Busy lake

(Yes, I know that that would actually be ビジー)


Literally: beautiful – word – lovely – phrase

Alternately: Pretty turns of speech. Flowery phrasing. Artful rhetoric. As with previous post-fodder 外交辞令, there’s an implication of speech that is pleasing on the surface but hollow underneath. And while that phrase can also refer to tact or diplomacy, 美辞麗句 is almost always used critically, of someone who mouths insincere platitudes with an ulterior motive in their heart.

Not sure what the Xes on the hat are supposed to mean, if anything.

There’s a blogger out there who really doesn’t like Abe’s policies.

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Some Kind of Progress

It’s a small thing, in the grand scheme of… well, of things. But I can’t help but find it encouraging that over the course of approximately my lifetime, tabletop role-playing games have gone from a hyper-niche hobby for the nerdy sons of suburban families – and the target of a genuine moral panic over “demonology” – to a recognized form of play for anybody at all, across any and all walks of life, that genuinely helps people grow and develop as human beings… and is gaining recognition for being able to do so.

First, just for a sense of how crazy the early response was to this imagination game, here’s a convenient NYT retrospective, with focus on the “Satanic panic”:

But mostly what’s inspired me is an article from, of all things, a little local-news rag out in Seattle (which I’ve never really been to). Their blog has articles about local politics, fluff pieces what their writers had for breakfast, an extensive roundups of upcoming events and the Seattle music scene. The last thing I expected was a piece about how teachers at a girls’ middle school had turned Dungeons and Dragons from a tentative club to a whole series of interconnected activities and even a class, but here we are:


This gives me a spark of hope for the future. The article points to the good that can be done with TTRPGs. And while the field has dramatically expanded from what it was in the 1970s (just wait until these kids get their hands on some GMless storytelling games!), it feels like there’s lots of space for it to grow in ways that we can barely imagine right now.

Just off the top of my head: if D&D as-is can be used as the backbone for a class, what happens when smart, creative people start purposefully trying to design an RPG so that it both feeds on and supports a more comprehensive learning experience? There’s a lot of potential for fields such as history, at the very least. I just hope that I get to see some of that potential realized during the course of approximately my lifetime.

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Worse than the Hounds of Tindalos

(Bonnou no inu wa oedomo sarazu;
“Even if you drive out the hounds of earthly urges, they don’t go away”)


Earthly desires will remain with you even if, and no matter how many times, you suppress them. The fight against one’s own dark side can only be won temporarily, on a case-by-case basis, rather than won once and for all in some sort of climactic battle. A dog that’s fixated on you may be chased away, but still come back as soon as your back is turned or your guard is down. All the more so for the negative emotions that stand between humanity and the Buddhist goal of detached enlightenment.


We begin with the noun 煩悩 (bonnou), “worldly desires,” “negative emotions,” or in Buddhist terms, klesha. The associative particle の (no) attaches this to and modifies the noun 犬 (inu), “dog,” which in turn is marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion. The comment about this dog comprises two verbs. The first is 追う (ou), “to chase after” or “to drive out,” in perfective form and taking the concessive particle ど (do), “even though,” intensified by the emphatic particle も (mo). The second is 去る (saru), “to go away,” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form.


The saying may be shortened to just the noun phrase 煩悩の犬, or the 追う may be replaced with 打つ (utsu), “to strike,” to give 打てども (utedomo), “even if you beat ~.”

This saying apparently comes from an early-Edo-period collection of linked verse called 世話尽 (Sewa tsukushi), compiled by a priest called 皆虚 (Kaikyo).

Example sentence:


(“Hito wo nikumanai to kokoro no naka de chikatteita keredo, daigaku jidai no raibaru wo miru to, bonnou no inu wa oedomo sarazu, kazukazu iya na koto wo omoidashi, jibun de mo bikkuri suru hodo hara ga tatsu.”)

[“I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t hate anybody, but when I see my rival from my college days… the hounds of klesha return even when driven away. I remember a huge number of unpleasant things and get mad.”]

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Not a vital value: 味

(I kid, I kid.)


Literally: harmony – respect – purity – silence / loneliness

Alternately: A term from tea ceremony (茶道, sadou). The host and guests (are supposed to) create a pure (清) and tranquil (寂) atmosphere within the tea-room by opening themselves to each other (和) in mutual respect (敬).

Notes: This yojijukugo supposedly comes to us straight from the tea-master himself, Sen no Rikyū (千利休), who considered its elements to be the very soul of “the way of tea.”

That said, I mostly chose it because it contains 和, as a complement to last week’s post in recognition of the upcoming new era name 令和 (Reiwa).

There’s obviously a huge amount of nuance that I’m glossing over here; reader comments with clarifications or corrections are welcome.

Tea ceremony workshop

From this fluff piece on the Skylark Times site

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Neither the long nor the short of it

(Obi ni mijikashi tasuki ni nagashi; “Short for a belt, long for a sleeve-strap”)


In a midway state that precludes value that might be found at either extreme. Like a strip of cloth that is too short to be used as an obi-style belt but too long to be used as a strap for securing the sleeves of a traditional Japanese garment. Neither X enough nor Y enough to be useful.


This saying comprises paired parallel phrases. Each begins with a noun, marked by the particle に (ni) as being the target “to” or “for” which something else (the cloth in question) could in theory be applied through some unnamed verb. Finally, each phrase ends in an adjective, with the implication that the cloth is “too” adjective for the noun in question.

In the first iteration, the noun is 帯 (obi), any of a variety of cloth-based traditional garments wrapped around the waist and knotted in order to hold the rest of one’s clothing in place, and the adjective is 短し (mijikashi), “short,” in conclusive form. In the second, the noun is 襷 (tasuki), a cord or strap passed over the shoulders to hold the dangling ends of traditional sleeves out of the way, and the adjective is 長し (nagashi), “long,” also in conclusive form.


It may seem odd for something to be too short for a mere belt yet too long to loop around both shoulders, but my guess is that this is because Japanese obi, at least certain designs, tend to be wrapped around the body multiple times before being tied off, sometimes in huge elaborate knots.

The character for tasuki is rare and complicated, and so in some cases the word may be written out in hiragana. But what is a tasuki?

Technically, it’s not a super-specialized thing: any old string, cord, or strip of cloth that you tie over your shoulders to hold your long kimono sleeves out of the way in preparation for work or battle technically becomes a tasuki as soon as it’s put to that use.

It’s that white strip.

Example sentence:


(“Shirouto ni wa kono sofuto no yuuzaa intaafeesu wa fukuzatsu sugite, puro ni wa mono tarinasa sugiru. Zannen dakedo, obi ni mijikashi tasuki ni nagashi de tsukaenai nda.”)

[“This software’s UI is too complicated for a beginner, and too lacking for a pro. It’s a shame, but it’s too middling to be useful.”]

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In honor of the coming era


Literally: outside – mix – word – decree

Alternately: Tact and flattery. Phrasing a message to most please the listener, or going out of your way to praise and compliment them, without any sincere intent beyond the desire to get on their good side. At best, this refers to diplomatic turns of phrase; at worst, to shameless brown-nosing.

Notes: Synonymous phrases include the closely-related 社交辞令 (replacing 外 with 社, sha, “association”), and the language-centric 美辞麗句 (bi ji rei ku).

This one isn’t intended to be deeply significant – although a little more tact and consideration for others certainly wouldn’t hurt our current public discourse – other than that the new era name will be 令和 and this compound uses 令.

Me 'n the posse rustlin' up some CAREFUL PLEASING WORDS

Image search results included this generic “diplomat”

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Long before Tezuka or Dazai

(Tazan no ishi motte tama wo osamu beshi;
“One must polish one’s jewels with stones from other mountains.”)


A command to take someone else’s mistakes as an opportunity to reflect on and improve your own ways. “One must learn from the mistakes of others.” Just as polishing a gem requires other rocks to act as whetstones, so does the refinement of one’s own skills and character require reference to the foibles, sins, and foolishness of others.


We begin, slightly into the sentence, with the noun 石 (ishi), “stone.” The particle の (no) associates it with the noun 他山 (tazan), “(an)other mountain.” The direct-object marker is absent here, but assumed, and the action performed upon the stone has taken the form 以て (motte; note the geminate T), “by means of.” (More on that below.) The verb performed by means of the other-mountain stone is 攻む (osamu), in this case “to polish” or “to manufacture.” This appears in conclusive form and is followed by adjective-as-helper particle べし (beshi), “should,” “must,” in sentence-final form.

Keen observers may notice that 以て looks and acts and awful lot like a verb. This is because it is! The verb is 以つ (motsu), in conjunctive form and followed by the particle つ (tsu), also in conjunctive form. The resulting structure is 以ちて (mochite) and as time passed, this was slurred and reduced to the motte that we know today.


Because the nuance is specifically of learning from someone else’s flaws and failures, it’s considered an error to use this phrase to refer to learning from a boss or social superior, or even a teacher. Interestingly, it’s also considered incorrect to use it for situations that one doesn’t have a personal connection to – somebody you know, or a situation that impacts your life, can produce 他山の石; something that you merely read about in the news apparently cannot.

Compare and contrast with 反面教師.

This phrase may be shortened to 他山の石, or even rendered into a sort of four-character compound as 他山之石; there is no change in pronunciation or meaning.

As the grammar and word choice suggest, this one’s got some pretty antique origins – specifically, the “Lesser Court Hymns” (小雅, in Japanese shouga) section of the Classic of Poetry (詩経, in Japanese Shikyou), a relatively familiar friend.

Although it doesn’t seem to be the usage in this saying, 他山 can also mean “another temple,” presumably by extension and as a result of the tendency of Buddhist temples to distance themselves from civilian life, and each other, by being sited partway up unclaimed mountain slopes.

Example sentence:


(“Hito no koto wo baka ni shicha ikenai yo. Tazan no ishi motte tama wo osamu beku, hito no ayamachi wo kyakkanteki ni mite benkyou shiyou.”)

[“You shouldn’t just make fun of people! You should learn through objective observation of their mistakes, of a mind that the faults of others are good teachers.”]

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