Kobun 古文 Reading


So I am kind of into Kobun right now. For those who don’t know, it’s the old way Japanese used to be written (until relatively recently, in fact!) and even spoken (that was a long time ago though). Essentially, even as the spoken language evolved, the writing system stayed the same for a long time. So that’s why much of the old literature in Japanese (even up until right before WWII) has words like 思ふ (which is just 思う)

I probably could have just taken a picture and uploaded it, but I instead copied the lesson and exercise from the Kobun book I am using. (ISBN 978-4-86066-287-5 if you are interested!). This book is made for native Japanese people studying Kobun, but pretty at a beginner level. That is to say, it’s a beginner level of KOBUN. The modern Japanese translations and explanations inside is relatively straight forward, but it’s not something a beginner in the language as a whole could grasp.

The great thing about this book is that is has you reading real pieces of Kobun right from the first lesson. I think the motive is that, you don’t need to understand everything right away. It’s important to see the patterns as they happen in real literature, and through reading the modern Japanese translations, and re-reading, and slowly building up bits and piece of grammar knowledge, one slowly becomes to able to actually read this stuff.

The first lesson is about how the way Kana was read differently back in the day. So I copied that and the excerpt directly from the book (heh). Hope you enjoy!


※ハ行 ------ は・ひ・ふ・へ・ほ ⇒ ワ・イ・ウ・エ・オ


  • れ(哀れ)⇒ ア
    (顔)⇒ カ


  • な(花)⇒

This just means that unless it’s at the beginning of a word, all はひふへほ sound like わいうえお

※ワ行------ ゐ⇒イ・ゑ⇒エ・を⇒オ

  • ど(井戸)⇒

Maybe you’ve seen these before. This just means that the old kana ゐゑ are pronounced いえ

※ダ行----- ぢ⇒ジ・づ⇒ズ

  • (恥)⇒ハ

This is relevant even now. ぢ and づ sound like じ and ず

※「くわ」「ぐわ」------ くわ⇒カ・ぐわ⇒ガ

  • くわじ(火事)⇒

This is wild. So くわ becomes か and ぐわ becomes が.


  • ~あう au (~あふ ahu) ⇒ ~オウ ou
  • ~いう iu (~いふ ihu) ⇒ ~ユウ yuu (〜ュウ
  • ~えう eu (~えふ ehu) ⇒ ~ヨウ you (〜ョウ

    きふ(急)→ キュウ (kihu→kyuu)
    けふ(今日)→キョウ (kefu→kyou)

This is the hardest, or easiest, one to remember, become it comes up so much. Especially with words like きふ(急) As it mentions, usually a consonant appears before the “au/iu/eu/afu/ifu/efu” so it could be like めう(妙)or しふ(集)

Here is the reading!



BOLD WORDS: (These are listed in the book as well. They are marked both for some historical insight, as well as to make the reading bearable. Especially important because the punchline of this story is hinging on a word you’ve probably never heard! はこす)

今は昔 ー 今となっては昔のことだが。[MrBaman Note: This is just the old way of saying むかしむかしあるところに]
生女房 ー 宮仕えにまだ慣れていない新参の女房(身の回りの世話をする侍女)
そこなりける ー その家にいた
仮名暦 ー 仮名書きの暦。一般に暦は漢字で書かれるものであったが、漢字を読める女性は少なかったため、ここでは仮名で書いた。
書きてたべ ー 書いてください。「たべ」は「給べ」と書く。
かんにち、くゑにち ー 陰陽道でよくないとされる日。
やうがる ー 風変わりな
いとかうほどには思ひよらず ー まさかそんなにでたらめなものだとは思いもよらず。
さることにこそ ー 何かもっともなわけがあるのだろう。
はこす ー 大便をする。
さこそあらめ ー 何かわけがあるのだろう。
いかにせんいかにせん ー どうしようどうしよう。

If you want I can add in a spoiler of the translation provided by the book.


Bonus marks if you can decipher it yourself!

That’s one weird story. :joy:
Is it aimed at a younger audience? I don’t know when Japanese people study 古文 in school (well, I thought high school), but anyway, the content feels more like elementary school stuff. :thinking:


It’s aimed at high school or above.

Probably the first story is this one because of its ease to read , and it’s content. But there is all sorts of plots and content, some pretty serious, but most of them lightly comic. Most of the stories are this length, but this is the easiest one to read by far.

The moral of the story is, even people in 13th century Japan thought poop was funny. (The actual moral of the story is that women who had this calendars back in the day followed them to a T, to the point that they wouldn’t make any decisions without first consulting their calendar. This was well known in that time and the author is poking fun at that)


In terms of kana, I agree. In terms of content, I would not have guessed the meaning of any of those footnotes. Well, I guess that’s the reason for their existence.

Anyway, thank you for the recommendation. I always had this impression that 古文 was impossible to read, but it seems surprisingly doable in that context.

I didn’t know that; that’s pretty interesting. Does the book contain such cultural notes, or are the practice texts just left without any explanation?


By ease of read I meant, even if you don’t know what たりけり Or something means as an suffix, it’s easy to guess the meaning in context. The footnotes are definitely crazy though haha

I edited out “even” in my last comment. I didn’t mean to make it sound like it’s common knowledge now. I meant for it to be like “they even knew it was happening then”

Yes it does! Here’s 6 pictures. 2 are the lesson, 2 are the exercise, and 2 are the answer.


Amazing! I’ll definitely check my local book-off to see if they carry this book. It’s hard to explain the feeling of being able to read Japanese from the 13th century.
Also, I can’t believe that some 陰陽道 calendar were telling you when to take a bath or cut your nails :joy: That story is 100% justified.


I haven’t seen a lot of books for learning it, especially for someone who isn’t trying to learn it for a college exam. But this is the best one I’ve seen so far

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.