"The Mayfly" is the 52nd chapter of Genji Monogatari. Prince Kaoru set up the 49th day Buddhist chant for the death of his lover Ukifune at his mother-in-law's residence. The mother and his wife travelled together to some other far-away location. Right after the chant ended, he walks to the west bridge-way of the residence. He has no business being there. But he's been attracted to the elder sister of his wife. The sisters are princesses, and the elder is higher in status. A group of women mingle at the bridge waiting for the moon. In the background, the sound of the thirteen-string harp is flowing. I translated the chat between Prince Kaoru and a woman in the simplest way.
"Who is playing a crying harp?" Kaoru says.
"Do you think she has a brother like Sai-ki-Kei?" a woman replies.
"I'm her uncle on mother's side," he says.
According to 遊仙窟 "Yusenkutu " written by Chou Bunsei, a beautiful heroine has a handsome brother whose name is Sai-ki-kei, and also her uncle is a well-known handsome man according to the book. I can't speak Chinese, so I copied the title from the bibliographies of Imamura Yoshio's translation of Yusenkutu and Royall Tyler's Genji Monogatari: "Yuhsien-k'u" or "You Xian Ku" (Cavern of the Disporting Fairies). "Yusenkutu" was written in the early Tang Dynasty (about 700s).
The book is very erotic, and I'm pleasantly surprised that if I try, I can read some part of it. According to Katumi Takahashi, a professor of Tokyo University, the book is written in the style of the late Six Dynasties (500 - 600) mixed with many colloquial words of the early Tang. I took his class on "The Mayfly." I enjoyed three different professors' classes, but his was the best. You should see his enthusiasm and insights for the story. He talks about the characters as though they are real and alive. And I received a copy of his book review about the most recent study completed on "Yusenkutu."
The recent study shows a new translation of a word 故々. The document studied was the oldest copy in the world. The word was translated into ねたましかお. I think this means an expression of suffering or an intentional expression. I was very impressed with the unknown and ancient translator. I thought only the people who knew both languages from their roots could translate it. Who would have thought故々(koko) is ねたましかお(netamasikao)?! I ponder about the development of the language especially on the vagueness and twisted psychology. In the modern Japanese language, ねたましいmeans "I'm jealous," and it came from ねたましかお. The chat at the bridge made more sense to me.
Also I think 故故 or 故々is considered to be colloquial in the early Tang because a character is repeated. Japanese abbreviate the second character as 々. I paged through my Yusenkutu book and found such as 夜夜 (nights after nights)、朝朝(mornings after mornings) and so on. I haven't researched further, but I imagine that people in the Six Dynasties or the Hun Dynasty that preceded the Tang probably didn't use those repetition or they seldom did. That's my wild guess.
Orally, I think ancient people repeated words, but in chiseling words on bones and stones, they probably wrote them with minimum of words. What a labor! They would be so tired. And the repetition is also onomatopoeic, and in the Japanese language, we use it very often especially in speaking.
For the birth of the Japanese written language and the literature, "Yusenkutu" has been very important. As I mentioned above, it shows up in Genji Monogatari and many others. But Chinese had forgotten about it for a long time until the Edo period (1600 - 1867). That was when Chinese envoys were in Japan, and they were surprised to see its copy. They didn't know the story existed, so they brought a copy back to China. Isn't that interesting? I wish I were there to see their faces when they found it. How exciting all the people were both Chinese and Japanese. They probably had sake together and talked and talked. I hope someone make a movie out of this.
The professor said the Tang people didn't value the book because of the colloquial style of the language and its content. The book has been considered to be very difficult to decipher, but Murasaki Shikibu had read it and referred to it in the above teasing chat in her novel. Isn't she amazing?
If you're interested in the kind of the modern studies done based on the study in the Kamakura period, you can click the below. I think all the studies of ancient languages are fascinating. It makes me appreciate all the efforts scholars put in decoding and creating words.