Seventy years after the end of the World War II, Japan still carries war guilt that its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to shed. He is also pushing for a law that will unshackle the Japanese Army to engage in an armed conflict abroad in support of an ally. Abe may have a geopolitical context to take that line but for the world what is of overriding concern is that it should not lead to a new version of a militarized Japan which is otherwise admired for its soft power.
The worst sufferer of nuclear warfare, it has risen phoenix-like and today is synonymous with not only technological advancement but lifestyle innovations as well. So, the Land of the Rising Sun boasts of ‘Crying Hotels’, equipped with tear-jerking motives and luxury tissues, for disturbed women clients to cry heartily. It also has ‘Usagi’ where patrons can come and stroke rabbits or ‘Cat Cafes’, where they can play with furry animals. They also have ‘Robot Restaurants’ and ‘Capsule Hotels’. The list is long and ever expanding.
Japan’s dalliance with the West started quite late. The Meiji restoration of 1868 saw rapid industrialization and a resultant influx of Western words into the Japanese language. In the process, English too acquired quite a few Japanese words, most of them related to Japanese culture. We are well versed with such Japanese borrowings as bonsai, judo, karate, yen, Zen, sushi, sayonara. Let’s look into ones that sound interesting.
The literal meaning of ‘bushido’ is “the way of the warrior” and is the code of the Samurai. It, therefore, refers to fighting skill and conquest of the fear of death.
‘Geisha’ is used for women who are trained to provide elegant and traditional entertainment for men, including serving food and drink. Its literal meaning is an “artistic person”. It is incorrect to apply the term for bar girls or sex workers.
‘Harakiri’ means belly-slashing in Japanese. In English, therefore, it means to bring to an end or cause an end to one’s career by an unwise step or a decision. Japanese find the word vulgar and would rather use ‘seppuku’ instead.
‘Kamikaze’ is a World War II coinage and referred to a suicide attack by a Japanese aircraft or the pilot who carried out such an act. In modern times, it means a self-destructive feat. The word comes from Japanese for ‘divine wind’, originally applied in the 13th century to typhoons that twice sank Chinese fleets sent by Kublai Kahn to invade Japan.
And did you know that rickshaw comes from a Japanese word? Yes, it comes from ‘jinriksha’ — jin (man), riki (strength) and sha (vehicle). So, rickshaw is a vehicle drawn by a man.