Friday, 6 March 2015

Kanji Mixup

Dried and fresh Aspidistra leaves, Ornithogalum, Bouvardia.
Curved and straight lines.

"What is it in kanji?" - When asking about the meaning of a Japanese word I often get this question back. The meaning of Japanese words are not always clear when you only hear the pronunciation, or read a transcribed version using the Latin alphabet. Words can sound the same although they are not related. Written in kanji it will be obvious which of the words that is intended in a specific setting.

For non-Japanese speakers this can be confusing and challenging. You will have to ask which translation is the correct. Even Japanese speakers will sometimes think for a while before they get the picture and can identified which kanji that are intended, and hence what the meaning of a word is.

When I got my flower name it was translated for me by someone who did not have access to the kanji characters. My name 'Senju' can have the meaning "a thousand hands" (千手), and that is what I was told that it meant. At first I felt that it was a strange name, but thinking of reaching out a hand as associated with doing good, I started to like it. The meaning could maybe be something like "many good deeds" or even "merciful". The idea of the merciful hands is the inspiration behind this ikebana work, that I named "Senju".

The funny thing was that when I asked other persons, that could also read the kanji, it turned out it was all a typical kanji mixup. Reading my flower name Senju with kanji it reads 泉樹, the first character meaning tree and the second a spring with lively water. Put together the meaning is something like 'A tree growing by a spring with gushing water'. I guess I'll have to make another ikebana arrangement inspired by my flower name to correct the mixup. Or maybe, if one thinks about it for a while, the two meanings "Merciful hands" and "Tree growing by a spring" might not be that far apart on a deeper level after all.

A flower name is a kind of artist name that is given to an ikebana practitioner when reaching a specific level. In the Sogetsu school the name is given together with the first teachers certificate.

This is a tradition that goes back to the idea that knowledge in the arts is transported in the relation between the master and the novice in the act of practicing and correcting. When a geisha apprentice is starting her training she is given a professional name that will be her new name. The word Geisha means 'a person trained in arts' (gei=art + sha=person). The professional name is her geimei 'artist name' (gei=art + mei=name). This name that she is given is derived from her teacher as an expression of the tie that will always be between them.

Senju Kannon 

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