Like a room without books

Unless it’s a room where books aren’t appropriate. Look, talk to Cicero.

仏作って魂入れず
(Hotoke tsukutte tamashii irezu; “Making a Buddha; leaving out the soul”)

Definition:

Technically finishing something, but leaving out a vital element, even the most important part. Something that seems fine, but is missing a subtle yet important aspect, reducing its use or value. Like creating a Buddha statue but failing to imbue it with the spiritual force befitting a Buddha. Alternately, like creating a Buddha statue without really putting your heart and soul into the work.

Breakdown:

A pithy, particle-free saying comprising two verb phrases, each accompanied by a direct object. First we have (hotoke), “the Buddha,” acted upon by 作る (tsukuru), “to make,” in conjunctive form so that it links to the second phrase. The second is (tamashii), “soul” or “spirit,” acted upon by 入れる (ireru), “to put something into something,” in imperfective form with negative suffix (zu) in sentence-final form.

Notes:

Adding the eyes to a figure is a common metaphor for bringing it to completion or perfection – the same idea can be found with pictures of dragons and Daruma dolls – and some versions of this saying replace with (manako), “eye.” (The source that discusses this also adds the direct-object marker , wo.) Other sources replace with , with essentially no change in pronunciation or meaning.

Example sentence:

「映画を見ている間は、面白いと思ったけれど、今となってはなんか不満ですね。仏作って魂入れず、って訳かな」

(“Eiga wo miteiru aida wa, omoshiroi to omotta keredo, ima to natte wa nanka fuman desu ne. Hotoke tsukutte tamashii irezu, tte wake ka na.”)

[“While watching the movie I thought it was entertaining, but now I feel kind of dissatisfied. Maybe they left out something that would have made it really click.”]

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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