I am working on an essay for school and I was looking at a wood-block print called, " 我艦隊於黄海清艦撃沈之圖 " by Kobayashi Kiyochika.

According to websites, in romaji this is, "Waga kantai Kôkai ni oite Shikan o uchi shizumeru no zu"

However when I was looking at each kanji it turned out more like: "Waga kantai oite kōkai shinkan gekichin no zu" ”わが かんたい おいて こうかい しんかん げきちん の ず”

Is the website wrong or am I?

And If I am wrong, could you explain what I did that was wrong.


If you look at the real scale image of 我艦隊於黄海清艦撃沈之圖, you can see a few small okurigana attached to kanji.

enter image description here

Although it does not conform today's standard orthography, it makes the name unambiguously read as 我【わ】が艦隊【かんたい】黄海【こうかい】於【おい】て清艦【しんかん】撃【う】沈【しず】(め/む)之【の】圖【ず】, which basically agrees with that romaji (except it's shinkan, which seems to be a typo).

於 is a Chinese preposition "to/at", and through the kanbun kundoku tradition, it is normally translated as ~において with reversed order. When Chinese was regarded as the prestigious writing language, such orthographical convention was usually employed even when writing Japanese.

But only a handful of kanji are commonly written reversed as shorthands today, such as:

  • 於○○: ○○において "at ○○"
  • 自○○: ○○より "from ○○"
  • 至○○: ○○まで/にいたる "to (=until) ○○"
  • 含○○: ○○をふくむ "including ○○"
  • 除○○: ○○をのぞく "excluding ○○"

A convenient example on Google: enter image description here


我艦隊於黄海清艦撃沈之圖 seems to be in kanbun-style, i.e., it's written following the Chinese grammar. The grammar of kanbun is closer to that of English because Chinese is an SVO (subject-verb-object) language. You cannot read it as a meaningful Japanese sentence without changing the reading order.

"In Yellow Sea" is 於黄海 in kanbun (於 = "in/at"), but it has to be 黄海に於いて when "read as a meaningful Japanese (kundoku)". 於いて黄海 is simply ungrammatical as a Japanese phrase. Please read the example in the Wikipedia article to catch what is happening here.

  • 1
    これを漢文体だと言ってしまうとすごく語弊があって、それで行くとこの場合「清艦撃沈」も倒置しないと意味が通らないんですよね… Oct 17 '20 at 20:16
  • @broccolifacemask-cloth ですよね…似非漢文な気はしていたのですがそこまで断言できる自信もありませんでした(きっと broccoli さんがツッコんでくれるだろうと思ってましたw)。ありがとうございます。
    – naruto
    Oct 18 '20 at 1:18

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