiz in two parts.

Quick Quiz, Part 1

Drawing on everything you know about the characters below, match the romanized words with the correct kanji:

1. haikyo, which means "ruins; abandoned building"

a. 背京
b. 敗炬    
c. 廃虚
d. 灰居

2. Jigokudan, "known as the Staircase to Hell because, apparently, running up the steps will exhaust you to the extent that you feel hellish pain"

a. 地獄段
b. 事国壇
c. 自黒団
d. 字谷談

3. Gakuran, a type of student uniform for boys that features an upright collar and often a long jacket and loose trousers

a. 岳乱
b. 額欄
c. 楽蘭
d. 学らん

I'll block the answers with an antique postcard featuring the island:

We see this across the top:

Hand-Tinted Picture Postcards of Nagasaki

長崎 (ながさき: Nagasaki); 手彩色 (てさいしょく: hand-tinted);
絵葉書 (えはがき: picture postcard)

This postcard is from the Meiji era (1868–1912).

Okay, here we go.

1.c. The word haikyo corresponds to this term:

廃虚 (はいきょ: ruins; abandoned building)     to abandon + vacant

I said this in essay 1156 on 虚 (void, vacant; false, falsehood; futile):

People originally wrote this term as follows, and sometimes they still do:

廃墟 (はいきょ: ruins; abandoned building)     to abandon + ruins

In this word, the non-Joyo 墟 means “ruins.” Even the components of this kanji reflect that meaning; where there was once a building, there is now only a “depression” (虚) in the “ground” (土). Nowadays, many Japanese use 虚 as a homophonic substitute for 墟 in this word. That’s possible because these kanji share the on-yomi of キョ.

As for the false answers, you can read them all as はいきょ or はいきょう, but they're nonsense words:

a. 背 (ハイ: back) + 京 (キョウ: capital)    
b. 敗 (ハイ: defeat) + 炬 (キョ: torch)        
d. 灰 (はい: ash) + 居 (キョ: existence)        

Note that 炬 is non-Joyo.

2.a. Jigokudan, "known as the Staircase to Hell because, apparently, running up the steps will exhaust you to the extent that you feel hellish pain," corresponds to 地獄段 (じごくだん). This coinage breaks down into the following words:

地獄 (じごく: hell)     earth + hell
段 (だん: stairs)

The false answers are again nonsense words that match the requirements only phonetically. Here's the way to "understand" them:

b. 事 (ジ: thing) + 国 (コク: country) + 壇 (ダン: platform)
c. 自 (ジ: self) + 黒 (コク: black) + 団 (ダン: group)
d. 字 (ジ: character) + 谷 (コク: valley) + 談 (ダン: discussion)

3.d. Gakuran, a type of student uniform for boys that features an upright collar and often a long jacket and loose trousers, corresponds to 学らん. That was the most boring answer! 

Kojien says that the ラン might come from ランダ, Edo-era slang for "clothes."

Incidentally, that word is in the blog simply because the blogger calls himself Gakuranman. Here is more information about the nonsensical answers:

a. 岳 (ガク: mountain) + 乱 (ラン: confusion)
b. 額 (ガク: amount) + 欄 (ラン: column)
c. 楽 (ガク: pleasure) + 蘭 (ラン: orchid)

The last kanji, 蘭, is non-Joyo.

Quick Quiz, Part 2

1. The following kanji appear on a map in Gakuran's blog:

You know 端島 (はしま) and 軍艦島 (ぐんかんじま), but what about the seven kanji at the end? Where do you break the words? How do you read them, and what do they mean?

2. This sentence appears at the end of the second blog post:


What does it mean? 

I'll block the answers with a preview of the newest essay, now available for purchase:

1. Here's how you break up the last three words of 端島(軍艦島)施設平面配置図:

施設 (しせつ: institution; establishment; facility)
平面 (へいめん: level surface; plane)
配置図 (はいちず: plot plan)

So the string means "Layout of the Buildings on Hashima Island (Gunkanjima)." 

2. Here's the sentence again:

Hashima Island was left to fall into ruins naturally

端島 (はしま: Hashima Island); 荒れる (あれる: to fall into ruin); 
まかせる (任せる: to leave something to take its natural course, shown here in its pre-masu form)

That sounds like a good philosophy in general—nonattachment and all that!

Have a great weekend!


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