Basic Japanese : “Iroha-uta”, line by line – Part 1 –
“Iroha-uta” as a poem
I’m going to explain the meaning of the poem in two posts.
As I wrote in the previous post, it is thought to be composed in the Heian era (794 – 1185).
In the major theory, the poem is said to express a doctrine from the Nirvana Sutra.
But the poem can be interpreted in various ways, because it is written in Japanese alphabets.
Some say it has nothing to do with Buddhism, but more common theme.
Some even think it’s from Christianity.
It is quite difficult to define the meaning without Kanji characters, as there are many homonyms in Japanese.
Also, it is assumed that pronunciations and characters were different in the old times.
In this “iroha-uta”, there are no characters with two dots or a small circle, and this makes harder to know the exact meaning.
(Its unknown composer had got no intentions to limit readers’ imaginations by making it clear, maybe?)
The following interpretations of the poem are (I suppose) general, but please note that they are just for reference.
So far (probably for ever), it is impossible to get the absolutely precise or correct explanations.
– About a character with dots or a circle –
For instance, the character for the “Ha” mora:
It is pronounced as “Ba” when it has written with two dots on the right top.
“Pa” with a small circle.
I don’t know whether there were no sounds like “ba” or “pa” in the old Japanese, or we just hadn’t got the way to write it.
“Iroha-uta”, line by line
In this post, I’m writing about the first two lines.
This line is an interpretation of a Buddhism thought, “Nothing is permanent”.
Although there are scents of colours
Although there are scents of blooming blossoms
(The blooming blossoms) will be gone.
I myself believed that the meaning of this line is “Although there are (still) scents of blooming blossoms, the blooming blossoms HAVE already gone” because “nuru” from the second phrase is a helping verb to express the perfect tense for the verb “chiru” (“fall out” or “disperse” in English).
However, it seems that this was not a major interpretation, judging from a several websites I found.
Almost all of the websites I saw translated this phrase in the future tense.
From a Buddhism thought, “It’s a truth that everything (every being) lives and dies”.
In this world, who on earth
The last part of the phrase, “dare zo” (“dare” means “who”), is generally written as “tare zo” even in the current Japanese version.
However, Kanji character for English “who” is almost always pronounced as “dare” now, so I chose it for the image rather than “tare”.
Could stay the same forever?
The last character is a part of the words “na(ru)” + “ramu”, and “mu” is now pronounced as “n” in this case.
“Na(ru)ramu” indicates its user’s assumption, like “should be” or “probably”.
Next post : The rest of the poem and a hidden message
Latest posts by kara (see all)
- Basic Japanese : “Sumimasen” – “Thank you” in Japanese - June 24, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Arigatou” – “Thank you” in Japanese - May 29, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Go-chisou sama” – Phrase after meal - May 27, 2015
General Info : Japanese Alphabetical orders There are two patterns of Japanese Alphabetical orders. One starts with “A”, “I”, “U”. This is now used at school to learn Japanese Alphabets, Hiragana and Katakana. Known as “Gojyuu-on” (lit. “fifty sounds”). The other starts with “I”, “Ro”, “Ha”. Probably this was more commonly used before. Known as […]
There are several ways of saying “Thank you” in Japanese. In this post, I am going to explain the most common phrase for “Thank you”. Arigatou (gozai masu / mashita) The phrase was derived from “Arigatashi”, which literally means “difficult to be”. The Kanji in “ari” means “there is” or “be (there)”, and another in […]
One to ten in Japanese 2 In this post, I’m going to write minor version of one to ten in Japanese. I doubt if this is introduced in Japanese textbooks for foreign people. This is still used, but rather rare I guess. Also, it’s less favourable in the formal conversations or texts. Minor ways to […]
At first, I was going to write about how to say “you” in Japanese, but the most common “you” word is a person’s name usually with suffix like “san”, “kun”, or “chan”. (ex. Hanako-san) This way of calling is used as third person as well. In this post, I’m trying to explain the variants and […]
Old-fashioned / historical “I” in Japanese The following “I” pronouns are well-known and can be quite often heard / seen in historical stories especially those which are set in the Edo period. But, these are rarely used in the present time. Neutral [Temae] “Temae” literally means “before hand(s)”. The near side of someone / something. […]
Go-chisou sama (deshita) This phrase is said after meal. It expresses appreciation to people who prepared or cooked the meal. “Chisou” literally means “running around”. The Kanji character for “chi” means “run fast” or “travel fast on horseback / by car”. The “sou” character means “run”. People used to run around (or ride around on […]
The final post about numbers in Japanese. Number over quadrillion Numbers over “chou” (trillion to quadrillion) are quite rarely used. You may hear the following unit “kei” sometimes, but numbers over the unit “kei” won’t be seen in usual life. I’ve never seen it myself even in the news and I actually can’t name units […]
Many of Japanese honorific titles in text are the same as ones in speech. However, “sama” or “dono” is much more often used in text, especially for address. Maybe it’s because a writer is in the distance. In a letter, use the same title as one in speech. When I write a letter to my […]
“Thank you” in Japanese other than “Arigatou” “Arigatou (gozai masu)” is the common phrase, but there are other phrases for “Thank you” in Japanese. Sumimasen The phrase is also very common and frequently heard in Japan. (Maybe more often used than “Arigatou”). This has several meanings : “I’m sorry.” “Excuse me.” “Thank you (and I’m […]
General, but not very often used “I” in Japanese Several first-person singular pronouns for common people, only used by some. Neutral [Jibun] “Jibun” means “oneself”. Can be used by anybody according to circumstances, but I guess few common people use this as a usual pronoun for themselves. Maybe male athletes often use this, especially in […]