Reply to The Origin of Hiragana /wu/ 平仮名のわ行うの字源に対する新たな発見

Disclaimer 記事を読む前の重要事項
This article is a follow-up to my previous article The Origin of Hiragana /wu/; I highly recommend reading that article first to understand my previous theory and its context. However, there will also be a short summary of it in this article.


Introduction 紹介
I find myself in relaxing in a Korean spa. With the peace of the spa, I finally can reflect on my previous research. However, my heart starts racing as I begin to doubt my former conclusion. “Is it too big of an assumption that Katayama would derive his hentaigana from the same kanji?” While I didn’t let it bother me too much, this problem continued to float in my mind. A couple months later, as I was showing my theory to a professor, he was skeptical on the basis that the simplification I proposed had no precedent. After that, I decided it was time to reevaluate my theory and see if I could find any new evidence that either supports or disproves my original theory.


The Question 問題
For a quick summary, in 1873 Junkichi Katayama published Shōgaku Tsuzuriji Hen 小学綴字篇 wherein there is a hiragana gojūon chart with a /wu/ kana. This /wu/ hiragana is boxed in red.



During the Meiji era there were several orthographies which contained a hiragana /wu/; however, none of these contained Katayama’s hiragana /wu/. So naturally this begs the question, does Katayama’s hiragana /wu/ come from a kanji, and if so, which one? Answering this question is more important now than ever as there has been a proposal to encode this character into Unicode, and its origin character is included as a note.


Comments on The Origin of Hiragana /wu/ 『平仮名のわ行うの字源』の論評
In my previous article I claim that the origin character of hiragana /wu/ is 紆 because in the textbook there is also a hentaigana for /wu/ whose origin character is 紆, as seen below.



While there are a few things I would change in that article (such as making the tone less confirmatory), I am still pretty proud of it as my first article. I like to think that the recent influx of discussion on /wu/ kana is partially due to that article. However, I would like to lay out some of the implicit assumptions of that article to better convey its argument. The best candidate for the origin character of hiragana /wu/ would be the one that Katayama explicitly states it is. However, in the absence of that evidence the best candidate should have the following

   1. The character should be mentioned by Katayama indirectly
   2. The simplification of the origin character should have precedent

If no character has both of these than a character with (1) is a better than a candidate with (2). As 紆 was the only character Katayama indirectly mentions it naturally became the character I accepted as the origin. I still think this line of reasoning is the best for this situation, so I will retain it and increase the number of places I search for Katayama to indirectly mention the origin character.


   1. 片山が暗に述べている
   2. 字源の簡略化に前例がある


The Commentaries 附説
The two works I found that would become the basis for this new theory are the Shōgaku Tsuzuriji Hen Fusetsu Upper and Lower Volumes 小学綴字篇附説 巻之上・巻之下, written by Junkichi Katayama in 1873. These are appendixes to Shōgaku Tsuzuriji Hen. In the Upper Volume, Katayama explains his justification for extending kana to fit the gojūon chart. In the Lower Volume, Katayama explains how to teach using Shōgaku Tsuzuriji Hen.


Starting with the Upper Volume, the first thing to catch my eye was a chart with katakana characters next to their origin characters.



I couldn’t believe it; the character I proposed was right there! Now I only needed to find the hiragana chart... But as I was quick to learn, there was no such chart. I searched, and I searched, and I searched, but while the Upper Volume spoke extensively on the /wu/ katakana and its origins, there was nothing about the hiragana. At this point, while I didn’t receive the exact answer I wanted, I felt that this new document overall supported my theory, as it was now confirmed that 紆 was the origin character for the /wu/ katakana... and then I looked at the Lower Volume.


While the Upper Volume was primarily concerned with theory, the Lower Volume was concerned with praxis. The Lower Volume explained how to use the textbook day by day and had very little concerning the new sounds and their characters. But, in this volume, there was one peculiarity that would singlehandedly dismantle my entire theory.


Reference to 汙

In the red box, Katayama is explaining the pronunciation of the /we/ sound. He does so by saying this sound is a contraction of 汙 and 衣, which represent /wu/ and /e/ respectively. Customarily one would represent those sounds by using the origin characters of the consonant and vowel’s kana. This is seen by how every other boxed sound is represented by their katakana origin character. Why is it that Katayama would use 汙 to represent /wu/ over the katakana origin character 紆? To choose a random character of the same sound, over an origin character seems like a very strange decision, especially when the only justification I see for a change in character is just for some variety. I think using the origin character of hiragana /wu/ is much more reasonable, because at least then, Katayama could achieve some variety and still keep with the custom of using origin characters.


Previous Usage of 汙 as Man’yōgana万葉仮名として使われた汙
At this point, we have two candidates that are indirectly mentioned, 紆 and 汙. By the logic I laid out above, the character who has a precedent of simplifying to Katayama’s /wu/ hiragana is the best candidate for the origin character. Starting with 紆, by once again looking at Identifying Japanese Cursive Script by Marcus Sesko, we can clearly see that 紆 does not traditionally simplify to Katayama’s hiragana /wu/.

今までに、片山が暗に述べている候補は「紆」と「汙」だ。上で述べた方法に従うと、片山が選んだわ行うの平仮名の字源への一番の候補は、簡略化の前例がある漢字だ。始めに、マルクス・セス子の『草書の識別』Identifying Japanese Cursive Scriptを見ると、「紆」は片山が選んだわ行うの平仮名に簡略化しないと確認できる。


As for 汙, since it is not in Identifying Japanese Cursive Script, let’s look at its use as a man’yōgana in the Wooden Tablet Database by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. In Tablet 1 and Tablet 1806, the character 汙 is being used as a man’yōgana for the /u/ phoneme for personal names.



Clearly, these man’yōgana look identical to Katayama’s /wu/ hiragana. Therefore, only 汙 meets criteria 1 and 2 and thus is the most likely candidate to be the origin character of hiragana /wu/.


And while I knew this for quite some time and think the logic is sound, I still didn’t feel like there was enough evidence for this new theory. So now I would like to go back into the Edo period and try to figure out what led to the weird orthography of Junkichi Katayama.


Various Edo Orthographic Developments 色々な江戸の綴りの発展
Fortunately, the Upper Volume contained several references to Edo period works that discuss kanji readings and kana orthography. Here I will go through each one to establish a timeline.


Let’s go back to 1776, when Motōri Norinaga 本居宣長 wrote Jion Kanazukai 字音仮字用格. This work posits a traditional orthography based on Heian era pronunciation. For example, the character 草 has an on’yomi of さう while the character 走 had an on’yomi of そう. By the Edo period, these on’yomi were both pronounced as そう, but Norinaga’s orthography preserves this classical distinction. While this work wasn’t too influential directly on Katayama, it started getting Edo period scholars to reflect on orthography and ancient pronunciations.


In 1815, Zensai Ōda 太田全斎 wrote Kangōnzu 漢呉音図, wherein he provides the go-on and kan-on readings of kanji juxtaposed with their “original pronunciation” 原音, which is a reconstructed Japano-Chinese pronunciation of that character. How to read these squares is explained well in Katayama’s Lower Volume. Here are the squares for 汙 and 紆 followed by how to read them.


Oda 紆Oda 汙HowToReadYomizu.png

This work also contains a gojūon chart which utilizes 于 for /wu/.



As 于 is used in many subsequent orthographies to represent the phoneme /wu/, I believe that tradition can be traced directly back to this work (though perhaps it can be traced even further).


As for the next two references, they can be seen in the Upper Volume as the creators of the orthography which Katayama is using.



Before discussing Gimon Hōshi, I want to recap what I wrote about Hirokage Shirai 白井寛蔭 in the last article. Shirai is considered the founder of extended kana, as he was the first to designate kana for /yi/, /ye/, and /wu/ in his magnum opus On'in Kanayōrei 音韻仮字用例. I would like to juxtapose his orthography with Katayama’s. Their claimed origin characters are adjacent to the kana. Those that are different are highlighted.


Sound 音素Shirai Hiragana’s 白井の平仮名Katayama’s Hiragana 片山の平仮名Shirai’s Katakana 白井の片仮名Katayama’s Katakana 片山の片仮名
/i/い 伊イ 伊イ 伊
/e/え 衣〈 衣Japanese_Katakana_E.png
/ye/𛀏𛀁ye katakanaエ 廷
/u/𛀍ウ 宥ウ 宥
/wu/う 于wa-wu.png于 宇于 紆

As for the differences between the orthographies, I originally posited that Katayama simply chose more common kana. This is demonstrated by how he slightly modified the katakana for /e/ and /ye/, making them much more similar to the very common katakana エ. As noted in my previous article, several other Meiji orthographies also use the same kana as Katayama. Perhaps these kana were just popular in orthographic traditions? Or maybe these other orthographies were inspired by Katayama’s. But if the creators of those orthographies really were inspired by Katayama, why would none use his hiragana /wu/? As of right now, I don’t have a good answer to explain all of these orthographic variations, but in order to not overanalyze, I will assume that Katayama just opted to use more common kana in his orthography. However, this explanation does not explain why 汙 was chosen. Why would Katayama use a kana so obscure for hiragana /wu/? In Japanese, the kanji variant 汚 is much more prevalent than 汙. For the answer to that, I would like to turn to Gimon Hōshi.


Gimon Hōshi: The Final Piece to This Puzzle 義門法師:このパズルの最終のピース
Gimon Hōshi was a kokugaku scholar who lived from 1786 to 1843 and was also the only other named person whom Katayama accredits for his orthography. Gimon is probably most famous for Namashima 男信 wherein he distinguishes /mu/ む from the moraic nasal /-n/ ん. However, he also extensively studied orthography. As noted in Gimon Hōshi’s National Language Study 東条義門の国語学 by Jirō Kameda 龜田次郎, Gimon made a commentary to Norinaga’s Jion Kanazukai, which Shirai says was very influential to his On'in Kanayōrei. Also, Gimon was in the middle of writing his own treatise on orthography, but it was destroyed in a fire. So that leaves us with another work to look for clues, O/Wo Kyōjūgi 於乎軽重義. This work concerns the difference between /o/ お and /wo/ を, a topic that Norinaga also discussed. It is unknown when it was written, but Gimon died before Shirai was born, so it is impossible that Shirai influenced this work during its creation. And the manuscript that I found actually has comments by Shirai in it, so it must have been very influential to him. The first thing of note is that this manuscript actually references Shirai’s katakana orthography in its chapter titles.


Gimon uses Shirai

I do not know whether this was added by Shirai on subsequent reprints, or if Gimon actually created this orthography first because it is only referenced in the chapter titles, not in the actual contents, but I am going to assume that it was added by Shirai in order to avoid over analysis. As for the content of this work, Gimon discusses the Siddham Script, a South-Asian script which was imported to Japan by Kūkai in 806 CE and is the origin of the gojūon chart. The Siddham script distinguishes between long and short vowels for /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, and /o/. For example, short /a/ and long /aː/ are contrastive. As seen below Gimon notes that this long /uː/ is actually /wu/.


wagyouu vs agyouu 2wagyouu vs agyouu 1

As seen below, the character that he chooses to represent /wu/ is 汙.


Using 汙 for wu

This makes sense as 汙 was pretty popular for representing the Sanskrit long /uː/ phoneme in Chinese transliterations of the Siddham script, as exemplified by Shu-Fen Chen in Vowel Length in Middle Chinese Based on Buddhist Sanskrit Transliterations.

悉曇の長音「う」の音素を中国の悉曇の翻字で表すために「汙」が一般的なのは理解できる。これは陳淑芬の『仏教悉曇翻字基づいた中古音の長短母音』Vowel Length in Middle Chinese Based on Buddhist Sanskrit Transliterationsで示されている。

sanskirt chart

Gimon also provides an explanation on why he doesn’t use 汚, namely that 汙 is more “closed” than 汚.


Why not 汚2Why not 汚

Moving back to On'in Kanayōrei, Shirai explains why he does not use 汙 or 烏, which is from the same rime, as the basis for his kana. This is because their go-on is う and their kan-on is を, which might cause some confusion.


Why not 烏

So overall, Katayama’s usage of 汙 for /wu/ can be seen a direct reflex of the works of Gimon Hōshi, which ultimately comes from the Chinese tradition of writing the Siddham Script with Chinese characters. I suspect that Katayama made Shirai’s /wu/ hiragana う into his /u/ hiragana because it was more common; then, Katayama chose a kana based on 汙 for his /wu/ hiragana in order to follow the tradition, started by Ōda, of using the 于 radical for /wu/. This would explain why Katayama chose 汙 over Shirai’s /u/ hiragana 𛀍 or another kanji in the same rime such as 烏.


Conclusion 結論
Looking back, I think I was correct to be skeptical of only looking at the shape of Katayama’s kana to deduce its origin character. While this may suffice for Heian era kana, by the Meiji era different orthographic traditions based on different rationales led to some highly improbable conclusions on origin characters. For example, the origin character for ウ is nowadays regarded as 宇 and not 宥 as Katayama states. However, when Katayama expressed /we/ with 汙衣, I knew that my old theory could no longer stand. I’m glad that I could establish a timeline on the usage of 汙 for orthography, and how through Gimon, Katayama would come in contact with it. In addition, the kana shape of hiragana /wu/ matches perfectly to the cursive style for 汙. I think the evidence suggests that the origin of Katayama’s /wu/ hiragana is 汙, and thus, I retract my pervious theory.


However, my research in this area has only just begun. How did Katayama’s orthography impact the other orthographies of the time? What exactly is the contents of Gimon Hōshi’s commentary to Norinaga’s Jion Kanazukai? How do Edo Orthographic studies relate to those of the Heian period and those from China? What little clues am I missing in the manuscripts which I have already read? Fortunately, I intend to keep on researching these orthographies, and I will keep you in the loop if I find anything notable. And who knows, maybe I’ll be seeing you next time in my reply to my reply~


English Translation of The Five Poems of Reminiscence 五首述懐の英訳

Before I started to study Classical Japanese, I played a series of games popular in Japan called the Touhou Project (東方Project). They are bullet-hell games that incorporates many Classical East Asian stories. For example, Kaguya, from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter has a counterpart character within the series. In the fan made English patch of the 7th game of the Touhou Project, Perfect Cherry Blossom, after defeating the final boss, Yuyuko Saigyōji (幽々子西行寺), this text is displayed.

古文の勉強を始める前に、東方Projectと呼ばれる日本で人気のゲームシリーズをプレイした。このゲームはたくさん東アジアを起源とする古典的なストーリーを含む弾幕ゲームである。例えば、シリーズには竹取物語の主人公かぐや姫をモチーフとした「輝夜」というキャラクターが登場する。東方Projectの第7番のゲーム、東方妖々夢~ Perfect Cherry Blossom、ファンが作った英語化パッチは最後のボス(幽々子西行寺)を負かした後、このテキストが現れる。


Remembering the melancholy of human existence
Even ghosts stray from the path of righteousness


Even now I think this is a powerful verse. It reminds me of the Rokujō Lady from the Tale of Genji, who even after death had so much anger in her heart from how Genji treated her, that she murdered three of Genji’s lovers. So naturally when I became interested in Classical Japanese (in part due to the Touhou Project), I wanted to investigate the original text of this poem. However, after seeing it, I quickly realized that this English “translation” is not a translation at all, or even a reinterpretation of the poem; it is a completely separate work. Now, I would like to revisit the original poem in the Japanese version of the game.


The poem was written by Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師), also known by his monk name En'i (円位). He was a late Heian, early Kamakura Japanese poet who lived from 1118 to 1190 (He also was the inspiration for the surname Saigyouji (西行寺) within the Touhou Project mythos). He was born a noble in Kyoto but took religious vows in 1140. His Buddhist values and lifestyle are very often the subject of his poems. He lived in isolation in many places, his favorite of which was Mt. Yoshino (吉野山) in nowadays Nara prefecture. Saigyō’s journeys to Northern Honshu inspired the haiku master Matsuo Bashō to take the same journey, which he depicts in Oku no Hosomichi (おくのほそ道). For Matsuo Bashō considered Saigyō to be the greatest waka poet. To be complimented as the greatest waka poet, by who is considered to be the greatest haiku poet, is no small feat indeed. Fortunately, when I stayed in Nara this summer, I was able to visit Mt. Yoshino and see a recreation of Saigyō’s lodging. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of it (it was raining quite heavily). This is the only photo that I have from Yoshino which relates to Saigyō, so my apologies.



Saigyō published his poems in his anthology, the Sankashū (山家集). The aforementioned poem from the Touhou Project’s original Japanese text is poem 908 within this anthology. It is part of a series of five poems called The Five Poems of Reminiscence (五首述懐). Because of my relationship with that poem, I decided to attempt translating all five of them into English so that others could enjoy their true meanings. To ensure that the translations were accurate, I recruited my friend from the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies Classical Japanese class, Michael Zeng, from the University of Washington in St. Louis, to translate these poems into English with me. I would like to thank Michael for working on this project with me; I wouldn’t have been able to do it with you.

西行は山家集という歌集で著した。東方Projectの日本語原文の例の和歌は山家集の908番の和歌である。これは五首述懐と呼ばれる五首の和歌の連作の一首である。私は長い間、西行の歌に興味を持っているので、また他の人が楽しめるように、英訳することを決めた。英訳の正しさを向上させるために、京都アメリカ大学コンソーシアムで古文の授業での同級生で、セントルイス・ワシントン大学の大学生、ソウ マイケルに協力を求めた。マイケルの協力なしでは、英訳を完成させることができなかったので、ここでお礼をいいたい。

Now without further ado, here are some facts about the poems before they are presented. The Five Poems of Reminiscence are poems 908-912 in the Sankashū, but poem 908 also appears in the Shin Kokin Wakashū (新古今和歌集), the eighth anthology of imperially commissioned Japanese poetry, as poem 1829. It is said that poem 908 is a derivative poem from poem 896 of the Senzai Wakashū (千載和歌集), the seventh imperial anthology of Japanese poetry, which itself references poem 645 from the Goshūi Wakashū (後拾遺和歌集), the fourth imperial anthology of Japanese poetry. Poem 909 of the Sankashū is poem 1150 of the Senzai Wakashū. The Five Poems of Reminiscence are each tanka (短歌), but the first line of the poem 912 is a jiamari (字余り).


As for previous translations of Saigyō’s works, the two most prominent are likely Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home by Burton Watson (whose student I studied Classical Chinese under), and Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyō by William LaFleur (which is an expansion of his previous novel on Saigyō, Mirror for the Moon). However, neither of these anthologies cover any of The Five Poems of Reminiscence. However, I was able to find translations of poem 908 on the Touhou Wiki [link] and [link].

以前の西行の作品の英訳で一番な有名な本はバートン・ワトソンの「西行:山家の和歌」(Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home)(また私はバートン・ワトソンの生徒として、漢文の講義を受けた)とウィリアム・ラフレールの「恐るべし暮れ:西行の生活、時世、和歌」(Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyō)(以前に書かれた西行について本、「月のための鏡」(Mirror for the Moon)の改訂版)。しかしながら、どの本も五首述懐の和歌に触れていない。しかし、908番の和歌の英訳は東方ウィキ[リンク]と[リンク]で見つけることができる。

Now, for the moment you have all been waiting for, Michael and I proudly present our translations of The Five Poems of Reminiscence.


The Five Poems of Reminiscence
By Saigyō Hōshi

I would have died
Without fathoming
The sorrows of the body
Were this a world,
From which I could not withdraw

身の憂さを 思ひ知らでや 罷みなまし 背く習の なき世なりせば

Even as a priest,
At what place
Could I find solitude
Were there no deep mountains
In this sorrowful world

いづくにか 身を隠さまし 厭ひても 憂き世に深き 山なかりせば

This mountain village,
Where I have chosen to hide
The sorrows of my body,
It is because of my priest heart
That I must live here

身の憂さの 隠家にせん 山里は 心ありてぞ 住むべかりける

Tear drops
That know the pathos of the world
Have spilled down my cheek.
That is the reason why
I thatched this grass hut

あはれ知る なみだの露ぞ こぼれける 草の庵を むすぶ契は

Since a static body
Does not suit a
Restless heart,
No matter how I feel
How could I even do it?

浮れ出づる 心は身にも 叶はねば 如何なりとても 如何にかはせん

Tale of Two Korean Interpretations of Man’yoshu Poem 9 万葉集九番歌:韓国語での二通りの解釈の物語

Introduction 紹介
This summer I stayed in Takatori Town and commuted to Doshisha University where I studied Classical Japanese in the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies program led by Columbia University. In Takatori, one of the friends I made who worked at the local tourism center handed me this.



While it was just a simple kind-hearted gesture, I was surprised by the coincidence that heroine was Princess Nukata. Now rewind to winter, when I visited the Nara Prefecture Complex of Man'yo Culture in Asuka Village to listen to a lecture on the Man’yōshū. There, I took this picture.



While it may not be clear what it is (my apologies, I did not intend to post these image), this is a map of Japan with the names of the writers of the Man’yōshū placed by where they wrote their poems. You may note that in the photo of the map on the left, the author for which I took the photo was Princess Nukata.


I also visited Muro Hot Springs in Wakayama, where Princess Nukata supposedly wrote Man’yōshū poem 9, to try to have a better understanding of where she was when she wrote that poem.



So why did I have this obsession with Princess Nukata? Was I drawn to her famous beauty and fantastic writing just as Prince Ōama once had? Well, yes and no. In fall of the prior year, I was looking for a topic of potential research (ironic how this fall I am doing the same). And I was reminded of an article by Avery Morrow I had read many years prior when I was just starting to learn about the Man’yōshū and classical Japanese. This article, The Undecipherable Poem, No. 9 of the Manyoshu [link], introduces poem #9 from the Man’yōshū and discusses the difficulty in deciphering it. Seeking support for my research, I reached out to my school’s librarian, and learned that in fact, her mother was a researcher of man’yōgana (the orthography of the Man’yōshū) focusing specifically on the poems from Ki (紀伊), her hometown. Her mother noted that there was no definite translation of the poem. The librarian gave me a modern version of the Man’yōshū, and also, another book called Another Man’yōshū (もう一つの万葉集). This book, written by Lee Young Hee, was also mentioned in Morrow’s article. Simply, the novel attempts to read several poems in the Man’yōshū in Old Korean, but the librarian’s mother noted that this book was not very academically acclaimed. But nevertheless, this was most certainly worth investigating!

どうして私は額田王にこれほど惹かれるのだろう?大海人皇子が惹かれたように、私も額田王の美と素敵な短歌に惹かれているのだろうか?確かにそうかもしれない。去年の秋に研究できそうなテーマを探していた際、数年前に古文や万葉集を勉強し始めた時に読んだアベリー・モローの記事を思い出した。「解釈できない歌、万葉集の九番歌 」[リンク]The Undecipherable Poem, No. 9 of the Manyoshu)という記事で、万葉集の九番歌を紹介し、その解釈の難しさを説明している。私は九番歌についての知識を深める為に、私の大学の図書館員に連絡した。すると、その図書館員のお母さんが紀伊、郷土、の万葉仮名(万葉集の綴り)の研究者であることが分かった。彼女は、万葉集九番歌に関しては決定的な翻訳がないと教えてくれた。次に、図書館員は私に「現代日本語の万葉集」と「もう一つの万葉集」という本を勧めてくれた。実は、李寧煕(イ・ヨンヒ)の「もう一つの万葉集」はモローの記事で紹介されている。この本は万葉集の数短歌を古代韓国語で読解しようと試みているが、紀伊の研究者によると、学会ではこの本があまり賞賛されていないそうだ。しかしながら、この本を読んでみる必要があると思った。

Nukata no Ōkimi 額田王
For a quick summary of Nukata no Ōkimi’s life, I recommend reading the website of the pamphlet I was given, which can be found at [link]. Though perhaps some may find it too childish, I thought it was cute and informative (though I also enjoyed Genji Fantasy: The Cat Fell in Love With Hikaru Genji at the Uji Genji Monotagari Museum, which my friends and professor described as “quite cheesy”). But to summarize her life, Nukata no Ōkimi, also known as Lady Nukata or Princess Nukada, was an Asuka period poet born to Prince Kagami in about 630 CE. She married Emperor Tenmu and bore him a daughter, Princess Tōchi. It is said that Emperor Tenchi was also interested in Lady Nukata, but there is not much evidence for this. One of her poems rallied the Japanese troops to support the Korean kingdom of Baekje (it fell regardless); another described how she felt when the capital moved to Ōmi and she had to leave Asuka. Thirteen of her poems appear in the Man’yōshū and some of these appear in the Shinchokusen Wakashū and the Shinshūi Wakashū. There is also speculation that she had Korean origins, even before any modern Korean reading of her poems.


While the verifiable information on her life may be barebones, the stories about Princess Nukata are anything but. Her beauty was said to be legendary. In fact, there’s a (not credible) theory that the Jinshin War started because of a love triangle between the two princes over Princess Nukata’s heart. And perhaps naturally this alluringly mysterious woman also wrote one alluringly mysterious poem.


Man’yōshū Poem 9 万葉集の九番歌
Man’yōshū Book 1 Poem 9, written by Princess Nukata, is generally considered the most enigmatic poem of the Man’yōshū. It’s preface is 幸于紀温泉之時額田王作歌 translated by Alexander Vovin as “A poem composed by Princess Nukata when the Empress went to the hot spring in K ï[yi province]”. The mentioned hot spring is thought to be Muro hot spring in Wakayama Prefecture. The reason that there is no kana in this preface is because it is written in kanbun (a complex mix of Classical Chinese and Japanese) and because the Man’yōshū predates the creation of kana. However, the Man’yōshū was also written in an orthography where kanji was used for its phonetic value rather than its semantic, called man’yōgana (万葉仮名). This is analogous to modern day ateji (当て字). Here a chart of many of these kanji.



But this system is much more complex because particles and conjugations are elided. Some man’yōgana are based on their on’yomi, called shakuon (借音仮名) and some are based on their kun’yomi, called shakukun (借訓仮名). Some man’yōgana can even have multiple readings. Man’yōgana is juxtaposed against mana (真名), which are Chinese characters used for their semantic value, with an assigned reading, just like modern day kanji. Fortunately, these poems were transcribed in kana during the Heian period, so we can now read and enjoy them. Poems written in man’yōgana are analogous to 25 Korean hyangga (향가 鄕歌), which are poems written in Korean represented by a complex system of Chinese characters, called hyangchal (향찰 鄕札). However, hyangga were not all transcribed in hangul and thus interpretation remains a difficult task (and an excellent area of research).

この綴りは助詞と活用がないので複雑だ。音読みに基づく万葉仮名は借音仮名と呼ばれ、訓読みに基づく万葉仮名は借訓仮名と呼ばれる。また、万葉仮名は幾つかの読み方があり、これは真名と区別される。真名は現代の漢字と同じように、漢字が意味に沿って使用され、後で読みが充てられたものだ。幸いなことに、平安時代に万葉仮名の歌は仮名で写されたので、現在でもこの歌を楽しんで読むことができる。また万葉仮名で書かれた歌は韓国の25首のヒャンガ(향가 鄕歌)に類似している。25首のヒャンガはヒャンチャル(향찰 鄕札)と呼ばれる漢字の複雑なシステムの綴りで書かれた歌だ。しかし、ヒャンガはハングルで書き写されなかったので、解釈が難しいとされている(また研究が進んでいない分野でもある)。

So, in all its glory, here is Man’yōshū poem 9 (from The University of Virginia’s Japanese Text Initiative),



Now, if we have the kana readings for poem 9, why is it so difficult to interpret? This is because the kana readings among the manuscripts are in conflict with each other. Here is a modern day Man’yōshū’s take on the poem (spoiler alert, it doesn’t even attempt to translate it).




I have also read two other modern Man’yōshū editions wherein neither attempt to translate it. If you want to see possible interpretations by Japanese scholars here is a list of interpretations.



For a western perspective, here is a translation done by the Waka Poetry website [link].

また、西洋アカデミアの視点として、Waka Poetryサイトの翻訳[リンク]を興味があれば見てほしい。

As for the end of the poem, it is considered that the last three lines are properly transcribed in kana and are something along the lines of “我(わ)が背子(せこ)がい立(た)たせりけむ厳橿(いつかし)が本(もと) “My dear one Stood, no doubt, At the foot of the sacred oak!” (from Waka Poetry), but even this is disputed.


Korean Interpretation 1: Lee Young Hee’s 韓国語の解釈1番:李寧煕の解釈
From my research, the first attempt to read this poem in Old Korean was Lee Young Hee’s 1990 book, Another Man’yōshū (もう一つの万葉集). Information about her and her research can be found at [link]. The book attempts to read nine poems in the Man’yōshū, including poem 9, in Korean. Her book was so intriguing that, a New York Times article was written about it [link]. The book... wasn’t too well received in Japan. In fact, a book titled The Man’yōshū cannot be deciphered using Sillan or Korean (新・朝鮮語で万葉集は解読できない) was written as in response a year later. There are also negative response articles such as [link] and [link]. A common criticism is that Lee does not consider Japanese and Korean phonetic changes when interpreting the text as Korean. One of these changes is [p-] > [h-] (Old Japanese は was pronounced as [pa], unlike the modern-day pronunciation [ha]). Another criticism is that there is no reason to interpret the poem as Korean specifically. Why not in Chinese? Or why not in English? I couldn’t help but chuckle when, as a rebuttal, one of these articles noted that reading the word Man’yōshū in English would sound something like “Man-yours-show”, “Show me your man”. And while I think these criticisms ultimately dismantle Lee’s theories, I want to acknowledge the significance of her research to Koreo-Japonic Studies and juxtapose her theory to another’s.

私の知る限りでは、李寧煕の1990年の著書「もう一つ万葉集」が、古代韓国語で九番歌を解読しようと試みた初めの研究である。李寧煕と彼女の研究に関する情報は[リンク]で見つけられる。この著書は万葉集に載っている万葉集九番を含む九首の歌を韓国語で読解しようとしている。ニューヨーク・タイムズがその著書について記事[リンク]を書いたほど、この著書は興味深い。しかしながら、この本は日本であまり評価されなかった。実際のところ出版された翌年に、彼女の本に対する反応として「新・朝鮮語で万葉集は解読できない」という著書も出版されている。また、彼女の本を批判する記事も書かれている。例えば、[リンク][リンク]だ。多くの批評家は李が韓国語でテキストを解釈する時に、日本語と韓国語の音声学的な音変化を考慮していないことを指摘している。例えば、[p-] > [h-](古代日本語で「は」を[pa](ぱ)として発音して、現代日本語で「は」を[ha](は)として発音する)など。他の批評家は、この歌を特別に韓国語で解釈する理由がないことを指摘している。彼らはどうして中国語で解釈しないのだろう、あるいは、どうして英語で解釈しないのだろう、と疑問を投げかけている。ある記事は「万葉集」の言葉を英語で読むと、意味が[Show me your man](男性を見せなさい)のようだと述べていて、少し私自身も戸惑った。私はこれらの反論が李の解釈を覆すと考えるけれど、研究自体の重要性を認識し、李の解釈と他の解釈を比較したいと思う。

To summarize her interpretation, she claims that the poem can be read in two different ways, the “outer interpretation” is about the creation of the capital in Asuka Okamoto no Miya by Empress Kōgyoku. The “inner interpretation” is a rather graphic depiction of Princess Nukata’s love life with either Emperor Tenmu or Emperor Tenchi.


To talk about Lee’s theories, first I want to specify that eumdok (音讀) and hundok (訓讀) are the Korean terms for on’yomi and kun’yomi (it has been theorized that Japan took these concepts from Korea). For the most part, Lee uses standard contemporary eumdok and hundok readings, so I will specify if I cannot confirm that specific reading. But besides checking the readings and adding the English glosses, all of these ideas come directly from Lee. I was unable to confirm the meanings she claimed certain old Korean words had, nor was I able to comment on the supposed Gyeongsang dialect assertions. The Japanese term gikun (義訓) signifies non-standard readings of a character, usually of a somewhat similar word, and usually for dramatic effect.


Overall, I translated Lee’s “outer interpretation” as “Surround the castle with lakeside paradises! Dogeza to the castle! Come! As the castle is still standing, let’s visit it countless times!”

李の「表向きの意味」の現代日本語訳は「水郷(みずごおり) 廻(めぐ)らせよ 大城(こにさし)に 拝謁(はいえつ)せよ 来(き)たれ 城(しろ)立(た)ちにけりに 行(ゆ)き来(き)せむ 幾度(いくたび)」だ。

Original Text 原文Korean Interpretation 韓国語の解釈Contemporary Korean Broad Phonetic Transcription (IPA) 現代韓国語の音声表記(IPA)Old Japanese 古代大日本語English 英語Notes 注釈
莫囂매홀mɛ.hol水郷(みずごおり)[with] lakeside paradises• 매 (mɛ) comes from the eumdok of 莫 which is 맥 (mɛk) (cannot confirm)
• 홀 (hol) comes from the eumdok of 囂 which is 효 (hʲo)
• 囂 can also be read as 골 (kol), which also means township (cannot confirm)

• 매 (mɛ)は莫の音読み、맥 (mɛk)、に由来する(正当性を確認できない)
• 홀 (hol)は囂の音読み、효 (hʲo)に由来する
• 囂は골 (kol)でも読める、郷の意味(正当性を確認できない)
円隣之동글리지toŋ.kɯl.ɾi.tɕi廻(めぐ)らせよSurround [the castle]• 동글 (toŋ.kɯl) comes from the hundok of 円 which is 둥글 (toŋ.kɯl)
• 리 (ɾi) comes from the eumdok of 隣 which is 린 (ɾin)
• The eumdok of 之 is 지 (tɕi)

• 동글 (toŋ.kɯl)は円の訓読み、둥글 (toŋ.kɯl)、に由来する
• 리 (ɾi)は隣の音読み、린 (ɾin)に由来する
• 之の音読みは지 (tɕi)
大相七兄큰사시에kʰɯɕi.e大城(こにさし)にTo the Big Castle• The hundok of 大 is 큰 (kʰɯn)
• 사 (sa) comes from the eumdok of 相 which is 상 (saŋ)
• 시 (ɕi) comes from the on’yomi of 七 which is しち (시치) (ɕi.tɕi)
• 에(e) comes from the kun’yomi of 兄 which is え (e)

• 大の訓読みは큰 (kʰɯn)
• 사 (sa)は相の音読み、상 (saŋ)に由来する
• 시 (ɕi)は七の日本語の音読み、しち (시치) (ɕi.tɕi)、に由来する
• 에(e)は兄の日本語の訓読み、え (e)
爪謁氣조아리게 tɕo.a.ɾi.ke拝謁(はいえつ)せよDozega• The eumdok of 爪 is 조 (tɕo)
• The eumdok of 謁 is 알 (al)
• 게 (ke) comes from the kun’yomi of 氣 which is け₂ (ke) (Frellesvig and Whitman’s Reconstruction)
• 조알게 (tɕ is Gyeongsang dialect for 조아리게 (tɕo.a.ɾ

• 爪の音読みは조 (tɕo)
• 謁の音読みは알 (al)
• 게 (ke)は氣の日本語の訓読み、け₂ (ke)、に由来する(フレレスビッグとホイットマンの再建)
• 조알게 (tɕは東南方言で조아리게 (tɕo.a.ɾを意味する
吾瀬오라o.ɾa来(き)たれCome• The eumdok of 吾 is 오 (o)
• The eumdok of 瀬 is 뢰 (ɾʷe)
• 오뢰 (o.ɾʷe) is Gyeongsang dialect for 오라 (o.ɾa)

• 吾の音読みは오 (o)
• 瀬の音読みは뢰 (ɾʷe)
• 오뢰 (o.ɾʷe)は東南方言で오라 (o.ɾa)を意味する
子之잣이tɕaɕ.i城(しろ)がThe castle• The eumdok of 子 is 자 (tɕa)
• The on’yomi of 之 is し (시) (ɕi)
• These readings combine to produce 잣이 (tɕaɕ.i)

• 子の音読みは자 (tɕa)
• 之の日本語の音読みはし (시) (ɕi)
• この読みは交え、잣이 (tɕaɕ.i)になる
射立為兼서있으니 sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni立(た)ちにけりにIs standing• The hundok of 射 is 쏠 (s͈ol)
• 이 (i) comes from the eumdok of 立 which is 입 (ip)
• The reading 써 (s͈ʌ) is a gikun for 為
• 써 (s͈ʌ) is Gyeongsang dialect for 쓰 (s͈ɯ) or 씨 (ɕ͈i)
• 까네 (k͈ comes from the kun’yomi of 兼 which is かね.る (kane.ɾu)
• 쏘있이까네 (s͈͈.i.k͈ is Gyeongsang dialect for 서있으니 (sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni)

• 射の訓読みは쏠 (s͈ol)
• 이 (i)は立の音読み、입 (ip)、に由来する
• 써 (s͈ʌ)は為の義訓
• 써 (s͈ʌ)は東南方言で쓰 (s͈ɯ)か씨 (ɕ͈i)を意味する
• 까네 (k͈は兼の訓読み、かね.る (kane.ɾu)に由来する
• 쏘있이까네 (s͈͈.i.k͈は東南方言で서있으니 (sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni)を意味する
五可新오가세o.ka.se行(ゆ)き来(き)せむLet’s go and come back• The eumdok of 五 is 오 (o)
• The eumdok of 可 is 가 (ka)
• The hundok of 新 is새 (sɛ), which is equivalent to 세 (se)

• 五の音読みは오 (o)
• 可の音読みは가 (ga)
• 新の訓読みは새 (sɛ)、この音は세 (se)の同じ
何本여러번jʌ.ɾʌ.pʌn幾度(いくたび)Countless times• The hundok 何 is 여러 (jʌ.ɾʌ) (cannot confirm)
• The eumdok of 本 is 본 (pon), which is equivalent to 번 (pʌn)

• 何の訓読みは여러 (jʌ.ɾʌ)(正当性を確認できない)
• 本の音読みは본 (pon), この音は번 (pʌn)の同じ

The same process I applied to the “outer interpretation” I will now apply to the “inner interpretation”, except that I will not be translating it into English. I find her interpretation a bit too distasteful to flat out write in English on this blog. And once again, this is directly from her book.


Original Text 原文Korean Interpretation 韓国語の解釈Contemporary Korean Broad Phonetic Transcription (IPA) 現代韓国語の音声表記(IPA)Old Japanese 古代大日本語Notes 注釈
莫囂마개(麻稭)ma.kɛ麻具(まぐ)• The eumdok of 莫 is 막 (mak)
• Removing the final consonant, 막 (mak) becomes 마 (ma) which is the eumdok of 麻
• The eumdok of 囂 is 효 (hʲo)
• 마개 (ma.kɛ) is Gyeongsang dialect for 마경 (麻茎) (ma.kʲʌŋ) which comes from 막효 (mak.hʲo)

• 莫の音読みは막 (mak)
• パッチム(末子音)を除くと、막 (mak)は마 (ma)になり、 마 (ma)は麻の音読み
• 囂の音読みは효 (hʲo)
• 마개 (ma.kɛ)は東南方言で마경 (麻茎) (ma.kʲʌŋ)を意味し、마개は막효 (mak.hʲo)に由来する
円隣之동글리지toŋ.kɯl.ɾi.tɕi廻(まわ)せよ• 동글 (toŋ.kɯl) comes from the hundok of 円 which is 둥글 (toŋ.kɯl)
• 리 (ɾi) comes from the eumdok of 隣 which is 린 (ɾin)
• The eumdok of 之 is 지 (tɕi)

• 동글 (toŋ.kɯl)は円の訓読み、둥글 (toŋ.kɯl)、に由来する
• 리 (ɾi)は隣の音読み、린 (ɾin)、に由来する
• 之の音読みは지 (tɕi)
大相七兄큰샅이의kʰɯn.sat.i.ɰi~e大股の• The hundok of 大 is 큰 (kʰɯn)
• 사 (sa) comes from the eumdok of 相 which is 상 (saŋ)
• 치 (tɕʰi) comes from the eumdok of 七 which is 칠 (tɕʰil)
• 샅이 (sat.i) comes from 사치 (sa.tɕʰi)
• The kun’yomi of 兄 is え (에) (e), which is one of the ways in which 의 (ɰi) is pronounced contemporaneously

• 大の訓読みは큰 (kʰɯn)
• 사 (sa)は相の音読み、상 (saŋ)、に由来する
• 치 (tɕʰi)は七の音読み、칠 (tɕʰil)、に由来する
• 샅이 (sat.i)は사치 (sa.tɕʰi)に由来する
• 兄の日本語の訓読みはえ (에) (e)で、現代では의 (ɰi)が에 (e)と発音できる
爪謁氣좆알게tɕ麻具(まぐ)を識らせよ• 좆 (tɕot) comes from the eumdok of 爪 which is 조 (tɕo)
• The eumdok of 謁 is 알 (al)
• 게 (ke) comes from the kun’yomi of 氣 which is け₂ (ke) (Frellesvig and Whitman’s Reconstruction)

• 좆 (tɕot)は爪の音読み、조 (tɕo)、に由来する
• 謁の音読みは알 (al)
• 게 (ke)は氣の日本語の訓読み、け₂ (ke)、に由来する (フレレスビッグとホイットマンの再建)
吾瀬오라o.ɾa来たれ• The eumdok of 吾 is 오 (o)
• The eumdok of 瀬 is 뢰 (ɾʷe)
• 오뢰 (o.ɾʷe) is Gyeongsang dialect for 오라 (o.ɾa)

• 吾の音読みは오 (o)
• 瀬の音読みは뢰 (ɾʷe)
• 오뢰 (o.ɾʷe)は東南方言で오라 (o.ɾa)を意味する
子之자지tɕa.tɕi麻具(まぐ)• The eumdok of 子 is 자 (tɕa)
• The eumdok of 之 is 지 (tɕi)

• 子の音読みは자 (tɕa)
• 之の音読みは지 (tɕi)
射立為兼서있으니sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni立ちにけりに• The hundok of 射 is 쏠 (s͈ol)
• 이 (i) comes from the eumdok of 立 which is 입 (ip)
• The reading 써 (s͈ʌ) is a gikun for 為
• 써 (s͈ʌ) is Gyeongsang dialect for 쓰 (s͈ɯ) or 씨 (ɕ͈i)
• 까네 (k͈ comes from the kun’yomi of 兼 which is かね.る (kane.ɾu)
• 쏘있이까네 (s͈͈.i.k͈ is Gyeongsang dialect for 서있으니 (sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni)

• 射の訓読みは쏠 (s͈ol)
• 이 (i)は立の音読み、입 (ip)、に由来する
• 써 (s͈ʌ)は為の義訓
• 써 (s͈ʌ)は東南方言で쓰 (s͈ɯ)か씨 (ɕ͈i)を意味する
• 까네 (k͈は兼の訓読み、かね.る (kane.ɾu)、に由来する
• 쏘있이까네 (s͈͈.i.k͈は東南方言で서있으니 (sʌ.is͈.ɯ.ni)を意味する
五可新 오가세o.ka.se行き来せむ• The eumdok of 五 is 오 (o)
• The eumdok of 可 is 가 (ka)
• The hundok of 新 is새 (sɛ), which is equivalent to 세 (se)

• 五の音読みは오 (o)
• 可の音読みは가 (ka)
• 新の訓読みは새 (sɛ)、この音は세 (se)と同じ
何本여러번jʌ.ɾʌ.pʌn幾度(たび)• The hundok 何 is 여러 (jʌ.ɾʌ) (cannot confirm)
• The eumdok of 本 is 본 (pon), which is equivalent to 번 (pʌn)

• 何の訓読みは여러 (jʌ.ɾʌ) (正当性を確認できない)
• 本の音読みは본 (pon), この音は번 (pʌn)と同じ

Looking at these two interpretations, I think their stark contrast demonstrates how this method of reading the Man’yōshū in Korean is not credible. I also think that finding “results” by utilizing this method in eight other poems also is suggestive that this is not a productive method. Finally, by not considering phonetic changes, this reading of the Man’yōshū in modern day Korean is comparable to reading it as English. So overall, even if I find this idea intriguing, I do not find her argument convincing in the slightest.


However, after she explains her theories, Lee notes the various historical interpretations of this poem and claims that they are all incorrect as they did not know that this poem was written in Korean... but maybe these people knew more than we thought.


Korean Interpretation 2: Alexander Vovin’s 韓国語の解釈2番:アレキサンダー・ボビンの解釈

Alexander Vovin, director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, is one of the most prolific writers on historical Japanese linguistics working today. If he were to attempt to read Man’yōshū poem 9 in Korean, overlooking linguistic developments would not be an issue. But how could he get around the issue that we demonstrated by reading the word “man’yōshū” in English? His solution was to compare the Old Korean interpretation with that of the pre-modern scholars. The main scholar in question is Sengaku (仙覚), a Kamakura monk who wrote the first currently existing commentary on the Man’yōshū, titled the Man’yōshū Chūshaku (萬葉集註釋). This commentary has been invaluable for understanding Man’yōshū poems. But first, let’s look at the preface and then glossing of poem 9 in the Genryaku kōhon (元暦校本) manuscript of the Man’yōshū.

フランスの社会科学高等研究院の重役のアレキサンダー・ボビンは歴史的日本語学の多作家のうちの一人である。もし彼が万葉集の九番歌を韓国語で読めば、音声楽的変化を見落とさなかっただろう。では、英語で「万葉集」の言葉を読む際に生じる問題はどう防ぐことができるのか?(ある記事は「万葉集」の言葉を英語で読むと、意味が[Show me your man](男性を見せなさい)のようだと述べていて、少し私自身も戸惑った。)この問いに対するボビンの答えは現代以前の学者の解釈とボビン自身の古代韓国語の解釈を比べることである。万葉集の現代以前の学者は現存で一番古い万葉集の解説である「萬葉集註釋」を執筆した鎌倉時代の学問僧、仙覚である。この解釈は万葉集の歌を理解するためにとても貴重なものとなっている。まず始めに、元暦校本万葉集の九番歌の詞書とグロスを見よう。


Vovin translates this preface as “A poem composed by Princess Nukata when the Empress went to the hot spring in K ï[yi province]”.


As for the glossing of the first two lines, it is 莫ユフツキノアフキキトヒシ. On appearance, these obviously cannot be readings of those character. They are not the kun’yomi nor the on’yomi of them. Also, it's ironic that Lee has this exact glossing in her book.



Now let’s look at Sengaku’s own commentary on the poem.



Vovin translates it as “Evening moon is the moon of the thirteenth [and] fourteenth day evenings. As for the expression i-tat-as-er-u kane, i is an initial interjection. The meaning of the composed poem is: ‘I asked looking up at my beloved like at the evening moon: My beloved are you going out on a journey? When shall we meet?’ It was the first poem to which [I], an old fool, [added] ‘new glossings.’ Among all 152 poems with ‘new glossings’, this is a poem to which [I] added a detailed commentary. [Otherwise, how] the people who want to know the exact meaning can discover [it]?”


While the last sentence doesn’t directly imply that the poem is not in Japanese, if it was in another language, Sengaku’s statement would certainly apply.


But now to move onto the actual Korean interpretation, I was able to verify the meaning of these Middle Korean words in A dictionary of the Korean language of the Yi dynasty period (李朝語辭典) by Yu Changton (劉昌惇). While the characters of this poem are mostly consistent, the Koyō ryaku ruijū shō (古葉略類聚鈔) manuscript from the Kamakura period has 器 instead of 囂. Vovin claims that 器 was the original character because its fits better phonetically with his interpretation.


For analyzing this poem, I want to reintroduce the words mana, shakon, and shakukun. While I would prefer to use Korean terminology, I do not know if such terminology exists. The Early Middle Chinese reconstruction is from Pulleyblank’s Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in early Middle Chinese, late Middle Chinese, and early Mandarin.

借音は借音仮名の略語、また借訓は借訓仮名の略語だ。前期中古音の再建は「前期中古音と後期中古音と近古音の前期中古音は再建した発音の辞書」(Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in early Middle Chinese, late Middle Chinese, and early Mandarin)に由来している。

Original Text 原文Middle Korean 中期朝鮮語Modern Japanese 現代日本語English 英語Middle Korean Reconstruction (Vovin) 中期朝鮮語の再建(ボビン)Early Middle Chinese 前期中古音Notes (parenthesis indicate IPA broad transcription of contemporary Korean) 注釈(パーレンが現代韓国語の音声表記(IPA)を示す)
莫器나조ᄀᆞᄉᅠ夕べのevening (genitive)nacokʌsmak khih (古代中国語(シュスラー) khɨs)• 莫 and 器 are shakuon

• 莫と器は借音
圓隣ᄃᆞᆯ라리 moontʌrariwian lin• 圓 is a mana for the Old Korean origin of두렙.다 (tuɾep.ta) (to be round)

• 圓は古代韓国語の두렙.다 (tuɾep.ta) (丸い)に由来する真名
之大相티다포仰ぐlook uptʰitapotɕi/tɕɨ da'/dajh sɨaŋ• 之 and 大 are shakuon
• 相 is a shakukun for the Old Korean origin of 보.다 (po.ta) (to see)

• 之と大は借音
• 相は古代韓国語の보.다 (po.ta) (見る)に由来する借訓
七兄爪ㄴ[이]이시아자 いる後exist (after)n[i]isyatshit xwianjŋ tʂaɨw'/tʂɛːw’• 七 is a shakukun of닐곱 (nil.kop) (7 in Middle Korean) with the second syllable truncated (similar to the Japanese usage of 七 as a shakuon for な)
• 兄 is a shakukun wherein its reading is known from being transcribed in the Goryeo language with 奢 (Early Middle Chinese reading ɕia)
• 爪 is a shakuon

• 七は닐곱(nil.kop) (中期朝鮮語の七) の二つの音節を消した借訓 (日本語の借訓、七が、「な」として使用したことが同じ)
• 兄は借訓、兄の古代韓国語の読みは高麗語で奢(前期中古音 ɕia)を写したことから知られた
• 爪は借音
謁氣묻게問うaskmutkeʔɨat kʰɨjʰ• 謁 is a shakukun for the Old Korean origin of 묻.다 (mut.ta) (to ask)
• 氣 is a shakuon

• 謁は古代韓国語の묻.다 (mut.ta) (問う) に由来する借訓
• 氣は借音

This yields the translation of the first two lines “After [I] looked up at the evening moon, [I] did ask:”


From various Man’yōshū manuscripts, Vovin claims that the last three lines are read as わがせこ₁がいたたしけ₁むいつかにひ₁がほ₁.


This yields the entire translation to be “(1/2) After [I] looked up at the evening moon, [I] did ask: (3) ‘My beloved (4) probably went there [on a journey]. (5) When [would I see his face] again?’”

そのため、全体の翻訳は「(一・二) 夕月を仰いだ後、問うた(三)我が背子(恋人)が(四)[旅に]立つだろう(五)何時か又[顔を見る]」である。

As for its meaning, Vovin suggests that her beloved in this poem to be Prince Ōama.


Linguistically, Vovin’s explanation for why these Chinese characters were chosen to represent these Korean sounds makes sense. I didn’t provide all of the exact developments, but Vovin has explanations for every phone, most if not all of them are convincing. Overall, I personally do not know any more information that would support or reject his explanations. Comparing the Korean translation to Sengaku’s reading, I think the evidence suggests that the first two lines of this poem were written in Old Korean.


Things to consider 銘記
As much as I agree with Vovin, I still think it’s important to acknowledge potential biases for both of these interpretations. The relationship between Japan and Korea is extremely complex with nationalism on both sides, especially in academia. As for Lee, her entire academic career has been based on the assertion that Japanese language and culture originate from Korea. Some even call her a Korean supremacist. To suggest a poem in the oldest Japanese poetry anthology is so explicit that I refuse to write its English meaning, is bound to anger people regardless of the evidence or lack thereof. As for Vovin, he is a staunch opponent to the genetic relationship of Korean and Japanese. He explains his skepticism in his book Koreo-Japonica: A Re-evaluation of a Common Genetic Origin. Also, he may have read Sengaku’s translation before reading the poem in Korean, and thus may have subconsciously primed himself to translate it in that way.

私はボビンに賛成するけれど、両者の解釈の偏見を認識することも大切だと思う。日韓関係は双方の強い国家主義が影響して、特に学術界では、とても複雑になっている。李のこれまでの研究は、日本語と日本文化が韓国に由来することを前提としたものである。そのために彼女のことを朝鮮純血主義だという人もいる。最も古い日本の和歌集の歌の意味を、現代日本語訳で書くことが憚られるほど、彼女の解釈が過激であるから(証拠があるかどうかにかかわらず)、人々は信じないであろう。ボビンに関しては、韓国語と日本語の遺伝関係がないと信じている。彼は自身の著書、「日韓母語:共通の遺伝の起源の再評価」(Koreo-Japonica: A Re-evaluation of a Common Genetic Origin)で韓国語と日本語、双方の遺伝的由来の疑いを説明している。また彼は韓国語でこの歌を読む以前に、既に仙覚の解釈を読んでいただろう。そのため、おそらく仙覚の解釈よりに読んだのだろう。

Conclusion 結論
Back to my story, I found out about Vovin’s Korean interpretation from his new (at the time) book, Man'yoshu: A New English Translation Containing the Original Text, Kana Transliteration, Romanization, Glossing and Commentary (Book 1). It was released in 2017, but his research on the topic goes back to an article he wrote in 2002 titled An Old Korean Text in the Manyoshu. He massively improved his evidence from the article to the book, and I highly recommend checking out his translation of the Man’yōshū book 1 for that explanation alone. However, I was surprised that Vovin never referenced Lee’s work. Perhaps he never knew about her? Perhaps he didn’t want to associate his work with hers? But even if he didn’t address it, I think that these two interpretations beg to be juxtaposed as they have such similar intentions, but radically different methodologies. I never ended up writing my paper because I couldn’t find any way to add new information to the conversation. However, I’m sure there’s something there, either linguistically or socially, and I implore you to take a look at this very peculiar poem. I also recommend looking into hyangga, as it's still relatively unexplored (at least in English), I think. But looking past articles and academia, I think there’s something nice about a poem that crosses the Eastern Sea. That even with all of the political problems in East Asia, there was a time, not too long ago, where a beautiful, brilliant, woman composed a verse in two tongues, and it was celebrated to the extent of immortalization. And now, once again, it’s true form, can be understood.

話を元に戻すと、私は「万葉集の第一巻:原文・仮名・ローマ字・グロス・解説含む新英語の翻訳」(Man'yoshu: A New English Translation Containing the Original Text, Kana Transliteration, Romanization, Glossing and Commentary (Book 1))という、ボビンの新しい(その時に新しかった)著書から、彼の韓国語の解釈を見つけた。この本は2017年に出版されたけれど、彼のこのトピックに関する研究は2002年に書かれた、「万葉集の中の古代韓国語のテキスト」 (An Old Korean Text in the Manyoshu) といる記事に遡る。最初の記事の執筆から著書の出版する際には、自身の主張をサポートする証拠の質が向上していた。特に九番歌の解釈の説明に関しては、彼の万葉集の第一巻の翻訳を勧める(今のところ日本語の翻訳はない。また、私はボビンが李の研究について言及してなくて、驚いた。もしかして、彼は李について知らなかったのかも知らない。またボビンは李の研究を自分の研究と結びつけたくなかったのだろうかとも思う。彼が李の研究を言及しなかったけれど、ボビンと李の二つの解釈は、似たような意図を持ちながら、違う方法論を展開しているため、二つを比べる必要があるだろう。私はこれらの論議に加えられるような新しい情報を見つけられなかったため、記事を書き終えられなかった。しかし、語学的に、または社会的に、絶対に何かがあると思って、この面白い歌を多くの人に読んでもらいたいと願う。また未だに深く研究がなされていない(英語でさえ)ヒャンガに注目することも勧める。しかしながら、過去の記事や学会を顧みると、この九番歌が日本海に越えたということがすばらしいと思う。東アジア地域では、政治の問題は沢山あるけれど、ほど遠くない昔に存在した美しく輝かしい女性が、二つの言語でこの歌を詠んだ。そして、その歌が不滅になるほど、祝われた時代があった。そして、もう一度、この歌の本当の意味が理解される時が来るだろう。

Convert Kana to Hentaigana Program 正体仮名を変体仮名に転換できるプログラム

Disclaimer 記事を読む前の重要事項
This program is now deprecated and likely will not work properly. Please read about my updated hentaigana input software here.


When I was in Hokkaidō, I visited the Sapporo Beer Museum. I was impressed by the quality of the beer and the information provided during the tour. But as I was leaving, I saw this.



I immediately got excited as I realized this was hentaigana, kana characters that became nonstandard after the 1900 script reform. Despite how they are quite rare now, they were very widely used prior to the Meiji period. So how do we read it? Fortunately, there was a translation too.


barrels translation

But let’s say we wanted to write this in a word document. Previously, we would have to save each character as an image, but after the Unicode 10.0 update in June 2017, 287 hentaigana characters are included in Unicode.


This is all well and good, but how do we actually write these characters. Previously, the easiest solution would probably be to head to Wikipedia ( and copy the character you want. But recently, I developed a lightweight program that streamlines this problem. It doesn’t really have a flashy name; I just call it Convert Kana to Hentaigana. To use it, you type the standard kana of the hentaigana you want, and then a list of available hentaigana will appear on the right-hand side. Then, you press the number or symbol of the hentaigana you want, and the program will replace the standard kana with that hentaigana. Here is an example of me typing the sentence on the barrels.

変体仮名を含んでいるのはいいけれど、どうこれらの変体仮名を書こう?以前は、一番簡単な方法はウィキペディアに行って(、変体仮名をコピーすることだ。しかし最近、私はこの問題を解決するための軽量プログラムを作った。カッコイイ名前じゃない、正体仮名を変体仮名に変えよう!(Convert Kana to Hentaigana)という名前だ。このプログラムの使い方は、転換したい変体仮名の正体仮名を入力して、右側に使用可能な変体仮名の表が出る。そして、転換したい変体仮名の数、または記号を押すと、プログラムは正体仮名を変体仮名に換えることができる。ここに例として、私は写真に書かれたの文を入力した。

Barrels type example

The font the program uses is called UniHentaiKana (it’s also used on this site). You can download it from The program can run without the font installed, but you won’t be able to display the text in any other programs, so it’s highly recommended.

プログラムが使うフォントはUniHentaiKanaと呼ばれた(また、このサイトで使われている)。 からダウンロードできる。このフォントをインストールせず、このプログラムが実行できるけれど、他のプログラムではテキストが表れないので、フォントのインストールを強く勧める。

You also might notice, Kana Only Mode. What this mode does is suppress the Windows Japanese IME after each kana, so that the kanji selection box doesn’t interfere with the hentaigana selection box. Basically, it avoids this.

また、仮名だけモード(Kana Only Mode)にも注目してほしい。このモードは格仮名を入力した後で、漢字の選択のボックス(IMEボックス)が変体仮名の選択のボックスが差し支えないように、ウィンドスの日本語のIMEを使用できないようにした。つまり、この機能が、以下の問題を防ぐ。

cant see list

This mode would be more convenient if you’re only typing in kana. For example, if you were typing the hentaigana iroha poem, it might be more convenient to use Kana Only Mode. (Whenever there is a squiggle underneath the text, there is a Windows Japanese IME selection box; I couldn’t capture it with my screen recorder).



kana mode

So, what are you waiting for? Why don’t you digitize some old texts, or just mess around with this program? You can download it from today!

さあ、そこの君、今、暇をしている?だったら、このプログラムを使って、古いテキストをデジタル化しよう! からダウンロードできるよ!

The Origin of Hiragana /wu/ 平仮名のわ行うの字源

Disclaimer 記事を読む前の重要事項
Due to some new evidence I no longer support the theory in this article. I highly recommend reading this article and then read Reply to The Origin of Hiragana /wu/ to know the most up to date information on hiragana /wu/.


Introduction 紹介
When I decided to learn Japanese, the first thing I did was to type random kana characters using the kana keyboard to try to understand how the keyboard works. This brought me to the gojūon chart and from there I learned what kana is. So naturally, the gojūon chart and I go way back. But I believe it was when I started doing research on Kobun Tomodachi that I first encountered the Internet famous complete gojūon chart.


wikipedia image hiraganawikipedia image katakana

Personally, I think this image is so intriguing on the internet because it’s aesthetically pleasing to have a complete chart, and at such a great quality. But of course, this begs the question, where did the hiragana /wu/ character come from? It’s pretty well-known that kana are derived from kanji but looking at the also internet famous Kana Development Chart, hiragana /wu/ is the only character whose origin is completely unknown.


kana development chart

So naturally, I became intrigued in this one character whose origin was unknown. And now, I am pretty confident that I have found its origin.


So that’s what I’m going to explain to you today. But before we begin, I would like to specify that this is not an academic article. Some of the background information I will accept as canon, even if I cannot find a scholarly source backing it up. I write this more as a keystone investigation to encourage future more serious study.


Phonetic Background 音声的背景
In the Nara period, the /e/ and /ye/, /i/ and /wi/, and /o/ and /wo/ sounds were distinct. /ye/ merged with /e/ before the creation of hiragana and katakana. /wi/ and /we/ merged with /i/ and /e/ respectively after the creation of kana, and thus have kana representations (ゐヰ and ゑヱ). However, the /yi/ and /wu/ sounds have never existed in the Japanese phonemic inventory.


Internet Investigation on Hiragana /wu/ 平仮名「wu」に関するインターネットの調査
In Japanese, the term for /wu/ is W-Row U or わ行う. In the time of writing, there only exist Wikipedia pages on the topic in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. The Japanese Wikipedia page of /wu/ in spring 2018, when I started researching for Kobun Tomodachi, had much less information than today. The relevant aspect is that Japanese page had the gojūon chart (though the source was not listed) and the page stated the origin of the katakana /wu/ is 宇 and the origin of hiragana /wu/ is 㐵. But besides the Chinese Wikipedia page, I could not find any other sources with the origin of hiragana /wu/ as 㐵. So ultimately, I just decided to put 宇 as its origin in my app (a decision I now think was very foolish). But fast forward to March 2019 and while I’m re-checking the information in my app, I come across an updated Wikipedia page. Now, the listed origin for hiragana /wu/ is 汙, with a source of a GlyphWiki character page, which claims they are related. A little Google search and I come across a tweet from @Umihotarus, explaining the decision. 汙 is a variant form of 汚, which was used as a man’yōgana for /u/ in the Nara period. Okay case closed, but not yet. The Wikipedia page, thanks to the research by Dr. Kazuo Mabuchi (馬渕和夫) in A Discussion on the Fifty Sound Chart (五十音図の話), has finally named the source of the famed complete gojūon chart, 綴字篇 by Junkichi Katayama (片山淳吉). Also, the page now mentions that the distinct characters for /wu/ and /yi/ were first created in 音韻仮字用例 by Hirokage Shirai (白井寛蔭). Now, I had a place to start, and my own research could commence…


The Origin of the Distinction 区別の原始
So, as I mentioned before, the characters for /wu/ and /yi/ were first created in 音韻仮字用例 by Hirokage Shirai (白井寛蔭). However, this isn’t exactly true in that he didn’t invent the kana, he just designated specific ones used for /i/, /e/, and /u/ to /yi/, /ye/, and /wu/. I provided the kana he designated below with the kanji he suspects to be the origin next to it. The kanji in parenthesis is the more generally accepted origin kanji.


/i/い 伊 (以) イ 伊
/yi/𛀆 以Ya-yihira.jpg 以
/u/𛀍 有 ウ 宥(宇)
/wu/う 于 (宇) 于 宇
/e/え 衣 〈  衣
/ye/𛀏 盈 ye katakana 廷

Real origin 2Real origin 1

Obviously, this system did not catch on entirely.


Various Meiji Era Gojūon Systems 明治時代の様々な五十音システム
A difficulty in studying the origin of kana is that different sources say different information. Below I’ve listed some Meiji era systems.


Here is the system in かなづかひ教科書 (1886).



Here is one from 小学教授書 (~1873).



Here is one from 小学日本文典 (~1874).



And finally, one from 仮名遣 (1891).



We’ll circle back to this chart, because it has an interesting feature I did not notice on first glance…


As none of these differing systems seem to have the hiragana /wu/ found in the textbook, I had no other choice but to turn my attention to the textbook with the complete chart itself.


Analysis on 綴字篇 綴字篇の分析
I have divided the textbook into the sections below.
1. Introduction
2. Vowels
3. Consonants
4. Voiced Consonants
5. Katakana Gojūon Chart
6. Hiragana Gojūon Chart
7. Hentaigana Gojūon Chart
8. Correct Kana vs Hentaigana
9. Kanji numerals
10. Monosyllabic words
11. Disyllabic words
12. Trisyllabic words
13. Quadrisyllabic words
14. Pentasyllabic and greater words
15. Kan vs Go vs Tō readings of kanji
16. Geminatd Words
17. Handakuten Words

The famous chart is in the Hiragana Gojūon Chart section.

1. 紹介
2. 母字
3. 子音
4. 濁音の父音
5. 片仮名五十聯韻音の図
6. 平仮名五十音字正体の經
7. 平仮名五十音字変体の緯
8. 平仮名正変両体
9. 数目
10. 一綴の語
11. 二綴の語
12. 三綴の語
13. 四綴の語
14. 五綴以上の語
15. 漢呉唐音
16. 促音
17. 半濁音



Now, Junkichi Katayama published 綴字篇 in 1873 and is the only chart I found to use this specific hiragana /wu/ (though I believe it is mentioned in a later work). We saw other charts use a /u/ hentaigana for /wu/, but none used this specific /wu/ character. Just by looking at this kana, the right radical appears to be 于, so we can assume that if a kanji inspired it, it would have that as its right radical. Looking at the hentaigana chart in my app Kobun Tomodachi, we see that this character does not match any of the Unicode encoded hentaigana /u/ characters.



Now when I first saw this kana, I just assumed that it took its right radical from its katakana counterpart, and the left stroke was added to match the likes of け, に, は, and ほ (hence why I put 宇 as its origin in Kobun Tomodachi But of course, this isn’t evidence, and the theories on 汙 and 㐵 being the origin make equal sense. So I decided to look a little deeper to see if I could find clues to the origin of this mysterious character.


Out of these sections, the Hentaigana Gojūon Chart, and Correct Kana vs Hentaigana sections appear to be the most helpful. As for the Hentaigana Gojūon Chart I have listed the kana and the kanji that inspired it next to it in Unicode.



𛄋𛃰や 也𛃅 滿𛂦𛂁𛁠𛀾𛀚𛀄
𛄚𛄆𛃫𛃙𛃀𛂜と 止そ 曾𛀸お 於

Now intuitively, if we just created a kana character based off a kanji, rather than creating a hentaigana for it, it would be easier to just make a sloppier version of it, closer to its original kanji. We also see a similar looking character in the Correct Kana vs Hentaigana section.



So, let’s examine this character more closely.


grass script wu1grass script wu 2

If we juxtapose it with the “real” kana character, we see that the “hentaigana” variant appears to just be a sloppier version of the “real” character.


real wu 1real wu 2

But what does this mean? This implies that the hiragana /wu/ character was inspired by an actual character, and the “hentaigana” variant is just a sloppier version of that kanji!


Which Character Inspired Hiragana Wu? どの漢字が平仮名「wu」の字源?
Looking at the right radical of the “hentaigana” variant, I think it’s obvious that it’s 于. It wouldn’t be 干 because that is read as /kan/ and most characters with it as the phonetic component are also read as /kan/. Characters with 于, on the other hand, are read as /u/. But the left side was a little trickier to me. While I’m not an expert in reading different Chinese script styles, it looked to me to be Cursive Script (草書). Intuitively this makes sense as writing man’yōgana in Cursive Script created the intermediary between man’yōgana and kana, sōgana. I looked through Marcus Sesko’s Identifying Japanese Cursive Script for all the characters with the 于 radical on the right. There are two. They are presented below.

変体仮名の旁を見れば、于だということが明らかだ。干の漢字の音読みが「かん」であるから、変体仮名の旁は干ではない。一方、于が旁の漢字は音読みが「う」だ。でも偏の方が私にとってはトリッキーだ。私が字体風格を読む専門家でなくても、それらは草書のように思える。直感的に、万葉仮名を草書で書いた結果、草仮名と呼ばれる仮名と万葉仮名の中間の文字が作られたように思える。私は旁が于である漢字をマルクス・セス子の草書の識別(Identifying Japanese Cursive Script)を調べた。そしてそのような感じを二字見つけた。下に書いてあるものがそれだ。


That’s it! 紆 is the origin kanji! Case closed! Well, not exactly. I would like to present some reasons on why I think 紆 is our best theory on the origin of hiragana /wu/ in this textbook.


First, this character written in Cursive Script does look extremely similar to the one in the textbook. Second, this textbook was written during the Meiji period, so if one was to pick a character to represent /wu/, one would most likely use a common character then, which is likely still common or at least somewhat common now. Now I’m not saying that 紆 is common at all, but compared to our other options, it appears to be the best. The characters I found with a right radical of 于 are 迂汙吁盱訏扜旴紆虶杅圩玗骬釪㐵㚥䄨趶衧䏏酑䩒. Only 迂 is a jinmeiyō kanji; the rest are hyōgai. However, 迂, 吁, and 紆 are JIS X 0208, so they are not too obscure. Third, let’s look at the other proposed origin kanji, 汙 and 㐵. Here are Cursive Script characters with those radicals. Clearly they could not have produced that “hentaigana” variation.

先ず、草書で書かれた紆という漢字は教科書で見た、変体仮名に似ている。また、この教科書が明治時代に書かれたから、「wu」を表すための漢字を選ぶとしたら、おそらく、その時代によく使われたの漢字を選ぶだろう。そしてそれらの漢字は、今でもよく使われる、また知られているものだ。また紆がよく知られた漢字だとを言っているのではなく、他の漢字に比べて、紆が一番有力である。私が見つけた旁が于の漢字は「迂汙吁盱訏扜旴紆虶杅圩玗骬釪㐵㚥䄨趶衧䏏酑䩒」だ。迂だけが人名用漢字で他は表外漢字だ。然し、迂と吁と紆はJIS X 0208だから、レアではない。最後に、字源として可能性のある汙と㐵を見よう。下記は、その部首を含む漢字の草書体がある。それらが変体仮名の字源でないことは明らかだ。


On the other hand, look at the 糸 radical Cursive Script characters. All of those radicals look the same as the “hentaigana” one.



However, I won’t hide that other radicals can produce a Cursive Script radical that looks similar to the one in question. If we look at the hentaigana chart below in Kobun Tomodachi, we can see some examples. However, these examples are outliers and usually those radicals are written differently in Cursive Script.



Another Reference 他の参照
Originally, I thought that there was only one instance of this hiragana /wu/ character, but in doing research for other systems at the time, I think I found another example. Let’s look back to 仮名遣 (1891), which came out after 綴字篇 (1873).


wagyou u kanadukai 2wagyou u kanadukai 1

If we look at the hentaigana section for /wu/, we see a character that looks eerily similar to the Cursive Script form of 紆. This implies that the system of 綴字篇 (1873) wasn’t entirely isolated, and it may have possibly been adapted in other works I have yet to read.


Future Research 将来の研究
Looking back, I am pretty convinced that 紆 is the origin kanji for that textbook, but I still think there is room to do more research. I have yet to find any contemporary academic article in Japanese or English purely on this topic, and I question if there even is such a study. I aimed to only start the conversation, not to have all of the definitive answers. I only looked at a handful of systems for /wu/ that appeared during the Meiji period, there are probably many more out there, and possibly even earlier examples. It would be interesting to measure “all” systems and see if they differ based on region or time or something else. Are there other examples of this hiragana /wu/ kana being used? What was the distribution of 紆 during the Meiji period? Why was 紆 selected for /wu/ rather than a man’yōgana for /u/? If you are going to take this upon yourself and do some research, I highly recommend A Discussion on the Fifty Sound Chart (五十音図の話) by Dr. Kazuo Mabuchi (馬渕和夫). He thoroughly explains the history of the gojūon chart and provides many examples of it in the Meiji period.


I hope you enjoyed reading this, I’m glad to have a much more definitive answer to a question that I have had for over a year. I also hope that this is well-crafted enough to be a source on Wikipedia, lol.