JOK Notebook

Upcoming Somersault

In the newest essay, which is on 戻 (to return; revert; resume; restore; go backward), a sentence featuring 戻って来る (もどってくる: to come back) caught my eye:

I went to Sendai and came back without resting.

仙台 (せんだい: Sendai); 行く* (いく: to go); とんぼ返り (とんぼがえり: round trip without an overnight stop)

I love seeing the word for "Sendai" because 仙台 is just so cute with its perky little kanji, but I felt particularly charmed by とんぼ返り. Here's how Breen defines it:

とんぼ返り (とんぼがえり: (1) somersault; (2) returning from a destination right after arriving there; nonstop round trip; round trip without an overnight stop; (3) abrupt change of direction)

A somersault! This reminds me of what swimmers do during a race when they need to turn at a wall. In fact, the Japanese call that a とんぼ返りターン (somersault turn). Somersaulting is very efficient for swimmers, but I'm not sure it makes as much sense for, say, business travelers to do this maneuver in order to maximize time. Still, I like the image!

I myself will practically be doing a somersault next month when I fly to Japan solo and stay just four nights before returning (戻) home. The aim of the whirlwind trip is to attend the wedding of the first language partner I ever had, the one who sat by my side as I dove into the pool of kanji and flailed around in all that overwhelming water, desperate for a wall! She was nothing but kind, patient, and helpful, way beyond her 20 years in some respects. And now an infinite amount has changed for both of us. My whole life is about kanji, and she is back (戻) in Japan, where she has blossomed into an ultra-competent gorgeous woman who runs marathons, of all things. Seeing her radiant smile in picture after picture on Facebook fills me with a strange pride that's almost maternal, though this makes little sense.

Anyway, I am determined to attend a ceremony in her honor, and although I've been planning this for months, I still felt a sense of disbelief as I held her invitation, which recently arrived via snail mail.

I've never seen a Japanese wedding invitation, and it seemed precious for reasons I can't explain. (Actually, every piece of tangible mail from Japan feels that way.) I pored over the kanji and marveled at how tiny it was. What if someone over 40 wants to attend the wedding? Will they need to scan the invitation and blow it up in order to read it, as I did?

Once I could make out the characters, I had a new thrill. The invitation and the supplementary material contained several kanji that I'd written whole essays about, and not that long ago! Thank goodness I had because otherwise I might have been alarmed at the two instances of 恐. This kanji primarily means "fear"! What was so fearful about her invitation, other than the point size?! As I remembered the answer, I felt almost a jolt of electricity!

Here is one of the sentences with this kanji:

Okay, here is the same sentence, now with some color in its cheeks, as well as translations:

While you’re busy, we ask you to attend the wedding ceremony from the very beginning.

ご多忙中 (ごたぼうちゅう: while you’re busy; while you have many things to do); 挙式 (きょしき: wedding ceremony); より* (from); 臨席 (りんせき: attendance; presence); 案内 (あんない: information); 申し上げる (もうしあげる: humble auxiliary verb meaning "to do")

Although I've translated each bit, that's really not the way to approach this sort of statement. The Japanese often use ご多忙中 as a formal phrase in business letters and so forth. In this context, the 申し上げる is a humble auxiliary verb corresponding to する in the phrase 案内する. Thus, ご案内申し上げます means "to offer information," which still doesn't make it into the overall translation.

The core of the sentence is 挙式よりご臨席いただけますよう, which means "We ask you to attend the ceremony from the very start.” Because a Japanese wedding typically consists of two phases—the ceremony and the reception—some people skip the ceremony and attend only the reception. That won't fly in this case.

As for the red word, here's what I said about it in essay 1167 on 恐 (fear; dread; awe; overwhelmed (e.g., with gratitude); probably):

The Japanese preface requests with both 恐縮 and 恐れ入る. To be more specific, if they’re using 恐れ入る for that purpose, they conjugate it into its -ます form and add が (but), ending up with this:

恐れ入りますが or おそれいりますが (おそれいりますが: Sorry to impose, but ...; Excuse me, but ...)

Ah, and just as that passage mentions 恐縮 (きょうしゅく: very kind of you; sorry to trouble you), so does my friend in another part of her invitation:

By the way, I learned from this mailing that formal invitations don't include periods or any punctuation! The Japanese are very superstitious as a whole, and putting a period in this kind of text could seem to imply putting a full stop to the marriage.

Here are those two lines again:

We're very sorry that this (ceremony) is at such a busy time, but we really hope you can attend.

忙しいところ (いそがしいところ: busy time); 大変 (たいへん: greatly); 出席 (しゅっせき: attendance); 心 (こころ: heart); 待つ (まつ: to wait); -申し上げる (-もうしあげる: humble auxiliary verb meaning "to do")

Oh, I wouldn't dream of missing it! And next week I'll share with you more of the invitation and all that it taught me. For now, here's a sneak preview of essay 1920 on 戻:

Have a great weekend!


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