Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Struggling with my penstrokes, something almost certainly obvious to long-term learners of kanji strikes me: the Elements go to the very heart of the Japanese language. Whilst we have Sundays and Mondays, the Japanese pair the pictogram kanji representing Sun, Moon, Fire, Water, Tree, Money (reserved for Friday - pay day?) and Earth with the kanji for 'day', which is also 'Sun'. (So, bridged by a further kanji which I have yet to learn, Sunday is 'Sun [x] Sun'.) The Moon kanji used for Monday serves as the unit for each of the twelve months too. No need for schoolchildren to make any etymological connections here; the elements are more explicitly rooted in their language and conception of time. This isn't just about Japan being the country of volcanoes, typhoons and tsunamis either. It's reflected in the everyday; it's even quite common for inconsequential, everyday decisions to be reached via games of Rock, paper, scissors.

The haiku for February on my calendar is from Boncho, a contemporary of Basho. I was unfamiliar with this name but can assure you he is Japanese, not Bulgarian. (Talking of which, watching TV in a Shizuoka denki-ya a few weeks back, I saw that there is a famous national of that country carving out a niche for himself in Japan as a sumo wrestler.) Some time before his death in 1714, he wrote this:

The companion
   to the wind's blowing -
     in the sky
        the single moon.

(In Japanese, it's three lines.)

And flicking through my calendar, the same elemental undercurrent flows through each month. Without spoiling the poetic joys of 2010 in advance, which would be like scoffing all the chocolates on 1st December, I take a sneak preview and see that the monthly haiku to come cover Snow, Mountains, Grass, Darkness, Rice, Leaves, Summer, Rain, Night and (again) Snow. You're probably thinking these are normal themes for a calendar but, in Japan, the focus seems so much more pronounced. Or do I mean limited? Grant McLennan (RIP), a special yet unsung songwriter who somehow managed the feat of including more references to 'Moon' in his lyrics than (ahem) Sting, would no doubt have approved. Even if you're left cold by the writing, there's no doubting the sense of clarity.

And, now switching to Chesham, I find a beautiful poem, from closer to home, which needs no translation, the words of which end in Sun. Thanks Dad. And hope you're feeling better, Mum. (entry of 30 January 2010)

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