Daily Archives: 20 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Birds

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.

Today was Thanksgiving and so the paper was full of bird stories. One Mr. Stovall opened his freezer to get ice for a drink and out flew a drake that he had shot the day before in the neck and wing before wrapping it in tinfoil and sealing it with tape to put it in the icebox. A Houdini trick if I’ve ever heard of one. The Stovalls took the bird to a man who raises ducks, impressed by his “will to live.”

Billy, a friend of mine here, was talking about the kinds of pigeons here in Okinawa. There are JUNPAKU [純白] ‘pure white’, KUROTEN [黒点] ‘black-specked (only the wings), CEMEN [セメン] ‘cement-colored’ (an interesting long-term foreign loanword), CHAIRO [茶色] ‘tea-colored’ (brown), and ZANPAN [残飯] ‘leftovers’ (from a meal, also ‘pig feed’ or ‘mixed slosh’). What Billy really said was janpan(g) or chanpan(g), which is the local Okinawan word following the rule that Z often goes to CH or J. This ZAN morpheme is a nice and handy one used in combinations like ZANZOO [残像] ‘after-image’, ZANSHOU [残照] ‘after-glow’, ZANGYOU [残業] ‘overtime (extra) work’, and ZANNEN [残念] ‘after-sense (regret)’. But his ZANPAN pigeon is the most expensive, being a mix, or cross-bred species, ‘pigfeed’ being similar in that it is a cross-breed of supper slop but different in that it is cheap.

So what did Billy have to do with pigeons, or HATO [鳩], which in Japanese take the place of ‘cuckoo’ in ‘pigeon clock’, HATODOKEI [鳩時計]. He had a HATOKOYA [鳩小屋] ‘pigeon hut (dovecote)’. At first pulling their feathers off starting at the wing-tip, he would do so until he got down toward the wing-pit area that had more blood and was pulpier. When he began to draw blood defeathering his doves then he stopped, any further being harmful. Letting them out of the cage at a time that they were hungry and unable to fly, he taught them stay close to home, to become homing pigeons. At first he would shove them one by one back into the cage thru a BATAN [バタン] as he called it, which is one of those doors used on fish and animal traps a lot that opens as you push your way in but shuts after you, never to let you leave by the same way. No one else that I asked knew what this BATAN was, but it’s interesting that BATAN is the ‘bang’ with which a door shuts in such expressions as BATAN TO DOA O SHIMERU [バタンとドアを閉める], or backwards literally, ‘shut the door with a bang’. I can well imagine that the spring-held door to the HATOKOYA does just that as the pigeons push thru it to get to their food, as they have been taught they could by Billy.

Billy is also a birdcatcher and birdcaller. He does a one-man turkey-shoot demonstration complete with horrified turkey-talk. One bird he likes to catch is the Zosterops japonica, Japanese white eye, which he says is a lot like a little yellow parakeet. You have to have one for bait to start with, putting it in a cage on a tree in the mountains where it will sing-a-ling until another comes down to land on the end-shaven bamboo branch which has got TORIMOCHI [鳥黐] ‘birdlime’ on it. Just like the tar-baby, he lands and is yours for the trouble of caging him. The only thing to watch for is those good-for-nothing birds that go down to the ground, or the bottom of the cage. Billy says they are worthless, stupid, and to throw them away. A MEJIRO [目白] ‘white eye’, doesn’t scavenge like a sparrow.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Robatayaki

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.

About a quarter of an hour before the pavilion closed the other day, I suddenly decided to join Mike and his date, Lily “Lips” Liao, for supper, and I invited a friend myself. The restaurant is a ROBATAYAKI [炉端焼き], which Mike insists on calling the “RUBBER DUCKY,” as it is his habit to corrupt the Japanese tongue to his own irreverent idiolect. So we caught a cab from South Gate and began to order before we got there. I wanted frog legs, which were severed at the waist and served in an immodest pornographic posture, but my date would have none of that. She agreed with me on squid, bean-curd, and soup, always dished with rice and tea. As the orders grilled above the open fire, a light aperitif smoke drifted this way and that in the draft-ridden room. A man came in and sat by the door, then having ordered and received a cold bottled beer, he suddenly took off his watch, left it as collateral, and ran out the entrance as my date, Carol, laughed and said that the old fellow must have forgotten something. It was funny, because she and I had just been admiring the psychedelic face of the watch which we felt would make it hard to tell the time. Meanwhile our grub got well cooked, and was handed to us on large wooden paddles straight from the barbecue pit onto specially suited pottery plates and bowls which were then stacked neatly in front of your place as you finished off the individually priced items, the accumulation of assorted price-significant clay dishes being your final tab. Even the sake wine that I ordered was served in pottery flasks that were counted by the waitresses in tallying your bill. When Lily Liao lent me her plate so that I could try some of her delicious barbecued fish, she was careful to retrieve the glazed clay fish dish from me and stack it with her other 400¥ orders which came on the same kind.

The man with the remarkable watch came back and begin to make up for lost time, or drink his brew before it got lukewarm. I was playing the part of a Japanese husband who was having his wife or geisha pour him body-warm SAKE as he gulped it down from tiny thumb cups, making it necessary for Carol to interrupt her meal abruptly to refill my clay, white-glazed cuppet as fast as I emptied it with quick, short swallows. She modestly accepted one fill herself, but ended up not drinking half of even that little portion.

Then, quite to our surprise, the wristwatch man eased up and slipped out the door from his convenient position. The girls were busy, and no one seemed to notice but Carol, who seemed to be paying this sly fox more attention than her own dashing date. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and poured out the last of the rice-wine. In the silence that ensued, I noticed the optically illusive BASF type blue inwardly spiraling curl in the bottom of my SAKE cup. I began to daydream.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Scientists

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.

When I was just about to pull the well padded but light futon over me and return to my dreams, I realized that I had a pretty blue and white ribbon in my book as a marker, and it was really a ribbon for entry into the Aquapolis Ocean Seminar which was to be held this morning. This realization had an effect on me like Spinach has on Popeye and I was in a whirlwind of activity to catch the 9:30 bus.

Since all the bigwigs were there from all over the world there was a tiresome ribbon-breaking ceremony but was over before I got tired of looking at all the scientists who were gathered informally before the ribbon to make the crossing into the lecture hall once the Japanese reps sent their best three forward to scissor the tape in three spots. Lorenz, the Nobel prize winner from Germany, clapped one free hand over the back of the other coat-holding hand every time applause was fitting, and glanced about with very playful eyes during the whole affair. When the blue ribbon was finally sliced, he was the first to lunge forward and cross the sacred ground, but then retreated quickly to herd in with the others slowly.

We all took our seats in the small lecture section which was separated off with a curtain that went across the one side of the seats and, circled in back of the speakers’ podium, only enclosing two sides of the rectangular seminar area.

Lorenz made a comment about Japanese, being natural born gardeners and then made it clear he was interested in aquarium “gardening,” putting in a plug for his friend at the Enoshima aquarium. A little later he generalized again by stating that “most of you are fishermen … I have yet to meet a Japanese that didn’t enjoy a little fishing,” at which time he asked someone from the Japanese audience to volunteer forward and read the name of certain fish that he had in his book. There was an embarrassing moment when no one seemed to realize what he was asking for, and he finally had to ask one of the runabout electricians to read it.

He wanted everyone to start an aquarium, which he claimed is what got him on his road to becoming a scientist, but he wanted people to realize that they had better start an aquarium without fish, and then add fish as nature’s balance could handle it. He talked of eutrophication in English but with a German accent. The water gets stinky and it’s like the Red Tide. Fish suffocate. Lorenz wanted us all to realize the “vulnerability of the sea.” Then he showed films and excused himself.

Later on in the pavilion I noticed one of the scientists that had been at the Seminar and hadn’t spoken. I got to talking with him and found out that his job was to “deliver nerve membranes to Munich,” which is rather specialized, to say the least. His special concern was in the transport of squid from A to B. Difficulties mainly stem from the nasty habit of the squid to squirt ink that is even fatal to itself, but from which it usually escapes in ample water. I suggested stunning the squid, but he said that that only loosened the ink-releasing muscle while stunning the “push off” mechanism which is the usual source of ridding the salt water pocket of ink that will harm the intestines. I suggested pumping water thru to dilute the ink, but he said that the squid still panicked in enclosed areas and would ink himself to death because he would tire out, and again be unable to use the muscles that usually clear his inner pouch of this poison as he propels himself away. Sad state of affair, I admitted. Then we talked about the difference between jumping on the moon and jumping in an aquarium. Ho-hum.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Taketomi Island

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.

TAKETOMI [竹富] island has a population of three hundred and a half, but still claims over twenty MINSHUKU [民宿] guest houses in service. These are mostly “private houses that provide lodging for transient guests,” as MINSHUKU are defined, but if this island thrives on tourism, it also suffers from KASO [過疎] or depopulation, with many of the young people finding their call elsewhere. But one old priest on that little isle has not left that beloved pile of dirt in the sea but once in his life, and that to go to KYUUSHUU [九州] to make a special presentation of 25 of his 2700 display items in his TAKETOMI museum. In his early sixties now & with a moist cough (TANSEKI [痰咳]) and small frail body that betray the poor condition of his health, he explained any and all exhibits that we dared to glance at, and many that we didn’t eye at all.

I had for some, time been wondering about the symbolism of tattoos (IREZUMI [入れ墨]) in the RYUUKYUU [琉球] islands, and he was the first to initiate me into the mysteries they hold. On the fingers are YA [矢] or arrows, it being the nature of an arrow to go towards its destination and never return, and therefore meant that the woman on whose hand the IREZUMI [入れ墨] was put, once married, was to stay that way. EIKYUU NI TOMARE [永久に泊まれる] ‘stay forever’ was the audio version of this visual reminder. Then on the knuckles are MASU [升], or ‘rice-measuring square-shaped wooden box’, which were meant to guard against hunger, the skin mutilation being like an offering to the gods in hope of plenty to eat.

On that part that everyone knows so well, the back of the hand, an ENMAN [円満], or ‘completeness, perfection, harmony’ is etched in a tattooed full-orb ink moon, signifying a peaceful and harmonious household. What more could one want? Still yet there is another symbol on the TEKUBI [手首], or ‘wrist’, which is an ITOGURUMA [糸車] or ITOMAKI [糸巻] in preference, which means a ‘spool, reel, or bobbin’. It was important for a wife to be able to handle threads. Actually, the expression ITOSABAKI GA UMAI [糸捌きが上手い], or ‘is good at handling threads’, means to ‘be skilled at playing a stringed instrument’. This goes further in the saying ITOTAKE [糸竹], or literally, ‘threads-bamboo’ but means strings and winds, or music. More of this later.

This priest had been collecting items for over half a century, beginning even in his early teens to sort and store his childhood playthings. Among these were OSHOUGATSU NO MARI [お正月の毬], or ‘New Year’s balls’ usually made by the mother and given to the children at that festive time of year. They are very colorful, and the priest was proud to tell us that all the colors were homemade dyes right from that island. The ball itself was of tightly wound SOTETSU NO KE KARA DEKITA [蘇鉄の毛から出来た], or ‘made of the leaves of the SOTETSU cycad palm’, which is all over the RYUUKYUU islands. The SO [蘇] part means YOMIGAERU, or ‘be resuscitated’ while the TETSU [鉄] is familiar ‘steel’. This interests me because the first time I heard of this thick stumpy looking palm was when an old cleaning woman told me they used to extract the starch (C6H10O5x), or DENPUN [澱粉] out of SOTETSU and eat it during the war.

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