太閤道 taikou dou—the regent’s way

Yesterday Yuko was visiting friends near Tokyo, and I took the dogs for a 15 km walk in the hills in northern Osaka.

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The trail is 太閤道 taikou dou—the Regent’s way, called after Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th-century Imperial Regent, who apparently crossed this mountain after the Battle of Yamazaki. The trail isn’t very demanding, though it is reasonably steep in places (and if you venture off the trail, the terrain can be very steep indeed). The summit of the trail is around 315 metres, and the two ends are around 55 metres elevation, so if you do what we did and walk it both ways, the total ascent is around 1000 metres.

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Although it was a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, there was almost nobody else around, so the dogs were able to enjoy running freely off the lead.

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At a couple of places, the forest cover opens out to give a view over the Yodogawa River and Osaka’s northern suburbs.

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For the first half-hour or so, the feeling of peace and serenity was spoiled by the sounds of election campaigning echoing up from the town below (Shimamoto). Japan really is a very noisy country, with vehicles driving around with megaphones blaring competing political messages at unbelievable volume, people shouting outside every store, a non-stop bombardment of recorded warning messages and commercial messages in the street, in the shops, on the trains and in every public space. But as we walked further into the woods, we were able to escape the noise and enjoy a sense of calm and isolation.

Deep in the woods is the ruin of a temple called 金龍寺 konryuuji (Temple of the Golden Dragon). The temple stood for 12 centuries until in 1983 it was burned to the ground by a camper’s fire that was not fully extinguished. It has not been rebuilt.

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At the site of the temple’s main buildings, I met the Golden Dragon’s smaller cousin, a シマヘビ shimahebi, about 5 feet long. He watched us very intently.

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Near the temple buildings was a clearing planted with Japanese irises (hanashoubu).

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This water feature and island can also be found in the grounds of the former temple.

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This signpost in the clearing points the way back to 若山神社 Wakayama Jinja, the shrine at the east end of the trail. The leaves of the maple trees are newly opened.

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This pine tree has lots of shiny “chestnuts” growing on its bark. In Japanese, it’s called ヒトクチタケ hitokuchitake (literally: human mouth mushroom).

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Magnolia trees add extra variety of colour to the forest canopy in spring.

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Note on the word of the day:

Toyotomi Hideyoshi is known by the title of 太閤 taikou—retired regent.

There are numerous words in Japanese with the pronunciation “taikou“. For example:

  • 大綱 taikou—a large rope;
  • 対抗 taikou—opposition;
  • 大公 taikou—an archduke;
  • 対向 taikou—the opposite direction;
  • 退校 taikou—expulsion from school;
  • 体腔 taikou—body cavity

and many others.

This tendency to homonymy is especially prevalent among compound words of Chinese origin. The Chinese pronunciation of a character is drawn from a very limited pool of available syllables, so there are dozens of characters with the pronunciation sen, dozens pronounced yuu, and so on. Both 買 buy and 売 sell, although they have opposite meanings, share the same “Chinese” (Sino-Japanese) pronunciation: bai.

This means that any single character, spoken out of context, is effectively meaningless, and even when 2 characters are combined to form a word, it can still be ambiguous.

For example: 漁師 ryoushi is a fisherman, whereas 猟師 ryoushi is a huntsman. The two words are pronounced identically, and it may be impossible to tell, even in context, which is meant. (There are many other words with the same pronunciation.)

Another example: on the Japanese computer keyboard, there are two special keys called 前候補 zenkouho—previous candidate; and 全候補 zenkouho—all candidates.

These words can not be distinguished in the spoken language, but the meaning is completely clear when they are written in kanji.

This is a key argument against the abolition of the Japanese writing system.

(The standard counter-argument goes like this:

Clearly Japanese can be understood when spoken. So if you have a system that adequately represents the sounds of the spoken language, why would not that also be comprehensible? Furthermore, the Koreans have successfully changed over from kanji to a phonetic system.)

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