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O-togi-sagashi is the slogan that Shimane prefecture is using for its travel campaign in 2003. It means 'Looking for old-style fairy tales'.

O-togi is a native Japanese word for a traditional fairy tale. O- is honorific in origin; togi originally meant 'attending, keeping company'. The word has a comforting, old-fashioned feeling about it, redolent of being told fairy tales in the nursery. In Chinese characters it is written . However, the character is not in the Joyo Kanji and the officially preferred usage is hiragana .

Sagashi is from the verb sagasu, meaning 'to seek' or 'to search for'. Sagashi can be written several ways in Chinese characters, the difference among them being one of nuance rather than fundamental meaning. sagashi refers to a probing or exploration for a form or truth. sagashi refers to an attempt to find something that has been lost. (not recognised under the Joyo Kanji) refers to a physical searching with the hands. In this case, sagashi appears to be the closest in meaning.

Shimane prefecture is one of the most rural and least industrialised prefectures in Japan, lending it a nostalgic charm that is deftly exploited by this campaign slogan.

Shimane Yoshida

Searching for fairy tales
Shimane Yoshida

What is interesting is the way the word o-togi-sagashi is represented in this advertisement. First, notice the black-on-white printing, reminiscent of traditional Japanese brushwork. The font chosen is simple and graceful, slender and gently curved -- anything but thick and boxy.

Then notice how the word o-togi is rendered, in Chinese characters. The character togi is, in fact, a Japanese creation, not a Chinese import. While not every Japanese is consciously aware of this, the traditional Japanese associations of o-togi-zōshi, 'old books of fairy tales', are keenly felt by anyone. Since is not in the Joyo Kanji, the pronunciation is given at the side in kana ().

Finally, notice how the word sagashi is rendered in hiragana. It is quite normal in this kind of compound to put the head noun in kanji and the suffixed verb form in hiragana (see Aka-suri). In particular, hiragana are often used when the writer does not want to make a choice among kanji nuances.

But the use of hiragana in this case is undoubtedly a conscious decision. Were sagashi written in Chinese characters, as , the entire phrase would gain a much stiffer feel, destroying the unforced natural atmosphere that is being aimed at. Hiragana balances out the slightly formal feeling of writing o-togi in characters, ensuring that the overall touch is clean and graceful, not pedantic or heavy-handed.

This poster demonstrates more clearly than many the great care and attention that goes into choosing the most appropriate way of writing words and expressions in Japanese.

For reference, some examples where kanji are used to write can be found below:

O-heya-sagashi no chika-michi wa kochira!
We're the fast way to finding a room!
Saa, kyōryū sagashi no tabi ni shuppatsu da!
We're off on a trip to look for dinosaurs!

The following are the results of a Google search for the words otogi and sagashi during August 2003.


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