Monday, June 29, 2009

A 1,200-year-old Spa Village

On a recent Saturday Don Speden (of and I went to the spa village Deyu, whose name means literally "hot water coming out". We first paid a visit to Seikokan, a spa hotel that was established over 300 years ago (pictured at bottom) and met the gracious English speaking daughter and extended family of the current owner. Don and I then bathed for about 2$ at the nearby public bath, shown in the topmost photo ( an unprepossessing facility, I'll be the first to admit) . There were 13 of us men packed into a 40 degree Celsius (cool for Japan) bath the size of a middling jacuzzi. Most of our companions were retirees, and they did not exhibit any discomfort regarding our presence. I am aware that discrimination exists in Japan-indeed, no country is free of it- but some expats, most notably naturalized Japanese Arudo Debito, go out of their way to meet it. In any case, the second photo shows a fiendishly grinning monk, identity and purpose unknown, outside the main temple in Deyu Village.

"I Hate 'Big Brother'": The Daily Kanji

Police in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, say they have arrested a minor suspected of damaging police direct-dial emergency telephones and vending machines installed with anti-theft sensors. The 19-year-old has reportedly freely admitted to the crimes, which occurred near railway stations and bicycle parking areas in the city. Vending machines, whose Japanese name, 自動販売機 (jidouhanbaiki), literally means self (自;ji) moving (動;dou) vending (販売; hanbai) machine (機; ki), are ubiquitious in Japan and sell everything from beverages (soft drinks, canned coffee, energy drinks, as well as alcohol) to rice and cigarettes, and (or so I'm told), in major metropolitan areas, the foregoing as well as women's undergarments (New?, Pre-owned?) and stag beetles. The machines have become increasingly sophisticated, with new models equipped with cameras and sensors to prevent the purchase of booze and smokes by minors, as well as other crimes. According to police, the young man, a truck driver, says he objected to the devices, emblems of an Orwellian surveillance society. As for the kanji 動, which denotes movement, it is used in the compounds 動物 (doubutsu; moving thing, or animal) and 自動車 (jidousha; self-moving vehicle, or automobile). Finally, when the radical for person is placed first, the resulting character means "to work or labor": 働く (hataraku).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Shrine to Inari, the Shinto Rice God

Inari is the Shinto rice god, and the fox is the god's familiar. Inari is one of the most popular gods in the Shinto pantheon, and Inari shrines number in the tens of thousands. Inari is believed capable of granting success in matters as diverse as business pursuits and school exams. The Irifune Inari Shrine, pictured above, is located in central Niigata City. Its annual summer festival will be held July 8-10 this year. If you're in the area, the shrine is worth a visit.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Daily Kanji: 古

The character 古 means "old". Its most common Japanese reading, or kun-yomi, is ふるい ( furui) ; in kanji, with the grammatical ending, it is rendered 古い. The sentence 私の車は古い (My car is old) employs this reading. In compounds with other kanji the character usually adopts the Chinese reading, or on-yomi. The latter is "ko", or こ in hiragana, and consequently the reading for the compounds of which it appears is most often "ko". Some common compounds pronounced "ko"are:

湖- lake
固- hard, firm
個- individual
故- old, reason

Knowing that the pronunciation of such compounds is "ko" will help you to search for their meaning in Japanese or romanized dictionaries.

When the character retains its Japanese reading in compounds, the "i" is dropped, as in 古里, "furusato" (hometown, historic village); 古紙 "furugami" (old paper); and one of my favorites, 古臭い "furukusa(i)", literally "old and smelly" but meaning "old-fashioned; hackneyed, trite".