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Old 04-08-2007, 05:58 AM
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Default A Foreigners Guide to the Lands of the Sunrise - Overview, Introductions and Dialects

The following are the sideline, historical notes to "29th day of Kisaragi, in the 1st year of Bunki - A foreigners guide to the Lands of the Sunrise", posted on the Samurai's Blog at Meitochi.com (Got Tatsu?). The guide tells the tale of the journey's of a man we know only as
Jōjin no Ryūkyū, a satunushi pēchin living in exile in the court of Shimuzu Sanehisa, Daimyo of Satsuma Province. Loyal to the Ming Empire in China, he is writing all that he has learned of Japan so that the Chinese rulers will have up to date intelligence for the turbulent years ahead.

The 10 of January 1501, or the 29th day of Kisaragi in the 1st year of Bunki is the day that Emperor Go-Kashiwara formally ascended the throne of Japan. To mark the occasion, the era date changed from Meiō to Bunki. (Thanks to NengoCalc and “Ieyasu (1542-1616) versus Ieyasu (1543-1616) Calendrical Conversion Tables for the 16th and 17th centuries by Jose Miguel Pinto dos Santos, Bulletin of Portuguese/ Japanese Studies, December, Vol. 5)

A li is a Chinese measurement in use at the time. It is approximately 500 meters in length. Notes on geography will appear in later instalments.

Dialects can be broken down in to various classes and do bear a look. A language like Japanese functions on a whole different level to ours. For instance, imagine a spelling mistake in kanji. You are not just masplacing a letter, a single stroke can alter the whole meaning of a sentence.

Following are the characteristics of those written about and and a few extra, some of which won’t exist during the Tatsumaki time frame.

Tokyo-ben is the tongue of the Eddoko, the true son of Tokyo, “born in Kanda and raised in Shiba”. A marked trait of the dialect is the changing of ai to ei in certain verbs (ikanai be comes ikanei) and ae to ei or e in certain nouns (omae becomes ome). Edo did not exist as a city until the end of the 16th century.

Osaka-ben (Naniwa in the 16th century) also uses bon-bon for a small son, usually of a well to do family. Koisan and o-iohan are both used for ohosan or daughter. A phonetic trait is the substitution of the sound h for s in verbs, and so you get omahen or arimahan for arimasen and ikaremahen for ikaemasen.

The Kyo-onna of Kyoto it was posted in the blog, speak in soft, lisping words. Desu becomes Dosu, the final u clearly enunciated. When asking ones pardon they say “Kitsu-kitsu kannin dosse" instead of "Hōnto ni gomen nasai".

Kansai-ben examples are onago for onno (woman), mamushi for unaji (eel) and murasaki for shōyu (soy sauce).

Zūzū-ben is characterised by the replacement of the syllable shi with zu, as in zumbun for shimbun (newspaper) and zassu for zasshi (magazine).

Examples of the namari (another word for dialect) of Kagoshima prefecture: one says omansa for you, oidon for I, yoko ogoisa for pretty girl, and yoka nisedon for handsome man. And yoka nisedonna omansa o jirojiro mitondo means “That handsome man is staring at you”.

Around the Usui Tōge (Usai Pass) of Honshū, when one meets an acquaintance in the evening, one uses the greeting Kutta ka ya? (Have you eaten?) instead of Komban wa (Good evening). A person in pitiable condition there can be described as oyake nai from oya ga nai, meaning “to have no parents”.

In Hakata-ben, when calling out to someone, you would say “ano kusa” instead of “ano ne” and will substitute ka for the final i in many adjectives eg: samuka for samui, atsuka for atsui etc.

So we can see the three classes here: a) Characteristic alterations in pronunciation, eg: nei for nai in Tokyo-ben, arimahen for arimasen in Osaka-ben. b) substitution for entirely different words for standard words eg: oidon for watakushi in Kagoshima-ben, and hokko for baka in Kagawa-ben, and c) contraction or elongation of standard words eg: wa for watakushi in the dialect of Sannohe district of Aomori and samuka for samui in Fukuoka.

Many thanks and apologies to Jack Seward, author of Japanese in Action

Fujimoto Tessiki – a fictional character to be sure. However he came to life from my copy of “The Status System and Social Organisation of Satsuma: A translation of the “Shūmon tefuda aratame jōmoku” (Regulations for the Investigation of Religious Sects and Identification Tags). Section XXIV: Regulations on the inspections of tags of kengo, eta and angya, Paragraph 4, makes mention of:

“As to Fujimoto Hikoroku, the myōzu of the eta community of Kamiemura in Iino district, his ancestors were granted the surname of Fujimoto because they rendered specially meritorious service to the daimyo. However, the use of the surname was discontinued. Now, upon petition and by special consideration of the daimyo, he and his heirs for two generations shall be granted the use of the surname and the privilege of stamping the seal upright on their tags, as ordered in the twelfth month, eleventh year of Tempō (1840)”
There is also the story (legend maybe) about the eta who was the Imperial bootmaker (an eta trade as it meant dealing with animal hides, certainly a Buddhist no-no.) who was granted noble status from the second he walked into the palace at the start of the day until the second he left at the end of the day, just so that he could be raised above untouchable to a level sufficient enough to touch the Imperial feet without contaminating them.

A little search on Google did turn up a Fujimoto of Satsuma who had died in defence of pro-Imperialism in the 17th or 18th century. So I made a little leap and we have the Fujimoto Ninja Clan of Satsuma.


The thing about introductions in Japan is that the introducing party, is tacitly accepting responsibility for the future actions of the two people being introduced towards each other. If you introduce Aoki and Ushiyama at a party, and Ushiyama runs off with Aoki’s wife, Aoki may well demand that you correct the situation (unless he is happy with the chain of events.) Whenever a Japanese person is wronged, there is a natural inclination to take his complaint to the person who introduced him to the one who did the foul deed rather than speak legal redress. This explained why in the 60’s, there was only 1 lawyer to ever 830 Americans but only 1 lawyer per 14,000 Japanese.

The other problem with introductions in Japan lends itself to some more interesting cultural practices. Japan, as most people are aware, is a very polite place. In fact it only appears that way to foreigners, and there is plenty of rudeness to go around. There are four levels of polite in Japan – impolite (or abrupt), familiar, polite and extremely polite.

Extremely polite speech, or kego, is perhaps better described as court speech. It includes any conversation that one has with a member of the Imperial family.

For the sake of simplification and discussion, impolite and familiar can be grouped together under nonpolite speech and leaving then polite speech. The main differences between the two groups are found in personal pronouns, verbs and assorted verbal constructions, honorific prefixes, and certain words for relatives, home, employer, and so forth.

Before you wonder why I’m going on about this, it is important to understand as a most likely English speaker, and most likely our only language. The idea of polite and nonpolite speech and having to actually know when and where to use it seems silly to us. We talk the way we talk. But think about it – to us, there is only one word for you. In Japanese however, instead of one, you could have anata, kimi, omae, kiden, kisama and otaku. Instead of one word for “I”, you can have boku, ore, sessha, uchi, kotchi, or kochira. And it doesn’t stop there. Look up temae: it means both “you” AND “I”.

At the end of the day, the choice on which word to use depends on the speakers relationship to or position towards his audience or the person about they are talking. In Japan, very few people are considered exactly equal. To be so would require the unlikely coincidence of having been born at the same time, having the same education, being from families of nearly identical means and reputation, having the same position in companies or government officers of similar importance, and so on. So it follows that all Japanese have to talk up or down to other Japanese – never as equals, something we take for granted.

So, a man might refer to his wife or his maid servant as omae, leaving no doubt where she stands in relation to him. His wife might refer to him as anata, but seldom by name as that would show to much familiarity. A maid should not address her employer by any personal pronoun or even by name. Properly, she should call the wife of the house “Okusama” (Honourable Interior) and the man Danna-sama (Honourable Master). If a man brushes rudely against you in the inn, you may feel justified in expressing your antagonism towards him by calling him kisama, but if you do, stand ready for a brawl.

This brings us to business cards (meishi) and more importantly to us in Tatsumaki, letters of introduction (shōkai-jō) is that they enable one person to know how to speak to another socially. When meeting a person, one needs to know, in addition to such visible differences as age and mode of dress, such other details as position and clan or family affiliation, and the extent, if any, of one’s pre-meeting indebtedness, incurred through, for instance, favours extended to friends and relatives. This information is generally provided by the introducer or the letter of introduction. And what is this doesn’t happen? It does at times, but its not easy. You cannot afford to be too curt for fear that the father of the young man touching his forelock before you may have befriended a member of his own family in the past. On the other hand, you cannot just speak politely to everyone, since you’d look like a fool if you spoke politely to the same man who turned our to be your scullery maids country cousin come to Kyoto to humble beg assistance in finding employment.

So the only sane course is to avoid unexpected meetings with strangers and to somehow learn the essential facts about persons to who you expect to be introduced.

Again thankyous and apologies to Jack Seward, author of Japanese in Action.
Next instalment – Japanese Social Structure!

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.
Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Geshin

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