It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last time we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘ya’ (や), focussing on やだ (yada), which means ‘I don’t like it’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘yu’ (ゆ). A big thank you for the suggestions I received this week (it was a tough one, wasn’t it?):
Japan Australia suggested ‘yuuzuu ga kiku’ (融通が利く), ‘to be flexible’; and ‘yuttari’ (ゆったり), ‘loose’ or ‘calm’.
Although these were great ideas, I decided to write about something else this week…
指切りする / ゆびきりする
I’ve spent most of this afternoon trying to come up with something interesting to write about, and decided there must be some interesting phrases or sayings related to fingers, or ‘yubi’. After bypassing ‘yubitsume‘ (指詰め), the act of finger shortening to atone for offences (common among Yakuza (ヤクザ), Japanese gangsters), I finally settled on ‘yubikiri suru’ (指切りする).
The kanji readers among you will notice that ‘yubikiri’ is made up of two simple parts: 指 (yubi), meaning ‘finger’, and 切る (kiru), meaning ‘to cut’. So what’s all this business about cutting fingers if it’s nothing to do with Yakuza?
‘Yubikiri (suru)’ is basically a ‘pinkie swear’ – a promise made between two people (usually children or lovers, but it could be anyone).
There’s actually a little song that goes with a ‘yubikiri’. The two people making the promise lock fingers together, and then sing:
yubi kiri genman (指切りげんまん)*
uso tsuitara (うそ ついたら)
hari senbon nomasu (針 千本 飲ます)
yubi kitta (指切った)
This roughly translates as:
Cutting fingers, linking fingers to confirm a promise*
If I tell a lie
Drink 1000 needles
and cut my finger
*’Genman’ (げんまん) is translated in different ways. Above I have gone with the translation ‘linking fingers to confirm a promise’, which seems to make the most sense in this context, but some people translate ‘gen’ as ‘fist’ and ‘man’ as ‘10,000’, and say that as well as having to drink 1,000 needles if you break the oath you will also get 10,000 punches.
Here’s a very cute video in case you’d like to hear how it goes:
This traditional song is a common playground song and all school children in Japan would probably have grown up knowing it, much like the songs we have in the UK such as ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses‘. It’s said that the song dates back to the Edo Period (1603 – 1868).
It’s possible there is a connection between this idea of a ‘pinkie promise’ and the Yakuza culture of ‘yubitsume’, but I don’t have any evidence of that. I also read that some prostitutes used to cut of the tip of their pinkie and give it to an important customer to show their loyalty, but again I don’t know if this is true, or connected to the song. According to Wikipedia, pinkie promises have existed in America since at least 1860, although it’s thought the tradition came to Japan from China and could be connected to the “belief that soulmates are connected by a red strong of fate attached to each of their pinkies”.
Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘yo’ (よ), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘yokattara’ (よかったら) meaning ‘if you like’ , would be acceptable, but ‘Yokohama’ (横浜), the place, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v