Wordcatcher Tales: Sawa-azami, Hime-gonomi

During our day-trip to Gifu, Japan, last summer, we picked up an easy-to-carry packet of a local food specialty from the gift shop of a hotel whose lobby we relaxed in while waiting to see the cormorant fishing that evening. The box languished in our cupboard until recently, when we finally used it as a side dish in a somewhat Japanese-style meal.

沢薊 sawa-azami (Cirsium yezoense) ‘marsh thistle’ – This particular species of thistle is not even listed under Cirsium in English Wikipedia. In Japanese Wikipedia, however, it is not only listed under azami (Cirsium); it even has its own separate entry as sawa-azami: Cirsium yezoense (Maxim.) Makino, a thistle found along mountain streams along the Japan Sea side of northern Honshu and southern Hokkaido (old Yezo country). Kamchatka, too, seems to have its own species of thistle, and several subspecies. This particular package of pickled thistle was labeled as coming from the Neo (根尾 ‘root hair’) region of Gifu Prefecture, right on the border of Fukui Prefecture, which faces the Japan Sea. And, speaking of root hairs: Did you know that another genus of thistle—Arctium, burdock—was the inspiration for Velcro? Don’t dis thistles! (I used to know a weekend sailor who named his sloop Thistle Dew.)

姫ごのみ hime-gonomi ‘princess-fond (= flamboyant)’ – The package of lowly thistles is labelled somewhat incongruously as both (一) coming from the inaka ‘countryside’ (田舎, a kanji combination I didn’t recognize, but a word I know well), and (二) fit for a princess, that is, for one who is flamboyant. The -gonomi part can also be written -好み, as in お好み焼き o-konomi-yaki ‘cooked as you like it’, which nowadays means something quite different from the better-known ‘cooked as you like it’: すき焼き suki-yaki. However, as far as I can tell, the following three constructions all describe the same type of showy, flamboyant woman: 派手好み hade-gonomi ‘flamboyance-fond’; 派手好き hade-zuki ‘flamboyance-fond’; and 姫ごのみ hime-gonomi ‘princess-fond’.

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