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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Repeating Geography

My Japanese isn't good enough to understand the details in the news broadcast, though I can usually follow the story. However, I have to be studiously watching the news, not overhearing it, to manage that much. So yesterday I wasn't paying attention to the news, but perked up when I heard mention of Futatabi, the name of the mountain we live at the base of. When I looked at the screen, it was a story about North Korea. Across the bottom of the screen ran the ubiquitous transcription of what was being said (I don't know why they do this for the Japanese news, but it's one of the ways I learn kanji (the characters used in Japanese), by matching up what I hear with what I see on the screen). Sure enough, there was the kanji for Futatabi, our mountain, but it wasn't written as Futatabi-san, with the kanji for mountain, pronounced 'san', following it. In fact, it was used to begin a sentence and came just before the subject of the sentence, sort of like an adverb might be, (i.e. Finally,.....).

This is the kanji for futatabi. Actually, the kanji is the left part, and it is read "futata" with the hiragana syllable "bi" on the right.
I asked my husband why the newscaster had said Futatabi. He said it meant "again, or a second time, or once again." He said they were emphasizing that it was the second time that North Korea had performed some objectional action. Now I know how to express "again" or "a second time" other ways, but I'd never heard "futatabi" used that way. I pointed out that it was the same kanji as our mountain, to which my husband agreed. I'd never thought about the meaning of our mountain's name before but suddenly it occurred to me that we live in the shadow of "Once Again Mountain" or "Second Time Mountain" .... or "Repeated Again Mountain." I pointed that out to my husband, and he admitted that he had also never really considered the literal meaning of out mountain's name, but that my observation was true.

Imagine that. For the past few years I have been thinking about and talking about and writing poems using the notion of repetition, and wondering why we repeat certain things in our thoughts and our speech and our writing and actions. I've been obsessed with repetition as a theme, a trope, and a device, and all this time I've been living at the bottom of "Once Again Mountain." Unknowingly echoing my geography as its shadow looms above.

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