Friday, December 04, 2009

Eating Kaki

In Japanese, some words have double meanings. "kaki", for example, can indicate a persimmon fruit. It can also mean the "oyster". A strange property of natural language comprehension is that based on the context, one tacitly assumes that "kaki" is one or the other. When "kaki" is used in the context of the persimmon fruit, one almost never thinks of the other possible meaning.

There is a famous haiku poem which can be translated as "Eating kaki, The bells of the Horyuji temple, Ringing"

Kaki here obviously refers to the persimmon fruit, which is a fruit of the autumn. It is fitting. One remembers how beautiful Horyuji temple, one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings, appears when the leaves turn red in preparation for winter.

Yesterday, when walking in the street, it suddenly occurred to me, for the first time ever in my life, that based on the sound alone, "kaki" in the famous haiku poem can also mean "oyster".

"Eating Oyster, The bells of the Horyuji temple, Ringing".

The scene is changed dramatically. What a mismatch! A comical feeling is invoked, and the haiku poem is changed beyond recognition.

The strange thing is that it never occurred to me to interpret the poem in this way--until yesterday, that is. I wonder what struck my brain out of the blue. A strange combination of neural activities, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

Such a thing occurs these days when word processing via the computer. The uniqueness of the Japanese language is that one would need to select the appropriate Japanese/Chinese letters to be used in a sentence from a list of options presented by the word processing software to which the Romanized pronunciation typed in by the user should be converted. Before presenting the list, the software would first show its suggested conversion, based on its own assumption of the appropriate letters to be used for the Romanized pronunciation in question. While the software would usually manage to suggest the correct conversion, there are other cases where it would show the wrong conversion which, interestingly enough, occasionally enables the sentence to carry a completely different meaning, possibly a more profound one. In such instances, I would wonder if there is a divine existence out there who is playing a small trick on me, or is perhaps seriously trying to tell me something. The most common and simplest of such examples is when one would type in "fukai", which may appear either as "deep", or "discomfort". I find such experiences to be highly gratifying.

Anonymous said...

God helps those who help themselves........................................

yuzu said...

It blew softly when I was in Horyugi.
I closed my eyes, then opened again.
I saw Firenze in there.
It just happened.

Takuro said...

I would like to say that in a manner, you created another new haiku out of a famous one, and it is very nice and fantastic.
I feel like experiencing the situation that you came up with, actually.