Daily Archives: 18 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Sailing & Tattoos

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Everyone knows that the turtle beat the hare and the lesson that is to be learned by it. But when the American ship Sorcery (mahou [魔法] or majutsu [魔術] in Japanese) came across the finish line here at Expo the other day, it had to wait almost a week to see if it won the Hawai‘i–Expo Okinawa race. The likely winner will be the last to cross the tape, the Japanese entry, Musou. I asked how to say ‘finish line’ in Japanese and got the answer, gooru [ゴオル], from our English goal. To ‘breast the tape, or reach the winning post’ is, interestingly enough, gooru-in suru. Another use of this phrase is when one says, medetaku gooru-in suru, or more completely, medetaku kekkon ni gooru-in suru [めでたく結婚にゴオルインする], meaning to ‘be happily married’. Actually, the word kesshouten [決勝点] ‘decide-win-point’, is the trueblood Japanese word.

The good ship Musou ([夢想] ‘daydream, vision’) will win, if it does, because of a healthy handicap: in Japanese furi na tachiba ni aru ([不利な立場にある] ‘be at a disadvantage’) allowing it to come five days later than Majutsu and still win.

One of the small one-manned racing yachts is missing, the captain being famous Kenichi Horie, who, I am told, first crossed the Pacific alone in a yacht such as this. “Hajimete oudan shita” my friend said, the oudan [横断] meaning ‘crossing’ and being used in such delightful expressions as ‘jaywalking’, which the Japanese render quite longwindedly as douro o naname ni oudan suru [道路を斜めに横断する], literally, ‘road+ diagonally+ traverse’. An oudan hodou [横断歩道] is a ‘crosswalk’. And like all good Boy Scouts should know, ‘to help an old lady across the street’ is roofujin o annai shite douro o oudan saseru [老婦人を案内して道路を横断する].

Anyway, one of the members of the U.S. crew aboard the Majutsu wanted to know if there was a place to get a tattoo ([入れ墨] irezumi). The last two syllables sumi (z=s) mean ‘India ink, ink stick, ink (of a squid)’. Sumie [墨絵] is ‘black and white drawing, or India ink drawing’, and sumizome no koromo [墨染の衣] means ‘black robe of a priest’, literally, ‘ink-dyed clothes’. She was told that only the dregs of society get tattoos and that there was no place in Okinawa to get one. Yet on further inquiry, I found that several of the older women of two generations or more past had tattoos, and these very often conspicuously on their fingers or back of hands. Mr. Pogue, who runs the U.S. concession here, then said that about 70 years or so ago, when the mainland Japanese came down to raid and rule the island people here, they often took off many of the young girls to the cities in Japan, as maids, prostitutes, or whatever. But some of the Okinawans quickly made use of the mainlanders’ aesthetic aversion to visible (or any) tattooing, and colored up the hands of their beloved daughters with sumi.

There are many euphemisms for prostitution in Japanese, it being an old profession there as elsewhere. Especially prevalent are compounds with ‘sell’ in the first position, e.g., ‘sell-spring’ ([売春] baishun), ‘sell-color’ ([売色] baishoku), ‘sell-laughter’ ([売笑] baishou), ‘sell-lewdness’ ([売淫] baiin), and so on.

The last baiin is usually followed the suffix for ‘woman’, fu [婦], and all the others can be followed by fu as well.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Pretending

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

The other day I walked casually up to the femme fatale guide in our module # two and began to make like I was going to change into my bathing suit right there in her presence. The upper part of the aquarium is in that spot, so swimming was a real possibility. She naturally went thru the gestures of shock playfully, and then I scolded her for even thinking that I would do such an etchi thing (dirty ol’ manish thing), in front of all the guests and herself. But, “omowaseburi o shita ja nai ka,” she retorted. This means loosely, ‘but you made me think so didn’t you?’, or ‘you put on as if you were, didn’t you?’. The key element of interest to me is this -buri, or -buru [振る furu] in the verb form. This -buru means ‘set up for, pose as’. Actually, in this case, the omowase means to ‘make or let a person think’, and omowaseburi is a noun meaning ‘mystification, or coquetry’. So let’s look at some more examples.

Gakushaburu [学者ぶる] means to ‘act like a scholar’, or to ‘put on like you’re quite learned’. Senseiburu [先生ぶる] means to ‘act like a teacher’. Otonaburu [大人ぶる] is to ‘carry on like an adult (when in fact you aren’t one)’. Mottaiburu [勿体ぶる] means to ‘put on airs, assume an air of importance’, the mottai part alone meaning ‘(undo) importance’, usually used in the phrase ‘to attach undo importance’, in Japanese, mottai o tsukeru. Digressing a bit, I should mention that this mottai is used in another glued form, mottai-nai [勿体ない], to mean most often ‘waste’ or as an exclamation: ‘What a waste!’ I hear this all the time.

Kyoosaikaburu [恐妻家ぶる] means to ‘make like you’re a henpecked husband’, for instance, in case you want to cut out of a party and you act like you better get home early or your wife will let you have it. Kyoo ‘fearsome’ + sai ‘wife’ + ka ‘household’ itself implies ‘henpecked hubbie’. Akusaiburu [悪妻ぶる] means to ‘act like a bad wife’.

Shittakaburi [知ったかぶり] o suru means to ‘act as if you do know something’. It is often found in the phrase shittakaburi o shita ikan yo! or ‘you better not act like you know!’

A friend of mine here is fairly fluent in both languages, but who went thru a U.S. base school, and therefore has a lot of English words jammed into his Japanese. When he went up to Tokyo and goofed around down in what is called the Shitamachi area, the fast-talking, slick, street-living young crowd larfed at my friend and accused him of acting like a gaijin ‘foreigner’. “Gaijinbutteru,” they teased. It wasn’t hip to use so much of the English loanword vocabulary that has found itself so much more soluable in the Japanese mother tongue lately.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Knives

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

On the way home I asked the driver to drop me off at a KANAMONOYA [金物屋], or hardware store, to let me see if they had some switchblade knives in stock. My sister’s husband is a collector of knives and had specifically requested a Japanese switchblade, if possible. The KANAMONOYA did not carry them seeing as how the police do not encourage their sale, and only ruffians and gangsters have or make any use for them. But I did notice some unusual knives and bought a few which I thought he would not have even in his extensive collection.

One was a KAWAHAGI [皮剥ぎ], or skinning knife: KAWA = skin, and the verb HAGU meaning ‘tear off, peel off, rip off, strip off, skin, flay and disrobe’, definitely a transitive verb. It is the intransitive form HAGERU ‘come off, fade, discolor’ that has been used so unmercifully on me to describe my deeply receding hairline and thinned bush on top. The KANJI for this deprived concept is also read SUKI in the popular Japanese beef meal, SUKIYAKI, and in the case of a ‘meat or fish slicer’ SUKIMI [剝き身], which brings us back to blades. The KAWAHAGI has a curved blade like a Persian dagger that fans out a bit toward the end before coming to a gradual point.

A KAWAMUKI [皮剥き] is ‘paring-knife, a barker, or a (potato) peeler’. The MUKI of this knife and the HAGI of the above are the same KANJI.

Another knife I bought was a YASAIGIRI [野菜切り], or vegetable cutter. It has an almost rectangular blade with only the hint of a point at one corner and a slow-rounding curve at the bottom forward blade-edge that is always rocking back and forth on the cutting board when this HOOCHOO is in action. HOOCHOO [包丁] means a ‘kitchen knife or cleaver’, and. is extended in usage to mean the cooking or cuisine of a restaurant. ANO RYOORIYA WA HOOCHOO GA YOI, or literally, ‘That restaurant (+topic marking particle) carving knife is good’.

A digression on the suffix CHOO of HOOCHOO might be fun. CHOO [丁] is one of the many Japanese counters of seemingly unrelated objects: in this case, ‘guns, tools, leaves, or cakes of something’ and is also a symbol for ‘even number’. I suppose a knife is a kitchen (HOO) tool (CHOO), tending toward a weapon at times, and shaped like a leaf often enough. As for the meaning of ‘even number’, it comes up in ‘dice game’, ‘gambling’, i.e. CHOOHAN [丁半] (‘even-odd’).

Lastly, it should be mentioned that this CHOO is the second KANJI in Nelson’s dictionary, being only of two simple strokes, like a T with a curl at the bottom. So we have TEIJI [丁字] ‘the letter T’, TEIJIKEI [丁字形] ‘T-shaped’, TEIKEI JOOGI [丁形定規] ‘the T-square’, all of which use the TEI reading of this KANJI, which is, after all, closer to our own Tee.

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