Reading Notes on the novel「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」by 沼田まほかる

I am reading the novel 「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」by 沼田まほかるand the two main characters of the story use the Kansai dialect when they talk to each other. This particularity certainly confers a touch of authenticity to the novel, but it also adds difficulty for non-native readers.

I will go through some of the features of the Kansai dialect, mainly thanks to the Wikipedia page on the subject and other Japanese forums or blogs I found when looking for a particular expression. I have consulted so many sites that it is hard to tell which of them were really useful. If I were to cite just one site, I would say that this one gives a useful list of some Kansai particularities.

These are just personal notes that help me understand the novel I am reading. It is by no means a complete or structured presentation of the Kansai dialect.

Some features of the Kansai dialect

Thi first important thing to know is that the negation ない becomes へん in Kansai dialect. Thus, 寝られへん means 寝られない. With the verb する, I often see “せえへん” (しない), for example, “もう、せえへん”.

I also noted the usage of ほんま instead of 本当.

あかん means だめ, and even if I could guess the meaning of “行ったらあかん” from the context, it is always better to know the words’ exact meaning.

Another thing that stroke me is the massive use of わ at the end of the Jinji’s sentences. Jinji is a male character, and わ in standard Japanese gives a feminine touch to the sentence and is used by women. This is why it puzzled me so much to “hear” Jinji end half his sentences with わ. But now I know that this is one of Kansai dialect’s particularities: the sentence-ending particle わ is heavily used by men.

や will also often come at the end of sentences. In some cases, it is used instead of “だ”. For example, the exclamation “…だな” or “…だね” will become やな or やね. I found sentences like: “どこにいてるんや。何してるんや.”

どない means どう or どっち. I often come across “どないしたらええんや” or “どないしたんや”.

Similarly, the ending じゃない becomes やんか or やん.

I have also often seen せや which means そうだ.

Another transformation is the grammar てしまう which becomes てしもた in the past tense. For example, “忘れてしまった” in standard Japanese becomes 忘れてしもた in Kansai dialect. I found the expression “欲しなってしもたんや” in the novel.

Another thing that I often see is しゃあない which means 仕方ない. For example, I found the sentence: “言うてもしゃあない”. According to Wikipedia, saying 言うて instead of 言って is something that speakers of the Kansai dialect frequently do.

As for the pronunciation, the novel also transcribes how words are generally pronounced in Kansai dialect. For example, while speakers often lengthen some short vowels, long ones are sometimes shortened. Both characters also transformいい into ええ systematically. But these transformations do not hinder much our understanding. For example, the vowel え appears long in the sentence: 電話は出えへん.


That’s it for my first contact with the Kansai dialect! It is of course just a glimpse into it, and there are many other rules. Understanding dialects is not my priority right now so I will not dig further into this subject for the time being. Nevertheless, I am glad to have spent some time working on this because, even if it was merely for the sake of the novel, I still feel that I know a little more about Japanese now.

I hope that I will be able to post my review of the 「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」next Wednesday!

Reading notes: 舟を編む, part 5 and Review

Finally, the last chapter of 舟を編む! As I haven’t taken many notes for this chapter, I will also write my review of the novel in the same post.

Reading Notes


The missing word on the fourth galley proof is 血潮・ちしお which means both “spurting blood” and “hot blood” or “hot-bloodedness”. Hence Majime’s joke 「血潮が凍る事態です」

p. 312 The monk Xuanzang

There is a reference to the Chinese story of monk Xuanzang (in Japanese: 玄奘三蔵・げんじょうさんぞう) who travelled to India (called 天竺・てんじく at the time) to bring sacred books (経典・きょうてん) of Buddhism to China. The story of the monk Xuanzang has inspired the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West.

p. 312  Zenkai

There is also a reference to the priest Zenkai 禅海和尚・ぜんかいおしょう (和尚・おしょう means “a senior Buddhist priest”). I never heard this name before, so I had to check the Wikipedia page. Zenkai lived during the Edo period. One day, after visiting a temple, he saw that people and horses had to use a dangerous kind of bridge or path, going along the cliff, to reach the temple (?). I don’t know exactly how the bridge looked like. I guess there was a river and along the river a dangerous cliff. People and horses had to pass some kind of suspended bridge maybe? Anyway, many fell and died. Seeing this, Zenkai decided to dig out a tunnel through the cliff. It took him 30 years to complete it.


I am very happy to have finished this novel, it was a very challenging one and I know that I didn’t grasp all the jokes or word games that are in it. But I am glad and satisfied with how I read this book.

This is the first novel I read in Japanese that is not by Higashino Keigo. It took me several months to read it, mainly because I left the book untouched for long periods of time between two chapters. Reading this book required a lot of concentration and I always needed to make a pause when I reached the end of a chapter.

If you have watched the film adaptation, the story is pretty much the same. The whole novel covers about 15 years during which Majime works at the dictionary department of Genbu publishers and gives form to professor Matsumoto’s dream: the new dictionary 「大渡海」.

I liked the film very much but I much more appreciated the novel. First of all, the novel is full of humour. There are also a lot of moments filled with emotion and tension. The reader is taken into the adventure of the 「大渡海」like all the characters that come across Majime. In my case, seeing the little team working hard to produce the 「大渡海」echoed my own efforts to read this book in Japanese. As their work is to get the correct definition for words, I felt like I was a part of the team myself, anytime I looked up words in my dictionary.

The many references that fill this novel (like the two mentioned above, for example) were what made it challenging to read to me. But it also arose my curiosity and I learnt a lot of things through them. There is always a temptation to just continue reading and not pay attention to these references. They are not essential to understanding the story. I may have missed a lot of humour and wits by laziness or lack of concentration. But I also worked my way through many parts that didn’t make any sense at first. When the meaning of an obscure reference shows itself, it provides a real sense of achievement!

I would not recommend 「舟を編む」to Japanese learners looking for a novel easy to read. But if you are looking for a challenging book, why not? As the whole novel turns around the making of a dictionary and covers every aspect of the process, anyone interested in words and books should be more than happy with this novel.

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.

Reading notes: 舟を編む, part 3

These are my reading notes for the third chapter of 舟を編む with the new characters appearing in this part.

I have started reading Yukio Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion before beginning this third chapter and I must say that, compared to Mishima’s work, 舟を編む seems incredibly easy! I remember saying that it was a challenging book to me, but compared to the efforts I must do to read Mishima, reading 舟を編む has become a relaxed activity!

In part 3, we will follow Nishioka and learn more about him. (Part 1 was focused on Araki and part 2 on Majime).



Yoko is working at the sales department of the publishing house. She is a friend of Nishioka and the first to mention Majime to him.


Nishioka’s girlfriend. They have a loose relationship.


A professor specialised in Middle Ages. He provides Nishioka with specialised words related to Medieval literature.



p.125 天パ

I knew the word 天然パーマ which means “naturally curly hair” but I could not figure out what 天パ was, although the characters were talking about Majime’s hair! Sometimes, it’s best to take a break and come back to the book with a rested head.

p.129 こだわり

Nishioka remembers being scolded by Araki concerning the word こだわり which should not be used other than with a negative meaning. こだわり means “obsession with sth”, “fixation about sth”. This is a pejorative meaning. But, my dictionary also gives another meaning, positive this time: “a determination to get things right”, “care”, “concern”. Concerning this second usage of the word, Araki acknowledges its existence but says that it is a wrong usage 誤用・ごよう (misuse). To Araki, こだわり’s original meaning is 拘泥・こうでい, which means “worry too much”, “be overscrupulous about”.

I have no doubt that Araki is right, but the second meaning (the positive one) of the word こだわり did enter the dictionary at some point…

p.131 おませ and おしゃま

おませ and おしゃま both mean a “precocious child” but おませ can be used both for a girl and a boy whereas おしゃま is used only for precocious girls.

p. 158 西行・さいぎょう

One of the words provided by the professor specialised in Middle Ages literature is about 西行・さいぎょう, a renowned Japanese poet of the Heian period. The professor evokes the poem 願わくは花の下にて春死なんそのきさらぎの望月のころ, which I found on the English Wikipedia page of Saigyo. As you can see, there is a slight difference between the version found in my novel and the one on the Wikipedia page. I don’t know enough about ancient Japanese poetry to explain this difference.


p.163 – 168

Further discussing 西行 Majime and Nishioka evoke several words related to 西行. 西行 first meaning is obviously the poet Saigyo. But Majime and Nishioka ask themselves if this word can also have other meanings and be used as a noun rather than a name.

As I have recently posted about having an electronic dictionary, I would like to note that the different meanings of 西行 were present in the 日本語国大辞典 that I have on my device. This is an example of how useful it can be to have a good dictionary when reading a novel with literary contents or references.

富士見 and 不死身

不死身 and 富士見 both share the same pronunciation: ふじみ. 富士見 means “looking at Mont Fuji” and 不死身 means “immortality”. Because of the paintings 絵姿・えすがた representing Saigyo looking at Mont Fuji (富士見をしている西行さん), the word 西行 can mean “immortality” (“不死身”をしている西行さん).


Because Saigyo travelled to various provinces 諸国・しょこく,  the word 西行 is used to describe someone who travels around 遍歴・へんれき, a wanderer, an itinerant 流れ者・ながれもの.

The meaning of these two words derived from Saigyo’s name is explained by Majime, but I have also checked my electronic dictionary, and more precisely the 日本語国大辞典, just to be sure. What is funny is that Nishioka, who didn’t know these meanings, checked the same dictionary in the novel and has to admit that Majime is right.


According to Majime and the 日本語国大辞典, the word 西行 has the meaning of “タニシ” which means “river snails”. According to the dictionary, this comes from Saigyo’s habit of walking around 歩き回る.


西行桜 is the name of a piece of Nogaku 能楽, a form of traditional Japanese theatre.


This word comes from the picture representing Saigyo watching the Mont Fuji. 西行かずき means wearing one’s hat on the back of one’s head. The “hat” is, in fact, a 笠・かさ here, a conical straw hat. In fact, there is another word to say “wearing one’s hat on the back of one’s head”, namely: 阿弥陀被り・あみだかぶり. This word comes from  Amida (Amitabha). One can also say (帽子を) あみだにかぶる, using に as if it were an adverb.


Carrying a furoshiki 風呂敷包み diagonally across one’s back.


This is simply the anniversary of Saigyo’s death.

But, as Nishioka remarks, from all these definitions, only the first two should enter the 大渡海. Both 西行被 and 西行背負い’s meaning can be easily guessed or understood. Same for 西行忌. As for 西行桜, it can be understood from the context because it will surely appear in a conversation about Nogaku. タニシ cannot be guessed, but as Nishioka says, nobody uses the word 西行 to say “snail” anymore.

On the contrary, both the meaning of 不死身 and 遍歴する人、流れ者 cannot be guessed from the word 西行. The only way to know these meaning is to look up the word 西行 in a dictionary.


I enjoyed reading this part very much.  As the focalisation was not on Majime but on Nishioka, I found this part to be very different from the previous one. In part two, we get to know what Majime thinks and how he sees Nishioka. Here, we learn who Nishioka really is, how he thinks, and how he sees Majime. Changing point of view confers a deepness to the novel that was not present in the film (mainly focused on Majime). It’s great to see the making of a dictionary through different protagonist’ eyes.

And if you are curious about the painting 富士見西行 (source):

舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 2

My reading notes for the second part of the novel 舟を編む by 三浦しをん. From page 37 to 121.

I make this notes to help me understand the novel, but I think that it could also help any Japanese learner trying to read this novel in Japanese.


Part 1 was focused on Araki but part 2 follows Majime.


I will note only the characters appearing for the first time in part II. For the other characters, see part I.


Majime’s cat.


Majime’s landlady. She owns the lodge called 早雲荘・そううんそう and Majime is her only tenant at the time. Even if she used to live on the first floor, she eventually came to use the second floor, leaving the first floor to Majime’s book collection.


Kaguya is the grand-daughter of Mrs Take. She left Kyoto to come to Tokyo and move in 早雲荘 to stay with her grandmother. She works as a cook in the restaurant 梅の実.



This is the name of the lodge where Majime lives and where Kaguya moves. It belongs to Mrs Take.


This is the name of the restaurant where Kaguya works. It will become the new place where our compilers team go for dinner on the days where they hold the hebdomadary reunion.

Tips to understand the story

p. 37: 神田川・かんだがわ

Majime sings 「まどの~したには~」 while opening his window. These are the lyrics of the song 神田川 by かぐや姫. The song was released in 1973. The lyrics go: “窓の下には神田川”. Under my window, the Kanda river. That’s why the novel says that, under Majime’s window, instead of the Kanda river, there was only a thin irrigation channel.

I can’t get the refrain out of my head, 若かったあの頃…

p. 45-46: ツーカー

Mrs Take says to Majime that they have a “ツーカーの仲”. ツーカー, also written つうかあ means that two persons know each other’s mind well. Majime reflects upon this expression and wonders where it comes from. つうかあ is a contraction for “つうと言えばかあ”. Majime has read an etymology of this expression, but it was not an established one.

Instead of つう and かあ, Majime asks himself why it couldn’t be “おーいと言えばお茶” or “ねえと言えばムーミン”. These associations puzzled me because I find strange that Majime should think of it. This is how I understand them, and I hope that I am not mistaken:

“おーいと言えばお茶” refers to a famous green tea drink called おーいお茶. The drink was first sold in 1985 but only got its name おーいお茶 in 1989. This drink must have been very popular at the time since it changed the image Japanese had of “tea”. It was not only a warm beverage that was taken at home, but it was also a cold drink in a plastic bottle that one could drink anywhere (see Wikipedia).

“ねえと言えばムーミン” refers to the famous character of Tove Jansson, Moomin. There is a well-known anime adaptation of the book that came out in 1990, but before that, a first anime adaptation was released in Japan in 1969. The opening and ending song of the series was “ねえ!ムーミン”. It must have been popular enough if the author of our book decided that even Majime knew at least the title of the anime’s song…

p. 53: そういうひと

Majime is reading the definition of “love” 恋愛・れんあい and all dictionaries of the time describe it as a feeling between a man and a woman. Nishioka wonders if:


before adding:


Majime does not understand right away what Nishioka is hinting at. In fact, to understand Nishioka’s remark, we have to remember that Majime said, p.31, that he never thought of whether he would like to have a girlfriend or not. To be honest, I didn’t understand straight away that Nishioka thinks Majime may be homosexual. It’s hard to get allusions and suggested things in a foreign language…

p. 57: リアルに

Majime is struck by Nishioka’s use of リアルに to say 本当に or 実に. I have checked the dictionary myself, and リアルに is translated as “realistically”.

Majime says that he is not familiar with the adverb リアルに and plan to see whether it should be added to the dictionary. I guess the meaning of this word evolved with time?

p. 62: 女性の板前

To understand this passage, I had to search for Japanese explanations… Well, I feel reassured to see that even Japanese didn’t understand this passage! 😄

Talking about Kaguya, the young woman he fell in love with, Majime says that she is a cook and uses the word 板前・いたまえ. I knew the word まな板・まないた which means “chopping board”, and I knew from the film that Kaguya works in a restaurant, so I didn’t check the word 板前 because I guessed it meant “cook”.

What puzzled me is Nishioka’s remark: “まじめ、おまえやっぱり…!”. The book then says that this time, Majime knew what Nishioka was hinting at and added: “香具矢さんは、女性の板前さんです”.

To understand Nishioka’s やっぱり!, we have to remember that page 53, Nishioka thought that Majime was gay. We also have to know that 板前・いたまえ is more frequently used for men, which I didn’t know. When he hears that Kaguya is a “cook”, Nishioka assumes that she is a man, which confirms the image he has of Majime, hence the やっぱり!.

p. 68~70: こころ by 夏目漱石

Again, a difficult part…

Having seen that Nishioka thinks that Kaguya is interested in him, professor Matsumoto suggest that Nishioka should settle himself in 早雲荘, the lodge where both Majime and Kaguya live.

Of course, Nishioka asks why professor Matsumoto comes to such a strange idea. His reply is:


  • 漱石の「こころ」 is the novel Kokoro by Soseki (漱石・そうせき).
  • よみがえる means “be brought back to life”, “rise from the dead”, “be restored to life”, “revive”. We have here the causative form: よみがえらせる.

I thought that it would be an opportunity to revive Soseki’s novel Kokoro in the modern times.

I haven’t read Kokoro, so it was harder to understand the dialogue that follows. Nishioka says that he remembers this book from his school manual “ああ、国語の教科書に載ってましたね” and can only remember that the testament contained in the novel was terribly long, which was funny “遺書が異様に長くて、まじウケた”. Of course, Araki is shocked by Nishioka’s remark: “「こころ」に対する感想が、それなのか!(…) おまえ本当に、なぜ出版社にいるんだ.”

A little further, professor Matsumoto explains that if Nishioka were to move to 早雲荘, a three-way relationship would be bound to start between Majime, Nishioka and Kaguya. Professor Matsumoto refers to Sensei and K both loving the same woman in Kokoro. Professor Matsumoto thinks that one has to experience things to truly grasp their meaning and being able to define them.

(After having done some research and re-read this part carefully, it does not seem difficult after all…)

p. 79~83 のぼる and あがる

Majime reflects upon the difference between あがる and のぼる. When Kaguya proposes to go to the park together, Majime thinks that what he feels is exactly what you would call “天にものぼる気持ち”.

天にものぼる気持ち is an expression which means “feel as if one is going up to Heaven”, “be in seventh heaven”.

This expression allows him to grasp the difference between あがる and のぼる. Whereas あがる focuses on the destination following the rise, のぼる focuses on the rise itself, the process of ascending. For example, climbing a mountain 山に登る is more about the ascension itself than reaching the peak.

In the same way, the expression 天にものぼる気持ち describes how a great emotion or a strong joy makes your soul become lighter and raise to the sky. With のぼる, the ascension is more important than the state of “having ascended”.

p.113 料理人

Majime looks up the word 料理人 in the 言海, a dictionary compiled at the end of the 19th century and considered to be the first Japanese dictionary of the modern times. The 言海 gives the definition of 料理人 as such: 料理ヲ業トスル者、厨人.

  • ヲ is another graphic for を, which I didn’t know.
  • 業・ごう
  • 厨人・ちゅうじん is an outdated word which isn’t used anymore. As Majime sadly remarks, it shows that a dictionary, even a remarkable one, cannot escape its fate to fall behind times (my English is not good enough to translate the beautiful Japanese sentence: “どんなにすぐれた辞書でも、時代遅れになる宿命は避けられない” p.113).

p.94, p.108, p.118-119 馬締の恋文

The love letter Majime writes to Kaguya is sometimes referred to as 恋文・こいぶん, especially when Majime himself talks or thinks about it, sometimes as ラブレター, a word used by Kaguya and Nishioka.

lettre de majimeI was surprised to find the complete letter at the end of the novel. It’s called 「馬締の恋文、全文公開」. The letter of Majime contains 漢文・かんぶん, Classical Chinese. To be more precise, Majime inserted Classical Chinese poems (by Chinese and Japanese authors like Soseki) in his letter. Understanding the meaning of the poems is important to understand the meaning of the letter.

Among the poems, there were several verses from the Chinese poet Li Shangyin of the Tang dynasty. I remember having loved his poems when I studied them years ago. I understand why Majime’s letter is so puzzling. Being able to read and understand Chinese classical poetry is in itself challenging. But to truly understand the implicit meaning of some verse, one has to have a really good literary knowledge.

The 「馬締の恋文、全文公開」at the end of our book reproduces Majime’s letter with explanations from Nishioka (and another character). Nishioka translates the poems in modern Japanese, which is strange because I thought Nishioka was not that keen on literary things…

I have read the letter. It is written in a literary but contemporary Japanese. I can’t understand the poems without Nishioka’s translation. But still… even if I hadn’t Nishioka’s translation of the poems, and even though I also have difficulties understanding the rest of the letter because Japanese is not my mother tongue… still I think that I would have understood that this is a love letter.

Why does Kaguya say that she didn’t know whether the letter was a love letter or not?

In the film, we can see that the letter was written in calligraphy. In this case, it is easy to understand why Kaguya couldn’t read it. But in the novel, unless I missed the information, it is not said that the letter was written in calligraphy. They only refer to the Classical Chinese insertions….

Have I missed something in the novel? Or did the film add the calligraphy part to explain why Kaguya could not read the letter? I made some research on the internet, and I found this blog where the author asks the same questions that I am asking myself: 1- how come that Nishioka and the other character can translate Classical Chinese poems? Is it something anyone working in a publishing house can do? 2- why Kaguya doesn’t know that this is a love letter? Even if the letter is hard to read and the meaning not always clear, the message of love contained in it appeared plainly to the author of the blog.

… 🤔


It took me a lot of time to finish this long second part, mainly because I stopped reading the novel for a long time. In the meanwhile, I focused on my JLPT program and even read another novel. But eventually, I came back to 舟を編む. I can’t say that I am reading it comfortably, I have to be extremely concentrated, I always have my dictionary nearby and I sometimes have to look for explanations on the internet. In other words, I would have abandoned this novel if it were not a really good one, with both funny and melancholic tones and interesting contents about Japanese language, literature and the publishing world. This confirms that motivation has to be found in the contents. I am not struggling with this novel to improve my Japanese, but because I want to understand a  novel that interests me.

Making reading notes takes a lot of time, but it helps considerably. Without them, I would certainly just skip the difficult parts and continue reading. In the end, I would have missed a lot of the novel’s depth.

舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 1

Reference: 舟を編む、三浦しをん、光文社、2015

I am beginning a new book, and I chose 舟を編む・ふねをあむ by 三浦しをん・みうらしをん because it deals with dictionary compiling, a world I don’t know much about but that I find interesting. The novel was adapted into an anime and a film. To learn more about the novel and the story, have a look at my previous post on the subject.

In these reading notes, I will only focus on difficult expressions and words and occasionally work on some challenging extracts. If you are learning Japanese and want to read this novel (which is not that easy), I think this notes might help you. The pagination I give refers to the reference mentioned above.


To begin with, a list of all the characters that appear in this first part.


The novel opens with Araki as a child and describes his love for words and words’ meaning. We learn how he got his very first dictionary and how he finally started to work at the publishing house 玄武消防・げんぶしょうぼう. Then, the novel pack 37 years in a line break and we meet Araki again, announcing to 松本先生, the head of the dictionary-compiling department, that he desires to go into retirement because his wife’s health is bad. He promises to find himself a successor before the date of his retirement. Their dialogue is the opening scene of the film.


I am not sure, but I think we can call Professor Matsumoto, the head of the “dictionary-compiling department”. Although of a great age, he is still working, and I think that he expected Araki to do the same.


A colleague at the dictionary compiling department. From what we learn from a reflexion of Araki page 26, he is a relaxed young man for whom accuracy and words’ meaning is definitively not a question of life and death (see how he defined the word “island”).


Majime works in the sales department of the same company. He feels very uncomfortable with people and loves dictionaries. When Araki hears about him, he thinks that Majime could well be his successor. Majime enters the dictionary-compiling department and becomes the protagonist of our novel (although, during this first part of the novel, Araki is the main character).


A female colleague at the dictionary department. She edits and classifies the 用例採集カード.



玄武書房 is the name of the company where our compilers work. 書房 can mean “bookstore” and “publishing company”. 玄武書房 is a rather big publishing company with over 500 employees (p. 14). They have a sales department (where Majime works), and we learn from Nishioka p. 18 that the employees make a round of bookshops. I assume that they go to bookshops to sell the books published by the company (in the film, we can see a scene where Majime is trying to get a bookshop owner’s attention).


The “dictionary-compiling” Department of Genbu publishers is located in an annexe building 別館・べっかん, on the 2nd floor.


A restaurant where the team is used to gathering and where they celebrate the welcome party 歓迎会・かんげいかい of Majime.

Important words


用例採集カード are cards where the compilers write down every new word or every new usage of a word they come across in their everyday life. If you have seen the film, you know how important they are in the story. Professor Matsumoto always has 用例採集カード with him, even while eating lunch he still writes down every new word that enters his ears (p.11).

Tips to understand the story

いぬ p. 5, 6

At the very beginning of the story, we see the young Araki fascinated with the meanings of the word “dog”. Other than the common meaning of “dog”, Araki learns in a film that “dog” can also mean “spy”. “Dog” really means “spy”, but it doesn’t seem to be widely used. Out of curiosity, I have checked the Japanese trailer of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, but the word mole was either translated as スパイ or even もぐら (mole). Maybe 犬 is only used in a Japanese context?

As Araki soon learns, “dog” also means “useless” 無駄・むだ, a strong contrast to the common association between “dog” and 忠犬・ちゅうけん, “faithful dog”.

ちんちん p.12

Araki and professor Matsumoto are talking about their first dictionary. Araki teases professor Matsumoto, asking if his first dictionary was 色っぽい・いろっぽい, which doesn’t mean “colourful” but “sexy”, “erotic”, “provocative”.

Araki then recalls how he, as a kid, used to search for シモガかった言葉. シモ here is 下・しも and refers to “one’s private parts”, “the genitals”. 下掛る・しもがかる means “talk about something indecent”, “talk dirty”. He then admits that he was sometimes disappointed and give the example of ちんちん. His dictionary only gave the meanings of “begging (for a dog)” and “the sound of boiling water”. As I didn’t know the other meaning of this word, I had to look it up to understand Araki’s remark. ちんちん is a children word to say “penis”, I guess you would say a willy in English.

しま p. 25

The film (and from extracts I saw, the anime) has skipped this passage. When Araki first meet Majime, he does not only ask him to define 右・みぎ but also しま. Majime then asks which しま Araki is referring to. As there were some words I didn’t know, I made some research:

  • ストライプ:written as 縞, しま means “stripe.”
  • アイランド: island, 島, the first (and only) meaning that came to mind to 西岡 (and myself).
  • 志摩・しま is a city in the Kansai region
  • よこしま means devious, getting out of the right path. さかしま means “reverse”, it’s used to translate the title “à rebours” by Huysmans.
  • 揣摩臆測・しまおくそく is a fourth character expression that means “giving one’s imagination full play without any ground”.
  • 四魔・しま are four demons of Buddhism 仏教・ぶっきょう

When trying to define the world 島・しま, Majime notes that it should take into account the meaning “ヤクザの縄張り” (やくざのなわばり) which means “Yakuza turf”. 縄張り・なわばり means “sphere of influence”, “domain”, “turf” or “territory”. To understand Majime’s remark, I had to check a Japanese dictionary myself. The word “島” is really used to refer to a ヤクザの縄張り.

土左衛門・どざえもん p.26

Nishioka defined an island as something floating on the water, and Araki asked him if a 土左衛門 was supposed to be an island too. I didn’t know this word, so I looked it up, and it means “a drowned body”.

Araki’s sarcasm is made clear, but the word in itself is so strange that I have checked its etymology. If I understand correctly, 土左衛門 is the name of a rikishi, a professional sumo wrestler, who lived in the first half of the 18th century. It is said that his name was used to describe a drowned person because of 土左衛門’s appearance… Even if I can perceive the reason of the comparison, it is still a weird association, I think…

When I searched the internet for this word, I found an article advising that one should not mix up 土左衛門 with ドラえもん, which is an even more weird association, haha.

Going from drowned bodies to sumo wrestlers to Doraemon bought me very far from the novel…

大渡海 vs 大都会 p.27

Araki asks Majime to put all his strength into だいとかい. He means the 大渡海, the new dictionary the team is about to start compiling. But, when hearing だいとかい, Majime takes it to be the song 「大都会」by the group クリスタルキング. The song was released in 1979. You have to listen to the song to understand what the 「あ~あぁ~!」 of Majime stands for!


The first part was not very long, and even if it took me some time to get into the story, it was not that difficult after all. I found the encounter between Araki and Majime hilarious in the novel (much more than the same scene in the film), but to me, the charm of the novel reveals itself only with a great amount of vocabulary search. Nonetheless, reading this book is very pleasant!


This is the last chapter of the book! I was very surprised by the end, haha, I certainly didn’t expect that. Anyway, I am almost tempted to reread the book right away, to see what I missed and collect more clues!


  • 物騒・ぶっそう dangerous, disturbed, insecure
  • 克明・こくめい faithful, accurate, elaborate, detailed
  • 茶化す・ちゃかす to make fun of, to poke fun at
  • 苛立ち・いらだち irritation
  • 弁護・べんご defence, pleading, advocacy
  • 辻褄・つじつま coherence, consistency
  • 揶揄・やゆ banter, raillery, tease
  • 切り札・きりふだ trump card
  • 翻す・ひるがえす to turn over, to turn around
  • 朦朧・もうろう dim, hazy, vague
  • 小骨・こぼね small bones


  • 度胸・どきょう courage, bravery, nerve
  • 忍び込む・しのびこむ to creep in, to steal in
  • 一目瞭然・いちもくりょうぜん apparent, obvious, very clear
  • ぐらつく to be unsteady, to shake
  • 錯乱・さくらん confusion, distraction, derangement
  • 貰う is もらう
  • 鉢合わせ・はちあわせ bumping of heads, running into, coming across
  • 安普請・やすぶしん cheap structure (of houses)
  • 完遂・かんすい to accomplish, to carry out
  • 鵜呑み・うのみ swallowing (a story)


  • 催す・もよおす to feel
  • 勿体ぶる・もったいぶる to put on airs, to assume importance
  • 破壊・はかい destruction, disruption
  • 億劫・おっくう troublesome, annoying
  • 生き甲斐・いきがい something one lives for, purpose in life
  • 過ち・あやまち fault, error
  • 暴露・ばくろ disclosure, exposure, revelation
  • 面食らう・めんくらう to be confused, to be bewildered, to be taken aback
  • 遮断・しゃだん isolation, cut off, blockade
  • 金儲け・かねもうけ money-making
  • 脅迫・きょうはく threat, menace
  • 値打ち・ねうち value, worth, price, dignity
  • 貶める・おとしめる to cause to fall, to make decline



From page 269 to 309

I will group the remaining parts of chapter 5 into a single post because each part was quite short and there was not much vocabulary to search, mainly because those parts are composed of dialogues which are much easier to understand than description.

Things evolve very fast at the end of our chapter, with all protagonists reunited for the first time in the same room. The chapter leaves us with a terrible cliffhanger, and I realise that I was wrong all along with my own suppositions.

Chapter 5 – 3

  • 絞殺・こうさつ strangulation
  • 金目・かねめ monetary value
  • 脳裏・のうり one’s mind
  • 蘇る・よみがえる to be recalled (memories)
  • 没頭・ぼっとう immersing oneself
  • 怪訝・けげん dubious, puzzled, suspicious
  • 罠・わな trap
  • 時折・ときおり sometimes

Chapter 5 – 4

  • 侵害・しんがい infringement, violation
  • 餌・えさ bait
  • 取り調べ・とりしらべ investigation, inquiry, examination
  • 真摯・しんし sincerity, earnestness

Chapter 5 – 5

  • 付け出す・つけだす to add to
  • 警戒・けいかい to be vigilant, to be cautious
  • 無我夢中・むがむちゅう losing oneself in, being absorbed in
  • 予め・あらかじめ beforehand, in advance, previously
  • 合致・がっち agreement, conformance
  • 途端・とたん as soon as, soon after
  • 衝動的・しょうどうてき impulsive
  • 迂闊・うかつ careless, stupid
  • 頸動脈・けいどうみゃく carotid artery
  • 悪戯・いたずら sexual assault, sexual misconduct
  • 逡巡・しゅんじゅん hesitation, indecision
  • 縛る・しばる to tie, to bind

Chapter 5 – 6

  • 狂う・くるう to go mad, to get out of order, to go amiss
  • 歪む・ゆがむ to incline, to be distorted, to be bent
  • ただならぬ unusual, uncommon
  • 懴悔・さんげ repentance, confession, penitence
  • ふざける to joke, to mess around
  • 筆跡・ひっせき handwriting
  • 癒える・いえる to recover, to be healed
  • 関与・かんよ participation, taking part in, being concerned in

Chapter 5 – 7

  • 当てずっぽう・あてずっぽう conjecture, guesswork
  • 的を射る・まとをいる to be to the point, to be pertinent
  • 精悍・せいかん fearless
  • 竹刀・しない bamboo fencing stick (kendo)
  • 面・めん helmet (kendo)
  • 引き金・ひきがね trigger
  • 気まずい・きまずい unpleasant
  • 偽装・ぎそう disguise, camouflage

There is just one chapter left, and we will finally know what actually happened, hehe!


From page 256 to 269.

Some pages with Detective Kaga! In this part, Kaga and Yasumasa take a drink and allow themselves to talk about other things than the case. Some words are said about Kaga being a famous kendoka, a topic which is covered in more details in the first book of the series: 卒業・そつぎょう

This part’s vocabulary:

  • ぼそぼそ whispering
  • 摑む・つかむ to seize, to catch, to grasp
  • 嚙む・かむ another way to write 噛む to bite.
  • 暗躍・あんやく secret manoeuvring
  • たまたま casually, unexpectedly, accidentally, by chance
  • にやにや grinning, broad grin
  • 尾行・びこう shadow, tail, follow
  • 下心・したごころ secret intention, ulterior motive
  • 割り勘・わりかん splitting the cost
  • ぼちぼち little by little, gradually, slowly
  • 光栄・こうえい honour
  • 誇り・ほこり pride, boast
  • 引け目を感じる・ひきめをかんじる to feel inferior, to feel small
  • 真摯・しんし sincerity, earnestness
  • 殆ど・ほとんど nearly, almost
  • 下戸・げこ someone who can’t drink, non-drinker
  • 窪む・くぼむ to cave in
  • 眼窩・がんか eye socket, orbit
  • 張り込み・はりこみ stakeout
  • 気障な・きざな affected, pompous, conceited
  • 悪戯・いたずら mischief (not used to see this word written with kanji)
  • 芽生える・めばえる to bud, to sprout
  • 厄介・やっかい trouble, nuisance, bother
  • 咄嗟・とっさ moment, instant


From page 73 to 79.

In this story, Mai is having a hard time and talks about those little wounds people inflict carelessly to others.

  • ため息・ためいき sigh

Mai is saying (quoting someone to be exact) that: “ため息一つで幸せもひとつ逃げる” which I translate literally as: “with one sigh, one happiness runs away” or, less literally “each sigh makes your happiness run away from you”. It seems to be a very well known saying, even if I couldn’t find who said it for the first time. Anyway, it’s frightening, I think.

  • 窒息・ちっそく suffocation

As Mai says, the only way to go through it is to tell oneself that everybody is experiencing stress, that suffering from stress is normal. That’s even more frightening.

  • うんざり being fed up with. This is a word I learnt with my JLPT N2 study, I always feel rewarding to encounter a word learnt recently
  • 正解・せいかい correct, right
  • 宅配・たくはい home delivery

Her male colleague and superior is telling Mai that she has a rough skin. 肌荒れ・はだあれ means dry, rough, bad skin. The colleague said that casually without the intention to hurt her. Some people are eager to comment openly on others and inflict wounds unconcerned and unaware of the other’s feeling. For those who don’t have the courage or cannot respond, it only mutilates their confidence.

  • なにげない casual, unconcerned, nonchalant
  • 青春・せいしゅん youth, springtime of life
  • ニキビ pimple, acne
  • 片寄る・かたよる to be one-sided. When talking about meals, it means unbalanced. Another word learnt from my N2 vocabulary book!
  • 梅雨・つゆ rainy season