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Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

It takes a lot of guts in Katakana Land


One struggle in learning Japanese is getting a grip on all the various loan words that have slipped into the vernacular from abroad.

Lots of these are high-tech creations that have more or less formed a new-world pidgin. I bet "Google," for example, now communicates anywhere on earth, from the Silicon Valley to Eskimo igloos to the steamiest corner of the Amazon warehouse.

A chunk of other loan words have entered Japanese from English, which should make learning them a piece of cake for native English speakers like me.

Not so. For English loan words can be bewitched when cast with a Japanese spell. Katakana Land is a zany place where "butts" become "hips," "smorgasbords" become "Vikings," "apartments" become "mansions" and on and on.

And the zaniest of all "borrowed" expressions? Well, one man's treasure is another man's trash, but my favorite gairaigo is the one, the only . . .

"Guts pose."

Now, if you are Japanese, don't expect "guts pose" to communicate overseas.

But — for fun — try it out. Walk up to someone on the street in New York, L.A. or wherever and say, "Excuse me, sir, but please show me a 'guts pose' "

Yet all you will be shown is a funny look. Not a guts pose.

Which in Katakana Land has become how one describes an involuntary gesture of achievement, most commonly seen in athletics. Like this:

The pitcher has the bases loaded and now faces a batter with biceps bigger than bowling balls. The count works to three-and-two and then . . . Whoosh! The batter swings and misses and the pitcher raises his fist in triumph!

That is a guts pose. The announcer then communicates to viewers what they have just witnessed.

"Matsuzaka did a guts pose!" But this is not announced; it is hyperventilated. As if the pose itself was newsworthy.

The box score? Matsuzaka . . . Six strikeouts, two walks, two earned runs and four guts poses.

Now I know the phrase is sometimes traced to former boxer "Guts" Ishimatsu, who used to do guts poses all the time, thus supposedly coining the expression. But with younger Japanese not even sure who Guts Ishimatsu is, the term has taken on a life of its own and expanded beyond mere fist-pumping.

Any emotional expression of victory now seems to qualify as a "guts pose." You can raise both arms in a "guts pose." You can pound your chest in a "guts pose." You can roar at the camera in a "guts pose."

Or do all three. Or more. It seems it's still a "guts pose."

Somehow this is all so Japanese. Where else would something spontaneous and unrestricted be categorized and boxed?

Where else would a sudden display of emotion be classified away almost as if a measurable statistic? As if the stoic samurai somehow needed a rational handle to explain his outburst of joy.

In English, any of the myriad of possible "guts poses" would require separate, multiple word descriptions. That is, if any announcer should even choose to make comment. The emotion alone communicates. Words at such a time subtract rather than add.

But Japanese tend to contain emotion even when they can't. The term "guts pose" somehow makes this containment easier. And, at the same time, allows the emotion a lexical release.

And I therefore predict "guts poses" will one day be more prevalent throughout all Japanese society, not just the narrower framework of sports. For in Japan, form is everything and if an opportune expression can conveniently stamp form on the uncontrollable chaos of emotion, then in the end perhaps the emotions will be somehow easier to apply. So one day perhaps . . .

We will have housewives carving wieners into perfect octopi and raising their blades in triumph.

We will have salarymen stumbling upon that rarity of commuting rarities — an open seat — and bellowing in rush hour glory.

We will have junior high school youth stealing coquettish glances from their most secret sweethearts and pumping their fists in jubilation.

We will have octogenarians passing their urine tests and dropping to their knees in soccer-style slides of joy.

We will have the homeless scooping forgotten coins from the ticket machines and cartwheeling from the station.

And we will have toddlers, making that mighty leap from diapers to potty trainers, who will spring up in unmitigated — and upwiped — delight.

It will be a revolution, not of emotion, but of guts poses!

Or so my thinking goes. Gutsy idea? Or have I been carried away by my own emotion? I do feel winded.

Of course, such explosions of passion must be unplanned. For in Katakana Land, a "planned" expression of joy is no longer a "guts pose."

No, then it is a "performance." Everything has its proper box.

I find I am at my word limit. Meaning two things . . .

1. Another column is now finished. And . . .

2. Both my fists are in the air!

Performance? Guts pose?

Once out of Katakana Land, it doesn't really matter.



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