Even with Twenty first-century instructing aids, the written Japanese language isn’t the kind of factor one picks up in just a few weeks’ research. A number of hundred years in the past it will’ve been way more troublesome nonetheless, particularly for these engaged in studying the sūtras or scriptures of Buddhism. “The stakes of appropriate recitation have been excessive within the pre- and early fashionable period,” writes The Public Area Evaluation’s Hunter Dukes, “with strict guidelines for pronunciation present because the 1100s, and sūtra recitation (dokyō) turning into an artwork kind within the following century.” Imported from India and rewritten in classical Chinese language with few clues as to how its phrases ought to truly be spoken, the Buddhist canon of east Asia set a mighty problem even earlier than the superbly literate.
As for the illiterate — of whom, in full distinction to modern-day Japan, there have been many — what likelihood did they stand? Salvation, or at any fee an opportunity at salvation, arrived within the Seventeenth century within the type of texts written only for them. “Japanese printers started creating a kind of e-book for the illiterate, permitting them to recite sūtras and different devotional prayers, with out data of any written language,” writes Dukes. “The texts work by a rebus precept (often called hanjimono), the place every drawn picture, when named aloud, sounds out a Chinese language syllable.” Geared towards an agricultural “readership,” this method drew its imagery from what they knew: farming instruments, home animals, and even figures of fable.
The sections right here come from a Twentieth-century instance of this kind of publication, variously Mekura-kyō or Monmō-kyō, held by the British Library. It incorporates a rendition of the textual content of the Coronary heart Sūtra, essentially the most extensively recognized piece of scripture within the canon of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and because the Kyoto Nationwide Musem’s Eikei Akao places it, “most likely the best-known, most well-loved sutra in Japan.” (You might also keep in mind the 37-minute model carried out by beatboxing Buddhist monk Yogetsu Akasaka, which we beforehand featured right here on Open Tradition.) Not way back, the USA Library of Congress posted this Coronary heart Sūtra for the illiterate to its Fb web page. The event? World Emoji Day.
“As a result of these footage characterize sounds, relatively than objects or concepts, they don’t actually act as pictograms the best way emoji do,” admits the author of the Library of Congress’ put up. “However of their icon-like look, succinct and useful, they do bear a resemblance to our use of emoji at this time.” It was then reblogged on Language Log, considered one of whose commenters supplied some rationalization of the system as seen within the footage: “The Sanskrit phrase ‘Prajñāpāramitā’ is rendered ‘Hannyaharamita’ in Japanese. ‘Hannya’ right here is written with a drawing of the hannya demon masks from Noh. ‘Harami’ seems to be an image of a physique (mi) in an stomach (hara), after which ‘ta’ is an image of a ricefield (tanbo, the “ta” of many Japanese names, like Tanaka and Toyota).” Arms have been wringing in regards to the potential of web communication to ship us right into a “post-literate” society; maybe these curious chapters within the historical past of the Japanese language present us the place to go from there.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and tradition. His tasks embrace the e-book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Faceboookay.