Miura Shion Interview Part 3: Karma and Romance Swirl in the World of Dictionaries

Miura Shion is the writer of Fune wo Amu (2011) otherwise also known as The Great Passage. The anime adaptation recently started airing on Fuji Television’s noitaminA block. For this reason I decided to translate an interview with the author over the course of the next couple of months while the anime is airing. The interview consists of eleven parts; this is the third part on karma in the dictionary world. Please go to part one “Encountering a Dictionary” to start reading the interview from the beginning.

Editor-in-chief Araki shows Majime into the reference room.
Editor-in-chief Araki shows Majime into the reference room.

Karma and Romance Swirl in the World of Dictionaries

The journey to reach that place is far. Moreover, the so-called feeling that there are countless of routes, manifests into the existence of plenty dictionaries in this world.

On the contrary, everyone thinks very hard as there is not one single answer. Rather than that, we aim for an accurate and easily understandable interpretation. However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot reach a single correct answer. That is probably a good point after all, isn’t?

Indeed, that is a good point. Perhaps I should say that the romantic part of humanity created the books we call dictionaries. If there was a single answer, such a variety of dictionaries wouldn’t have been publicized. Though having one dictionary is good.

The reason is that you move forward while cultivating your character by using several dictionaries, right?

Miura Shion

Isn’t it like, just because there is no answer, you might as well do anything? Even though the standards of good and evil sway, it doesn’t explicitly mean that it’s okay to indiscriminately take a person’s life. Still there is something like a truth. The journey to reach that place is far. Moreover, the so-called feeling that there are countless of routes, manifests into the existence of plenty dictionaries in this world. It means one can not absolutely settle on a single dictionary. I feel like that’s a good point of a human being.

Miura-san, you touched upon something which is called the “karma” of a person inside your book review compilation Honya-san de machiawase and wrote: “I probably like stories of people who become obsessed with a single thing”. Fune wo Amu is surely a story which features people who become obsessed with a single thing, right?

That’s indeed the case. In that novel I wrote a story of someone who creates a dictionary as an idealized model of a person’s life. Although I spoke of karma, there is a karma which is different from the karma in a good sense. There is also a karma with a bad meaning which seems to fit in the negative spiral. But to me it is visible in charming people rather than in people who have absolutely none of even that karma. It’s apart from whether I want to get close to them (laughs). I think a person who writes novels can be anyone, but I have more interest in people who can’t help but be taken by such a karma, and want to know them. Of course there is no person who is completely expressionless though.

Several pioneers in lexicography come to mind: they did excellent work while carrying some type of karma. It’s an old story, but I had a boss who actually stayed in an inn in Jinbōchō[ref]A neighborhood of Chiyoda in Tokyo, and is known as Tokyo’s center of used-book stores and publishing houses.[/ref] and worked there for a half year. I think it was often permitted at the companies too.

But that’s on the expenses of the company, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right.

When you’re wrestling with the creation of a dictionary, you can’t manage your personal belongs, so a hotel is more convenient. It’s probably because they make meals, do the laundry and clean for you. Even so, a half year is a lot.

When I was twenty-five, I also stayed together with that boss for only one night.

Does that person also work the entire night? What do they do?

He corrects the galley proofs[ref]A proof of a page being typeset for printing, before it is set as a page of a book or booklet.[/ref].

Won’t he loaf around and sleep on evenings when Takimoto-san is not there?

No, he only sleeps a little. If he doesn’t truly sleep at all…

He would die, huh.

At that time I didn’t have the skill to correct the galley proofs, so I did nothing but sort the cards, and inspect whether they were arranged into the syllabary order. If it were now I would be able to work on the PC, but in those days we could only work through human effort. That was the dictionary called “Gengogaku Daijiten”[ref]The Sanseido encyclopaedia of linguistics[/ref]; we rearranged thousands of cards with names in the languages of the world in the syllabary order. Well, it was an inn with Japanese-styled rooms, so we did it easily by spreading them on top of the tatami mats…

You rearranged thousands of cards in one night?

Yes, in one night.

But you pulled an all-nighter? That’s too much!

I think that extreme anecdotes like those in the past probably exist in various forms for each dictionary. If we did such a thing now, it would become a very big problem (laughs).


Sanseido Word-Wise Web



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