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Ferry Crossing: Part 1

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I came across an intriguing word:

過渡 (kato: (1) crossing; ferry; (2) transient; (3) changing old to new)     to pass by + to go through (life)

It catches my attention for several reasons. For one thing, the spelling (but not the pronunciation) of the yomi reminds me of Kato Kaelin, made famous in the days of OJ’s trial, then quickly forgotten. I love finding words such as karen and shaun, whose romanized versions are first names in English.

Those “Names” in Kanji

Beyond that, I like that 過渡 has such disparate definitions: “ferry” versus “transient.” If you think poetically, this makes sense; as a boat glides across the water, its location is impermanent. Modes of transit are inherently transient! At the same time, the logical part of the brain resists seeing a ferry symbolically. It’s a bus on water.

The multidimensionality of 過渡 comes from (TO, wata(ru), wata(su)), which has a rich variety of meanings.

I began thinking about this character because it stars in the haiku on the November page of Alberto’s beautiful calendar. As you’ll see, the kigo (seasonal keyword) in that haiku is 鳥渡る (tori wataru: migrating birds, birds + to cross over). You may be more familiar with the inverse:

渡り鳥 (wataridori: migratory birds)     to cross over + birds


Explanation of the Haiku …

The kanji typically appears in one of its kun-yomi incarnations:

渡る (wataru: to cross over, go across, extend, cover, range, span)

This verb can be transitive or intransitive.

(watasu: (1) to ferry across, carry across, traverse; (2) build across; (3) hand over, hand in, transfer)

This verb is transitive.

Sample Sentences with 渡す

Those are the basic meanings, but there’s another embedded in 過渡. According to Halpern, this means “to go through (life), pass.” Not surprisingly, that’s also true in spinoff words about transience:

過渡期 (katoki: transition period)
     to pass by + to go through (life) + period

Kyōiku seido wa katoki ni aru.
The school system is in transition.

教育制度 (kyōiku seido: school system)
     to teach + to educate + system + limit

過渡現象 (kato genshō: transient)
     to pass by + to go through (life) + phenomenon (last 2

The second compound, 現象, breaks down as to become visible + phenomenon.

過渡的 (katoteki: transitional)
     to pass by + to go through (life) + adjectival suffix

As I stared at , I guessed at its etymology and therefore the reason that it pops up in words about transience. I was partly right, but mostly wrong!

The Etymology of

So much for tangential and semi-obscure meanings and thoughts. Let’s look square in the face (if it has a face!) and consider its role in ferrying people across rivers. Before we do that, let me make two comments.

One is that the Japanese usually write “ferry” as フェリー (ferii).

The other is that I have strange associations with the word “ferry.” I grew up on the Severn River in a neighborhood called Ferry Farms. (Before they built the Old Severn River Bridge, people used a ferry that docked at the farm at the end of the street—hence the name.) For nine years, whenever the bus driver dropped my sister and me off at Ferry Farms and announced the stop, a few idiots on the schoolbus would yell, “Fairy Farms! Ha ha, they live in Fairy Farms. They must be fairies!” It got really, really old.

I still think ferries are neat. Here are some ways to talk about them:

渡り (watari: ferry)
渡し (watashi: ferry (crossing); ferry(boat))

渡し場 (watashiba: ferry landing)
     to carry across (a river) + place

This is where your 渡し will take you.

渡し船 (watashibune: ferry; ferryboat)
     to carry across (a river) + boat

If you change the hiragana, you produce a fun expression:

渡りに船 (watari ni fune: godsend (e.g., finding a ship when one needs to cross))
     to carry across (a river) + boat

Now we’ll remove the hiragana altogether and will switch to the on-yomi:

渡船 (tosen: ferry)     to carry across (a river) + boat

渡船場 (tosenjō or tosenba: ferry landing)
     to carry across (a river) + boat + place

Who is guiding these boats? Well, “guiding” may be the wrong word:

渡し守 (watashimori: ferryman)
     to carry across (a river) + keeper

A first glance at the kanji suggests that the ferry captain is “protecting” the ferry or the crossing, since (mamo(ru)) means “to protect.” But -守 (-mori) is also a suffix meaning “-keeper,” as in 灯台守 (tōdaimori: lighthouse keeper, light + elevated structure commanding a wide view + keeper). Gives new meaning to the expression, “He’s a keeper!”

As for those who set foot on the ferry (or anyone crossing national borders, particularly by going overseas), such people are known as follows:

渡航者 (tokōsha: passenger; visitor)
     to cross a body of water + to navigate + person

Here’s the root of that word:

渡航 (tokō: voyage)     to cross a body of water + to navigate

We saw up above in 渡し船 (watashibune), and now we’re seeing . Both contain the “boat” radical . As it turns out, and popped up on one page of an earlier blog, when we encountered these words:

船酔い (funayoi: seasickness)
     ship + drunk, motion sickness
航空病 (kōkūbyō: airsickness)
     to navigate + air + sickness

One final term before your quiz:

矢切りの渡し (Yagiri No Watashi: ferry that has been taking passengers across the Edo River for nearly 400 years)
     arrow + to cut + to carry across (a river)

Wow, the ferry has been crossing the river for 400 years. That’s one slow boat to China! It may even be a dangerous ride; I see weapons stashed inside 矢切り.

On the Weapons Aboard 矢切り

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

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