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AWADmail Issue 584A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
Last month I spent some time in Japan. Here's the first in a series of travel reports from that trip.
After visiting the Ryoanji temple in Kyoto, I walked the long passageway back to the main road and approached a taxi. The taxi driver pointed to another taxi ahead of him that I hadn't noticed. Then he got out to alert the driver of that taxi to open the door. After I got in, he bowed, and went back to his own taxi. This may sound like an unusual gesture of courtesy, but courtesy is the standard operating procedure in Japan.
I used metro trains dozens of times, but never saw people talking on cell phones in a compartment. I took many taxi rides, but only once did the driver talk on his phone -- and that was to find directions to the place I wanted to visit -- a hard-to-find veg restaurant located in some alley.
The Japanese go to great lengths to help. I had a taste of it right here in the US. A few years ago, I visited Portland, Oregon to speak at a conference hosted at a university. After attending the pre-conference reception the previous night, as I tried to find my way out of the labyrinthine building, I came across a Japanese student. She walked with me to guide me right to the parking lot. I learned that she was visiting the US for a few weeks to study English. It dawned on me that while I lived in the US and she was a visitor, on the Portland State campus, it was the other way around. I was a visitor to her campus and she did what any Japanese would do.
And it's a pretty safe place. I saw a woman nonchalantly leaving her bag at the table near the entrance of a cafe in Tokyo as she went inside to order something for lunch. I saw people, including girls, bicycling away late in the night. If you lose your wallet, don't worry. It'll find its way back to you.
I wonder what cautions Japanese guidebooks advise their readers when visiting other countries.
Travel report from other countries
From: Milan Schonberger (milan.schonberger sbcglobal.net)
In my native Czechoslovakia of the early sixties we knew that the slogans like "With the Soviet Union for All Times" carried in the May Day parades were like political kabuki theater. Our suspicions that this kind of posturing was just for show were vindicated when the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into our country in 1968. Isn't it ironic how that fits to a tee the Japanese origin of kabuki -- "leaning, deviating, and acting dissolutely"?
Milan Schonberger, Los Angeles, California
From: Samuel Wallis (LtColSam aol.com)
In military slang a "Kabuki Dance" is a somewhat pejorative label for a really complex military operation, usually with the intent of keeping the enemy guessing as to what your objective is. As a practical matter, though, the plan would be so complex as to almost guarantee confusion and disorder amongst those executing the plan, who are often likewise left guessing at what the objective is.
In retrospect, though, since those plans were meant to deceive, I suppose that jargon does draw from the word's second meaning.
Samuel Wallis, Sebastopol, California
From: Kisimoto Kiyoyuki (kiyo.kisimoto aist.go.jp)
Interestingly enough, Kabuki was invented, performed, spread by a woman named Izumo no Okuni, later and soon enough for political reasons/ends women were prohibited to be Kabuki performers.
Kisimoto Kiyoyuki, Tsukuba, Japan
From: Michael Poole (michaelpoole paradise.net.nz)
A long-standing family friend in Japan, when he is in his cups, is referred to (including by himself) as going into "kabuki mode"! Well, kabuki is if nothing else spectacularly exaggerated in its forms (as well as being at least as hard as Shakespeare to act properly).
Michael Poole, Paraparaumu, New Zealand
From: John Fairlamb (jcfairlamb gmail.com)
As soon as I saw this word I thought of one of my students who has what is called Kabuki Syndrome.
It is a congenital disability that affects many aspects of a person's health and life. Many of the people with Kabuki Syndrome have learning difficulties. It is so called because the facial expression resembles the make up of the Kabuki actors.
John Fairlamb, Howick, South Africa
From: Hiller B. Zobel (honzobe aol.com)
To paraphrase a long-ago golden oldie: "Your lips tell me, 'Noh, Noh', but Kabuki's in your eyes."
Hiller B. Zobel, Boston Massachusetts
From: Joan Perrin (perrinjoan aol.com)
My favorite beauty tool is my kabuki brush. It has a short, squat handle, and wide soft bristles used for applying loose powder or blush. While I do not use it to apply the thick, white face paint that is traditionally worn by the Kabuki Theatre actor, it is vital in my transformation from bare faced to ready to face the world. To go out without makeup for me is a big Noh-Noh.
Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York
From: Steve Swift (steve.j.swift gmail.com)
The word skosh reminded me of the story about the Scottish former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern who was holding a tea party for some lawyers at which he served toast and a tiny pot of honey. One of lawyers looked at it and said, "I see Your Lordship keeps a bee."
Steve Swift, Alton, UK
From: Loretta Moore (lmoorekc aol.com)
The word "kamikaze" has been a commonly used term in my family's vocabulary at least since 1945. I was later introduced to the word "kamikaze" as a small child who listened to my father's recounting of his naval days in WWII. My dad served on a US ship that was attacked by kamikaze airplanes during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. My dad was at his battle station while under this attack. Although his ship was damaged by one kamikaze plane crashing into its side, the ship is credited in US Naval annals of history with having shot down two other kamikaze planes.
My mother's kamikaze story is different. Sky-writing by small planes was apparently popular post-WWII and they would buzz overhead as they advertised popular products of the day. My mom related that for a period of time after my dad returned from the war, whenever they were walking outside, how my dad would spontaneously react to a plane buzzing overhead by running and ducking into the side of a nearby building. Are there any better healers than Time and Peace?
Loretta Moore, Overland Park, Kansas
From: Shweta Bagade (spbagade gmail.com)
I've associated kamikaze with only cocktails, so a little surprised to see what it means. Self-destructive cocktail anyone?
Shweta Bagade, Mumbai, India
From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Today's word brought back great memories of the comedian Steve Allen. As host of the first televised late-night talk show, Allen created a skit called "The Question Man". The bit had a simple premise: A narrator reads an answer to Allen who then declares what question would elicit that answer. In a classic exchange the narrator read "The answer is Chicken Teriyaki. What is the question?" and Allen replied "Who is the oldest living Kamikaze pilot?"
Ken Kirste, Sunnyvale, California
From: Gilda Blackmore (gilda92 sympatico.ca)
What a great week! I thought honcho was of Mexican origin, skosh was some arcane British offshoot, and tycoon must have come from India! Knowledge sure came with this series of words. Thank you so much.
Gilda Blackmore, London, Canada
From: Barry Stinson (masterfundi gmail.com)
In keeping with this week's theme, I thought you'd enjoy the following, picked up in Japan in the '50s.
When the ice is on the rice in northern Honshu,
Barry Stinson, Coral Springs, Florida
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:Words are like money ... it is the stamp of custom alone that gives them circulation or value. -William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)