Translating the Iroha Karuta 3: Dumplings over Flowers

April in Japan. The cherry trees are in full blossom and everywhere where there are cherry trees there are people enjoying “ohanami” (blossom viewing) parties.

Every space around the cherry trees is carpeted with bright blue plastic sheets and groups of office workers, students, and all sorts of people are busy gorging themselves and getting wasted, singing karaoke and kicking up a racket without paying much attention to the cherry blossoms.

Quite a few of the revellers will have chuckled about the old proverb while tucking into their grub,

“Hana yori dango, desu ne! Kampai!”

“Dumplings beat flowers, don’t they? Cheers!”

The illustration for the card by Angel Playing Cards (above) depicts a fellow who is about to have some “dango” ( ) while appreciating the cherry blossom as if to suggest that the enjoyment of one is augmented by the other.

The modern cartoon picture card for this proverb gets to the heart of the matter. A salaryman is enjoying a beer and tucking into some “dango” apparently completely oblivious to the cherry blossom on the tree behind him.

When I first heard the proverb, “hana yori dango,” I took it to be a criticism of this sort of behaviour, a bit like saying “pearls before swine,” but I got it wrong. A closer English equivalent might be “substance over form.”

The booklet that comes with the Angel Playing Cards deck offers this explanation:

風流 より 実利の方がよい。 (Fuuryuu yori jitsuri no hou ga yoi.)

Utility is better than refinement. Substance is better than show.

By all means appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossom, but don’t neglect the dumplings and the booze.


David Hurley

This is a modified version of a post that first appeared on Liketu