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Old 02-18-2009, 07:07 PM   #10
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
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Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 11

Hello, Josh,

I was hoping that you would make some comments. A few more comments and thoughts of my own.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
The necessary rejoinder to this is that children and illiterate people have no problem understanding spoken Japanese, with all of its homonyms. Context is very often quite clear.
PAG. Of course, it is true that native Japanese generally have no problem with the spoken language. But I would think there would be fewer homonyms in play than in literary Japanese. I think it is a matter of degree.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
In fact, moving to a system of historical kana usage would likely clear up most of the misunderstandings that would remain. Rather than any necessity for kanji in understanding written Japanese, I believe it's mostly a matter of inertia and tradition. Removing kanji would be a bigger change than English or German spelling reform, and those have not exactly proceeded smoothly. Further, a Japanese-speaking population that learns kanji then has access to the entire history of Japanese writing in its original form. If Japan went to an all kana or all romaji system, it would require the transliteration of the entire corpus of Japanese literature, an undertaking of a scale that I believe would be unprecedented in the history of the world.
PAG. Are you familiar with Mori Arinori, or Shiga Naoya? I am sure you have heard of both, but both pushed for the complete abolition of Japanese. Mori wanted the language replaced by English and Shiga wanted it replaced by French. Mori traveled abroad widely, in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, and made constantly unfavourable comparisons between English, French, German and Japanese. Shiga suggestion came after the Occupation GHQ had considered abolishing kanji. I think the inertia is partly due to the explosive political consequences that would ensue.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
I work in two Japanese elementary schools, so I have some experience with this. Actually, this is neither so rote nor so immense as it might seem at first glance. A key thing to understand is that while kanji certainly contain a core meaning, to everyday Japanese they more often represent sounds rather than meaning. Often, when native Japanese make mistakes of kanji, they substitute kanji that sound the same or contain the same phonetic element. Aside from a few simple, core pictographs (e.g., 日, sun, 山, mountain, 水, water, etc.) Japanese children are not taught the meaning of kanji in isolation, but rather as parts of compounds, and as words in context. Kanji themselves are made up of a finite number of commonly appearing components, and children learn to match these components together to make a work, much like English speaking children learn how to match together non-phonetic or pseudo-phonetic combinations of letters to spell. Elementary school children generally only rote copy the kanji out ten times or so, and this is less to impart muscular memory as it is to practice balance and appearance. By the time they go to junior high school, they don't need to spend much time practicing writing new characters -- they can easily break them down into their recognizable components, and remember how to match them back to together again.
PAG. Since I have no experience in teaching Japanese children, this is good to hear. I teach the results of such a system: students who are in their late teens and early 20s. Actually, I am somewhat surprised at their inability to read characters of early postwar texts.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
Finally, the majority of Japanese people do not and need not learn upwards of 5,000 characters. By the time they leave high school, they know the 1,945 daily use kanji, plus the 284 kanji commonly used in names, for 2,229 kanji. In the vast majority of media, kanji and terms outside of these will be accompanied by yomigana -- superscript hiragana used to indicate how a kanji is read. (I'm sure you are aware of this, Professor Goldsbury; I'm adding it just as general supplementary information for others.)
PAG. Yes, I am aware, but see my previous comment.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
To bring this more on topic, I look at the translations and can't help be frustrated at how much is not translated, or translated poorly. But that does not necessarily reflect on Messrs Stevens and Bieri. Translating even modern Japanese is a difficult, unsatisfying task. More often than not for discourses such as Ueshiba's what is needed is not mere translation, but impractical explanation and commentary, like Professor Goldsbury has provided above.
PAG. Well, I was trained as a classicist and took a very interesting course at Harvard: re-translating Plato into a different style of Greek. For translations to and from Greek, I was taught the importance of keeping to the original as far as possible. For someone like Ueshiba, a detailed commentary of some sort is indispensable.

Joshua Reyer wrote: View Post
As a further example, I prefer Steven's Essence of Aikido translation of the Shochikubai poem, but both neglect a very real possibility -- that 錬り清めゆく(neri kiyome yuku) is a modifier of 気の仕組 (ki no shikumi). In other words, it could read "The Pine, Bamboo and Plum -- the mechanism of ki that purifies and refines..." Unlike English, Japanese transitive verbs require no specified object, and it's not a given that either "ki no shikumi" or "Shochikubai" must be the object of the purifying and refining.

A further note on "shikumi" -- while Stevens renders it "make-up" and "basis", it's sense is more of "mechanism, working, the nuts-and-bolts". Explicit in the meaning is the sense of variable components working in concert. Of course, I can explain all this, but if demanded to create a somewhat lyrical translation that captures all of this, I doubt I could come up with one. Particularly since Japanese poetry is designed to be vague and evocative, so that no two people will necessarily understand the original in the same way.
PAG. Yes. I did not spend much attention on the grammar of the doka, but I agree with your interpretation of neri kyome yuku. Actually, going through the text of Ueshiba's discourses in detail with a knowledgeable Japanese native speaker was a very illuminating experience.

Best wishes,


P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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