Reading Notes: 舟を編む, part 4

Still reading 舟を編む! Part 4 is told from the point of view of a new character and we know that a lot of time has passed since the end of part 3. I don’t really like when many years are skipped in a novel, I like to feel close to the characters, feeling that I know them. If they spend 10 years or more of their life between two chapters, I feel a little… not happy. But given that part 4 opens with a new character who meets Majime and the others for the first time, the transition is relatively smooth. We don’t know what happened during all these years, but neither does the new character. Also, I feel somewhat less ashamed to have left this book unread for so long, as a lot of time has passed in the novel as well 🤭



Kishibe Midori has been working for Genbu publishers for 3 years when she is transferred to the dictionary department. She used to work in the publication of a women magazine.


Miyamoto Shinichirou works in a paper manufacturing company. His company will supply the paper of the 「大渡海」. He works in the sales department.

Reading Notes

p. 195 ガレ

The word ガレ comes from the English word galley proof. A galley proof “the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders, often with extra-wide margins.” (Wikipedia).

What I find funny is that this word is written in kanji: 校正刷り・こうせいずり, a word that also means “a printer’s proof”. In the book, the word 校正刷り is written with the furigana ガレ written in katakana. When Japanese read this word, do they pronounce it こうせいずり or ガレ? 🤨

p. 196 正字・せいじ vs 俗字・ぞくじ

Kishibe Midori asks Majime what is the meaning of 正字. His answer is:


What is called “こうきじてん” in Japanese, is the Chinese Kangxi dictionary. I remember having come across it when I was studying Chinese but I didn’t know it was used as a reference for right kanji in Japan.

Anyway, Majime gives the example of そろう, whose correct writing is 揃う but is often written slightly differently. Hum, the Google input method does not propose the casual form of this kanji… let just say that the right part of the kanji is usually written 前. As you can see, there is a slight difference.

What interests me here, is that thanks to Majime’s explanation, I have finally understood why 嘘 is written 噓 in the title of the book 「噓をもう一つだけ」by Higashino Keigo. I guess that 嘘 is the informal kanji or 俗字, and 噓 the correct kanji or 正字 that is used by publishers.

As Majime says, 俗字 are not 誤字, they are just informal or popular variant of a kanji.

À propos correct kanji, the software I used to make the drawing of this post wouldn’t let me write 編む. Even if I do choose the kanji 編 on the google input system, it appears with another form of the key, as you can see… It may be a font problem…

p. 212 めれん

The day after her welcome party, Kishibe hears Majime say to her: “昨夜ずいぶんめれんに見えました”. Kishibe does not know the word めれん and Majime tells her to look up the word in a dictionary.

I couldn’t find the word めれん in the 新和英大辞典 so it really must be an uncommon word! However, I found it in both the Japanese-Japanese dictionaries that I use:

  • 広辞苑:大いに酒に酔うこと
  • 日本国語大辞典:酒にひどく酔うこと

I wonder how it sounds to a Japanese to hear this word used in a casual conversation.

p.216 Akutagawa’s toothache??

There is a very strange comparison p. 216. Majime is reflecting on the paper quality that Miyamoto brought to him. When he says that Miyamoto’s paper lacks a sliminess, he has an expression compared to:


A little after:


I spent some time searching on the Web, but I could not find any explanation for this expression. Is it a well-known episode of Akutagawa’s life or is it hinting at a famous scene in one of Akutagawa’s work? Maybe it refers to something that every Japanese know?

Anyway, if anyone knows what episode of Akutagawa’s life or work has motivated this comparison, I would be glad to hear about it in the comments!

p.246 Kappa

Majime is wondering whether the kappa figuring in the illustration for the word entry 河童・かっぱ should be carrying a とっくり or not. A とっくり(徳利)is a sake bottle.

銚子・ちょうし, a word mentioned by Kishibe, can also mean “a sake bottle”.

There is nothing particularly difficult in this passage, but I wanted to quote the 日本国語大辞典 here. To see whether a kappa is usually pictured with or without a sake bottle, Kishibe looks up the word and its illustration in the 日本国語大辞典. Of course, I did the same, and can confirm that the kappa is not holding any sake bottle:


Even though this chapter was focused on Kishibe, I had the impression that the 大渡海, that slowly comes to life, was the real protagonist of these pages (but maybe this is true for the whole novel?). I learnt a lot about the making of the dictionary and I found it both very interesting and difficult to read for a Japanese learner. But as always in this novel, funny outbreaks and emotion waves keep the reader involved in the adventure.