You’ve got to really “stick” it in?

連木で腹を切る
(Rengi de hara wo kiru; “To cut one’s belly with a wooden pestle”)

Definition:

An impossible event or task. By extension, attempting to achieve the impossible. Attempting a task that is as daunting as slicing one’s belly open with an object as soft, blunt, and rounded as a wooden pestle in place of a suitable tool like a blade.

Breakdown:

This is a pretty basic sentence. You’ve got the noun (hara), “belly,” which the particle (wo) marks as the direct object of the verb 切る (kiru), “to cut,” which appears in sentence-final form. The particle (de) marks the means by which the verb is performed – in this case, the noun 連木 (rengi). Note that 連木, not a common word, is often used to refer to a row of wooden crossbeams or posts (as in the photo below). In this case, however, it is the word in Kansai dialect for what is now more commonly known as a 擂粉木 (surikogi), a wooden pestle.

machikenpro-rengis

The kind of 連木 that this saying is NOT about. [Source]

Notes:

For those unfamiliar with the terms: a mortar is a bowl for grinding things in, and a pestle is the rounded rod used to smash or grind the mortar’s contents. In Slavic folklore, the Baba Yaga is sometimes portrayed as flying through the air riding in a mortar which she “rows” with a broom and/or pestle.

This saying is the entry of the Kyoto and Osaka iroha karuta sets, where it appears without the particle を – an acceptable alternative form.

Example sentence:

「今晩精一杯頑張って、明日ちゃんと宿題を出しなさい。連木で腹を切るほど難しくないはずだよ」

(“Konban sei ippai ganbatte, ashita chanto shukudai wo dashinasai. Rengi de hara wo kiru hodo muzukashikunai hazu da yo.”)

[“Work as hard as you can tonight, and turn in your homework tomorrow like you’re supposed to. It’s not impossible.”]

bymortarpestle

From Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, issue #38, “The Hunt.” Gaiman seems to have liked Baba Yaga, because this isn’t the only time she shows up in his stuff.

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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