Sunday, March 8, 2009


On Friday night, I went to a production of the Noh play "Sumidagawa," staged by the graduate program in Asian theatre, of which my cousin R is a member. It is one of the most mournful of Noh plays, in which a madwoman arrives at the Sumida River ferry crossing and asks for passage. The ferryman learns from her that she is from the capital and is wandering in search of her son, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery a year previously. While crossing the river, another traveller asks "What's going on on the opposite shore?" The ferryman explains that it is a memorial service for a young boy from the capital who fell ill along the road and died a year previously. As you might imagine, it comes out that this is the woman's lost son, and she is too late to do anything but chant the Nembutsu (Buddha-name chant) by his tomb; but his ghost appears and chants together with her before disappearing again.

The son's name is Umewakamaru (here is a bunch more information on the tale of Umewakamaru, which apparently appears in other sources than just the Noh play). Seeing this, I realized that, setting aside "-maru" as being just a masculine ending for a boy's name, this legendary child had the same name as my Chinese name, which is Long Meiruo.

To explain: Here are the characters for Umewakamaru.
梅 = Jp. Ume (plum blossom), Ch. Mei (plum blossom)
若 = Jp. Waka (young), Ch. Ruo (like, as if)
丸 = Jp. Maru (archaic ending for a boy's name, now used for ships), Ch. Wan (ball)

And this is my Chinese name:
龙 = Ch. Long (dragon), Jp. Ryu (dragon) - my surname
梅 = Ch. Mei, Jp. Ume
若 = Ch. Ruo, Jp. Waka

It's actually slightly creepy, given the nature of the Japanese legend. I think what this means is that my Chinese name, which sounds both auspicious and poetic in Chinese, is actually deeply inauspicious in Japanese, especially as the voicing "umewaka" can also give 埋め若 in Japanese, which can mean "to bury the young." Good thing I have much less creepy names like ケーイトさん (Keito-san) to fall back on.

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