Eikanji
January 31, 2007 5:09 AM   Subscribe

28-year-old Tomomi Kunishige has created a new form of Japanese calligraphy, dubbed Eikanji (literally 'english kanji'), which uses the Roman alphabet to represent Japanese characters. Even if you don't study Japanese her calligraphy is still worth admiring, though it must be said that some of the paintings involve a fairly relaxed usage. (taken from Mainichi Daily News)
posted by Talvalin (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Second link doesn't work. I assume it should go here.
posted by Jimbob at 5:14 AM on January 31, 2007


The second linke should be this.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:15 AM on January 31, 2007


What's kinda funny is that "mainichi" is Japanese for "every day", so the newspaper is, of course, "The Every Day Daily News".

This message brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:18 AM on January 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


Third link crashes my Firefox.
posted by papercake at 5:26 AM on January 31, 2007


Not sure how the second link picked up additional crap in the URL, but thanks for the corrections!

As for the third link, I'm running Firefox and it opens fine. For photo sets, the Mainichi site uses Flash so might that be causing the problem?
posted by Talvalin at 5:31 AM on January 31, 2007


What's kinda funny is that "mainichi" is Japanese for "every day", so the newspaper is, of course, "The Every Day Daily News".

Then the title of the paper in the third link makes for a good haiku: You are now in the "Every day Weekly News"
posted by micayetoca at 5:41 AM on January 31, 2007


her work is so ostentatious and unoriginal. It reminds on me of the ripoff impressionist shit my grandmother hangs on her walls. sorry grandma
posted by afu at 5:47 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I though the 海 + sea one was pretty nice and maintained its integrity pretty well, but revolution was really pushing it and dream was woeful. I guarantee there's about a million primary school kids that have done this, and better, scattered around Japan and if it takes off as a fad over there we'll all be able to enjoy it all on youtube in about a month.
posted by Mil at 5:54 AM on January 31, 2007


And thus it is demonstrated that English written calligraphically can be just as absurdly illegible as Japanese written calligraphically.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:59 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


As Matt at No-sword (an excellent and very funny Japan-oriented blog) says:
Her opinions on character set naming are dubious, though:
Though thoroughly modern -- her natural black hair is dyed a brilliant, shining yellow -- the artist is fiercely proud of her Japanese heritage: those same locks are worn up in a traditional style, she wears a colorful dress made out of one of her grandmother's old kimono and cringes when kanji is described in English as "Chinese characters."

"If I'm using them to write Japanese, what does that make them?" she says, throwing her arms into the air.
It makes 'em Chinese characters used to write Japanese, of course. I suppose you could be pedantic and call them something like "the Japanese branch of the Chinese-character tradition", but that's beside the point. It's most unsporting of her to get all huffy about the English term "Chinese characters" when it is more or less a direct translation of 漢字, kanji: "Chinese [specifically Han] characters". I mean, come on.
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Everybody say bo-ru-bo to describe a Swedish car maker.

Japanese has to be, phonetically, the bluntest instrument in the language tool shed.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 6:38 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Japanese has to be, phonetically, the bluntest instrument in the language tool shed.

No, that would be Hawaiian. With only eight consonant phonemes (/p, k, ʔ, h, m, n, l, w/), foreign loans get seriously reworked; Merry Christmas, to take one well-known example, becomes Mele Kalikimaka.
posted by languagehat at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2007


She... cringes when kanji is described in English as "Chinese characters." "If I'm using them to write Japanese, what does that make them?" she says, throwing her arms into the air.

That girl just plain dumb, is all...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 AM on January 31, 2007


languagehat - it's as ridiculous as if an American got pissed off about having to use "Arabic" numerals.
posted by afu at 6:54 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Chinese characters" when it is more or less a direct translation of 漢字, kanji: "Chinese [specifically Han] characters". I mean, come on.

How about sinoglyphs?
posted by delmoi at 7:11 AM on January 31, 2007


Some of the Japanese kanji are actually different from the hanzi, mostly (entirely?) due to different simplifications, but yes, the vast majority are the same.
posted by jiawen at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2007


WHAT! My numbers are Alqaedas?
posted by Falconetti at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2007


They are now to be known as "freedom numerals".
posted by dazed_one at 7:22 AM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


languagehat, I think FieldingGoodney is referring to the fact that the phonetic alphabets of Japanese (hiragana and katakana) are _syllabic_, e.g. you have completely different letters for the sounds "ka," "ki," "ku," "ke," and "ko." So your merry Christmas example becomes "me-eri kurisumasu" or some such. Consonant slurs are a near impossibility because the only letter in the Japanese phonetic alphabets that doesn't contain what we'd think of as a vowel is "n." They also lack native letters containing sounds like the consonants in "verily" or the vowels in "book," "buck," "back," and "sick." Some of the sounds and sound-combinations are hacked into the language, especially the "v" sound, although many speakers have difficulty with it since there aren't really any Japanese words that use it.

So in one sense, it's true that just about any syllabic alphabet is a pretty blunt tool (unless it's made up of smaller symbols with phonetic meaning). But if you're only worried about missing sound-representations, then most languages are pretty horrid. English lacks reliable ways to indicate the rolled "rr" of Spanish "burro," the harsh chet from Hebrew "Channukah," the flapping r-like sound in Japanese "karate," the vowel sound in the name of the German mathematician "Godel," glottal stops, various clicks, pitch variations, and a gazillion other non-native sounds. You'd never know that the first part of "karaoke" and "karate" are from the same Japanese root "kara" (meaning empty) and that the last part of "karaoke" is a shortening of the English word "orchestra" due to abuses in transliteration both from English to Japanese and then back again.
posted by ErWenn at 7:22 AM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


afu - It's more like an American who got uncomfortable when people referred to English writing as "Latin letters." Yes, our alphabet does come from Latin (though slightly modified). One reason for Kunishige's discomfort may be the fact that while many single characters have the same meaning, many words that are made up of more than one character are assembled differently in the two languages, so while a reader of Japanese or Chinese may be able to determine the broad meaning of words written in the other language, details such as part of speech may be lost, and she doesn't want to give the impression that Japanese _words_ are written in Chinese anymore than English speakers wouldn't want to give the impression that English words are spelled as if they were Latin.

Or maybe she just doesn't like the Chinese. I don't really know.

Incidentally, I find the level of hostility in some of the comments on this page odd. Why get into a huff over what somebody else considers artistically worthwhile?

Related links: ambigrams by Scott Kim, John Langdon, Brett Gilbert, and others.
posted by ErWenn at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2007


Reminds me of the hybrid calligraphy of Xu Bing, who creates characters reminiscent of the Chinese, which are actually compressed English words.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:40 AM on January 31, 2007


Here's the first one, roughly. Interesting idea.


f lo
w er


posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:05 AM on January 31, 2007


the textures in the paintings are cool and the girl is cute, but the words are about as illegible as most spraypaint graffiti here in the streets.
posted by daHIFI at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2007


Merry Christmas, to take one well-known example, becomes Mele Kalikimaka.

Ho-ri ku-ra-pu!

(holy crap!)

languagehat , that is true mangling.

ErWenn, yes it's true of course that the English language too has 'gaps' in its phonetic range.

I can think of the 'ryu', 'ryo', and 'fu' sounds in Japanese as random examples (they're not quote pronounced as spelt).

And...Thai...well...the dictionaries I read use curly lines to describe raised and lowered intonations and then there's the 'ng' sounds like 'ngoen' (money) - you make the sound by doing a very subtle swallow followed by "noen" (well, that's how I interpret it).
posted by FieldingGoodney at 8:14 AM on January 31, 2007


ErWenn: perhaps you don't know, but explaining language to languagehat is like explaining Catholicism to the pope. :)
posted by Falconetti at 8:19 AM on January 31, 2007


That's an awfully excitable puff piece at the second link. Ech.

They are now to be known as "freedom numerals".

Ha!

As Matt at No-sword...

I've been reading Language Log so long now that references to language blogs are starting to feel incestuously familiar.
posted by cortex at 8:20 AM on January 31, 2007


This is fun. Thanks, all.
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 AM on January 31, 2007


languagehat , that is true mangling.

If you think that's bad, consider that the Japanese word for the German language sounds nothing like "German".
posted by cortex at 8:21 AM on January 31, 2007


Hey, the German word for the German language sounds nothing like "German".
posted by Samizdata at 8:37 AM on January 31, 2007


Man. No wonder they teamed up in WW2.
posted by cortex at 8:40 AM on January 31, 2007


cortex: "If you think that's bad, consider that the Japanese word for the German language sounds nothing like "German"."

The Spanish word for 'Deutscheland" is "Alemania."
posted by koeselitz at 8:50 AM on January 31, 2007


e
posted by koeselitz at 8:51 AM on January 31, 2007


The Spanish word for 'Deutscheland" is "Alemania."

Well, the Dutch do love their beer, and the Mexicans have always been keen observers of human behavior; none of this surprises me.
posted by cortex at 8:55 AM on January 31, 2007



However, the Japanese word for the German language does sound a little bit like the German word for the German language.

Doitsugo - Deutsch.
posted by plep at 9:11 AM on January 31, 2007


plep, this is me staring at you impatiently.
posted by cortex at 9:17 AM on January 31, 2007


That girl just plain dumb, is all...

Wow, for all the ire that everyone is throwing at her in the thread, let me be the first (surprisingly) to say:

Hey, she's kind of hot, too.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2007


It's faddish, like the photos of those cute little microscopic creatures with the cartoony faces that swept Japan several years back. But so's most stuff that gets arts-page coverage in Japan. For what it's worth, the English letters are harder to recognize than the kanji. That makes sense, since the audience for Japanese calligraphy is mostly Japanese.

What she does is not like grade-school doodling; she's bringing traditional training and technique to bear on a non-traditional (though perhaps non-original) concept, and the fact that it works at all for some words is remarkable. "Flower" is unsurprising. "Revolution" took some doing, especially to retain the flow of ink and stroke required by this traditional art.

It's not for everyone, and it's not even all that great, but it is something, and it's certainly worth the interesting post. Thanks, talvalin.
posted by breezeway at 9:45 AM on January 31, 2007


Any discussion of how the Japanese mangle their loanwords is incomplete without asking a few Americans to pronounce "futon", "tsunami", and "karaoke". The latter in English is barely even recognizable as the same word in Japanese, and even then people are likely to understand only if you say it after leaving the fifth bar of the night, and simultaneously hold your fist up to your face and mime like you're singing into a microphone.
posted by vorfeed at 10:29 AM on January 31, 2007


But no nation is as bad as the French, who generally make it a crime not to completely alter loan-words.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 AM on January 31, 2007


ErWenn: Not to sound like I'm picking an argument, but I don't know. I mean I see your argument that yes, maybe Kunishige doesn't want to confuse readers of the interview into thinking Japanese is written entirely in Chinese characters, but your comparison "It's more like an American who got uncomfortable when people referred to English writing as 'Latin letters' doesn't work if you're referring to kanji. Hiragana or katakana, yes, but kanji is exactly that as mentioned above, "Chinese characters," or as in Korean, "Hanja" (they use Chinese characters too in the same way as Japan, but to a lesser percentage).

Chinese used to be the formal written language like Latin, so the comparison of "It's like an American not wanting people to see phrases like a priori or habeas corpus and thinking English is written in Latin," is closer to describing the usage of kanji or hanja in Japan and Korea.

Conclusion: Yes, it is interesting to me that she's mildly annoyed at kanji being described as Chinese characters.
posted by kkokkodalk at 11:23 AM on January 31, 2007


However, the Japanese word for the German language does sound a little bit like the German word for the German language.

Doitsugo - Deutsch.


And it's worth mentioning that "go" stands for language. So, actually we have a rare case of a Japanese transcription of a word from a European language that actually sounds very close to the original: Doitsu - Deutsch.

I would even go further: Doitsu probably doesn't come from the German "Deutsch" but from the even more similar sounding Dutch "Duits", as the Dutch were the only Western nation allowed to trade with Japan for a couple of centuries.

And if anyone wonders where the English word "Dutch" comes from, it must be noted that for a long time the Netherlands was called "Germania Inferior". Nowadays, however, and mainly due to some unpleasant events in the 1940s, I strongly recommend against ever calling a Dutchman a "Lower German". At least not to his face...
posted by Skeptic at 12:17 PM on January 31, 2007


That's interesting, Skeptic. Continuing the tangent: an old friend of mine from Haarlem described Afrikaans as "sounding like baby Dutch."
posted by breezeway at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2007


そりゃええかんじやなっ。
posted by sour cream at 1:25 PM on January 31, 2007


In other news, Tomomi Kunishige is quite hot.
posted by zardoz at 4:07 PM on January 31, 2007


Any discussion of how the Japanese mangle their loanwords is incomplete without asking a few Americans to pronounce "futon", "tsunami", and "karaoke". The latter in English is barely even recognizable as the same word in Japanese

vorfeed, I understand the "fu" sound to be something between "fu" and "hu", almost a very light "f" if you will.

But tsunami? It's surely easy to say and is phonetically as it's spelt in romajii (to the best of my knowledge).

Same with karaoke. I know most people in the west say "ka ree o kee" but when I was living in Japan I heard the locals call it.....ka ra o ke (as it's spelt in romajii) - if most people actually just said it as its spelt in romajii/English, then they'd be pronouncing it properly.

Or was I too drunk at the time to get the nuanced difference?
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2007


I thought it was neat.

Perhaps I need to get my artistic sensibilities recalibrated before I go and do something foolish, like buy a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Anyhow, I liked it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2007


そりゃええ漢字やなっ。
(if you were moved by the "art")

or

そりゃええ感じやなっ。
(if you were moved by the artist herself.)
posted by gen at 11:43 PM on January 31, 2007


This story and subsequent conversation have been fascinating. Thank you, Talvalin, for posting. (And welcome to MeFi!) :)
posted by zarq at 6:44 AM on February 1, 2007


None too impressed. Many artists do this and Kunishige's work is very derivative. Mary Jo Maraldo's work is far more interesting and creative.

Pretty Girl Draws Calligraphy. News at 11.
posted by Dantien at 8:04 AM on February 1, 2007


As far as the Chinese characters vs. Japanese characters debate is concerned, though they are all the same Han figures, many have different meanings. Some of these differences are slight and some are great. When it comes to calligraphy as art, in which the stroke is meant to embody the spirit of the word, the meaning matters.

Here's a blunt and somewhat stupid example. The word "pain" looks the same in English and French, though it means pain in one and bread in the other. If you were attempting to write "pain" in a way that embodied the meaning of the word, it would matter whether you were English or French.

Kanji have been part of Japanese for long enough that many have taken on greatly different meanings, and those meanings have greatly different significance within wider circles of culture. When it comes to the printed word, yes: to a typesetter, a Japanese kanji set has few, or even no, differences from a carefully abridged Chinese character set. But to a calligraphic artist, whose brush strokes attempt to convey whatever it is that moves the artist, the distinction between Japanese and Chinese characters is important.

I don't know if that's what this particular artist means, and there are plenty of other reasons a Japanese person might deny any similarity between Japan and China. But I'll speculate that this distinction is part of it.
posted by breezeway at 9:24 AM on February 1, 2007


Oy! I just realized that I forgot the main point I was going to make when I started my comment. I had intended on pointing out that the traditional styles of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy are very different, and that this might be the reason why Kunishige wanted to draw the distinction. (Of course in this modern global society, I'm pretty sure that there are plenty of calligraphers breaking ranks, but the traditions are different.)

Also, I think that those who are criticizing the work as merely gimmicky should try to look at the calligraphy to see the other artistic aspects beyond the ambigramality. Notice that the strokes in her "wind" have an airy and streaky quality to them. Those in "sea" seem to bulge a bit like waves or bubbles. Granted, there's not much point in arguing whether or not these qualities are sufficient to give the work artistic merit, but I would pose that the bilingual gimmick is not the only thing to consider. Perhaps it is gimmicky, but I'd move that it's not merely gimmicky.

In any case, while I have a lot of respect for the creators of more traditional works of art, I'd much rather experience gimmicky work created with some talent than traditional work executed with phenomenal skill.
posted by ErWenn at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2007


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