Can you translate these signs I found in the woods?
August 26, 2022 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I found these signs tacked onto some trees, overlooking a creek. I think the writing might be Japanese, but I'm not sure. Can anyone ID the language and translate for me? What do they say?
posted by nuannarpoq to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
The absence of any hiragana on the signs increases the likelihood that it is Chinese (though it could still be Japanese). (I can't contribute more than this.)
posted by heatherlogan at 11:12 AM on August 26

I think the characters are 和誠畏, which could be a Chinese person’s name, possibly pronounced “He Chengwei.” (The family name would be “He” and the given name “Chengwei.”)
posted by mbrubeck at 11:43 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]

If Japanese, (which I'm not, so please correct my error)
The first one's easy, WA, peace, seen in many a tattoo: 和
The second is SHI, test, attempt: 試
The bottom one is I, be apprehensive? 畏
posted by Rash at 11:45 AM on August 26

Note, my reading of the middle character was different from Rash’s. I think it is 誠 (in Japanese “SEI,” sincerity).
posted by mbrubeck at 11:48 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]

I would also guess Chinese. It could be Japanese, given the shortness of the pieces. In either case, the writing is extremely poor. This may be a function of the materials, or terrible calligraphy, or non-fluent skill.

The first set of characters don’t make a phrase in any of my Japanese sources, but I read the second character as 誠, which is usually sincerity or maybe warning.

The second piece looks like it begins with 危, which means danger. I can’t make out any of the other characters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:53 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]

I misspoke, it’s more like 厄, which is bad luck.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:09 PM on August 26

I believe the second set says 厄除御守, which is a set phrase you often find written on talismans of protection (omamori お守り) you buy at shrines.
posted by mustard seeds at 12:11 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]

According to my Chinese-speaking friend, the sign is in Japanese. She speaks a bit of Japanese as well and believes that the sign roughly translates to “amulet to ward off evil.” There is another translation possibility that includes the characters for “guard” or “defend.”
posted by WaspEnterprises at 12:51 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]

The calligraphy looks kinda non-literate to my also non-literate but familiar eye, like the person did the stroke order wrong and from the wrong directions so the overall proportions and shape of each character are not quite right. My guess is that the writer copied a picture rather than understanding what they were writing, or the writer was a teen.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:37 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]

Seconding that these were done by somebody who approached the words as pictures to be broadly copied, rather than words written. In particular, each word not only deviates the standard order for writing these words and orthodox pressure patterns for calligraphy, but even uses "improper" strokes to create the characters.

To my eye, this can be seen most clearly in how there is no curve at the upper-right corner of the little "box" on the right-hand side of the character 和 on the first sign, and also in separating out the top and bottom halves of the left-hand side of the character 除 on the second sign.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:58 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]

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