Friday, July 5, 2019

A Japanese Primer




Wabi sabi is an unusual concept for foreigners (Gaijin), and I suspect that every Japanese person (Nihonjin) would view it differently too. For some it defines “bitter-sweet,” and the related term mono no aware (ah-wah-ray) means “pity” or “sorrow” and refers to the “sadness of fading beauty,” or in Buddhist terms: the bittersweetness of fading beauty. I'm not one to cry over the fallen blossoms of an old Camellia – unless I've drank two cups of warm sake on a cold night in a Saitama, Japan bar – but I can somewhat relate to the transience, imperfection and finality of things, especially as I get older.



I love the notion of Kyouka suigetsu, meaning “flower in the mirror; moon on water.”  Neither the flower nor the moon can be touched, and really – can anything be completely held? I have “touched” my wife many times...but I've never been able to fully grasp her. I couldn't anyway; just her reflection is overwhelming, and I doubt that I could handle her full reality.



My wife celebrates komorebi, or “sunlight filtering through the leaves.” The Japanese characters literally mean “tree-leakage-sun,” and you have an Oriental example of what isn't...is actually what is. Clearly my wife sees a different tree than I do, but I absolutely appreciate her perspective (even though I can't make a living on the concept of “leaking light.”)



Hanafubuki means “flower” or the “petal of the cherry blossom (sakura),” and literally refers to a blizzard or snowstorm when the petals come floating down as if in a snowstorm.

The Japanese phrase, Ichi go ichi e is a Zen-Buddhist proverb meaning “one time, one meeting” which can be translated as “one chance in a lifetime,” or “value all things” for they might not ever reoccur. Obviously, nothing reoccurs even though we long for it/them to do so. Every breath is already in the past, placed in the old breath museum. We dredge up the memories for sustenance I suppose, but be careful that you don't fall too far behind. “Old breath,” indeed.

The following Japanese words and phrases can be interesting:
Ten men, ten colors for “all people prefer different things.”

How about: The weak are meat while the strong eat...which describes “survival of the fittest.”



Beautiful person, thin life suggests that a beautiful woman is destined to die young, or more realistically it means that “beauty fades.”

Even monkeys fall from trees is a fun notion, for it implies that “everyone makes mistakes.”

I like, as the father of five: Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it. I remember reading, about twenty years ago, that a famous classical pianist – I forget just who now (Horowitz or somebody) – fathered a child in his mid-or-upper eighties. “So what?!, I thought, he nailed his young attractive wife – I could do the same – and his old swimmers got the job done. But, let's face it, we all know that an old geezer can “make” a child, but did the oldster ever lift a hand to actually “raise” the child? I think not.

Like many of us, the Japanese people love to collect quotes, for example “Ningen ni totte saidai no kiken wa, takai mokuhyo settei shite tassei dekinai koto de wa naku, hikui mokuhyo o settei shimaukoto da.” Basically it means “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it,” and that missive was rendered by Michaelangelo centuries ago.

I can relate to Baka wa shinanakya naoranai which literally means, “Unless an idiot dies, he won't be cured,” also known as “you can't fix stupid.”



Mizu ni nagasu is “let flow the water,” or “forgive and forget, it's water under the bridge.”

“Ippai-me wa hito sake o nomi, nihai-me wa sake sake o nomi, sanbai-me wa sake hito o nomu.” It means, “With the first glass a man drinks wine, with the second glass the wine drinks the wine, with the third glass the wine drinks the man.”

Kuchi wa waza no moto means that a “mouth causes trouble,” another way of saying that “silence is golden.”

Makeru ga kachi suggests that you “don't compete over shallow matters” or that “walking away from a challenge can be the best decision.”



Jigou jitoku means that what you get in life depends on what you do, or “you reap what you sow.”

Shio means “salt,” which sounds like shi, but don't say it at night because it is the Japanese word for “death.” When we were newly wed my wife was troubled that I wanted to sleep with a fan on a hot summer night. She changed the steady fan to movement-mode, where the air goes back and forth across the room. She informed me that constant air would lead to death...and why in hell didn't I already know that? Hmmm – since she is usually right – I don't sleep with any fan now.

For Japanese people the number four is not good. For example, you can plant one, two, three or five trees in a landscape, but never four. Hospitals do not have an elevator that goes to a fourth floor, as that (shi) would suggest death. You should also avoid ku for “nine” because it rhymes with kutsuu which means “pain.”

Also, don't take a picture of three people side-by-side, because Japanese superstition insists that the person in the middle will die before the other two people.

It's never a good idea to cut your fingernails at night, as the kanji word for that can also read “quick death.”



Some Japanese superstitions are down-right silly...but, you never know. If you're trying to predict the weather you just throw a shoe in the air. If it lands on the sole the weather will be nice. If it lands on its side it will be cloudy. If it lands upside down it will rain.

1 comment:

  1. 晴耕雨読
    Above is one more.Thanks, a useful blog.

    ReplyDelete