Houkou (奉公) in the Taisho era

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Nora Stevens Heath

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Oct 26, 2021, 7:16:30 PM10/26/21
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Hi, everyone--

I'm translating a period piece set in Taisho 11 (1922), when upper-class folks may have had servants (the rich main character grew up with them) and tradespeople (and artists, etc.) may have had apprentices.

A youngish child from a poor family of five, with a good-for-nothing drunk of a dad and an older sister who does sewing piecework in an attempt to earn enough to feed them all, announces he will be leaving for Tokyo: 奉公に行くんだ。 He goes on: 東京にいい奉公先が見つかって…大店だぜ!

The 大店 makes it sound to me like he's going to be an apprentice rather than a servant. But later, to assuage the boy's worries that he'll never see his family again, the rich main character tells him, 小さい頃から奉公人を沢山見てきた。みんな真面目に働けば、暇をもらって里帰りも出来る。

Given *this* context, it sounds like 奉公人 is a lot closer to "servant" than "apprentice," right? I believe the family just comes from money and isn't actively making it in such a way that they'd have any apprentices. Is there any way to know for sure what the word referred to in the Taisho era? I'd like to pick one translation to use in both contexts, if at all possible. (At least I'm sure it has nothing to do with 滅私奉公.)

Thanks in advance--
Nora

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Nora Stevens Heath <no...@fumizuki.com>
J-E translations: http://www.fumizuki.com/

Eleanor Goldsmith, Kinsho Language Services

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Oct 26, 2021, 8:04:48 PM10/26/21
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Nora Stevens Heath wrote:
Given *this* context, it sounds like 奉公人 is a lot closer to "servant" than "apprentice," right? I believe the family just comes from money and isn't actively making it in such a way that they'd have any apprentices. Is there any way to know for sure what the word referred to in the Taisho era? I'd like to pick one translation to use in both contexts, if at all possible. (At least I'm sure it has nothing to do with 滅私奉公.)

Hi Nora,

I wonder if the word "indentured" is at all helpful in finding a term that works for you? A text I translated earlier this year mentioned 年季奉公 - in that particular context it was referring to young men (younger sons) from large families in areas of Tohoku being brought to the Kanto Plain as indentured labourers to reduce the number of mouths their families had to feed.

Eleanor Goldsmith
Auckland, NZ



Mika Gmail

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Oct 26, 2021, 9:48:10 PM10/26/21
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Hi Nora,

Personally, I’m seeing just “I’m going to work” for 奉公に行くんだ。

 He goes on: 東京にいい奉公先が見つかって…大店だぜ!
I found a good job in Tokyo…It’s a big store!

 小さい頃から奉公人を沢山見てきた。みんな真面目に働けば、暇をもらって里帰りも出来る。
I’ve seen many who came here to work. If you work hard, they will give you enough time off to to see your folks back home.

Well, I’m afraid I haven’t answered your specific question, and but you get the idea.


Mika Jarmusz 🌎

Herman

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Oct 26, 2021, 10:56:14 PM10/26/21
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A 奉公人 of a shop would be essentially an "employee", not necessarily
an apprentice (丁稚), but given that it is a young child going to the
city to become a 奉公人, I think "apprentice" is suitable.

Herman Kahn

Hart Larrabee

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Oct 26, 2021, 11:45:28 PM10/26/21
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On Oct 27, 2021, at 8:16, Nora Stevens Heath <fumi...@gmail.com> wrote:

A youngish child from a poor family of five, with a good-for-nothing drunk of a dad and an older sister who does sewing piecework in an attempt to earn enough to feed them all, announces he will be leaving for Tokyo: 奉公に行くんだ。 He goes on: 東京にいい奉公先が見つかって…大店だぜ!

The 大店 makes it sound to me like he's going to be an apprentice rather than a servant.  But later, to assuage the boy's worries that he'll never see his family again, the rich main character tells him, 小さい頃から奉公人を沢山見てきた。みんな真面目に働けば、暇をもらって里帰りも出来る。

Given *this* context, it sounds like 奉公人 is a lot closer to "servant" than "apprentice," right?  I believe the family just comes from money and isn't actively making it in such a way that they'd have any apprentices.  Is there any way to know for sure what the word referred to in the Taisho era?  I'd like to pick one translation to use in both contexts, if at all possible.  (At least I'm sure it has nothing to do with 滅私奉公.)

Hi Nora,

The definition of 奉公人 from ブリタニカ国際大百科事典 about mid-way down those found at https://kotobank.jp/word/奉公人-131973 might be illuminating, particularly this taxonomy:

江戸時代には次の4種に大別された。 (1) 若党,小者,仲間,草履取りなどの武家奉公人。 (2) 下男,下女,下人譜代の百姓奉公人などで,主として家庭的な,または農家で使役される召使。 (3) 丁稚,手代など,主として商家の労務契約のもとに使役される年季奉公人。 (4) 江戸時代初期まで残存した人身売買の後身とみられるもので,質物奉公人。

Your case seems to track most closely to 3 (年季奉公人), which is defined separately (https://kotobank.jp/word/年季奉公人-1388301) as:

一定期間,主家に住みこんでその家業に従事した奉公人
江戸時代に武家豪商豪農の家に普及。幕府は初め10年期を限度としたが,1698(元禄11)年互いに納得すれば譜代も許した。しかししだいに短年期になった。

The above all refers to the Edo Period, or course, rather than the Taisho, but this definition makes explicit what seems to be a necessary characteristic of all of the Edo varieties of 奉公人—and one that I assume has remained an essential entailment of the term more recently—which is that they are “live-in” arrangements.

If the child is serving essentially as a shop boy/errand boy/helping hand, then I suspect "(live-in) servant” is more suitable than “apprentice,” which suggests he would be learning a trade or craft. 

The term “domestic” or “domestic help” comes to mind, but this seems oriented more toward the home itself than the family business. 

Although it feels more contemporary, the term “live-in position” might work for 奉公先 if you really need something generic that leaves open the nature of the work to be done.

Good luck!

Hart

Hart Larrabee
Nagano, Japan


Susan Murata

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Oct 26, 2021, 11:58:00 PM10/26/21
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I would also vote for “servant” rather than apprentice. Distinguishing characteristics include,
Generally start as young children
Live in with room and board provided
Most often unpaid
Sometimes “released” from service after reaching a certain age 

Usually in service to a merchant house rather than just domestic help for a wealthy family

Susan Murata

2021年10月27日(水) 8:16 Nora Stevens Heath <fumi...@gmail.com>:
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Patricia Pringle

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Oct 27, 2021, 3:04:44 AM10/27/21
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I agree with Mika on this point. Yes he would be a live-in servant/apprentice, but getting a job in a large store/business would be a big break for a boy from the country. Rather than indentured servitude it would signal an ambitious country boy makes it big in the big city. This could be his foot in the door to a successful career. While I am a specialist and Edo periodic commercial theater, I wrote my dissertation about the social relationships between Bunraku performers and their patrons in the period between 1868 and The end of World War II in Osaka. In the Edo period, the road to success for a country boy in a rags to riches story would be to be 奉公 at a large shop, demonstrate 実力, get promoted, marry the merchant’s daughter and inherit the shop. In Osaka at least, these social structures continued up to the end of World War II. 
I guess it would be equivalent to a man in mid century United States who graduates from high school or college in the Midwest and comes to New York City, gets a job in the mail room of a large company and ends up an executive. 
In the Japanese story, unless the context provides clues that this is indentured servitude, I don’t think that should be assumed.
The rags to riches ideal could not be achieved by every servant/apprentice and many faced disappointment, but such an opportunity carried the potential for a country boy to make it big in the city. 
Patricia 

Patricia Pringle
Sent from my iPhone

On Oct 26, 2021, at 11:58 PM, Susan Murata <smu...@gmail.com> wrote:



John Stroman

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Oct 27, 2021, 6:37:52 AM10/27/21
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Nora,
Completely out of my depth here, but assuming this is a translation for native English-speaking readers, I think the boy's attitude toward his future should make a big difference in the term you finally decide to use. Although the position may literally be that of an indentured servant, the cultural implications of such a term would not rest well with most Americans. I am also unsure of the names of similar positions for poor children in Victorian England who, like the boy you describe, went to live with rich families to perform labor, although opportunities for social mobility in that case were almost nonexistent. Therefore, I think a more generic term (higher level of abstraction) such as "servant" may satisfy the widest range of readers since it does not carry culturally specific negative implications. The comments of the rich main character also imply this move is likely an opportunity for the boy rather than some kind of involuntary forced servitude
John Stroman 
----------------


Dale Ponte

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Oct 27, 2021, 9:41:56 AM10/27/21
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Nora Stevens Heath writes:

A youngish child from a poor family of five, with a good-for-nothing drunk of a dad and an older sister who does sewing piecework in an attempt to earn enough to feed them all, announces he will be leaving for Tokyo: 奉公に行くんだ。 He goes on: 東京にいい奉公先が見つかって…大店だぜ!

Something like "I'm off to work for a household/family business in the city. ... I've found/hooked up with a good/nice family/live-in situation in Tokyo ... A [family with a] big store!"

The 大店 makes it sound to me like he's going to be an apprentice rather than a servant. 

From here, 大店 by itself doesn't seem to suggest one way or the other. But considering that he's just "discovered/hooked up with/landed"(「見つかって」) the 奉公先, and if there's no indication of a specific skill/job, it sounds to me like something more ephemeral/general than an apprenticeship. So yes, a servant, menial, scullion, worker, help, peon, domestic, jack-of-all-chores など. 

But later, to assuage the boy's worries that he'll never see his family again, the rich main character tells him, 小さい頃から奉公人を沢山見てきた。みんな真面目に働けば、暇をもらって里帰りも出来る。

Something like "Since I was little I've seen lots/plenty of help/servants [come and go]. [And] So long as they worked hard/diligently[,] they would always get some time off for visiting their village."? For a natural wording I would have in mind that this 「暇」was probably seasonal. And overall I would incline to a descriptive, word-adding, strategy that fleshes out the cultural context, which would also generate more opportunities for wording.

Given *this* context, it sounds like 奉公人 is a lot closer to "servant" than "apprentice," right?  I believe the family just comes from money and isn't actively making it in such a way that they'd have any apprentices.  Is there any way to know for sure what the word referred to in the Taisho era?

As a clue, a search for「大正」at コトバンク's rather copious page on 奉公 (https://kotobank.jp/word/%E5%A5%89%E5%85%AC%E4%BA%BA-131973) finds: 「明治~大正年間にも奉公人の名は残ったが,賃金雇用者を意味した。 So, for example, maybe something along the lines of "I'm going to make some money in the city. Working for a nice/good/fine family business I've hooked up with/found. They have a big store!" 

Or, for the 「見つかって」part, "I've landed/found a live-in job[, as live-in help] with a nice/good/fine family business in Tokyo."

草々 and pardon my loosey-goosey notations,
Dale Ponte

Dale Ponte

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Oct 27, 2021, 10:09:36 AM10/27/21
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I wrote:
they would always get some time off for visiting their village."?

Or: "... all of them got time off ..."
Or: "everyone got time off"

Dale

Stephen Robertson

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Oct 27, 2021, 10:33:27 AM10/27/21
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Hi Nora,

Others have already answered your questions in more detail, but I would just like to throw out the suggestion of also considering a term like "hired man" or "hired hand," which to my ear falls somewhere between servant/domestic and employee without being too specific. Admittedly, there might be a bit of a rural connotation to the term, but that might also make it sound more natural in the mouth of a country boy going off to make his mark in the city.

My two cents,
Stephen

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Nora Stevens Heath

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Oct 27, 2021, 11:14:49 AM10/27/21
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Thanks to everyone who responded with so many good ideas and background
context. I don't think the boy is indentured, but Patricia's insight on
this being a potential "in" for him is a good one. Even if the kid is
only helping out around the house (or manse, as it were), it could be
his foot in the door for an eventual position at the shop and a nudge up
the ladder. It's not clear if his father put him up to it; the boy's
only real objection seems to be the possibility of never seeing his
family again, but the rich guy sets him straight on that point.

The concept of a live-in servant is actually central to the story, since
the rich guy has one of his own (to put it very simply). Thus the boy's
panic at leaving potentially forever should make some amount of sense
without spelling it out.

Stephen's suggestion of "hired man" really hit the bullseye for me. It
implies both a live-in situation and, in context, potential for
advancement. True, it's a little weird to call a maybe-13-year-old kid
a "man," but if he's providing for his family, it's not too far off.
Thank you, Stephen!

Nora

Dale Ponte

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Oct 27, 2021, 11:16:38 AM10/27/21
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"Domestic servant/workerなど" seems worth considering, as apparently it implies a live-in situation. And bouncing off Stephen, "domestic hired help/hand, etc" seems maybe doable, and there are corroborating googits.

Dale

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