Last year I went to Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo’s Koto Ward to see a museum housing the ç¬¬äºç¦ç«ä¸¸ (Dai-go Fukuryu Maru, aka No. 5 Lucky Dragon), the ill-fated fishing boat that inadvertently sailed too close to a æ°´çå®é¨ (suibaku jikken, thermonuclear test) at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1954.
This led me to wonder why many Japanese ships were named ä¸¸ (maru); but nobody I asked seemed to have a satisfactory explanation. It eventually dawned on me that the authoritative “åºè¾è (Kojien)” dictionary ought to know, and in it I found an amazingly straight forward explanation: Maru was simply a variation on the male suffix “maro,” which is applied to personal names, as well as to swords and ships.
ãªãã»ã© (Naruhodo, I see). The first “maro” who came to my mind was åå¤å·æéº¿ (Kitagawa Utamaro), a famous woodblock-print artist in the Edo Period (1603-1867). At any rate, this answers the question as to whether Japanese regard ships as male or female â they are definitely the former.
I had previously noticed something curious about the names of Japanese medications, whose final sound, with few exceptions, seemed to be “n” â whether their name was written in kanji or the katakana syllabary, and whether the drugs were of the æ¼¢æ¹ (kampÅ, traditional herbal) or Western-style. Examples abound: ãããã³ (Philopon), ãªããã¿ã³ (Lipovitan), æå¿ (Kyushin), é¾è§æ£ (Ryukakusan), etc.
Actually there’s a practical reason for this. In earlier times, names were printed on containers using ç¸¦æ¸ã (tategaki, vertical writing), so people always knew which direction to read. But that was not the case in later years, when labels began to be printed in æ¨ªæ¸ã (yokogaki, horizontal writing). Some of these were written out from right to left and others from left to right.
To avoid confusion that might result in someone mistakenly taking the wrong drug, names were created that ended with ã or ã³ (the final n) â which is the one character that can only appear at the end of words.
Some drugs have colorful names, such as the above-mentioned Ryukakusan, whose characters mean “dragon horn powder.” The name for Taiko Pharmaceutical’s odiferous intestinal medicine Seirogan, developed around the time of the Russo-Japanese war, was originally written with the jingoistic kanji å¾è·¯ä¸¸, which meant “subjugate Russian pills.” Even now, the label on Taiko’s bottles still features a åå (rappa, army bugle). The third character, moreover, could also mean bullet, since the second character in the word for bullet å¼¾ä¸¸ (dangan), is the same as the word for pill.
After peace was restored, Seirogan retained the same pronunciation, but changed its first character so that the name read æ£é²ä¸¸ meaning “righteous dew pills.”
I’ve encountered lots of fascinating stories behind the names of companies and their products. When visiting the corporate headquarters of game-maker ä»»å¤©å (Nintendo) in Kyoto years ago, I was told by the late game-designer Gunpei Yokoi that its founder had named the company from an old adage that goes äººäºãå°½ããã¦å¤©å½ãå¾ ã¤ãéãå¤©ã«ä»»ãã (Jinji wo tsukushite tenmei wo matsu, un wo ten ni makaseru, to do one’s utmost and leave the rest to heaven, and leave the vagaries of fortune to heaven) followed by å (do), meaning a shop.
Datsun, a once-familiar car marque recently revived in several overseas markets by Nissan Motor Co., has its origins in its predecessor firm DAT Motorcar Co. DAT was coined from the surnames of the three founding partners, Messrs. Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi. A new compact model launched in 1931 was named Datson â son of DAT. But the romanized spelling was quickly changed from “son” to “sun” because “son” in Japanese is a homonym for æ (son, financial loss).
In Japanese, Datsun is pronounced ããããµã³ (Datto-san). And it just so happens that the word è±å (datto) means to dash off like a scared rabbit, which implies that a Datto-san is capable of brisk acceleration â so no doubt helping to endear the car in the minds of the motoring public.
Datto opens the door to quite a few compound words beginning with è± (datsu), which can mean to omit, to remove, to disconnect or to reject. At first glance, its classifier appears to be the 4-stroke æ (tsuki, moon), but this is actually an abbreviated form of the 6-stroke è (niku, meat) and is called èæ (nikuzuki, literally “meat-moon”). When used as a verb it is read è±ã (nugu, to take off or remove). For instance, a snake shedding its skin is said to è±ç®ãã (dappi suru).
Other words, typically followed by the verb ãã (suru, to do), would include è±å¸½ (datsubÅ, to remove one’s hat); è±ç· (dassen, derailment of a train); è±ç¨ (datsuzei, tax evasion); è±è¼ (dakkyÅ«, dislocation of a joint); è±æ°´ (dassui, dehydration); è±å¡© (datsuen, desalinization of sea water); and è±ç (datsugoku, to escape from prison). Two fairly recent additions to the list would be è±å (dappoku, to defect from North Korea) and è±ãµã© (datsu-sara, to quit a salaried job and go into business for oneself).