For the Sake of Drums

Well, folks. We stand corrected! When we read through the menu for the Tower Records Buck-Tick Cafe, we took a tentative guess that the title of the sake in Toll's original cocktail was pronounced "Dorakumu," because this would be the standard reading for 道 ("dou") + 楽 ("raku") + 夢 ("mu"). We figured we were probably wrong about it, though - read this post to find out why.

Those of you studying Japanese may have seen some or all these kanji before - they're all common, useful, and often to be found in Buck-Tick songs, so for those of you who are interested, here's a little Japanese lesson. (If you're confused by any of the terms I use in this post, please refer to this article on Not Greatest Site.)

Most kanji characters used in Japanese have at least two possible pronunciations, called yomi, or readings. One of them, called the on-yomi, is derived from the Chinese pronunciation of the character. The other, called the kun-yomi, indicates the native Japanese pronunciation of the character. In fact, most kanji have more than one on-yomi, and possibly more than one kun-yomi, but the principle remains the same no matter how many readings a given character has. On-yomi are usually used when the kanji is found as part of a compound word, while kun-yomi are usually used when the kanji stands on its own (e.g. to form a verb or adjective stem, etc.), or when the kanji is used in a person or place name (on-yomi are almost never used in Japanese names).

About names, though - names are a weird animal. Kanji have been in use for thousands of years, and names are an important expression of individuality, as well as being (in linguistic science terms) resistant to language standardization and natural language evolution. Therefore, it makes sense that there's a great deal more quirky variety among name readings than anywhere else in the Japanese writing system. Many times, you can't guess how the name of a person or place is supposed to be pronounced just from reading the kanji. Somebody has to tell you. This is why the names on Japanese business cards are always annotated with small hiragana (called furigana), indicating how the name should be pronounced. It's also why the signs at train stations always include the name of the station in hiragana as well as kanji. The genesis of many irregular name readings is lost to history, but you can't very well expect a nation that uses such a versatile, complex writing system not to play games with it, and play games is exactly what Japanese people have done on many occasions. Kanji which are deliberately selected to represent a particular word that isn't usually written in kanji are called 当て字 ("ateji"). Usually, the kanji with the most relevant meaning and readings which decently approximate the sound of the word are chosen, and then if the readings of the kanji selected don't exactly match the pronunciation of the word, whoever chose the ateji just fudges it, and asks you to suspend disbelief by pronouncing the kanji the way they want you to rather than the way they're usually pronounced, just this one time. In cases of ateji, the kanji are usually accompanied by those handy little furigana to indicate the irregular reading.

Ateji show up in all sorts of places, but one common place they're found is in words which were adopted into Japanese from other languages during the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, during which the Japanese emperor instituted a policy of rapid industrialization in hopes to prevent being colonized by European countries with superior technology. Part of the modernization included the adoption of new words like 煙草 (tabako, "cigarette"), (kan, "can"), and 珈琲 (koohii, "coffee"). These days, words adopted into Japanese from other languages are usually written in katakana, but back then I guess they had a higher sense of nationalism regarding written language, and they made ateji for all those new words, which is pretty badass if you think about it.

Actually, a lot of Japanese young people recognize the "cool factor" of ateji. Another place you commonly see them is on the "kamikaze coats" worn by members of biker gangs, and these days, everything retro is in, so similar sorts of ateji pop up all over the place. Yet another place they pop up is sake titles.

Just like wine making, sake brewing is a highly codified art and there is no limit on the extent to which people will get obsessive, nerdy, defensive, and emotional about it (to learn more, I recommend you watch the film Kanpai: For the Love of Sake, but if it drives you to drink, I'm not responsible.) Anyway, it makes sense that naming your sake is a big deal, and sake brewers come up with all kinds of creative names. For example, Cayce's favorite sake is called 裏死神, "Ura-Shinigami" or "Backwards Death Angel," written with the characters for 死神 in mirror image. (If you find this one in a bar somewhere, drink it all immediately - it's a season-limited release. Only a relatively small number of bottles are produced per year and once it's gone, you have to wait till next year. You can usually only find this in small bars with discerning barkeeps. You will definitely not find it in the grocery store. It tastes like Acchan-sama's tears - whether of pain or pleasure, I'll leave as a mystery for you to solve on your own.)

Therefore, we might expect that sake names would be a rich source of ateji, and indeed they are. Most notably, our friend 道楽夢 up there. It turns out this isn't supposed to be pronounced "Dourakumu" after all, but "Doramu," for "Drums." Shucks, it seems so obvious now.

So what do these kanji mean, anyway?

「道」 means "path," "road," or "way." The on-yomi is "dou" and the kun-yomi is "michi." You'll see this one all over the place, especially on the names of highways. It's also used to write 道場, "dojo," i.e. a place where one practices martial arts, because martial arts are a "way" of dealing with the world. Kanji are highly metaphorical. That is not a racist stereotype.

「楽」 means "pleasure," "ease," "fun," and "music." The on-yomi are "raku" and "gaku" and the kun-yomi is "tanoshii." Isn't it great that the same kanji is used for both pleasure and music? And by the way, this isn't just earthly pleasure we're talking about, either - not only is this character found in words like 快楽 (pleasure in a smutty sense), but also in words like 楽園 ("paradise"). It's also found in the word 音楽 ("music") and 楽器 ("musical instrument"). By itself, as 楽しい, it means "fun." This is definitely one of the best characters in the Japanese orthographic system.

「夢」 means "dream," and given the frequency with which it appears in Buck-Tick songs, I know you've all seen it before. The on-yomi is "mu" and the kun-yomi is "yume." It's usually used by itself, as "yume," to mean "dream," but we've seen it in many compounds, too, such as 夢幻 ("reveries"), 夢魔 (a dream demon such as that seen in cases of sleep paralysis, also the worst song Buck-Tick have ever written), and 白昼夢 ("daydream").

In sum, they look like perfect kanji to represent Buck-Tick on a sake bottle.

Or in this case, just Toll. Because that's what's going down, folks: Toll will release this signature sake 道楽夢 as a collaboration with the Nakazawa Sake Brewery in Takasaki. It's a version of their sake 結人 ("musubibito"), meaning "tying people together" - which, if you think about it, is very similar to the reason Buck-Tick named their management office Shaking Hands, Inc. all those years ago.

道楽夢 will be made entirely of Japanese rice and koji mold (that's how they ferment it, yo - also, real talk: koji mold is the most delicious mold on the face of the planet), and will contain between 15% and 16% alcohol. It will be officially released on October 1st, and sold in 720ml bottles that will retail for 3500 yen apiece, which is a little bit pricey, but nowhere near as crazy as that Buck-Tick wine. There doesn't seem to be anywhere to pre-reserve the sake on the website, so those of you who want to drink this will have to wait for October... though of course, you can also head over to the Tower Records Buck-Tick Cafe and drink it right now.

Check it out, kids. Toll has always been the most photogenic member of the band, and that hasn't changed with age. Look at that smug face. He'll drum you a dream, all right. And maybe if you get him drunk enough, he'll tell you a ghost story. (He told one to Cayce once. It was a beautiful tale.)




1 comment:

  1. I like that sometimes you post different things not so related to BT. Very interesting, I will check the film about sake, it has a catchy name.
    And now I want to try that sake that you mentioned


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