November 15, 2020

Volume 2: Useless Questions for Today

Fun lesson on Japanese

In This Day and Age, Totally Useless Questions
Here are a few questions that once stirred the heart of every Japanese, but today, they are no longer in debate...


久方ぶりでござる。言葉侍でござる。(hisakataburi de gozaru - It has been a while. (in Samurai-ish) - The normal way is of course, (お)久しぶり (o)hisashiburi)

ご機嫌いかがでござるか? (go kigen ikaga de gozaru ka - How goes it with you? (in Samurai-ish))

The following few questions would never be expected to flow from a foreigner's mouth. Each question has some historical root in a debate that was hot in its time or something that was very popular then but is laughable at best today. Since we are dealing with historical debates/events, not all people will get the 'joke' right off. So choose your victims, I mean conversation partners, wisely.


1) What to do with those pesky barbarians?!

kaikoku ka joui, docchi o ouen shimasu ka?
"Open the country" or "out with the barbarians", which side are you rooting for?

This one requires a bit of history...

In 1603 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu through political and military maneuvering managed to unite the many  han (autonomous regions within Japan ruled by 大名 daimyou) under his overseeing control. While each 大名 daimyou had control over their area, they all had to report to the 将軍 shougun (Tokugawa). Tokugawa drove out Christianity (by murdering them!), closed the country from foreign influence, and gave Japan 200 years or so of relative peace.

However by the mid 1800's the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu (Tokugawa Shogunate) had lost much of its control over many of the hans especially the vehemently anti-Bakufu western Satsuma and Choshu clans. With peace being the norm for so long, samurai now had little to do but to work hand to mouth and seek causes for which to be employed. Seeing more and more foreign influence in Japan - especially after Commodore Perry's famous black ships - these 浪人 rounin began to use the slogan 「尊皇攘夷」 sonnou joui (revere the emperor and expel the barbarians) to get at the Bakufu for being so weak on keeping foreigners out of the country as well as other grievances.

Eventually the Satsuma and Choshu anti-Bakufu activists realized they needed the barbarian technology and couldn't, with their current strength, prevent the foreigners from doing what they did in other countries - colonization. So many dropped the 攘夷 slogan and replaced it with the seemingly opposite 開国At least for 'now' let's open the country, learn from the barbarians and when we are strong enough we can expel them once and for all. Of course this never happened exactly according to plan.

開国 kaikoku - open the country; allow foreign access to Japan and Japanese access to foreign technology and knowledge
攘夷 joui - expel the barbarians; movement in the mid-1800's to remove all foreigners and their barbarian ways from Japan

It may be helpful to express your sincere desire for 開国 to win out since you are after all... a barbarian 🙂
douka, kaikoku o ouen shite kure!
I beg you, please root for opening the country!

2) モガ・モボ - Modern Girl/Boy

At the turn of the century (last one, not this one!) モガ and モボ were used to describe young people who dressed in Western fashion, listened to Western music/dances, etc.

to a man in his 30s or 40s:
wakai koro, mobo deshita kA?
When you were young were you one of those modern boys?

to a woman in her 30s or 40s:
wakai koro, moga deshita kA?
When you were young were you one of those modern girls?

This may be rude to someone fairly old, so stick to those younger crowd (30-50 being recommended).

3) Disco Days

hassuru shite imasu kA?
Are you doing the hustle?

The 「ハッスル」and 「フィーバー」 were of course slogans from the 70's. From time to time you hear of a disco revival - there are several disco musicians popular in Japan now for example - but the appeal from that era seems to have slipped away from public adoration.

4) Your sword, please...

haitourei wa fukouhei da to omoimasen?
Don't you think the law banning swords in public is unfair?

Returning to our little history lesson...

After the fall of the Tokugawa Bakufu(Tokugawa 慶喜 Yoshinobu abdicated power to the emperor at 二条城 nijoujou Nijo Castle in 1868 - if you are ever in Kyoto, by all means go to 二条城. You can see the actual room where one era gave way to another!) Japan went full force to modernize the country. One aspect of the 明治維新 meiji ishin Meiji Restoration (no, it wasn't about making chocolate) was to tear down the class structure that had been so central to Bakufu policy. The Samurai , farmer and merchant were at least in theory equals in the Meiji era. Perhaps as a way to enforce this, samurai no longer had the right to wear a sword in public. Also the law was to be upheld not by a samurai class but by officials of the new government. This law is called 廃刀令 haitourei

Perhaps patting your side sword hip with nostalgia while saying this will help give a greater voice to your struggle.

5) The essential Tamagocchi

showa sanjuu nendai no sanshu no jingi wa sentakki, reizouko to tamagocchi dakke?
The 3 essential appliances of the Showa 30's era were a washing machine, refrigerator and... uhh tamagocchi, wasn't it?

A bit about the Emperor's toys 

The real 三種の神器 sanshu no jingi are the emperor's 3 sacred and somewhat legendary items: 1) mirror, 2) a sword and 3) a jewel.

昭和30年代 is from 1955-1965 and its 三種の神器 represent the 3 newly essential appliances afforded by the booming economy of that era. The 'real' 昭和30年代の三種の神器 were actually a 1) Refrigerator, 2) B/W TV and 3) Washing machine.

The tamagocchi was a big hit in the 90's. It was (I guess you can still buy them...) an electronic pet which required your constant attention day and night or else it died. It was shaped like an egg, hence the たまご

To read about the Showa 30 nendai no sanshu no jingi, (in Japanese) please click here.

Should you have something to add (or correct), please feel free to leave comments at the bottom and I will try to add them to this page.

さらば、友よ! [saraba, tomo yo! Goodbye, my friend]*

* like さようなら, さらば is used when you won't see someone again or for a long while. Of course, I hope to see you again soon, but it just sounds a lot cooler than またね...

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