Friday, June 20, 2008

A concubine in nature

I was reading something for work the other day that actually made me laugh (it's been a long week). The passage was going along as normal as can be expected when a new character was introduced: "Tanaka-san's wife (a concubine in nature) appeared at the restaurant..." A concubine in nature?! I immediately contacted the person who had translated it to confirm whether

a) The wife was being slandered for her sexual promiscuousness

b) The wife wasn't actually married to Tanaka-san

c) The wife was an actual kept woman

Turns out the translator had meant "common-law" wife but it would have been so much more interesting if it had literally meant "a concubine in nature"!! Curious to see how the term "concubine" had come up, I did some trawling through the dictionaries.

蓄妾 【ちくしょう】 (n,vs) keeping a mistress (concubine)
This one had me looking twice because the first character contains a kanji used with words having to do with cattle but I'm not sure if there is any connection there.
籠の鳥; 篭の鳥 【かごのとり】 (exp) (1) caged bird; (2) person whose freedom has been restricted (esp. a prostitute, mistress, concubine, etc.)
I had seen the term "caged birds" being used before to refer to courtesans in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters but had forgotten about it until today. I like the image it conjures (not that of indentured slaves but I think the term is fitting).

In cultures with concubinage systems, concubines were basically common-law wives (with the exception of those who were actually slaves) and a few more dictionary searches confirmed this. When I looked up concubine in English, it gave two definitions:
1. Common-law wife
2. Wives other than lawfully wedded wife

Then when I looked up the Japanese for common-law (内縁,
naien) which is probably what the translator did, it came up with both common-law and then further down it translated it as concubine (when used in the context of a concubinage system). Still, I'm not sure why the translator thought concubine would be more fitting but at least I got a laugh out of it and have the phrase "a concubine in nature" to add to my arsenal.


peter01 said...

Speaking of Oiran and Tayuu, have you seen the movie Sakuran (2006) ?

I dont think there is anything caged about that bird in the red-light district of Yoshiwara .


Green-Eyed Geisha said...

I saw it a couple weeks ago actually and planned to mention it here-see my next post. And I agree, Kiyoha is certainly a free spirit.

☆sarita☆ said...

longtime lurker, and finding myself with some hima at my Kaisha, I am amusing myself with your archives^^

Anyway, this post reminded me of back when I worked with a j-drama fansub group (guilty). I was checking this girl's translation and out of pages and pages of pretty awful stuff there was one particularly horrible passage.
The original line was describing some guy as an 一匹オオカミ, only the translator seemed to have gotten confused about "ookami" and "okami."
So the translation ended up something like "a mistress who is also a small fish."
I mean wtf?! Even if you didn't understand "ookami," there is absolutely no context in which that could possibly make sense.

Took me a good 10 minutes to recover from that one^^

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Sarita: You've commented before, right? I remember your name and the stars :) I would love to know what a mistress slash small fish looks like.

☆sarita☆ said...

haha, yeah. I think I've commented like once before^^

The stars, unfortunately, lead back to a now-defunct blog back from when I was at Japanese school in Yokohama. Been thinking of trying to get one running again, but now I mostly just twitter^^