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So I'm reading a novel about the Sengoku period, and I've come across a sentence that just can't figure out. The context is that this guy (whose ancestor is a famous admiral) built a castle with a harbour, but then boat-building got banned by the shogun so he had to make it look like the harbour had been filled in. The sentence before this says the castle looked just like any other castle.

だが城の東側は海への眺望が開けており、重臣が塩見櫓の門を通るのは、一日の始まりにまず海上に異変がないかを見るという水軍の将を祖とする藩の心得と言われていた。

My translation so far (rough): However, on the east side of the castle, the view to the sea being open, the lord goes through the watchtower gate, at the beginning of the day checking that there have been no big changes at sea...

and here's where I get stuck. I don't understand how the という links this bit to the next bit.

Is it 'the act of checking whether there had been any changes at sea was said to be the knowledge of the clan whose ancestor was a naval commander'? If so, I think it's trying to say that they still watched the sea and therefore were still a naval clan even if it looked like they had no harbour, but I can't figure out the grammar. And it doesn't really seem right to be honest. Am I parsing the sentence wrong?

On a separate note, is the まず linked to the 始まりに meaning something like first thing in the morning, or is it linked to the がないか meaning 'hardly any changes'? It doesn't really affect the overall meaning, but it would be interesting to know what people think.

  • Just to double check, 重臣 refers to an official representing the Shogunate on this occasion? Or to a lord belonging to this castle itself and referring to that lord's habitual checks of the sea? It shouldn't affect the main thrust of my answer with respect to the という (though if it matters, I initially assumed that he was a visitor from the Shogunate), but I'm trying to figure out the exact action of the のは. – WeirdlyCheezy Jun 10 '16 at 11:02
  • OP here - I can't seem to log into the account I used to make the original post. Yes, as you have already worked out the 重臣 is an insider to the castle. Thanks so much for your help, it makes sense now. I wasn't paying enough attention to the のは. Once I understood that as marking the topic of the whole sentence, and everything from 一日 to 藩 is one long noun phrase, it all fell into place. The final translation would be something like 'There was a clear view from the east side of the castle down to the sea, and the fact that the 重臣 went through the watchtower gate [as opposed to the main gate] w – チェズ Jun 11 '16 at 9:24
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    @Isrtctokyo You can contact the SE team from your profile and have your accounts merged. – Earthliŋ Jun 11 '16 at 9:51
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I read that という as linking to 藩の心得, not 水軍, that is 水軍の将を祖とする藩の is a "parallel" clause that also modifies 藩の心得.

Or in other words 水軍の将を祖とする藩の心得 is one big noun phrase, roughly "the knowledge and procedures of a clan descended from the general of the Japanese navy". Then 一日の始まりにまず海上に異変がないかを見る is roughly "at the start of every day, checking if anything unusual is visible on the surface of the ocean". という basically says this habit is "such a procedure".

So overall: "Checking if anything unusual is visible on the surface of the ocean at the start of every day is a procedure of a clan that is descended from a general of the Japanese navy."


In an earlier version of this answer, I said "The above is what the official was told, as he was passing through the gate", but I was writing this under the assumption that the official was a visitor from the outside (eg a Shogunate official) who was learning of the clan's habits. However, an alternate parsing where 重臣 is actually a member of the clan and the person doing these regular checks, seems to fit better grammatically (many thanks to naruto for pointing this out! I hope I'm interpreting his explanation correctly.)

Thus a full translation might be:

But concerning the (matter of the) east side of the castle having an open view of the ocean, and the (chief vassal? of the clan) passing through the gate of the watch tower, it was said that checking the ocean for unusual signs first thing every morning was the habitual action of (the member of) a clan descended from a general of Japan's navy.

Given my original assumption, my original (mistaken) reading was along the lines of:

But, the east side of the castle had an open view of the ocean. As the visiting official passed through the gate of the watch tower, (he was made aware that) it was often said that checking the ocean for unusual signs first thing every morning was a habitual action for (members of) a clan descended from a general of Japan's navy.

As naruto points out, the second reading can likely be eliminated on the basis that if it was the intended reading, the author would probably explicitly mark just 重臣 with は (and replace 通るのは with a conjunctive form or something along those lines).


PS: to me まず is indeed "first action of the day".

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    最後の「言われていた」の部分は「It was said that ..」であって、「重臣 was told to do ...」ではないと思います。本題ではないですが。 – naruto Jun 10 '16 at 9:52
  • "was told to do ..."という意味を主張するつもりはありませんでしたが。そういうことと言われたさまざめな人々のうちに、重臣も含まれるようになりましたという感じではありませんか? – WeirdlyCheezy Jun 10 '16 at 10:05
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    重臣 is the subject of 通る, not 言われていた. I think this 言われていた means "People (=unspecified geneal public) say ..." (as in "彼女はジャズの女王だと言われている") – naruto Jun 10 '16 at 10:22
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    That のは is a nominalizer followed by a topic marker. The main structure of this sentence is 「重臣が門を通るのは心得と言われていた」, which is similar to 「小さな子供が1人で留守番をするのは危険と言われている」 (lit. "It is said that small kids' staying at home alone is dangerous.", "They say it's dangerous for small kids to stay at home alone."), where "小さな子供が1人で留守番をするの" is a long noun phrase serving as the subject of the whole sentence. If you did free translation knowing this, sorry for the nitpicking. – naruto Jun 10 '16 at 11:24
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    Oh, maybe you parsed the sentence as if it were 「重臣、門を通るの藩の心得だと言われていた」? Then it would be possible to intepret it as "重臣 has been made aware that passing the gate was 藩の心得". The topic of the whole sentence, marked with は, is 門を通ること, not 重臣. – naruto Jun 10 '16 at 11:36

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