August 29th, 2020

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The Remembrance of Puzzles Past

The other day I received a very nice present from my friend Chiho: a set of karuta cards based on famous lines from「千と千尋の神隠し」, i.e. Spirited Away

karuta

I'm a late developer, and Spirited Away was the first Ghibli film I ever saw - or, at least, saw properly. (In retrospect believe I may have come in halfway through a showing of Laputa on television at an earlier date: I remember thinking that, if this cartoon was an adaptation of the third voyage of Gulliver, it was certainly a loose one...)

Anyway, I loved Spirited Away, and it raised many questions in my mind, among them being:

a) Why do they drive on the left in Japan, when usually only countries that were in the British Empire do so?

b) If "Chihiro" is written "千尋", how come "千" on its own is pronounced "Sen"?

I wondered these things fleetingly during the film, but they evidently didn't weigh heavily enough for me to find out the answers immediately on leaving the cinema. It was only years later, when I started learning Japanese, that I discovered the history of British involvement in the development of Japanese railways, and (more importantly for me) the on-yomi/kun-yomi distinction in the pronunciation of kanji. When I did learn these things, though, I remembered my former puzzlement with all the urgency of a crumb of stale madeleine finally being dislodged from my teeth.