The Scrooge of the Orchard

The Marley of the barley?

吝ん坊の柿の種
(Shiwanbou no kaki no tane;
“The miser’s persimmon seed”)

Definition:

This phrase is used to criticize people who penny-pinch to an unhealthy extreme. The image is of someone so obsessed with never letting anything go that they can’t even bear to part with an essentially worthless iota, such as as a single persimmon seed.

Breakdown:

We begin at the end of this noun phrase with the noun 種 (tane), “seed.” The kind of seed is identified by using associative particle の (no) to connect it to the noun 柿 (kaki), the persimmon (tree). The associative particle の, in its possessive function, gives the persimmon seed to 吝ん坊 (shiwanbou), “miser.” We can further break this word down into adjective 吝い (shiwai), “stingy,” and noun 坊 (bou), which as we saw last week can refer to a person characterized by a specific quality. That said, last week I suggested that the ん (n or m) is inserted for euphony, but further research shows that this is not the case.

Instead, if the preceding element is a noun, ん is thought to be a pronunciation-shifted version of that same associative particle の. If the preceding element is a verb or adjective, it seems to be a pronunciation-shifted version of the helper verb む (mu) expressing a meaning like “the kind of” in an indirect or euphemistic way.

Notes:

This is the し (shi) entry of the Kyoto iroha karuta set. Because the character 吝 is no longer in common usage, shiwanbou may be written as しわん坊. A variant phrase replaces shiwanbou with synonym けちん坊 (kechinbou). Compare and contrast 爪に火を点す.

One of my sources attributes this phrase to an Edo-era text (apparently an illustrated story?) titled 『夜話荘治』 (Yawa souji).

Note that while there is a popular snack in Japan called 柿の種, it’s actually made from rice. Bear in mind that really, any seed is potentially pretty valuable; it’s just that realizing this value can take some time.

Example sentence:

紙切れ一枚すら入る余裕もないほど段ボール箱でいっぱいになった物置を見ていたら、吝ん坊の柿の種とはまさに自分のことだと思って、自己嫌悪に陥った。

(“Kamikire ichimai sura hairu yoyuu mo nai hodo danboorubako de ippai ni natta monooki wo miteitara, shiwanbou no kaki no tane to wa masa ni jibun no koto da to omotte, jikoken’o ni ochiitta.”)

[“As I was looking at my closet, so filled with cardboard boxes that there wasn’t even room to slip in a single scrap of paper, I realized that I was the very image of a miser who hoards every last useless scrap, and I fell into a pit of self-loathing.”]

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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