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October 30, 2016

Musha-burui: Trembling Before a Formidable Task (Ep. 1)

Reading Time: 9 Minutes
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Musha-burui is that trembling with excitement, anticipation, and fear one has before engaging in a formidable task. It comes from the idea of a samurai going headlong into battle. Musha 武者 means samurai or warrior. Burui 震い comes from the verb furu 震う, to shake or tremble.

This is what I’m feeling recording my first podcast: musha-burui.

The intro/outro music of Uncanny Japan is a song by Christiaan Virant (“Yi Gui” from Ting Shuo). The whole album is just gorgeous as it everything else by FM3.

Hello, Uncanny Japan is author Thersa Matsura, that’s me, exploring all that is weird from old Japan. Strange superstitions and old wives tales, cultural oddities and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures that I dig up when I do research for my writing, and I want to share them with you here on Uncanny Japan. I hope you like the show.

Hello my name is Thersa Matsuura and this is Uncanny Japan. I’m an American who has lived over half my life in Japan, in a small fishing town actually, called Yaizu. I am also a writer of dark Japanese themed speculative fiction. I’ve got one book out, soon to be two. The first book is called A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories, and the book coming out in late November is going to be called The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Stories. I’ve also got, again, short stories in magazines and anthologies out there.

So that’s what I do. I’m also starting this podcast and there is a reason for that and my reason is, I’m fluent in Japanese and I’ve lived here for so long and I’m kind of embedded in the culture in this tiny town and I… in order to write my stories I do a lot of research and I can go to the library or wherever I go and I read I translate for myself old texts and I talk to family members or the elderly, the grandmas and grandpas in my neighborhood and I ask them questions about how it used to be, right, old Japan. I really like…I’m not a fan of the kawaii culture. I’m not, um… I wouldn’t, I couldn’t tell you a manga to save my life or an anime. No. I’m about, I’m all about the creepy dark, the how it used to be.

So, that’s the stuff I research and that’s what, I use all that, these, these strange cultural tidbits to inform my stories. But what I found is, I keep notebooks and I have all this stuff and then occasionally I will look, I will search around in English on the Internet and I can’t find the stuff I’m digging up. It hasn’t… as far as I can tell, hasn’t been translated into English yet. So for years I’ve been, you know, this has been in the back of my head, “I need to blog about this, I need to get this out there,” and because, I think, I think people hear a certain… or they see or they have an image or they have an idea of Japan, but it really is a lot more and I want to share that and I want to get that out there. It’s not just anime, manga, lolita style fashion or anything like that, there’s… the old stuff is really cool. So that’s what this is. That’s Uncanny Japan. I’m going for weird superstitions, old wives tales, I’m going for like, cultural oddities and language quirks, and that’s what I want to give you.

They’re going to be short podcasts. I don’t want to go over 10-15 minutes, and another thing that I think…well, it’s kind of my best buddy’s idea and I kind of yoinked his binaural mics, you could probably tell that it sounds different. Um, the mics I’m using are what I would say 3-D. It’s… I want to not only tell you about Japan but I want you to be in Japan with me. So, right now I’m at the ocean, I’m kind of in a cubby hole because it’s windy today and I don’t want… you can hear the gravel under my feet… I don’t want the wind to screw up the recording. So anyway, I’m in this little cubbyhole, the ocean’s over there and I’m not sure if you can hear it. People are walking around, there are a bunch of old men playing ground golf or gate ball, they’re two kinds of games, these people in my neighborhood or this town play a lot. You can hear a boat maybe, not sure. Anyway.

So, that’s another thing I wanted to do. I want to go to the beach. I want to go to the harbor. I want to go to the mountains. There are waterfalls, all kinds of insects at night, I want to record the frogs and the crickets and the festivals. We have all kinds of local festivals that would be fun to hear, I think you’d be interested in listening to. We have a morning fish market, not a big one, kind of small but even that would be, I think, kind of neat. So not only do I want to tell you stuff about Japan, I want you to be here with me listening to what it sounds like to be in Japan.

You are invited to tell me what you think. Ask me questions. Tell me to dig something up that you’ve heard about. Tell me I’m wrong. That’s good too (laughs). I’m, I’m OK. Right now, like I said, I’m very new to this and this is number one.

So, being my first podcast, what I want to introduce to you today is a phrase, a Japanese phrase. I think everyone’s heard or seen, heard… seen the memes that are running around the internet , “15 Words in Other Languages that Don’t Have English Equivalents”, or what else, um, “Twenty Five Foreign Language Emotions That Should have an English Equivalent.” These… They’re kind of neat, right, but they’re also kind of the same. Deja vu, bla bla bla, right, right. You know, you’re heard those, I’ve read them all.. but I have one for you that I couldn’t even tell you when I learned it. I’m pretty sure it was my mother-in-law that told me, and it was many, many, many years ago. It stuck with me and… I can find the translation in English but I don’t think it does the phrase… the phrase is only two words it’s kind of actually one word. It doesn’t do it justice. So it’s also very appropriate to this being my first podcast and this is why I wanted to introduce it and, I use it. I still use it. It’s kind of an old phrase I have heard it used. I think people would understand it. Maybe not the young people so much. I don’t know. Maybe they would. It’s musha-burui, musha-burui and… it’s two characters, two Chinese, Japanese characters. Musha would be the warrior, warrior, samurai soldier, right? So that’s a musha. Burui is furu, which means to shake or to tremble. If you look at, if you look it up you’ll find trembling or shaking, usually shaking with excitement is the only translation I can find. But that’s not, like I said, that doesn’t go to where this phrase, what it means. And the way it was described to me was, imagine a samurai warrior waking up in the morning, and waking up and there’s a huge battle. They’re all going to this this big battle and this boy, he doesn’t know if he’s going to live or die. And he’s trembling, and he’s trembling. It’s excitement, but it’s also fear. It’s going into the unknown, and you don’t know if you’re going to live or die. And, it’s that, you’re going to do your best, you’re just, you’re just stoked, and just, you know. you’re just like, “I’m going in.”

Not a whole lot of samurai wandering around the streets of Yaizu these days, but it’s kind of used, just for doing that. For when you’re going into something and you’re going to do something, and you’re terrified but you’re also excited and there’s nothing else. You just can’t back out, you’re just, this is what you’re gonna do. You know, come hell or high water you’re going in there and it’s musha-burui. I just think it’s fantastic. I just love the image. I can just imagine an early morning dawn and samurai waking up and girding his loins, what have you, and going into battle, and he doesn’t know the outcome, and he’s just trembling. That’s so cool.

So, that’s kind of where I am right now. I’m… like I said, I’ve lived over half my life in Japan. Came here in 1990. Learned the language a little bit before I came, mostly after I got here. I’m married to a Japanese man who doesn’t speak English or listen to me when I speak English so I speak Japanese, and most of my days for probably the past 20-25 years are all Japanese, listening and speaking, so it’s very hard for me to find, to go in and grab words. They’re starting to fall away from me and my sentences and my thinking too, my thinking is more Japanese and English. So I’m trying to get that back as I do this I, like I said I’ll get better. I have to get better right? Mm. Hmm. Let’s hope. So, yeah, this is Uncanny Japan, today was musha-burui. I’m at the ocean. I don’t think you can hear it because I’m in a cubbyhole because it’s windy, and I’ve already got a whole slew of ideas for other podcasts and I just want to get this one done.

I have to make the first step. I have to um, to ah, you know, put on my hakama, and sheathe my katana or whatever it is, and I just have to do this. And I hope you like it. I will gladly listen to any suggestions or advice or questions, or anything you have. I’m not even sure where this is gonna be, I’m guessing iTunes and my blog and I bought Uncanny Japan the domain name so there. Thank you for listening. My name is Thersa Matsuura and this is Uncanny Japan.

(Transcribed using Happy Scribe.)

5 comments on “Musha-burui: Trembling Before a Formidable Task (Ep. 1)”

  1. I love the nuances of a language & culture that is so much older than hours in the US. I remember as a very young man, I visited the museum in NY called The Cloisters. I remember being so taken aback that by our reference point, 200 years was old, yet for most cultures, it’s a blink of an eye.
    Love the podcast

  2. Just listened to the first episode. To some extent I think that’s a feeling I regularly have. I used to look at English as a language that has a word to describe everything but guess I was wrong. Looking forward to listening to the other episodes. I have to admit I’m the type that got into Japan and it’s culture through watching anime and I hope the podcast helps in eliminating the one sided view I have of Japan and it’s culture.

    1. Gabus! Thank you for listening. I really want to do more episodes of words that are in Japanese but not in English. I’m writing that on my To Do List right now. Ironically enough, I came to Japan before anime and manga got big, so I’m woefully uneducated in those areas. You said exactly what I want to do: introduce a different side of Japan to people.

  3. I was looking for a new podcast to listen to while trying to sleep.

    Well, I listened to the first episode of this one. Failed to fall asleep, but I honestly enjoyed listening. The… emotion or phenomenon described here… is one I’m familiar with, quite well. It’s interesting to learn that there is a specific phrase that describes it so exactly.

    I think I’ll try and listen to the secone one. I suppose this is just what happens when you try to fix your sleep schedule.

    1. Liet, thank you so much for listening and commenting. The more recent podcasts are much, much better quality and easier to fall asleep to. I actually do Bedtime Stories on Patreon because my voice infamously makes people sleepy (even me while editing!). Also, I’ve been listening to audio books recently to sleep. I found Lolita read by Jeremy Irons really puts me out. Although I have some disturbing dreams.

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About The Uncanny Japan Podcast

Speculative fiction writer, long-term resident of Japan and Bram Stoker Award finalist Thersa Matsuura explores all that is weird from old Japan—strange superstitions, folktales, cultural oddities, and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures she digs up while doing research for her writing.

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