Saturday Song: [Learning] Japanese

It turns out that one (not particularly efficient) way of learning Japanese is to spend a whole day reading haiku based around the same theme. After a while, even though the translations are loose at best, you begin to pick out particular words and know what they mean. I can now say “red dragonfly.” Aka tombo. And when I see aki (秋), I know autumn is somehow involved. Look, it’s more Japanese than I knew yesterday morning.

But if any readers speak Japanese, I’d dearly love to know what the phrase “tombo kana” means. Do you know how good online translators are with Japanese? Not good at all. Do you know what it did to a perfectly beautiful, deeply meaningful Issa poem? Observe:

.遠山が目玉にうつるとんぼ哉 = “Kenya moves to Toyama dragonfly eyeball” according to Google Translate. I can assure you that’s not correct. Bing thinks it’s “Dragonfly Naoya tohyama catching centerpiece.” This, too, is incorrect. Gah.*

So, if you speak Japanese, and wouldn’t mind telling me what some of this stuff really says, I want to hear from you! If you have trouble commenting, just drop me a line at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com.

And you all will see what I’m up to shortly. I haz planz. Oh, yes. You will never be the same again afterward.

All of which has put me in mind of a song from my past.

Which, according to the people who wrote it, is about “turning into something you didn’t expect to,” among other things. I think we can all relate to that.

And look – whilst I was listening to Pandora and writing this post, I learned a new Japanese phrase: Red bird. Akai tori.

Loves me some Yoshida Brothers, I do. And red birds (akai tori). Somebody send me another bright red UFD so I can use that phrase in a UFD post title… and while you do that, I’m going to go back to geology, which is easier to learn than Japanese.


*I got curious about this “Toyama/tohyama” business, so I searched: turns out it could be Mount Tsurugi (Toyama). It makes sense based on the translations I’ve seen. Now, I don’t know if “toyama” in Japanese refers to that specific mountain or mountains in general or is symbolic thereof, but it would be pretty freaking awesome if I knew specifically which mountain was being reflected in a dragonfly’s eyes two centuries ago, wouldn’t it? So I choose to live in hope, at least until a native speaker comes along to shatter my dreams.

Saturday Song: [Learning] Japanese
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5 thoughts on “Saturday Song: [Learning] Japanese

  1. 2

    ‘Touyama’ is ‘distant mountain’ (or mountains, plurality is not indicated in Japanese), and ‘ga’ marks it as the topic of the sentence. ‘Medama’ is indeed eyeball, and ‘ni’ means roughly ‘in’ in this context. ‘Utsuru’ has many possible meanings, including ‘transfer’, ‘elapse’, ‘be permeated by color or scent’, and ‘to spread’.

    From this non-native speaker’s perspective, I’d gloss this as something like ‘the distant mountains catch my eyes like a dragonfly’. I’d love to hear the take of someone more fluent, though!

  2. 4

    I’d go with “The distant mountain reflects in the dragonflies eyes.”

    As far as I can gather the “kana” in “tombo kana” is a marker indicating that the poet is reacting emotionally to the scene. (Take this with a grain of salt. I’m not very well versed in poetic forms. In normal speech “ka na” is more likely to indicate a self question like “I wonder…” I didn’t know about the emotive marker use until I looked it up just now.)

    I just found a reference for this haiku that might also help with others:,mountain

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