All ties weird and wonderful

A red thread binds them all?

縁は異なもの味なもの
(En wa i na mono aji na mono;
A relationship is a strange thing, a wondrous thing”)

Definition:

The ties that bind two people together are mysterious, inexplicable, and often pleasantly weird. This phrase may especially be brought out to comment on a romantic relationship that people wouldn’t have anticipated.

Much of the literature assumes that the relationship in question is a romantic one between a man and a woman, and some sources even goes out of their way to stress that this saying is mistaken when applied to same-sex friendships (assumed to be platonic). But modern usage has broadened and this saying may now be used to describe romantic same-sex matches.

Breakdown:

We begin with the particle は (wa) marking the topic of discussion: the noun 縁 (en). In some cases this character can refer to an edge, such as the “veranda” running around a traditional estate house (as seen in 縁の下の舞). By extension, it can also refer to a relationship, including the individual’s relationship with the Buddha himself. But in this case, it refers to a relationship born of fate, or destiny, that binds two people, especially in marriage – or to the “chance meeting” that happened to bring them together.

What follows, to comment on the topic of this “fated link,” is a doubled noun phrase. Each phrase begins with a noun and ends in もの (mono), “thing,” joined by the particle な (na) to show that the initial noun is acting as an adjective, describing the “thing” that 縁 is. The first such noun is 異 (i, pronounced to rhyme with “fee”), often “different” but in this case meaning “strange”; the second is 味 (aji), often “flavor” but in this case meaning “strange” again, with a nuance of being appealing in some way.

Notes:

This is the ゑ (defunct character ye) entry of the Edo iroha karuta set. Apparently it comes from a 1707 joururi play titled 『丹波与作待夜の小室節』 (Tannobayo sakumatsuyo no komurobushi) by famed dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門), whom we’ve met before.

Condensed versions of the saying may eliminate the repetition: simply 縁は異なもの or 縁は味なもの, perhaps depending on which aspect you want to emphasize. And 縁 may be read enishi without any change in meaning. But replacing 異 with 奇 (ki, “strange”), despite its somewhat similar pronunciation and meaning, is considered an error.

Example sentence:

「クソ真面目なチェスサークルの部長の彼女と、太鼓のプロになりたがっている彼がまさか付き合うなんて誰も思いもしなかったけど、まあ、縁は異なものだよね」

(“Kuso-majime na chesu saakuru no buchou no kanojo to, taiko puro ni naritagatteiru kare ga masaka tsukiau nante dare mo omoi mo shinakatta kedo, maa, en wa i na mono da yo ne.”)

[“She’s painfully straightlaced, and captain of the chess club, and he wants to be a professional taiko player. Nobody would have ever thought that they’d end up going out but, well, the ties that bind are mysterious things.”]

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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