Wordcatcher Tales: Senshoubyou, Jibaku, Mongai fushutsu

I came across three interesting Japanese terms recently, one at Yotteko-Ya ramen restaurant in Honolulu, the others in a book I’m reading about the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea.

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

門外不出 mongai fushutsu ‘gate-outside-not-depart’ – The full Yotteko-Ya catch phrase on the left side of their restaurant door was 門外不出の屋台味ラーメン mongai fushutsu no yataimi ramen (‘gate-outside-not-depart POSS streetstall-flavor ramen’). 門外不出 mongai fushutsu is a 4-kanji idiom implying ‘too precious to allow outdoors’, perhaps suggesting ‘you must enter this door to taste it’. The kanji 門 ‘gate’ (which resembles a pair of saloon doors) has many other literal and figurative uses. Here are a few of the latter: 門人 monjin (gate-person) ‘disciple, pupil’ or 門下・門下生 (gate-below/gate-below-life) ‘disciple, pupil’; and 門外 (gate-outside) ‘outside one’s specialty’ or 門外漢 (gate-outside-Chinese) ‘outsider, layperson’.

戦勝病 senshoubyou ‘victory disease’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 1991-2000):

The conquest of New Guinea received enthusiastic coverage in the Japanese press. One newspaper boasted: “Port Moresby is already on the verge of collapse as a result of repeated bombing by the Nippon Navy air corps. The present [efforts] of Nippon Army and Navy detachments completely sealed the fate of New Guinea.” Such propaganda had been published virtually every day since the beginning of the Pacific war, and by the spring of 1942, military personnel and civilians alike were brimming with overconfidence. The effect, later called senshobyo (literally, “victory disease”), was most apparent in the actions of military planners. Often displaying complete disregard for the capabilities of Allied forces, they tended to spread their forces thinly over large areas, sometimes extending them far beyond their lines of supply. (A prime example of senshobyo would occur in early April, when Vice Admiral Inoue and Major General Horii received orders to commence the second stage of the Southern Offensive. Instead of concentrating their resources on one objective, they planned simultaneous operations against Port Moresby and Tulagi, hundreds of miles from Rabaul in opposite directions. Even as that operation got underway, Admiral Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet staff began war-gaming the next offensive, the invasion of Midway.)

自爆 jibaku ‘self-explode’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 5537-5551):

The Japanese were highly reluctant to admit that hundreds of aviators had been burnt to a crisp because the aircraft engineers scorned the weight penalty of protected fuel tanks. To the contrary, the Japanese typically accounted for their losses by applying reverse psychology: whenever one of their aircraft burst into flames or was otherwise shot down during combat, it wasn’t entirely because the enemy had scored fatal hits; instead, the plane had merely been damaged, and its pilot decided to blow himself up (along with his crew, if applicable) as a symbolic act of suicide.

The Japanese called this jibaku, which literally means to self-explode. The amazing thing is that so many aviators, for all their intelligence and technological expertise, were brainwashed by the bushido mentality. Petty Officer Igarashi was a perfect example. Upon learning that one of his friends in Air Group 705 was shot down on April 14, he evoked the concept of jibaku as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “In the afternoon I went to the airfield again and heard about the great progress of the battle. More than ten vessels were sunk, airfields were on fire, etc. Unfortunately, Yokozawa self-exploded with Lieutenant Matuoka.”

After losing numerous dive-bombers and land-based medium bombers during the one-week operation, the conference attendees admitted that their planes needed “bullet protection,” as they quaintly put it. Heretofore, the aviation community had operated under the premise that the best defense was a good offense. In applying the samurai ethic to twentieth-century war machines, fliers and engineers alike valued speed, agility, and lightness above all other qualities. If a plane and its pilot were appropriately aggressive, there was little need for heavy armor plating or protected fuel tanks. As an extension of that mindset, most fighter pilots removed the radios from their planes, and many refused to wear a parachute because they considered the weight excessive.

Jibaku has the same ji as in 自殺 jisatsu ‘(self-kill =) suicide’ and the same 爆baku as in 爆発 bakuhatsu ‘explosion’ and 原爆 genbaku ‘atomic explosion’.

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Filed under food, Japan, language, war

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