Even Crawling, a Bean

Hello! It’s been a long drought. I’m in grad school, working on a Masters in Japanese and a Certificate (which I think is simply fancy-speak for a minor) in Literary Translation. I spent the past year working as an AI (Assistant Instructor, which is simply the local term for TA), teaching drill sections for first-year Japanese. So things have been pretty busy.

Now the semester had ended, though, and one of my self-imposed goals for the summer is to brush up on my Japanese reading and writing, which has flagged somewhat since I returned to the States. As part of that project, and in order to get more material up on the Land of Nu, I’m thinking of presenting some Japanese kotowaza (sayings, proverbs).

My source, at least at the start, will be the 小学館例解学習ことわざ辞典第二版 (Shougakukan reikai gakushuu kotowaza jiten dainihan, or “Shougakukan study-though-examples proverb dictionary, second edition”). It’s for elementary school kids, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get some useful and interesting phrases out of it!

Today’s selection is one that caught my attention months ago when I picked up and idly flipped through the dictionary one day:

這っても黒豆 (hatte mo kuromame; “even crawling, a bean”)

Definition:

It describes a situation where someone continues to assert something even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Somebody sees a black dot on the floor and insists that it’s simply a black bean – then it begins walking, and must obviously be a beetle or other animal… but they ignore the fact and refuse to admit that it’s anything but a bean. The example may seem overdone or silly, but I’m sure we’ve all seen or even experienced the sort of stubbornness that the phrase calls out.

An online search gives me “A willful man will have his own way” as a translation, but in my opinion that’s a poor rendition. Aside from the sexist phrasing, this rendition implies a certain amount of control over the situation or power over others on the part of the accused; the Japanese version only concerns itself with what people assert.

Breakdown:

這う (ha.uis a verb indicating movement close to the ground. It can be used negatively for groveling or the wriggling of worms and bugs, or more neutrally for “ground-hugging” flight. Its nominalized form can be doubled (はいはい) to describe a baby crawling, and takes on a “cutesy” feel. The -form of the verb and the particle have a concessive function, and the final noun stands in for some longer phrase with a verb. The dictionary suggests ~の強情を張る (~no goujou wo haru; a verb phrase indicating obstinate behavior).

Notes and Usage:

The phrase isn’t terribly common. It seems to have gained some attention in Japan after being used by American expat Arthur Binard in a talk, but in any case the meaning is clear enough and the phrasing is sufficiently kotowazesque that using it isn’t likely to result in any misunderstandings. (Disclaimer: my wife (native Japanese) is of the opinion that going out of one’s way to use a rare saying like this gives a “second-language learner” feel. It’s a bit of a shame, but as with most special or evocative terms it should probably be used sparingly.)

Example sentence:

値段を見せても、彼は「でもスタバのコーヒーの方が安い」と言って、ただ這っても黒豆の強情を張るだけだった。

(Nedan wo misetemo, kare wa “demo sutaba no kohi no hou ga yasui” to itte, tada hatte mo kuromame no goujou wo haru dake datta.)

[Even after I showed him the prices, he still said “But Starbucks coffee is cheaper!” – he just stuck to his guns like someone saying that a black spot that crawled was just a bean.]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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