February 21st, 2020


And a Small Bird in a Pear Tree

I just learned something rather cool about kanji surnames. One of the main characters in the anime I recently watched has the family name "Takanashi." The "natural" way to write this might be something like 高梨, where the first kanji (taka) means tall, and the second (nashi) pear tree. However, in the case of the anime the name is written "小鳥遊": three kanji (meaning, respectively, "small", "bird" and "play") that have various readings, but none corresponding to the sounds in Takanashi.

Of course, I come from a country where "Featherstonhaugh" is pronounced "Fanshaw" and "Cholmondeley" is "Chumley", so I'm hardly in a position to take umbrage at such heterographic extravagance, but I was still curious as to what was going on.

Someone on Facebook just supplied the answer. Another way to read the sounds in "takanashi" is as "鷹無し" where 鷹 (taka) = "hawk" and 無し (nashi) = "without." The idea is that, if there is no hawk then small birds can play safely - hence, 小鳥遊. Ingenious, huh?

Whether it's a modern innovation or not, I'm not sure (I'd like to know); but I also wonder whether there are any other examples of this type? I can't think of any equivalent in English, although some of the puns in heraldic devices may come close.


Here in the birthplace of Chatterton I had a rather Leech-Gatherer-esque conversation today, with old Mr Ford the clock mender of Gloucester Rd. I've not been much of a customer over the years. If he replaced my watch battery occasionally that was about it, but when I cleared my mother's house last year I discovered the rather handsome little Swiza mantel clock that used to be my grandmother's. It was missing a few parts, but I hoped that Mr Ford would a) find it interesting and b) be able to fix it.

I took it in December last year, and at that time he stiffened with interest. "The best brand there is," he declared, "but they've been out of business these thirty years and parts are hard to find. Perhaps my brother-in-law can find some on the internet," he added doubtfully, before leaning forward, his face suddenly avaricious and hungry, like Bilbo's in the film of Fellowship when Gandalf tries to take the ring off his hands: "Unless you want to flog it?"

I said I'd see if he could get the parts first, and slipped out of the tiny shop and away.

Today I went to see how he'd got on, but it was no dice, alas. "Would you still be interested buying it?" I asked, remembering his former enthusiasm. "I would, but I'm 90 years old, I have the flu, and I'm going to be packing it in soon," came the lugubrious reply. He then started a predictable but gloomy story about how his children weren't interested in the watch-and-clock trade, how no one appreciated a clockwork motion in these digital days, and how that was a crying shame - which I could only agree with, though as guilty as anyone. He opened his shop in 1954 - a lifetime ago, really - but the trade was dying, and most of the people he had known and cared about (including his Scottish wife, who used to call him an "English bastard") were long gone.

To be honest, he wasn't quite as stoical as Wordsworth's leech gatherer, but I liked him much the better for it.