Okinawa Diary, 1975: Kaiwo Maru

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.

Ken doesn’t even bother to roll back the sleeves on his brown woolen sweater, or to unband his waterweak wristwatch before doing the dishes. I sauntered into the kitchen to stir my noodles a swirl or two and saw him plunging his paws into the washpool and then pulling them out again, never wet past the hightide line but an inch from his Timex timepiece. What’s more, he had passed the pots and pans and was dredging the dregs for silverware which, by now were coated in grime & grease.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that there is a certain order in which you do the dishes?” I began my attack. “And don’t you have any inclination to bare your forearms for action?” I continued to needle him. “I just would not start washing without pulling up my sleeves and taking off my watch. It just wouldn’t feel right. But you just stand there and drop your hands time and time again into the murky mess and never get your wrists wet. It’s disgusting.”

Ken continued complacently. Then he explained, “In the first place, I have utterly no intention of committing my hands in there deep enough to get my arms wet. All sorts of danger await them. When Paul washes dishes, he likes to find the broken glasses, ’cause then he doesn’t have to wash them. Notice we only have three small and two large glasses left.”

He was right. I was just pulling a bottle of Golden Cream Sherry out of the frig where I had left it as a surprise to myself next time I came home, and after an inspection of the glass cabinet, I mixed this ambrosia with ice in a cream pitcher.

“And yes, I do them in an order,” he continued emphatically, “from top to bottom.”

By now I was halfway into the living room, grumbling back over my shoulder something about how Ken had certainly found his station in life. Sitting down to consult the Japanese dictionary on the word chabouzu [茶坊主], I was disappointed with the definition, ‘tea server, palace attendant, flatterer’. Earlier today when I had dropped by the imushitsu [医務室] ‘medical treatment room’, which is next to our Pavilion, the doctor there was telling me how his father and grandfather before him were doctors, but that his hiojiisan [曽おじいさん] ‘great-grandfather’ was a chabouzu, many of whom became men of medical affairs when Edo jidai [江戸時代] ended and Meiji jidai [明治時代] began with the first official recognition of Western medicine. He went on to explain that many of these chabouzu (< cha ‘tea’, and bouzu ‘priest’, but here it means the shaved head of/like a priest) were skilled druggists, some having dealt with the legendary ninja [忍者], or espionage-skilled samurai. I vowed to find out more about this later. The doc gave me a ride home and while he was chatting with the nurse who had introduced him to me, I picked up the words gengochuusuu [言語中枢] ‘speech center (of the brain)’, nenza [捻挫] ‘sprain or wrench’, zensoku [喘息] ‘asthma’, and bettara-zuke [べったら漬け] ‘fresh radish pickles’.

Now it just so happened that in Expo Port today was a very nice daihansen [大帆船] ‘large sailing ship’, by the name of T.S. Kaiwo Maru [海王丸], and that the imu ‘medical officer’ had come to the Expo imushitsu, where my friend was nurse, to check out his appendix. This resulted in us getting a very good tour of the T(raining) S(hip) that is the world’s second largest, the largest sailing ship being in Europe.

This vessel was built in Showa 5 (1930) by Kawasaki Zousensho [川崎造船所] ‘shipbuilding yard’ for about hyakuman [百万] ‘one million’ yen. The same boat as it is today would cost nearly rokujuu oku en [六十億] ‘sixty hundred million’ or ‘six billion’ ¥. The mainmast is 45 meters high, and the deck is made of chiiku-zai [チイク材] ‘teakwood’. A box near the bow had houki [箒] ‘brooms made of bamboo’, and coconut husks for scrubbing the deck. Houki [蜂起] also means ‘revolt’ or ‘uprising’, which made me think of Mutiny on the Bounty, and a houki-boshi [箒星] is a ‘broom/sweep star’ (= ‘comet’).

The name T.S. Kaiwo Maru itself includes some elements of both English and Japanese, and this was also the case on board, with the deck chief’s cabin having “boatswain” written plainly above the door, and the hundreds of ropes going every which-a-way were called by English names having undergone Japanification, but still ending recognizably in the specialized seaman’ brace, block, sheet, halyard, garnet, yard, shroud, stay, and sometimes lead and tack. I’m going to try and visit once more on Thanksgiving Day to find out what these terms mean a bit more. [See Wordcatcher Tales: Japanese nautical terms.]

This imu ‘medical officer’ had enough equipment on board to perform surgery on quintuplets simultaneously, but most of the paraphernalia was packed unused in king-sized silverware cases of a sort that I had never seen the likes of. The medicine cabinet was comparable to the Expo inventory, this ship having 102 cadets and 40-some odd crew (norikumi [乗組]) members, while Expo had 58,000 visitors today, which was a holiday. When I asked about the doc’s license to prescribe drugs and do certain kinds of surgery, he passed it off lightly by saying that the law recognized “special” circumstances on shipboard out at sea. The nurse later told me, when the doc went to borrow a book, not to pursue that topic any further. I obliged her, and not too willingly, because I had seen equipment for “women’s medicine” which I wanted to ask him about, altho with no intention to play the reporter, or investigator.

There was even a rentogen-shitsu [レントゲン室], which did not make sense to me until I had seen the old-time Roentgen, or X-ray apparatus. Leaving that room, we went past an ofuro [お風呂], of which there were seven altogether on board I was told.

After deboarding I dropped by the Korean restaurant to catch a meal before coming home to Kadena airbase tonight. I know the headwaiter there, and he was putting on the old Korean favorite Arirang (instrumental) at the request of a customer. But before long the music reverted back to the tunes of yesteryear in U.S. of A., and Kingston Town was on. I jotted down the name and the line “won’t be back for many a day” to remind myself to play it on harmonica when I got back to the privacy of my room. Meanwhile a very cute girl was smiling openly at me, and after a while she came over and surprised me by initiating what turned out to be a very abrupt conversation. She: “Are you from American pavilion?” Me: “Yes, but I love Korean food.” She: “Do you have an Am. Pavilion badge?” Me: “No, we don’t have any. I know everyone wants one, but us guides were given only five apiece, and they were already promised out long before we got them.” She: “Oh. None at all?” Me, breaking down: “I don’t have any but I’ll see if anyone else has one.” She: “Thank-you,” and Exit Right. That’s all she had to say. Talk about abrupt.

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