Like a dash of cold water

年寄りの冷や水
(Toshiyori no hiyamizu; “Cold water for the elderly”)

Definition:

This phrase describes a situation in which an elderly person is doing something more aggressive or showy, or even dangerous, than is appropriate for their physical condition. The image is of someone sufficiently advanced in years that they have lost some of their resistance to the cold, who nonetheless insists on bathing in, or even (gasp) drinking*, water that isn’t heated.

Breakdown:

This relatively simple noun phrase centers on its final character, the noun 水 (mizu), “water.” This is preceded by the transitive verb 冷やす (hiyasu), “to chill [something],” in prenominal form.

Going back to the beginning, we find the noun 年 (toshi), “year.” This is followed by, and compounded with, the intransitive verb 寄る (yoru), “to approach,” or “to gather together,” also in prenominal form and acting as a noun. The compound 年寄り, perhaps prefixed with an お (o), is a polite term for “the elderly.” These two noun phrases are joined by the associative particle の (no).

Notes:

Related phrases expand the list of things that old people shouldn’t do to include tree-climbing (木登り = kinobori), walking around outdoors at night (夜歩き = yoaruki), and boasting of one’s strength (力自慢 = chikarajiman). Closer to home, hiyamizu may be written as 冷水, without the intervening kana, without any change in meaning or pronunciation.

This is the to entry in the Edo iroha karuta set. It is attributed to a kabuki play titled 『善悪両面児手柏』 (Zen’aku ryoumen konote gashiwa).

* Multiple sources call out cold water as bad for drinking – and I made fun of this, above – but there is at least hypothetically a logical explanation: one source claims that the “cold water” in question was water taken from the Sumida River during the Edo period. Untreated water (especially from an urban waterway that contains a nontrivial amount of human waste, industrial waste, and garbage) can make you very sick, after all. While it was believed that water from the middle of the river was harmless, and young people could drink it without obvious harm, elders with relatively weak immune systems were in fact encouraged to boil the water first rather than using it “cold.”

Example sentence:

「あの九十二歳のおばあさんがフルマラソンを走ってるのを見て、年寄りの冷や水だと思って不安になったけど、なんと、おばあさんが俺より速くゴールに着いて元気そうでびっくりした」

(“Ano kyuujuunisai no obaasan ga furumarason wo hashitteru no wo mite, toshiyori no hiyamizu da to omotte fuan ni natta kedo, nanto, obaasan ga ore yori hayaku gooru ni tsuite genkisou de bikkuri shita.”)

[“I saw that 92-year-old woman running the marathon and it made me worry; I thought it was too much for someone her age. But, I mean, she finished more quickly than I did, and was still full of energy; it was quite a shock.”]

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As clean and pure as burnished bronze

Yes, bronze is an alloy. You know what I mean.

清廉潔白
sei.ren.ke-.ppaku

Literally: pure – pure – clean – white

Alternately: Someone’s heart and mind – and their actions in the material world! – are unselfish and fair, moral and ethical. Working to do good for good reasons; having nothing to be ashamed of.

Notes: It’s a state that I wish more people out there in the world at least aspired to, rather than looking for ways to attack and smear it in order to avoid the pain of self-improvement.

Yes, patina is oxidation, which is another form of "impurity," and is green rather than white. We're talking about the guy, not the statue.

Our old friend 弘法! I’m sure he had a lot of human flaws, but… well, it is at least nice to have good ideals.

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What part of the law is this possession?

正直の頭に神宿る
(Shoujiki no koube ni kami yadoru;
“A god dwells in the head of the honest”)

Definition:

Honesty is the best policy. A benevolent spirit will protect, inspire, even possess those who are honest in their dealings. Note that here “honesty” seems to stand in contrast with “cheating” or “trickery” rather than simply with “lying.” The exhortation is to be fair and straightforward in all your interactions with others.

Breakdown:

We begin four characters in with 頭 (here pronounced koube), “head.” The associative particle の (no) indicates that the head “belongs to” the noun 正直 (shoujiki), “honesty,” or by extension “an honest person.” This noun phrase is marked by the particle に (ni) as the location of the verb 宿る (yadoru), “to stay in,” which appears in conclusive form. While any further particles are elided, this verb takes as its subject the noun 神 (kami), “spirit,” “divinity.”

Notes:

Many students of Japanese will want to read 頭 as atama, but 頭 – and to an extent 首, which is semi-interchangeable – have had many readings over the years including kashira, kabu, kubi, and koube, which seems to be associated with the Heian era. (This said, though, bear in mind that phonetic similarity doesn’t necessarily mean that the above readings are variations on a theme; it’s thought that they have distinct etymologies.)

There are a number of variants and synonyms for this phrase. One makes the person explicit instead of rendering them as just a head by declaring that 正直者に神宿る, where 正直者 is shoujikimono, “an honest person,” another rearranges the word order with 神は正直の頭に宿る, moving the “god” to the front and making it the topic with particle は (wa).

Example sentence:

正直の頭に神宿ると言うし、嘘偽りの無い生活を送ろうと頑張ってるけど、汚職やら詐欺やらあるから…何と言うか、正直な社会にもなって欲しい」

(Shoujiki no koube ni kami yadoru to iu shi, uso itsuwari no nai seikatsu wo okurou to ganbatteru kedo, oshoku yara sagi yara aru kara… nan to iu ka, shoujiki na shakai ni mo natte hoshii.”)

[“The gods help an honest person, as they say, so I’m doing my best to live a life free of lies and deception. But there’s still corruption and scams, so… how should I put it? I’d like an honest society.”]

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The preeminent hobby of the times

Only in small part due to the weather, sadly.

蟄居屏息
chi-.kkyo.hei.soku

Literally: “hibernation of insects” – exist; reside – fence – breath

Alternately: Staying indoors and keeping quiet. Waiting inside with bated breath.

Notes: This was apparently also the name of an Edo era punishment for samurai who had committed certain crimes; essentially, house arrest.

I'm a little concerned about the white things scattered around

Now imagine a blizzard outside

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Keep in mind for next year

Seriously, try to avoid travel during a pandemic, even if it’s for love.

惚れて通えば千里も一理
(Horete kayoeba senri mo ichiri;
“If you travel while in love, even a thousand ri feel like one.”)

Definition:

If you’re traveling to meet with someone you love, then even the longest road feels short; even a thousand-ri trip would feel like a brief stroll. More broadly, we gladly do things for those we love without care, where otherwise it might feel like going to a significant amount of trouble.

Breakdown:

We begin with the verb 惚れる (horeru), “to fall in love (with),” in conjunctive form and followed by the verb 通う (kayou), “to commute,” in conditional form (or if you will, in perfective form and taking the conditional suffix ば, ba). The next clause begins with number-noun 千里 (senri), “one thousand ri,” with the emphatic particle も (mo). Last comes the number-noun 一理 (ichiri), “one ri,” with anything else elided.

Notes:

My sources tell me that this comes from a “popular song” (俗謡, zokuyou), although details such as its name (if it had one) or even the time period of its origin remain unclear. However, they do note that the song continues 逢わずに戻ればまた千里 (awazu ni modoreba mata senri, “but it’s another thousand ri if you can’t meet and have to go home again.” Yikes.

Example sentence:

「あの人は作家志望だって知ってたけど、私のために叙事詩まで書いてくれるなんて意外、というか、なんか信じられない。本当に惚れて通えば千里も一里みたいだね」

(“Ano hito wa sakka shibou datte shitteta kedo, watashi no tame ni jojishi made kaite kureru nante igai, to iu ka, nanka shinjirarenai. Hontou ni horete kayoeba senri mo ichiri mitai da ne.”)

[“I knew they wanted to be an author, but it caught me off guard that – or maybe, I kind of can’t believe that – they’d go and write a whole epic poem for me. I guess it’s true that love makes all tasks lighter.”]

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My friend Dan

一致団結
i-.cchi.dan.ketsu

Literally: one – do – group – bind / join

Alternately: Many people joining and working together for a common cause.

Notes: This is a compound of compounds. 一致 is “agreement,” “union,” while 団結 is “grouping together,” “teaming up.”

Cute candy arrangement or terrifying cult? YOU DECIDE!

Band together! Drive out the aphids!

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It’s a new wind, so blow no ill

明日は明日の風が吹く
(Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku;
“Tomorrow, tomorrow’s wind will blow.”)

Definition:

Things might be bad today, but tomorrow could well be better, so don’t let it get you in a funk. Alternately: you don’t know what the future may hold, so helpless anxiety on the assumption that it will be bad doesn’t do you any good. In either case – whatever will be, will be, and it doesn’t do you any good to just sit and worry.

This is not a happy-go-lucky declaration that we should assume the best and let the chips fall where they may,  of course. It’s still good to plan ahead and prepare for what may come. The point is rather that fretting or pessimistic rumination are also harmful.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 明日 (ashita), “tomorrow,” marked as the topic of discussion by the particle は (wa). The comment on this topic begins with another 明日, marked by the associative particle の (no) as connected to and modifying the noun 風 (kaze), “wind.” This is marked by the particle が (ga) as the subject of the verb 吹く (fuku), “to blow,” which appears in conclusive form.

Notes:

明日 may also be read as asu without any change in meaning. This phrase is close to, or synonymous with, a number of other phrases, including one asserting that events tomorrow will be protected by tomorrow’s gods, presumably different entities from the gods influencing today: 明日は明日の神が守る (ashita wa ashita no kami ga mamoru).

This saying comes to us from a kabuki play titled 『上総綿小紋単地』 (Kazusa momen komon hitoeji) by Japan’s most prolific playwright, 河竹黙阿弥 (Kawatake Mokuami), whom we’ve heard from before.

Example sentence:

「今日は寝坊しちゃって色々上手くいかなかったからって、そのまま明日もダメになっちゃうかもなんて思い込んじゃダメだよ。明日は明日の風が吹くさ」

(“Kyou wa nebou shichatte iroiro umaku ikanakatta karatte, sono mama ashita mo dame ni nacchau kamo nante omoikonja dame da yo. Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku sa.”)

[“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you slept in today and a bunch of stuff got messed up, that things will go on being messed up tomorrow. It’s a new day, after all.”]

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Lose yourself in the public flats

公平無私
kou.hei.mu.shi

Literally: public – even – no – private

Alternately: Impartial; unprejudiced; unswayed by personal interests. Fair.

Notes: This comes from our friend the Han shi waizhuan (Japanese 『韓詩外伝』 = Kanshi gaiden). It also has an expanded Japanese-style reading, 公平にして私無し (kouhei ni shite watakushi nashi), approximately “being impartial, without self.”

Naturally, writing mushi as homophone 無視 (“ignore”) is an error.

This phrase is considered an antonym of 依怙贔屓, and I have to say that the one is much, much healthier than the other for the general public, on multiple levels.

Saigo-don!

Apparently an attribute of Saigō Takamori, a major player in the Meiji Restoration who helped abolish the old feudal system

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Chopped short by the writer’s block

文は遣りたし書く手は持たず
(Fumi wa yaritashi kakute wa motazu;
“Wanting to send a letter, but lacking the hand to write it”)

Definition:

This phrase expresses a desire to write a letter to someone (especially a family member, close friend, or lover), accompanied by writer’s block arising from a perceived inability to express one’s thoughts adequately in writing. The pain and worry of feeling unable to correspond effectively. May also include the embarrassment-driven inability to ask for someone to write on your behalf.

Breakdown:

We begin with the noun 文 (fumi), “writing,” “letter” (as in snail-mail), with the topic-marker particle は (wa). This particle also overrides the を that might otherwise mark 文 as the direct object of the verb 遣る (yaru), “to do,” “to send,” etc. This appears in conjunctive form and attaches to the adjective たし, which expresses a desire – the ancestor of the modern ~たい verb suffix. This appears in conclusive form and effectively breaks the saying up into two parallel, but not grammatically entwined phrases.

The second half again begins with a noun phrase followed by topic-marker は, so that the two はs also form an explicit contrast. The second noun phrase begins with the verb 書く (kaku), “to write,” in prenominal form, attached to and modifying the noun 手 (te), “hand.” This time the verb that takes this noun phrase, “writing-hand,” as its object is 持つ (motsu), “to have,” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form. For both halves, the writer (or speaker) is themselves the implied subject, as is so often the case in Japanese.

Notes:

Modern orthography will forgive a writer who renders yaritashi all in kana as やりたし; the 遣 character is still in the standard set, but mostly tends to be used in other contexts, such as 派遣 (haken), “dispatch,” rather than in the verb yaru, which itself has taken on a bit of a charged meaning. The final negative suffix may also be rendered as ぬ (nu) without any change in meaning.

This saying is attributed to an Edo-era book of sayings called the 『譬喩尽』 (Tatoe-dzukushi), literally “an exhaustive list of metaphors.” It also appears as the ふ entry in the Edo iroha karuta set.

Example sentence:

「ああああどうしよう、好きな先輩からSMSが来たけど、文は遣りたし書く手は持たぬで完全に行き詰っちゃって、もう丸二日たったのに一言も返事ができてないんだ!」

(“Aaaa dou shiyou, suki na senpai kara SMS ga kita kedo, fumi wa yaritashi kakute wa motanu de kanzen ki yukidzumacchatte, mou maru futsuka tatta no ni hitokoto mo henji ga dekitenai nda!”)

[“ARGH, what should I do? I got a text from that upperclassman I like, but even though I want to write something I don’t know what to say and it’s got me completely blocked. Two whole days have already gone by but I haven’t even sent a single word!”]

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Wrack, wrack, wrack your brains

And your body too! Merrily… ?

意匠惨憺
i.shou.san.tan

Literally: mind – artisan – harsh – calm

Alternately: Doing one’s utmost in an act of creation (especially artistic creation) or design; painstaking attention to detail and agonizing effort for the purpose of devising something good, or to come up with a good way to get something done.

Notes: This is a compound of compounds; 意匠 refers to “design,” while 惨憺, despite the base meaning of its second character, refers to a truly awful situation – or to “taking pains” in a course of action.

憺 may be replaced by related character 澹 without any change in pronunciation or meaning.

As the rare and complicated kanji usage might suggest, this comes from the Chinese literary tradition – specifically from the writings of our friend, Tang-era poet Du Fu (Japanese 杜甫 = To Ho).

But did you realize that this is a cube of sashimi?

You don’t have to like the food, but you do have to appreciate the amount of thought that has gone into its presentation

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