Why is a turkey called “shichimencho” in Japanese?

… because “seven face bird” is an odd name even for as strange a creature as a turkey. According to a page on the topic on a Japanese site on word origins, it is because the neck looks like it has many different colours, which kind of makes sense. The Xmas edition of The Economist says that the name came from Chinese and spread to Japanese and Korean, though in China it later became “‘fire chicken’ for its face’s tendency to flare up shades of red, white and blue”.

Why do the Japanese call a mummy “miira”?

I’d been wondering this for a while because many guides to foreign borrowings into Japanese list “miira” as coming from Portuguese, but the Portuguese for (Egyptian etc) mummy is “mumia”, seemingly unconnected to “miira”. According to a typically fascinating post on the great Language Log blog, the totally unexpected answer is:

“The Japanese word for “mummy” is mīra ミイラ (“myrrh”) because, when the Portuguese were selling Egyptian mummies to the Japanese as medicine, they often mentioned myrrh as one of the preservatives, and the Japanese took the part for the whole.”

However, as a couple of commenters noticed, that just leads to another even more fascinating question:

“Can you direct me to an article about how (and why) the Portuguese sold mummies to the Japanese?”

Why do the Japanese use the “English” expression “China dress” for a cheongsam?

They gave it a Japlish name because the fashion came to Japan via Hollywood films?? The English expression, btw, comes from Cantonese, the Mandarin Chinese version being “quipao”

What the Japanese really mean today

As usual with my “What the Japanese really mean?” posts, the idea is that you read the Japanese and literal translation and then try to guess what they mean in English before scrolling down the page to check. Have fun (I did)!


Japanese- Wanpatan
Literal translation- Japanese pronunciation of the words “one pattern”
Meaning Read the rest of this entry »

Why does “abura o uru” (油を売る- sell oil) mean loaf/slack?

“the oil seller in olden times used to stroll leisurely from house to house chatting, flirting, and gossiping” Read the rest of this entry »

Why is baka (馬鹿- stupid) written with the kanji for horse plus deer?

“legend having it a foolish king of the ancient Chinese Qin dynasty, upon seeing a deer, fatuously said ba instead of ka, and was the first to have earned himself the nickname baka” Read the rest of this entry »

Why is the Japanese rainy season called tsuyu (梅雨- plum rains)?

According to Ben Hills in Princess Masako, because it usually comes when the plums are ripening. Makes sense, and clears up one that I have always vaguely wondered, but never remembered to research when I had Google handy

Why did the Japanese say “Southern barbarians” (南蛮人- nanbanjin) for the first (Western) European visitors?

Their ships were coming from Macao, south of Japan

Why is “otaku” the same word as “you”? Second attempt

“In the middle eighties, there was a Japanese science-fiction author called Moto Arai. One of her stylistic tics was to address the reader very formally with the second person pronoun, otaku, a much more distant form than the French vous, for instance. Her fans liked this book so much that they adopted this peculiar usage, referring to each other as ‘otaku'”

Read the rest of this entry »

Why is the word for geek (おたく otaku) and the polite for you (お宅 おたく otaku) the same?

They could just be homophones, something which Japanese has a huge number of, but one explanation link the two. One sign of the lack of social skills of otaku was using overformal language like お宅 with each other, so much so that it eventually became their name for each other