Lost in translation...because I cannot read hiragana.
May 27, 2007 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I have had some interesting works of art in my possession for four years. They have what appears to be writing on them in Japanese characters and I'm extremely interested in knowing what they say. As fate would have it,

I do not read Japanese. I've been researching these characters but cannot seem to find a plausible translation.

Item Number 1 (here and here) - A watercolor painting from the 1930's perhaps? It was purchased in the '30s...maybe 1937. Appears to be hiragana?

Item Number 2 (here) - A bronze elephant. I do not know the origin. Also purchased on the same trip, we believe. Appears to be katakana?

Every day that I walk into my office and see these, I obsess about them. They are driving me mad!!! Help?
posted by jeanmari to Media & Arts (25 answers total)
I don't read Japanese, but I do read Chinese. The larger characters of you jprint2 read "陶器窯出圖" which would be something like "Picture of pottery being fired in a kiln." (陶器 = pottery, ceramic ware; 窯 kiln; 出 directional or verbal complement 'to emerge', 'come out' etc. I'm assigning it a grammatical function here; 圖 = picture, diagram.)
I can read the characters in the other pictures too (well, most of them in the second pic), but not having the grammar/culture won't have a stab at a meaning unless no-one who knows better shows up, but I should imagine I'm not far off with that picture caption.
posted by Abiezer at 10:19 AM on May 27, 2007

What with the wee chubby chap with the large pot and everything :D
posted by Abiezer at 10:21 AM on May 27, 2007

the elephant mark needs to be rotated 90 clockwise . . . and it is Chinese.

The top character is 'one', the bottom is not Japanese at all, but Chinese-only.

The scroll thingy you have is in fact Japanese kanji/hiragana: starts with 'fire', then ho-te-ri-no-ma-ta-(su?)-ru-??-ya-??-no-??

(the ?? being calligraphic kanji I can't read)

ho-te-ri -- ほてり -- means 'heat'/'glow'.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:15 AM on May 27, 2007

The scroll thingy needs to be much bigger before it will be readable (at least by me).

If Abeizer is correct on the kanji, (some of them look odd to me but most handwritten stuff looks odd to me..), the squiggly line after 出 is し for 出し from 出す (to take out, to get out). So yeah, "taking pottery out of the kiln picture". The stuff in the bottom right is to small to read, but probably the painters name.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:30 AM on May 27, 2007

Heywood - I thought the charcaters on the elephant were "一光" which is a year-mark isn't it?
The bit at the lower right of the pottery pic I thought might not be a name. The characters are 橘会版 (could be wrong about the 会) which I presumed would be something about the edition - "a printing by the Tangerine Press" or some such, but again, don't know enough about Japanese to say whether that could actually be a name or whatever.
posted by Abiezer at 11:40 AM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: Heywood Mogroot--Thank you for the clarification. I rotated the picture. This may explain why I am getting nowhere fast on these translations.

Abiezer--Yes, it does seem that the whole picture is of something being fired in a kiln :) I zoomed in on the characters in order to make them clear, so here is the entire picture with the characters in context. (Chubby guy and all.) Thanks for your attempts so far! I'm feeling better already :)
posted by jeanmari at 11:44 AM on May 27, 2007

Best answer: Google seems to indicate 一光 can be read Ikko (there's a modern company with that name). So maybe a maker's name instead? <---making it up as I go along.
posted by Abiezer at 11:47 AM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: Hmm. There was a Japanese netsuke carver named Ikko. But I can't seem to find a connection between Ikko and a bronze casting like this one. Interesting.
posted by jeanmari at 11:56 AM on May 27, 2007

That is a lovely print.
I am fairly confident that the second character is 器 "vessel," even though it does look different from most modern Chinese print fonts (the usual 犬 replaced by 工). I've seen it written similarly a number of times iirc.
On preview: a bronze copy of an Ikko netsuke?
posted by Abiezer at 11:58 AM on May 27, 2007

Oh hang on, those were those sword hilt thingies. Ignore me. But a copy of his famous elephants carvings? (I was thinking they were those belt clasps)
posted by Abiezer at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2007

In this picture, the rightmost two characters are "陶噐", with the character 噐 being the older form of 器. It means "pottery." The left three characters are "窯出し", which means to take a pot out of the kiln.

The three characters at the bottom are 橋、会、and 版. 版 means "edition" or "version," but I have never heard of the other two characters being used together like that. The smaller characters to the left say ”とみ” and then a character that is too small to be legible.
posted by armage at 1:50 PM on May 27, 2007

A bit of further googling around suggests 橘会 can be read Tachibana. There was a Tachibana Minko who made prints of craftspeople at work; 版 can mean print.
It may be a modern line reproduction of a famous print by this Tachibana.
Also realised what nonsense I was burbling about netsuke!
posted by Abiezer at 1:52 PM on May 27, 2007

Mind I got the reading of 橘会 as Tachibana off a Chinese Wikipedia entry about a yakuza society, and can't find the artist's name written in characters, so could be unconnected, but quite liked the circumstantial connection that it led to.
posted by Abiezer at 1:56 PM on May 27, 2007

The book was called Saiga shokunin burui apparently.
posted by Abiezer at 2:03 PM on May 27, 2007

Erk. Still more fun with Google says 橘 is read Tachibana on its own and can be a surname; the artist's name was 橘岷江 and the book of prints was called 彩画職人部類, something like "Coloured pictures of various types of artisans."
posted by Abiezer at 2:24 PM on May 27, 2007

The mark on the bronze is similar to 一光 but not identical. More of an 乙 or 人 thing going on underneath the kanmuri of 光. But I only know the post-war character set so this could be a pre-war form, though none of my references list this.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:48 PM on May 27, 2007

Abiezer is right, the character is 橘 (tachibana), not 橋 (hashi). Unfortunately, I don't have any further knowledge of this kind of artwork so I can't be much more help.

I'm fairly certain that the character in the bronze is not Japanese, because I have never seen 光 written like that, pre- or post-war. Obviously I can't say with 100% certainly, but my inclination is to say that it is Chinese.
posted by armage at 6:16 PM on May 27, 2007

My thought with the 光 is that I had seen that odd variant of the two lower strokes and that it might be in part because it's easier to cut into the bronze. You certainly see the same variant in 見, for example.
Only references to the combination together in Chinese I could find were as a dharma name of a monk; I still think it's either a Japanese maker's name or possibly a year mark. Will poke around a bit more.
posted by Abiezer at 8:34 PM on May 27, 2007

Best answer: Here's a netsuke by Ikko; the photo of the signature looks similar, so I'd say bronze repro is yer man.
posted by Abiezer at 9:00 PM on May 27, 2007

Best answer: The writing within the print says "Touki kamadashi" (陶器釜出し)- taking pottery out of a kiln. Then there is something that looks like the chop of the printmaker or artist (in the square). The bottom part says "tachibanakai ban(or han)"橘会 版, then in the rounded square "tomi ga" (とみ画)which seems to indicate that Tachibanakai (whatever that is) made the print and someone called Tomi is the original artist (maybe the one who did the original drawing?)

The part on the left start with "Hi hoteri no" (火ほてりの)- "the heat radiating from the fire"...then I can't make out the rest, but it looks like a haiku about firing pottery, which sort of fits.

The other one looks, as Abelizer said, like the chop of an artist called Ikkou. The way it's written is entirely consistent with the way kanji characters were formed (and continue to be formed) for things like chops or in calligraphy in Japan so there's no indication that it's Chinese, though if you showed the whole elephant it might be a bit easier to judge that.

If you really want to make sure of what they are, take them to an antique or fine arts expert who specializes in Japanese objects.
posted by derMax at 3:45 AM on May 28, 2007

derMax - that's definitely the character 圖 (see my first of many posts :D) to the left of 陶器釜出し, or I'm a non-Japanese speaker. Oh, hang on. But pounds to pennies it is.
posted by Abiezer at 3:53 AM on May 28, 2007

Best answer: I think the verse is:

ひほてりの まだある窰や 霜の朝

"The kiln still warm on a frosty morning." (Poeticize to taste.) I should probably admit though that 窰 (kiln) is really just an educated guess, based on context and scansion as much as anything else.
posted by No-sword at 8:33 AM on May 28, 2007

Now we're getting warm!
posted by Abiezer at 8:48 AM on May 28, 2007

Response by poster: This is getting exciting everyone! I'm going to try to get a larger scan of the print and here is a photo of the whole elephant, which looks more Japanese in form (to me) than Chinese. But really, I know very little about Asian art.
posted by jeanmari at 1:21 PM on May 28, 2007

That elephant does indeed look like the very realistic statuary created by Japanese artists in the late 19th-early 20th century.

(we watch way too much Antiques Roadshow and such in our house)

No-sword's reading of the haiku looks good to me!
posted by derMax at 12:05 PM on May 29, 2007

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