Wordcatcher Tales: kazari moufu, kissuisen

On my most recent trip to Japan, I had the chance to go aboard two museum ships in Yokohama harbor. One was the former Japanese naval sail training ship, the Nippon Maru, a four-masted barque with auxiliary diesel engines. The other was the NYK Hikawa Maru, a former luxury passenger liner built for North Pacific routes between Japan and Seattle/Vancouver. Both ships were built in Kobe and made their maiden voyages in 1930.

kazari moufu

Decorative blanket folding

飾り毛布 kazari-moufu ‘decoration-blanket’ — Last year, when we toured the Hakkoda train ferry museum in Aomori, we noticed some ornamentally folded blankets in some of the ship’s cabins. According to Japanese Wikipedia, the practice of folding blankets into decorative shapes—like origami in wool—originated in 1908 on the ships ferrying passengers across the Seikan Strait between Aomori on Honshu and Hakodate on Hokkaido. (There is no other Wikipedia article in any language on the decorative folding of blankets.) This year I noticed and photographed the same phenomenon in officers’ berths aboard the Nippon Maru and in first-class passengers’ berths aboard the Hikawa Maru. The Japanese Wikipedia article also links to the FAQ page of an OSK passenger liner named Nippon Maru, whose last entry addresses the question of kazari-moufu. The English version of an explanatory sign outside a passenger cabin on the Hikawa Maru follows.

Ornamentally folded blankets, called “decorative blankets (Kazari-mofu)”, were common during the age of passenger ships. The blankets were folded by stewards and placed with care on passengers’ beds. The designs included flowers (Hana-mofu), a sunrise, and even the helmet of a samurai warrior, generating anticipation among many passengers about the day’s creation. The designs of flowers were originally called “floral blankets (Hana-mofu)” but as stewards became more creative with their designs, the name changed to “decorative blankets (Kazari-mofu)” to better reflect their creations.

waterline labels

Waterline inside Hikawa Maru

喫水線 kissuisen ‘waterline’ — On the lowest deck of the engine room, there was a red line just over head-high on the inside of the ship’s hull that marked the normal waterline, labeled in katakana uotaarain (< ‘waterline’) and in kanji as 喫水線 kissuisen, which translates literally as ‘eat/drink-water-line’. The first kanji shows up in compounds such as 喫茶店 kissaten ‘drink-tea-shop (= teahouse, coffee shop)’ and 喫煙室 kitsuenshitsu ‘drink-smoke-room (smoking room)’. But 喫水 kissui also means the ‘draft (of a ship)’, so ‘eat/drink-water’ is probably better glossed here as ‘displace-water’.

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1 Comment

Filed under Japan, language, Pacific, travel

One response to “Wordcatcher Tales: kazari moufu, kissuisen

  1. The practise continues: On recent cruise from NYC to Bermuda, our cabin steward folded our towels artfully into a different shape each day. Our admiration of his handiwork was reflected in his tip.

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