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Saturday, June 3, 2006
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Just say it ain't so, Joe
At times in my life I have been vain enough to imagine my name up in lights, embossed upon a novel or even typed beneath the head of a newspaper column. A good one, I mean.
But never had I imagined my name where I see it now -- printed on the back of a Tokyo Giants jersey.
Meet Joe Dillon. And he is no ordinary Joe. Rather he is the new foreign slugger for the baseball team with the most rabid fan base in all of sports. The Giants are, in fact, hard to be neutral about. Either you love them or -- if you have any brains at all -- you hate them. Like I said, it's hard to be neutral.
But this is not a column about the Giants, those pompous stiffs, who currently roster Joe on their second team. No, no, this is about Joe. And the name that he and I share.
We may share more than just the name. For the males on my father's side bear an eerie resemblance to this latest pride of the Giants. They have the same barrel chest, the same eager face, the same . . . beady eyes. As for me -- I take after my mother.
But I also inherited her athleticism. As a kid, I sacrificed three front teeth to a baseball I never saw coming. Joe, however, would probably have hit that ball to kingdom come. He has that certain Dillon swagger about him. Meanwhile, all I have is a stagger.
Yet there's more. Joe Dillon -- outfielder, infielder and sometimes DH -- was born on Aug. 2. And my birthday? You will not believe it.
Yep, only our years are different, although under the right light I too might pass for 30. But better make that a Bud Light. And lots of them.
Furthermore, my wife and I almost named our second son Joe. It was my top choice, even. My wife, however, changed my mind, and here's why. She reasoned some Japanese would see our son's name in print and read it as two syllables, with the romanized "e" tagged with the sound of "a," as in "Jay." So Joe might end up being "Jo-ay." This was not what we had in mind, so we either had to fiddle with the spelling or pick a new name. In the end, we sort of did both and our son became . . . Jay.
Which brings us to the name of Dillon. Cousin Joe, it is hard enough seeing the family DNA cloaked in a Giants uniform, but please make them get our name right!
The English is OK. But in Japanese you are "DiROn" when you should be "DiRAn."
I know, I know. Japanese see the "lo" combination and figure it should be rendered as "ro." As a matter of fact, I have had Japanese argue that I absolutely, positively, beyond any doubt HAD to write "Dillon" as "Diron" because of that "lo." If not, I would be wrong about my own name.
It is humiliating to have someone correct you when you write your name. Good intentions aside, such people assume that by their inherent knowledge of Japanese, they know how to put your name into their language better than you do.
I will grant them the knowledge of their language. But I know my own name. And I am not "Diron." Neither, Joe, are you.
Now I could extrapolate on this and claim that the mindless correlation of romanized script and Japanese kana can be linked to the same kind of group-think that produces elitism, school bullies and Giants fans. Yet let's just say the writing systems of English and Japanese do not match up. To use spelling as a means for transliterating names is folly. It has to be done by sound.
Some people disagree and say that if you use spelling as a base, you then stand a chance of Japanese writing your name correctly if they should flip it back to English.
Those people are idiots, Joe. Don't listen to them. For you have an "l" in your/our name. No way will Japanese look at a "ro" and come up with an English "lo," let alone an "llo." You will be penned down as "Diron" or "Dirron." And they will still mispronounce it.
So the spelling method stinks. Forget them spelling your name right. But they can pronounce it right, or at least come close. All they have to do is write "ra" in Japanese instead of "ro."
Which is what I chose to do when I first came to Japan. I wanted people to address me the way our Dillon ancestors meant us to be addressed. I would have switched the "to" in "Tom" to katakana "ta" as well, had not decades of mistakes with "Tom Sawyer" so solidified the Japanese bastardizing of my first name.
Of course, Japanese don't like their names being chewed up by foreigners either. And they shouldn't. But the best place to start getting things right is at home.
Sure, they will tell you that if you use "ra," your Japanese name will be just like Bob Dylan's. So what? Pronunciation-wise, it is. Tell them such duality is no more unusual than there being different kanji for, say, Honda, or any number of other Japanese names. Bob Dylan/Joe Dillon. It's a match.
Laugh when you say this and point out that the English spelling system is screwy anyhow, certainly inferior to the noble Japanese language. So why even bother with spelling? Tell them to go by sound. Become Diran, not Diron.
If that doesn't convince them, then beat them up. With forearms like yours, it should be easy.
Whatever you do, just get those insipid Giants announcers to stop butchering our name.
And have a great season. I'll be cheering for you -- even if you are a Giant. After all, family is family.
P.S.: Remember that when I call for tickets.
To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org