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):