According to the UN, 2022 is the International Year of Glass. The earliest known man-made glass dates back to around 3500BC. Since we’re in the middle of a global climate emergency, glass is not only re-useable and easily recycled, but also highly versatile and an important alternative to plastic. Glass is an amorphous substance and although some people believe that it’s a liquid, it is in fact a solid, fragile material.
This year’s series, You say rice, I say gohan is a collaboration between myself and Iori Matsushima. Iori is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto and Japan where she currently resides. She works with various media, from 2D to 3D, but the main focus of her artwork is video and animation. Iori and I are playing with the glass-like fragility of communication, the collision of Western/Japanese cultures and traditions and the disruption of rudimentary (online) translation. Each month one of us sends the other a proverb which is google translated between Japanese and English. We each produce portions of the video, sending the elements back and forth until each work is finished. Each month the video will be inspired by these short proverbs. Each month is an unpredictable delight.
Proverb for December:
A journey of a thousand miles
Begins beneath the feet
The Tao Te Ching (roughly translated as “the way of integrity”) is an 81 verse treatise on how to live in the world with goodness and integrity. Consensus suggests that the text was written around 400BC by Laozi (old master). The actual name of the writer has been lost to time. The quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath the feet” is from chapter 64 and explains that even the more challenging ventures begin with a single step. This seems like a fitting way to end our year of collaboration.
Proverb for November: 猫の手も借りたい
Google translation: I want to borrow a cat’s hand.
According to http://proverb-encyclopedia.com “猫の手も借りたい” is used when someone is extremely busy and needs any help they can get, including a cat that is useless except for catching rats. The phrase is said to originate from the joruri play “Kanhasshu Tsunagi-uma (1724)” by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. (Source: http://kotobank.jp)
Proverb for October: Barking dogs seldom bite.
Google Translation: 吠える犬はめったに噛みません
According to idioms.com this English proverb refers to a dog that is busy barking and therefore cannot bite. There is apparently a similar Chinese phrase, zhǐlǎohǔ, literally meaning “paper tiger”. This means that something may appear to be powerful but is actually quite weak.
Proverb for September: 水を得た魚
Google Translation: (There were 2 translations for this proverb: “Fish out of water” and “Fish that got water”. The former is the one that appears most frequently).
The term refers to an individual who is succeeding in their chosen field and place of expertise. Since fish cannot live without water, it is a metaphor for an inseparable relationship. The phrase is attributed to Liu Bei’s remarks about Zhuge Liang, whom he welcomed with three courtesies in “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Hence, it is also used in the sense of being actively engaged in the right place. (Source: proverb-encyclopedia.com )
PROVERB for August: The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail.
Google translation: 猿が高く登るほど、尻尾を見せます。
According to Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias this month’s proverb originally appeared in the Wycliffe version of the bible in 1395: “The filthe of her foli aperith more, as the filthe of the hynd partis of an ape aperith more, whanne he stieth on high.” In a more contemporary form, Sir Francis Bacon wrote in Promus (1594-6), “He doth like the ape that the higher he clymbes the more he shows his ars.”
In other words, “when an unsuitable person is promoted, the more obvious their inadequacies become.” I am sure we have all seen many monkey’s tails or arses.
Proverb of July: 出る杭は打たれる
Google Translation: The stakes that come out are struck
According to Kotobank.jp this proverb is a metaphor that those who show their talent will be envied and hindered, or more generally, that excessive behaviours will be hated.
This expression practically allows people who express their talent and assert themselves to be beaten up. It can be thought to derive from the traditional values of a closed Japanese society that avoids being conspicuous by following others.
It is undeniable that such a tendency remains deep-rooted today. However, these values have been questioned partly as the result of globalization. In fact, the proverb has often been criticized negatively, and we even hear “let the stakes that come out grow higher” or “be the stake that sticks out” as counter expressions to the original.
Proverb for June: A change is as good as sleep
Google Translation: 変化は睡眠と同じくらい良い
Perhaps a result of my fondness for naps, I incorrectly remembered this month’s proverb, “a change is a good as a rest”. However, one can argue that “rest” and “sleep” are similar. According to https://literarydevices.net/ “A change is as good as a rest” is an old English proverb means that changing your job or profession is also as beneficial as taking a break. It also proves restorative.” There are two origins for this proverb, one from an 1825 publication, the Christian Gleaner and Domestic Magazine and the other from the 1890 publication of the Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Whichever way you consider this proverb, change is considered good and as beneficial for one’s outlook in life as a rest or sleep. – Midi Onodera
Proverb for May: 一期一会
Google Translation: Once in a while
“一期一会 (ichigo ichie)” means once-in-a-lifetime meeting and is based on a saying from the Azuchi-Momoyama period by Yamanoue Soji, a disciple of tea master Sen no Rikyu. The phrase originates from the spirit of the tea ceremony and implies that since the encounter at the tea ceremony on that day comes only once in a lifetime, one should cherish it and treat people with a sincere heart.
It is deeply related to Buddhism as well since “一期 (ichigo)” is a Buddhist term meaning from birth to death, and “一会 (ichie)” refers to a gathering or meeting mainly at a Buddhist memorial service. http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/ichigoichie.html
April Proverb: It’s no use crying over spilt milk.
Google Translation: こぼれたミルクで泣いても無駄です。
“No weeping for shed milk” is referenced in the 1659 collection of proverbs by James Howell and later in 1678 by John Ray.
Closer to home, Canadian humorist Thomas C. Haliburton references the phrase, “there is no use cryin’ over spilt milk” in his 1839 book, “The Clockmaker; or the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville”.
Essential the saying means that once the “milk” has been spilled it cannot be recovered or it’s a waste of time worrying about things that cannot be changed.
March Proverb: 釈迦に説法
Google Translation: Dharma talk to Buddha
Since the auto-translation could sound a bit confusing, “釈迦に説法” means Dharma talk (説法), as in preaching, to Buddha (釈迦). In other words, teaching to experts. This proverb talks about the foolishness of trying to teach someone who knows everything there is to know about the field
February Proverb: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Google translation: ガラスの家の人は石を投げるべきではありません
According to Poem Analysis the proverb, “those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” is often cited as originating in Chaucer’s epic poem, “Troilus and Criseyde” written in 1385. The original text is:
“And forthi, who that hath an hed of verre,
ffro caste of stones war hym in the werre.” (lines 867 & 868 -Book II)
Basically, the proverb is a reminder that people should not criticize others for a flaw that you yourself possess. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.
Proverb of January: 一富士二鷹三茄子
Google Translation: One Fuji, two hawks, three eggplants
In Japanese culture, Hatsuyume (初夢), the first dream you have for the year, is said to foretell the luck you will receive for the year. This proverb lists things considered particularly good to see in the first dream. According to one theory, they tell good fortune as Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain, a hawk is a clever and strong bird, and eggplant (茄子 nasu) is a homonym of achieving something great (成す nasu). -Iori Matsushima