A long time ago now, I was watching my favourite (and sadly discontinued) Japanese TV show Eigo De Shabera Naito and in that particular episode it interviewed a few half-Japanese people who ran a radio station in Kobe. I was pretty shocked when almost all of them stated that they didn’t like having it mentioned that they were half-whatever.
You see, I am half-Colombian. So even though my character is as English as hell I am proud to say that I have some Colombian in me. Being half-English and half-Colombian makes a very special, more unique whole and is a lot more interesting than being simply of just one culture. This is the way I have always thought about things and so I was surprised when the people being interviewed didn’t like it said.
Fast forward a little and in the process of learning Japan I learnt how to introduce myself. Obviously being half-Colombian is quite important to me so I learnt how to say it in Japanese: “coronbiajin no haafu desu”. I didn’t really think about it again for a while.
Fast forward until more recently and I discovered that when the Japanese talk about someone who has one Japanese parent they simply refer to them as haafu with no more explanation. At the time I put this down to quaint Japanese historical reasons that I don’t really want to get into here. Whatever the case it seems that whatever their other half happens to be is not important.
Leap forward one last time dear chrononaut to a few weeks ago and my house-mates were discussing a 4 or 5 year old student who lived in Canada when she was younger and comes out with some quite funky sentences. When one asked the other if both her parents were Japanese and this was answered in the affirmative he said “I thought she may have been a half“.
Suddenly those interviews I had watched years earlier made perfect sense. How offensive does it sound in English to be referred to as only half a person? Maybe there are other reasons for their shunning of the term but maybe if you are a half-Japanese, half-English speakingplaceperson and understand what these words mean and imply in both languages, you can’t help but be unhappy.
It’s strange how words can be loaded with so much meaning.
Today I discovered that there is no word in Japanese for “savoury”. The nearest thing a dictionary comes out with is “spicy” and that’s just not right at all. This got my thinking about words that the Japanese have but have no real English equivalent. Due to my amazingly poor Japanese I can only think of one:
I really can’t think of any English word that quite sums up the way genki is used. Sure, the direct translation for “How are you?” <Are you well?> is “genki desu ka?” (元気ですか) but genki means so much more than just “well”. I don’t think I could adequately translate the meaning and it’s usage with resorting to gestures and mime.
I don’t know quite what it says about our cultures that these particular words are missing but I did once hear that there is no German word for “fluffy”. Read into that what you will.