View Full Version : Article: Japanese way of death

John Lindsey
4th February 2003, 12:47
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by Ed Jacob

Quick. Name five French words that are commonly used in English, no food names allowed. We came up with amour, raison d’etre, déjà vu, gourmet, and savoir faire. Love, food, and philosophy. Now name five Japanese words. Ours were, tsunami, karaoke, hari-kari, kamikaze, and samurai. Four out of five related to death, destruction, and war. Japan is obviously getting a bad rap, linguistically at least.
It sometimes seems like everything westerners know about Japan is somehow related to death and violence. It all starts in childhood with Godzilla movies, Judo chops and the world’s best loved professional assassin, the ninja. And remember social studies class? What did you learn about? Earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, Pearl Harbor, kamikaze and Hiroshima. As adults, we graduate to reading Samurai epics like Shogun, which are full of suicides and beheadings, or watching Akira Kursawa slow-motion death scenes on video. Even the food is a little scary. Poisonous fugu, and living fish served skewered on a plate, wriggling and staring up at you as if begging you not to eat it are just two or Japan’s morbid culinary offerings. Everything we read in the newspapers seems to be about death too: sarin gas attacks, suicide and karoshi....