Sunday, July 31, 2011


Is a husband one who practices husbandry, or is husbandry what a husband engages in? Husband etymologically, as in Old English, meant “master of a house” and in this capacity he also managed the land and the animals on it. This is the basis of the marriage as we know it traditionally. A man took a wife; he acquired her as a retinue, if not as a property, and we spoke of “a man and his wife” not “a woman and her husband,” and the wife vowed to obey her master “till death do us part.” Marriage as an institution is a vestige from the feudal past. It is true that in the 20th century the husband began to “allow” his wife to take a job outside and be a partner earning the bread. It is no longer uncommon that the man and the woman in a married couple practice equality, often sharing the task of housework and child rearing. In fact, the Alternative Service Book, introduced in 1928, already omitted the phrase “and to obey” in the marriage vow, but the original version was retained for those preferred it and apparently many still do.

Yet language freezes the concept despite the social changes that modified it. So, the sense of hierarchy between the man and his wife in marriage is firmly set, even in the situation in which the marriage, true to the democratic principle, is practiced as “a man and a woman joined in equality.” Husband, to think of it, is rather an outdated notion.

This thought occurred to me in connection with the recent passing of the same-sex marriage in the state of New York. I have no doubt this is a legal victory for the same-sex couples. Still, in a way, to designate the same-sex union as a marriage is a retrogressive idea. In my thinking the term marriage is outmoded. Two individuals joined in equality until do them part should consider substituting a neutral term such as “domestic partnership.” Then, whether the partners are heterosexual or homosexual is a private matter and should be socially and legally inconsequential. Marriage as a ritual can be religious and it is a matter of personal choice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

瘤 (kobu) Lump

この間,ニューヨークで近所を歩いていて,瘤のあるおばあさんを見た。背中をくの字に曲げてうつむきにしょぼしょぼと向こうから歩いて来る所すれ違いにふとかいま見ると,左の頬にあんず位の瘤があった。そして突然、瘤取りじいさんの話を思い出した。その昔,頬に瘤のある無欲なおじいさんが,森深く道に迷って夜更けに鬼の宴会にとびこんでしまった。そこで,舞を舞った所大変気に入られ、翌晩また来るようにと保証に瘤をきれいに取ってしまった。同じように瘤のある隣の欲深いおじいさんがこの話を聞いて、翌晩鬼の所に行って舞を舞ったけど,気に入られず,鬼は怒ってきのうの瘤をあいている方の頬に付けてしまった。 勧善懲悪を教える この民話は、鎌倉時代13世紀の「宇治拾遺物語」から伝わったもので、日本の子供達にはなじみ深いお話です。子供の頃に聞いて良く憶えていますけど、渡米以前、たまに瘤のある老人を町で見かけたことも記憶にあります。瘤を見たのはそれ以来初めて、それもニューヨークで、60年ぶりの事とて、本当に驚きました。家に帰って調べた所に依ると、「粉瘤腫 (Atheroma)」は皮下に出来る良性腫瘍で、頬に出来るのは「耳下腺の多形成腺腫」といって放っておいて大きくなっても害はないそうです。でも半世紀前と比較して、瘤のある人は殆どいなくなったのでしょうか。イエメン、ソマリア、エジプトなどで、チャット或いはカート(和名あらびやちゃのき)の葉を刺激のために噛んで頬に貯めるそうですが、これは瘤ではありません。

courtesy -

The other day in my neighborhood in New York I saw a woman with a large lump on the cheek. She was bent forward and trudged toward me, as we crossed, I took a quick glance and saw on her left cheek a lump the size of an apricot. Suddenly, I remembered the story of “Kobutori Jiisan (An Old Man Who Lost his lump).” Long time ago, a selfless old man with a lump on his cheek got lost deep in the woods and came upon an ogre’s banquet near dawn. To entertain the host, he danced a dance, and the ogre appreciated it and ordered him to come back the next night and took the lump off his cheek as a security. Hearing this story, an avaricious old neighbor, also with a lump, went into the woods, found the ogre’s banquet, and danced a dance but badly and the ogre, in anger, pressed the lump from the night before on the man’s free cheek. The folktale which teaches the lesson of reward and punishment originated in the 13th-century “Tales of Uji Shûi” from the Kamakura Period, and is familiar among Japanese children. I remember it well, too. I also remember having seen old men with a lump now and then before I came to the US. But I have never seen any since then, these 60 years, and seeing one, of all places in New York, was a great surprise. What I could find out is that atheroma is the benign swelling that develops under the skin, and the lump on the cheek is the tumor of the parotid gland, and it may enlarge but does no harm. Compared with a half century ago, we see today hardly any person with a lump on the cheek. In Yemen, Somalia, Egypt and other Arabian and East African areas, the evergreen leaves of Khat are chewed and collected in the cheek to extract their stimulant juice. This is not tumor.


母音調和 Vowel Harmony

日本語が、トルコ語、蒙古語、ツングース語とともに、アルタイ系で, 遠くはウラル系のフィンランド語やハンガリー語と縁がある、とする根拠のひとつに 上代日本語に顕著に見られる 母音調和が屢々あげられる。近代日本語では、一単語に同じ母音を連続繰り返す形を、広い意味で母音調和と呼ばれる。古い語彙とされる体の部分に例が多い。例えば、頭、鼻、頬、耳、喉、肩、肘、乳、腹、尻、腿、体、などがある。他に、父、母、爺、婆、男、男の子、山、川、中、外、魚、逆さまがある。

Vowel harmony, seen conspicuously in Ancient Japanese, is often cited as one evidence that the Japanese language belongs to the Altaic language group which includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Tungus and is remotely remotely related to the Ural languages like Finnish and Hungarian. In modern Japanese, the form of repeating the same vowel in one word is, broadly speaking, called vowel harmony. It is abundant in the age-old vocabulary of words referring to body parts, for example, atama (head), hana (nose), hoho (cheek), mimi (ear), nodo (throat), kata (shoulder), hiji (elbow), chichi (breast), hara (belly), shiri (buttock), momo (thigh) and karada (body). We also find chichi (father), haha (mother), jiji (grandfather, old man), baba (grandfather, old woman), otoko (man), otokonoko (boy), yama (mountain), kawa (river), naka (inside), soto (outside), sakana (fish), and sakasama (upside down) are other examples.


Aside from these words of older vintage, Japanese lexicon is, in general, inordinately rich in words with a single vowel repeated one after another: katakana, to start out with, then, akarasama (self-evident), takara (treasure), hotondo (almost), dorobô (thief), hibiki (echo), sekken (soap), susumu (to proceed), utsuru (to be reflected), etc., ad nauseum. Repeated vowels are rampant in another Japanese feature -- onomatopoeic words: shoboshobo (as of drizzle, or low-spirited), zanzan (as of a downpour), guzuguzu (as of dawdling), hirihiri (as of a stinging pain), garagara (as of rattling noise), muzumuzu (as of itching and impatience).


There are certain syntactical similarities between Ural-Altaic languages and Japanese; but there is no significant lexical correspondences. It is apparently uniquely Japanese that long phrases and sentences can be formed with one and only one vowel in repetition. For example:
-- Tokyo to Kyoto no otokonoko no kôdô (Boys’conduct in Tokyo and Kyoto)
-- Nôson to gyoson no jôhô (News of the farming and fishing villages)
-- Otoko no kokoro, shôjo no sôzô, kodomo no koro no koto
(Man’s heart, the girl’s imagination, an event in the days of my childhood)
-- Kyô no gogo soko no sôko no kôzô no jôkyô moromoro shomô no tokoro
(Requested this afternoon all the structural conditions of that warehouse)
It’s a lot of fun - Japanese.

Joyce, Duchamp, Cage, Cunningham

My lifelong fascination with James Joyce started before I left Japan. I did not discover him on my own. My brother-in-law, then my sister’s boyfriend completing his university degree in English literature, wrote his thesis on Joyce’s Ulysses and heard him talk about it. I was 18, and I remember vividly the letter S that covered the entire first page that started the opening line of the book: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. “ In 1952, after graduating from high school, I left Japan to study in the US, and Ulysses was one of my first books I bought for my bookshelf, the Modern Library reprint of the 1934 edition, with the memorable page-size S. I did not find the book easy, even though my English was good enough; but, armed with Stuart Gilbert’s guide, I read it through, and then picked up one by one the rest of Joyce’s oeuvre, including Finnegan’s Wake. For decades thereafter I kept up with Joyce studies compulsively. At first, I suppose, my attraction to Joyce was none other than its difficulty which nourished my youthful enthusiasm for anything deemed too unappealing to popular taste. For the same reason, Duchamp’s art and thought captivated me. So, in music, Stravinsky was my favorite but I soon discovered Anton Webern, Edgar Varese, and Harry Parch. My tutor in avant-garde music was the sculptor J. B. Blunk, at the time a ceramicist, whom I met when I was working as a counselor at the summer camp up the Russian River. And it didn’t take long before John Cage came to my attention. Sometime in late 50s I attended a concert of Cage’s music in San Francisco, which featured, if I recall correctly, Music for a Tape Recorder and Piano. After the first piece, the composer came on stage and addressed the audience that anyone who didn’t care for the first piece should feel free to leave the hall before the second piece started. Since then I listened to his music avidly and eventually proceeded read what he wrote. In 1995, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there was an exhibition “Rolywholyover A Circus,” dedicated to his musical and visual work; it originated in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and was “composed” by Cage himself in collaboration with the organizer Julie Lazar. As a part of the exhibition, Cage gave a talk and read from Finnegan’s Wake. Fascination with Merce Cunningham would have followed naturally from the interest in Cage’s music, since they were close collaborators. But my exposure to his choreography did not come until much later, not until the 90s. I have no memory how it came about but once I moved to New York, I have not missed a single performance by his company, until his last new work “Nearly Ninety” in Brooklyn and then beyond into the two-year Legacy Tour of the company which ends coming December. Cunningham, for me, embodied Joyce, Duchamp, and Cage and, no surprise, defined my intellectual life.