Wordcatcher Tales: Hokahoka, Hougan, Hiiki

A seasonal Japanese matsutake (松茸 ‘pine ear’ mushroom) tasting menu at a restaurant named Yoshitsune (義経) turned up a couple of new vocabulary items that caught my fancy.

ほかほか hokahoka ‘warmth, heat’ – The menu for the fall seasonal special announced 目の前で松茸釜飯がほかほかで炊き上がります me no mae de matsutake kamameshi ga hokahoka de takiagarimasu ‘the matsutake (flavored) rice-pot cooks up warmly before your eyes’. And indeed it did. The fragrantly flavored rice finished cooking in each individual-sized cauldron perched above a can of sterno as we oohed and aahed our way through the courses leading up to the pièce de résistance.

The ideophone hokahoka does not behave grammatically like an adjective, despite its normal English translation into an adjective. It seems better to think of it as a noun, as in the postpositional phrase hokahoka de ‘from the heat’. As a noun modifier, hokahoka needs a genitive (or nominalizing) no after it—not the na that follows “adjectival nominals” like the hen of hen na gaijin ‘strange foreigner’. So a piping-hot sweet potato can be described as hokahoka no satsuma imo. And you can convey that you feel a hokahoka sense of warmth by adding the “light verb” to the ‘heat’: hokahoka suru ‘do/be hokahoka’. Let the mnemonic be ‘do the hokahoka’!

Another ideophone with a very similar form and a very similar meaning is pokapoka ‘pleasant warmth, toasty warmth, warming (weather)’.

判官贔屓 hougan/hangan biiki ‘favoring the underdog’ – Our restaurant was named after Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a famous warrior of the Minamoto (= Genji) clan whose martial feats played a key role in defeating the Taira (= Heike) clan in the Genpei War. The Genpei War (1180–85) has often been compared to the equally treachery-ridden English War of the Roses (1455–85) between the noble houses of Lancaster and York, but the latter led to a gradual centralization of authority in England, while the former led to a dispersal of power in Japan that eventually culminated in a long period of civil war before Oda Nobunaga unified the country and paved the way for the centralizing Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868).

Despite his many heroic feats, Yoshitsune eventually sided with the Emperor Go-Shirakawa (After-Shirakawa, i.e., Shirakawa II) against his own elder brother Yoritomo, who went on to found the Kamakura Shogunate. When Yoshitsune’s forces lost, he was forced to commit suicide—a pattern that went on to become all too familiar in Japanese history. But his fame lives on, as does his Imperial Court name 判官 hougan/hangan in the expression 判官贔屓 hougan/hangan biiki ‘favoring Hougan (= Yoshitsune)’, a phrase Hatena Keyword defines as 弱いものに、弱いからと言う理由で、えこひいきしてしまうこと yowai mono ni, yowai kara to yuu riyuu de, ekohiiki shiteshimau koto ‘the act of favoring the weaker party just because it is weaker’.

The kanji for the compound ekohiiki, written in hiragana above, are 依怙贔屓, etymologically ‘relying-strength’. An impartial or fair person is an ekohiiki no nai hito ‘favoritism-lacking person’. The tendency to favor one who loses, like Yoshitsune/Hougan, with dignity and honor intact has long been deeply embedded in Japanese culture. Witness the undying popularity of stories about the 47 ronin and Saigo Takamori.

1 Comment

Filed under Japan, language

One response to “Wordcatcher Tales: Hokahoka, Hougan, Hiiki

  1. No entry for hokahoka in Gomi Taro’s illustrated dictionary, unfortunately. It does figure, however, in his introduction:

    (ii) Expressions used as adverbs either as they are or with the particle to.
    Examples: (…)

    hokahoka (to) atatakai
    (glowing with warmth)

    (Gomi 1989:v)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.