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Selected Article

Life style of ancient capital

We want to translate the high-quality life style from Heian period (The Heian period is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital) into modern life. Due to the true history.

The words from Heian period: “もののあはれ” (mononoaware) from The Tale of Genji, and “いとをかし”(itookashi)from The Pillow Book.

*(The Tale of Genji/源氏物語, Genji monogatari is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century)
*(The Pillow Book/枕草子, Makura no Sōshi is a book of observations and musings recorded by Sei Shōnagon during her time as court lady to Empress Consort Teishi (定子) during the 990s and early 1000s in Heian Japan. The book was completed in the year 1002)

Written by Junko YAMAMOTO Illustration by Takiko KUROIWA

Junko YAMAMOTO
Researcher of literature of Heian period / professor of human culture department, Kyoto Gakuen University.
Born in 1960, Kanazawa ISHIGAWA. Researcher of literature of Heian period. Graduated from literature department of Kyoto University. She has been the instructor of Ishigawa prefectural Tatsumi Ga Oka high school, and finished the master course in the human・environment school of Kyoto University, and received the PhD qualification (Human・environment). Now working as a professor of History folk customs・Japanese language and culture in the Human Culture department in Kyoto Gakuen University. In 2007, won the 29th Suntory Literature Award by “The period of The Tale of Genji” (selected works of Asahi).

The words on behalf of the Heian period—“あはれ” (aware) and “をかし” (okashi). They are from the words “もののあはれ” (mononoaware) and “いとをかし”(itookashi). “もののあはれ” (mononoaware) is on behalf of The Tale of Genji, and the word “いとをかし”(itookashi)is on behalf of The Pillow Book. They are known by modern people for elegant hobbies. Although the high school text book explains it as “rich in amorous feelings”, for high school students, the beautiful boring world of “amorous feelings” is so far away from their life.

There’s a fast and easy way to explain the two words for Japanese. “あはれ” (aware) means “あ” (ah), and “をかし” (okashi) means “お” (oh).

“あはれ” was an interjection, to express the uncontrollable voices such like “ahh” or “ah”. For example, when we see the crimson sunset, or worship the coming light of the sunrise from the top of the mountain Fuji, our vocal muscles will be relaxing, and the breath will be same as the sigh, sounded as “ah”, “ha” (wa) and “re” (le) by unconscious.

*(“aware” from The Tale of Genji, ○1used as an interjection, means “ah.” or “huh?” in the paragraph of Evening Face (夕顔/Yugao); ○2used as a noun, means “loneliness” or “sadness”, in the paragraph of Bridge Princess (橋姫/Hashihime))

“あはれ” (aware) in modern Japanese means “poor”, and this is also same as ago. When we meet and sympathize the unfortunate people or affairs, the plaint by subconscious such like “ahh”, that is the “あはれ” (aware) of “poor”. So, there was no specification of translation for “あはれ” (aware), it was only a word to express plaint or sentiment, if you could understand it, you could understand the feelings of the people in Heian period.

So, what about “をかし” (okashi)? Same as the “おかしい” (same pronunciation as okashi, means funny things) makes you laugh, and the “おかしい” (same pronunciation as okashi, means pain or uncomfortable) makes you hurt in your neck, the word is still living and used in modern time. If we explore the explanation, it can be explained short for “oh!” And if we expand it as “ohh”, it becomes the “をかし” (okashi) of romantic and outstanding. In the first part of “The Dawn of Spring” from The Pillow Book, the word appeared in “the night of summer” of the paragraph of “The Four Seasons”. 「蛍の多く飛び違ひたる。また、ただ一つ二つなど、ほのかにうち光りてゆくも、をかし」–“Fireflies fly around well. And, one or two, shining light faintly and fly away, there’s another taste of interesting”. And after that, the paragraph kept writing “the rain is interesting”, just like an adjective which expresses the second-grade things. “をかし” (okashi) is an evaluation word which used to evaluate downward.

*(“okashi” from The Pillow Book, used as an adjective, means “have interest” or “rich of amorous feelings”, in the paragraph of The Dawn of Spring (春のあけぼの/Harunoakebono))

This is why “もののあはれ” (mononoaware) is on behalf of The Tale of Genji, and the word “いとをかし”(itookashi)is behalf on The Pillow Book. The Tale of Genji describes the love, hatred and joy of the world. The dramatic personae constantly sighed “ah”, and readers moved by the story and echoed “ah”. But The Pillow Story was full of humors and wit— “oh, this’s so good”, “oh! And this’s nice too”. And when we read the unique and interesting essay, we’ll raise the same voice too.

“あはれ” (aware) expresses “あ” (ah), and “をかし” (okashi) expresses “お” (oh), and the feeling of Heian period is still remembered by our vocal organs, by our bodies.

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