An irony for many residents of DC

Especially the transients. You know who you are.

(Sumeba miyako; “If you live there, it’s the capital”)


No matter how inconvenient, old, noisy, or just plain bad your residence is, it still feels like you belong there. Once you’re used to a place, it feels easier to live in. “There’s no place like home.”


This very simple phrase begins with the noun 住む (sumu), “to reside,” in perfective form and taking the conditional particle ば (ba), followed by the noun 都 (miyako), “capital city.” That’s it!


Incidentally, you might expect that the final noun there is followed by an elided copula (the “to be” verb). But actually, a number of variants instead use longer, more poetic verb phrases. For example, 住めば都の風が吹く (sumeba miyako no kaze ga fuku), “If you live there, the wind of the capital blows [there].”

You can really see the old myopia of the aristocratic caste here, because all my sources list remoteness as the primary example of the kind of problem that you get accustomed to. This point is driven home more explicitly by holding out “the capital” as the exemplar of a place that’s good to live because it’s the heart of all the economic and cultural activity of the nation as well as the political.

Apparently some people mix this phrase up with 住ば都 (sumaba miyako, “if you live [somewhere then make it] the capital”) and taken it to mean “the only place to live is the capital.” This almost exactly reverses the saying’s intent and is an error.

Apparently this phrase comes to us from Xunzi, a.k.a. Xun Kuang (荀子, Junshi), via the Tale of the Heike (平家物語, Heike monogatari).

Example sentence:


(“Daigaku ni haitte kara zutto sunde kita kono heya wa semakute, samukute, nan to mo ienai hen na nioi mo aru kedo… nande ka hikkoshitakunai na. Sumeba miyako ka.”)

[“This apartment I’ve been living ever since I came to college is cold, and tiny, and it has this indescribably weird smell… but for some reason I don’t want to move out. I guess home is where your stuff is.”]

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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