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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Filed under food, Japan, language, U.S.

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