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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Filed under Hawai'i, Japan, language, U.S.

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