Weekly Japanese Idiom: “Dokushozanmai” — Being Completely Absorbed in Reading

This week’s yojijukugo is for bookworms.

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As we learned a couple of weeks ago, autumn is a time of indulging in the things we love. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, many of us spend more time indoors devoted to intellectual pursuits. Dokusho Shuukan (Book Week or Reading Week) spans October 27 to November 9 and is a two-week period that uses this prime reading season to encourage people to read more. This week’s idiom, dokushozanmai, is inspired by the campaign and expresses that insatiable desire to spend the day buried in a book. 

Dokushozanmai (読書三昧)

Meaning: Obsession with reading, being buried in a book, being completely absorbed in a book, immersed in reading, spending the day with one’s nose in a book

Literal translation and kanji breakdown: 読書 (dokusho) means to read. 三昧 (Zanmai) refers to the Buddhist term samadhi, an intense state of concentration reached through meditation. Zanmai can also mean to be fully immersed or absorbed in something in a more general sense, and it can also allude to being habitually prone to doing something. The kanji characters for zanmai are ateji, meaning they were chosen as phonetic representations and have no direct connection to the meaning of the word. 

Yojijukugo: The Origins

As mentioned in the literal translation, the zanmai part of dokushozanmai means a meditative state where one is entirely focused on what one is doing. In common parlance, we use the word flow or flow state for the same experience. During the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), aristocrats attached zanmai to hobbies, creative pursuits, or anything else they were into at the time. Example: 俳句三昧 haiku zanmai — I’m super obsessed with haiku. 

Dokushozanmai: Similar Expressions

  • 一読三嘆 Ichidokusantan A reading that leaves one with ceaseless signs of admiration.
  • 熟読玩味 Jukudokuganmi Reading something with appreciation, reading with great care.
  • 読書三余 Dokushosanyo The three ideal conditions for reading: winter, rainy weather and nighttime.
  • 読書家 Dokushoka Avid reader, bookworm

Dokushozanmai: Related Expressions

  • 晴耕雨読 Seikou-udoku Working the field in fine weather and reading indoors when it rains; spending one’s life in a balance between work and intellectual pursuits.
  • 読書尚友 Dokushoshouyuu By reading books, you can consider past philosophers and writers as your friends.
  • 読書百遍義自ずから見る Dokushohyappengi onozu kara arawaru By reading something over and over, one will eventually understand its meaning; repeated reading makes the meaning clear.
  • 読書三到 Dokushosantou Using one’s mind, mouth and eyes to understand a book fully.
  • 読書会 Dokushokai Book club 

Using “dokushozanmai” in a sentence

  • 活字中毒なので、読書三昧の日々を過ごしている。Katsujichudoku nanode, dokushozanmai no hibi wo sugoshiteiru. I’m a total word nerd so I spend most days with my nose buried in a book.
  • 友達は彼氏と別れてから毎週末デートの代わりに読書三昧の生活をしている。ちょっと羨ましいかも!Tomodachi wa kareshi to wakarete kara maishumatsu deeto no kawari ni dokushozanmai no seikatsu wo shiteiruChotto urayamashii kamo! Since my friend broke up with her boyfriend, she spends her weekends buried in some book or another. I’m kind of jealous, to be honest.
  • A: 疲れた顔しているけど、何かあった?Tsukareta kao shiteiru kedo, nani ka atta? You look tired — is something up? 
  • B: 週末は遠出する予定だったんだけど、台風が上陸する恐れがあると知って、結局徹夜で読書三昧の週末だった!Shuumatsu wa toude suru yotei datta ndakedo, taifuu ga jouriku suru osore ga aru to shitte, kekkyoku tetsuya de dokushozanmai no shuumatsu datta! I had plans to travel this weekend, but when I heard of the approaching typhoon I decided to stay in and eventually ended up reading all weekend. 

Looking for book recommendations? Check our TW Book Club or see check out these articles: 

  1. The Books Behind Your Favorite Japanese Films
  2. 12 Heartwarming Children’s Books That Teach Kindness and Empathy
  3. 5 Japanese Books That Made Me Fall in Love With Japan
  4. 9 Essential Books for Your Japan Reading List

Want more? Follow our weekly Yojijukugo Japanese Idiom series, published every Friday. 

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