Here's the first sentence from the song Reincarnation from Kenji Kawai, part of the OST of Ghost in the Shell (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z64HCi2rQkE)

A ga maeba, kuwashime yoinikeri

According to this site and this one, this writes in Kanji


and in (old) hiragana:


and (poorly) means

Because I had danced, the beautiful lady was enchanted

I understand this is old Japanese, but I have no idea what is grammar behind that, especially:

  • 舞へば: what is this "へ"? an old verb form ? (I guess the "ば" is the same as in modern Japanese, e.g. "踊れば")
  • 酔ひにけり: is that "酔ひ" ("酔い"?) + "に" + "けり". What does that mean ?

Would someone give me some tracks to understand this grammar ? (I am fluent in modern Japanese) How old is this Japanese ?


3 Answers 3



舞へば: what is this "へ"? an old verb form ? (I guess the "ば" is the same as in modern Japanese, e.g. "踊れば")

The classical verb is 「舞{ま}」 ("to dance"), so it conjugates to 「舞ば」. Those were actually pronounced 「まふ」 and 「まへば」, respectively.

In modern Japanese, as you know because you are fluent, the verb conjugation is 「舞」⇒「舞ば」.

This should NOT seem strange because even in modern Japanese, the particle 「へ」 is still used even though its pronunciation has long changed to 「え」. In many languages, pronunciation changes faster than spelling. We still write the word "knight" that way even though we only pronounce half the letters used in it. Every letter in "knight" was pronounced in the old days.

酔ひにけり: is that "酔ひ" ("酔い"?) + "に" + "けり". What does that mean ?

Yes, as we discussed above, 「酔ひ」 later became 「酔い」.

Regarding 「にけり」, 「に」 is the 連用形{れんようけい} (continuative form) of the "completion" subsidiary verb 「ぬ」. 「けり」 is the "past tense" subsidiary verb.

「~~にけり」 in classical Japanese is the equivalent of 「~~てしまった」、「~~たことだ」 in modern Japanese.

My modern Japanese TL of the line in question would be along the line of:


An English TL would be something like:

"When I danced, the beautiful lady became intoxicated."


How old is this Japanese?

The style itself is from as early as 7th and 8th centuries, but it was written in our time.

  • Does that mean, that the common day usage of the conditional ~ば is older and more formal and that the ~と-form is more recent? (I considered this post here: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/28171/…) Anyway, thanks for the formulation in nowadays-Japanese :)
    – Quit007
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:46

Further to l'electeur's excellent explanation (my apologies for the missing accent), a good way to pick up some elements of bungo (文語) is to study film and book titles, which are often in classical language. A few examples from memory:

  1. 風と共に去りぬ

Gone With the Wind

Grammar point: 連用形 + suffix ぬ is past tense, like modern た form

  1. 素晴らしき飛行機やろう "Splendid Aeroplane Fellows"

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

Grammar point: Noun-modifying form of adjectives ends in き . ( い in Modern Japanese)

  1. 西部戦線異状なし "Nothing Out of the Ordinary on the Western Front"

All Quiet on the Western Front

Grammar point: Sentence-ending form of adjectives ends in し. ( い in MJ)

  1. 嵐が丘 "Storm-hill" Wuthering Heights

Grammar point: Particle が = の

  1. されどわれらが日々 "Farewell Our Days" (i.e. "Days of our Youth" - it's a novel about life in Waseda University in the 60s)

Grammar point: が = の

  1. 終わりよければすべてよし "Because the End is Good, Everything is Good"

All's Well that Ends Well

Grammar points: 已然形 + ば = "because"; sentence-ending form of adjective ends in し

  1. 大いなる遺産 "A Great Inheritance"

Great Expectations

Grammar Point: Noun-modifying form of な adjective uses なる . (Cf. 華麗なるギャツビー : The Great Gatsby)


Those were actually pronounced 「まふ」 and 「まへば」, respectively.

Unless I'm mistaken, there were not. The "h" was only pronounced "h" at the beginning of a word, hence the modern writing「う」or「え」of the pronunciation, because it was the same. So it would actually read 「まう」and 「まえば」.

Source : I studied bungo.

  • The ancient language distinguished between ふ //pu// and う //u//, and between へ //pe// and え //e//. See also this post, among others, which discusses the sound shifts and history of these はひふへほ kana. Dec 23, 2020 at 1:47

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