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A Frog Blog

Last weekend, when my language partner and I chatted about world affairs, I discovered this fun term in the dictionary:

井蛙の見 (せいあのけん: narrow perspective)     well + frog + to see

Kensuke-san called it a difficult expression, one that he hadn't heard. Nevertheless, he immediately knew the situation to which it referred.

Here's the story: A frog is living in a well, and because it contains water, he believes he's in the ocean. He also thinks he's seeing the whole world. Of course, he glimpses nothing but the narrow shaft of the well.

I have since learned that this story originated in a book that a Chinese philosopher published in the fourth century BCE.

I love this story. It's hard to say exactly why. Maybe it's that Haruki Murakami often writes about wells, particularly as they relate to the unconscious mind. The frog tale is about consciousness, so it seems a perfect fit.

Perhaps I also love the story because there's something deeply satisfying about 井, which means "well." I adore the neat symmetry and the way it reminds me of tic-tac-toe. I also find wells fascinating, and my excitement is again a mystery to me. Maybe it's because they belong to two worlds at once—the visible, dry world above, as well as the submerged watery world, Or it could be that they hark back to the ingenious way in which humans used to do things before we had water and electricity traveling directly into our houses. I also find the shape of most wells utterly charming.

[To read the rest, go to Joy o' Kanji]