What does it mean to be “Ugly” In Japan

What does it mean to be “busu” 「ブス」or “minikui” in Japan?

In a world that worships at the altar of kawaii 「可愛い」, at saucer sized eyes and at double skinned eyelids. What is it like to feel like you don’t live up? And how can you live a life so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Twitter writer and Youtuber “Todoron” painfully, graphically and courageously lays bear her experiences of this situation for all to see on Twitter, and later Youtube. Her first tweet was a single Hiragana character. Her third tweet got 150,000 likes and 30,000 retweets. 

She seems to having something that resonates with contemporary online Japanese society. She mixes simple-truth observations of the state of the world, and her own inner state. Topics she tackles include her history of cosmetic surgery, concepts of beauty and mental health.

Today I want to have a look at the language she uses around the issues.

 

A translation of Todoron's first tweets

Through repeated rounds of cosmetic surgery, you can turn yourself into something that you believe to be beautiful. But turning yourself into something the world believes is beautiful remains impossible to do forever. Beauty is talent. It all depends on whether you are able to bring this beauty out, or you choose to deny it. Even people who show the world that they have achieved beauty through effort are only keeping an appointment with their own natural born talent.

Feelings that only ugly people can understand

・ The fear of the group photo

・ The fear of catching your own image reflecting back at you from panes of glass throughout the city

・ The fear that Snow will not be enough to make you beautiful

・ The feeling of guilt at being attracted to a hot guy

・ The philosophical regret of “Why did I have to be born as myself when I could have just as easily been born as someone like Nozomi Sasaki”

 

I love girly things like frills and lace. It makes me sad that I am so scared of people denying the femininity of the “me covered in those things” that I act like I don’t even like them in the first place.

People always seem to think that people who go public with their cosmetic surgery say to themselves “Cosmetic surgery is making an effort! Please acknowledge how much work I’ve put in! Tell me I’m beautiful” out of some kind of need for acknowledgment of self or urgent need for recognition. But really, I think that the vast majority of people are actually saying to themselves “If I try and hide the fact I’ve had some work done, people will still talk, so I may as well just be open about it. People can choose not to accept what I’ve done if they like, no one is forcing them to stick around if they don’t want to”.

A translation of Todoron's first Youtube clip

こんな醜い感情で生きていてもいいですか

Is it good enough to live life with these kind of ugly feelings?

はじめましてとどろんと申します。初投稿です。

Pleased to meet you, I’m dodoron this is my first video.

本日は東京新潟間を背景に整形経験者である私の話をして行こうと思います。

Today, with the scenery between Tokyo and Niigata as my background, I’m going to talk about myself and my experiences as someone who has had cosmetic surgery.

整形経験者

Person who has had cosmetic surgery  

東京駅から発射します。楽しみです。

Launching out from Tokyo. This is going to be fun.

自分語りになりますがこうして外に出られるようになったのは整形してからです。

I fear I will be talking all about myself, but going out like this is only something I have been able to do since having surgery.

ブスは外に出るのも許されない。

Ugly people aren’t allowed in public.

日々顔を非難される経験を積めばそういう思考になります。

If you have experience of having your face criticized on a daily basis over a long period of time, that’s how you come to think.

恐怖。

Fear.

評価。

Criticism.

新潟に出発です。電車や新幹線の音っていいですね。

Leaving Niigata. Don’t you love the sound of the train and the shinkansen?

ガラスがなければ自分の顔を見なくていいし最高なのになあ。

If only there was no glass here to reflect my face everything would be perfect.

朝食を食べ損ねた弁当を買いました。

I missed breakfast, so I’ve bought a bento.

余談ですが美人て財布を出すふりが上手いですよね。

To digress a moment, beautiful people are great at making like they are pulling out their wallet aren’t they?

やっぱりおごられなれているのでしょうか。

I suppose it’s because they are so used to having others pay the bill.

ていうか今気がついたけど服のシワやばいですね。

Never mind that, I’ve just realised the wrinkles in my shirt are next level.

こういうところがブスなんですよね。ごめんなさい。

I guess this is one of the hallmarks of being ugly. I apologize.

美人は服がシワシワでもだらしない美人なのにブスは「そんなんだからブスなんだよ」と言われるの理不尽だよね。

If a beautiful person wears wrinkled clothes they are just a beautiful person in wrinkled clothes. But if an ugly person wears wrinkled clothing, people say “that’s the reason you’re so unattractive”. It makes no sense.

いただきます。おいしそう。

Bon appetite. Looks good.

さて再出発です。雪だー!綺麗!

And, we’re off again. Look at the snow. It’s beautiful!

整形前はきれいなものを見ても素直に口に出せませんでした。

Before having cosmetic surgery, I was unable to speak freely about beautiful things.

ブスがはしゃいでると思われるのが恥ずかしかったからです。

I felt that people would just think that I was an ugly person shooting her mouth off.

ブスって捻くれてる人が多いと思うんですがそういった複雑な感情も影響していると思います。

Ugly people are often a little twisted I think that it must be the result of experiencing such complex emotions.

よし帰りましょ。

Well, time to head for home.

新潟でも撮ろうと思ったのですが無理だったのでお土産を紹介します。

I wasn’t able to shoot in Niigata, as I’d hoped, so I’ll just show you my souvenirs.

のどぐろ茶漬け

Nodo Guro cyatuke

 

嫉妬

Jealousy

 

これは自分用。夜食に食べたら死ぬほど美味しい絶対

This is for me. This would be the bomb to have as a late night snack.

 

可愛い女の子がおっさん臭いもの好きをアピールするのがウザいと思うのは私だけでしょうか。ギャップがいいとか言うけどだいたいだれでも好きだわ。

Am I the only one that gets annoyed at beautiful people trying to make a big thing out of how they love eating the sort of snacks a middle aged man might like. People say “it’s such a lovely contrast”, but let’s face it, who doesn’t like that stuff?

そしてこちらは家族へのお土産

I got these for my family

笹団子です

Bamboo shoot balls

 

ブスだけど見た目可愛いものは好き

I may be ugly, but I like cute stuff.

 

そしてジャスミンティー

And, jazmine tea

 

なんか凹んでるんだけど

Looks a bit dinted but

パンを食べる、うめぇ

Time for a pastry. Man, that’s good.

おいしいという感覚は美醜に関わらず平等に与えられた最高の快楽ですね。

Deliciousness is the greatest sense that people of beauty or ugliness have received equally.

ごちそうさまでした。

That was good.

帰りは雨で景色がよく見えませんでした。

I couldn’t see the scenery on the way back because of the rain.

今日の動画はここで終わりです。初投稿いかがでしたか。

I’ll finish up my video here. How did you like my first post?

ぜひご意見ありましたらコメント欄までお願いいたします。

If you have any thoughts please let me know in the comments.

では、ありがとうございました。

Thank you very much.

さようなら

Goodbye.

 

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。3年間京都市立芸大の大学院として、一年間ワーキングホリデーとして日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

Learn Japanese Through Death Poems Part 3

Japanese Reading Difficulty

9/12 Could be read by 5th grade level student in Japan

Themes

Poetry, Death, Mortality, nature.

Text Type

Poem, Haiku

About Japanese Death Poems

Today we’re taking our third look at Japanese death poems. Now like the name suggests these are poems that people in Japan have written through the ages just before they die, or on their deathbed, and they’re fascinating little windows into a whole different world across time and space -windows on people reflecting on their lives in their final moments.
These poems have been around since around the 7th century.
I first came across these through this book Japanese death poems by Yoel Hoffman. It’s a fantastic little compendium of these poems and translations. So I thought I’d go through and introduce some of these but also give my own take. I’ll do some of my own translations, because there’s often quite a few different ways that these things can be done.

Death Poem byHiroshi Kuroshiki

A translation of an Instagram post from the artist

香波

Ko-Ha

Died 14 August 1897

Following on from the misty moons, and writers who are dreaming in our previous look at Japanese Death Poems, we have a death poem by Koha 香波. Once again we have somebody with a pretty groovy name. I wish we could all have names as good as these guys. Ko 香 means a “fragrance” or a “smell” and 波 ha means “wave”. So Koha is a fragrant wave. You often hear references to fragrances, and the idea of lotuses and flowers in Buddhist thought. Indeed, if you go to a temple, you often see they put out incense burning to create an otherworldly feeling. Koha died in 1897, so we’re going relatively modern here! His poem goes:

筆投げて

 

月に物言う

 

ばかりなり

 

Fude nagete

 

Tsuki ni mono iu 

 

Bakari nari

 

Now, I hurl my pen

From here on

I talk with the moon.

 
 

Explanation of the poem

筆投げて

I feel like this one has a little bit of that attitude to it. Koha is talking about throwing his pen, or his brush. A bold statement for a writer. I imagine people at this time would have been writing with brushes more than ballpoint pens. So we can take 筆, fude, to mean pen. 

 

月に物言う 

Once again in our Japanese Death Poems we have the 月 つき moon coming in. As most people that have had some experience of Japanese culture will know, we find a lot of reverence for the moon, and doing moon viewing and that sort of thing. 物 means thing and 言う means say, so I’m going to say things to the moon.

ばかりなり

ばかり is “only”, so Koha is saying “all” I’m going to do is speak to the moon. Then again, as many other poems, we’ve got なり nari, which is one more of our 切れ字 kireji, which is there to give an emphasis. People probably know the word なり nari as meaning “to become”, or it’s often a way of saying “is”. I was confused by the word in the past, for example when a waiter would bring an order and say something like “ビールになります”, which sounds strange if you say “this is becoming a beer”. It actually just means “here is a beer”, so it’s just saying this is something. So this “nari” is different to “kana”, which is offering a sense of wonder. Nari is a bit more solid, and saying ばかりなり is really saying “that’s all all I’m doing”, from here here on all I do is talk to the moon.

So let’s just refer back to Hoffman translation which is:

I cast the brush aside –

From her on I’ll speak to the moon

face to face.

An English Parallel

All of this made me think of the Bob Dylan song Tombstone Blues, which isn’t talking about deaths, but it’s still talking about that sense of a writer or somebody that’s involved in the sciences, or the worldly ways reaching the edge of where that can take you. Reaching the end of logical thought and just wanting to “throw it”. It’s that sense of wanting to just throw your tools across the room because they can’t help you anymore. 

Bob Dylan writes in Tombstone Blues, 

The geometry of innocence, flesh on the bone

Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown

At Delilah who’s sitting worthlessly alone

But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter”

 

Sometimes sentiment can be similar across centuries and continents, people and place. 

Japanese poetry books

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。3年間京都市立芸大の大学院として、一年間ワーキングホリデーとして日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

Japanese Death Poems 辞世 Translated and analysed

Japanese Reading Difficulty

9/12 Could be read by 5th grade level student in Japan

Themes

Poetry, Death, Mortality, nature.

Text Type

Poem, Haiku

About Japanese Death Poems

Today we’re having a look at Japanese death poems. Now like the name suggests these are poems that people in Japan have written through the ages just before they die, or on their deathbed, and they’re fascinating little windows into a whole different world across time and space -windows on people reflecting on their lives in their final moments.
These poems have been around since around the 7th century.
I first came across these through this book Japanese death poems by Yoel Hoffman. It’s a fantastic little compendium of these poems and translations. So I thought I’d go through and introduce some of these but also give my own take. I’ll do some of my own translations, because there’s often quite a few different ways that these things can be done.

Death Poem byHiroshi Kuroshiki

A translation of an Instagram post from the artist

智輪

Chi-rin

Died 24 Dec. 1794

The first poem is by a poet called Chirin. All these poets have really fantastic names. 智 Chi means insight or wisdom, which comes from the Sanskrit, I believe, word prajna. So it’s a Buddhist Buddhist concept. 輪 Rin is like a circle, so this is this person’s name is actually a circle of prana insight

天地に

ちりなき雪の

麓かな

 

Ametsuchi ni

Chiri naki yuki no

Fumoto kana

 

Across the sky and land

Not a speck of dust

Behold the snow on the foothills!

 

Explanation of the poem

あめ in modern Japanese usually means rain but here it’s referring to the sky 天, to the heavens and has a different character to 雨

つち usually literally means dirt, but here it’s got a broader meaning of “land” and then ちりなき 

 

Literally means dust. I think both dust or chiri are very interesting words in either Japanese or English. There’s kind of this association between dust and garbage or rubbish. Probably people that have studied Japanese for a while probably would have come across people saying, you know, get some chiri officer off the floor it’s meaning that it’s dirty & dusty. Even in English we have this word “dustbin”. We don’t put generally don’t put dust in a bin. It’s more like rubbish that we’re putting in there. So there’s this association between things that are dirt or dirty and rubbish.

So ちりなき means ちりがない.

For my translation, I’ve gone with:

 

Across the sky land land 

not a speck of dust and the

 

But the other interesting thing about ちりなき is that we said that the poet’s name was chirin, so there’s actually a play on words, and this is something you find in a lot of these death poems. Often the poet will take their name and sort of try and work it into the actual poem either through the sound or through the meaning. So there’s this interesting play that they do, looking at the idea of their self and how that idea exists in the world. So chiri naki has a double meaning of no dust, but also no chirin, as in, he himself has disappeared. Or he’s about to disappear.

And then it comes to 

雪のふもとかな

Now this word かな is interesting as well. 

In modern japanese if you say kana it usually means that you’re not sure about something or you’re wondering about something.  So you might say come on 買い物行こうかな, I think I might go down to the shops. Or somebody might say to you そうかな if you’ve said something and now they’re doubting you. 

But you find in it’s poetic context it has a slightly different meaning. 

Here it’s used as a 切れ字 Kireji.

切る means to cut and 字 is a letter or a word. So these are special words that are put in either to divide up a section or phrase, or at the end to give a sense of finality.  “Kana” is usually expressing some kind of wonder, some sense of the numinous. When you think about it, even the modern idea of wondering about things, we wonder at the world, we wonder what’s happening. There is that connection in the same way that we said that ちり and dust and rubbish and garbage have this strange connection. There’s a connection between wondering in a numinous way and in a more prosaic way. 

So, the reason I put in “behold” the snow on this foothill is that I was trying to get that sense of wonder.  “Behold” I know is a very old sounding English word, but this is a poem from 1794, so I think that’s valid to say, “behold the snow in the foothills”

In Hoffman’s translation he went with:

In the earth and the sky

No grain of dust-

Snow on the foothills

So Hoffman hasn’t worried about putting the “behold” in. The かな gets lost in that translation but really there’s not really any great way of getting around that anyway.

Now, just a way as a way of finding a parallel between this poem and the world of English poetry I was thinking about poets that look at nature, appreciating snow and appreciating the natural world as it is in it in its “suchness”, to use a Buddhist term. 

So I was thinking about Robert Frost, because he does a lot of that sort of poetry and he’s got a famous one Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

And then it goes on from there. You get this sense of somebody by themselves in nature just appreciating snow. This makes me think of that famous koan that’s come into popular culture
“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one saw it fall, and no one heard it fall, did it really fall?”
Which is about just appreciating the suchness of things, and the fact that you can’t really explain the nature of reality in words.

Robert Frost also has another poem which refers to both dust and snow as well.

It’s called Dust of Snow:

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Japanese poetry books

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。3年間京都市立芸大の大学院として、一年間ワーキングホリデーとして日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。