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Sunday, April 1, 2007

COUNTERPOINT

Words to win hearts and minds the Japanese way


Special to The Japan Times

Over the years, the Japanese language has been called many things: inscrutably ambiguous, frustratingly vague and positively untranslatable.

But such pernicious accusations are about to be laid to rest once and for all.

The government of Japan, no less, is intent on demonstrating that just because some Japanese people don't mean what they mean, it doesn't mean they don't mean business, if you get my meaning.

And if you don't, then please read on.

All that has been lacking to date has been a dictionary which not only gives definitions but reveals the pleasant truth into the bargain. Now, the government is about to issue a startling new tome, "The Dictionary of All-Too-True Japanese Words and Phrases." Here's a preview of key words and phrases.

Utsukushii kuni. Literally, "beautiful country," this term, actually, is replacing "Japan" as the official name of the nation. Abbreviated, the Land of the Rising Sun will soon be known as the U.K.

Seiken kotai. You may be told by native Japanese that this means "change of government or party," but don't believe it for a minute. Though, like the unicorn, seiken kotai has been described in detail, in fact it does not exist as anything other than a contentious philosophical concept. But using the term does lead people both in and outside Japan to believe that there is such a thing as a political opposition in Japan (see yato below), so it has "convenience value."

Yato. Literally, "party in the field," hence "opposition party," but in actuality "party out of the field." It is a little-known fact that the various opposition parties in Japan -- including New Komeito, the Democratic Party of Japan and even the Communist Party -- are clandestine branches of the Liberal Democratic Party (see Jiminto below) and are entirely funded and supported by the LDP. Some conservative members of the LDP have advocated bringing these "parties in the field" openly under the roof of the LDP, but they are more strategically useful if the myth of their independent existence is staunchly maintained.

Jiminto. This stands for "Liberal Democratic Party." Set up with funding from the American CIA ("Capitalism's Insurance Agency") and given a boost by gold stolen from China by Japanese war criminals, this party that has monopolized power for more than half a century enjoys the unequivocal support of the Japanese people. As one LDP kuromaku (wirepuller) confessed recently, "We don't have to rig elections like they do in Florida, because the Japanese people know we're going to win anyway."

Yasukuni Jinja. This is the famed Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of Japan's war dead, including those of A-Class war criminals, are celebrated. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, among others who preceded him, made it a point to visit this shrine, defying adverse public opinion from abroad. It is rumored that the present prime minister, Shinzo Abe, far from removing the allegedly tainted souls from the shrine, is about to add to its ethereal list those of Chinese strongman Mao Zedong, North Korean demigod Kim Il Sung and Curtis LeMay, the U.S. general responsible for firebombing Japanese cities during World War II. Abe has apparently chosen Gen. LeMay's insightful bon mot to be inscribed at the shrine's entrance: "There are no innocent civilians, so it doesn't bother me so much to be killing innocent bystanders."

The enshrining of the sacred souls of these three charismatic non-Japanese heroes will ensure that official worship at the shrine will not only not be opposed by China, North Korea and the U.S. in the future, but also that George W. Bush, and similar Chinese and North Korean leaders, will make it a point to pray at Yasukuni Shrine.

Said Prime Minister Abe of the new revolutionary policy: "We Japanese don't discriminate among heroes. It's love of country that counts, not the tens of millions of people who have been murdered for it." (See Aikokushin below.)

Adorable Iraqi children

Aikokushin. This means "patriotism," and Aikokushin 101 will be the new compulsory course in all Japanese schools from April 2008. The required textbook covers modern Japanese history exhaustively from the forcible opening of the West to Japan in the 19th century to the peaceful and mutually prosperous colonization of Manchukuo (the textbook reprises this old patriotic name for Manchuria) in the 1930s. Then it takes up the story from the founding of the LDP in 1955, ends temporarily in 1990 with a booming and bubbly economy, and resumes the triumphant tale with witty anecdotes about adorable Iraqi children written by Self-Defense Force personnel in 2005. Required singing for Aikokushin 101: The National Anthem; Required reading for Aikokushin 101: (Foreign Minister) Taro Aso's "History of the Aso Mining Company in Full-Color Manga Illustrations."

Amakudari. Literally, "descent from the heavens," this lofty term refers to the routine practice of powerful bureaucrats being handed a golden parachute upon retirement, with which they sail comfortably into cushy positions in big business. This hoary custom ensures strict continuity in policy. In other words, thanks to amakudari, major corporations can maintain intimate ties with the government agencies that regulate them, thereby ascertaining just how much money they need to hand over to politicians who make the laws for the bureaucrats. This term has given rise to the proverb, "Amakudari ni kuchinashi, hito o shite kore o iwashimu" -- namely "Influence peddling has no mouth, but speaks through man's lips."

Kujira. Whale, whale meat. "A staple of the traditional Japanese diet and the primary source of protein for the nation." This is a quote from a Japanese government pamphlet titled "Kokoro ni Kujira o (Put a Whale in Your Heart)." This fascinating document includes yummy recipes for "Whale shabushabu," a hearty whale-and-potato stew called "Kujira-jaga" -- and the latest craze, "Fukimakizushi," which is raw sperm whale blubber rolled in rice and seaweed with green peas. The green peas were chosen because, as pronounced by Japanese, there is no difference between "green peas" and "Greenpeace."

Kyukyusha. Ambulance. This is a state-of-the-art, hi-tech vehicle driven by fully trained mechanics who rush you not to the nearest hospital, but to a designated "emergency hospital," ensuring that if you break your collarbone, after a frantic 90-minute ride you will have the best appendectomy available in a prefecture adjacent to yours.

ZKKT, or Zenkoku Kyukyusha o Kangaeru Tomonokai (National Friends for Thinking about Ambulances), advises: "If you aren't actually dead, we recommend you walk to the hospital or clinic in your neighborhood." (See synonym: reikyusha, or "hearse.")

"The Dictionary of All-Too-True Japanese Terms and Phrases" does not include words describing phenomena that are officially classified as "all-too-true-to-have-never-existed." For instance, you will search in vain for Nankin Daigyakusatsu (Nanjing Massacre) and Jugun Ianfu (military "comfort women").

Japanese Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Nariaki Nakayama writes in the preface: "Our job is to see that the past does not harm our ability in the present to rewrite the future."

The government is planning to place a copy of "The Dictionary of All-Too-True Japanese Terms and Phrases" in every bedside-table drawer of every hotel in Japan, next to the Holy Bible and Teachings of the Buddha.

Adds Minister Nakayama prophetically, "We are not only talking about the truth here. Anybody can make up the truth. Words are sacred to us Japanese. If you put words into people's mouths, their hearts and minds are yours forever."



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