June 4, 2009

Japanese they don't teach: Hermits

I've been studying a lot lately, and during my breaks I often spend a few minutes (and I do try to keep it to just a few) exercising lightly or playing old Japanese SNES games to let my brain rest a bit. A recent game I've been into is a fung shui room builder/RPG called Chaos Seed which is kind of... unique. Anyways, I noticed the kanji 仙 (sen) gets thrown around a lot, so I thought I would tell you about some of it's uses that I found.

First off, its basic meaning is hermit, which in Asian culture seems to also mean wizard or immortal. I recall finding when I read about a mosaic at a Bangkok palace that within the omnipresent monkey king-related traditions of Asia, hermits seem to crop up a lot and they often have magical powers. I think it's the influence of ancient Taoism with its immortals. Immortals, like hermits, often dwell in the mountains, so I think this is why they are equivocated. This is all my armchair-summation of Asian mysticism, but I think I got the gist of it.

So here are some of the interesting words I found after 仙 started to intrigue me:

◆ 仙人 [sen'nin] (n) (1) immortal mountain wizard (in Taoism), mountain man (esp. a hermit), (2) one not bound by earthly desires or the thoughts of normal men.
◆ 仙窟 [senkutsu] (n) enchanted cave
◆ 仙女 [senjyo] [sen'nyu] [sen'nyo](n) fairy, nymph, elf
◆ 仙丹 [sentan] (n) the elixir (of life) [there's that immortality I'm talking about]
◆ 仙薬 [senyaku] (n) panacea, elixir (of life)
◆ 仙境 [senkyou] or 仙郷 [senkyou] (n) fairyland, enchanted land
◆ 仙術 [senjyutsu] (n) wizardry, secret of immortality
◆ 仙界 [senkai] (n) dwelling place of hermits, pure land away from the world
◆ 登仙 [tousen] (n,vs) becoming a saint, death of a high-ranking person
◆ 羽化登仙 [ukatousen] (n) a sense of release (as if one had wings and were riding on air)
◆ 神仙 [shisen] (n) (1) mountain wizard, god

A couple that don't have much to do with the running theme:

◆ 歌仙 [kasen] or 詩仙 [shisen] (n) great poet
◆ 酒仙 [shusen] (n) heavy drinker [drunken master? Nah, that would be 酔拳 (すいけん, drunken fist)]

I also found talk of the 八仙 (hassen, the eight immortals) on Wikipedia. They remind me of the 七福神 (shichifukujin, seven gods of good luck) of Japan. Oh and speaking of them, once I made a mistake asked an old lady shopkeep how much her 七面鳥 (shichimenchou, meaning turkey, which quite far from a god of luck) figurines cost. We had a good laugh at that.

If you are in term overload, maybe this movie about immortals will recharge your brain. It's like a Chinese lord of the rings.

And yes, there are more parts to this movie on YouTube. I recently found the whole thing here.

EDIT: Hope you didn't miss the follow-up post.