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Friday, August 8, 2008


が りょう てんせい
ga ryou tensei

A while ago, I read the English translation of a book called「 蛇にピアス」 ("Snakes with Piercings," or "Pierced Snakes" might have been a better title than Snakes and Earrings, which it was published as). It's about a young girl who gets involved with some guys who are into body modification and sado-masochism and possibly murder? I didn't think it was anything really special, but it looks like it's sensationalist enough to warrant a movie! You can check out the trailer at the bottom of this post.

Anyway, I mention it because the main character gets a mural tattoo on her back of a Kirin, the mythical Japanese (er... Chinese) beast most famous in the west for being a brand of beer.
I can't remember if she specifies it, or the tattoo artist advises it, but she ends up deciding not to have the Kirin's pupils drawn in. This is because of an ancient Japanese (er... Chinese) legend, which also gives us today's yoji, which means something along the lines of "Adding the eyes on the painted dragon."

1. The finishing touches.
2. The final strokes.

Look at our English equivalents. We use the painting metaphor, or the work of art metaphor to talk about finishing anything from a project at work, to an essay, to a meal, but why does the Japanese version specifically name a dragon? And honestly, if you were going to draw a dragon, or any animal-like thing, would you really draw the eyes last? Here's the legend that answers these's questions for you:

南北朝の時代、南朝の ( りょう ) に”張僧ヨウ”という名画家がいました。あるとき彼は、 金陵 ( きんりょう ) (現在の南京)の安楽寺の壁に竜を描くことを頼まれ、4匹の白い竜の図を描きました。その竜は、今にも壁を突き破って天にも昇りそうな勢いがあり、 見る人すべて息を飲みましたが、不思議なことに、瞳が描き入れられていませんでした。

不思議に思った人々が彼に理由を尋ねると、彼は、「もし瞳を入れたら、竜が天に飛んでいってしまうからだよ。」と言いました。 しかし、人々は信じることができずに、是非、瞳を描き入れるように彼に求めました。

そこで仕方なく彼が4匹のうち2匹に瞳を入れると、たちまち稲妻が走って、壁が壊れ、2匹の竜は雲に乗って天に飛び去ってしまったのです。 あとには瞳を入れなかった2匹の竜だけが残ったそうです。

During the Northern and Southern Dynasties Period, (China, 1336-1392), there was a famous painter of the Southern Dynasty by the name of Yo. During this time, he received a commission and painted a mural of four white dragons on the wall of the Anraku Temple in Nanjing. The dragons he painted were positioned in such a way, and imbued with such lifelike vigor, that they looked as though they might burst through the wall and soar off into the sky (ascend into heaven) at any given moment. The effect was such that anyone who looked upon it couldn't help but draw a deep breath (swallow their breath, as though in awe... or fear). But the truly strange thing about the mural was that in all of the eyes of all of the dragons, Yo had not painted in the pupils.
Somewhat perplexed, the people asked Yo for the reason he had not done so, and he answered simply "If I were to give them pupils, they'd take off into the sky and be gone." But of course, the people couldn't believe this, and demanded that he complete the mural by painting the eyes, without fail.

Having no recourse, Yo began to comply. He painted the eyes on the first dragon, and was putting the finishing touches on the second when all at once a bolt of lighting struck, shattering a portion of the wall, freeing the two completed dragons who hopped onto the nearest cloud and rode it away into the sky. After that, it seemed like a good idea after all to leave the remaining two white dragons without any eyes.
This is not the only incident in Japanese culture where the painting of the eyes garners significance though. Do you know about the still practiced tradition of painting eyes on Daruma?
They even have Darumas that you can buy in toy vending machines, along with a sticker set to use for the eyes, like a cheaper, spiritual version of a Mister Potato Head.

Last note, but it's important to talk about the usage of 画竜点睛. While it can be used to refer to simply the fact that something is finally done (the all important Google image search reveals that it's used for things like business openings, building projects, those models of anime characters that hobbyists assemble themselves, or in mischevious references to a particular practice of omission common in manga: NSFW), it's mostly used like this:

画竜点睛を欠く, which means "lacking some final important detail without which, all the other work is useless."

Let's keep our example sentence in China as well.

例文:一生懸命作ったのに、ちゃんと英語ができる人に確認しなかったので、僕が作った看板の訳書は 画竜点睛を欠いています。
I worked as hard as I could on this, but because I didn't check my translation with someone who can speak English, this translated sign is worthless due to my inability to finish it off properly.

Here's that trailer I promised you.

1 comment:

Claytonian said...

I can't be sure, but I think I saw an episode of reading rainbow about this as a kid (or at least a modification of the story).