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I've always thought of 姿 as a physical form or shape, but I came across this passage from my book:

彼らの話から浮かびあがってきたのは、・・・・・{この人}の姿だった。

(I took just took out some descriptions of the woman they're talking about that aren't really relevant [that I can tell, anyway].)

I imagine that I've got the meaning of the sentence--that these guys are talking about this person--but what exactly does 姿 here represent? In the story, these guys are trying to track down a woman, but at this point they haven't seen actually seen her, only heard about her from rumors, etc.. Is 姿 this sort of image they have of her? Is it sort of a representation of who she is, and not her physical person?

More importantly, is this a common usage of 姿 or more literary?

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This usage is quite usual and not particularly literary. I hope that other people can explain it better, but in the meanwhile, see sense 3 and the second example of sense 5 in Daijisen. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 5 '12 at 3:28
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1 Answer

[This is meant to be a practical rather an academic answer, intended for fellow student]

As the above comment helpfully says, the usage you found is not particularly unusual or literary.

I can't comment on how extreme the use of 姿 gets in a literary context but if, like me, you are trying to grasp the breadth of its normal use over and above its familiar use as "figure" or "appearance" then I think the easiest way is know a few key sentences (or at least this is what I am doing). I made a point of remembering and then focus on grasping the following few:

本来の姿 | proper state / real character

母の姿が目に浮かぶ | my late mother comes to mind (note context)

〜姿を見せる|appear on the scene

And, as it was an important word to understand, being alert for new/variations on these.

I put the following list together using some more of my own examples and the Apple dictionary (which seems close to Daijisen in content)

1 外見,身なり/appearance:

男の子はみすぼらしい姿をしていた|The boy was shabbily dressed.

*________に姿をやつす|disguise oneself as __*

2 体の格好/figure

母の姿が目に浮かぶ | my late mother comes to mind (note context)

トムは後ろ姿がジムにそっくりだ|When seen from behind, Tom looks exactly like Jim.

3 人の目に映る体,その人/"sightings of a person"

あれっきり彼は姿を見せない|We have seen nothing of him since. /That was the last we saw of him.

彼は姿を隠した[くらました]|He went into hiding.

4 物の形/shape of an object

間もなく湖が姿を現した|Soon the lake showed itself [came in view].

太陽が何日も姿を見せなかった|The sun remained [stayed] hidden for days.

5 ありさま,様子/condition, circumstances

本来の姿 | proper state / real character

それが民主国家の本当の姿だ|That is what a democratic country should be like.

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(1) You forgot to answer the specific question that is being asked. (2) If you copied these definitions and examples from something, I think that you should cite the source. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 5 '12 at 22:29
    
@TsuyoshiIto: I have amended my answer in response to your comments (thanks). Please bear in mind I am trying to share what I think the OP might find useful based on my own experience. I may be wrong but others can also contribute too. –  Tim Sep 6 '12 at 1:43
    
The line break didn't work on the second example under #3. A not-well-known trick is to add two spaces to the end of a line before you hit the Return key, and the next line will show up immediately underneath, which might be what you wanted. –  Troyen Sep 6 '12 at 5:25
    
@Troyen: Thanks. I've been struggling with that function. –  Tim Sep 6 '12 at 5:44
    
結局コピペしただけじゃん。OPでもできた。 –  Tokyo Nagoya Jan 23 at 10:09
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