Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Incremental Understanding and Spirited Away
When I first watched Spirited Away - in the local arts cinema, when it came out - I knew virtually nothing about Japan or Japanese. I remember noticing with surprise, for example, that the cars drove on the left. Accordingly, a lot of things went over my head. Some I knew I didn't understand, others passed me by entirely. On the other hand, I already had a pretty good knowledge of Western fantasy tropes, mythology and, to an extent, magic. It didn't strike me as odd at all, for example, that Yubaba might want to take custody of Chihiro's name and issue her with another one. After all, names and things are ultimately one, as any reader of fantasy knows.

Still, I was surprised that by taking one character (千) from Chihiro's name (荻野千尋), Yubaba was able to come up with a name that didn't sound like any part of that name - namely, "Sen". That was explained later when I learned the difference between kunyomi and onyomi readings of kanji, as explained here. As a rule of thumb, the character "千" is Sen (kunyomi or native Japanese reading) when it's on its own, but Chi (onyomi or Chinese reading) when it's with other kanji, as in 千尋, or the name of my friend Chiho (千穂).

More recently, while eating at the yurei café in Kichijoji, my friend Mikako mentioned that after death she would be given a new name by the priests, who would do it by taking one of the kanji in her name and giving it a kunyomi reading. At least, I think that's what she said; I'd had a bit of sake by that time, and consulting the internet afterwards it seems that the rules for posthumous names are a bit more complicated than that.

"But... does that mean Yubaba's land is actually the land of the dead?" I remember asking, the penny dropping from my eyes. Mikako confirmed it.

Well, of course it makes sense - it's on the far side of water, after all. And the lands of the gods and the dead often bleed into each other, don't they? (Yes, Tír na nÓg, I'm looking at you.) That's going to be still more the case in a country with ancestor worship. It's only natural.

One thing I still don't get about Spirited Away is the title: 千と千尋の神隠し (Sen and Chihiro's Kamikushi). It's not that 神隠し doesn't really have an English translation - "being hidden by a god" is as close as I can get. If you're familiar with, say, Thomas the Rhymer or Kilmeny, then I think you have a pretty good idea what 神隠し involves. No, the bit I don't understand is "Sen and Chihiro" - as if they were two different characters. What's that all about?

Of course, it's not ideal to read Spirited Away through the prism of Western fantasy and myth - although it's a film influenced by Western fantasy, too. I recently read that in Japan its tagline was 「トンネルのむこうは、不思議の町でした!」 (There was a town of wonders through the tunnel!"), where 不思議の町 surely recalls 不思議の国、the usual translation for [Alice in] Wonderland, which of course begins with a young girl entering through a tunnel.

But we all start from where we start from.

Went to your earlier site and reread that entry, now that I've picked up a minuscule bit of Mandarin. The On pronunciation is still Japanese, not Chinese, which is interesting.

It's had a long time to get bumped about in the linguistic currents, so I'm not surprised it doesn't look like modern Chinese. That said, I played a fun game with a Chinese friend recently comparing onyomi readings of various things/concepts with their Chinese equivalents, and there was definitely a family resemblance. I played the same game solus here.

Oh, yes. There are some who say that once you get the characters down in either language, crossing over to the other one is relatively simple. (I wonder if it's a rough equivalent to mastering various Roman-alphabet languages.)


That's interesting for me. I have never wondered what you pointed out because it is very natural for us (Japanese).

Many Japanese have a good impression of the early films created by the Studio Ghibli, such as

Castle in the Sky 1986
My Neighbor Totoro 1988
Kiki's Delivery Service 1989

This is not an exaggerated expression, we Japanese have typically watched these films ten times or more I guess.
(Evey summer we can watch those films on TV. Especially kids do like it.)

There are both arguments for and against on their last half films...
Personally, Princess Mononoke 1997 and Spirited Away 2001 are really great works. I have watched many times.
But actually, compared with the early works, the stories are very complicated so I think everyone has different interpretations.

Regarding the Spirited Away, Yubaba said "You are Chihiro huh? What an extravagant name! From now on, you'll be Sen"
and she removed 荻, 野, and 尋 from her whole name of 荻野千尋(Chihiro).
In the end, Chihiro was called 千(Sen) from her and everyone in the world.
Changing from Chihiro to Sen is natural for us, though, it seems to me that it is difficult to understand for non-Japanese.
(As you mentioned on your previous post.)

By the way, Mari Natsuki was in charge of the voice of Yubaba, who is a famous Japanese actress, not professional "voice actor", however, she has done an impeccable/extraordinary job on the films.
Studio Ghibli usually uses famous actors on the films instead of voice actors, though, in most case most of them are really low quality.

Just for your reference, Yubaba(湯婆婆) means "hot spring - elderly woman(grandma) - elderly woman(grandma)". A strange name, isn't it?

As you know, many Japanese are Buddhists and we will receive the individual Buddhist names called Kaimyo戒名 after we die. (In Buddhism, Buddhist names are given to the dead. )
A Buddhist name was originally given to a person who became a monk in order to show that they would live away from this world and practice strict Buddhism as a pupil of Buddha.
The dead also started receiving Buddhist names because it was thought they went to the other world, practice strict Buddhism, and they became a Buddha there.
Surprisingly, if you paid more to temples, you could receive a better name than the others who didn't pay an extra fee... What's that???

神隠し is not familiar even for us. There are few opportunities to use that in everyday life.
Yeah, you're correct. "being hidden by a god" is right. Or it's just kind of like "disappear", I’d say.

The original Japanse sentences are below.


またまた、ちなみにですが、湯婆婆とはhot spring - elderly woman(grandma) - elderly woman(grandma) という意味です。



Edited at 2018-07-06 05:18 am (UTC)


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