This piece is by “Sen, pale usher and and sub-sub librarian. Also a goblin.” I present it as a push – a shove – toward this site. It is a place of stunning prose, dazzling imagination, pervasive strangeness, hazardous mindscapes, delicate ruination.
Yeah no, I’ll not do something so daft as plonking down the opening sentence or two of the Hо̄jо̄ki in your face. Maybe you’ll want to read it yourself if you haven’t, in which case yes, do very much go for it. Burton Watson is always an excellent go-to, plus you get three extra pieces and some nice ink paintings, as a treat. Preview here.
If you’re after the Middle Japanese, though – that you can get on Wikipedia if one of the innumerable editions isn’t at hand. Personally, though, I’ve always loved the Shinchо̄ series – it’s got a rainy-day, homey feel to it like miso soup and shо̄ga-yaki. The blue covers always remind me of the Oxford Classical Texts series for Greek and Latin and the running interlinear glosses in red twined in with the main text are a fun little touch – whether you read Japanese or not, just click 試し読み on the linked page and you’ll be able to see them. And of course, this edition includes the Hosshinshū – a personal favorite.
Admittedly this is a point of some bit of sentimentality for me, having made my first real gains in reading a full pre-modern Japanese work over the first few months of 2010, at twenty-five, with precisely that work in precisely that edition, though that was well before they redid the whole physical layout of the books. The pages on my ancient copy are all grimed up at the edges, the gilt lettering on the spine and front cover worn completely off but still proudly embossed and a tactile treat like Hebrew print, vowel points and all, in a ca.-1900 Brown-Driver-Briggs. The boards are exposed and shmooshed at the edges – you know the way – and sometimes the cloth still smells like the cafe I read through the whole thing at. All that roasting coffee. Most often I drank tea, though. But no matter. Either way, to Stauf’s go the glory.
And as I went forth every day, somehow now twelve years ago, the cadences of the Hosshinshū’s Middle Japanese prose, the first couple of minimal-pairs-in-the-wild I’d ever encountered in, say, auxiliaries like tsu and nu, the wealth of fine examples of some of the wackier Middle Japanese syntax that isn’t particularly well covered in textbooks, the stories of Genpin Sо̄zu and that one old lady who just wanted a satsuma from her neighbor’s tree but her neighbor wouldn’t let her so after her death she willed herself to be reborn as a million different wormy squirmers to blight the tree forever until the dang thing just fuckin died
– all of that became so foundational for what I’d come to do as an MA student, then a PhD student, and now on the ex-academic track, and all of that was and remains so foundational to, factitive of, who I am now that I as well as breathe it.
And such a shame that that tree had to die.
What do you think?