JOK Notebook

White River Lies

Let's start with a quiz. What do you think the following term could mean? Two answers are right:

白河夜船  (しらかわよふね)     white + river + night + boat

a. dancing on a riverboat at night under white disco lights
b. being fast asleep (and totally unaware of what is going on around one)
c. overnight fishing trip
d. pretending to know what one doesn't know
e. fishing for compliments when in bed with someone

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

Ready? The answers are b and d. Here's the skinny on the keyword: 

白河夜船 or 白川夜船 or 白川夜舟 (しらかわよふね or しらかわよぶね: (1) being fast asleep (and totally unaware of what is going on around one); (2) pretending to know what one doesn't know)     white + river + night + boat

You can see the first definition in action in this sentence:

Completely unaware of the approaching typhoon, he slept soundly all night.

彼 (かれ: he); 台風 (たいふう: typhoon); 来る (くる: to come); 気づく (きづく: to realize)

And here's an example of the second one:

What he said is complete crap.

人 (ひと: person); 話 (はなし: story, what one said); 全く (まったく: entirely)

But this doesn't really take care of a nagging feeling you must have about why on earth white + river + night + boat adds up to either of its meanings. I'm about to offer you some relief! 

Digital Daijisen and Wikipedia explain that 白河 (しらかわ) is the name of a district in Kyoto. In the ninth century that's where they built 白河殿 (しらかわでん), a famous palace that was later dedicated to the emperor. It thereby became the Shirakawa Imperial Palace. 

In another time and place, a man claimed to have visited Kyoto. When someone asked him what Shirakawa looked like, he answered that he didn’t know because he had been passing by on a boat at night and was sound asleep. He obviously mistook Shirakawa (白河) for the name of a river! Thus, his lie was exposed, and he was exposed as a liar!

As long as we're talking about 船, I'll introduce one more counterintuitive term (in which 漕 is non-Joyo):

船を漕ぐ  (ふねをこぐ: (1) to row a boat; (2) nod off; doze off)     boat + to row

To understand the second meaning, you need to think of the rhythmic way in which a boatman moves, especially his upper body, as he uses an oar to propel this kind of boat:

Boating Under a Summer Moon by Koho Shoda (1871–1946).

Though his motions are side to side, they're nonetheless comparable to a head that repeatedly falls forward as a person nods off (e.g., while sitting in a chair).

This sentence draws on the figurative meaning:

Exhausted from having worked all night, he is nodding off during the meeting.

徹夜 (てつや: working all night); 疲れる (つかれる: to be tired); 彼 (かれ: he); 会議中 (かいぎちゅう: during the meeting)

I hope you weren't nodding off as you read that!

Have a great weekend!


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