Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shunshoku Umegoyomi Vol. 1: The Setting

Although its title suggests the dawn of a new season, and thus new hopes, Umegoyomi opens on a rather bleak note.

Fig. 1: 野に捨た笠に用あり水仙花。
A daffodil finds use in a bamboo hat thrown away in a field (fig. 1).
Note that 「水仙花」 has the furigana 「すいせんくわ」, reflecting the historical practice of reading 「くわ」 as 「か」 in certain contexts.

Although I am fairly sure, I'm not certain that the corresponding kanji for 「に」 in this sentence is 「尓」. I first deduced that it was 「に」 from context, and then went looking for the kanji.

Even if that is not so, it is a wretched abode enough to protect the daffodil from frost (fig. 2).
Here's another example of context-based deduction. The second kana (れ) might be difficult to read, but one can be fairly sure it is a kana and not a kanji, since the first one is clearly the kana 「そ」, which is not commonly followed by a kanji.

Fig. 2: それ
From this sentence, we can see that it is not quite spring yet - the frost has not yet melted away, so the daffodil cannot survive on its own. Although this has the primary influence of setting a somber mood for the opening, the background information we have for the novel suggests that it may be a metaphor for the relationships between Tanjirou and the various women of the story. We will have to know more about the characters before drawing any further conclusions, however.

One kana I was not sure about here was the 「ま」 near the end. From this kuzushiji reference PDF, I selected 「滿」, but this image from a reference website seems to be more likely. Unfortunately, the site didn't seem to list the corresponding kanji when I searched for images of a given kuzushiji kana. Search for 「ま」 and it will appear as the last result.

The hedge of spindle trees is also sparse (fig. 3). Outside, the fields are covered in a thin layer of ice (fig. 4).

Fig. 3: 柾木の垣も間原なる。
Fig. 4: 外は田畑の薄氷。
Not much to add here - Tamenaga further paints the austere setting. I had trouble determining the kanji for the kuzushiji of the furigana 「お」 in 「うすごおり」, so any suggestions there would be helpful. One possibility is that the furigana actually read 「うすごふり」, since 「ふ」 was often used in place of 「う」 in historical kana orthography. Although 「こおり」 is the standard spelling for 「氷」 in modern Japanese, the homophonic 「こうり」 may have been used in the past (although it was not listed in my dictionary). The furigana does look very similar to the kuzushiji form of 「不」 above (in fig. 2), which can be used to represent both 「ほ」 and 「ふ」.


  1. It's great to see someone doing this sort of blogging! Here are a couple of comments:
    - Re the second sentence, I think that part of your translation is inverted. それならなくに水仙の霜除ほどなる侘住居 basically means that it IS sufficient to protect the 水仙 from frost, but not for much else: それならなくに means "though it's not fit for purpose" in a sort of general sense.
    - The kana in the last word are actually うすごほり. That ほ is indeed the same as the one in ほど! It's actually a kuzushi version of 本, not 不.

    1. Thank you for the corrections! I read Neojaponisme and you guys have some awesome content!

  2. The historical practice of reading くわ as か comes from the fact that it was originally read as [kwa], not [ka] (the syllable [kwa] is not native to Japanese, but entered the language as a way to pronounce Chinese on-yomi). It persisted until quite late—notice Lafcadio Hearn still could call his 1904 ghost story compilation Kwaidan. According to Frellesvig the change to [ka] (and ぐわ [gwa] to [ga]) was only finished in the late 19th century.

  3. Oh and せ was palatalized to [ʃe] at this time in the standard dialect (just like し still is to [ʃi]). So すいせんくわ was likely read as something like [sui.ʃen.kwa] (“suishenkwa”) :⁠)