A Japanese man asked me for the best English translation of 納棺師 (のうかんし), which some dictionaries define as "encoffiner." That answer is far from satisfying, and it certainly isn't clear to most of us. The term 納棺師 refers to someone who prepares a corpse for cremation, as depicted in the film 「おくりびと」 (Departures). Because this profession doesn't exist in English-speaking cultures, it's very difficult to translate the word concisely, as I explained to him.
Around the time we discussed all this, I saw Like Someone in Love (ライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ), a Japanese-language movie directed by Abbas Kiarostami (who is from Iran and knows no Japanese!). A character used the following word:
漁師 (りょうし: fisherman)
When I heard りょうし, I imagined that the -し corresponded to 士, as in 弁護士 (べんごし: lawyer). Clearly I was wrong. It's -師, just as it was in 納棺師.
Soon I found myself wondering about these -し profession suffixes. Is there any way to know whether one is hearing -士 or -師? How do they differ?
I consulted Building Word Power in Japanese: Using Kanji Prefixes and Suffixes. On pages 108–111, author Timothy Vance defines -師 and -士 exactly the same way—namely, as "practitioner" or simply "-er."
Here's what he says about 士: "A word formed with -shi denotes a person who does a job that requires special knowledge or skill. In some cases, a word with -shi implies a license of some kind." He gives this example:
建築士 (けんちくし: licensed architect)
After mentioning job suffixes such as -員 (-いん), -工 (-こう), -人 (-にん), -者 (-しゃ), and -手 (-しゅ), as well as -師, he differentiates -士 words by calling them "terms of respect." In fact, to convey an honorific nuance, people sometimes swap out one of the suffixes I just mentioned for -士. Some examples:
運転手 (うんてんしゅ: driver) —> 運転士 (うんてんし: driver)
調理人 (ちょうりにん: cook) —> 調理師 (ちょうりし: cook)
He points out that -士 words can reflect that people hold academic degrees.
Moving to -師, this suffix indicates that jobs or activities require special knowledge or skills, says Vance. In that sense, -師 overlaps with -士, but -師 lacks any kind of honorific nuance. "In fact," he says, many -師 words "denote a person whose activities are undesirable or illegal." He cites this example:
詐欺師 (さぎし: swindler)
With no apparent irony, he immediately says that -師 also appears in titles of religious leaders, both inside and outside of Japan. I won't even touch that!
[To read the rest, go to Joy o' Kanji!]
Causes Eve Kushner Supports
The Milo Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders, PCI, FINCA