In a shrine graffito written in 1559, two carpenters complain:

'At that time, the high priest (stingy bugger!) gave us not even a drop of shochu to drink.'

The form of the main verb 不被下候 includes (negation) and (passivisation), followed by the verb with そうろう. Thus, くだされずそうろう "(we) were not given". The order of the morphemes as is pronounced is inverted from the order as is written.

Meanwhile, a shochu manufacturer has a product 不被下候 in reference to this legendary act. They give the reading くださらずそうろう.

  • When was it common to write in this manner?
  • In what other ways was Japanese verbal morphology mapped onto kanji in this way?
  • Which of the readings くださらずそうろう and くだされずそうろう is correct?
  • At least one more example is 不忍池, which by one theory "comes from the habit of young men and women to meet secretly here."
    – jogloran
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:11
  • Your translation is wrong. 一度 means "once", not "a drop". You may have done it intentionally, but that is inaccurate at best.
    – user458
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:24
  • @sawa could just be a metaphorical usage.
    – taylor
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:26
  • Also, when you citing a particular writing, you should stick to the original. You modified at least three points. 1. Hiragana is totally changed to katakana. 2. て is changed to デ (で). 3. を is changed to オ (お).
    – user458
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:33
  • You know using Chinese characters in Japanese writing is older than the invention of syllabic lettes. These kinds of representations were common in those who were able to write kanji before the Meiji Restoration. You can find many examples from Man'yoshu to documents in the bakumatsu period.
    – Gradius
    Jul 16, 2012 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


As sawa and Gradius say, this is part of the kundoku tradition, but I feel that this particular example is more usefully identified as sōrō bun, which is a Medieval-through-Modern phenomenon and has a couple of distinguishing characteristics, most notably:

  • Use of sōrō 候 at the end of sentences (hence the name of the style)

  • Use of Japanese rather than Chinese word order, with the exception of certain multi-character groups like 不被下候 (verbs were particularly prone to this because Japanese verb morphology is synthetic; to express "(verb) + passive/honorific + not + polite" you need four different Chinese characters. So this sort of multi-character group was written in Chinese order due to the influence of kanbun, but it was read as a purely Japanese verb (that is, its meaning was interpreted as a gestalt, and a Japanese "reading" was assigned).

Re your last question, I would certainly expect /kudasarezu/ rather than /kudasarazu/ for 不被下, but I'm not confident enough in my understanding of the ins and outs of sōrō bun to declare the latter "incorrect".

  • I agree. It should be thought that 不被下候 has a kind of idiomatic 訓読み.
    – Gradius
    Jul 17, 2012 at 5:18

It is a tradition since 漢文訓読. Cf. http://www.ic.daito.ac.jp/~oukodou/kuzukago/kundoku.html#9. You can simply regard that the 返り点 is omitted.

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