Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Japanese for beginners

An antique-dealer friend of mine showed me this Japanese print, and asked me if I had any idea what it was about, other than that it seems to show a Geisha smoking opium.

I said that I would photograph it, then send it to a good, Japanese friend of mine and ask for a rough translation as to it's meaning.

My Japanese friend married a French man and they now live in Spain with their small daughter, who was born there. The area of Spain they live in is entirely Catalan, so their daughter is being educated in the unique Catalan language, as well as being spoken to in Spanish, French, English and Japanese. Neither of her parents know a word of Catalan.

A few days after I sent her this image, I received an email from my Japanese friend, and her precise words were: "To be honest, I haven't got a fucking clue, so I put it through a Google translator, and this is what it came up with". She included the following text:

'Regimen in light of sexual intercourse (Foundation) Japan Medical Cultural Preservation Society Collection.

These two are paired, each “food”and “sexual intercourse” is illustrated by the work of the body. Excessive or “drank” and “dragonfly larva and I” when it comes to modern “flyer” What I would like. Now the Edo period, the majority of doctors, mechanics and function of the body, trying to empirically analyz the thought. Another way of treatment, which was focused on the experience and precedent have been taken and how the human body to aid healing and ecquipped. This document represents a good sense be said that the body had such people during Edo period.'

So there we have it.


  1. She actually spelt 'clue' as 'crue', but I think that was her good sense of humour. Despite being extremely Japanese, she has the most western sense of humour that I have ever come across in a Japanese person. I love her.

  2. Here's another little story about Mio, my Jap friend. A group of us were sitting around one night, playing cards. The room had gone silent as we all looked at our hands to see if they were any good. Mio must have had a bad one, because she quietly whispered, "Borrocks."

  3. Hell Tom:
    Absolutely clear as mud, Tom, but it is a most attractive print in our eyes!

  4. My son's girlfriend is Japanese and her English is very good. I use Bing Translator when she writes in Japanese. Some of those translations can be a bit nonsensical, although none about bodily functions surprisingly enough!

  5. I have a number of prints by good artists. Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kunisada, Kunyoshi, etc (excuse spellings), and when a young Japanese girl came to stay I also asked if she could translate. She replied no, as it was all in some old style language, not used today. Shame!

  6. To be fair, this print is one of a pair (the dealer only has this one). The other shows a naked woman eating fish...

    The Japanese have none of the hang-ups about bodily functions that the west does, Eileen, and their attitude towards sex is almost mundane in it's openness. They do have a bit of a thing about farts though, as you would find if you go onto Japanese You Tube and type in a search mentioning the subject. Takes all sorts...

  7. It's a very attractive print, and whatever the lady is doing she seems to be enjoying herself.

  8. I was treated to a flight in a small sea plane over The Golden gate bridge years ago
    (a previous partner!)
    I sat in the front with the pilot and some others sat in the back ( I didnt notice who they were as I was so excited)
    the flight was amazing and as we circled the hills beyond the bay we flew into the sun and without thinking I joked with my ex and called out
    "dive dive dive! japs at twelve o clock" etc

    yeap you've guessed it...there was 2 japanese americans in the back of the plane!!

  9. Ha ha! A nice trip, John. A friend of mine's father (now dead, but alive when Mio was living in Bath) was a Japanese prisoner of war, and - as a result - could not bear to be in the same room as any Japanese person.

    Mio and I hatched a plan whereby I would take the old boy out for a drive, with Mio hiding under the back seat ready to pop up and say "Supplies!" at the right moment. Needless to say, we never carried it out.

  10. As it happens I have a Japanese art expert in my house. He can't read the script, but he does say there is no artist signature that he could look up. Perhaps it's on the pair? Although he recognises the style and suggests possibly either Toyokuni III or Kunisada. Mid 19th century. However you really want to know about the subject. Apparently the muddled Google translation is actually very helpful. It's clearly medical and educational, and the illustration is an artistic rendering of that. The woman is not smoking opium, as the Japanese never used it. She's smoking tobacco - just a pinch at a time. The box in her left hand is a tobacco set (tabako-bon) . The bronze or copper cover over the hibachi (miniature brazier) contains hot charcoals from which she and her guests would light their pipes. Smoking was a communal event and this is probably the hostess. She is also naked. You can see her breasts underneath the open blue and red kimono. The art work is well worth enlarging so you can 'read' the diagram of the internal workings of the body. From the figures working the pumps (lungs), the flaming heart (obviously a common representation of the heart across cultures as it's also seen in Buddhist and western religious art), tilling the paddi fields, milling the rice, and finally emptying the night-soil onto the fields (geddit?). Fascinating.

  11. Just as well probably ... I love google translate. It's great fun to write something poetic, put it through Chinese, then Turkish, then back to English. What comes out is an inside out version of my words - frex 'Market' becomes 'Sunday' and 'face' may become 'feel' They make extraordinary love poems. Hallmark watch out!

  12. Thanks, Elegance - I particularly like the reference to her 'pumps'.

  13. I've just enlarged the image; the detail is delightful. Fascinated to read Elegance's description.