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Tuesday, July 5, 2005


Making sense of kanji

Kanji query

Two very interesting responses to the letter of June 7 about pronouncing kanji.

Asiatic Society

Hugh Wilkinson of The Asiatic Society of Japan says he cannot give an authoritative answer to the question about the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese names, but can offer an educated guess.

"In the case of internationally famous places, the internationally known names have always been used; in the case of less famous places, such as Chungking and Tientsin, Japanese pronunciations were traditionally used, so Juukei and Tenshin. As to the 'k' in Peking, Nanking, Chungking, this comes from the old Chinese pronunciation, which was in use when these kanji were borrowed into Japanese, so you have Japanese 'kei' and 'kyoo.'

"On the question of names, I would like to add the older Japanese name for China, Shina. This must come from the Dutch name for the country, introduced during the Edo period when Japan maintained contact with Holland.

The word China is also pronounced in the same way in modern Portuguese, but 'ch' was pronounced as in English at the time when Portuguese missionaries came to Japan."

The Asiatic Society of Japan is at 3-42-3 Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-0012 Japan. Tel/Fax: (03) 5976-6569. E-mail: info@asjapan.org Web site: www.asjapan.org

Three ways

Tadashi Kimura also read Brian's query regarding the pronunciation of Peking, etc.

He says: "The oldest pronunciations were from some southern parts of China, from which many Buddhist scriptures came into Japan, along with their peculiar pronunciations.

"This type of pronunciation is called Go-on, the pronunciation of the Wu area. Most of these peculiar pronunciations were later replaced by Kan-on, the pronunciation of the Han era (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), but quite a few of them still exist and are troubling to youngsters today.

"The third type of pronunciation is called Too-on, the pronunciation of the Tang era (600s-900s), which is very much the same as the present Chinese pronunciation. So, the pronunciation Beijing is the modern version of Pekin(g), which is the pronunciation of Go-on.

"Japan still clings to this old pronunciation and so did most Westerners, probably following the Japanese way of referring to the Chinese city. According to the Han pronunciation, Beijing becomes Hoku-kyoo, or Hokkyoo (Northern Capital), which has never been used. On the other hand, Shanghai, the Too-on pronunciation, has always been Shanghai, and never Jookai (Upper Sea). Hongkong, too, has never been known by any other name."

Alp me

Jiri Polivka in Santa Barbra, Calif., was interested in the question on Chinese pronunciations and has a question of her own.

"I asked several of my Japanese friends about the original name of the Japan Alps. To my amazement nobody knew, and I am sure another name had to exist before the Japanese learned about European Alps. Does anyone know what the old name was?"

An interesting question. I suspect they were referred to by their individual names alone, but could well be wrong and would welcome corrections.

Used CDs

On where to sell used CDs in the capital, Steve McClure, Asia Bureau Chief of Billboard Magazine says, "there's no shortage of used CD stores in Tokyo. I'd suggest a stroll through the streets of Shimokitazawa, for example."

Recofan (lots of branches in Shibuya) specializes in Indies. Disc Union buys just about anything.

We'd like to hear about other chains or single stores that are easy to deal with, and any Web sites enabling music lovers to buy, sell or exchange.

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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