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Old 08-28-2009, 08:51 PM   #20
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 15

Hello Steve,

Here is the first installment of my response to your long post. There will be quite a few more to follow.

Steve Earle wrote: View Post
Actually I am tickled to see you devoting the amount of commentary that you have to my book, even though it is about neither aikido nor kotodama. Your column is the first anywhere to my knowledge to give it any attention at all, and for that I say thank you!
I am aware that the book is not really about kotodama or aikido. However, I think I explained adequately in this and a previous column why the book was of interest in any study of kotodama. My attention was especially drawn to the paragraph on p.13, which I will quote, and this is what really led me to read the book.

"A quick read of the article [by Odanao Sanae] suggests that Mu is in over his head. He is attempting to communicate sophisticated ideas he less-than-fully understands in a medium, written English, in which he is less than comfortable. At least one feature of these ideas, however, shines through: Odano is saying that not only the sounds but also the written characters of language--especially kanji, Chinese characters as they are used in Japanese--are special. I have just enough exposure to the Shinto tradition of kotodama--literally, 'word spirit'--to recognize this as boldly original: Most proponents of kotodama consider kanji a corrupting influence largely responsible for the defilement and censure of an indigenous "word-spirit" attributable exclusively to the Japanese word-sounds..."

When I first studied kotodama, not long after I came to live here, I was drawn by the fact that the whole basis of what is called kototama-gaku is the analysis of Chinese characters--and their related meanings--as a way of discovering supposedly unique Japanese sounds. How was this possible? Well, one answer lies in the way in which the early Japanese grafted on to their pre-existing spoken language a developed--and developing--writing system, which involved the intricate use of ideographs, pictographs, logographs to express the semantic and phonological aspects of Japanese.

As a background, I have been studying written Japanese--the close analysis of texts, mainly literary texts written in the period from the Meiji Restoration to the present, under the guidance of a Japanese colleague who was also an established writer. As you can imagine, this involved reading and analyzing into their components not only individual words, with their Chinese characters, but also the sentences and paragraphs in which these characters appeared--and also analyzing the nuances that could be expressed through the combinations of such characters in compounds.

If I were to make a superficial comment on the book, I would say that it relies too heavily on the analysis of individual words and not enough on the way these words are used in statements and utterances. However, the book presents a very close analysis of a methodology that is also to be found in kototama-gaku and this is why the book is valuable for any study of kotodama. I say, 'kototama-gaku', because this came into existence really only after the nativists started studying early texts like the Man'yoshu and Kojiki and Motoori Norinaga published his Kojiki-den. The Man'yoshu only intimates that kotodama was something exclusively Japanese and later scholars fleshed this out. This emphasis on exclusivity served to mask the real reason why the kotodama-gaku scholars thought that kotodama was special to the Japanese language: the relationship alleged to hold between Chinese characters and the 50 sounds.

Actually, your long post has given me an opportunity to discuss the book in more detail than was possible in the column.

Best wishes,


Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 08-28-2009 at 08:53 PM.

P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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