26 June 2015

Wordcatcher Tales: Old Japanese Cemetery Kanji

I've been helping to decipher some old gravestones in the newly renovated Mo‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery (est. 1908), a candidate for the State and National Register of Historic Places. Here's a short list of deciphering aids that I've just updated in time for this year's Obon season.

Dates

紀元 Kigen ‘record-origin’ (counting from Emperor Jimmu, 660BC)
明治 Meiji 1–45 (1868–1912)
大正 Taisho 1–15 (1912–1926)
昭和 Showa 1–64 (1926–1989)
平成 Heisei 1–? (1989–?)
行年~才 gyounen/kounen — sai ‘age at passing: — years old’
享年~才 kyounen — sai ‘age at passing: — years old’~生 ‘born (on) —’
~亡 ‘died (on) —’
~寂 ‘died (on) —’
~往生 oujou ‘departed life (on) —’
~帰幽 kiyuu ‘returned to the netherworld (on) —’
永眠 eimin ‘eternal sleep’
早世 sousei ‘early death’
生児 seiji ‘just born’
嬰児 eiji ‘infant’
孩児 gaiji ‘infant, suckling’
若郎子 wakairatsuko ‘young boy’
若郎女 wakairatsume ‘young girl’
吉日 kichijitsu ‘propitious day’ (e.g., for erecting a monument)

Names

~家之墓 — ke no haka ‘(X) family’s grave’
~之奥(津)城 — no oku(tsu)ki ‘(X)’s tomb/grave’
~之霊神 — no reijin ‘(X)’s soul’
~霊位 — no reii ‘(X)’s mortuary tablet’ (‘soul/spirit’ + ‘place/stand’)
~先祖 — senzo ‘(X family) ancestors’
~代々 — daidai ‘(X family) generations’
士族 shizoku ‘samurai clan’
俗名 zokumyou ‘secular name’
妻~ tsuma ‘wife’ (name often written in katakana, not kanji)
原籍~ genseki ‘original domicile registry, permanent address’
法号 hougou ‘Buddhist name’
戒名 kaimyou ‘posthumous Buddhist name’
法名 houmyou ‘posthumous Buddhist name’
釈~ Shaku ‘Shak[yamuni] (the historical Buddha)’ (in many posthumous Buddhist names)
~妙~ myou ‘mystery, miracle, wonder’ (in posthumous Buddhist names)
~居士 koji ‘Buddhist lay leader (male)’
~大姉 daishi ‘Buddhist lay leader (female)’
~禅定門 zenjoumon ‘Zen Buddhist honorific (male)’ (formerly ‘Zen monk’)
~禅定尼 zenjouni ‘Zen Buddhist honorific (female)’ (formerly ‘Zen nun’)
~信士 shinji/shinshi ‘honorific title for men’
~信女 shinnyo ‘honorific title for women’
~童子 douji ‘honorific title for boys’
~童女 dounyo ‘honorific title for girls’
~尼 ama ‘nun’ (sometimes marks posthumous names for women)
~県~郡~村/町 — ken ‘prefecture’ — gun ‘district’ — mura/machi ‘village/town’
施主 seshu ‘mourners, benefactors, donors’
嗣子 shishi ‘heir, successor’
dou ‘ditto’ (same as the name in the next column to the right)
dou ‘ditto’ (same as the name in the next column to the right)
々 (doubles/repeats the previous kanji)

Mantras

南無阿弥陀仏 Namu Amida Butsu ‘Hail Amida Buddha’ (= Kannon, Pure Land [浄土 joudo] Buddhism)
南無妙法蓮華経 Namu Myouhou Renge Kyou ‘Hail the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra’ (Nichiren Buddhism)
倶会一処 Kue Issho (a phrase from the Amida Sutra suggesting) ‘we will meet again in the Pure Land’
三界萬霊 Sangai Banrei ‘3 worlds, 10,000 souls’ (for all souls, past, present, and future)

Helpful Resources

NengoCalc is invaluable for converting Japanese imperial reign name dates into Western calendar dates.

Rikai Unicode Kanji Tables are invaluable for locating rare (or miswritten) kanji that don't show up in the usual kanji dictionaries, name glossaries, or input methods. Kanji dictionaries will often give you the code range of similar kanji (grouped by semantic 'radicals'), so you can scan for a form that is no longer used in Japanese, but that shows up in old names, then cut and paste it into a search box to see if you can get a name reading.

The Weblio English-Japanese/Japanese English website is perhaps the best place to match name kanji with multiple pronunciations (which is almost every name kanji in Japanese!) against actual attestations in a wide range of Japanese sources. If you google Japanese name kanji and get nothing but Chinese search results, you probably misread or misanalyzed the original engraving, but stonecarvers also make mistakes.

Nanzan University's 2001 Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (28/3-4) translation of Tamamura Fumio's "Local Society and the Temple-Parishioner Relationship within the Bakufu’s Governance Structure" helps clarify Buddhist posthumous naming conventions and honorifics.

Finally, English Wikipedia articles about Japanese prefectures almost always have very helpful subarticles listing old district, city, and town names that have disappeared after mergers and reorganizations. And Japanese Wikipedia is even more complete, besides listing major cities, towns, and districts by their kanji names (and pronunciations).

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