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.