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舟を編む by 三浦しをん

I am currently reading 舟を編む・ふねをあむ, a novel by 三浦しをん・みうらしをん Miura Shion.

You possibly know the story of this novel because it was adapted for the cinema in 2013 and an anime came out last year. When I bought and started to read the book, I had seen neither the film nor the anime. I found the book very difficult and almost gave up.

funewoamuanime.jpg           funewoamufilm

To make the reading of the novel easier, I decided to watch the film, which I really enjoyed. I usually hate to watch a film first if I want to read the novel it was adapted from, but it seems that the book contains much more information than what was conveyed in the film. From what I have read so far, the novel is more entertaining than its cinematographic counterpart, some scenes carrying strong comical effects.

As for the story in itself, the film seems to be a close adaptation of the novel. At the beginning of the story, Araki, who works at the dictionary-compiling department of a publishing house, wishes to take retirement and has to find someone to replace him. He then meets Majime, a strange young man who loves dictionaries but feels very uncomfortable with people. The film and the book then tell the story of Majime joining the little team of dictionary compilers and working together to create a new dictionary, the 大渡海・だいとかい.

The meaning of the dictionary and the meaning of the novel’s title is given p. 34 and 35: a dictionary is a boat that allows us to cross the sea of words:


To cross the sea of words, the team will compile a new dictionary, in other words, a boat. (編む・あむ means “knit” but also “compile”, “edit”)


If you like stories that deal with books, you should appreciate 舟を編む, the film and the novel. It gives access to a fascinating and old-fashioned universe, allows us to learn a lot about the making of a dictionary and brings us to respect something we more or less take for granted (since I saw the film, I have the greatest respect for any dictionary and the people who compiled it).

As for the Japanese, to be honest, before watching the film, I was on the verge of giving up with every page I turned. Having watched the film and knowing the story help me considerably. But it is still difficult. I can follow the story without much trouble because the film is very close to the novel. Understanding every subtility, however, requires a lot of concentration and a good amount of dictionary search. But, somehow, looking up words is not so laborious with this novel. The story is all about words and definition, and the protagonists are themselves constantly reaching for their dictionary and looking up words. I feel like I am a part of the story myself.

I will make reading notes for 舟を編む to explain ambiguous expressions or words I had to investigate or to study problematic extracts. By quickly flipping through the book, I saw that there were 5 chapters. It will be 5 “reading notes” posts then! I hope it will encourage me to go through the book and finish it, even if it takes time.

Let’s travel across the sea of words!

Reference: 「舟を編む」三浦しをん、光文社文庫、2015


  1. Pingback: 舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 1 | Inside That Japanese Book

  2. Pingback: 舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 2 | Inside That Japanese Book

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