click to enlarge
"The Master said: "Practicing archery is like practicing to be a Superior Man.
When you miss the bulls-eye, you look for the error in yourself."
The Doctrine of the Mean, 14:5

An old Japanese manuscript on archery

When I started to learn Japanese many years ago, I hoped that one day I shall be reading old, handwritten Japanese scrolls about secret martial arts... Maybe this was a childish expectation, but I cant believe that some people would study hard for six years just to read some boring business news in Japanese, which are published soon in English anyway...

Now I would like to share with you the thrill of reading these old scrolls... Just to share... I am still a beginner, by no means an expert.

Here is a scanned image of the first page of a manuscript on archery: the book s title is 递窖纪恕办琵 - I found it on the website of the library of the Kyoto University. Indeed, this is a very readable text; most of the books of the same kind are scribbled in an illegible, flowing calligraphic style.

The first few sentence reads as:


己紧赖刽 瓤滇紧露咳。

The first thing you will notice are those strange little marks between the kanjis. Those of the right side are okurigana, grammatical particles added to the word stem. But those on the left corner of the kanji are so-called kaeriten: marking how the text should be rearranged. This text (as lots of other premodern Japanese books) is written as though it were in Chinese: using the grammatical structure of the classical Chinese language.

The vertical line (sometimes appearing on the right side of the kanji) indicates that the two characters form a compound, like for the case 赖刽 seikoku, "bull s eye, mark". The sign that looks like the katakana for re: レ, means that the two kanji should be swapped. This occurs frequently because the Chinese puts the object behind the verb, while in Japanese the object precedes the verb. But the most common marks are numbers: 办 企 话, indicating the order how the text should be rearranged. For example, the first few lines would be rewritten as

赖刽己紧 瓤テ露咳ニ紧滇。

sha wa heiki no chou nari.
sansai ni nottoreri.
koushi iwaku: sha wa kunshi niru ari.
seikoku [wo] shitsu wa, kaerite sono mi ni kore wo motomu.
"Archery is a main weapon.
It conforms to the three powers (heaven, earth, and man).
Confucius says: shooting is like the Superior Man:
[when] misses the target, he rather seeks it (the error) in himself."

Back to main page

This webpage is printer-friendly, free of ads, banners, CSS, and JavaScript.
(C) 2002, Zoltan Barczikay