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Thursday, July 31, 2003

BILINGUAL

When in doubt, just blame it on the wind


The Japanese have traditionally described their island country as being governed by the forces of mizu (water) -- what, with all this rain falling for what seems like 360 days of the year, but our grandmothers say kaze (wind) is the other ruling force that tends to be overlooked. Mizu will wash everything away or keep things afloat. Kaze, on the other hand, blows through and changes events and emotions.

The phrase kazamuki ga kawaru (a change in the wind) implies not just a change in situation but a loss of control and sense of resignation. Accordingly, people described as "kaze no yona hito (someone who's like the wind)" refers to those who goes off and disappears without notice and then returns just as suddenly, without any apparent reason. The wind carries them off, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Mizu, because it's visible, is easier to deal with. But kaze, being invisible, is mostly unpredictable.

Kaze, as used in the language, can be unpredictable, too. For example, the word fuzoku (sex trade, or more broadly, popular culture) is comprised of the characters kaze and "netherworld." But fuki, made up of kaze and "nation," means "moralistic atmosphere." The Japanese are especially sensitive to the disruption of fuki, even when the fuki in question may be the one inside a fuzoku shop in Kabukicho. Every time there's a police crackdown in a fuzoku district, the process is referred to as "fuki no midare wo torishimaru (disciplining or correcting the disruption of moralistic atmosphere)."

In most junior high schools, there are teachers and a select student body in charge of protecting the fuki, and this includes everything from checking everyone's uniforms (button up those collars, please), to blowing the whistle on couples making out in the gym lockers after class. To be a member of the fuki iin corps (fuki patrol corps) is an avoid-at-all-costs duty, unless you want to be spend your junior high years friendless, dateless and perpetually stiff-necked from tight collars.

Other kaze words include fumi (taste) which has very subtle connotations. Fumi refers less to the actual taste than the suggestive hints, or undertones, of a particular dish. Fuzei, comprised of the characters kaze and jyo (feeling or pity), means attractiveness, allure, beauty. Furyu, a combination of kaze and "flow," means "chic." Fukaku comprised of kaze and kaku (rank) means "dignity." Some words can be graphic. For example, tsufu (gout) is a combination of "painful" and kaze, which sufferers of the disease say is quite accurate. A surprising one is furo (bath), comprised of kaze and "small fire." A clever one is kaze and shi (sting) which means "satire."

Interestingly, kaze plus the character for "evil" (jya) is pronounced simply kaze and refers to "cold," as in "having a cold." In English, a kaze (cold) is something one has. In Japanese, it's something we hiku (draw), like a bad lottery ticket. And when the cold gets bad, we don't draw it anymore -- we just get entangled in it (kojiraseru), The image is close to being blown about by a raging wind, hair and clothing awhirl. Language-wise, it sounds easier to get rid of a cold than it is to get rid of a kaze. A cold can be suppressed or eliminated (with "warmth" for example), but there's little one can do about a wind except wait for it to stop blowing. According to Zen medical techniques, the most logical and effective way to cure a kaze is to behave as normally as possible and wait it out.

The wind can come and go, wreak havoc or not, and either help us or destroy us. It can also be a convenient excuse to be vague or insubstantial. A girlfriend of mine once gave as the sole reason for breaking off a four-year relationship: "iyana kaze ga fuitekita (an ill wind blew)," causing her partner to fume and wonder if that was all he would get out of her. The most famous kaze word in the west, of course, is kamikaze (divine wind), which has all but exited current conversational circuits, except maybe late-night mah-jongg games. Players will jokingly pray for a holy wind to blow, changing the course of the game and saving their hides. Which is of course, what the guys in Nagata-cho must be doing every night.



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