Fly me home, country winds

(Ecchou nanshi ni sukui, koba hokufuu ni inanaku;
“The bird from Yue builds its nest in southern branches;
the horse from Hu neighs at the northern wind”)


An expression of homesickness or nostalgia. A southern bird living in the north will (supposedly) build its nest in the southern branches of a tree; a horse from the northern steppes will recognize the northern winds and give voice; so too will a human respond to things that remind them of their hometown or childhood.


This saying is composed of two parallel independent clauses. The first begins with proper noun 越 (Yue, Japanese Etsu), a state that existed in the southeast of what is now China, over 2300 years ago. This proper noun compounds with and modifies the noun 鳥 (here chou), “bird.” This compound noun is not followed by any particles, but acts as the subject of the clause. Next we find the location particle に (ni) marking a compound comprising direction noun 南 (here nan), “south,” and 枝 (here shi), “branch.” The verb performed in this location is 巣くう (sukuu), “to build a nest,” appearing in conjunctive form in order to attach to the latter half of the phrase.

Following the same pattern, the second clause begins with the proper noun 胡 (Hu, Japanese Ko), a generic term for people living to the north and northwest, including various Mongolian and Turkic peoples and the Xiongnu. Little wonder, then, that the noun compounded with and modified by 胡 is 馬 (here ba), “horse.” This time, the following compound noun comprises direction 北 (here hoku), “north” and noun 風 (fuu), “wind.” The final verb is 嘶く (inanaku), “to neigh,” in conclusive form, and this time I’m parsing the particle に (ni) as a sort of directional marker; the north wind is something that the horse neighs in response to. (One could also read it as a marker for time; “when the north wind [blows].”)


This imagery comes to us from a poem in the Wen Xuan (in Japanese『文選』= Monzen), a Chinese literary anthology from the third decade of the 6th century CE; its origins in Chinese antiquity explain why so much of the phrase itself uses Chinese-style readings.

Note that the phrase may be shortened by dropping the bird and only using the horse part; it may be further compacted into either of a pair of four-character compounds: 越鳥南枝 (ecchou nanshi) or 胡馬北風 (koba hokufuu).

Example sentence:


(“Koba ga hokufuu ni inanaku you ni, boku mo jikka wo dete kara furusato, iya, shuu de sura natsukashiku natte kimashita.”)

[“Like the northern horse that neighs at northern winds, since leaving my parents’ home I too have started thinking fondly of my hometown – no, of the entire state.”]

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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