The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?

月がきれいですね? // The moon is beautiful, isn’t it? // Tsuki ga kireide wanaidesu

Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki (1868–1912) of the Meiji period produced the phrase “the moon is beautiful” to express the Japanese equivalent of “I love you.” I first discovered this on Jean’s blog and was strangely moved by the delicate, subtle, poetic expression of nuanced emotions. Gentle. Soft. And the soothing comfort of the bright, twinkling night sky, enveloping your heart, your mind… and you.

Through some research, I uncovered the origins behind this beautiful phrase –and how its engraved into Japanese culture, although perhaps not as commonly in contemporary times– but I couldn’t figure out the relevance of the moon. Until I realised “好き/suki” means “like/love.” Comparatively, “月/tsuki” meaning “moon” is phonetically similar enough to “love” to constitute as a subtle –yet decipherable– translation.

Another metaphorically beautiful interpretation, unlike the more concrete phonetic similarity above, is:

The moon is beautiful. And I can recognise its beauty and love, because I see them in you. Thank you for letting me comprehend what true beauty and love is, for I was blind to these unfathomably spiritual experiences before this moment, before you.

***

From a more historical standpoint, the story of this translation is the following:

During Soseki’s teaching years, he overheard a student translating “I love you” rather awkwardly into its literal and direct translation: “Ware Kimi wo Aisu.” Soseki believed –as a product of his time and culture in the Meiji period; a period characterised by “feelings/jou” over “love/ai”– that this direct translation rejected Japanese sensibility. Thus, this more subtle, nuanced translation of “the moon is beautiful” was born. (Source)

As a personal researcher –with only the internet as a resource– I’m interested by “isn’t it?” as a common addition to the existing translation. I have no evidence to support the following contentions, but here are some theories:

  1. It is a question, discreetly asking if one’s feelings are reciprocated, but in the characteristically subtle, soft manner.
  2. Nonsensical; a way to dispel the intrinsic weight of the words, by adding empty ones to end. A rhetorical question that cannot be answered, but an attempt to… disperse the heaviness.
  3. A conversation starter. An added casualness to allow free-flowing outlet of emotion and experience… all in moderation, of course. 😛

Researching this phrase has piqued my curiosity about my own language. Yesterday at midnight, I attempted to dissect and comprehend the etymology –the true meaning– behind the “love” in Bengali. We follow a more Westernised notion, where “I love you” is directly translated to ” আমি তোমাকে ভালোবাস/ami tomake bhalobashi,” where:

  • “Ami/আমি” = I
  • “Tomake/তোমাকে” = you
  • “Bhalobash/ভালোবাস” = love

It’s a simple translation. But a derivation of the word “Bhalobash” is “Bhalobasha.” That’s where the complexity enters. “Bhalo” means “good” in Bengali,” while “Bhasa” means “house.” (ভালোবাসাভালোবাসা Love is a “good home.” As if another person is a home for you temporarily stay in, to unfold and draw the curtains. A little cottage of warmth, familiarity and security.

Language is so beautiful and so interesting.

***

OTHER REVELATIONS AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT:

 

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29 thoughts on “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?

  1. So interesting.. Unfortunately I dont speak Japanese but it fascinates me to read about the subtilities of this language and your post is so interesting. Wish my language were richer, I can definitely understand your passion for deciphering them..THanks a lot for sharing 🙂

    • Estelea ❤
      Thank you for stopping by. I don't speak Japanese either, but the subtletitles of language –like you say– is so interesting. As for "your language," I was browsing your blog, and I wonder: is your first language French? You speak English beautifully; I can't tell. 😛

      • French is such a beautiful language. I suppose I assumed it involves a lot of similar subtleties Japanese has, in terms of expression –would I be incorrect in assuming that?

      • Thanks for the compliment 😉 It has some, but not as many as in Japanese.

        Greek has much more to me, I love the fact that they have a few words for Love for instance, while we only rely on one. How can you use the same word for your hyper significant other and for strawberries for instance? Greek have one word for the filial love, one for the erotic, one for the foundness as far as I remember (maybe a couple more though). Makes things clearer. Being sexually attracted to someone is eros. But loving someone with all your heart is agapi. The feeling is different, it talks to different senses. I find it fascinating, because it helps you in reading your emotions too..

      • Thank you so much for the language lesson. I never realised so much of English came from Greek roots, because I’m familiar with these different words –for different variations of love– as you’ve described here. I definitely need to look into these words (and maybe write a post on them, because etymology is fascinating…).
        Thank you for bringing this to my attention ❤

  2. Pingback: I Resolved | Cancer Isn't Pink

  3. Thank you, for linking my post to yours! Really liked your interepretion of expression of love in various toungues and way! 🙂

  4. Actually, the Japanese romanji should read “Tsuki ga kirei desu ne?” since “kireide wanaidesu” would look like “きれいではないです”.

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