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Towards a Japanese “linguistics of speech”: semantic collocation in massive language corpora

February 21, 2023

Kieran Maynard

Dec 2010

The University of Georgia LING 4080/6080

Advisor: Dr. Kretzschmar

Keywords: Computational linguistics, Japanese, NLP, corpus linguistics, electronic corpora, semantic analysis

Toward a Japanese “linguistics of speech”: collocation in the BCCWJ

Corpus linguistics will soon benefit from the public release of a new electronic corpus of written Japanese. This study attempts to lay the foundation for an application of the Kretzschmar’s (2009) “linguistics of speech” to Japanese speech data in the aggregate. We will first characterize the Kotonoha Project, describe our theoretical foundations and some issues specific to Japanese, then apply Sinclair’s (2004) analytical methods to Japanese corpus evidence in search of significant collocations and the distributional pattern of the linguistics of speech.

The Kotonoha Project

The advent of computer processing and storage has made the compilation of massive language corpora possible, and the Internet has made them accessible to researchers. Computers enable analysis of large bodies of text, and these analyses have produced startling findings. While much work with corpora has been done with English, Japanese corpora have also been compiled and made available on the Web. 

The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NIJL) in Tokyo is compiling a “Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese” (BCCWJ) slated to be opened to the public in 2011. According to Maekawa’s (2007) estimate, the corpus will comprise approximately 100 million words “selected randomly from well-defined statistical populations covering [a] wide range of written texts” (Maekawa 2008). The NIJL defines a “balanced corpus” as one that “as accurately as possible represents contemporary Japanese” (gendai nihongo no jissi no dekiru dake seikaku na syukuzu to naru (“Kokuritsu”)).   Previous studies of written Japanese have dealt with material either too old (e.g., copyright-expired literature), not sampled randomly, or skewed in its distribution. Newspaper writing, for instance, is produced for institutions that seek to minimize variation, and Internet writing lacks categorization and copyrighted works. 

The BCCWJ will conflate three sub-corpora: the (1) “publication” or “production” 34.7 million-word sub-corpus that “consists of samples extracted randomly from the statistical population covering the whole body of books, magazines, and newspapers published [in Japan] during 2001-2005” (Maekawa 2008); (2) the “library” or “circulation” 30 million word sub-corpus sampled from “the whole [of] books registered in at least 13 public libraries in the Tokyo Metropolis” (ibid.); and the (3) “special-purpose” or “out-of-population” 35 million word sub-corpus comprising “various special purpose mini corpora” of about 5 million words each, “includ[ing] texts of governmental white papers, Internet text…, minutes of the [N]ational [D]iet, school textbooks, and best-selling books of the past 30 years” (ibid.). 

My analysis uses the online demonstration version of the BCCWJ, which comprises “[a]s of September 2007… the full-text query of the 10 million words [of] texts that are copyright cleared [that] are publicly available on the web” (ibid.). The demonstration BCCWJ gives concordance lines for any search term, to a maximum of 500. Additional parameters may be entered in regular language to refine the search on either side of the node. The classifications given to concordance lines are author, author’s decade of birth, author’s gender, genre, book title/source, subtitle/classification, volume number, compiler, etc., publisher, and misc. notes. Though it is possible to copy the concordance lines into another program, statistical analysis cannot be carried out on the demonstration BCCWJ page; the eventual public release of the corpus will enable more rigorous statistical treatment of the data in this paper.

Words and linguistic features 

What are the units of meaning in Japanese? The “word… does not reign unchallenged as the basic unit of language” (Sinclair 2004: 25)—other concepts, like the morpheme, have gained currency, yet the morpheme is often too small a unit for the study of linguistic variation in text. In Japanese text, where word boundaries are not differentiated by orthography, what counts as a word? 

John Sinclair (2004) has proposed a model for compound lexical items in the structural analysis of English. In the chapter “The Search for Units of Meaning,” he makes the case for compound lexical items with four major structural categories: collocation, colligation, semantic preference, and semantic prosody. He posits a continuum in the lexis between the “open-choice principle” and the “idiom principle,” exemplified by the “terminological tendency” of words “to have a fixed meaning in reference to the world” (29) and the “phraseological tendency” of words to “go together and make meaning by their combinations” (29), respectively. He hypothesizes that (29-30):

…the notion of a linguistic item can be extended, at least for English, so that units of meaning are expected to be largely phrasal. Some words would still be chosen according to the open choice principle, but probably not very many, depending on the kind of discourse. The idea of a word carrying meaning on its own would be relegated to the margins of linguistic interest, in the enumeration of flora and fauna for example.

Sinclair has used the mid-1995 Bank of English 211 million word corpus to gather collocations for phrases and words to show that words often appear next to other words (collocate) and in certain grammatical patterns (colligate), and that an analyst can further abstract a “semantic preference” and “semantic prosody” (2004: 32-3). Even a common word like place (as it might appear in a sentence like “…She came over to my place with a friend…” (38)) Sinclair describes as “a compound lexical item which has a semantic prosody ‘informal invitation,’ a semantic preference for ‘local travel’ which is realized by colligation with a verb of movement and optionally a directional adverb, with come and over as typical collocations” (38). 

Distributions of linguistic features and The Linguistics of Speech

William A. Kretzschmar, Jr. in The Linguistics of Speech (2009) goes beyond Sinclair’s “phraseology” and defines “linguistic features” based on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure as “anything we can identify as an entity or unit having to do with what people say” (53). A linguistic feature is often larger or smaller than a word, which is in itself a tricky concept to define, but one that continues to influence our perceptions of language (54):

Linguistic features of speech, concrete entities, thus are commonly taken to be different words used for the same referent (synonyms), or alternative morphs or phones used as components of what we identify as the same word, or alternative arrangements of words in what we recognize to be sequences with equivalent meaning or organization. For Saussure, “identity” comes from such acts of recognition, as when we consider the word “messieurs” to be the same word even given variations in “delivery and intonation” by different speakers…

John Firth and others have shown that words derive their meaning from context, not the other way around. Where and how often they occur in texts, their distribution, is then very important. Michael Stubb’s (2001) study of English described in Kretzschmar (2009) used corpora to calculate the rate of co-occurrence for word forms (“node” words) their collocates, and found that 90% of node words appeared near their top collocate at least 2% of the time, which is still 250 times the probability of co-occurrence by chance. Thus Kretzschmar (2009) posits that “words are not deployed randomly in speech, or evenly spaced, but instead they normally occur in clusters… in proximate association with other words as collocates” (154), therefore “it is… a normal feature of language in use that any given word, when considered as a node word, is likely to have multiple collocates with unexpectedly high rates of co-occurrence” (154-5).

Kretzschmar (2009) has proposed a new model for the study of language in use, called the “linguistics of speech” as a counterpart to the academic North American “linguistics of linguistic structure” (4), and shown that the distribution of linguistic features in speech and writing is non-linear. When organized into types and tokens and plotted by frequency, linguistic features always display an asymptotic hyperbolic curve, or “A-curve” (197). This distribution has been described before as the “80/20 Rule,” which predicts 20% of all types will account for 80% of all tokens. Vowel realizations, words, collocations, etc. all follow this distributional pattern, as Kretzschmar (2010) explains (20-1):

…the 80/20 Rule for such non-linear distributions (whether the actual percentages are 90/10 or 70/30) tells us that we will always find one or a few constructions that account for the great majority of the instances for the feature under study, and that there will be a large number of variant constructions for the feature that account for a small minority of the instances…

Systems characterized by such a distribution have been observed in other sciences, and now linguistics; they are known as “complex adaptive systems.” Kretzschmar explains (2010: 5): 

This more-or-less 80/20 relationship is no mere curiosity but a sign that speech, language as we use it, behaves as a complex system. Complexity in this specialized sense (not just with the usual meaning ‘complicated’) is a property of many natural phenomena characterized in mathematical descriptions by “curves without tangents,” continuous nondifferentiable functions–in other words, this sort of complexity is characterized by A-curves.

The model of the “linguistics of speech” is built on this understanding of the nature of “emergent order” in language, and offers a new way to study speech data in the aggregate. 

The orthography problem

The Japanese writing system poses a bit of a problem in the linguistic analysis of Japanese. Written Japanese regularly appears in a combination of four scripts: kanji, hiragana, katakana, and rōmaji. Hiragana and katakana are basically phonemic systems of characters that represent syllables. Rōmaji are Roman characters used primarily in two competing systems (Hepburn and Kunrei) to record Japanese phonemically. Kanji, or Chinese characters, are less straightforward in their phonetic representation.

First introduced to the West by Jesuits and other missionaries, the characters were imagined to represent concepts divorced from the sounds of spoken language, a mistaken perception that persists to this day. Kanji are usually used to represent the vast heritage of Chinese loan words in Japanese, but also many native words (including 19th– and 20th-Century coinages using Sino-Japanese morphemes), some Buddhist terms (form Sanskrit, Pali, etc.), nativized Western loans (from Portuguese, Dutch, etc.) and even relatively recent loans like pēzi ‘page’. Sometimes different kanji are used to differentiate homonyms, analogous with English <sail> and <sale>, while at other times different morphemes or words considered related by sense, paradigm or tradition will be written with the same kanji. For example, the native word mato ‘target’ is written with the same kanji as the Sino-Japanese morpheme teki- and, likewise the native naka ‘inside’ with the same kanji as the Sino-Japanese –tū in tekitū ‘strike home’. Though their phonetic value is often opaque, kanji are certainly not ideograms, as their primary function in most Japanese text is the same as an alphabetic or any other writing system for human language: to record, even at a rough approximation, the sounds of spoken language. At other times described as morphemic or logographic, DeFrancis (1984) has proposed the term “morphosyllabic.” 

While the Japanese government sets standards for the use of kanji, variation in use and their morphosyllabic nature may create ambiguity in which word kanji are intended to record. For this reason a potentially ambiguous search term consulted in the corpus in kanji must be checked against its context to confirm its “reading”: the spoken word, morpheme or syllable it represents. Some terms need to be searched in multiple orthographic forms (possible through the use of Boolean operators in the demo BCCWJ), as words may be written interchangeably in different systems according to tradition, visual appeal, etc. 

The NIJL’s sampling method is actually based on characters rather than words. Explaining the word-estimation formulas for the Corpus of Spontaneous Japanese (CSJ) produced by the NIJL, Maekawa (2007) warns, “…word boundary in Japanese is heavily theory dependent and hence is not reflected in ordinary orthography.” It may be argued, though, that the orthography itself exacerbates or even causes this problem, as word boundary in any language, as demonstrated by Sinclair (2004) and Kretzschmar (2009), is “heavily theory dependent.” 

Naked eyes: ragan and nikugan

The exemplary expression “naked eye” Sinclair (2004) analyzes thus (34):

The speaker/writer selects a prosody of difficulty applied to a semantic preference of visibility. The semantic preference controls the collocational and colligations patterns, and is divided into verbs, typically see, and adjectives, typically visible. With see, etc., there is a strong colligations with modals – particularly can, could in the expression of difficulty – and with the preposition with to link with the final segment. With visible, etc., the pattern of collocation is principally with degree adverbs, and the negative morpheme in-; the following preposition is to. The final component of the item is the core, the almost invariable phrase the naked eye.

As he points out, the phrase is semantically opaque; “unclothed organ of sight” (2004: 31) is not enough to deduce the meaning, and “naked in the collocation naked eye could equally well mean… ‘without spectacles, contact lenses, etc.’” (31). In fact Japanese has just such a word ragan, a Sino-Japanese compound comprising the morphemes /ra/ ‘naked’ (e.g. ratai ‘a nude’) and /gan/ ‘eye’ (e.g. gankyū ‘eyeball’) defined as “the eye without the aid of corrective lenses” (Kondō & Takano 2001). The BCCWJ contains 20 instances of ragan, which collocates with siryoku ‘eyesight’ 11 times (4 times at N+1, in the compound ragansiryoku ‘uncorrected vision’; see appendix 1). As ragan collocates 9 times with the instrumental particle de at N+1, as in ragan-de mi-te (ragan-Instr see-gerund), we can posit colligation with de. The semantic preference we may describe as “visibility”; visual activities like eiga ‘film,’ pasokon ‘computer’, and yomi ‘reading’ appear to the left of the node. The semantic prosody, however, differs from English naked eye. Numbers used in the prescription of glasses appear in 11 lines, and 4 lines contain warui ‘bad’ as a comment on me ‘eye’: ragan suggests a semantic prosody of ophthalmology.

The term naked eye is more akin to the Japanese nikugan. The morpheme /niku/ ‘flesh’ (e.g. nikutai ‘(the physical) body’) is combined with /gan/ ‘eye’ in /nikugan/, defined as “the eye possessed of the human body; natural eyesight without the use of a telescope, microscope, etc.” (Daijisen 1998). The BCCWJ contains 86 instances of nikugan, which collocates with miru ‘to see’ (in its various forms) 69 times (see appendix 2). At N+1 the instrumental particle de appears in 70% of the examples (two more simply separate nikugan and de with other instruments in a list). Collocation with the suffix teki makes nikugan an adjective in 14 cases (in the sense ‘macroscopic’); in 71% these cases (8.6% of total) nikugan appears in the compound nikugantekiketunyō ‘macroscopic hematuria.’ An 80% collocation with miru ‘see’ (conflating inflected forms) and an additional 14% with kansatu ‘observation’ once again suggest a semantic preference for “visibility.” Of the collocations with miru, 72% involve possibility, divided 26:24 between expressions of the possibility and impossibility of seeing something with the naked eye; it seems nikugan carries a similar semantic prosody to naked eye, described by Sinclair (2004) as “difficulty” (33), which “may just be hinted at by a modal verb such as can or could or more directly by a negative with ‘visibility’” (43). For example:

nikugan-de mi-e-ru wakusei

naked eye-Inst see-Pot-nonpast planet

‘planet visible to the naked eye’

Failure to see something with the naked eye accounts for 29% of all cases, as in:

nikugan-de-wa mi-ru-koto-ga deki-nai mikuro-no-sekai 

naked eye-Instr-Top see-that-Nom can-nonpast neg. micro-Gen-world

‘microscopic world that cannot be seen by the naked eye’

The use of nikugan in the affirmative seems to imply that the visibility is unusual, as in:

Tusima-kara taigan-no-kankoku-o nikugan-de nozomu-koto-ga dekiru

Tsushima-from opposite shore-Gen-Korea-Acc naked eye-Insrt-thing-Nom possible

‘from Tsushima Island the Korean shore can be seen with the naked eye’

Phraseology: itai me ni au

The next phrase we will examine, itai me ni au ‘run into trouble’, exhibits a strong phraseological tendency. Daijiten (1998) lists the entire phrase, defined as: “experience pain or suffering; have an awful experience” along with synonymous phrases hidoi me ni au and itai me o miru. The phrase me ni au ‘have an experience’ appears 600 times in the BCCWJ, and approximately 8% of these are itai me ni au. The phrase itai me occurs 65 times (see appendix 3). Of these, 72% are in some permutation of the phrase itai me ni au:

yudan-si-te-i-ru-to, ita-i me-ni a-u-kara-ne! (24)

neglect-do-gerund-is-nonpast-Cond, painful-nonpast experience-to meet-nonpast

‘’cause if you don’t pay attention you’ll run into trouble!’

A further 26% are in itai me o miru

te-o-da-su-to ita-i me-o-mi-ru (61)

hand-Acc-send out-nonpast-Cond painful-nonpast experience-Acc see-nonpast

‘if you make a move you’ll be in trouble’

In colligation itai me ni au shows very little variation in particle use: 46 cases of itai me ni and 1 case of itai me ni mo. The 17 cases of itai me o miru shows variation common with the direct object o particle in general, in 5 cases of elision (61: itai me miru) and 1 case of topicalization (62: itai me wa mite mo sikata nai).


Having looked at three linguistic features, we should notice a recurrent distributional pattern: 70% collocation with de and 80% collocation of miru with nikugan, 72% possibility expressions versus others within the miru collocates, and 72% collocation of itai me with ni au within all itai me instances. These distributions exemplify the 80/20 Rule; in other words, the A-curve distribution is “robust” enough to appear even in our rudimentary statistical analysis (see appendix 4). No matter what linguistic feature is chosen, be it a particle (morpheme), word or phrase, the BCCWJ data exhibits significant clustering as expected in the linguistics of speech. Linguists should feel confident they will make new discoveries when the BCCWJ data is released in full.

Works cited

  1. Aronoff, Mark, and Kirsten Anne. Fudeman. “Words and Lexemes.” What Is Morphology? Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. Print.
  2. Barfield, Andrew, and Henrik Gyllstad. Researching Collocations in Another Language: Multiple Interpretations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.
  3. DeFrancis, John. “The Ideographic Myth.” The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1984. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
  4. Digital Daijisen. Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1998. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
  5. Hasegawa, Yoko. “The Tense-aspect Controversy Revisted: The -ta and -ru Forms in Japanese.” Pragmatics in 1998: Selected Papers from the 6th International Pragmatics Conference. Ed. Jef Verschueren. Vol. 2. Antwerpen: International Pragmatics Association, 1999. 225-40. Web. 3 Dec. 2010.
  6. “Kokuritsu Gengo Kenkyūsho No Gengo Kōpasu Seibi Keikaku Kotonoha.” National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <;.
  7. Kondō, Ineko, and Fumi Takano. Puroguresshibu Waei Chūjiten [“Progressive” Japanese-English Dictionary]. 3rd ed. Shogakukan, 2001. Kotobank. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
  8. “Kotonoha Gendai Nihongo Kakikotoba Kinkō Kōpasu Kensaku Demonsutorēshon.” National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. <;.
  9. Kretzschmar, William A., Jr. “The 80/20 Rule in English Grammar.” Proc. of NAES-FINSSE 2010, Oulu. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
  10. Kretzschmar, William A., Jr. The Linguistics of Speech. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
  11. Maekawa, Kikuo. “Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese.” Proc. of The 6th Workshop on Asian Language Resources, 2008, Hyderabad, India. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.
  12. Maekawa, Kikuo. “KOTONOHA and BCCWJ: Development of a Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese.” Corpora and Language Research: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Korean Language, Literature, and Culture. Seoul, 2007. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  13. Maekawa, Kikuo. “Quantitative Analysis of Word-form Variation Using a Spontaneous Speech Corpus.” Proc. of Corpus Linguistics 2005, Birmingham. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  14. Sano, Motoki, and Takehiko Maruyama. “Lexical Density in Japanese Texts: Classifying Text Samples in the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese (BCCWJ).” Proceedings of ISFC 35: Voices Around the World. Ed. Canzhong Wu, Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen, and Maria Herke. Sydney, 2008. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  15. Sinclair, John, and Ronald Carter. “The Search for Units of Meaning.” Trust the Text: Language, Corpus and Discourse. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
  16. Thomson, Elizabeth A. “Theme Unit Analysis: A Systemic Functional Treatment of Textual Meanings in Japanese.” Functions of Language 12.2 (2005): 151-79. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
  17. Tsujimura, Natsuko. An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

Appendix 1: ragan

1をかえてもらおうと思っています。  私は裸眼0.05です。  1番見えるようにしてと
4以上の疾病異常である。2 「近視」とは,裸眼視力1.0未満のもので矯正視力検査の結果
6あんまり効かないので、、、^^; でも、裸眼のままだと辛いです。 目が悪いのでコンタ
7も 1.2が限界みたいです。  あなたの裸眼にもよって  合わせられる度が違うと思い
10? 0.3なのですが、映画・運転以外は、裸眼で通しています。 メガネが似合わない・コ
17しかし、車とパソコンと人を探すとき以外は裸眼です。 もちろんテレビも。 ちゃんと2m
18ほうがいいことってなんですか? 今までは裸眼です。 あまり強いものだと、慣れるまで 
19タクトが面倒・怖いという理由で、なるべく裸眼でいたいのですが・・・。 現在視力0.1

Retrieved from BCCWJ demonstration version (

Appendix 2: nikugan

2って観察しよう 昔の人になったつもりで,肉眼,水滴レンズ,ルーペで身近なものを観察し
4く知っていて郭清しなければなりません。 肉眼的(触診や視診)には、転移の有無がわから
6れば、患児は数日間活動を抑えてもよい。 肉眼的血尿発作回数が運動制限によって減ること
7う。 「腎障害に対する特殊な治療はない。肉眼的血尿発作はひとりでになおるものであり、
12れなりに検査、治療してると思うので。  肉眼的血尿はなくとも、3+は安心できる値では
15     素晴らしい展望です♪     肉眼的には申し分ない、展望ですが、     
18開け、コックピットから半身を乗り出すや、肉眼のみを頼りに照準を試みたのだ。 高度はあ
19魂  = 太陽 =5次元★闇の力の根源は肉眼に見える月ではなく、肉眼に見えない黒い月
24着が近づく。 着弾時の水柱が、はっきりと肉眼で視認できる位置に噴き上がり、海水を伝わ
26ウン管は元々残像を利用しているのです。 肉眼で見ると一枚のようですが、レーザーでビー
27処から発射されるのでしょうか?その様子を肉眼で見ることは出来るものでしょうか? 打上
28 地球の表面の三分の二は海だし、私たちが肉眼で見ることのできるのは海面というただの皮
29相関図に気付くはずがない。 彼らが実際、肉眼で見ることのできた渦の形といえばなんだろ
30学を超えなければならないのです。 人間が肉眼で見ることができる宇宙の星は、何百光年、
37治の頃からのようです。  七曜というのは肉眼で見える惑星の火星・水星・木星・金星・土
38うな場所があるのか。 人間の身体の中に、肉眼で見えるような形のある構造がいくつもある
39る】 仏といっても浄土といっても、それは肉眼で見えるものではありません。絵像や木像の
40輝く星が見えたのですが、 もしかしたら、肉眼で見えると話題になっている、彗星でしょう
45でしょうかね???????? 毛じらみは肉眼で確認できます。もし毛じらみを見つけられ
46ャーでも解ります。 PCのケース開けたら肉眼で確認できます。
49がった空に浮かぶ黒い機影が、地上からでも肉眼でハッキリと確認できた。「撃て! 撃て!
50らないのでしょうか? 再生はできますが、肉眼でカビが見えるなら 画質はひどいですよ。
52) 生物の部分を拡大する 私たちはふだん肉眼でものを見ているが,詳しく観察するために
55:0.025倍)(B) 連星とその質量 肉眼では1つにしか見えない恒星でも望遠鏡では
57てみよう。 人体の最小単位は細胞である。肉眼では見ることができないミクロの世界から出
64だくのです。 前にも述べましたが、仏壇も肉眼では見えない浄土をあらわそうとしたもので
67っていると思われますので、どちらか一つは肉眼では見えないかもしれません。 条件が良い
74あった。 十一月末のレントゲン写真では、肉眼ではもうほとんど見えないくらいまで消えて
76利用〈微生物とよばれるもの〉 生物の中で肉眼ではほとんど見えず,顕微鏡や電子顕微鏡で
78テラノーバという寄生虫らしいのですが、 肉眼ではっきり確認できるものなのでしょうか?
79ンデジで撮った夜景。今度は暗すぎる?! 肉眼ではすごく大きく見えました!!そして、と
80報により 高台へ ゆきました。  肉眼では うっすら 見えたのですが・・・。う
83。陽性か陰性かの最終判定は検査技師たちの肉眼で。(同)献血は「危険物」? さて、血液
85し)かの判定は、最終的には検査技師たちの肉眼が下すそうだ。 と同時に、別の検体は「N
86照射方法 照射方法は2種に大別されます。肉眼、直視下でハンドピース(CO2)またはロ

Retrieved from BCCWJ demonstration version (

Appendix 3: itai me ni au

1けられない」「一度、友達の保証人になって痛い目みてるから無理」でしょうか。 兎に角、金
2にも三千にも見えたのである。 木曾軍に手痛い目に合わされた信長は木曾軍に対して恐怖をお
3情的にからんできます。 他の営業マンから痛い目にあっているので、お返しのつもりとも受け
4  こんな回答を書き込むと、以下のような痛い目にあいます。  上に挙げた例のように物理
5び人 ではないんじゃないでしょうか?  痛い目みますよ  既婚者はパートナーのところに
6入れとくのが無難。[ 印象 = 軽視して痛い目に合わされやすい ]●7枠14番=リキッ
7走ってましたから。  サンライズは宝塚で痛い目にあってましたのでいつかはと思ってました
8もあります。 ドライブを値段だけで選ぶと痛い目にあいます。 お勧めはRAM不要ならパイ
13いけないのです。なぜ? 今痛くても、後で痛い目をしなくてすむからなんです。今注射をしな
16仕事はありません。 世の中なめてかかると痛い目にあいますよ。   兜町のクワガタムシ
21。娘を殴ったら、お袋さんが騒いでな。少し痛い目を見たようだ」 亜紀子は目を伏せた。 あ
24もっこり』 だけどぉ・・・油断してると、痛い目にあうからねぇ!  (ノ∇^*) キャハ
25 ちなみに旦那は以前、風俗で病気移されて痛い目を見てるので、風俗には行かないと言ってま
27!! そんな事も知らずに、ネットしてたら痛い目に会うぞ!!!  しかしまだそのネタして
28 ま、世の中平等なら、そんな会社もいずれ痛い目にあうでしょうね。 無謀な勤務実態は明る
30混じりに答えた。「ただ、舞い上がってると痛い目に遭うから、ほどほどにね」 そしてスキッ
31かり気にして、男と男てえ関係を忘れてると痛い目に会うという…」 「男と男ねえ、なるほど
34たからです」 梶田の過去を探りまわるな。痛い目に遭うぞ。そこまではいい。だが、問題はそ
35っているのですか―」 「以前に、一度、手痛い目に会わされたことがある」 「力の加減を知
36き人間が自分に知恵が足りないことによって痛い目にあうのである。 こういったことを言って
37らって結婚すれば~? そうですよね~  痛い目を見る前に、 目がさめて欲しいですよね・
39」 典善も、小さく口元をゆるませた。 手痛い目に会わされたと言ってはいるが、この男も乱
40迷惑かけます。 だいたい貧血をあまくみて痛い目にあうひと多いです。 とかいって、私は「
43で登録して一人と知り合いましたが 結果、痛い目に合いました。 結婚したいという目的は同
47いいかげんな応対をしていては、あとで必ず痛い目に合う。親しみをもって近づく あるソフト
48 体がそれを覚えるまでどんな苦労や失敗や痛い目にあったか、裸馬の背骨で腿がすり切れたり
49のがわからないんでしょうか?? ちょっと痛い目見たほうがいいですねぇ~。ドラ1で入って
50は、緊張した声で、「何かあったのか」 「痛い目に遭わされたようです。そう言っていました
51か? 両方!! 外見だけ見て判断してると痛い目に合うし、 中身だけだと、飽きる。 だか
52軍のマスコミ操作報道により戦争につっ走り痛い目にあったことを忘れたのか! 一日も早く基
54に慣れていますね」 「記者にはいろいろと痛い目に遭わされているからな。大切なのは、こち
55じゃあ、誰のだと言うんだ。答え次第では、痛い目に合うぞ」 「伍長」隅倉は荒巻に言った。
59けます。  若者はまだ未来があるので将来痛い目に合うだろうからいいけど、  若者に限定
61。  彼女や人妻に言い寄られて手を出すと痛い目見るのでやめましょう。パートナーを裏切る
63さらではないか。 西洋でも、これらにより痛い目に合ったという事例が事欠かないのだろう。
65ね。 こういう一人の為に銀魂ファン全体が痛い目で見られるのがつらいです。

Retrieved from BCCWJ demonstration version (

Appendix 4: distribution of nikugan collocations

Mi- ‘see’ 69

mie- 41

miena- 17

mienai 15

nikugan de wa mienakute mo 1

iu hodo kōhinsitu ni wa mienakatta 1

mieru 13

miezu 2

mieta 2

miemasen 1

miemasu 1

miemasita 1

nikugan de wa mienikui 1

nikugan de wa mienu 1

mie (end of line) 1

nikugan de no kansatu ni kurabete dono yō na miekata no tigai 1

miru 10

nikugan de miru to itimai no yō desu ga 1

miru koto 9

nikugan de miru koto wa dekiru 1

nikugan de miru koto no dekiru 1

nikugan de miru koto no dekita 1

nikugan de miru koto ga dekiru 1

hosi o miru koto ga dekimasu 1

nikugan de wa miru koto ga dekinai 1

nikugan de wa kessite miru koto no dekinai 1

tentai ha nikugan de sika miru koto ga dekinakatta 1

mite 6

nikugan de mite mo sō da si 1

kenbikyō de mite mite mo 1

me de mite wakaru 1

sore o mite 1

nikugan de mite iru nama no keiken 1

nikugan de mono o mite iru ga 1

mirare- 3

miraremasen 2

nikugantekiketunyō wa miraremasen 1

nikugan de wa miraremasen 1

miraretari 1

nikugantekiketunyō ga miraretari 1

mita 3

nikugan de mita 2

ironna kakudo kara mita syasin 1

mitukerare- 2

mitukerare 1

mitukerarenai 1

mikake 1

mi 1

Kansatu ‘observation’ 12 (often appears near but does not colligate with nikugan)

Kenbikyō ‘microscope’ 9 (often contrasted with nikugan)

Kakunin ‘confirmation’ 6

Nikugan de kakunin dekimasu 3

Nikugan de kakunin dekiru 1

Nikugan de hakkiru to kakunin dekita 1

Nikugan de hakkiri kakunin dekiru 1

Sinin ‘visual confirmation’ 2

Nikugan de sinin dekiru 1

Nikugan de sinin dekinai 1

Hakkiri ‘clearly’ 3

Hakken ‘discovery’ 2

Bōenkyō ‘telescope’ 2

Nozomu ‘see’ 1

Compiled from BCCWJ data in Appendix 2.


Translation excerpt from “Hear the Wind Sing”, Murakami Haruki’s debut novel「風の歌を聴け」英訳

August 30, 2022

Excepted from Listen to the Wind Sing (1979) and translated myself.


Once there was a time when everybody wanted to be “cool.”


Near the end of high school, I made up my mind to say only half of what I really thought. I forgot why I decided that, but after a few years of trying, I succeeded. Then one day, I discovered that I had become a person who could only say half of what they were thinking.


I don’t know what that has to do with being cool, but if an old refrigerator that constantly needs its frost cleaned can be called “cool,” then, well, that’s me.


It had been a long time since I’d felt the scent of summer. The scent of the sea mist, the faraway fog horn, the touch of a girl’s skin, lemon hair conditioner, the evening breeze, those faint wants, and summer dreams…


But as if traced on paper that slipped underhand, anything and everything was ever so slightly and yet irretrievably different from how it was in the past.




Everything passes on. Nobody can hold onto it.

That is how we live.

– Murakami Haruki 1979

Translation of “The Old Love Letter” by Zhang Jiajia 张嘉佳《老情书》英译

May 5, 2014

短篇小说“老情书” — 2014年网红作家张嘉佳著,齐冉译

Zhang Jiajia rose to fame in 2014 after his writing went viral on the internet. This short story is from his 2014 book “I Belonged to You”(从你的全世界路过). It was adapted into a TV drama in 2016. I translated this story from the Chinese in 2014; I haven’t updated it since so please excuse the inevitable errors.

The Old Love Letter

Can you talk or not?

There are two kinds of people who can talk. The first are able to take stock of the situation, divide things into categories, and speak right to another person’s heart, like the TV host Cai Kang Yong. The second talk a lot, but not a word has any impact, like an AK-47 that never runs dry, like Hu Yan (胡言).

Hu Yan is one my most eccentric friends. Usually you hardly realize he exists; as soon as he opens his mouth it’s a nuclear bomb. Boom! Ash blasted on everybody’s face.

One of my bros went through a breakup; his girlfriend took his ring and ran off with somebody. The motley crew gathered at KTV. None of us wanted to bring it up.

Somebody said faintly, “Let bygones be bygones.”

From the corner came Hu Yan’s voice.

“Let bygones be bygones; sluts love to get with morons.”

The room was deathly silent. Everyone’s face was expressionless. I could hear the line in everyone’s heart: “Ha ha ha ha! Oh shit! This guy is too good.”

Another of my bros got married. The welcoming party burst into the bride’s room. The last obstacle was finding one of the bride’s shoes. A pack of dudes tearing the room apart just couldn’t find it, so annoyed that sweat soaked their backs.

    Hu Yan ambled in, knitted his brows and said, “Hidden really good. Ugly chicks. Obviously something only an ugly chick would do. Ugly chicks can’t do anything else but they’re pros at hiding stuff. Otters are ugly their whole lives but they just eat and sleep and don’t mess around. Seals love to hide stuff but they don’t go screw with cuttlefish. Today’s supposed to be a lucky day, but she just has to destroy marriage. They say some girls are good to your face, but really they wish you were like them: never get married your whole life. Today it turns out to be true.”

As soon as he finished, a short girl burst out crying, flopped down and crawled under the bed, from the bed frame pulled out a shoe, and then ran away howling. Everyone looked around in surprise, then burst into cheers. Wiping sweat, the groom thrust a glass of wine on Hu Yan.

“Thanks, man. Today is all thanks to you. Say a few words!”

At the edge of the crowd, I cried, “No!”

It was too late. Hu Yan raised his glass and said excitedly, “Today we gulp the festive wine. Tomorrow the tree topples and monkeys flee.”

I urged him to learn from Kevin Cai, so he watched few episodes of Kangxi Lai Le and said, laughing, “Little S is so great; she’s like a twitching colon, even more shameless than me!”

Why’s a slack colon suddenly shameless?

Hu Yan’s lips are terrifying, but the guy is loyal and honorable; he’s a few years older than me. His father passed away a long time ago; his mom is almost 70, and they depend on each other for survival. The old lady is sharp as a whip, from Jiaxing; she sometimes makes us zongzi to eat. People online howl about the “Sweet Zongzi Party” and the “Savory Zongzi Party”—what party? Only the ones from Jiaxing are really zongzi, others at best could be called “rice balls with filling.” When the old lady sent us zongzi it was nuts; whoever’s house still had a few, we’d rush over that night and eat them all.

One day at dusk Hu Yan called me desperately begging me to go to his house. He was working overtime and couldn’t leave and his mom was bugging him like hell to come home and help out. I rushed over there, panting, and in Hu Yan’s house there were three old ladies sitting up straight around a mahjong table, eager faces turned on me.

    Fine, so play a few rounds. Turns out that gang of old ladies was crazily shrewd; wherever they go, they win. Red in the face and moaning I lost again and again all the way until 11:00. 

Game over, Hu Yan’s mom asked me, “Little Zhang, didn’t Hu Yan break up with his girlfriend?”

    I was stunned: “No idea.”

    She said, “I’ll give you two zongzi; hurry up and talk.”

    I said, “Oh, that girl is from Changsha; she went back home. It’s long-distance so it doesn’t make sense for them to stay together.

    The old lady narrowed her eyes: “Bullshit. Hu Yan must’ve talked too much shit.”

    I said, “We can’t rule out the possibility.”

She slapped her thigh: “Aiya, I never even met her; she just took off. That beast has screwed up good girls one after another.”

I waterfalled sweat…

Hu Yan pushed open the door and came in, yelling, “Mom, what the hell are you talking about?”

    She yelled, “My daughter in law?”

    Hu Yan waterfalled sweat: “She’s an only child, and her parents are old. She doesn’t want to live far away so she went back to Changsha.”

    The old lady flew into a rage: “So you go with her to Changsha!”

    Hu Yan said, “If I go what about you?”

    “I stay here; Little Zhang serves me on one knee.”

My legs went limp.

Hu Yan turned to run; he dragged me away paralyzed on the ground, weeping and yelling, “My zongzi! My zongzi!”

The two of us went to our bro Guan Chun’s bar to talk nonsense. Actually, I understood Hu Yan; the old lady had lived in Nanjing for some thirty years; all her friends for playing mahjong, exercising, walking, and chatting all lived in one neighborhood. Old people can’t make a new group of friends like we can; when they go live in a new place there is only loneliness.

Just as we ordered a round of drinks, Guan Chun led an old lady inside and with a long face said, “Hu Yan, it’s not that I didn’t help you; your mom came here herself.”

    Hu Yan was enraged: “Bullshit! You’re even holding zongzi! You definitely sold me out!”

The old lady leaning on a cane smacked the table and said, “Shut up!”

The whole bar went still; everybody shut up; even the singer, quaking with terror, furtively shut off the music.

    The old lady said, “I just especially can’t stand you young people, twenty or thirty talking nonsense like only ‘plain’ is real. Are you up to it? I was sent down to the countryside; I worked with peasants; I suffered through famine. You will never know what that’s like. But today I’m happy as a clam with nothing to do but play a little mahjong, get up and go to bed early—you think you get inner peace for nothing? An old monk said, in the end you have to see mountains as mountains, but have you ever seen them as anything else? You’re still young, but you don’t get out and move, never face true hardship, thinking never entering the world is the same as leaving it—you think you came straight from Nirvana? I suffered for my plainness. Your plainness is laziness, fear, seeking comfort, a stupid dog that can’t bear to face the world. A woman leaves you and you don’t chase her? Even put the blame on an old lady like me? Idiot.”

She waved her cane and nearly hit Hu Yan in the head: “I never even saw that girl; you all seen her?”

Most of the people in the bar nodded as if chopping garlic.

The old lady said, “You’re weak; you don’t know a thing. Seeing other people strain and suffer you only know how to hide in a corner, make cheap shots, talk sass and make a fool of yourself. Pei! All day long you do nothing but count money. If you spend money you can make more; screw up and you can try again, but once your youth is gone? Only veterans can retire; if you’ve never fought, don’t look down on sacrifice. Can you talk or not? If you can talk, just go to Changsha; tell her, ‘I want to marry you.’”

The old lady trembled out a piece of yellowed paper and shouted, “My husband wrote me this; I’m going to read it to you.” She stared at it and said, “Oh what an idiot! I grabbed the wrong one. This is the electric bill. Little Zhang, you like writing; you make up something.”

I immediately recited, “Believe in youth; thus the more we love, the deeper, but we must love. Used for sacrifice, thus we go to death and return alive, but we must return. From the low valley we scale the mountain peak, then we may find the garden of sweet breezes. There will come a day when all the mountains and terraced fields at our feet bloom with sweat. If you want a home full of harmony, you must drop your bones and pass a myriad beautiful scenes.”

    The old lady slapped me and said, “How can you say ‘bones’ in front of a seventy year old lady? Get out!”

She watched Hu Yan silently, then said, “A few months ago, you were on the veranda talking on the phone; I heard it. You urged her to stay in Nanjing and not go to Changsha. You begged and begged and cried yourself. I really wanted to burst in and beat you senseless. What were you crying about? It’s good that she cares about her parents; can’t you go with her? After that you worked overtime every day. You think you’re hard working? Or was it you were afraid of coming home all alone and missing her?”

The old lady said, “I’m old. Originally, after you were married I wanted to send zongzi every day for you two to eat. Once you got sick of eating them, I could go. You’re my son. Don’t be afraid if you get lost; just come home. Your mom won’t die just yet; when you come back I’ll be at home.”

She finished speaking and wiped her tears, then puffed out her chest and left. Guan Chun hurriedly saw her off. I looked back and discovered every single person in the bar had tears in their eyes.

I suddenly understood where Hu Yan’s language ability came from. It’s absolutely genetic.

Afterward Hu Yan still didn’t go to Changsha. The old lady was so mad she couldn’t bear to watch; she didn’t play mahjong and demanded I teach her how to go online and use Weibo and whatnot. A few days later she booked a tour herself and went traveling, following a pack of old lads and ladies wearing red hats, huffing and puffing going to see nature in Guilin. Hu Yan was worried and wanted to go with her, so in the end she snuck out at five in the morning and left Hu Yan alone staring mutely at the ceiling.

After she came back she was still angry with Hu Yan and got ready to conserve strength and build up her energy to keep at it. Two weeks later she had a heart attack but was saved and hospitalized, awaiting bypass surgery to replace her mitral valve. Us guys spent the night in shifts; the old lady closed her eyes and didn’t say a word.

One day Hu Yan sat by the old lady’s side, sleeping soundly. I had just come in holding a plastic bag, wanting to trade shifts with Hu Yan.

The old lady struggled to open her mouth and said, “Yueyue, Hu Yan is a good boy.”

Suddenly I was beside myself with tears. Yueyue was Hu Yan’s girlfriend, working in Changsha, probably asleep already. How did the old lady know her name?

Right. Actually, mother knows everything.

Later, the old lady didn’t make it to surgery. She had a second heart attack, her condition critical, and couldn’t be saved again. Hu Yan couldn’t talk any more; he became terse and quiet.

For the first seven days, everyone kept a vigil at Hu Yan’s house. At 11 o’clock at night, the unlocked door opened and a girl burst in. She was wearing makeup.

She yelled at me, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

She sobbed, knelt before the old lady’s portrait and said, “Auntie, I told my parents. They said I should stay in Nanjing. Since Hu Yan has a mom like you, they can relax.”

We stood dumbfounded and didn’t say a word, not sure what had happened. The girl was Yueyue, working in Changsha, but there she was in Nanjing. Yueyue was hiccupping with sobs. The old lady’s portrait stood in front of her, smiling at everyone.

That afternoon I had gotten a phone call from Yueyue. She asked me about Hu Yan’s mom. 

I said, “Why don’t you ask Hu Yan?” She said his phone was turned off. I didn’t dare say too much and asked, “What do you want him for?”

Yueyue told me that in fact the old lady hadn’t gone traveling, but went all on her own to Changsha. That day Yueyue was at work. The old lady came up to the counter and deposited 200,000 yuan. Yueyue handled the process and asked how she would like to deposit the money. 

The old lady said, “I hear working at a bank is hard work. Every year you have to reach a certain amount in deposits to get promoted.”

Yueyue couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying, and said thanks.

The old lady whispered, “Yueyue, hurry up and get promoted. Make that idiot Hu Yan regret it.”

So just like that Yueyue met Hu Yan’s mom. She immediately took a half day off work and took the old lady out to eat.

The old lady asked, “Yueyue, do you like Hu Yan?”

Yueyue cried, saying she liked Hu Yan but her parents were not in good health; she didn’t feel at ease unless she stayed in Changsha, and was sorry she had disappointed her.

The old lady chuckled and said, “Then you just stay here in Changsha, hurry up and get promoted so Hu Yan doesn’t come here and torment you.”

Yueyue asked, “Is Hu Yan willing to come to Changsha?”

The old lady nodded and said, “He’s going to come. I just came over to get familiar with the area. Later I’ll move over here for a while until you two are settled, then move back to Nanjing.”

The old lady spent three days in Changsha and made zongzi for Yueyue. Afterward, when Yueyue sent her off she discovered the old lady had been staying in a cheap hotel. The table was piled with bamboo leaves and rice and the cheapest kind of rice cooker.

I realized why the old lady had wanted to learn how to use Weibo. She wanted to find Yueyue! My tears wouldn’t stop.

    I said, “Yueyue, you better come to Nanjing right now. Auntie passed away.”

Yueyue who had rushed so many miles for the funeral knelt before the portrait, pulled out a zongzi, and weeping, said, “Auntie, your zongzi are delicious. I was saving the last one in the refrigerator, but today I took it out and it was rotten. Please, Auntie, don’t blame Yueyue…”

All our friends were choked with sobs.

A year later, Hu Yan and Yueyue were married. That day didn’t have a grand banquet, only three tables—all the closest friends. Yueyue’s parents came from Changsha, but other than that there were no relatives. Yueyue wore a wedding dress, beautiful beyond compare, but from the time she came onto the stage, she was crying. Hu Yan in a well-pressed suit held Yueyue’s hand and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper. He read earnestly. Every few words were interrupted by sobs.

Dear Comrade Liu Xue,

I really like you. I have already applied to the leadership; I want to transfer to Nanjing. They didn’t approve, so I quit. I haven’t figured out how to transfer my file yet. Please prepare to receive me in Nanjing.

 Dear Comrade Liu Xue, 

I can’t talk, but I have a feeling I must express. I want to live together with you, forever.

One scene appeared in the minds of all our friends:

The old lady, leaning on a cane, standing in the bar, rebuking the young people, shaking out a yellowed piece of paper, saying, “My husband wrote me this; I’m going to read it to you. Oh what an idiot! I grabbed the the wrong one. This is the electric bill.”

Translator’s comments

The name of the character “Hu Yan” literally means “talking nonsense.”

The love letter needs to be understood within the context of the time: by disobeying and abandoning her work unit, the woman risked utter ruin and staked everything on her lover.

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Translation of poetic drama “The Passerby” by Lu Xun 鲁迅《过客》英译

January 10, 2013

“The Passerby”

By Lu Xun (1925)

Translated from the original Chinese by Kieran Maynard (2013)

One day at dusk
  Some place
Elderly man: About 70 years old, white beard and hair, black long gown
Child: About ten years old, black (purple) hair, jet-black eyes, black and white chequered long blouse
Passerby: About 30 or 40 years old, exhausted and stubborn, gloomy expression, black beard, dishevelled hair, tattered black jacket and trousers, sockless feet and tattered shoes, carrying a sack by his armpit, leaning on a tall bamboo cane. (2)

  East, are a few trees and rubble; west, is a desolate mass grave; in between is the trace of a sort of path. A small earthen hovel’s door is open toward this path; next to the door is an old tree stump.

(The girl is just about to help up the elderly man sitting on the stump.)
Elderly man: Child. I say, child! Why did you stop?
Child: (Looking to the east) Someone’s coming. Look!
Elderly man: No need to look. Help me inside. The sun is about to set.
Child: I… I’ll take a look.
Elderly man: Oh, this child! Every day you see this sky, this dirt, this wind; isn’t it good-looking enough? There’s nothing better looking than these. You just have to look at somebody. Things that appear when the sun sets won’t bring you anything good… Let’s go inside.
Child: But, they’re already here. Ah, it’s a beggar.
Elderly man: A beggar? Are you sure?
  (The passerby staggers out from among the trees in the east, and after hesitating temporarily, walks slowly toward the elderly man.)
Passerby: Good evening, sir.
Elderly man: Ah, yes, much obliged. Good evening.
Passerby: Sir, I’m terribly rash, but could I have a drink of water? I’m awfully thirsty. Around here is there a pond, or a lake?
Elderly man: Oh, have a seat. (To the child) Child, bring water. Clean the cup.
  (The girl goes silently into the hovel.)
Elderly man: My guest, please sit. What are you called?
Passerby: Called? I don’t know. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on my own. I don’t know what I was originally called. On the road, sometimes people will call me by different names, all kinds of different ones, I can’t keep them straight, and to make matters worse, I’ve never been called the same thing twice.
Elderly man: Ah. Then, where are you from?
Passerby: (Somewhat hesitantly) I don’t know. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been walking like this.
Elderly man: I see. Then, can I ask where you are going?
Passerby: Naturally.: But, I don’t know. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been walking like this; I have to walk to someplace, and that place is straight ahead. I only remember walking many roads, and now I’ve come here. Next I will walk that way. (Points west,) Straight ahead!
  (The girl carefully cradles a wooden cup and passes it to the passerby.)
Passerby: (Taking the cup) Thank you, young lady. (Downs the water in two gulps, returns the cup) Thank you, young lady. This is truly a rare kindness. I really don’t know how I should express my gratitude!
Elderly man: No need to be grateful; this will do you no good.
Passerby: Yes, this will do me no good. But now I’ve regained some strength. I must go on ahead. Sir, I suppose you have lived here a long while; do you know what it’s like up ahead?
Elderly man: Ahead? Ahead, are graves. (3)
Passerby: (Incredulously) Graves?
Child: No, no, no! Over there there are lots and lots of wild lillies, wild roses; I go and play over there a lot and go look at them!
Passerby: (Looking west, almost smiling) Not bad. Over there there are lots and lots of wild lillies, wild roses; I go and play over there a lot and go look at them. But, those are graves. (To the elderly man) Sir, what’s after the graveyard?
Elderly man: After it? That I don’t know. I’ve never been over there.
Passerby: You don’t know!?
Child: I don’t know, either.
Elderly man: I only know the south, the north, and the east, where you came from. That’s the place I’m familiar with, and probably actually the best place for you. Forgive me for intruding, but from what I can see, you’re already exhausted; you ought to just go back, because I’m not sure you can make it to the end if you go ahead.
Passerby: Not sure I can make it to the end?……(Pensive, suddenly stands) That won’t do! I have to go. Going back there, there’s not one place without a title, not one place without a landlord, not one place without explusion and jail, not one place without smiling faces, not one place without tears outside the eye socket ??? I hate them; I won’t turn back!
Elderly man: It’s not like that. You will also find tears from the bottom of the heart, and grief for you.
Passerby: No. I don’t want to see their heartfelt tears; I don’t want their grief for me!
Elderly man: Then, you, (shakes his head) you have to go.
Passerby: Yes, I have to go. Furthermore, there’s still a voice ahead of me urging me, calling me, making me short of breath. Unfortunately my feet have already walked to pieces, they have many wounds, they’ve shed much blood. (Lifts a foot to show the elderly man) Therefore, I don’t have enough blood; I need to drink some blood. but where is there blood? But I won’t drink just anyone’s blood. I can only drink some water to replenish my blood. As long as there is water on the road, I actually don’t feel any insufficiency. Only my strength is too weak; perhaps there is too much water in my blood? Today I didn’t even find a pond; perhaps because I didn’t walk enough?
Elderly man: Not necessarily. The sun has set. I think you ought to rest a while, like me.
Passerby: But, the voice ahead tells me to go.
Elderly man: I know.
Passerby: You know? You know that voice?
Elderly man: Yes. It seems in the past it has called me.
Passerby: And that’s the voice that’s now calling me?
Elderly man: That I don’t know. It only called a few times, I ignored it; it never called again. I don’t remember clearly.
Passerby: Ah, ignore it… (Pensive, suddenly surprised, listens) No! I still have to go. I can’t catch my break. Unfortunately my feet have already walked to pieces. (Prepares to walk)
Child: This is for you! (Hands him a piece of cloth) Wrap up your wounds.
Passerby: Thank you. (Takes it) Young lady. This is truly… This is truly a rare kindness. (Sits down, about to wrap the cloth around his ankle) But, no! (Stands forcefully) Young lady, you take it back, I won’t use it. Furthermore this is too much kindness, I can’t be grateful enough.
Elderly man: You don’t need to be grateful; this won’t do you any good.
Passerby: Yes, this won’t do me any good. But for me, this charity is the greatest of things. See, my whole body is like this.
Elderly man: Just don’t think of it that way.
Passerby: Indeed. But I can’t. I’m afraid I will be like this: if I happen to receive someone’s charity, I will just be like a vulture who sees a corpse, lurking on all sides, praying for her demise, to see it with my own eyes; or cursing the demise of everything outside of her, even myself, because I too should be cursed. (4) But I don’t have this kind of power; even if I had the power, I wouldn’t want her to have that kind of encounter, because they most likely don’t want to have that kind of encounter. I think, this is most proper. (To the girl)
Young lady, this cloth is too good, but a little too small, you take it back.
Child: (Frightened, retreats) I don’t want it! You take it!
Passerby: (Almost smiling) Oh… because I’ve held it?
Child: (Nods, points at the sack) You put it in there, go play.
Passerby: (Dejectedly retreats) But with this on my back, how can I walk?
Elderly man: You can’t catch your breath, or carry it. : Rest a while; it’s nothing.
Passerby: Right, rest… (Thinks silently, but suddenly surprised, listens) No, I can’t! I still have to go.
Elderly man: You’re never willing to rest?
Passerby: I’m willing to rest.
Elderly man: Then, why don’t you rest a while?
Passerby: But, I cant…
Elderly man: You always think you had better go?
Passerby: Yes. I had better go.
Elderly man: Then, I suppose you ought to go.
Passerby: (Straightens his back) All right, farewell. I’m very grateful to you. (To the girl) Young lady, I’ll give you this, please take it back.
  (The girl is frightened, pulls back her hands, ready to hide inside the hovel)
Elderly man: Why don’t you take it? If it’s too heavy, you can throw it away somewhere in the graveyard.
Child: (Comes forward) Ah! No you can’t!
Passerby: Ah, no you can’t.
Elderly man: Then, you can hang it on the wild lillies or wild roses.
Child: (Claps) Haha! Ok!
Passerby: Oh…
  (Very briefly, pensive)
Elderly man: Then, goodbye. I wish you well. (Stands; faces the girl) Child, help me inside. Look, the sun has already set. (Turns toward the door)
Passerby: Thank you. I wish you well. (Hesitates, pensive, suddenly surprised) But I can’t! I have to go. I still had better go… (Immediately looks up, hurriedly sets off west)
  (The girl helps the old man into the hovel and closes the door. The passerby staggers into the wilderness, night following behind him.)

  April 2nd, 1925
(Trans. Jan. 8, 2013 in Shanghai)


(1) First published April 9, 1925 in the 17th volume of the weekly “Yǔsī” (pronounced “Yoo-ss”, meaning “Word Threads”)
(2) 等身 as long as a person is tall
(3) “Graves”; c.f. the author in “Written After ‘Graves'” once wrote, “I am only very certain of an end point; that is: a grave. This everyone knows, and don’t need it pointed out. The problem is only the way from here to there. Of course there isn’t just one path, I just don’t know which path is right, despite that up until now at times I have searched for it.” (See 《写在〈坟〉后面》)
(4) Not long after writing this piece, Lu Xun in a letter to Xu Guangping wrote, “While those who are connected to me are alive, I actually can’t be at ease; when they die, I can rest easy; this is also expressed in ‘The Passerby.'” (See《两地书 • 二四》)

Source material: 《野草》鲁迅,大学生必读,北京:人民大学出版社,2002年

Translation of “Tree on the Bluff” by Zeng Zhuo 曾卓“悬崖边的树”英译

November 21, 2012

“Tree on a Bluff” by Zēng Zhuō (1922-2002)

Rhyming loose translation

I know not what wind brought this tree
to this flatland’s edge on the bluff;
She listens for the far forest’s clamor
And signing of streams in the rough

It stands by itself all alone
Looking obstinate, and lonely;
Its body a mass of tangles,
Wind-twisted, bony.

It keeps the shape of the wind,
seems about to cave in,
and yet soon to spread wings and take flight.

2012.11.18 evening

Literal translation

I do not know what strange wind

blew a tree over there——

the end of a plain

on a crag overlooking the valley

It listens closely to the clamor of a far forest

and the singing of streams in the valley

It stands there alone

looking obstinate, and forlorn

Its crooked body

retains the shape of the wind

It looks ready to fall off into the valley

and yet about to spread wings and take flight……


Original poem
















Translation of “Wanderer” by Mu Dan 穆旦“流浪人”英译

November 18, 2012

(“Liúlàng rén”)

Mù Dàn (1918-1977)
Trans. K. Maynard


my good friend

it keeps pestering me

on this wandering road


the wanderer’s two heavy legs

step, after step, after step……

what place at earth’s end?

no destination. only

two legs moving

step, after step…… wanderer

as if eyes bloomed a flower

flew past a million stars, crow-like.

muddled head, bitter heart;

fiery-hot body, melted——

like cotton, heaped into a ball

but still carrying soft legs

step, after step, after step……

(1933) 4.15 evening







[Kansai Travelog] Walking the Philosophers’ Way in Kyoto

August 18, 2012
I went to Kyoto for three days. It’s not far from Osaka, so I rode the train there in the morning and alighted at Kyoto station. The station turned out to be an attraction in itself. Over the main entrance is a web of steel beams, and a series of escalators takes you all the way up the side of the 12-story-plus building to a deck on the roof. On the tenth floor is Ramen Alley, where specialty ramens of different places are represented. I tried to eat there, but every shop had an unbelievable line, so I gave up. The other restaurants on the top of the building (actually an Isetan dept. store) were expensive, so I left my bag in a locker and rode the bus to Ginkakuji, the temple of the famed Silver Pavilion.
Ginkakuji and the Tea Well
Nowadays, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji 金閣寺) is an internationally recognized symbol of Kyoto and Japan itself, but what of the Silver Pavilion, on the opposite Eastern Mountain side of Kyoto? The pavilion is not plated in silver, and unlike the Golden Pavilion, is a 15th-Century original wooden construction. (Kinkakuji was burned by an arsonist about 60 years ago.) Kyoto is large and traffic dense, so it took an hour to get uptown to Higashiyama, around Ginkakuji 銀閣寺. I ate oyako-don (chicken and egg over rice) for lunch on a street leading to the temple. Ginkakuji is not the official name of the temple, but most know it as the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. I paid 500 yen ($6) to enter with a huge crowd. We passed a bamboo hedge, and right on our right was the pavilion. The bottom is built in Japanese Shoin 書院style, and the top in Chinese temple style, with a phoenix on the roof. The date of construction was some time around 1400. In front of the temple is a garden of raked sand, and a cone of sand called the Moon-facing Platform. Up the hill was a little spring of clear water and algae called the Tea Well. The water from the well apparently has a good flavor favored by tea specialists, and the water from the well is used to make tea at government functions. A quiet garden led the way out, and I set off down the Philosophers’ Way.
The Philosophers’ Way and Honen’in Temple
Yamazaki and his wife recommended me the Philosophers’ Way, a path lined with cherry trees that leads south from Ginkakuji toward Kiyomizu Temple. After being jostled by crowds in Ginkakuji, a stroll along the river on the stone path was a welcome respite. A café I passed boasted coffee made with water from the temple’s well. At times I was alone on the path, and at times I passed others walking their way. The Way is so named because great scholars of the past were said to amble along the riverbank lost in thought. The trees grew thick on the other bank and hung low their leaves on the water, quite like Suzhou or Ito, and I was quite taken by the mosaic of greens and rocks and stream. I came upon Honen’in Temple 法然院, where Yamazaki said I could find a hint of the old Kyoto. Unlike Ginkakuji, Honen’in was free, not crowded, and set back in the woods of sight. The buildings lacked illustrious pedigrees, but the setting was right for relaxation. A sign before the moss-covered straw roof entry gate read in Classical Chinese, Pungent foods, spices, alcohol and meat may not enter this gate. Inside, on either side of the path were raised platforms of sand with designs formed on top. I’d never seen such artwork before and don’t know what they mean. Great vines grew on the trees over the water, and a pamphlet advertised a lecture titled, Let’s talk with the monks about nuclear power.
Futher down the path, I visited Otoyo Shrine, where a fox and mouse shrine stand side by side (technically an Inari and a Taikoku shrine).
Eikando Temple and the Lake Biwa aqueduct
Before Eikando Temple 永観堂 (officially called Zenrinji 禅林寺) was a sign with a quote: Respect humanity and morality, keep courtesy and moderation, use no martial force, and all under heaven will be in accord. (仁徳を尊び、礼節を守り、武力を用いず、天下和順なれ。)
Eikando’s autumn leaves are famous, and even in this late summer some were starting to redden. I walked among the centuries-old wooden buildings. Some parts of Eikando have been rebuilt more recently, as it suffered during the haibutsu-kishaku 廃仏毀釈 period during the late 19th Century when Buddhism was briefly outlawed, but even the elevator blended nicely with the old wood. I went up to see the tower, a famous spot for watching the sunset. The tower faces west, toward the Pure Land, so when the sun sets one can look out at the faraway Paradise and dream of the afterlife. A story associated with Eikando says that the founder of the sect was pacing in the temple in the cold early morning, chanting Amida’s name, when the statue of the Buddha Amida stepped down from its platform and walked with him. He stopped dead in his tracks. Amida turned his head and said, Eikan, you’re slow! Thus, to preserve that most beautiful profile of Amida, Eikan carved a statue of the Buddha looking over his shoulder than can still be seen in the hall.
Around Nanzenji Temple I saw the Lake Biwa aqueduct, which was built of brick about 100 years ago to bring water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. I walked along as the water sped down the canal, until I came to a hydraulic station in an old stone-carved western-style building. I took the subway back to get my bag and spent the night in a hostel.

















[Kansai Travelog] Art, an Artist and the Tsunashiki Shrine in Osaka

August 12, 2012

Dear Readers:

Today I met a video game character designer named Yamazaki and his wife. We met on CouchSurfing, and agreed to meet in Ueda. While wandering around before the meeting, I came upon a shrine called Tsunashiki Tenmangu Otabisho 綱敷天満宮御旅所, or Tsunashiki Tenjinja. (It has a website here: .) Sitting between buildings on a street next to Kappa Yokocho, Tsunashiki Shrine caught my attention because of its steep steps, and the “Otabisho” part of its name. A “tabi” is a journey in Japanese, and sure enough Tsunashiki is a shrine for ryoko anzen, or safe travels. I offered some yen and bought an omikuji. It was lucky, but recommended I hold back and not try to do too much. As for direction, anywhere south was good. As for travel, it suggested I quit. I tied up the omikuji to ward off the bad luck and bought an o-mamori charm for safe travels. Of course, I can’t quit, so I have the charm. The lesson on the back of the omikuji read something like, “The high peaks tower in the blue sky, but if you climb, there is a way up.”

I ate curry in Kappa Yokocho, got lost around Umeda walking up and down platforms through crowds and department stores, and drank some bottled ginger jujube tea. I met Yamazaki at Yodobashi camera and we tried two cafes before we found one with empty seats. He kindly treated me to coffee and we talked about Kyoto, where he attended university, learning languages, traveling in Rome and Europe, and his dream to hold an international art exhibition in London. Also, he designed two characters in the video game Street Fighter 4.

Art in the Isetan department store

We went to Isetan department store to see an art exhibition called Girlie Show. The theme was “girls,” and women artists from around Japan depicted girls in various styles on small canvasses. Prints of artworks and goods like iPhone cases were on sale, and one or two of the artists were present. We then went upstairs and saw the “Art Liberation Space” or something like that, where various works were exhibited, like ceramic cups crawling with metal insects. In the back was an exhibiton called “The Beauty Adventurers” (美の冒険者たち) if I remember correctly. The artists were students, graduates and faculty at an art college in Osaka. I enjoyed the various styles and materials and the high level of artistry in the works, and happily spent an hour with Yamazaki gazing at paintings.

Tsukemen noodles in Ueda

We met Yamazaki’s wife at Loft variety store and went to a nearby shop for tsukemen (dipped noodles), which were delicious. The roast pork on top was expecially good. The Yamazakis gave me lots of advice about Kyoto, and we talked about what we had done that day. I received advice from a pair who had studied art in Kyoto. What could be better! When I mentioned that I saw the guardian statues at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Yamazaki told me those are by a famous artist of the Edo period. I took notes on place names in Kyoto, and they kindly saw me back to the subway. The next time I see them, perhaps their first child will be born!













[Kansai Travelog] The Flower Lantern Festival and Cycling in Nara

August 11, 2012

Dear Readers:

Yesterday I bought a day pass and took the train from Osaka to Nara. From August 4-14, the Tokae (燈花会), or “Flower Lantern Festival” is being held in Nara Park. I rented a bike, cycled around the ruins of the ancient capital, and spent the evening watching the lanterns light.

Cycling the Imperial Capitol Ruins

I wanted to go to Nara for two reasons. Nara was for 75 years the capital of the Yamato empire after the capital was moved from Fujiwara around the year 710, and is full of old temples. I got off the train at Yamato-Saidaiji and rented a bike. I cycled through the crowded roads across the river to the grassy plain that is the site of the former imperial residence. The site is roughly divided into an eastern and western half. During the first half of the Nara Period (as the era in which Nara was the capital is called), on the west side stood the imperial complex, where the courtiers would gather for ceremonies while the emperor sat on the throne. During the second half of the period, a second complex was build on the eastern side, and the old buildings were used for banquets. At the end of the period or sometime thereafter, all the buildings were demolished, and the metal roof ornaments probably melted down for reuse. All that remains today are some raised platforms, and marks in the soil where buildings once stood.

Today, two buildings stand at the north and south ends of the western complex: the Suzaku Gate (朱雀門) and Daigoku Hall (大極殿). Both were reconstructed after extensive archaeological studies. The original appearance of the buildings are unknown, so the designs of the reconstructions are based on drawings of period buildings and the designs of still-standing medieval structures, like the East Tower in Yakushiji temple. I entered the complex through the bright red Suzaku Gate. The Suzaku is a legendary Chinese bird that represents the south. In Chinese mythology, the cardinal directions are represented by animals. The Suzaku represents the south, and the north, east, and west are represented by the Genbu turtle, the Byakko white tiger, and the Seiryu green dragon, respectively. (I have given the Japanese pronunciations.) From the Suzaku Gate the Daigoku Hall stood tall in the field in the far distance. A commuter train cuts right across the site today. I imagined I was an emissary arriving from Tang China or some other faraway place as I stood in the Suzaku Gate. I biked across the train tracks to the courtyard before the Daigoku Hall. The sky was clear and blue and puffy clouds were scattered above. Certainly, the imperial courtiers 1,300 years ago must have stood stiff in the cold on New Year’s morning and looked up at the same sky.

I wandered around the station, mailed my disc of photos back to America, and bought a handmade bento lunch. In the bento shop, I expected stacks of made-yesterday boxes, but the only thing in the shop was a cooler of drinks and a counter. When I ordered a maku-no-uchi bento, I waited about ten minutes for the fried things to fry and whatnot. I ate my bento on the steps of the eastern compound. Behind me, workers cut the head-high summer grass. Clouds lazed in the blue sky, I chewed on a fish stick, and cicadas buzzed in the trees. In the main hall was a message left by the emperor on his visit to the opening ceremony. He wrote, “Research upon research, and restoration. Daigoku-den now stands before our eyes.” (御製=研究を重ねかさねて復元せし、大極殿いま目の前に立つ)

South of the capitol: the Nishi-no-kyo area and Yakushiji Temple

I rode along the river to the Nishi-no-kyo area, which means “the west [part of] the capital.” Indeed, it was the western part of the city south of the Suzaku Gate, and two famous temples still stand there. Yakushiji Temple, or the temple of the Buddha of Medicine, was commissioned by the emperor about 1,400 years ago to help his wife recover from illness. She did recover, and took the throne herself when the emperor died before the temple’s completion. The buildings have burned and been rebuilt several times, but many date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. I most wanted to see the East Tower, which is said to have stood for over 1,300 years, which I assume would make it one of the oldest wooden buildings on earth. It is the only building in Japan that survives from that period. Alas, the entire structure was covered in opaque scaffolding. It has been 100 years since the structure was last renovated, so it is being dismantled and reassembled.

On the back wall of the main hall were plaques with the story of the Buddha. When he died, the Buddha’s last words were something like, “Remember what I have taught you, and believe in yourself.” Inside the hall were three statues from the Nara period, of Yakushi flanked by Nikko and Gekko, the Bodhisattvas of sun and moonlight. Exposure to fire turned the 1,300 year old statues black.

Kasuka Shrine, Nara deer, and the Flower Lantern Festival

I rode four kilometers from Saidai Temple to Nara proper and returned the bike. I got it in my head to visit Horyuji Temple and took the train south, but it was too far away, so I didn’t make it. On the way back from Tsutsui to Nara, I met four middle school guys on the train. They had dyed hair and earrings and poked fun at each other while we talked, like “He’s from North Korea!” and “He pees all the time!” I said I wondered what it must be like to live in a legendary place like Nara, and they said, “We’re legendary children!”

I walked the omote-sando path into Kasuka Shrine inside Nara Park. When the Flower Lantern Festival ends, a Ten Thousand Lantern Festival will be held in Kasuka Shrine 春日大社. Along the path were hundreds or thousands of stone lanterns densely placed. I happened upon a meeting hall at the edge of the park where the mountains begin and walked through the garden behind. I emerged in a field of little lanterns, plastic cups of different colors arranged in different shapes, like stars and hearts and flowers. Groups of volunteers, from little kids to elderly people, were putting water in the cups, and then candles. In addition to lanterns and people, the field was full of deer. Little deer followed the big deer, and all the deer moved slowly in a big pack near the picnic tables beneath small trees. I helped a little boy shoo the deer away when they came to drink the water from the cups. A sign said, “One guest, one lantern,” and they were being sold were 500 yen (~$6). The western sky was gold in sunset, and as the sun disappeared behind Todaiji Temple’s main hall and the treetops below, the eastern clouds turned pink over the mountains.

The Flower Lanterns and temples at night

As the sun set, the volunteers lit the lanterns at about 7 PM. From then, the festival began in earnest. People began streaming into the park, buying lanterns to add to the designs and strolling down the shop walks in yukata and sandals. I walked among the flickering shapes, down a street of food stalls, and down the dark stone path to the vast gate at Todaiji Temple. Giant statues some twenty feet tall flanked the gate, which was a peeled-paint color of rusty brown, and looked very old. Todaiji was closed, but I peered through the gate at the massive wood hall, probably the biggest wooden building I have ever seen. I ate Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at a stall and walked down rows of candles out of the park. I happened upon Kofukuji Temple and the Five Story Pagoda. The old pagoda was dramatically lit, and a hall was open for night prayers. A group was gathered near the foot of the tower around lanterns shaped on the ground. The shape was the kanji “再”, pronounced “sai” in Japanese, as in saikai 再会 ‘reunion’, saiken 再建 ‘rebuilding’, and saisei 再生 ‘rebirth.’

The commercial streets and lesson of Nara

The main hall of Kofukuji was also covered in scaffolding for rebuilding. I made an offering at the octagonal hall and descended stone stairs into a brightly lit shopping street. I passed shops and crowds and ate a ball of green mochi filled with red bean and powdered with kinako soy powder. A trail of lanterns snaked up a stairway to a little Shinto shrine.

Walking among the crowds at Nara station, I felt silly for having rushed to Horyuji Temple. I think I had expected Nara to be a tourist trap, full of tourists hemming and hawing over big Buddhas and big halls like in Kamakura. In fact, Nara is a thriving provincial capital with a living religious tradition. The temples are far apart and far too many to see every one. Many things are unpretentiously old. To make a French analogy, Nara might be Lyon to Osaka’s Paris. I had heard the oldest such and such and the biggest such and such building were in Nara, and those extremes loomed too large in my mind. What of history I was able to feel in the ruins and what of local belief I was able to understand in the sacred places was good enough. It’s not to say I didn’t miss things I’d have enjoyed seeing, but that I didn’t make it to some place or other makes no difference at all.






















[Kansai Travelog] Osaka’s Temples and Shrines around Shitennoji

August 9, 2012

Dear Readers:

During a day wandering among temples, I realized that I came to Osaka with a false impression. In the early 1970s, the writer Sawaki Kotaro traveled by train and bus from Bangkok to Singapore. In every city, he felt something was missing. The excitement he’d found in Hong Kong wasn’t to be found in Thailand or Malaysia. On the eve of leaving Singapore, he realized, Singapore isn’t Hong Kong. It seemed too silly to say out loud, but he’d been looking for a copy of Hong Kong everywhere he went. Certainly, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok must have their individual charms.

I assumed Osaka was a loud and crowded place, on flat ground, without much that would carry me away. I was wrong. Shin-sekai, around the now 100-year old Tsutenkaku tower is indeed a place of boisterous bars, and not a boring place to visit. Shitennoji is a world apart.

Shitennoji District (四天王寺)

I happened to be staying next to Tennoji station so I took the subway past it on a whim to make my 200 yen go farther. I alighted at Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station, which means “In front of Shitennoji (and) Sunset Hill.” It turns out, the Shitennoji area is full of temples, leading south to Shitennoji Temple itself. I learned a lot about Japanese Buddhism by reading the signs. I turned a prayer wheel carved with scripture in Chinese. I met a group of high school students near Yuhigaoka Academy. On a stele was carved in Chinese the exploits of the writer’s father, Date Munehiro 伊達宗広, according to the nearby explanatory board. He loved the songs of a songwriter Fujiwara Ietaka 藤原家隆 who lived many generations before him, so he made his home in the same place, and named it “Sunset Hill” after one of Fujiwara’s poems. They are both buried nearby. While reading the sign, a man working on his 600cc shiny black Honda came over, and we talked about my travels, my brother Pace’s travels in America, and the history of Osaka. His name was Kishino, and he told me to go on to Shitennoji, past the tower we could see over a parking lot.

The tower turned out to be a 400-year-old national treasure, a pagoda to store the treasures in Aisen-san 愛染さん temple. It was the model for a temple once erected at the Japanese pavilion at the World’s Fair in San Francisco. Aisen-san itself was bright red.

The Seven Slopes (七坂)

There are seven slopes among the temples. I came up Kuchinawa Slope, which a writer once climbed and thought, “I won’t be climbing this slope for a while, I suppose,” whereupon he came to feel that the sweetness of youth was over, and a new reality had come to face him. I stopped for ramen, and ate “Osaka Black” salt-broth ramen with thick noodles (you could choose thick or thin). The dark broth had an edged flavor. I walked down Aisen Slope to a temple that holds Kinryu and Ginryu Ido, or the “Golden and Silver Dragon Wells.” Alas, they dried up when the subway was built, and Ginryu is buried in concrete. However, a woman from the temple named Asano showed me to Kinryu Well, in which we could see our reflections! The water has come back, little by little, though we can’t yet drink it again to get the sweet taste that was once favored in the tea ceremony.

Kiyomizu Temple and the deadly fault line

I climbed Kiyomizu Slope to Kiyomizu Temple, which shares a name with an illustrious temple in Kyoto. From the hill at the Kiyomizu graveyard (which was packed with a tour group for a few minutes), a vast stretch of Osaka can be seen, including a tower still unfinished at Tennoji Station. I went down to see the waterfall at Kiyomizu, and a man was chanting sutras before the statues behind the water. As I left, a man named Satoshi spoke to me in perfect English. In what was quite likely the first all-English conversation I’ve had with a Japanese person this trip, he told me he worked for the IT department at Stanford and lived in California. He was surprised I came to Kiyomizu, which he visits often, because he seldom sees tourists there. He asked had I noticed the slopes and varied elevation in the area? I had, but he informed me that the slopes are due to a dangerous fault that runs under the area. The line of temples and shrines are built on the fault to prevent disaster with their power.

Isshin Temple and modern decor

I went through a shrine with cats and a man behind the counter who explained the Warring States history of the area. Across the street was a temple far busier than the sleepy ones I had visited. Isshin Temple (一心寺) lost its gate, so a very modern gate was built to replace what had been called the “Black Gate” or Osaka. Indeed, the gate is made of a honeycomb of black metal, and two utterly fearsome guardians wave green fists over heavenly ladies embossed in dark steel. The temple grounds were packed. I prayed in the main hall and offered incense, and a very old couple encouraged me to go to Sapporo.

Shitennoji and the story of the Buddha

Up the street, I walked down the arcade to Shitennoji, the biggest and busiest of all. The red five-story pagoda indeed towered over the hall at Aisen, and every building in Shitennoji was painted red and white. Inside the main hall, wall paintings told the story of the Buddha, from his miraculous birth under the right armpit of Maya, to his death and entrance into nirvana at the age of 81. Most impressive was the scene of the Buddha returning, enlightened, to speak at the Deer Garden. He wore simple clothes and his face was calm and pure, and a light emanated from his brow. In the forest, those who had known him before fell to the ground and reached out their hands in awe to see Gautama so transformed. (According to the explanations written below.) The Buddha had also been attacked by a host of demons, but their arrows turned to floating lotus blossoms and the beautiful women sent to seduce him suddenly grew old. The story was mostly new to me, so I am keen to read more. Another hall told the story of Xuanzang 玄奘, who spent 17 years on a journey from Chang’an to India and back. Upon his return, he and a team of scholars translated hundreds of scriptures, which were stored in the Great Goose Pagoda that I visited last year in Xi’an.

If only I could tell you everything I learned today. I’d never get any sleep. I walked among the bars around Tsutenkaku tower and spent a mostly fruitless and expensive hour in a net cafe trying to copy photos.

Osaka is alive!
















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