Daily Archives: 28 March 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Japonica


Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

What particular plant did Henry Reed intend to refer to in this poem? (I remember reading it in an English lit class during my freshman year at the University of Richmond in the spring of 1968—before I dropped out of ROTC, and then out of college altogether, ending up in the Army anyway.) I’m guessing either camellia or Japanese quince, both of which bloom in the spring.

My Canon Wordtank edition of Reader’s English–Japanese Dictionary lists three Japanese entries for English japonica, each telling its own story: ツバキ (camellia), ボケ (Japanese quince), and サルスベリ (crape myrtle).

椿 tsubaki, Camellia japonica – The cherry blossoms are getting all the attention in the Kanto (Greater Tokyo) area these days as they reach their peak, but the light pink to dark crimson camellias have been in full flower for a few weeks already. A great variety of cultivars of Camellia japonica are all over the place, often in hedges.

木瓜 boke, Chaenomeles speciosa – Japanese quince is also known as Chaenomeles japonica. The normal Sino-Japanese reading for the name of the plant should be mokka (< moku ‘tree’ + ka ‘melon’), the name owing something to its melonlike fruit. Another name for a flowering tree formed on the same pattern is 木蓮 or 木蘭 mokuren (lit. ‘tree lotus’ or ‘tree orchid’), Magnolia liliflora or lily magnolia. A slightly different variety of Magnolia, Magnolia kobus—from its Japanese name 辛夷 kobushi—is in full, brilliant white bloom these days.

百日紅 sarusuberi (lit. ‘monkey slide’), Lagerstroemina indica – The native Japanese name for crape myrtle describes its smooth (guavalike) trunk and stems, while the Chinese characters describe the flowers, but the two names bear no relation to each other beyond referring to the same plant. You can pronounce the name of the plant according to the characters as hyakunichikou (lit. ‘hundred day red’), but I’m not sure how many Japanese speakers would recognize it by that name on first hearing it. (I would have spelled the name in English as crepe myrtle, but the spelling crape myrtle generates a much larger number of hits on google.co.jp.)

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Sour Views of Vinegar Joe Stilwell

Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell was determined to avenge the defeat that his American and Chinese forces had suffered during the withdrawal of 1942. His ostensible aim was to capture the aerodromes in far northern Burma, especially the one at Myitkyina …. There were two problems about this. The first was Stilwell’s aggressive and misanthropic character and, in particular, his contempt for his allies; the second was that neither move was particularly strategically desirable.

Stilwell was professional soldier who had spent much time in China, but his long service had not instilled in him any great respect for the Chinese. As commander-in-chief of Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist armies he carried on a running war with Chiang’s other commanders. His disagreements with Chiang over strategy soured relations between the two to the point where the continuation of Stilwell’s command was constantly in question. In Stilwell’s letters home, Chiang became ‘Peanut’, corrupt, obstinate and dominated by his wife, ‘Madame’, and later by his mistress, a nurse several decades his junior. Stilwell portrayed Chiang as hesitant and defensive, unwilling to commit his troops to an attack against the Japanese on the Burma front, afraid of both the Chinese communists and of his own generals. In fact, Chiang was a more astute general than might have appeared. He knew that the real danger to his government lay in a Japanese attack from the north against embattled Chungking. He did not want to send his best troops off to Myitkyina and was perfectly correct in his assessment of the communists, who were hoping to infiltrate into Nationalist China’s territories from the north in the rear of any Japanese advance. Chiang refused to do anything much in Burma until the Allies agreed to put in an amphibious expedition on its southern coast. This again was sensible….

Stilwell’s view of the British was scarcely better than his view of the Chinese. He regarded them as effete, defensive and disorganized. In a later visit to India he marked down [Viceroy] Wavell as a beaten man. The India of which the British were so proud was a pit of famished inefficiency, even more backward than China…. Mountbatten, who assumed the position of Supreme Commander Southeast Asia in the summer of 1943, was simply a ‘glamour boy’, a matinee idol with ‘nice eye-lashes’. This was ironic since Stilwell’s own reputation in America and outside was partly a media creation. He was the gritty American fighter struggling against Chink and Limey obstruction to take the war to the Japs, a poor man’s General MacArthur. The disdain was mutual. Alan Brooke recorded: ‘Except for the fact that he was a stout hearted fighter suitable to lead a brigade of Chinese scallywags, I could see no qualities in him.’ He was an inept tactician and ‘did a vast amount of harm by vitiating the relations between the Americans and British both in India and Burma’. The British high command were very dismissive of the Chinese, too. They suspected them, as Wavell had done in 1942, of having ‘imperial’ designs on north Burma.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), pp. 270-272

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