CURIOUS FOREIGNERS who prowl the darkest alleys of Tokyo, who dart into secret red-light bars in Osaka, or bolt up the stairs of the corrugated slum brothels near the port of Yokohama, quickly realize that there is much more to the Japanese language than meets the ear. What they have stumbled on are Japan's fascinating secret languages: the ingo (hidden words) or ago (jaw) used by looters, car heisters, prostitutes, pimps, bag snatchers, muggers, and wallet swipers. As one descends deeper and deeper into the Japanese underworld, the language becomes more potent and rich in clandestine trade words and covert metaphors.
At the street level, everyone uses the same rough and unbridled slang. But by the time the sub rosa crowd secretly congregates in its back-alley clubs and bars, each group slips into its own exclusive, razorfine argot. Secrecy is of paramount importance: delicate heists need to be mapped out, strategies analyzed, financial matters discussed, illegitimate meetings set up, and bands of looters returning from a successful stint might want to recap their triumph over a few loud and festive drinks. What, however, if the person who is quietly nursing a drink at the end of the bar is aori–an undercover cop?
One wrong word can unleash a shower of handcuffs.
It has been this professional need for utter discretion that has played the most important role in the fast-paced development of Japan's “hidden” languages. A careful criminal will linguistically only trust his or her closest peers, which is why bagsnatcherese is so different from pickpocketese, and why brothel, sex-bathhouse, and massage-parlor talk, although closely related, will veer off and become unintelligible when hot technicalities are broached.
Another important reason for the heated development of underworld slang has been the day-to-day need for special criminal trade expressions. Japanese looter slang, for instance, stocks its lexicon with long lists of labyrinthine terms, ranging from hundreds of nouns for house doors and alarm systems to verbs covering every conceivable method of breaking and entering. The lock specialists, on the other hand, have a name for every segment of a lock or a bolt, and strings of exotic words for lock-picking needles, master keys, and the top, bottom, or side sections of tumbler pins. Pickpocketing verbs can name every larcenous flick of the wrist, and special nouns specify wallets by their position in a pocket, their size, the visibility of their outline through the trouser material, the degree of their emptiness or fullness, and whether they are brimming over with bills, or merely heavy with small change.
The other important initiative behind the growth of Japan's secret slang has been the herd instinct, defined in trendy Japanese as uii-izumu (we-ism). Japanese criminals prefer to operate out of an association or gang, in which private language or jargon becomes the invisible club badge. To be one of the boys you first of all have to speak like one of the boys. When teenage roughnecks are initiated into the bottom ranks of a gang they frantically imitate the dashing language of their power-wielding elders, who themselves had imitated the locution of their elders. When youngsters join a criminal association they immediately cleanse their vocabulary of all trendy English words and jingly adolescent expressions, and adopt the gang's tough and mature vernacular. It is this orthodox traditionalism in the Japanese under-world that has led it to conserve long-forgotten medieval and even pre-medieval expressions. A shintabukuro (money sack) is still a wallet on Tokyo's streets, just as it used to be in the good old samurai days, and a shintagamari (from shinta kamari, “the money lunges in”) is still a wallet that is brimming over with cash. Some groups call a snooping policeman Sakubei, the name of some medieval lawman, while a long-forgotten idiot, Kinjr, is still invoked in criminal circles as an unpleasant insult.
When gangs bring up sexual organs, elegant and elaborate ancient words abound. Kintare (golden dangle) and suzuko (bell child) are general synonyms for testicles, while katakin (side gold) is the one testicle that dangles visibly lower than the other. Kenke (pickles) refers to scrota that pull themselves up into stiff small balls during arousal.
In the West, we expect slang to change with every high school graduation class. What is new is decided in teenage circles, and we turn to the MTV channel to keep up with the seasonal changes. We find out that “Whoops, there it is!” was the summer-of-1993 term for “Nice ass!” or “Gosh, her shorts are short!” For an introduction to American street speech, we tune our sets to the post-L.A.-riot tirades of youthful West Coast gang members. As round after round of unintelligible phrases pour out, we are increasingly convinced that slang is an impenetrable, if transient, mechanism of the young.
On Japan's streets, however, it is the older criminal generation, the men in power, who decide what words are in and what words are out. New slang must be constantly conjured up, as the streetwise Japanese police eagerly snatch up all the clandestine expressions they can find. The captured words then make their way into the police's own private jargon, with the result that what is fashionable in the under-world one season is bandied about in police boxes the next.
But where do illegal brothel associations, pickpocketing leagues, bands of looters, drug pushers, and pink-salon masseuses turn to for new words?
One favorite method is to take existing slang words and revamp them with new associations. Teka (bright), for instance, has been used for generations on Tokyo's streets to mean “fire,” and soon arson came to be known as teka o tsukeru (adding the bright), which then changed into a dialectized deka o tsukeru. The next playful step was tekkari (twinkle): robbing and then torching the building to cover one's tracks. Then tekkari took on the meaning “summer,” then “unseasonably hot,” then just plain “it's hot today, isn't it?” The most irreverent use of tekkari has been for matches:
• Oi, tekkari motteru ka?
Yo, you got matches?
An even quicker method of creating a neologism is to invert existing words, rendering them incomprehensible in quick speech. This characteristic is also prevalent in French, Argentinian Spanish, Korean, Hindi, Indonesian, and Javanese street slangs. Khii (coffee), and baibai (bye bye), are playfully flipped over into hikk and ibaiba. On a grittier level, chinpo (penis) becomes pochin, shiroi (“white,” i.e. cocaine) becomes roishi, hero (heroin) becomes roha, and keibu (police) becomes bukei. This trend, known as gyakugo (topsy-turvy words) is often taken further than just simple syllabic reversal. Yato, for instance, a malignant street word for razor, sprung from yatoko, which is the inversion of tokoya (barber shop). The case of how the southern Japanese town of Shimonoseki became a popular train station-thief word for luggage involves an even knottier web of word changes. The standard kaban (bag) was first reversed into banka, which then developed into bakan. The station crowd looked at the new word and realized that it could be written with the characters ba (horse) and kan (barrier), the same character used for the noseki portion of the town of Shimonoseki.
This art of capsizing words, however, had been quickly mastered by the police, and the street crowd set out to marshal new expressions of a more covert nature. The handiest source of impenetrable words turned out to be the ethnic Korean and Chinese gangsters who had poured into the Japanese under-world in the post-World War II years. The abrupt Korean word for dog (k) came to mean “police,” while kujuri was used as a secret Korean word for “money,” hza for “wallet,” and higehachiya for “murder.” No Japanese policeman, the gangsters argued, could possibly guess that tjitari, Korean for “pig's leg,” means gun. The Chinese words, the Japanese gangsters felt, were even more exotic: tsu maimai, Chinese for “going into business,” came to mean “looting,” and ryahiyatan, Chinese for “swatting insects,” was redirected to mean “blasting down walls.”
Another swift way of replenishing a criminal lingo's lexicon was to bring in provincial dialect words. In Japan, vocabulary, speech patterns, and accents are liable to change from one village to the next, which guarantees that any novel words brought in from distant provinces will nonplus even the most cunning eavesdropper. Eri o tsukeru, for instance, to the untrained Japanese ear means “to wear a collar.” But in Tokyo's breaking-and-entering circles, it came to mean “picking locks,” an expression that trickled down to the big city from northeastern Japan. Sanpira (lock) and geri (widget) are reputed to have been borrowed from Wakayama dialects, while pika (to flick open a switchblade) came from the Yamaguchi dialect.
The dialect words have made their strongest impact on red-light speech. Sexual organs from every corner of Japan have managed to make their way down into metropolitan sex bars, brothels, bathhouses, and massage parlors. An interesting twist ofJapanese semantics which has brought many a brothel conversation to a screeching halt, is that what is the word for a female organ in one part of a province might turn into a testicle a few miles down the road, and then a few miles further down become a penis.
I had originally planned Japanese Slang Uncensored as a tough, reveal-it-all sequel to my first language book, Japanese Street Slang. My intention had been to reveal more of these tough forbidden street words that could never slither under the blocks of a self-respecting printing press. But as I continued moving down in Japanese society from interview to interview, I became fascinated with what my word suppliers did for a living. The deeper I slipped, the stronger the speakers' personality and modus vivendi shone through the words. Making a dazzling list of alphabetized taboo terms might be fun and linguistically rewarding, but I realized that in order to really get to the roots of the slang I would also have to dig down to the social foundation of the group I was listening to.
As I began writing Japanese Slang Uncensored I became increasingly convinced that the strongest slang would pale if it were not presented along with its speakers. I decided to use these secret, “hidden words” to reveal the shadowy sections of Japanese society that few upstanding Japanese and even fewer Westerners ever have the opportunity to explore.
1. Japanese Thieves
IN THE darker corners of Japan's street scene, till tappers, pickpockets, heistmen, and bank crackers are tightly knit, along with thieves of every description, into a web of underworld associations and networks. Age-old street hierarchies still prevail, and modern Japanese thieves, much like modern Japanese businessmen, are classed according to their experience, track record, age—and whom they know. Some criminal corporations are rich; their eriito (elite) or top executives govern ten, twenty, and even thirty city blocks with an iron fist. Other groups are shoddy and small and work out of a street or alley, snatching handbags,lifting wallets, and stripping cars. But whatever their rank or affiliation, professional purloiners would be outraged should they be referred to as dorob (thieves), sett (larcenists), gt (burglars), or oihagi (robbers).
• Agari da'tte, tondemo n! Ore wa akainu daze!
Me, a riser? No way! I'm a red dog!
(Me, climb into houses? No way! I'm an arsonist!)
Newcomers to the Japanese street soon realize that thieves come in two sizes: the shinobikomi, “those who enter crawling” (smooth criminals who work with circumspection), and the odorikomi, “those who enter dancing” (brash criminals with guns). While successful dancers are applauded for their devil-may-care recklessness, the experienced crawler is admired for the light-fingered strategy with which he or she will calculate a heist. A house is chosen, inhabitants watched, police movements in the neighborhood monitored, and locks and alarm systems studied. When a crawler finally moves in on his target he carefully accounts for the weather, the time, and the presence or absence of a victim.
In classical criminal slang an unattended house full of choice loot was referred to as akisu (empty nest), and “crawling” thieves who specialized in these houses were secretly known as akisunerai (empty-nest targeters). But the police uncovered the word, adopted it, and soon began using it in official reports. Akisunerai spread like wild fire. It was snatched up by newspapers, detective novels, gangster movies, cartoons, and finally even dictionaries.
With akisunerai flushed out of hiding, new code words appeared on the streets. Empty houses were rebaptized nukesu (void nests), nuke for short, and ai (chance). Tokyo's Korean gangsters introduced their own exotic word, hotsuraiki. The more theatrical thieves took to calling their empty houses butai (stage). A sneak thief, they argued, could always guarantee a spectacular entry, a breathtaking performance, and a dashing exit. Some gangs took the thespian idea even further and began referring to breaking and entering as butai o fumu (stepping onto the stage) and even butai e kamaru (barging onto the stage).
• Yappa shu ni sankai ij butai o fumu mon ja nai yo—tama n'ya rerakkusu shin to.
You know I really wouldn't step on stage more than three times a week—one has to relax too, you know.
• Aitsu ga butai o funda no wa, are ga saigo datta no sa.
That was the last time he stepped onto the stage.
• Aitsu ja butai e kamaru'tte koto ga d y koto nan no ka chitto mo wakatcha in!
He really has no idea what barging onto the stage is all about!
• Asu ore ga butai e kamaru no o matte mira yo!
Just you wait till I barge onto that stage tomorrow!
The crawlers and sneak thieves who barged into these houses were also given new names. They reappeared as nukeshi (void specialists), nuke-chan (little Mr. Void), akishi (empty specialists), kisukai (from akisukai, “empty-nest buyer”), sukai (nest buyers), and, more elegantly, gaikin (commercial travelers). Shinobi (creeping into) was molded into a whole line of new words. Shinobishi (creep specialist) became the rage and after the police adopted it, it was pruned down to nobi and nobishi (nobi-master), and then, for optimum security, was further disguised as nobe and nobeshi.
The law, however, was quick to pick up on these words too, and feverish bands of burglars churned out ever more outlandish expressions. Sneak thieves became yaya (house-ters), yashiya (mansioners), tobi (kites), konch (bugs), and sagashi (seekers). Some clans even resorted to effervescent nonsensical names like zabu (bubbles), nagajirashi (long teasers), and nagashari (“noodles,” a word of dubious Buddhist priestly origin, literally “long Buddha's bones”). The idea that many of the older diehard professionals had the habit of carefully tiptoeing from room to room in their socks gave rise to the jejune quip shirotabi (white tabi-socks—traditional socks that younger and more fashion-conscious criminals would not be caught dead stealing in). In naughtier cliques, the now standard expression for sneak thief, akisunerai (empty-nest targeter), has been flipped into a rebarbative ketsunerai (ass targeter) and ketsusagashi (ass searcher). The logic behind this witty switch is that ketsu (ass) and ana (hole) are written with the same character. A sneak thief, the gangsters argue, prods about in the dark searching for a hole to enter.
The even earthier criminals go all out and refer to breaking and entering as kamahoru (ass fucking) and burglars as kamahori (ass fuckers).
• Aitsu mo karekore ketsunerai yatte yonj nen k!
Well, he's been an ass targeter for forty years now!
• Ketsusagashi'tte no wa mattaku hone no oreru shigoto daze!
Being an ass searcher is real stressful, you know!
• Kamahoru nante ore mo iya da yo! Shikashi uchi nya kak to gaki ga matte yagaru kara na!
I've had it with ass fucking! But what can I do, I have a wife and kids at home!
• Ana Kbe kara kita kamahori nakanaka yaru na.
That ass fucker from Kobe's real good.
Chaster bands have given their boys the swash-buckling names of the legendary neighborhood criminals of yesteryear. Tay, Tbe, Kanpei, or Sansho serve as practical synonyms in everyday gang jargon. The names of shoddier ancestors have also survived on the streets. These are doled out to sneak thieves who are less successful, such as Gonkichi, for individuals who never manage to pull off a hefty job, Gonsuke, for maladroit and bedraggled criminals who live from hand to mouth, and Heikur, for sneak thieves who, barely escaping from a botched-up job, are in hiding.
Gangs with a high ethnic Korean membership went in for a simpler linguistic solution. While their all-Japanese counterparts scraped for clever new secret terms, these gangs simply peppered their clandestine speech with exotic Korean expressions. Sneak thieves were given long and impenetrable names that were sure to baffle even the most streetwise police unit: chimruhetsuta, banchiorutokii, utsuharakachiya, and konkurusarubisa. Some of the more pronounceable Korean gang-words for stealers, such as sartgui (mouse), the hybrid chiuya (chiu, Korean for “rat,” and ya, Japanese for “guy”), and k (hound) made the broader national scene.
• Isage yo! Shita de Kawasaki no kutsuharakachiya om no koto matteru ze!
Hurry up! That heister from Kawasaki is waiting downstairs for you!
• Goji ni rei no konkurusarubisa to au tehazu da.
We're supposed to meet that heister guy at five.
After World War II, downtown Tokyo gangs had become ethnically even more diverse as hordes of eager Chinese youths spilled out of the tightly knit Chinatowns of Yokohama and Osaka. Both Japanese and Korean gangsters were charmed by the exotic vocabularies these new conscripts brought with them. Breaking into a house was given the pounding name hkoyau (banging at the furnace), which was inspired by the Japanese burglary words tonton (bang bang) and kanamono (ironmongery). The new secret words for burglar were honpa (from heng pa, “unconscionable snatcher”), chiin-chende (hard-cash-taker) and yauchienu (from yao qien, “wanting money”). Chiipaishu'ende became the alternative word for sneak thief, and ninkt (he who leaves no traces) was reserved for cream-of-the-crop master thieves.
• Shinmai no hkoyau umaku yatteru kai?
How's your new ironmonger working out?
• Ano honpa itsumo hitori de shigoto o yaru no sa.
You know, that unconscionable snatcher always works alone.
• Ore wa tekkiri ana chiin-chende wa kono hen no koto shitteru to omottan da ga n!
Man, I thought that hard-cash-taker knew the neighborhood!
• Oi, chotto kore mite miro yo! Kono ate wa saka no ninkt kara te ni ireta mono da ze!
Yo, take a look at this one! I got this door jagger from an Osaka pro!
Along with ethnic diversity came the initial wave of lock-picking and safe-cracking burglaresses. The first female mob bosses had begun ruling their streets with an iron fist, buying, selling, and even marrying their way up the violently masculine hierarchy of the Japanese underworld. In 1982 the struggle for criminal gender empowerment reached new heights when the gentle and soft-spoken Taoka Fumiko maneuvered herself onto the throne of Japan's largest and most powerful mob-syndicate, the Yamaguchi gang. With the first signs of equal employment opportunity, the toughest and most belligerent women mingled with their local sneak thief crowd and soon began acquiring their ownsanyabukuro (widget bags), in which they could neatly arrange their own tools of the sneak-thieving trade: koburi (master keys), harigane (wire-jiggers), neji (crowbars), hch (“kitchen cleavers,” or lock-breaking wrenches), and aka (“red,” or blow torch). This first generation of female professional burglars has been given a jargon name of Chinese gang extraction, b (the maternal ones).
Lootable homes were also ordered into strict categories. For instance, a house that is always left unattended in the morning is asa aki (morning empty), while hinaka (broad daylight), and hiru'kisu (noon-time empty-nest) are good midday targets.
• Asa aki bakkari to omotetan da n! Chhe! Poka shichimatta!
I thought that house was always empty in the mornings! Man was I wrong!
• Nagahama-dri wa hinaka darake datta no shitteta ka?
Did you know that Nagahama Street is full of empty houses at lunch time?
A quick noon job is known as hirumai (noontime dance), tent (heavenly road), or nitch o fumu (stepping on broad daylight). Thieves who work exclusively during lunch hours call themselves hishi (day masters), nitchshi (broad-daylight specialists), hiruwashi (noontime eagles) or, in downtown Tokyo, shirotobi. The origin of the word shirotobi has sparked great controversy among the gangs. Some maintain that it means “white kite,” others “white cape,” others still “white pilferer.” In his book Ingo Kotoba no Kuruizaki, the renowned linguist Umegaki Minoru argues that the shiro of shirotobi is really just a bastardization of shiru, the Tokyo-dialect word for lunchtime (hiru). The elegant shirotobi, he decrees, is none other than the modest hirutombi (lunchtime pilferer).
Homes that are regularly left defenseless in the evening are ranked as yoiaki (nightfall empty), and more poetically as bankei (evening scenery), and evening thieves call their sprees yoimatsuri (nightfall festivals), koigamari (dark crawls), yoigamari (evening crawls), and yoarashi (night intrusion).
• Yoiaki da to omotte shinobikonda no ni, bab ga neteru no mitsukete tamagechimatta ze!
I broke in thinking it was a nightfall empty, but this old bitch was asleep inside. Man, you should have seen me freak!
• Koko futaban no yoimatsuri wa mattaku hisan datta ze!
The last two nighttime festivals were a total flop!
• Kin no ban wa koigamari ni wa chotto samusugi da ze.
Last night was a bit too cold for a dark crawl.
Professionals who specialize in late-night thievery are known on street corners as kmori (bats), taka (hawks), yonaki (night cries), yash (night businessmen), yonashi (night specialists), and anma (traditional blind masseurs—they work in the dark, feeling their way around). Fuke (staying up late) is also used, along with nimble variations such as fukenin (stay-up-late person), and fukeshi (stay-up-late specialist). But heavy criminal jargon, in constant fear of police discovery, calls its nocturnal thieves tatonuhowa (blowing out the candle), ptairen (uninvolved guy), honteinu (confused in the dark), yauren (servant gang), and teinshin (by starlight), words of ethnic Chinese extraction, and kipuntoi, chinsa, and ssyotsu, of ethnic Korean background.
• Aitsu wa anma ni wa chotto toshi ga ikisugiteru ze.
He's getting to be a bit old to be a blind masseur.
• Oi, hora, are o mite miro yo! Kmori ga yojinobotteru ze!
Yo, man, take a look at that! Look at that bat scamper up!
• Oi, miro yo! Ano futari no chinsa wa Kawasaki ni sunderun da ze!
Yo, look there! Those two night thieves live in Kawasaki!
• Ano onna ga kono atari dewa ichiban no ssyotsu da'tte koto omae shitteta kai?
That woman there, did you know she's the best night thief around here?
Thieves who go on walks looking for eligible houses are said to be flowing (nagasu). During these flows, buildings are carefully appraised and classed according to potential loot, lighting, street exposure, and the accessibility of front and back entrances and windows. Likely looking houses are earmarked as anzan (“easy deliveries,” as in birth) or andon (flimsy lanterns), while buildings that offer easy entry but are dangerously close to busy roads or police stations are rated as gan kitsui (the eyes are tough), and more lyrically oki ga kurai (the seascape is dark).
• Nante kot'a! Koko wa anzen no hazu datta no ni, aitsu tsukamachimatta ze!
What the fuck! This was meant to be an easy job and he got busted!
• Iy! Nanda kono hen, zenbu andon ja n ka? Kor'a boro mke da ze!
Man! Fuckin'-A! This area is full of easy houses! We're really gonna cash in!
• Kono hen wa gan kitsui kara, saketa h ga ii ze.
A void this neighborhood. The eyes are tough.
• H! Kono yakata wa mepp ii ga, oki ga kurai ze.
What a beautiful, stately mansion. Pity the seascape's so dark.
After flowing past house after house, the thieves close in on the most suitable target in three phases. Toba o kimeru (choosing the den) is the preliminary audition, in which whole rows of homes are given a general glance-over. Toba o tsunagu (tethering the den) is the second, closer look in which alarm systems and entry and exit points are examined. The final stage is toba o fumu (stepping on the den): out of all the possible targets, one home is chosen, and the thief approaches it, tool bag in hand. Once a house has been picked, the thieves proclaim ate ga tsuku (the aim will be fulfilled), and it graduates from being a toba (den) to a taisaki, pronounced by some groups daisaki (the table ahead).
Many of the better burglar gangs employ individu-als who make a career of spotting vulnerable houses. In the post-war years in Tokyo these men and women came to be known as doroya (streetsters) and hiki (pullers), while in Osaka and Kyoto they were given the pastoral title of hitsujimawashi (meandering sheep). The gang would pay them tsukesage (touchdown), the cab-and bus-fare from one location to the next, and if they spotted a good house would guarantee them kabu (stocks), a share in the loot. As criminals became more and more affluent during the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the kurumaebi, or prawns (literally “car shrimps”), moved in on the scene. These were the modern “streetsters” and “pullers,” who combed their areas by car. Spotting a prime target, they would whip out their car phone, and crouching secretively (hence the “shrimp”), would quickly beep a burglar.
Thieves who work alone are known as ichimaimono (one sheet of individual). Some are completely independent of larcenous attendants; others have sturdy gang affiliations but do breaking and entering on their own. Thieves who work in pairs are classed as nimaimono (two sheets of individual), in threes, sanmaimono (three sheets of individual), and in foursomes, yonmaimono (four sheets of individual).
• Aitsu wa shgai ichimaimono de ts'tten dakara, mattaku hen na yatsu da ze!
He's real weird; he's been a loner all along.
• Shigoto wa nimaimono de yaru ni koshita kot' n yo!
You've gotta be at least a twosome to carry off a job well! (kot' is Tokyo slang for koto wa)
• Ore-tachi mo sanmaimono de hajimete nagai koto naru n.
It's been ages since we started working as a threesome.
• Ore-tachi no nawabari ni ano yonmaimono ga shima tsukur to shiteru rashii ze!
It looks like those four guys are trying to move in on our territory.
Groups that work under the umbrella of a gang report directly to the kaoyaku (face function), who is also lovingly referred to as the kataoya (“one parent,” as in one-parent family). This parent is like a department manager in a bona fide firm: he hires and fires executives and maneuvers them profitably from one job to the next. When the ringleader happens to be a younger man, mischievous executives might refer to him behind his back as anigao (brother face). In his presence, however, heads are brusquely bowed and he is meekly addressed as aniki (older brother). When sneak thieves work in packs, social and professional hierarchy plays a star role. The man in charge is dotama, a name the street crowd claims developed from atama (head). The dotama is the brain of the pack. He might not personally break the lock, smash the window, or climb the drainpipe, but he makes the on-location decisions, orchestrating each movement of the burglary. In rougher packs the leader is the konatruki, a Korean gang word for “ruffian” which has acquired on Tokyo's modern streets a whiff of bravura and daredevilry. Important jobs that promise a high yield in loot are handled by larger sneak-thieving groups that come equipped with specialized watchmen, lockbreakers, computerized-alarm dismantlers, and a vault cracker or two.
Partners in crime refer to each other as hikiai (those who pull against each other), tsute (connections), dshi (kindred spirits), gui and guhi (lopped-off versions of tagui, “peer”), hbai (comrade), and more affectionately as kydai (brothers) which, for security, is often inverted to the less comprehensible daiky. Cruder bands of thieves, however, opt for heftier appellations. A favorite is the Korean expression chie, which is often distorted to a more feral chiy or chiy. The general rule with this set of words is: the harsher the expression, the warmer the criminal bond. Busuke (plug ugly), fushiyaburi (joint breaker), hiru (leech), and hine (stale) are often used with great cordiality by one leathery tough to another.
• Nan da yo? Orera no hikiai wa anna chatchii doa mo akeraren'n da ze?
What the fuck? Our buddy can't even open a simple door like this?
• Orera wa dshi kamo shiren ga, aitsu wa dmo mushi ga sukan.
We might be partners, but somehow I just don't like the guy.
• Oi! Oi k-chan! Chotto soko de chiy to hikkakete kuru wa!
Yo! Hey old woman! I'm just going out for a bit with the gang!
• Oi, busuke yo! Katai koto iwazu ni—m ippai tsukiae yo!
C'mon butt-face, cut the crap and let's have another drink!
• Oi tanomu ze! Omae ore no fushiyaburi ja n ka? Kane kashite kure yo!
C'mon man, you're my partner, man! Lend me the money!
• saka no hine ichiban tayori ni naru ze.
Our most reliable men are the guys from Osaka.
Another important part of respectable sneak-thieving gangs are the assistants, usually younger men who do dirty work like terikiri (“burning and cutting,” or blowtorching locks) and kaminari (“thunderbolt,” or making entry holes in roofs). These assistants are called tobakiri (den cutters) and ashi (legs), and are usually studying hard to become full-fledged professionals themselves. The youngest in the group, who is kept busy carrying tool bags and loot, is the hidarisode (left sleeve). He keeps out of the way, trotting behind the experienced elder of the group, the migisode (right sleeve), and drinks in as much technique as circumstances allow.
In a class of his own, the gang's lookout stands inconspicuously at gates, ducking into apartment house entrances or waiting in the getaway car, his hand on the ignition key. The lookouts of old whistled at the first sign of danger and were often masters at imitating tremulous bird calls; today's professionals, however, beep, page, and even ring up the gang on cellular phones. Over the years thousands of thief clans, large and small, have invented throngs of inspired cognomens for their watchmen. The lookouts' job was to keep their eyes peeled, what the Japanese call “stretched.” Gan o haru (he is stretching his eyes) came to mean “he's keeping lookout for us,” as did toibaru (he is stretching far). The men themselves became ganhari (eye stretchers), toibari (far stretchers), and then kenshi (see masters), tmi (far lookers), banmen (watching faces), and higemi (“mustache watchers,” or cop watchers). Some gangs even billed them with the dashing title yariban (spear guard). As the lookout men made it their job to peek over walls, peer through partitions, and spy over fences and railings, they came to be known as takanyd (tall giants). Another favorite has been otenkinagashi (the weather flows). Like a weatherman, the lookout watches for the slightest change in the atmosphere.
The most popular criminal word for watchmen of the sixties and seventies was tachiko (standing child), an expression which, to the plunderers' chagrin, was then swiped by the red-light crowd, to be used as a jocularword for prostitute. The thieves quickly flushed tachiko from their vocabularies.
Breaking into a Tokyo Mansion
A mansion has been chosen, the neighborhood inspected, and the date and time of the break-in set. The final word from the boss is: Yoshi! Mimai ni iku to shiy! “That's it! We'll definitely pay that respectful visit.” Those who will go on this visit gather in a process dubbed by gang jargon as wa ni naru (becoming a ring). A sophisticated group will hold a board meeting to discuss the delicate technicalities of the project. Here each crook has the opportunity to bring his or her expertise to the table in what is defined as ueshita o tsukeru (up and down together). Sipping tea, the group will verbally climb up the mansion's walls, down its drainpipes, across railings, and over roofs. In some clans this is called tanka o tsukusu (trying all the doors).
Then the looters leave the discussion table and begin arranging their tool bags, polishing their jiggers and oiling their widgets. The solemn act of dropping the tools one by one into the bag is called netabai (from neta hai, “the seeds enter”). The careful thief will chose staple instruments like yji (lock picks), rakkupari (lock jiggers), dosu (wrench knives), geri (jaggers), sori (blades, from kamisori, “razor”), and a set of nezumi (“mice,” or master keys). When the bags are ready, the time for fumitsukeru (attaching the steps) has come. Last minute phone calls are made, precautionary guns might be loaded, and, should they run into a domestic animal on the job, pork cutlets laced with cyanide are wrapped up in aluminium foil. These meat packages are wittily known as either shisankin (monetary contributions) or tsukaimono (wrapped gifts).
Arriving on the scene, the thieves hastily do suzume (sparrow), a quick check of surrounding streets and alleys for police patrols. If the coast is clear, the house is approached and the clan does atekomi (aim fulfillment), in which it might peek into the garage to see if the inhabitants' cars are there, or look to see which windows are lit.
A gate that has been carelessly left unlocked is baptized chy, a word of Korean pedigree. If the gate is locked, but so flimsily that a swift prod will unhinge it, the looters will murmur marumage (the traditional knotted hairstyle of a married woman—pull one pin out and ornaments and tresses come tumbling down). A gate that is securely locked is called by all-male gangs maekake onna (aproned woman): a man wishing to enter must first rip her apron off. In this case, the lock will either be picked (koburu), wrenched open (shiburu), or blowtorched in a process known as kamaboko (fish paste) and yakikiri (burn cut). lf the lock proves too formidable, then the gang will go for monbarai (gate disposal) or monbarashi (gate dispelling). Gate butts, metal straps, pins, springs, and hinge shutters are snipped and wrenched, and the gate is lifted off its hinges.
Agile clans, however, might simply go for a quick kaburu (scampering over the wall), also known in more theatrical cliques as maku o koeru (getting beyond the stage curtains). While the group's agile youngsters nimbly hoist themselves over barriers of brick or wire, the more weatherworn professionals rely on either their octopus (tako), a rope ladder with iron hooks on top, or the more portable minjaku (knotted rope). These men and women call wall climbing yama ni noboru (climbing the mountain) or yamagoshi (going over the mountain), a term that is frowned upon by criminal women, as it also means violent rape.
When the robbers are on the premises the macho sexual imagery continues. They have had to fiddle with the locks, tinker with the hinges, twiddle the screws, and putter the latches. The gate and wall, they argue, are as difficult to handle as an unyielding woman. Even the most manful of men has to struggle to perform the crucial maemakuri (“lifting the skirt from the front,” meaning the thieves enter through the front gates), or the even more crucial shirimakuri (“lifting the skirt from behind,” as in the gate or fence is at the rear of the house).
• Maemakuri hotondo ichijikan mo kakechimatta ze!
It took almost an hour to get those skirts hitched up (to break through those front gates)!
• Anna inakamon' ga shirimakuri dekiru wake n dar!
You expect that village yokel to know how to hitch up a skirt from behind (to break through a back gate)?
• Omae yamagoshi no mae ni wa, maemakuri shina yo n!
Man! You don't just rape her straight out—you have to hitch up those skirts first!
(Don't just climb the wall—try the gates first!)
When visiting one of the better mansions, a looter has to be prepared for what is known in back alleys as a muzukashii (a difficult), the pedigreed guard dog. A beast that starts barking and snarling ferociously is gabinta, a word of Korean descent, meaning “it has no respect for its superiors.” If a “here doggy doggy!” followed by an attempt to pat the animal does not calm it, most thieves will bring out the deadly pork chop. This is known as inukoro o abuseru (injuring the mutt), or more sardonically shtome o kudoku (silencing one's mother-in-law).
A careful rabble of thieves will now take a final outside look at the house. Are there any hidden computerized alarm systems, cameras, or infra-red contraptions (sekigaisen)? Professionals stress the importance of following strict looting procedures with an eye to Japan's brisk technological advances.
The cautioning proverb often quoted outside the targeted homes is:
• Ushi no kuso demo dandan.
Even a cow shits plop by plop.
Younger bandits who storm their mansions without the perpetual checking and rechecking of the premises are branded by their elders as parrari (foolish ones). The youngsters throw back at the streetwise cow proverb the classical rejoinder:
• Yjin ni shiro horobizu.
A fortress can not be stormed cautiously.
A looter of substance skulks around the house one last time. This final precaution is called “swimming” (oyogu), “sidling” (oyoru), or “flower listening” (kiku no hana). If there is the slightest sign of danger, there is still time to safely abort the mission.
The burglars will have chosen a house amenable to the method of breaking and entering that they prefer. On the streets all these professionals are akisunerai (empty-nest targeters), but when they finally crawl into a yard with widgets, tweezers, and window jiggers in hand, they acquire more specific names.
Some of the more athletic individuals, for instance, are known as agari (ascenders), nobi (climbers), ete (monkeys), and kumo (spiders). They scamper over hedges and walls and onto balconies, usually entering the house from the top floor and working their way down. The thieves' jargon secretly calls its roofs neya (a simple inversion of the standard word for roof, yane), or ten (heaven) and roof windows are called nekoiri (cat entrances). A wall is beka (an inversion of the regular word for wall, kabe), and the thief's standard word for door is tanka (abusive words). When it comes to locks, Japanese thief jargon can spin out endless reels of inspired metaphors. There is the ebi (shrimp): one has to pluck and pull at the shell to break through into its delicate body; the hana (flower), which one can pick (toru); and the eri (collar), a witty mispronunciation of iri (entry). Locks can be roku (pulley), and lock picking rokutsuri (pulley fishing). Some cliques call locks yakuban (turning part), others tsukimushi (attached insects). Some gangs prefer more sensitive expressions such as momiji (maple leaves) and mimochi musume (pregnant daughter); in her delicate condition she must be handled with the softest of touches. Down south, on Osaka's streets, locks are known as aisu (rammable blowholes), kudarimushi (lower insects) or sagarimushi (low-down insects), and further down, in Wakayama city, thieves call locks sanpira and enko.
The most ingenious way to enter a mansion is to march brashly up the garden path. Debonair thieves who simply walk up to the main door are known as mae (fronts). Once on the porch, each has his own method. The aritsuke (ant attachers), kogatana (daggers), sori (benders), and atetsukai (blade users) stand in full view of the street and swiftly slip their metallic contraptions into the locks to jiggle them open. The shippiki-needle tests the lock's sturdiness and its make, while the takehari (bamboo needle) and the gen (bamboo teakettle handle) are used to press down the tumblers. These quick-fingered lock pickers are not above working in full view of the street. A passerby glancing into the garden would see only a tired individual hunched over, fumbling tipsily with his keys.
Front doors that succumb smoothly to the professional's touch are known as tanka ga moroi (the curse words are fragile).
In tougher mansions, where doors are double-and even triple-locked, the kobuya (gnarlers), and the yaburi (breakers) go to work with a hatchet. Their forceful technique is called akebabarashi (opening-place liquidation) or tankahiraki (Curse-word releasing). If the stalwart door still does not yield, then a small high-powered saw, the menoko (child of the eye), is flicked into action. This machine is used by the shibuita hane (board removers) and the kiji (grain wooders), who will saw their way through the body of the door and leave the locked frame standing.
• Komatta na! Akebabarashi no saich ni ate ga dame ni natchimau to wa!
Damn! How could my jigger have broken right as I was working that door!
• Tankahiraki no toki ni wa armu ni ki o tsukero yo!
Be careful of the alarm when you break down that door!
• Kono menoko de d yatte shigoto shiro'tte yn da yo?
How the hell am I supposed to work with this saw?
Doors that are made of a robust metal, with crowbar and iron cross-beam reinforcements, are called tanka akan' (the curse words won't open). The only door specialists who can handle these formidable barricades are the tsuriage (jack screwers) and the tenbin (weighing scales). They do what is known as karahiku (pulling off the husk), in which they zero in on the hinges with drills, wrenches, and blowtorches, and lift out door and frame as a unit.
Another breed of thief prefers entering through windows. The easiest, many argue, is the bathroom window, dubbed in thief jargon as either hachinosu (nest of the bee) or hachisu (bee's nest). Few of them have locks, and if they are shut from the inside a brisk jolt with a baita, a metal staff whose ends have been chiseled down to a sharp point, will spring the frame open. Brigands who hinge their choice of mansion on the size and approachability of this window are classed by their peers as haiy (hot-water enterers).
Some thieves prefer to target the mansion's larger porch or balcony windows. These thieves travel light, their tool bags sporting a simple rope to climb to the balcony and a small diamond glass cutter to remove window panes. The jargon calls these masters sugarahazushi, sugara being the secretive reversal of garasu (glass), while hazushi means “remover.” More obscurely they are murakumo (cloud masses).
When doors are obstructed and windows barred, the amakiri (heaven cutters) spring into action. Using wrenches, electric saws, or even concrete blasters, they cut, kick, saw, or boost their way through the roof. The police call these thieves yanetsutai (roof enterers) and hai (scramblers),but the men and women who brave the slippery tiles and shaky corrugated roofings give each other more elevated names. The younger ones are the nyanzoku (meow gang), known also more morbidly as the nennen koz (sleep sleep little boy); they hope to tiptoe soundlessly through the children's room upstairs without startling an infant. Older professionals prefer the even more macabre sagarigumo (descending spider). They hook their ropes to the frame of the skylight and silently glide down into the house. The roof robbers define their descent into the upper rooms as ten kara yuku (coming from heaven). The idea of combining the heavens with burglary caught on, and soon roof specialists were inventing one grandiloquent name after another: tenzutai (enterers from heaven), tengaishi (heavenly-canopy masters), tenshi (heaven masters), and tengari and tongari (heaven hunters). Other names that have been passed down from generation to generation are watarikomi (cross-and-enterer), neyahaguri (roof ripper), tatsu (dragon), nezumimekuri (ripping mice), and kamisori (“razorblades,” or looters who cut into the roof). The brand of roof thief who works exclusively at night is the goishita (dark down). Men and women who access roofs by shimmying up telephone poles call themselves denshin (telegrams) and denshinkasegi (telegram breadwinners). Tokyo's Chinese jargon circles donated their own mellifluous word, teiauchintsu.
• Aitsu wa tengaishi dakara, doa no akekata wa shiran yo.
He's a roof specialist, so he has no idea about opening doors.
• Ano goishita-tachi wa kanojo no ie de nusumeru mono wa minna nusunjimatta y da.
Those night thieves just emptied her house.
• Aitsu watarikomi no kuse ni ochite ashi o otta rashii ze.
Although he's a roof specialist, he fell and broke his leg.
• Teiauchintsu ni wa aitsu wa chitto futorisugi da ze. D yatte nobore'tte yn da yo?
He's too fat for a telephone pole specialist. How the hell is he gonna climb up there?
Older thieves and those who prefer to keep both feet firmly on the ground specialize in what ethnic Chinese gangsters call ryahiyatan (swatting insects on the wall). They use a pick or sledgehammer to swat their way through the wall. In plain street-Japanese this is known as beka o barashikamaru, “disposing of the wall in order to crawl in” (beka is an inversion of kabe, “wall”). In some circles, wall breaking is also known as beka naseru (doing the wall), beka tsukeru (fixing the wall), and mado ga mieru (“the window is visible,” because a hole has just been blasted into the wall). The racket of the hammering triggered the expression mimibarashi (tearing off the ears). Some gangsters maintain that the burglar's ears are being torn off, others that it is the mansion's, in that the building's main structure is its head, the windows its eyes, and the smashed walls its ears.
In the wild sixties and seventies wall breaking came to be called, dramatically, harakiri. The image was that of modern wall breakers plunging their drills and chainsaws into the soft belly of a home, much as elegant classical heroes and heroines turned noble daggers on themselves. The generation of the eighties, a more internationalized set of thieves, upgraded the harakiri idea with a twist of English. The most fashionable name for wall breaker, they decided, was to be beriishi (belly master).
If doors, locks, windows, and roof tiles prove too formidable for a pack of thieves, they solemnly declare the case to be yawai, ornery (from yabai, “dangerous”), and turn on their heels and march out of the garden. In a more unfortunate scenario, in which a light suddenly goes on in response to the sound of walls being pulverized or glass being shattered, the robbers will gasp the classical jargon term wakatono (young lord, i.e. “drat, someone is in after all”) and make a dash for the gate.
When the robbers are in the mansion the job officially begins. The period stretching from the criminals' arrival to their loot-laden departure is called yama (mountain). This delicate metaphor suggests that the thieves, like pilgrims climbing mountains to reach blessed shrines, have to first drudge their way up the steep slope of breaking and entering before they can snatch the spoils from the peak. A younger synonym for the high-charged stealing period, used by trendy burglar novices in Tokyo and Osaka, is ingu. This strange term that leaves older criminals baffled, is none other than the English gerundive suffix “ing.”
“We lifted it from English words like dingu (doing), suchiiruingu (stealing), robbingu (robbing),” the youngsters explain.
• Yama no saich. ni mono oto o taterun ja n zo!
Don't make a sound while we're on the job!
• Oi yab, isoge yo! Yama ni sanjippun ij kakeru mon ja n ze!
Shit, man, move it! We shouldn't be on the job more than thirty minutes!
• Shh! Ingu no saich. ni shaberun ja n!
Shh! Don't talk on the job!
• Ingu no saich. ni nanka warui yokan ga shiyagaru.
I've been having a bad feeling about this job since we started it.
As the burglars move to the “mountain” portion of their crime, they will perform atari, the very last precautionary check before their feet hit the mansion's polished parquet. If all is well, they will plunge like swords into the inner sanctum of the home, the yasa (from saya, “sheath”). With their flashlights they sneak from room to room searching for loot. This is opaquely described as miagari sashite miru (our bodies are moving up in search of). On this initial round nothing is touched. The aim is to “bite the platform” (dai o kamu), to flavor the spoils, mentally balancing their portability against their potential market value. “If we had to choose, should we take the TV-video set, the CD player with remote, or that gigantic Kamakura vase?” the bandits ask themselves. Another burning question is whether the articles being considered are abuiabu (the real thing). When thieves come across prospective bounty that is of contestable value, the connoisseur of the group does a quick atari o tsukeru (attaching a hit). He or she will carefully scratch, bite, lick, or prod the item to test its authenticity. A thief who bumps into an expensive object and sends it crashing to the floor, is accused of buriya, the jargon word for smashing stealable commodities on the job.
• Chikush! Koko ni wa nani hitotsu abuiabu ga ari'ya shin!
Shit! Absolutely nothing here's genuine!
• Oi, kore ga honmono ka chitto atari tsukete miru beki da ze.
Hey, check this piece to see if it's real.
• Aitsu o tsurete ikun' dattara, burya ni ki o tsuketa h ga ii ze!
If you're gonna take him along, make sure he doesn't trash the place!
Some modern looters are only interested in hard yen. Unperturbed, they will march right past rich bibelots and strings of Picassos and make a beeline for the safe, for what they call mamono (the real thing). These looters are the shimabarashi (island breakers), otomodachi (friends), namashi (cash masters), sannokkan (money exchangers), and more recently maniishi (money masters). In money-master jargon the safe is musume, the daughter. A safe, like a cherished daughter, they explain, is a household's most prized and jealously-guarded possession. If the safe turns out not to have been worth cracking, the dispirited specialists mutter musume ga wakai (their daughter is young). If, on the other hand, yen notes come pouring out, the joyous proclamation is musume ga haramu (their daughter is with child).
The exhilarating moment when a looter hits the jackpot is known as makenshi. This argot word describes the rushing of blood to one's head, the gasp of exhilaration, the joyful stagger. When money is found in an unexpected place, the expressions used are morai (receiving) and ogami (prayer—the surprised thief kneels in thankful prayer).
• Y, maitta, maitta! Kongetsu haitta ie wa zenbu musume ga wakakatta ze!
Man, this sucks! All the houses we did this month had safes that were slim pickings!
• Aitsu no me ni kakar'ya musume ga haranderu ka dka nante ippatsu de wakatchimau ze.
That guy, man! One glance at a safe and he knows if it's full!
• Nijippun-kan sagashite, yatto makenshi to kita!
We searched for twenty minutes, and then hull's eye!
• Kono e no ura nijman mo mitsukeru nante tonda morai da ze!
Man, the jackpot behind this picture! Two hundred thousand yen!
After the thieves finish exploring the premises the actual thieving begins. The intense phase in which money, jewelry, portable antiques, and objets d'art are raked into sacks is known as hayakoto (the quick thing). After hayakoto, thieves with nerves of steel dart into the kitchen for a quick snack, a habit classified in jargon as hantebiki (food snatching).
Once the plunder sacks are tied shut, the word to hiss is the Korean aruikara (the loot is assembled). If the goods are exceptionally rich, the looters will add kanchira, Japanese Korean for “the catch was good.” In unpolished circles, the bandits will cap the burglary with what some call ki ga fuseru (plopping down the spirit), others higa barasu (rubbing out the misdeed). One of the group hobbles to the door, yanks his trousers down, and crouching, defecates. This tasteless action, burglars explain, is the only surefire method of duping police dogs. One whiff and the animal is totally disoriented.
• Kondo no ki ga fuseru no ban wa dare da?
Who's turn is it to shit by the door?
• Mata higa barashita! Mattaku aitsu wa!
Don't tell me he took a shit again! I really wish he wouldn't!
• Higa barashi ni itta, om kitan yatsu da na!
You took a shit by the door? You're sick!
The final dash for the door is referred to as ketsubaru (stretching one's ass). Thieves leaving the premises with sacks swung over their shoulders are doing sayakaeri (changing the sheath).
The gang scuttles into the yard, over the wall and out the gate, scattering in all directions. This is mochizura (having and running). To leave the scene of the crime in a congenial group would be suicidal; the only safe thing to do is what Tokyo's Koreans call chacha: each member dashes down a different alley. Groups of burglars who only steal money and jewelry will often do chyapabataro; the loot is passed to one person to reduce the danger of the whole group being rounded up by the police. In some of the rougher clans, however, bandits will react gingerly to the idea of entrusting their hard-earned spoils to a colleague. What if he should be zaruo (sieve), a loot carrier who is not above straining small valuables or yen notes out of the sack? This ignoble genre of betrayal is known among gangsters as baiharu (stretching the purchases) and baigiri (cutting the purchases).
• Oi, shitteta ka? Zaruo ga kawa de shitai de mitsukatta ze!
Hey, did you know they found that sieve dead in the river?
• Koitsu wa hen da n! Aitsu wa baigiri shiagatta n.
Something's fucked up here! I'm sure he skimmed off some of the loot.
• Aitsu baiharu shiagatte, kondo attara bukkuroshite yaru ze!
That guy riffled the loot. When I run into him, I'm gonna fuckin' kill him!
In a larger clan, where loot carriers are tried and trusted, the thieves will make their way one by one back to the shima (island), the gang's territory. There they will re-congregate to receive their share of the booty, their kabu (stocks). The emotion-laden distribution of the pillage is dubbed by some gangs kabuwari (stock splitting), kabuwake (stock dividing) and tezuke (depositing), and byothers yamawake (mountain splitting), yamakan (mountain sectioning), and hajiki (springing open). The thieves are on tenterhooks, and eager argotic questions abound:
• Yoroku? (profits)
Was this a successful stint?
• Rachi? (picket fence)
What are the results?
• Musuko wakakatta? (was the son young)
There was no money in the house?
• Yabakatta? or yabakaita? (from yabai, “dangerous”)
Has the job been a flop?
• Amerikan! (American)
This is worthless! (American coffee, the bandits explain, is ridiculously weak. Like a stolen piece of junk, it does not do anything for one).
The joyful circumstance in which loot turns out to be of much higher value than anticipated is gaily heralded with atsui (it is thick). Another even cheerier occasion occurs when, during the loot dividing, an unexpectedly large wad of bank notes is found stashed in an antique or in the lining of a picture. This circumstance is dubbed atari (hit).
Burglars who work in twos and threes often prefer to split the loot at the scene of the crime. This way, everyone can do an immediate dankon utsu (bullet-hole banging), rushing off home after a successful job. This expression is always good for a raucous laugh, since dankon utsu, if written with the characters “male-root banging” can also mean “banging the penis.” Oi, hayaku dankon ut ze! (Yo man, let's split!) could with a giggle be misinterpreted as “Yo man, let's bang penises!”
2. Reckless Burglars
THE CRIMINALS who live most dangerously are the odorikomi (those who enter dancing). Unlike their cousins the akisunerai (empty-nest targeters), the odorikomi do not check, recheck, and then check again before kicking doors in. If money is to be had, they will break and enter. Over time, the jargon of Japanese burglars playfully developed the bad boys' dancing image, and soon even the toughest thugs came to be jocularly known as odoriko (danseuses). The terpsichorean theme went even further, and these rash methods of burglary came to be known as bon odori, from the dances of Obon, the summer Festival of the Dead.
• saka no odoriko ga mata tsukamatta ze!
That danseuse from Osaka was caught again!
• Konban no bon odori umaku yare yo!
Good luck at tonight's dance!
The burglars enjoyed the festive idea of combining august ceremony with barging into houses, and were soon calling each other both obon and urabon (from the older Sanskrit name for the rituals, Ullambana). The Obon festival was originally held in July, which prompted rough looters also to be called shichigatsu (seventh month), and then nanoka and nanuka (seventh day), which finally became the even more esoteric ichiroku (“one-six,” i.e. seven). As more and more areas in Japan 'began celebrating the festival in August, some gangs simply called their tougher burglars hachigatsu (eighth month), while more traditional gangs stuck to the old words.
Dancing thieves live on the edge. Some have actually become specialists in entering orusu (occupied nests); these are the hamahori (beach diggers) and nobori (risers). While the family is eating or watching television in one room, they tiptoe from closet to closet collecting valuables. Some thieves wait until the family is safely in bed; these are the kurumi (walnuts). Their silent method of entry is known as seburikameru (sleeping crawl). Related to them are the machi (those who wait), the irimachi (those who enter and wait), and the tomari (those who stay over). They break into occupied houses and then hide in a closet or under a bed until the family goes out. Then the heist begins.
Hiding in an occupied house is known as anko (bean jam). The jam, the tough burglars explain, is always hidden inside the anpan (bean-jam bun), just like thieves are concealed in the house. The drawback of this style of looting is that there is a good chance of bumping into the family. The victims are liable to start “dancing” (odoru), jumping up and down and waving their hands in terror, often followed by what is known as nekatsukareru, the backwards version of kane o tsukareru (“hitting the gong,” or screeching for help). If the burglar is lucky the family will now scuttle out of the house and make for the nearest police station, a situation referred to with the tongue-twisted Korean teitotsuchiyotsuta.
Some victims, however, will not run. Confronted, a rough burglar will turn into inaori (a stay-and-fixer). He will do pika (flick out a switchblade), flash his pachinko (“pinball machine,” in this case a gun) or resort to binding and gagging. This is known as hosokukuri (thin knotting), kumo ni kakeru (being caught by the spider), and maki ni awasu (letting someone experience the roll). Some burglars will vent their frustration at being caught by beating up the victim in what is known as tsunagu (connecting). When it is a housewife who is being tied up, the brute phrase used is yachi o jime ni kakeru (tying up the cunt).
• Inaori ni naru shika hh wa nai ze.
The only way to be a heistman is to be rough when you have to be.
• Aitsu ni pachinko o tsukitsukete miro yo! Ippen de damatchimau ze!
Shove your gun into his face! That should shut him up!
• Yab! Barechimatta! Hayaku aitsu o kumo ni kakero!
Fuck! He's caught us! We're gonna have to tie him up quick!
• Tsunagareta yatsu ima byin ni iru rashii ze.
I hear the guy we roughed up is in the hospital now.
The roughest of the “dancing” thieves are the tonton (bang bang), tonma (bang devils), ishiwari (stone breakers), tatakizeme (banging attack), tataki and hataki (hangers), and sharitataki (those who bang for profit). As the ominous “bang” element in their names suggests, these burglars do not gasp and run when they are caught. Those who cross them end up what the ethnic Chinese call jara (“snipped,” from jia le), suich (“fast asleep,” from shui jiao), or chra (“broken,” from zhe le).
Some burglars are not above barging into bedrooms to rape sleeping victims. This practice is referred to as tsukeme (touching eyes), an expression that, oddly enough, has some connection to Buddhist priest slang. Tsuke is “touching” (touching the woman), and me, “eyes,” is the priestly euphemism for money.
The language of the toughest clans is filled with elaborate expressions for raping while on the job. One of the most common terms, menuki (eye pulling), carries on the priestly Buddhist practice of connecting eyes with money, but also manages to combine it with the violent image of physical torture. Neshin and neshi (sleep specialists) are the men who target bedrooms after the loot has been assembled and packed. After World War II tough sesquipedalian terms of Korean background flooded the Tokyo scene, and the Japanese bandits, in a show of solidarity with their Korean colleagues, struggled to pronounce them. The protracted Korean words makuirebabantonda and hitekipuchinta were used for rape that caps a theft, while the even lengthier marubanichiyomend implies that the robbed housewife not only consented to intercourse but actually enjoyed it. On those rare occasions when a group of burglars rape a male victim, the expression used is yrietsu, the Japanese pronounciation of the Yokohama Chinese yan lie zi (lining up despicably on a young man).
When Things Go Wrong
The first sign that a criminal project might be jinxed is awaji, bumping into a policeman on the way to the job. Even if the officer smiles, and pleasantly tips his cap, many high-strung looters will stop in their tracks and abort the mission.
Meeting a policeman while one is kneeling in front of a gate, the picking pin lodged in the lock, is a more grievous issue. The underworld rocks with laughter at the hapless burglar so caught, and pronounces him pikari (flashed) and hanbe (“waited upon,” from hanberu). To ward off arrest and mockery, the careful clans post sentries. At the first sign of a patrol car or a uniformed officer these men and women will hiss one of the many thiefwords for cop: bfuri! (stick swinger), surikogi! (wooden pestle), enma! (devil), hige! (beard), hoshi! (star), k-sama! (mommy), udonya! (noodle vendor) or, on a lighter note, pii-chan! (little Mr. P). On hearing these warning words thieves will cram their widgets and jiggers into their tool bags and run.
The secret words for “cop!” can save lives at every stage, and gangs throughout Japan glut andre-glut their vocabularies with synonyms and metaphors. Foreigners often marvel at the abundance of animal imagery: policemen can be aobuta (blue pigs), en (monkeys), etek (apes), karasu (crows), aokarasu (blue crows), itachi (weasels), ahiru (ducks) hayabusa (falcons), ahdori (“idiotic birds,” or albatrosses), k (“dogs,” from the Korean kae), barori (Korean for pig), and koyani (“cat,” from the Korean koyangi). Officers even turn into insects such as hachi (bees), dani (ticks), kuma (spiders), mushi (bugs), and kejirami (pubic lice).
There is more to the unusually large number of Japanese street words for police than just the burglars' fevered linguistic imaginations. The code words often carry with them reams of useful information. Is the policeman armed? Is he in a car? Does he look aggressive? Is the gang a match for him? Inta! for instance, means “Careful, there's an officer patrolling the neighborhood!” Pk! stands for, “Patrol car! Run for your life!” Equally alarming is gokiburi (cock-roach). The policeman in this case is on a motorcycle, and can follow the burglars over pavements and through parks. Kijirushi (devil's mark) implies that a whole mobile unit is arriving and there is no point in running. The looters are cornered, and might as well line up on the pavement with their hands up.
The secret words can also tell us about the policeman's character and disposition. Yaba (from yabai, “dangerous”) is a tough, fierce-looking officer, while wank (woof woof) is the type who looks hottempered and irritable. Oji (uncle) is a dangerous middle-aged patrolman who knows all the members of the gang by name and is liable to blow the whistle first and ask questions later. Kazaguruma (windmill) is an officer who circles the streets and alleys, getting closer and closer to the area where the criminals are working. The most dangerous are oyahine (daddy gnarl), oyadama (daddybull.et), and bune (ocean liner), who are all chief inspectors. If these august men appear in person, then one of the gang must be aori (stimulator), an undercover agent, or worse, aka-chan (little Mr. Red), an informer, and the criminals' stealing days are over.
Other coded warnings are of a happier nature. Aokuri means, “It's only a traffic cop, act natural.” Daikon megane (radish with glasses) means, “Relax, the officer is new and an obvious hick.” Akapori (red police), hime (princess), poriman (a contraction of “police” and “woman”), and suke (bitch) herald the arrival of a female officer or officers. The sexist undertone of this language is, “Don't worry, it's just a woman.”
Ethnic Korean and Chinese words for police are especially popular among Japanese burglars. The words are tough, they are exotic, and probably unknown to the all-Japanese police force. Tokyo's Korean words, like kumgi, komucha, and chonbu, imply that the policeman is in uniform, while the Yokohama jargon gives plainclothesmen names of Chinese background like tsuai, rinhatsu, tamu, and oa.
• Konna kumgi bakkari ga iru tokoro e hairo nante—omae ki demo kuruttan ja n no ka?
You're not gonna break into a place full of cops? Are you nuts?
• Kin sakaba de tonari ni suwatteta yatsu komucha dattan da'tte yo! Omae shinjirareru ka?
The guy next to us at the bar was a cop! Can you believe that?
• Y! Asetta yo! Ore-tachi ga chdo niwa e shinobikonda toki chonbu ga yoko o sudri shitan da yo!
Man, I freaked! We'd just crawled into the garden when a cop walked right by!
• Mattaku hidoi mon da ze! Kono hen wa ima tamu ga uyo uyo shiterun da ze.
It's a disaster! The whole neighborhood is full of cops!
• Oi, yabe! Oa ga kita zo! Hayaku, zurakar ze!
Shit! The cops are here! Quick, let's split!
While looters are engaged in pillage, their nerves are on edge. The tremulous kamisori? (razor blade?) or kamisori shinai ka? (isn't it doing razor blade?) are questions of Korean background meaning, “Footsteps?” and “Do I hear footsteps?”
If the footsteps become louder, the panicking gangsters will wail kaminari ochiru (“thunder is falling,” meaning, “Shit! A police raid!”), an expression swiped from Tokyo's illegal gambling circles. The looters will rush to the window to check the street. If they see their lookout standing handcuffed by the gate, and patrol cars converging, they are likely to groan ami o haru (they are stretching a net), meaning that the law has surrounded the building. As always at times of great stress, the robbers resort to heavy jargon:
• Tetsuta! (of Korean origin)
Look over there! The police have arrived!
• Dotsut! (of Korean origin)
The police are here!
• lei! (Tokyo jargon)
Help! Danger! SOS!
• Nashiware! (an inversion of shina, “goods,” and ware, “broken”)
We're ruined! They've found us out!
• Nashihare! (an inversion of “goods” and hareru, “become clear”)
We've been found out!
• Ketsu o watta! (the ass was cleaved)
We must have fucked up somewhere!
• Isu o sasatta! (the chair was wedged)
We've been informed on!
• Yabu no naka de he o hita! (somebody farted in the bush)
One of us here is a traitor!
• Ushi no tsume! (cow's nails)
The police was in on the deal from the start!
• Tjitari! (“pork chops,” of Korean origin)
Get out your guns!
• Tsue o motte! (hold the stick)
We have to get our act together now and really keep our eyes peeled!
• Michi ga warui! (the road is bad)
The police are everywhere! It doesn't look like we'll get out!
• Ore-tachi yukiya no usagi! (we're rabbits in a snow house)
Our situation is pretty precarious!
• Kama o tsuk! (let's pound a pot, with “pot” meaning “ass”)
• Gesozure! (rub your tentacles)
• Mau! (dance)
• Rhowa! (“pluck flowers,” in Chinese gang jargon)
Make a dash for it!
In the growing din of sirens, barking police dogs, smashing glass, and officers storming the place, the burglars are facing fiasco. The staunch Korean word they use to sum up this desperate situation is barumburotsuta (the wind has blown). Cornered, the criminals must now seek out what is known as ana (a hole)—a metaphorical hole, which will save the gang from the mortal danger. The leader of the pack might give a short emergency speech in which he urges his fellow looters to face the calamity with as much sangfroid as they can muster. He might also quote a few well-chosen crab proverbs to prove his point:
• Urotae kani ana ni irazu.
A flustered crab will miss its hole.
• Kani wa kra ni nisete ana o horu.
The crab will dig a hole that fits its shell. (Each looter should use his wit and cunning to escape).
The worst scenario is classified as daimaki, also pronounced taimaki (platform rolling). The thieves are arrested in the home they are looting, holding the sanyabukuro or chanshiki, the tool bags, in one hand, and a stolen item or two in the other. The general idea is that if one is to be arrested one should have a minimum number of incriminating objects on one's person. The governing proverb advises, He o koite, shiri o subete (You farted, now close your ass). Although one has broken the law (by farting) one can still get rid of the evidence (and pretend nothing happened).
One way to do this is uraita (ceiling), to hide the loot in a safe place. The bandits can always do donden (topsy-turvy), return to the scene of the crime at a safer date. If the situation is isogashii (busy), meaning that the criminals are running down the street with the police at their heels, more desperate measures are called for. If their loot is ballasting them down, they must enzuke (marry it off), the desperate euphemism for ditching the plunder. Clever burglars will drop their loot piecemeal, in the hope that they will have something left when they get home. This is known as gan, kan, ganta, and kanta.
If the police start gaining on the fleeing burglars, the burglars' favorite term is the vivacious Chinese expression shanrai shunrai (from shang lai, “it's coming up,” and shui lai, “the water is coming”). With the floodwater lapping at their feet the sweating crooks will fling their expensive burglar tools in all directions. This is known as hake (sweeping) and chari furu (swinging the clinks).
Some of the thief's most poignant words are reserved for the stirring moment of his arrest. The criminals describe themselves as kuzureru (collapsing), hikkakeru (being hooked), nejiru (being wrenched), nukaru (bungling), and anberu (Nagasaki slang for “being punched”). The policemen whip out the handcuffs: the wappa (rings), chin (clonks), kai (shells), shaka-sama (Lord Buddhas), or kakushi (that which is covered), and the bandits, so as not to lose face in front of the gaping crowd, are allowed to cover the cuffs with a jacket or a scarf.
But all is not yet lost. Bandits worth their mettle will try to perform tachikorobi (a standing tumble), overpowering the police in the van. Then everyone rolls out into the street and to freedom.
3. Picking Pockets in Tokyo
THE MOST colorful group of Japanese thieves is made up of little clusters of small-time professionals. These are the suri (those who rub up against), hittakuri (snatch and handlers), tsukami (grippers), kakekomi (those who dash into places), and kakedashi (those who dash out of places). They weave through crowds, riffling pockets and bags, wallets and briefcases, snatching money at market counters, movie theaters, in dark sex booths, and in train stations, from the masses on rush-hour trains, buses, ferry boats, and inter-island ships. The ato oshi (rear pushers) will jostle their victims from behind: a brisk shove, followed by a sumimasen, shitsurei itashimashita (oh, excuse me, I'm so sorry), and the wallet is gone. The muneate (chest aimers) and nakasashi (inside inserters) work on the Tokyo subway, sliding their hands into the breast pockets of expensive business suits. The seoimaki (burden relievers) lift valuables out of tourists' heavy backpacks. The kanizukai (crab users), tsumi (snippers), and kamisori ma (razor devils) incise their way into deep coat pockets and leather handbags. These men and women go to work with custom-made blades and tweezers which are known in back-alley slang as take no fue (bamboo whistles), kane (metal), bakakiri (idiot cutters), and takegushi (bamboo skewers). A younger set, the kurumaoi (car chasers) and the kurumaoshi (car pushers), make a living by motorcycling past rows of cars during rush hour traffic, leaning into open windows and snatching jewelry, handbags, and briefcases.
There are even groups who work exclusively in temples. These are the miyashi (shrine specialists), yamabushi (hermits), and kanesu (from kane suri, “bell pickpockets”). Dodging the sharp eye of the watchful clergy, they collect ornate golden hairpins from women kneeling in kimono, swipe yen notes tucked tightly into festive obi belts, filch the money that the devout throw at the statue of the Buddha, and then rake through the holy donation boxes.
In the tough hierarchy of Japan's criminal classes these quiet, unostentatious pilferers are ranked rock bottom. Star gangsters call them fly chasers (haeoi) and branch rippers (eda hagi), a pungent expression that meant “panty thief” during the desperate post-World War II years, when suburban women were in the habit of hanging their expensive undergarments on tree branches. After a few drinks at the sake bar, and a few karaoke songs, the elitist criminals find even unkinder names for these minor-league lawbreakers: chibo and bochi, chibi and bichi, chiko, chiki, chikiya, and yakichi, all discriminatory dialect words for “dwarf.” The Lilliputian reasoning is that pick-pockets move through crowds almost as if stumbling between their victim's legs. After a few more drinks, the criminal elite call the pickpockets on trains uke (receivers), a malevolent word for vagina, while thieves on ferry boats become bd, an equally malevolent word for penis.
• Odoroita n! Kono tri zentai wa haeoi darake da ze!
Man! This whole place is just full of little jostlers!
• Aitsu jibun o nani-sama da to omotte yagarun da? Taka ga eda hagi da ze.
Who the fuck does he think he is? He's no more than a two-bit panty thief.
• Mattaku odoroita kott'a! Satsu wa imada ni ano bochi o tsukamae nanrenn da ze.
I'm just real surprised that frisker hasn'tbeencaught by the police yet.
• Aitsu wa tada no uke da ze! Hajiki no tsukaikata nante shitteru wake n daro!
He's just a little train thief! He wouldn't know how to use a gun!
• Ferii de minato ni tsuita toki, bd o mita ze.
• Just as we were arriving in the port on the ferry, I saw this prick working the crowd.
The wallet heisters and crowd jostlers, spurned by the big-time clans of the inner city, ganged together to create small leagues and corporations of their own. To accentuate their autonomy and ward off prying ears, they vigorously nurtured and expanded their private lingoes. Words were invented for every type of pocket, for the pockets' position in a garment, the material of the lining, the hand movement into the pocket, and the hand movement out of the pocket. New verbs were created to cover the most Byzantine stealing techniques. Nakanuku (inside pull-out), for instance, means “to carefully slip one's hand into a victim's trouser pocket, draw out the wallet, flick it open, whip out cash and credit cards, close it, and slip it back into the victim's trouser pocket.” Hikobarasu covers the same procedure with a twist; the wallet is not in the trouser pocket but in the inside coat pocket. An even fiercer verb, takudasu (kindle and pull out), means “to drop, as if by mistake, a lit cigarette into a victim's jacket or open shirt, and then, while the victim is frantically trying to locate the burning butt, come to his aid, helping him unbutton and frisk through jacket, shirt, and undershirt, taking the opportunity to lift wallets and other valuables out of pockets and bags.”
Another pivotal jargon verb, maitobasu (dance and fly), means to walk towards a rich-looking victim, spot the bulging wallet in his trousers, and with a masterful snap of the hand whisk it out as the victim passes. As more and more Tokyo gangs adopted this technique, it appeared in different parts of town as mondorikiru (somersault cut), chigai o mau (dancing in contrast), chigai o matsuru (celebrating in contrast), and chigai o kau (shopping in contrast), along with popular shortened varieties such as chigai (contrast), and its inversion gaichi.
The clans grew and split and grew again, and the jargon of petty theft became richer and richer. Pick-pockets could now rattle off scores of secret words for wallet: hza, nakasuki, umo, tai, y, jinsuke, yoite, bochi, zuda, yoichi and yoichib, chinkichi and jinkichi. Some gangs named their wallets nasu (eggplants), iwa (rocks), kaeru (frogs), kaerudachi (frogs' friends), ike (buried), and psu (the English word “purse”); other gangs went for more inspired expressions like hitsujiire (sheep entrance). A sheep, they explain, will readily eat paper, and paper is used to make money, and money goes into wallets... so why not call a wallet a sheep entrance? Subtler expressions like rokkupu and miire refer specifically to the money inside the wallet, while ike (“buried,” as in buried treasure) is used exclusively when a wallet divulges an electrifyingly large wad of notes. Some provincial gangs, however, will use ike to mean “wallet,” their reasoning being that wallets are buried in trouser pockets.
If a wallet proves to be empty, the verdict is mosagara (from mosa kara, “the gut is empty”) or iwagara (from iwa kara, “the stone is empty”).
Outsiders listening in on this charismatic jargon will hear eccentric statements such as:
• Aitsu wa shin'iri dakara, mada chigai o mau koto wa dekin yo.
He's new, so he still can't dance in contrast.
• Nan'te kott'a! Chigai o matsutteru saich ni kuso-nasu otosh'chimatta ze!
Man, I tell you! Right in the middle ofcelebrating in contrast, I dropped the fucking eggplant!
• Tsuite n n! Ky no iwa wa doremo hotondo kara data ze!
No luck, man! Today's rocks were almost all empty!
• Kono hitsujiire ni wa ikura haiterun da ze? Chotto hayaku mite miro yo!
How much is in the sheep entrance? Quick, take a look!
Foreigners who spend time lurking around urban train stations are likely to be amazed at the change in the jargon's lilt as they stray from one clan's territory into the next. On the Chiyoda-ku side of Tokyo station, for instance, they might hear nakaba and nakabba for “inside pocket,” while a few hundred yards away on the Chuo-ku side, the pocket might turn into a more plosive nakapa. If they were to wander a mile or so in the direction of the port, the pocket changes into uchiba (inside place) and, on the waterfront, first into chippa, and then by the waterbus terminal into hikopa.
Working the Crowd
When pickpockets work in groups they describe them-selves as yama o kumu (gathering into a mountain). They form clans, with leaders, bag specialists and wallet specialists, and sometimes loot carriers, loot concealers, diversion creators, and lookouts. If they are the kind of group that enjoys working crowds, then Tokyo pickpocketese refers to them as batazoku (clamor gangs), hirabazoku (wide place gangs), and mogurizoku (dividing gangs). One or two members will push and jostle their way through the masses collecting bags and wallets, which they then pass to colleagues who are known as tatemai (framework) and daitsukimono (the person who sticks to the base). These are well-dressed individuals, usually with an adamantine pillar-of-society look about them, who trail at a safe distance carrying all the wallets and bags. If there is a police bust they sidle off with the goods, and the pickpocket remains loot-free and innocent. This technique of stealing and passing is known as matsu, from matsubazue (crutches).
In some clans the thieves will split up and work the crowd from different angles. They are called yaritemai, and use basic no-frills pickpocketing techniques such as okihiki (put and pull) and narabihiki (move parallel with and pull). They walk or stand next to the pedestrian, hoist the wallet, and then do dakko, the flicking movement of the palm that will send the goods up into the sleeve. When sleeves are full, wallets and bank notes are flushed out and passed to the loot carriers.
In larger clans, pickpockets split into sets of two to increase their volume. These twosomes are given avian names such as oshidori (mandarin duck), and basa (flutter). A popular duo trick is sotomo (outer face), in which one partner stumbles into the victim, bows and apologizes, while the other partner cleans out pockets and bags. In a denser crowd, the couple might go for a simpler maku o haru (spreading the curtain). The idea here is to stand so close to one's victim that one's partner's working hand is completely hidden from view. A related method is the dramatic maku o kiru, a theater expression meaning to raise the curtain or start the performance. The curtain, in this case, is a magazine or a newspaper which is raised quickly and opportunely to cover the victim's face. The performance lasts a few seconds, the curtain comes down, and the players scuttle off with their loot.
• Koko de okihiki, asoko de narabihiki—kore wa boro mke da ze!
A little riffle here, a little dip there—you can make a killing!
• Nanda omae! Semai sode ja dakko ni naran ze!
• C'mon man! That sleeve's too tight. How d'you expect to slip things up there?
• Aitsu wa ate ni naran kara, oshidori yaru no wa gomen da ze!
He's just totally unreliable, there's no way I'd partner up with him!
• Ore wa matsu nuki ja shigoto wa shin yo! Baka y na yo!
I'd never work unless I had someone to pass the loot to! Don't talk shit!
The man in charge of the group is called by some kiku (criterion), by others less sophisticated, gyji (cow's ear). In the largest operations, he will sit in a high-rise office with a view, and marshal operatives by phone, beeper, or computer e-mail, but in smaller enterprises he will be out there, his hands slipping in and out of pockets. Whether working in absentia or on location, his vital function is to be the group's referee. He will call the players together, set the strategy, signal the start, and, when the game is over, flag the players off the field. To secure the safety of his operatives he employs lookouts to eye street entrances and exits for possible patrols. These are the katobu (mosquito is flying), tsuki (attached), torisu and sutori, both inverted versions of suri to (with the pickpocket). Groups that have Korean underworld connections call their lookouts by the ultra-secret Korean code names kunni and chiye. In the event of a botched job these lookouts double as lifesaving buffers and stumbling blocks. As the screaming victims run after the pickpockets the lookouts, masquerading as concerned bystanders or curious onlookers, can skitter into the way, blocking, tripping, or even tackling the victims if need be.
At the Station
Many talented pickpockets work in train stations. These are taxi-stand jostlers, ticket-line heisters, waiting-room prowlers, many brands of train-riding thief, and platform pros. All have their own federations, distinct working methods, and own special blend of station pickpocketese known as shaba ago (from teishaba, “railroad depot,” and ago, “jaw”).
When a train pulls in everyone jumps to attention. The platform specialists are the first on the scene. They are the giri (“grabbers,” from nigiru, “to grab”), girijin (grab men), giriya (grab dealers), girisha (grab individuals), girishi (grab specialists), and girikonosha (grab-guy individuals). Some platform prowlers prefer the tough ethnic Korean word parami (wind). Like a strong gust, the reasoning goes, they sweep over platforms, taking with them wallets, bags, briefcases, and even pieces of luggage.
• D y wake ka getsuy wa giri ga in da yo na.
For some reason the place is teeming with grabbers every Monday.
• Ky wa hoka no girijin wa doko ni itchimattan dai?
Where did all the grab men go today?
• Densha ga okureteru kara parami no rench wa cha demo nomi ni itten ja n ka.
The train's late, so I guess all the winds are off drinking tea.
The train doors open, and there is a stampede of passengers shuffling and jostling their way to the exits. The waiting criminals call this situation ori (from oriru, “to descend”). In the five or ten minutes until the platform is empty again there is a stealing frenzy known as oritsukai (using the descent) and utsu (to hit). Each pro has his own methods: some go for simple pocketpicking, known as shakuru, others steal bags, bankakai (the backwards version of kabankai, “bag shopping”). Other platform specialists do hineri, butsu, and butsuri, snipping off golden chains and necklaces, and still others thread through the throng clutching what platform jargon calls geshihaku, a small dagger-like contraption. These thieves do oitore: walking next to a well dressed victim, they plunge the razor-sharp instrument into his fancy attache case, cut the side open, and hope to hit the jackpot.
The careful platform pro, however, will stand back and watch the passengers alight from the train. His sixth sense tells him who is the perfect victim or hakoagari (box descender), and on seeing him will immediately barge his way through the crowd. This stalking of victims on platforms is known as hori.
As the crowd begins to disperse, a second group of thieves jumps into action. These are the hakonori (box riders), hakotsukai (box users), hakoshi (box specialists), nagabakoshi (long-box specialists), kanebakoshi (money-box specialists), and hakogayoi (box transcenders). They spot the well-dressed victims on the platform and follow them onto the train. In Japanese criminal jargon the train is always treated as a box. Hako (box) and its backward version koha, kanebako (money box), nagabako (long box), gomibako (trash can), and among older criminal riders even shamisen, the traditional box-like string instrument.
Victims come in all shapes. The nemu, gaisha (from higaisha, “victim”), and doroku (road number six) are the easiest marks. They are obviously not Tokyoites; they brandish their wallets, count their yen notes in full view of the platform sharks, and leave briefcases and luggage leaning against a stanchion while they go shopping for last-minute snacks. The drawback is that this type of prey does not usually carry anything worth stealing. One niche up is the victim who at first glance looks provincial and not worth robbing, but on closer scrutiny shows definite signs of hidden wealth. Pickpockets give this type of passenger the ethnic Korean name poniwata. Another eligible victim is characterized as honkai (true purchase) and honke (true home); a clear outline of the bulging wallet in a trouser pocket can be seen from a distance. The best victims are nukui (warm), namahaku (cash vomiters), and norikin (riding gold). Lost, confused, and provincial, they stand on platforms blinking at the electronic arrival and departure screens, big wads of yen notes practically falling out of their pockets.
• Asoko ni tatteru gaisha o neratte miru ka?
Shall we go for that easy mark standing over there?
• Aitsu wa mikake wa da ga, poniwata ni chigain!
That guy looks like shit, but he's definitely loaded!
• Oi, miro yo! Ano honkai nogasu beki ja n ze.
Yo! Don't let that true purchase get away!
• Y! Maita na! Kory! Mare ni miru norikin da ze!
Ooh, man, yeaaah! That guy there's a rare riding gold.
The final minutes before the train pulls out of the station are charged with fervid anticipation. The train jostler's nimble eye glazes as he culls and reculls all the eligible victims, hastily weighing the pros and cons of following them onto the train. The victim that he finally places his faith in is called toku (the beneficial one).
The final announcements roll over the loudspeaker. The warning sounds, the doors are about to close, and passengers bustle on the platform. The thief's heart begins to flutter.
• Oil Tanomu kara! Kono densha ni notte kure yo n, toku-san y!
Oh please, please! Please ride this train, Mr. Beneficial One!
The glorious moment in which the victim picks up bags and briefcases and steps onto the train is designated in platform jargon as iwai (celebration). Relieved, the happy thief climbs on board and the electronic doors close behind him.
The platform pros are not the only thieves to run for the train. The okinagashi (those who put and flow) climb on a local at one station, grab bags and coats, cameras and camcorders, and then jump off at the following station. In the meantime, the tanashi (shelf specialists) clean out the racks above the seats, while the bataoi, minz, bega, suka, and gyta steer clear of bags and cases, and go picking from pocket to pocket. When thieves meet colleagues on trains they cordially avoid each other's turf, and the cars are carefully split into thievery arenas. Those nearest the engine are the maeba (the front place—a sprightly pun on maeba, “front teeth”), the next few cars are the ueba (upper place, or “upper teeth”), and the last several cars the atoba (after place).
In train jargon pockets are known as p. As the thief moves smiling from passenger to passenger, his first task is to spot the wallet or, if that does not work, fall back on his thievish instinct. If that does not work either, he will do momiwake (grope and understand), also known more nefariously as sagari ni kiku (listening down there), in which fingers run lightly over and about the creases of the victim's trousers. Oddly enough, this is also referred to as kenjiru (to make an offering), and ogamu (to pray).
• Saifu o suru mai ni wa dono p mo momiwake shinakucha na!
I had to feel up all the pockets before I got my hands on the wallet!
• Ima wa rench minna haba no hiroi pantsu haite yagaru kara sagari ni kiku no wa raku da ze!
Now that everyone's wearing wider pants, listening down there for wallets is easier!
• Y maita ze, jkyaku minna kenjite mita ga, ii mono nani hitotsu mitsukarya shin!
Man, I groped every single passenger—absolutely nothing worthwhile!
• Ogande, ogande,yatto yatsu no saifu o mitsuketa ze!
I prayed and prayed until I found his wallet!
The most idiosyncratic batch of railroad thieves works out of local trains deep in the provinces. These are young men and women who rummage from car to car doing kagidasu (ferreting out), collecting as much plunder as they can. There is no limit to the amount they can collect, because at various strategic points of the journey they open windows and do nagedasu (flinging out), which has earned them the name nagedashizoku (fling-out gangs). As the train chortles along one of the group, the dachi (short for tomodachi, “friend”), follows by car, stopping every so often to collect the wallets, bags, and other valuables off the tracks.
4 Japanese Penises
WHEN VISITING Westerners ask “How do you say penis in Japanese?” or “What's the local word for testicle?” faces turn red, conversations grind to a halt, and bashful friends might even make a dash for the door. Japan's official stance regarding all sexual organs, foreigners often complain, remains “we do not have such words” or “we never say such things.” The persistent linguist, however, will keep prodding his acquaintances until they finally give in and admit that there is a slang word, chinchin. “But don't ever use it!”
Unconvinced, the seasoned visitors set off for a seedy downtown bar, where they click on their tape recorders and buy round after round after round of drinks. Chinchin, they soon discover, is the mild diminutive of harsher words such as chinpo and chinko, which also appear in the inverted forms pochin and pochi, favorites in modern red-light neighborhoods. Dekachin, a contraction of dekai (hulking) and chinpo (penis), is used for the well-hung, and kkachin, meaning erect penis, comes from kka (elevated) and chinpo (penis). Yokochin (side penis) is an organ that generally rests horizontally in its shorts, while sanpachin is always worn to the left and thus has a tendency to learn to the side when erect. When a man is wearing boxer shorts or loose swimming trunks and his organ inadvertently pops out, hardened college coeds will point their finger and murmur to each other yokochin moreru(the side penis is escaping).Furuchin (wagging penis) is an exposed penis.
The madam at the bar sidles over sotto voce and whispers that all these penile words came from the tough chinpoko, which itself originated from the antediluvian chinhoko (life-giving sword).
“In the beginning,” she explains, “there was Chaos, and the mythical Izanami (the male-who-invites), with the help of his incestuous sister Izanagi, (the female-who-invites), dipped his large chinhoko into the ocean. The chinhoko was then whisked through the air, the spray flew, and the ancient islands of Japan were created. Amazing, isn't it?”
In the tougher bars of Koganech, near the port of Yokohama, the foreigner comes face to face with some of the earthiest slang Japan has to offer. Here the local criminal element mixes affably with weatherworn masseuses from the nearby red-light parlors by the train station, local Korean truck drivers, liberated students, corner prostitutes who work in the corrugated dives under the elevated tracks, and garbage collectors who stop in, between cans, for a quick swig of hot sake. On some nights a Buddhist priest or two might drop by to spice up the atmosphere with a worldly anecdote. Each group in the bar has its own private lingoes and cants, the ingo (hidden words) or ago (jaw) impenetrable to outsiders. As the mood becomes more convivial, the secret words flow freely and the foreigner can successfully set pen to paper.
The linguist notices that the women in the bar tend to refer to male organs as sticks. Konb (club), koneb (kneading stick), b (rod), surikogi (wooden pestle), and kine (pounder) are used for large and potent organs, while smaller ones are belittled as kushi (skewer), waribashi (wooden chopstick), enpitsu (pencil), and hari (needle). If a man is willing but underendowed, unkind sex masseuses will say he has ikibari, a lively needle.
• Konna kii konb hairanai wa!
That big club won't fit in!
• Koneb o massaji suru toki wa anmari sakimade kawa o hippari agecha dame da yo.
When you massage his kneading stick, you shouldn't pull the skin up too high.
• Ano otoko atashi no hadaka o mita totan, surikogi odoroku hodo kiku shichatte!
When that man saw me naked his wooden pestle jumped up!
• Anta kare no chinchikurin na hari mita? Kimochi warui!
Did you see his tiny little needle? Gross!
• Kare atashi ni ikebari sawatte hoshii no yo! Gya!
He wanted me to touch his lively needle! Yuck!
When gruff men refer to their penises with sticklike slang words, the images are meatier and more belligerent: nikub (meat rod), nikubashira (meat pillar), tokobashira (bed pillar), tepp (gun), hoshin (gun barrel), and rosen and roten, both rugged fishermen's words for “oar peg.” Roten was uncovered as a potent slang expression as far back as 1925, when the highbrow Kamigun Kyiku Kai (Kami County Educational Committee), in their linguistic survey Kamigunshi, identified roten as being a common Osaka-port word for penis. Another tough masculine trend is to personify the organ. In the post-World War II years the nasty taunt ket (hairy foreigner) became the fashionable word for penis, and the older street crowd still enjoys using it. Organs, after all, are both hairy and, like foreigners, dangle about on the outside (of society, that is). Equating foreigners with penises, everyone agreed, made sense, and as vaginas were increasingly being called naijin (inside person) on the streets, what could be punnier than calling penises gaijin (outside person), or foreigner.
Other spirited personifications show the organ as being a feisty, independent apprentice, still bound to its master, who has to struggle hard to keep it in check. Words like deshi (pupil), detchi (apprentice), and detchib (apprentice stick) became the rage. Penises were also referred to as sons: segare (my son), musuko (son), emu (M) the rough school-boy abbreviation of musuko, and san, the Japanese pronunciation of “son.” Sons, the argument goes, are constantly misbehaving. Sometimes one has to even resort to beating them. Cocky words like bizu (sonny) and yanchabzu (naughty little boy), wagamama na bzu (selfish little boy) and htbzu (debauched little boy) became especially popular, as bzu has the added charismaof meaning “priest” and even “a priest's shaven head.”
• Anta musuko shimatte kurenai! Yaru ki shinai kara ne!
Put your son away! I'm not in the mood!
• Mata toire de bzu o shikoshiko surun ja nai ka!
He must be in the toilet again beating his priest!
Another tough group of terms for penis involves vegetables. Imo (potato) is used when organs are short and fat, tgarashi (red pepper) when they are small and pink, and gob (burdock) when they are large and tubular. Umegaki Minoru points out in his book Ingo (Hidden Words) that gob has been a favorite since the Middle Ages. Furuoke de gob o arau (washing the burdock in the tub) was considered one of the zestier gauche references to sex. The matsutake (mushroom) has a slim shaft and a disproportionately large head; the rakky (scallion) has an unusually long foreskin that extends well beyond the tip even during an erection, and the hinedaikon (shriveled radish) and the hoshidaikon (dried radish) are small and very wrinkly. The only garden variety penis in this group is the kyri, a type of cucumber indigenous to Japan that usually grows to a length of approximately four or five inches.
• Kare no imo oishis!
His pud looks quite tasty!
• D y shinkei shitenno? Tgarashi shabure'tte yn da yo!
The nerve! He actually asked me to suck his little dipstick!
• Hizamazukakete, ore no gob shaburaseta ze!
I made her get on her knees and suck my ramrod!
• Rakky dakara, tatte mo mukenai yo.
There's a lotta skin there, so the head stays covered even when it's hard.
• Hinedaikon mitai dakedo, odoroku hodo kiku naru!
It might look like a shriveled little radish, but it gets real huge!
• Ano otoko hoshidaikon muriyari atashi ni irey to shita ked, zenzen muri da yo.
That man tried to stuff his limp little dick into me, but it just didn't work.
The most prepossessing words bounced about at the bar are the vernacularisms referring to extremely specific traits in an organ. The kasa (umbrella) and the karakasa (paper parasol), for instance, are penises that are unusually top-heavy. The related sakibuto (tip fat) is even more spectacular. Its head is so disproportionately large that it keeps craning out of its foreskin. The ibo (pimple), on the other hand, is bottom-heavy, with a thick torso and a very small head. The insatsumore (printing error) is an organ that has been completely shaven, while the owner of an utsubo is so hairy that his pubic region extends well up beyond the root of his shaft. The inyake (penile burn) is dark and debauched. When organs are dangly, growing larger and larger with excitement without, however, manifesting much pith, they are called chchin (paper lanterns), odawarajchin (lanterns from Odawara), gifujchin (large egg-shaped lanterns originally from Gifu), yowaz (weak elephants), and z no hana (elephants' trunks).
• Kin kita futari no kyaku, ryh to mo chchin datta!
I had two clients yesterday who both had long dongs!
• Atashi honto ni isshkenmei shabutte shaburimakutta no ni, zenzen yowaz ni kka nai no!
I sucked and sucked till I was blue in the face, but his long dong just wouldn't get hard!
Other eye-catching penises are the hosomi (thin body), which is long and spindly, the namekuji (slug), which stays soft and small even when excited, and the buraz (from burabura, “idle”), a floppy organ that is very old. The rippustikku (lipstick) is completely covered by foreskin until it is put to use and the glans comes spiraling out, while the rezgan (leather gun) has a remarkably long and crinkly foreskin that often bunches up at the tip. The rokei (uncovered root) has a foreskin so short that the glans is constantly gliding out.
The most unfortunate organs are pigeonholed as hkei (covered roots). Their foreskin caps the glans so tightly that penile activity is severely hampered and kawakiri (skin cutting), the popular term for the phimosis operation, is called for. The taunting terms for these organs are menashib (eyeless stick), kawakaburi (skin covered), suppon (“mud turtle,” for pull as you may, the head will not come out), and hkaburi and hkamuri, the kind of kerchiefs that Western cow rustlers tied around their faces to keep their incognito.
• Omae hkei to kiitan da!
We heard you've got problems with your dick!
• Nani yo sono dekai taid? Dse suppon no kuse ni sa!
What's with this attitude? His dick doesn't even work right!
• Nan de atashi no kare anna ni hansamu na no ni, anna ni kawakaburi nan dar.
My boyfriend is so handsome, I just wish his dick weren't so useless.
• Sorya ore hkaburi daked! D shiro'ttsn da yo? Jisatsu shiro'ttsn no ka yo?
So my dick's fucked up! What d'you want me to do? Kill myself?
The bar's male population will often use animalistic words. The largest organs are the uma (horse) and the even larger umaname (horse lick). These are so sizable that when their owners squat at the public bath, the organs bounce onto the wooden platform in what is admiringly called itaname (board licking). Also well-proportioned are the uwabami (boa constrictor) and the aodaish (Elaphe climacophora), an attractive blue-green snake, and the orochi, the mythical monster serpent that never failed to startle ancient heros and heroines. On a smaller scale we find the modest unagi (eel), also playfully known as the miminashiunagi (earless eel). If a penis is run-of-the-mill the bar crowd will call it a turtle (kame) or a goose (gan and kari). If just the shaft is under discussion, then the more specific gankubi and karikubi, the words for “goose neck” are used. Yamagata Hgen Jiten (Yamagata Dialect Dictionary), a penetrating linguistic survey published by the Yamagata Dialect Research Association in 1970, holds that in northeastern Japan, in Yamagata, kari is used exclusively to specify the lower band of the penile head where the glans is at its widest.
• Anta no gankubi iren'no? Tetsudate ageru wa?
Can't you get your shaft in? You want me to help you?
When an erection is brought up, the goose words are transformed into gandaka and karidaka (goose high). If the man is fully clothed his friends will laugh, and some will refer to his organ as a tento mushi (tent bug), while others will ask tongue in cheek, Oi, tento o hatteru? “Yo, you're setting up your tent?”
Some rough bars encourage penile games. After the excited customer has bought the hostess a drink or two, she fumbles for what she girlishly calls his pinpinchan (little Mr. Boing Boing), his erect penis, and does hakebune (sailboat). She sits on his lap, squeezes him between her thighs, and rocks back and forth to the cheers and whistles of the crowd. In some of the toughest establishments this bar-stool practice is advertised as dakko (dolly), while others go for the more blatant umanori (horse riding). Some establishments go even further. They offer otete supesharu (handy-pandy special) in which bar women publicly massage customers to orgasm, and sukinrippu (skin lip), the post-AIDS-scare attraction in which a penis is double-condomed and then fellated.
These bars are a treasure trove of words for penises. Guffawing men discuss each other's size and prowess, hostesses cackle at their clients' anatomy and purr strings of hushed epithets, the barman reminisces, and the third-generation Korean from Kawasaki city calls his organ sbakui, a favorite term among Tokyo's ethnic Korean gangs. A transvestite recites a chain of fierce words that only gangsters use: yoshiko, hode, teibo, reji, dekademo, fukubeb, zun, zundoko, sade, bd. Snippets of conversation float through the smoke-filled bar:
• Boku no sbakui ga gingin tatchatta!
My dork got stiff as a ramrod!
• Om no hode shabutchatta?
She sucked your cock?
• Atashi kare no fukubeb ni wa sore hodo kymi nain da yo ne.
I'm not really that interested in his dong.
• Onegai dakara! Motto zundoko aratte hoshii n.
You know, I wish you'd wash your dick more often.
• Atashi sh ni ikkai wa dekademo yan'nai to, ki ga sumanai.
If I don't get dick at least once a week I go nuts.
• Kanojo ore no bd massaji suru no ga umain da yo. Ore nifun de itchimau yo.
She's real good at massaging my stick. Two minutes and I shoot my wad.
As the linguists listen, they are convinced that some of the heavy slang words must have ancient roots. After all, they muse, in English we've been using “cock” since the fifteenth century, “staff” since the sixteenth, “sausage” and “stick” since the seventeeth, “dick,” “gherkin,” “banana,” and “shlong” since the nineteeth, and the American favorites “dork” and “dong” since the 1920s.
Obashira (male pole), odogu (male tool), ohashi (male edge) and its derivative ohasse, definitely smack of the Middle Ages, as do the bellicose yari (spear), suyari (naked spear), tsuchi (sledgehammer), sakasaboko (up-side-down sword), and tsuka (“handle,” as in knife handle, or “hilt,” as in hilt of a sword). Nukimi (drawn sword) and danbira (broad sword) must also have been handed down from medieval times, as no one in the bar would have had much occasion to see a sword of any kind.
An even older group of tough words center around the Buddhist expression mara, a word of Sanskrit pedigree which is reputed to have arrived in Japan with the first Buddhist doctrines in the mid-sixth century A.D. In its original guise, mara referred to the dangerous demon of worldly cravings that disrupted the priests' serene meditations, thus spoiling their chance of attaining the enlightenment of nirvana and Buddhahood. Most ecclesiastics managed to steer clear of forbidden delicacies, such as the occasional drink or the occasional mouthful of meat, but when it came to the hardest temptation, the stirring of the flesh, many tottered. A single lewd thought, however fleeting, was enough to push the cleric off the narrow path to illumination. As ever-longer lines of priests tried to secure Buddhahood by enrolling for rasetsu (cutting off the demon), mara entered into monastic slang as one of the many priestly words for penis.
Throughout the nineteenth century mara was snatched up nationwide by the bar-and-tavern crowd as modern priests, eager to socialize, spilled out of their monasteries and into the streets. Konseimara (golden life penis) became the word for a perfectly proportioned organ, and dekamara (hulking penis) was used to describe penises that are particularly large. An excited organ that is neither too hard nor too soft was classed as fumara, and a large but flabby organ, funyamara (floppy penis). Furimara (dangling penis), is a penis that unintentionally plops out of its shorts in public. Bentenmaru Takashi, in his 1932 book Ishinomakiben, maintained that in some regions of Miyagi furimara (dangling penis) had, surprisingly enough, acquired gender equality. Depending on the context, Arya furimara dambe can mean both he or she “is not wearing anything under there.” In modern brothel slang, sumara (naked penis) refers to an uncondomed penis, while sakamara (alcohol penis), happamara (marijuana penis), and yakumara (drug penis) are used for organs that are too crapulous to be of use.
Mara has even been absorbed into the slang speech of the most distant mountain dialects. In the north-eastern Tohoku region, for instance, a rough village word for penis is marafuguri (penis testicle), while marafuri (penile wag) is used for naked men.
On the other side of Japan, on some of the islands of Okinawa, marafuri means “penis dangle,” i.e. “penis and testicles.” Marafuri is used when the speaker is discussing the whole sexual organ, as opposed to just the shaft and the glans.
As tourists from the Japanese mainland often realize too late, mara on many of the outlying islands exclusively refers to testicles.
When mara is scrawled onto bathroom walls today, it is brushed on with the labyrinthine twenty-one-stroke character ma (demon) followed by the nine-teen-stroke ra (contain). But some graffiti artists pronounce this choice of characters bogus, and compose mara with the fifteen-stroke ma (rub) and the nineteen-stroke ra (contain). A penis, they protest, needs to be rubbed to be contained. Others who cannot manage the complex brush patterns go for the simplest solution of all: five strokes for ma (tip) and thirteen strokes for ra (naked).
The madam sidles over once more to the group of linguists and confides that even hoarier words will pop up at the bar.
“Take ‘dozen’ for example,” she says. “Today a garbage collector will use it as a smutty allusion to a penis. Back in the glamorous days of the samurai,however, it was a perfectly legitimate word for a man's head.”
“Then there is mameyakamono,” she continues. “Today it's a crass organ that bounces up at the slightest provocation, while medieval novelists used it to mean ‘robust chap’.”
She offers some examples:
• Atashi kare no dozen ga haitte kuru mae ni, rshon nuranai to dame na no!
Before he puts his man's head in I always rub some lotion on it.
• Kare no dozen no katachi kirai! Kimochi warui!
I hate the shape of his man's head! It's gross!
• Atashi kare no mameyakamono ga pantsu no naka de dekaku naru no wakatchatta.
I could tell his robust individual was getting hard in his pants.
At the other end of the bar there is a group of lively students, whose hair is tightly permed and dread-locked. Their new bellbottomed jeans are very wide, with many little bright patches carefully handsewn onto where the fabric might one day tear. Some are wearing Nigerian skull caps, others tall and colorful Jamaican wool hats. These are the burazazoku (brother gang), also known as burakkuzoku (black gang), and bobii-kun (little Mr. Bobby-men, after the musician Bobby Brown). These gangs slavishly disguise themselves as African Americans, thread their language with as much English as possible, and hang out in wrecked neighborhood dives, where they keep to themselves and pretend they are in an ruburakku (all black) bar somewhere deep in New York. Their speech is speckled with tilted expletives such as sanadabichi (son of the bitch), shittoman (shit man), and mazfakingu (mother fucking). When asked for a list of the coolest scene words for “penis,” they recite the strings of quasi-American words popular in Tokyo's progressive inner-city high schools and colleges. The first word to jump up is burakkujakku (black jack), along with burakkubatto (black bat). These are strong and elephantine organs. Other powerful Tokyo-American words are sukury (screw), pisuton (piston), magunamu (magnum), and bringu (“boring,” the Japanese for boring machine or drill). The erudite farosu (phallus) and the earthy kokku (cock) are also used. When a penis is exceptionally gifted it is called chji (battery charge), and if it is not it is called a moderugan (model gun)—it might look like a lethal weapon but it is quite harmless. The smallest penises are called pk (Parker), after the pen.
The single most diehard student word for penis has been emu, the initial “M.” During the late nineteenth century, in the Meiji period, when Japan for the first time opened up to the West, students discovered the Latin alphabet and quickly put all its letters to trendy slang use. Esu, (S) came to mean “pretty,” from the German word schoen; bii, stood for “back” as in ass, and a pert combination like bii esu (BS) stood for back schoen (nice ass). The single favorite fin-de-siecle letter, however, was “M,” short for the intriguing and contorted menburumu biriirisu (membrum virilis). For decades the protracted Latin word was the rage. Everyone knew it but no one could pronounce it, until one day the word lost its novelty and the students began using “M” for the more circumspect “member” (as in male member). Later “M” came to represent the earthier mara (penis), and in today's colleges the euphemistic mono (thing) and musuko (son).
• Ano ko kangaeteru koto to ittara burakkujakku no koto bakari!
All that girl is interested in is black jack!
• Aitsu no sukury wa dore gurai kii?
How big is his screw?
• Aitsu kane haratta to shite m,atashi moderugan nanka sawaru monka!
I wouldn't touch his model gun if you paid me!
• Ore no emu biichi ni ittara dekaku natchimatta! Hazukashikatta, mina jirojiro mita!
At the beach my “M” got hard! I was so embarrassed, everyone was staring!
5 Urban Vaginas
WESTERNERS LIVING in Japan often complain that Japanese friends, business associates, and acquaintances go out of their way to shield them from warui kotoba (bad words). The sexier the words, the stronger the shield. When the foreigner finally asks, “Excuse me, how do you say ‘vagina’ in Japanese?” even the trendiest Tokyoites will goggle, turn red, and splutter, “we never say such things in Japanese.” But after five or six rounds of drinks the barriers of linguistic propriety begin to crumble. “Asoko (over there) is the word you're looking for,” the foreign guest is told. “Kanojo no asoko, her ‘over there’, is what we say. But don't ever use it!”
After a few more drinks, the medical term chitsu is bounced about, followed by the dictionary entry joseiki (female instrument), after which the subject is changed.
At this point, foreigners who wish to pursue the matter further must stalk words through back streets and dark alleys. They must trudge through slums, through fish markets, past rows and rows of noisy street-vendor stalls; they must follow dump trucks on their rounds, hang out at shady local bars, buy hoodlums drinks, and then footslog from high school yard to youth center, from video arcade to yakitori grill to pachinko parlor.
As the tourists penetrate deeper into the street scene, they realize that each clique has its own specialized words, particularly when it comes to sexual organs. Trendy highschoolers favor clever puns, naughty college students prefer foreign words, the motorcycle gang likes the tough traditional words of the local mob, and the local mob has its own proud roster of historic expressions that often date back centuries to Edo period speech. Among downtown musicians, for instance, one of the more popular words for vagina is kiig, an inversion of gakki (musical instrument).
• N, anta no kiig hikit!
Ooh, would I like to pluck your instrument!
• Aitsu no kiig wa itsumo jitojito da ze!
Her instrument is always wet and ready!
The fishmongers of Tokyo's Tsukiji market favor suji, as in “muscle” or “sinew.” The prostitutes of the soapland bathhouses call their organs kanebako (money box). Even Buddhist priests have a private and sacrilegious slang all their own. A deep vagina, for instance, is called saiijintai (the ultimate depth), while a sshiki manj, a funeral bun (uncommonly wide when compared to regular buns) is used for extremely large vaginas. A manibachi (clerical pot) is a Buddhist nun's organ. As with all tight-knit slang groups, one must be an insider in order to follow the Buddhist's rap.
• Sazanami ni wa chigainai ga, genkan de isha to bzu ga matteta no sa.
Even though the waves were rippled, both doctor and priest were waiting at her gate.
(Even though her face was all wrinkled, both my finger and my penis were ready to enter her vagina.)
The four most popular rude words for vagina in Japan are omanko in central and northern Japan, omeko in central and southern Japan, bebe in the north, and bobo in the south. As one begins mingling with different sets of people, these staple words start falling by the wayside. In school yards, omanko is transformed by tough girls into miiman, with “me” (as in myself) joined to the man of omanko.
• Iikagen ni shite yo! Miiman sawaranaide!
Cut the crap! Don't touch my twat!
• Biichi ni iku to miiman ni suna ga ippai hairu kara, iya nan da yo na.
What I hate about going to the beach is that I get sand up my twat.
When even rougher teenage girls wish to casually chat about vaginas they will use omanman, omunmun, and omonmon, while their more refined peers prefer the dubious expressions wareme (crack) and waremechan, (little Miss Crack). Both terms are comfortably used by teachers in sex education classes throughout Japan.
With-it school speech is full of English expressions and secret codes. “HT,” short for “half think,” means you love someone but he or she totally ignores you. An “FM” is a “fuck mate,” an “HB” a “homo boy,” and an “F” a “feminine” —what American MTV might call a dazzler or a babe. Most of the hottest 1990s' words for the female organ are of English extraction: rzu (rose), kan (canoe), biib (beaver), kurebasu (crevice), and even kurt (crater) are rampant in fashionable school yards.
• Busu da'tte ii ja n ka! Rozu wa rzu nan da man!
So what if she's a dog! A rose is a rose!
• Kare atashi no kan zutto shita de nametsuzukete, m saik dattan dakara!
He was licking my canoe like crazy! Ooh, it felt great!
• Aitsu biib yoku aratte kara beddo ni haitte kita.
First she washed her beaver and then she got into bed.
• Chotto sono yubi kurebasu kara hazushite, honmono irete kun'nai!
Will you get your finger out of my crevice and put the real thing in!
Raunchy schoolboy magazines like Sukora (Scholar) and Dokkiri Shashin (Surprise Pictures), also read by college freshmen and other young men, have done much to strengthen the young Japanese male's grip on would-be international sex words. Words like bokkusu (box), a direct translation of the street favorite hako, are packaged in those bouncy magazines with the even more arcane deruta (delta) and derutachitai (delta zone). Topping the loanword list in popularity is chikin (chicken).
• Boku kanojo no deruta mitchimata ze! Sug!
I saw her delta! Awesome!
• Ore kanojo no pantsu no shita no migoto na chikin sz shitchau yo n.
I can just imagine her luscious chicken under those panties of hers.
Handy English terms like cherii furaw (cherry flower) and pinku (pink) can be used for both virgins and virginal vaginas, while kizumono (broken thing) and sekonhan (secondhand) are used for more experienced women and non-virginal organs. Kirimanjaro suru (doing Mount Kilimanjaro) is an upbeat and popular pun for breaking a virgin's hymen. Kiri means “cut,” man is “vagina,” and jaro is left on the end to clinch the naughty word game. Tougher boys, however, use tougher words such as shiunten (test drive) and flgiri (premiere).
• Ore zettai kana gakk ni cherii furaw hitori mo inai to omou yo!
I don't think there's a single virgin left in this school!
• Aitsu wa shojo to bakkari omotteta kedo, jitsu wa kizumono datta ze.
I was convinced she was a virgin, but it turned out she had a broken thing.
• Omae, ano onna kirimanjaro shita daro?
You're the one who popped that woman's cherry, right?
• Ybe no shiunten yoku nakatta kara, suteta.
The test drive last night wasn't that good, so I dumped her.
Organs of the Tokyo Back Alleys
As one leaves the schoolyard and heads for the restaurant and bar area of the downtown back alleys and slums, terms for the female sexual organ become more traditional. One of the most notorious groups of words is of pot-and-pan background, with favorites like ochawan (tea bowl), ochaire (teapot), tsubo (canister), usu (mortar), hachi (bowl), utsuwa (utensil), and hako (box).
• Om kanojo no ochawan mita?
Did you get to see her tea bowl?
• Kanojo mata hirote, ore ni tsubo miseta.
She spread her thighs and showed me her canister.
• Ana gaijin no suke ii hako shiteru ze.
That foreign chick has one great box.
Other potent pantry expressions are nukabukuro (rice-bran bag), nabe (cookpot), and kobako (small box). These words for vagina have flourished since the Edo period, and have been sharpened by centuries of persistent use. A feisty old-time urban expression for the organs of extremely provincial girls, for instance, was donabe (mud pot), while akanabe (red cookpot), is still used by brusque gangsters to refer to menstruating organs.
• Akanabe da ga, yatchima ze!
Even though your cooking pot is red, let's go ahead with it!
Tsubo (canister) will often pop up in rough speech along with chatsubo (tea canister), which in nineteenth century slang was used exclusively for organs perfumed with aromatic spices, a connotation that has been lost in modern times.
• Kane o jbun ni harattara, ano onna chatsubo teiky shite kureru ze.
If you give that woman enough money, she'll let you have a go at her tea canister.
Words of the same family that are popular with tougher, older mobsters are sumitsubo (ink pot), fuigo (bellows), hikeshitsubo (charcoal extinguisher), and nikutsubo (meat jar).
The group of pot-related words comes in especially handy when the speaker needs to add a descriptive edge to his statement. When women shave their pubic region, the ceramic word used is kawarake, an unglazed earthen cup. Ochoko, a tiny sake cup, represents an unduly tight organ, while osara, a narrow dish, suggests that the organ is extremely shallow. Meiki (exquisite article) is used for organs that are topnotch.
• Ore osara'tte suki nan da yo na. Tenj made tsukeru kara na.
I really like a small dish, 'cause you bump against the ceiling.
• Kanojo no ochoko dakara, ireru no o itakute y!
Her thing's so tight, it really hurts when I put it in!
• Sawatte mita toki, kanojo no meiki m bichobicho datta yo.
When I felt her exquisite article, it was already hot and juicy.
When an organ is large and wet, tarai (basin), ohachi (rice tub), furo (bathtub), and the harsher nikuburo (meat tub) are used. The largest organs on the street are labeled zara (platter), and the largest of all todana (cupboard).
• Aitsu no nikuburo no tekuniku wa saik dakara, omae kondo tameshite minai yo?
She sure knows how to use that meat tub of hers. Why don't you try her out sometime?
• Bjin? Omae nani'tten da yo! Aitsu wa todana da ze!
A virgin? Gimme a break! Her thing's like a cupboard!
Just as the slangiest English expressions for vagina have histories that stretch back to early medieval times (“cunt,” 1300s, “twat,” 1500s), many of modern Japan's earthier equivalents are just as ancient. The largest body of taboo words to have survived the centuries unscathed is the shellfish group. Words like kai (shell), yohamaguri (night clam), yakihamaguri (baked clam), kani (crab), and the coarser kegani (hairy crab), can be heard sweeping through heated discussions in late-night sushi dives, early-morning fish markets, and all the rougher downtown bars and groggeries. The shellfish words, many find, are especially useful when a specific type of vagina is brought up. Karasugai (fresh-water mussel shell), for instance, is used when a woman has very dense pubic hair; karasugai literally means “raven shell.” The clam (hamaguri) is a large organ with a strong sphincter, while the corbicula shell (shijimi) and the surf clam (shiofuki) are both small and tight. (Shiofuki, “salt spray,” is also the jet of water that a whale spouts,which has given it its second slang meaning of “hefty spurts of sperm.”)
• Omae kanojo ni sake ogottara, sukunakutomo kai sawarashite moraeru ze.
If you're buying her a drink she should at least let you feel her shell.
• Atashi sanfujinka no shinsatsu daikirai! Hamaguri ni nanka tsukkomareru kara n.
I hate going to the gynecologist! He always puts things up my clam.
• Kanojo no kegani nuretete junbi okkdatta!
Her hairy crab was wet and ready!
Kai (shell) has given birth to a whole line of raffish expressions. In the Middle Ages, saucy novellas kept readers on edge with words like shakogai (clam shell), ikigai (living shell), and, when an organ was stunningly large, horagai (trumpet shell). In Yoshiwara, Tokyo's old pleasure quarter, shinkai (new shell) was used for virgins, while takaragai, (jewel shell), referred to the worldly organs of the top courtesans. The medieval awasegai (meeting shells), has turned in modern speech into kaiawase (shell meeting), and is one of Japan's coarser expressions for lesbian sex. Another idiom that has survived the centuries is kaisenzuri (shell thousand-rubs). It remains today a potent motorcycle-gang word for female masturbation.
• Atashi, kaiawase? Nanitten da yo!
Me, bump pussy? Please!
• Ano ko-tachi zenbu suru no: rap dansu, kaisenzuri, zenbu.
Those bar girls do everything: lap dancing, solofingering, everything.
Tokyoites touring southern Japan are often stunned to hear farmers in the rural outbacks using kai exclusively to discuss their cows' vaginas. In his penetrating 1937 publication, Zoku Ikishima Hgenshu, linguist Yamagata indicates that kai has been used for cows as far south as Nagasaki. Almost three decades later, in 1969, after an extensive period of probing field work, the Kamo K yodoshi Linguistic Research Committee, in their publication Kamoda ni Kotoba, finally set the Okayama province as the bovine kai' s northern boundary.
Akagai (ark shell) is one of the most versatile slang words for vagina. Many speakers use it as a straight-forward reference to the organ, with the idea that the shell (kai) is red (aka)in color. A more picaresque crowd uses the red shell for older organs. Saragai (new shell) would be that of a chaste teenager, while akagai, flushed and red, has achieved a rich hue through years of experience. Still others use akagai to refer to an organ in orgasm. In the fiercest urban slang speech the red shell symbolizes a menstruating organ.
• Ky atashi no akagai dakara, ushiro kara shite.
My shell is red today, let's do it from behind.
• Hayaku, tampon chdai! Akagai ni natta kara.
Quick, gimme a tampon! My shell's turning red.
Even Buddhist priests are not above inventing their own shell idioms, and after a few drinks (a practice strongly discouraged bydoctrine), baser street words are often touched up with a few lofty religious terms. Nkai (gifted shell), for instance, is an experienced vagina, while the euphonious makakai is made up of the Sanskrit maha, “great” (as in maharajah, great king), and kai (shell). Pleasant organs are referred to as kairen (lotus shell), while unpleasant ones are called kunkai (odoriferous shell). Polite priests, however, will use the more elegant keishu (firefly scented).
• Y mani demo, nkai wa hitome de wakaru mon da yo.
Even when leaves cover the demon nun, I can tell at a glance if a shell's gifted.
(Even if she's wearing panties, I can tell with a glance if she's got good pussy.)
• Ano hito no makagai ni ogamitai mono desu yo.
I'd kneel in prayer before her divine shell any day.
• Kanojo wa kunkai dakara, watashi wa enryo shit'okimasu yo.
I think I'll keep my distance—her shell is odoriferous.
Kaidan (shell discourse) in clerical circles refers to risqué banter. Takai (shell banging) is the priestly word for intercourse, kaim (shell hair) is a woman's pubic region, and tonkai (hasty shell) is hurried sex. In kaisaku (shell quest), the priest rubs and even penetrates a female organ with his fingers. When a priest peeks through a window with the help of binoculars, the practice is known as kaimaku (curtained shells).
• Anta no toshi de kaimaku shinagara shoshagy suru to wa!
At your age observing curtained shells while copying out sutras!
(At your age to be peeking and playing with yourself, really!)
Dongai (shell coveter) is a priest who is excessively interested in female organs.
* * *
After scouring through school grounds, dump-truck yards, monasteries, and downtown dives, the linguists venture into rougher neighborhoods ready to seek out and interview the fiercest urban gangsters, the Yakuza. Since the government's anti-mob activities of 1993 and 1994 these gangsters have become less visible, but once contact has been made, the Westerners are surprised at the scintillating private vocabularies they encounter among different gangs.
The Yakuza hierarchy runs the gamut from the most junior members, the chinpira (pricks) and the tough teppodama (bullets), usually in their twenties, all the way up to the grand oyabun (paternal part), the gang's godfather. Each gang level has its favorite words. When it comes to vaginas, the Yakuza gangs turn out to be a repository of old and elegant idioms, with generation after generation of gangsters learn-ing the rigid classical jargon of their elders. Beautiful expressions like shumon (orange gate), saya (sheath), fuji-san (Mount Fuji), and even maku no uchi (“behind the curtains,” curtains in this case referring to the woman's panties), dot the speech of the most ruthless criminals.
• Tsugi ni ore s, ano ko no shumon ni yubi suberasetan da.
Then the next thing I did was to stick my fingers up her orange gate.
• Ore ga itta ato, kanojo jibun de saya fuite yagatta.
After I came she wiped her own sheath.
• Ano ko wa sonna kantan ni fuji-san akewatasu y na anna ja nai yo.
She's not the type of woman to give her Mount Fuji away so easily.
Yakuza slang is fanatically nationalistic and steers clear of foreign words, especially when it comes to vaginas. Even the youngest Yakuza recruits, fresh out of high school, avoid trendy American imports such as pushii (pussy) and suritto (slit). When given the choice in referring to vaginas, Japanese slang speakers generally prefer using terms for salty sea creatures. Among the Yakuza novices, however, some of the most popular words for the female organ involve fruits: momo (peach), sometimes referred to by rougher boys as kemomo (hair peach), suika (watermelon), uri (melon), the Japanese akebi fruit, and amaguri (roasted chestnut). Ichijiku (fig) is the only fruit that the young Yakuza also tolerate in its English form, fuiku.
• N! Ana onna no toshi de kemomo nureru to omou ka?
Tell me, d'you think her snatch still gets wet at her age?
• Kono bokashi tondemo n yo na! Ore honmono no suika ga mitai yo!
Man, this censoring is too much! I wanna see some real watermelon!
• Shinjirareru ka? Kanojo kurutta y ni ichijiku ijikurimawashiteta!
Would you believe it? She was frigging away at her fig like crazy!
• Atashi fuiku ni atarashii kokeshi irete mitan dakedo—sugoi yokatta wa!
I stuck that new vibrator up my fig—it was ace!
As gangsters get older, the words they use for the female organ get heftier. In middle-aged criminal circles fruity idioms give way to boggy, marshy images such as numa (swamp), oka (hill), otoshiana (“pit-fall,” for very large organs), tani (valley), and ichi no tani (first valley).
• Ore-tachi sutoripp no numa nogashita ya na. Pantii nugann da mon!
We didn't get to see the stripper's swamp. She kept her panties on!
• Atarashii sutoripp no otoshiana mita? Sug!
Did you see the new stripper's pitfall? Hot!
The single most fashionable swamp word in the underworld is the ancient yachi (bog). In some gang jargons yachi appears in its inverted form chiya, which has also developed into a shorter form, cha. Over the centuries yachi has given rise to a remarkable list of organ-related expressions: yachigakushi (bog hiding), for instance, is one of the rougher words for panties, and yachineta (bog news) is pornography. Yachihakui (bog in white) is the accomplished organ of a mature woman, while yachikoro (rolling the bog), yachiseme (invading the bog), yachikameru (crawling into the bog), and yachikeri (plowing the bog), are rowdy words for sex. Yachigari (twat kid) is a harsh and very unkind name for a pre-teen girl.
• Aitsu no yachigari mo m shgakusei k? Jikan ga tatsu no wa ha' mon da.
Is his little twat already in elementary school? Man, time flies.
• Ano yachigari ga ore no kao ni notte kuretara, shinde mo ii yo!
If that twat kid rode my face, dying would be perfectly fine!
(Man! That little twat can ride my face any day!)
An interesting phenomenon of the nineties has been the snowballing of the secondhand soiled-panty trade. Boutiques with names like Atene, Q-tii, and Tiffany have opened throughout Japan, catering to the shitagimania (underwear maniacs). These are cliques of middle-aged and elderly men who enjoy buying up heaps of used panties, bras, and skirts. The more soiled the item, i.e., the longer it has been worn, the higher the price. If a panty is billed as having been the property of a woman over twenty, trade jargon calls it yachibira (twat poster), or yachihi. If the former owner was well under twenty, the clothes (anything from badly peed-into underwear to full-fledged, sweat-stained school uniforms) are referred to as yachigaribira (twat-kid posters).
The deeper one penetrates the street scene, the tougher the yachi words become. Yachi o hegu (flaying the bog) and yachi o sogu (mutilating the bog) are two of the most raucous Japanese terms for rape. Yachibai (bog trade) and yachiuri (bog sale) refer to prostitution, while yachikai (bog purchase) means buying a prostitute. In the underworld when a man is a sex maniac he is yachimoro (bog fragile), or even yachigure (bog lost).
• Yachikai ni ik?
Shall we pick up a hooker?
• Tai no anna ga haitte kite irai, yachibai wa noborichshi da yo!
Since the Thai girls have come in, cunt sales have really gone up!
• Aitsu minato de yachiuri yatteru rashii ze.
I think she sells cunt down in the port.
• Imadoki eizu no mandai mo aru'tte no ni spu ni yachimoro iku nante omae mo taishita tama da na.
What with the AIDS problem and all, you've sure got guts to keep on going down to the soapland bathhouses like some lech.
• Naomi ni atte irai, aitsu wa yachigure 'chimatta ze. S dar?
Since he met Naomi he's become a total sex maniac. Don't you think so?
The idioms for vagina used by the oldest members of the Yakuza mob, the top of the underworld hierarchy, are calmer, more stately, and exude a strong traditional flavor. The vagina becomes the speaker's koky (native place), or furusato (birthplace), sato for short.
• M ano bab no koky wa akiaki da ze!
I'm bored sick of that old bitch's native place!
• Chotto sukto makutte mira yo! Furusato sawatte yaru kara sa.
Lift your skirt a bit! I wanna feel your birthplace.
Other powerful and elderly vocabulary is obake (ghost), okame, a smiling fat-faced woman's mask used in Kabuki theater, and the strange but popular expression waraji (straw sandals).
• Na! Oji-chan wa om no waraji ni shita tsukkomashite kure yo!
C'mon, let uncle lick your straw sandals!
6 Provincial Vaginas
TRAVELING THE whole length of Japan, from northern Hokkaido to southern Okinawa, enquiring tourists are stunned by the variety and vibrancy of the slang words they encounter for the female organ. Although urban acquaintances back in Tokyo might have warned them that the Japanese, especially in the provinces, never refer directly to sexual organs, as the travelers make their way from village to village questioning farmers, field hands, truck drivers, and local housewives, the list of unspeakable words grows and grows.
The two most prominent Japanese words for vagina are omanko and omeko. Omanko, along with its shorter form manko, has its linguistic seat in the Tokyo area and is popular throughout all the northern provinces as far as the port city of Hakodate on Hokkaido. Omeko's domain is the south, from the cities of Nagoya, Osaka, and Kyoto, down to the island of Kyushu.
As one drives from Tokyo to the northern tip of Honshu, omanko appears with different lilts. On the street corners of Fujiyoshida, west of Tokyo, one hears the curt oma; in nearby Kfu city it is the drawn-out omanch, while in the more isolated regions of northern Gunma, omanko is used alongside ochanko, which in its turn has developed in neighboring areas into chanko, ochako, chako (cho, for short). In the western province of Ishikawa it even appears as chancha and chacha.
In the south, omeko is dominant. Its territory stretches from the Kansai region all the way down to the isolated Pacific fishing villages of Miyazaki on the island of Kyushu. Like omanko, its northern rival, omeko comes in many regional forms. On the streets of Hiroshima, for instance, it has evolved into omech, omench (sometimes also pronounced omencho), and in some districts omencha, omecha, and mencha. In Kobe, the sharper ome is often preferred in rough street speech, while fifty miles down the road, in the seaside province of Tottori, omeko is used with deference, while its local variations omecha, omencho, and mencho spring up in raunchier conversations.
Further down, on the coastal roads of Shimane, the northern omanko and the southern omeko meet. The result is omenko, which, as one drives between the seaside towns of Hamada and Masuda, is transformed into menko, meme, and even memeko. In Kchi, on the island of Shikoku, both meko and manko are used interchangeably without the honorific prefix “o,” while on the nearby island of Kyushu, omeko has evolved into meicho, meme, meme-jo (meme-woman), meme-ko (meme-girl), meme-san (Ms. Meme), and even meme sama (Lady Meme).
• Aitsu to wa nagaku tsukiat kedo, mada ikkai mo omeko mita koto nai tai.
Even though we've been dating for a long time, I've never seen her twat.
• Honna kotsu! Aitsu ikkai mo meicho yarashite kuren ken n!
Man! She never lets me put it in her twat!
• Meme-jo kakusan' to minna ni mirareru bai?
Come on, cover your twat! D'you want everyone to see it?
The traveling linguist quickly realizes that Japanese dialectology is full of pitfalls. No sooner has a taboo word been netted in one village than it tends to reappear a few miles down the road with a completely different meaning. Ikimi (breathing body) in the northern prefecture of Aomori means “vagina” in Akita, sixty miles away, local hoodlums use it exclusively to discuss anuses. In Miyagi, bekya is an ordinary vagina, while a few miles north, in Iwate, beke or beky is a shaved organ. In southern Japan, meko and menko are unmentionably crass words for vagina; in the mountains of northern Japan meko or menko is a pretty and well-behaved pre-teen girl. Okama, a word for iron pot that has been nationally appropriated to mean “homosexual,” is used in Tochigi and Gunma for “vagina,” and in other areas further south for “anus.” Then in some areas of Gifu, in central Japan, okama turns into a brawny and politically incorrect provincial word for “physically challenged,” while in other areas of Gifu okama! okama! means “mommy! mommy!”
The case of betcho is even more bizarre. Throughout much of northeastern Japan, in such provinces as Yamagata, Miyagi, and Fukushima, betcho, betch, becho, and bech serve as uncouth references to the female organ. In some areas of Fukushima, however, betcho refers to sex, while eight provinces away, in Shimane, villagers use bechi to discuss virginal organs and bench for those more mature. The group of betcho words then completely disappears from the map until, hundreds of miles away, on Kyushu is-land, betcho resurfaces as an uncouth reference to a bowel movement.
• Aitsu ken de betcho shiotcha nai t'ya.
He must be in the park taking a shit again.
• M! Betcho shita ato wa chanto nagasan to ikan bai!
Man! If you're gonna take a shit, at least flush afterwards!
Another central Japanese word for the female organ that drastically changes meaning as it moves south is heko. Its furthest northern domain is Akita, where it appears both as heko and hekko. Going south, however, heko reappears in Chiba, near Tokyo, in Kagawa on Shikoku island, and in Kyushu as a male g-string, while in Hiroshima hek is an underskirt.
Japanese linguists are still baffled as to why heko became a favored provincial word for vagina, and over the years different linguistic camps have offered wildly differing etymological possibilities. In a forgotten 1847 study, published by the Edo period linguist Ono, heko is featured as a southern Kyushu word for “the pink meaty underbelly of a crab.” Almost a century later, in 1937, Yamaguchi in his book Zoku Ikishima Hgensh, confirms that through-out the fisheries of Nagasaki, heko refers to the soft and edible part of a shell.
Among the most versatile regional slang words are heppe and tanbe. In the northern port of Hakodate both words are frequently used by local dockworkers and sailors in discussing vaginas. Further south, heppe becomes a penis, then a testicle, then sexual intercourse, and then a vagina again. Tanbe, also pronounced danbe and tanpe, is even more flexible. In Yamagata slang danbe is a large and in some cases erect penis; in the coastal areas of Shimane some fishermen use it for anus, others for vagina, others again for penis, while street cliques in the seaside town of Masuda use it to taunt obese individuals. Danbe is at its most ductile in Niigata in central Japan. Locals there are very surprised to hear that their northern neighbors use it for vaginas. Danbe, they argue, is a hanging, swingy thing: a testicle, a penis, the pendulum of a grandfather clock, and in some farming villages even the dangly dewlap of a rooster—but never a vagina. Other Niigatans again, insist that danbe does not dangle but is a round, soft, and pulpy thing: a wad of cow dung, a jellyfish, a persimmon, or a testicle. Only a flabby and very small ball-like penis could possibly qualify as danbe. Then in Sado, on Niigata's seafront, in the bars and the pubs of the port, danbe takes on yet another form. Danbe ni naru (becoming danbe) means drinking oneself under the table.
After omanko and omeko, the two most prominent words nationwide for the female organ are bebe and bobo. In his controversial book Nihongo wa Doko Kara Kita ka? (Where Does Japanese Come From?), the popular Japanese linguist Kawasaki Shinchi argues that both these words are of ancient Egyptian provenance. Japan, his theory goes, was colonized by Egyptian adventurers. As a result, unbeknownst to modern street cliques, many of their favorite words for vagina are of Egyptian origin. In more modern times bobo and bebe, propelled by their pleasant alliterative sound, have spread into provincial street speech throughout Japan.
Bobo is of southern origin, a Kyushu island word, but it appears side by side with bebe in dialects all the way from Shikoku island to the opium plains of Tsugaru in the extreme northern part of Honshu. In many areas bobo is considered far crasser than bebe. While with-it Tokyoites might enjoy bandying bobo about in their club-scene speech, even the toughest of street gangs in Fukuoka and Nagasaki will use it with the greatest circumspection.
• Aitsu ni sakaya de ippai ogottara, bobo misete kureru'tte shittotta ya!
D'you know, if you buyher a lotta drinks at the bar, she'll show you her twat!
• Kono kuriimu o bobo ni nuttara ninshin sen kai na?
If I rub this cream into my cunt I won't get pregnant?
• Nan de kai na! Bobo ga ittsumo kaii chaga!
I don't know why! My cunt's always itchy!
Like the other prominent Japanese words for vagina, bobo appears around the countryside in different guises. In some villages in the mountains of Yamanashi it pops up as a male organ, but in all other areas bobo remains strictly feminine. Yamagata city slang, a renowned melting pot of northern and central Japanese dialects, uses both bobo and its local variant hobo. In the Niigata province bebe is used for vaginas, while bobo-san (Ms. Bobo) and bobo-sama (Lady Bobo), specify the clitoris. In the Kobe area bobo appears as a truncated bo. It is only on its home turf, on the island of Kyushu, that bobo has over the years absorbed the many different local accents. Just on the streets of Kumamoto it surfaces as bbo, bb, bobojo, and even bocho.
The group of bebe words is more active and volatile, especially in the north. In Aomori, bebe sired epe and epeko. In Sendai city it mingled with the northern favorite omanko, resulting in obenko, a word reserved for prepubescent and virginal organs. In the neighboring prefectures of Iwate, Akita, and Yamagata, bebe begat hehe, which begat hepe and heppe, which begat pepe, which begat peppe, which begat happe, bappe, and dappe. (In some areas dappe is also a risqué reference to the male organ.)
• Ore no bebe min de kun'ro!
Don't look at my snatch!
(In standard Japanese, ore is a strong, manly word for “I” that only the most masculine women would ever dare use in public. In many northeastern dialects, however, ore is considered tough, but completely gender equal.)
• Sonna mizugi kinde n zo! Om no hehe miraretchimau kara!
You're not wearing that bathing suit! Your cunt shows through!
• Om y! Or'a hayaku heppe shin to dame da!
Man! If I don't get some cunt soon, I'll go nuts!
• Om itsu kara are no peppe miten da?
When did you get to see her snatch?
• Om bappe ni kuriimu tsukene'kka dame da be! Kapakapada wa!
Put some cream on your snatch! It's all dry!
• Shinjirare'kka yo? Are dappe no ke sotchimatta da be!
Man, d'you believe this? She shaved her twat!
Further south, in the province o fIshikawa, bebe and chako are equally popular, at times fusing into chabe, an exclusive regional slang word. About two hundred miles off Ishikawa's coast, on the beautiful and wild islands of Oki, bebe is used along with bebecha, bebeko, and a string of melodious local variants such as benbe, bonbe,chanbe, chanpe, and ochanpe.
Travelers who follow the development of bebe through the mountains of Tohoku, the plains of Kanto, and the tea plantations and rice fields of Chubu gasp when, in Kinki, in the national park of Isseshima, the local in-crowd informs them that they are mistaken, that bebe actually means “dirty” or “gross.” Only the most unfashionable villagers in outlying coastal areas, they add, might use bebe for vagina.
Then, still further south, in Yoshino, near Osaka, bebe! bebe! means “potty! potty!” in children's lingo, but “vagina! vagina!” in adult slang. On Tsushima, an island about a hundred miles off the coast of Kyushu, mothers will screech out bebe! (yuck!) whenever their toddlers grope about in the mud or splash in roadside puddles. In southern Kyushu, in Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima, the mercurial bebe means both “shit” and “female organ.”
Another important family of vagina words from central Japan is the tsubi group. The tsubi terrain stretches from just south of Tokyo, where it appears as tsbi, down to the seaside areas around Hiroshima city. As tsubi journeyed south it stayed relatively intact, undergoing few regional sound changes, but in some of the more remote backwaters it has occasionallyshifted its meaning. In Shizuoka, on the eel farms of Lake Hamana, tsubi has been transformed into both tsunbi and the more drawling tsunbii, both expressions reserved exclusively for prepubescent organs. On the plains of Mie, tsubi and its variant tsube have been appropriated as a feisty synonym for clitoris, while just north, in Aichi, tsubi refers to intercourse. In villages around Osaka, rough individuals turn the noun tsubi into the verb tsubimagu (vaginal connection) when coarsely alluding to sex.
Tsubi's southern outpost is the island of Shikoku. In the provinces of Kagawa and Tokushima it precariously shares its turf with tsube, which means “anus.” To avoid a mixup, many villagers prefer tsube-nasu when fast-moving conversations turn to bottoms.
Organs of the Outbacks
As the traveling linguists stalk the various groups of bucolic organs from village to village and town to town, they uncover along the way hardcore aboriginal words exclusive to each region. The remoter the area, the more exotic the words. In the extreme north, in Hokkaido, pochi, bochi, puchi, ma, m'ma, and momo are of indigenous Ainu background. On Honshu, the main island, the northern province of Akita hides some of the most interesting, if crass, synonyms for vagina. Words for the female organ favored in tougher village circles in Akita are anbe (the northern tanbe minus the “t”), nen, and, down in the area surrounding Akita airport, betta.
• Kyonen no shgatsu kara ore anbe yatte n danbe!
I didn't get to do any pussy since last New Year's!
• Ora ni anbe namesasste kun da.
She won't let me lick her twat.
• Soko no tenugui totte kunro! Betta o nuguwan'nann.
Gimme that towel there! I wanna dry my snatch.
Just south, by the ski slopes of Yamagata, local thugs enjoy using words like biren, choko, and chame, while in the rice-field area in the southern part of the province racy farmers use abecho or apecho to distinguish virginal organs, and satbako (sugar box) for those more experienced. One province over, in the bay of Sendai, the halibut and tuna fishermen use berako, a type of hagfish, to allude to young organs.
One of the roughest village expressions, stumbled upon in the mountains of Aizu, is kumananna (bear's hole), also pronounced kuma ana (bear hole). Village men use it primarily as a jocular synonym for vagina, but also as a blunt way to describe women.
• Ore kon'da are no kumananna midakeyo!
Man, I got to see her puntang!
• Ore ga kte kitara y, ano onna kuma ana aratte toko dabe sa! Ora tamage da!
When I got back, that woman was washing her twat! Man, what a turn on!
• Kondo Tky kara kita kuma ana ii onna da b g!
That bit-of-ass just in from Tokyo, she's one good looking woman!
• Areya nisa no kumananna ga?
Is that there your bit-of-ass?
An interesting set of off-color words in the province of Niigata is of chaste Buddhist lineage. Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is used throughout the nation as a naughty euphemism for penis, the Buddha's shaved crown suggesting a sacrilegious resemblance to the bloated head of an erect organ. Bzu (priest) is another popular penile alternative based on the shaved-head association.
Religious words for the female organ, however, are more rare. In certain Niigata circles nyorai-sama (Lord Buddha), is the vagina; by entering the world of the Buddha the worshipper will be transported to ecstasy. For an even stronger touch of profanity, some individuals opt for rurik nyorai (Lapis-lazuli Buddha).
Kannon-sama (Goddess of Mercy) is another popular regional word. Kannon, whose name literally means “she who hears their cries (of anguish),” has the added attraction that she is a Bodhisattva—she post-pones her own ascent to nirvana so that she can guide men to joy. Some groups use kannon-sama to refer to the clitoris. Even the Buddhist temples have not survived Niigata street slang unscathed. Okunoin (inner sanctuary) is used as a zesty reference to the vagina, while honzon no kageishi, the hidden image of the Holy Buddha, serves blasphemously as the clitoris.
Further down the road, the prefecture of Tochigi offers the unique fune. Some villagers argue that its etymology is fune, as in “boat.” Others, however, point out that since most of the mountain villagers who enjoy using the term have never seen a boat, the original inspiration must have been fune (couple sleep).
On the coasts of Mie, in the area of the old pearl fisheries of Shima, the private local words for vagina are konbo and the harsher hamehame (jab jab). In the southern part of Honshu, in the precincts of the Setonaikai National Park in Yamaguchi, the favorite regional word is bonshii, while across the straits of I yo on the island of Shikoku, unusual words like chobo, magu, okai, and okaisu are heard in the impenetrable dialect of the local roughs.
The most bizarre words for vagina in Japan are to be found in the ancient Kingdom of Ryk, today's Okinawa. Our linguists board ship at Kagoshima on Kyushu, and island-hop through the hundred-odd islands that comprise Okinawa, interrogating locals in the fishing ports all the way to Yonagunijima, off the coast of Taiwan. In their ports of call they encounter exotic languages, unintelligible from one island to the next.
Before their boat leaves Kagoshima harbor, the travelers have a last chance to pick up a few final indelicate expressions from the dock: ohako (box), mame (bean), mochi (rice cake), and bocho, all synonyms for mature organs, while anabachi (new pot) is reserved for virgins. One of the favorite harbor-slang words in Kagoshima is manzu, the local pronunciation of manj (bean-jam bun). An unsolved linguistic mystery to this day is that this bun also makes a cameo appearance on distant Ishigaki island, almost six hundred miles out to sea, where manj is the female organ, and manj shin (doing bean bun), means “raunchy intercourse.”
The most widespread Okinawan words for vagina are hi, hii, pi and pii (which, to the travelers' surprise, also mean “fart” on most of the islands). Other general words popular on the islands are h, haji, and the polite and circumspect m, which in actual fact means “front.” The inhabitants of the tiny islet of Kuroshima use kizaku (shell) in their harsh local slang, while further out, on the island of Tokunoshima, the local taboo words are homa and to. Nearer to the main island of Okinawa, on minuscule Yoronjima, the island words for vagina are po and po.
On Okinawa proper the most common rough word for the organ is hmi. Tourists are often startled to see it scrawled on the walls of public toilets with the elegant characters h for “jewel” and mi for “taste.” The fiercest Okinawa expression for sex is hmi yari (doing tasty jewels). In the jargon of the local mobsters, who are known as ashibj (the men about town) in the capital city of Naha, hmi yari has a sterner meaning: it refers to gangbangs and forced rape.
In the Okinawan countryside the dialects change from valley to valley. As one drives north out of Naha city on Route 58, the rurals' “h” becomes more and more like “p.” Hmi gradually changes into homi, and then as one passes the U.S. airbase at Kadena, into homi, hhomi, and then bhomi, bomi, and phomi. By the time one reaches the extreme northern part of the island, with its rugged hills and dreamy fishing villages, the southern hmi has changed into pomi.
The next port of linguistic interest is Miyako, a flat pleasant island about ten hours byboat from Okinawa. In the harbor of Hirara (population 50,000) the dock crowd use ujanma, while the inhabitants of the town of Gusukube, on the southeastern side of the island, prefer their own exclusive word, pssi.
The southernmost outpost of Japan's empire, and the end of the travelers' linguistic journey, is the isolated archipelago of Yaeyama. Weather permitting, the ferry from Okinawa makes its way over the two hundred sixty miles of sea only once a week. One of the larger and wilder islands of the group is Iriomote, whose mountains and tropical rainforests separate its two towns, Ohara and Funaura. In Iriomote beach slang, the words for the female organ are gutchu (dug out) and gira (shell), pronounced by some as a heftier, drawn-out giiira. On Kohama, a tiny island off Iriomote's coast, the hardcore local words are mitoma and piishii.
The most remote of the Yaeyama islands is Yonagunijima, whose two thousand-odd inhabitants speak an exotic dialect they call the Dunan language, known in the region for its long, tongue-twisted words. A virginal organ, for instance, is bingasanuminuka'agami, while an aroused female organ is described as minukagaranderuchiru. The fashionable crowd on the island enjoy bouncing foreign expressions (that is, expressions from nearby islands) about in their speech. Favorites are the general Okinawan word hi and the Yaeyama word piishii.
A few decades ago Yanagita Kunio, the renowned father of Japanese folklore, went on a similar word mission through Japan, one that took him over rugged mountains and through perilous valleys. His interest, however, was in snails. As he left Kyoto, the old capital, snails turned from dedemushi to maimai to katatsumuri to tsuburi. To Yanagita's surprise, the further afield he roamed, the older the words for snail became.
The distribution of words for the female organ, however, was much more spirited than that of the snail. Throughout the Middle Ages small sailing vessels transported these words from port to port, all the way from Hokkaido in the northeast to Kyushu in the southwest, and from Kyushu to the Kingdom of Okinawa, to the southernmost tip of Japan. At every stop thousands of funajor (ship prostitutes) lay in wait, ready to barter risque local words.
7. Sushi Slang
ONE OF the brightest and most challenging forms of Japanese slang is spoken down by the port in the wholesale fish markets of large cities in the dark hours before dawn. By 4:00 in the morning gigantic markets like Tokyo's Tsukiji, Osaka's Kuromon, and Hakata's Yanagibashi are churning with action. Thousands of fish stalls have been set up and box carts, fish wheelbarrows, vans, trucks, and huge sixteen-wheelers jam the streets and alleys. By 4:30 the city's top sushi chefs arrive with their drivers, and crowds of bustling fish brokers, auctioneers, wholesalers, and traders eye the catch and chatter in loud besshari (an inversion of shaberi, “talk”), the earthy market slang.
These early morning markets, known in vendor jargon as seriichi (competition markets) and ichiasa (from asaichi, “morning fair”), are hotbeds of linguistic creativity. While the city sleeps, thousands of exotic slang words surge through the stalls as tons of fish exchange hands, millions of yen flow from one pocket to another, and chefs whose reputations are at stake fight each other tooth and nail for the best fish at the best price. By 5:00 the auctioneers—tankashi (curse masters)—launch into their loud tataki (banging), the hard sales drives that artfully pitch the retailers against each other.
To these specialists a mackerel is not simply a mackerel, nor is a chunk of tuna just tuna. Ask a wholesaler for the Japanese term for herring, and swarms of non-dictionary words come pouring out: berotsuke, nishio, miyaki, segai, kado, chango, kraiiwashi. A herring can be kaku (horn) if its head is particularly pointed, kakutobi (flying horn) if it has a well-developed, athletic body, ba (large wing) if its fin is eye-catching, or koha (small wing) if it is not. The healthiest, most expensive herring are discreetly referred to as tobiuo (flying fish); nakatobi (inside fliers) are herring of medium interest, and the smallest of the batch are haitobi (rope fliers). Tnishin is a herring that has been caught in deep ocean waters out of season. Watanabe Shigeru, in his 1955 book Hokkaido Hgensh, identifies tnishin as a Hokkaido dialect word. T, he claims, is an Ainu term for swamp that was added to nishin, the standard Japanese word for herring. A herring thatis sold after its treasured roe has been pressed out is tsubunishi.
Even more words tumble across the fish stall counters when the vendor is asked about dried herring. A popular southern word is hanishi, while kachanishi, sakkaranishi, and nishipa migrated down from northern Honshu and Hokkaido. If herring have been both dried and cut they are called hokawari, somenishi, teppira, or sasakinishi.
When a wholesaler manages to hawk a whole consignment of herring, surprised colleagues describe him as doing kakubei. The only term for herring that never seems to appear in private market talk however is nishin, the word used by everyone else in Japan.
The biggest and most famous fish market in all of Japan is Tokyo's Tsukiji, which locals lovingly refer to as Tky no daidokoro (Tokyo's kitchen). This market has been the single largest mover-and-shaker of modern Japanese slang. Year in year out, Tokyo's toughest hard-selling and hard-buying individuals match their wits in early-morning auction halls, in wholesale depots, behind fish tanks, and in market aisles. New words travel fast.
A woman driving a sixteen-wheeler might, for instance, say in jest that she has no patience with what she calls praroido boizu (Polaroid boys): when you press their button in bed there is a big flash and the fun is over. A fish-box carrier, known in market slang as karuko (light child), might call someone furufsu, (full face)—the sprightly implication being that the individual's face extends all the way to the back of his head (i.e., he's completely bald). A nearby wholesaler hears the inspired neologisms and cheerily passes them on to a retailer, who passes them on to a sushi chef. The sushi chef gives the expressions a debonair public send-off by weaving them into over-the-counter anecdotes. Businessmen, secretaries, students, and car mechanics, having enjoyed their fresh Tsukiji market tuna at the sushi counter, bow, thank the chef, and take the new words home.
Tsukiji has been the driving force behind Tokyo's slang scene since the disastrous 1923 earthquake, when the wholesale fish market fled from Nihonbashi to Shiba, and then in 1932 settled in its present location on the banks of the Sumida river by the port. The nearby freight depot in Shiodome (Japan's first train station, built in 1872), the closeness of the port, and the arrival of the Hibiya subway line in 1964, all gave Tsukiji its unshakable position as Tokyo's most important linguistic crossroads.
Tsukiji had become even more important when Tokyo's wholesale vegetable market set up nearby, in the area that the old guard still calls jgai (the place outside). A heated linguistic rivalry began between the two sister markets as the fish crowd, their turf invaded, jealously stepped up their slangy besshari, while the willful grocers energetically cultivated what they called their fuch (the inversion of chfu, “code language”). lf the fish crowd could give their sardines magnetic names such as aoko, nagashi, komamono, hirago, tare, koshinaga, gomoku, donpo, karagaki, kigama, shikoro, yasura, or the Korean chongori, then the farm crowd was not about to lag behind. Along with their fruit and vegetables, farmers imported captivating words from faraway provinces. A commonplace squash, for instance (kabocha in standard Japanese) could be glamorized with a host of cryptic market words like aburashime (oil press), kinka (golden melon), kintka (golden winter melon), nanka (southern melon), ygao (gourd), and satsuma ygao (gourd from Satsuma), satsuma uri (melon from Satsuma), or just satsuma and osatsu for short. Squash words from the south became especially popular. Bonka came up from the Mie region, bbura from Osaka, bta from Shimane, tgan from Hiroshima, and obora and onzo from the province of Kagawa on Shikoku island. The most intriguing batch of squash words, however, are older terms that were the rage in market stalls in the fifties and sixties. They establish a Korean squash connection with jargonistic names like karauri (Korean melon), karaygao (Korean gourd), chsen (the politically' incorrect name for Korea popular during the Japanese occupation), and its more elegant version ochsen (the honorific “o” and Chsen, “Korea”). Market vendors, baffled as to why these words were turning up in market slang, could only conjecture that the vegetables must have been originally imported en masse from Korea.
At a Fish Auction
The market jumps to full action at 5:20 A.M. sharp. A bell tinkles, and there is a stampede of rubber boots over the sloshy cement floor as buyers of every shape and size dodge haulers, carts, and wheelbarrows, racing each other to reach the platform by the gigantic metal fish tanks. When there is a particularly large rush of retailers, such as during festivals or before the New Year, the delighted auctioneers exclaim:
• Oi! Ojime kuru zo!
Yo! A big push is coming!
Or more playfully:
• Ki o tsuke! Janjan da!
Get ready, it's ding dong!
The buyers charging toward the auction platform are called zabu, a name that, according to the market crowd, was inspired by zabuzabu (splish splash), the sound of their feet racing through bilgy puddles. The first fish to be hawked at the market, at 5:20, are alive, swimming large and small in their tanks. At 5:30 there is a second rush as the auctioning of boxes of fresh fish packed on ice begins on another level. Then, within minutes, the whole market is agog. Bells peal, loudspeakers bellow, and sirens blare as sales start up all over the building: the night's catch on the first floor, fresh tuna at ground level, sea urchins and oysters by the fish tanks, and rows upon rows of frozen tuna outside by the docks.
At these auctions only the slickest survive. Selling fish wholesale is called otosu (throwing), and buying wholesale is mukaeru (welcoming). Day in day out, the same hardline professionals bid against each other with deft maneuvers and slippery bluffs. Newcomers, known as ichigen (once seen), do not stand much of a chance. Before they need apply for a license they have to be fluent in the market's besshari and study the auctioneers' sales methods, known as hgaku (direction). They have to learn the many little secret hand signals that can mean anything from “yes please, I'll have that large fish over there”, to “at that price, forget it!” The single hardest task for the newcomer is decoding what is known as tankabai (curse sale) or tontonbai (bang bang sale). This is the impenetrable, droning chant of the auctioneer as he plays on the secret winks and hand gestures of the buying crowd.
Experience has made the bidding retailers distrustful. They have spent the pre-dawn hours peeking into tanks and into danbe, the boxes where fresh fish lie on ice. They sniff and eye their favorite fish, tapping their gills, looking deep into their eyes, and glaring at fins and tails. No retailer wants to be caught buying an aotan (bruise), a fish that on closer inspection has gone slightly fusty. The gigantic frozen tuna that lie in rows all the way down to the dock are checked by what is called shippo o kiru (cut the tail). The retailers walk from fish to fish flicking their fingers on the skin to evaluate its oiliness, and studying the lines on the exposed meat with flashlights. If blood oozes out in blobs, the technical market term is azuki ga demasu, “azuki beans are seeping out.” If a tuna turns out to be wanting, it is labeled dabo, an insulting cognomen that came from dabohaze (goby) an unattractive, spiny-finned little fish.
The catch of the night is kept fresh in styrofoam boxes that market slang calls taibako. A perfectly packed box of herring or mackerel contains twenty-one fish piled in neat tiers, and is called hitochobo (dice throw); if you count up all the little dots on a cube they add up to twenty-one. Some market packers will then top up the box with water and ice cubes (a process known as suihy, “water ice”), while others aim for a crisper fish by skipping the water and just packing the fish down with crushed ice (a process known as jhy, “top ice”). Of all the retailers, those bidding for live fish from the tanks are the wariest. The careful professional asks himself: How alert is that fish over there? How energetic? Does it swim about briskly enough? After all, even the peppiest specimen might well be aniki (brother), an elderly fish. If in doubt, the bidder mutters su ga itta, “the nest went,” and walks off.
The biggest scandal occurs when a fish dies before everyone's eyes while it is being auctioned. In such calamitous cases the bewildered auctioneer turns to his audience and utters the Buddhist death euphemism:
Its soul has risen!
The auction does not always run smoothly. There is often ill-feeling when one bidder outmaneuvers another and manages to get his hands on a prize specimen. The derailed retailer will furiously describe his predicament as naki (crying).
A more serious problem is when two arch-rivals, battling each other for a fish, arrive at a bidding impasse known as tsuki (together). The men first bark at each other in heated besshari while the auctioneer and the other retailers wait impatiently. If neither of the two will back down, they do a quick jan ken pon (paper-scissors-rock game), and the winner takes the fish. In some rare cases, however, opponents will lunge at each other in what is known in the market as juzu (Buddhist rosary). Punches fly, other retailers take sides, the auctioneers join in, and the market police come rushing to the scene.
As the pre-dawn auctions draw to a close the bidders race off to their fish stalls. In the Tsukiji market some sixteen hundred stalls clutter around the central shipping platform, known as Shiomachijaya (tea house for the awaiting of the turning tide).
To the vendor, his market spot is his niwaba (gar-den place). The most strategic stall sites are called tenshoba (heavenly spots). The market commission holds lotteries for locations every three years, but there is still ill-feeling among vendors about who stands where.
As the stalls open, lines of regular clients are waiting impatiently with bundles of yen notes in hand, and the vendors begin hacking away at the fish with their heavy deba bch cleavers. Every slash of the blade has its besshari name: saku (sever) means slicing the fish in half through the center bone, daimy oroshisuru (doing a feudal lord drop) means cutting a fish in half by pressing in the knife point above the gills and cutting towards the tail, sanmai oroshi suru (doing a three-piece drop) means cleaving the fish in half through its bone and then slicing it in half again from side to side.
The early customers study the fish greedily, pointing and winking at their favorite specimens, trying to get in their bids for the best chunks. During these first crucial minutes every fish and every fish part is soused with hundreds of market names. A robust tuna is called kuronbo (black boy), gotatsuke (troublemaker), uo (big fish), shibi (big tuna), seinaga (height long), and taro (big Taro). Yotsu (“four,” as in forty kilograms) is the run-of-the-mill eighty-pounder. The metsuke (overseer), meguro (black eye), and mejika (doe) are the daintier, younger tuna.
Every inch of fish has its besshari name. The large blocks of tuna laid out ready for sale are called dote (mud embankment!)), and the anxious retailers and chefs count these fish blocks in ch: itch (one block), nich (two blocks), sanch (three blocks).
• Ana gotatsuke no itch! Yoroshiku, na!
One block of troublemaker! Please take care of me!
(Gimme a chunk from that humongous tuna over there! A nice chunk, OK?)
• Kono nich ikura kai?
How much d'ya want for both chunks?
• Sanch to waribiki suru yo!
Take all three blocks and I'll give ‘em to you cheap!
Haranimai (two sheets of belly) is the highly prized stomach, which is served up caked in salt as an exotic delicacy from the northern province of Iwate. The head of the fish is called kama, the top section including the gills kami, and the bottom part is shimo. Engawa (porch) is a fin.
The uninitiated shopper at the market might be quite surprised to hear a sushi chef say, “What a beautiful porch! I'll take it, and wrap up those embankments over there for me too.”
As the market words narrow down to the more specific parts of a fish they cross into sushi bar territory, where they are used by customers with delicate palates to order raw slices from particular areas of a fish. toro (big fatty-tuna) is the expensive meat carved out of the frontal underbelly, chtoro (medium fatty-tuna) are slices of underbelly from further down, nakaochi (inside dividend) is the meat around the backbone, and akami (red taste) is the cheap reddish meat from the lean area near the tail.
Discriminating sushi bar clients will pay $100 and more for a portion of sushi with a strip of the best Tsukiji tuna. As a result, tensions mount when one rival chef manages to snap up a chunk of fish that another had been eyeing. A sushi chef is only as good as the tuna he manages to get hold of, so when he loses out the word used is naku (crying), the same expression that vendors use when they are outsmarted at the early morning auction. As a foiled chef might complain:
• Kesa sandai me naita!
It's the third time I'm crying this morning!
(It's the third piece of fish that was snatched from under my nose!)
• Dshite sonna ni nakisaseta!
I can't believe you're making me cry like this!
(How could you have let him get that piece I wanted?)
When tempers flare and irate chefs fly at each other's throats, the market besshari word is deiri (entrance and exit).
The earliest customers at the fish stall are also the toughest. Sushi chefs and local Tokyo retailers pride themselves on their irime (false eye), their uncanny ability to judge the weight of a fish to a gram. As a result, many buyers and vendors who have longstanding relationships avoid using scales so as not to offend the others' sensibilities. Vendors who are particularly fond of a customer will even go as far as playing kakedashi (novice); the vendor packs a chunk of fish, ostentatiously misjudging its weight as only a beginner would, letting the favored buyer get away with a few extra grams. On slow days during tea breaks some fish stalls even do a bit of illegal chikamedori (close-up eye take), in which a small friendly market group dumps yen notes onto the stall counter, gambling on the exact weight of a fish. The trick is to assess how much water might have seeped into it while it was floating in the danbe among the ice cubes.
After the best of the catch has been sold within the first minutes, the vendors prepare themselves to face the rush of local fishmongers, lesser chefs, and tough Tokyo matrons who have large families to feed. These customers are classified as jinkyaku (the inversion of kyakujin, “patron”). If there is a lull after the first waveof customers, the wary vendor defines the situation as:
• E ni kaita jishin.
Confidence painted in a picture.
The implication is that he is putting on a brave face even though his confidence is somewhat diaphanous. If the lull is unnervingly long the situation becomes bzu (priest), the apprehensive pun being that the customers are as few as the hairs on a priest's carefully shaven head. The worried vendor might call out to a neighboring stall:
• Om mo ky bzu kai?
Are you also a priest today?
But in the big wholesale market, business is always brisk and the sellers barely have time to figure out whom to serve next. When crowds line up in front of a stall the market word is jindachi (men stand). When there are more clients than a vendor can handle he will yell, jin ga shimateru (men are strangling). When stalls are completely mobbed by haggling crowds the vendor and his assistants gasp:
We're being rammed!
Vendors are never too busy to find the right besshari word to describe a particular customer, and over the years market slang has amassed a rich stockpile of terms. The most creative, if unkind, besshari words are reserved for the women who come to the market.
Female customers who are master hagglers are called hangaku (half pricers) or hikizuri (draggers). Those with a knack for wrestling fish cheaply from a confused vendor during a rush are called chochoji and omatsu (those who wait). Gullible women who blindly buy whatever the vendor puts in front of them are the bakabatsu.
Some of the cruelest besshari words playfully distinguish a customer's salient features. tara (large cod) is a hefty, somewhat alarming matron, hattojiri (startle bottom) is one with a startlingly large bottom, and fukure (swollen) is a jolly woman with fat, round cheeks. Botamochi, the tasty rice-cake dumpling covered in bean jam, refers to women with flat, dumpling-like faces. Daburu bikkuri (double shock) are women who, as they approach the stall, look so attractive that the vendor has a shock, but when they arrive at the counter the vendor has a second shock as the scales fall from his eyes.
The most typical early morning matrons, vendors say, are yamabushi (mountain priest) and daibutsuzoku (the colossal Buddha gang). The mountain priest is the housewife who has tried, with disastrous results, to save her elaborate hairstyle of the night before. The colossal Buddha gang are more practical: they run from stall to stall, with their hair still tightly wrapped in rollers, their heads reminiscent of the ringlets on the great statue of the Buddha at Nara.
8 Gambling Japanese
WHEN TOUGH Japanese gamblers meet in the smoky and illegal back rooms of their local betting parlors, they speak an elegant slang that becomes swifter and more labyrinthine as bundle after bundle of yen notes slam onto the table. Cards, dice, hand movements, tricks, stunts, dodges, and stratagems all have special names that often go back to medieval times, when gangs of heroic gamblers marauded their way up and down the countryside. These were glamorous men known as bakuto, and legend has it that they stole from the rich, gave to the poor, did knightly deeds, and spoke their own cryptic lingo that no one else could understand. They defended their honor and their right to gamble with swords that, in those days, only samurai were allowed to carry.
The bakuto of the nineties still work in groups—gangster groups—and call themselves kage (shadows), kashimoto (financiers), buchishi (bang masters) and bakuchikoki (betting tumblers). During the day they make an illegal living by quietly running roulettes, poker halls, high-tech slot machine parlors, and betting associations that deal in illegal wagers on sumo wrestling and baseball. At night, however, they aim to bolster their income in private all-professional parlors known as bon (trays), iremono (receptacles), and more furtively ageita (trap doors).
The high-stake games that these tough men play are known as oshikai (push buying), and when pros play against pros the match is known as aitsuki (the inversion of tsukiai, “meeting”). In these heated encounters, the gamblers play traditional Japanese games. In tsen, for instance, a vase or statue is set up as a target. Yen notes are leafed down onto a tray, the burly gangsters line up against the wall, and exquisite fans with beautiful classical nature motifs swish open. The men take a deep breath, and there is a colorful flurry as the fans hurtle through the air. The fan whose heel lands closest to the target wins.
A less athletic game is hanafuda (flower cards). Here the mobsters sit sedately around a large cushion and deal out a deck of forty-eight picture cards showing blossom branches, shrubs, flowers, trees, animals, and red ribbons of tanzaku—dainty traditional scrolls with poems.
The cards are divided into sets of four, one set for every month. The January set is called matsu (pine). On the first card, a crane looks up at the moon against a backdrop of pines. Then comes a poetry card with a subdued seasonal poem, followed by more pines, which, the gamblers explain, are ancient symbols of good fortune. The four February cards are called ume (plum), and show nightingales, plum blossoms, and more poetry. The March cards are called sakura (cherry blossoms): the cherry trees are in full bloom, and striped curtains hang from branches hiding blossom watchers.
The game is elegant. Its history stretches back tothe Heian period (794-1185 A.D.), when the refined ladies and gentlemen of the Imperial Court played kach awase (matching flowers and birds). But with large fortunes at stake, the gamblers inevitably eye each other warily. A new pack is opened every session, for few can resist the tempting urge to do “chicken” (chikin, from chiki-in, a playful parlor inversion of inchiki, “trickery”). Card-fiddling methods are collectively called goto, which is short for shigoto (work). A habitual swindler, should he survive the wrath of his peers, is known as gotoshi (work master). When a pro smells perfidy in the air, he will quietly mutter to himself zuku or zuiteru (as in kanzuiteru, “I scent a plot”).
• Ki o tsukero yo! Aitsu ni zukareru to mazui ze!
Careful! If he catches on, we're in for it!
• Sono heya ni haitta totan, zuita yo.
The moment I walked into that room I smelt something fishy.
The untrusting player will glare at his opponent's hand, wondering if the flower cards have been aori (fanned) or irotsuki (stained).
• Mo aitsura to wa nido to yaru man ka, aori wa kori gori da ze!
I'm never playing with those guys again, there's nothing but cheating!
• Konna ni makeru nante hen da ze, irotsuki ni chigaine!
I mean, to keep on losing like that, the decks must have been stacked!
One typical trick is dosa, a word borrowed from pickpocketing slang. A player with an exceptionally bad hand will flick a compromising card up his sleeve and quickly substitute a more favorable one.
Another classical trick is okei. The trickster befriends the chban (middle number), a junior mobster who does all the odd jobs at the gambling parlor. The friendly chban leaves oily hors d'ouevre plates strategically lying about so that the player can catch reflections of his partners' hands. In his 1986 book Jisho ni Nai Kotoba, Yoshizaki Junji claims that the word okei was invented in commemoration of Madame Okei, a malicious medieval heroine featured in the old theatrical hit Kana Tehan Chshingura.
The hanafuda players gather around the pillow on the floor, and the round, or bush (from shbu, “match”) begins. The cards are smaller, stiffer, and much thicker than a Western deck. The shuffler holds the pack in one hand, and quickly pulls out small clutches of cards with the other from the bottom of the deck, slipping them on top.
In professional games, the shuffler is called biki. He shuffles (mazeru) and passes the cards to the cutter (doni) who cuts the deck and passes it to the dealer, the oya (daddy). The players pick up their cards and the game begins. The gambling slang words for playing a round are bushneru (from shbu, “match” added to the verb-ending neru) and its shortened version, buneru. As the tension mounts, the hard cards slap onto the pillow. Every player tries to do kanban (poster), what Western card circles call bluffing. Those who are desperate even resort to shamisen, prattling loudly while the opponent tries to figure out his next move. Forlorn mobsters who have been dealt a singularly bad hand might go so far as doing bankiri (evening cut). In a rage, they capsize the card pillow and lunge at a nearby opponent, shouting:
• Damashi yagatta na! Ore wa kono me de hakkiri to mita ze!
He fucking cheated! I saw it with my own eyes!
When a game is lost, the unlucky players are pronounced buchidao, from buchi (hit) and taoreta (toppled). An even more jocular word for a lost game is banzai (hurrah). When screaming banzai at a baseball match or in a football stadium, one usually throws one's arms up in ecstasy. The losers of the hanafuda game also throw their arms up—but they do so in agony over all the cash they have lost. The money that ends up in the winner's tray is called ochizeze, a humorous dialect version of ochi zeni (dropped cash), and the cut that goes to the illegal parlor is the terasen (temple coin).
• Ky no ochizeze wa nakanaka na man' da ze.
Man, today's winnings are pretty good.
• Temera terasen ireru no wasurenna'yo!
Yo! Don't forget to drop your temple donations in there!
If a match turns out to be a draw, the opponents declare it bushnashi (from shbunashi, “no match”), and the colorful cards are dealt out again.
• Konkai wa bushnashi k. Mo ippen yar ze!
So it's an even match. Lets go for another round!
The winner of the first round is hatsu uke (first receiver). The gambler who wins round after round is named uketsubo (receiving pot). The powerful gambling bosses, rin (large wheels), will often invite important business associates, even politicians, to the game and make ostentatious mistakes known as kezuri (deletions) and kaimachi (the inversion of machigai, “error”). This is a genial underworld way of obliging influential friends with large sums of money without actually bribing them.
Gamblers interested in a faster game with quick cash prizes play dice. They are a tougher, earthier mob, which is shunned by refined cliques. Gambling slang calls them hoira, baicha, smi, and kyokamuzabucha, all Korean words from Japan's ethnically diverse gangster scene. The jargon these men speak in their parlors is mottled with Korean slang words; amateurs are called chinoniruta and chiroriruta, and pro gamblers new at a certain dice game are called kykan. Karikugi or hihicha is “gambling,” karichun “swindling,” and guns are given Korean names like tai (sleep), tjitari (pork chop), and buchitani (handgun).
• Ky wa karikugi ni tjitari wasurennayo.
Don't forget to take your gun along to today's match.
• Karichun ga ore ni kiku to demo omotteru no ka n? Ore wa chiroriruta ja n ze!
He thinks he can just fuck me over like that? I'm no beginner you know!
The most popular dice game over the years has been chhan (odd-even). The dice throwing croupier (tsubofuri) shouts:
• Ch ka? Han ka?
Will it be odds? Or evens?
The nervous players dally, waiting for what dice slang calls tsukeme, a flash of clairvoyance that will ensure the jackpot. The bets are placed, and the dice are popped into what some parlors call tsubo (pot) and other parlors call bon (tray). Some less fastidious clubs prefer nagesai, (throw dice), in which the croupier shakes the dice directly in his hand. The dice are briskly joggled, the clients hold their breath, and the croupier does what Japanese slang calls kokashi (a drop)—he lets the dice roll.
The dice are called saikoro (bone seed), or just sai for short, in remembrance of ancient times when they were first imported from China as little bits of bone. Gamblers also call their dice kotsu (bone), chobo (dots), and ichiroku (one-six), while the dots on the dice are called sai no me, or kotsu no me (eyes of the bone).
• Sono sai no me wa ore ni totcha yoku n na.
Those dots on the dice never come right to me.
• Chikush, me ga kasunde kite, kotsu no me ga yoku mie ya shin!
Shit, I'm getting so short-sighted I can't see these dots!
The greatest fear of the Japanese dice addict is loaded dice, and modern high-stake gamblers demand electromagnetic checks before staking as much as a yen. Some careful aficionados even bring along state-of-the-art homing devices. A bogus die is called akusai (evil bone), or ikasamasai (swindling bone), and the minute lead weight that makes it tilt to a winning number is called omori (plummet). Some gambling circles also refer to these dice as ittenmono (same-dot piece): however often you throw the dice, they always tumble onto the same number.
Other terms for bogus dice are nanabu (seven parts), dgu (“tools,” as in tools of the trade), dara, and temoku. The quintessential trick, pros explain, is to start off with bona fide dice. Play a few rounds, lose a few games, let the stakes climb, and then do a quick saikorogui (dice gobble) where you snatch up the respectable dice and quickly slip in the fraudulent ones.
Over the years, the swindlers, known as ineshi, have come up with the most outlandish tricks. One of the droller stratagems was called anaguma (bear in the hole). The bear, in this case, is a burly crook who sits hidden in a “hole” under the gambling board. Using magnets, strings, and even high-tech remote control devices, he secretly ensures that a parlor's fortunes remain promising.
These con artists have traditionally been known as ame (sweet) because of the mellifluous speech that hooks the unsuspecting, and goads them on to betting ever higher amounts. To keep the atmosphere congenial, the swindlers would surround themselves with a crowd of pleasant counterfeit customers, friends of the parlor, who would pose as high-rolling winners, landing one jackpot after the other. These shills were known as tsuko (handles) and kuchihari (mouth stretchers). Some circles also called them sakura (cherry blossoms) because they were always suave individuals in attractive clothes, and people would come in throngs to see them win.
The chhan dice game developed in the late Edo period (1600-1867), and has managed to flourish despite constant government persecution. In the early years, professional gamblers were carted off in chains and punished with tattoos that marked them as criminals. In Osaka they were branded with two fat horizontal stripes just above the elbow, and in Tokyo with two stripes just above the wrist.
The real reign of terror, however, began in the first year of Meiji, 1868, when the new administration passed a series of lethal anti-gambling laws in a radical attempt to bring Japan on a par with the West. The buying and selling of dice was strictly prohibited, and rows upon rows of fair-ground gambling stalls were pulled. down throughout the country and their owners thrown in jail. Masukawa Kichi, in his 1989 book Tobaku no Nihon Shi, writes that repeat offenders were even decapitated, their heads displayed in public as a warning.
But throughout the country the dice rolled on. Desperate gamblers went further underground, formed tighter cliques, were reduced to carving their own dice, and invented new top-secret words. There was a flood of new dice games. Some cliques played me shme (big-eye small-eye), where those shouting me (big eye) had to get numbers four to six in order to win, and those shouting shme (small eye), numbers one to three. Others played the simple pin korogashi (number 1 rolls): pop the die into the tsubo (container), shake it, and let it roll, and if number one comes up, you win. Every clique specialized in different games. Tensai (heavenly bones) was played with five dice, kitsune (fox) with three, itten jiroku (one-heaven six-earth) with two, chobo ichi (one cube) with one.
The most striking feature of the secret slangs that developed in the dark, illegal parlors of fin-de-siècle Japan were the different counters with which gamblers tallied the dice dots. Southern dice slang, for instance, invented:
Northern dice throwers developed their own variation:
In the more elaborate three-dice games, the dice throwers fabricated more sophisticated names that were adopted into parlor slang as private puns and witticisms. When the dice fell into a 2-1-2 combination, the gamblers would shout otomo (attendant), and when they fell into 2-5-2, nikk (sunlight). A 5-5-5 score was dubbed kami no ashi (wolf's foot), and 1-1-1, mikkabzu (three-day priest). But some of the counters were given gaucher names. Whenever, for instance, the dice came up as 4-5-4, the crowd would break into peals of laughter and shout:
• Dankon no ten mado!
The penis's heavenly window!
As the defiant gamblers played on, risking their lives with every throw of the dice, they updated the dashing image of the medieval bakuto gambler. If the men of old were swank, glamorous criminals who roamed the countryside, the new urban gamblers would be dashing but somewhat rougher and a good deal more streetwise. When asked their profession, they would answer tengo (trickster), tego (“prankster” in Mie dialect), or tetengo (hand trickster), all words for gamblers that are still used in today's underworld. Another popular gambling cognomen that has survived the centuries is tekka uchi (iron-fire bangers).
Tekka uchi appears as early as 1711 in a publication called Konk Kensh, which reports that it was used in the Shiga dialect in the south to mean “gambler,” while Hamogi-Sendai, published in 1800, reports that tekka uchi was used in the Sendai region in the north to mean “rogue.”
By the early twentieth century, the governments of the Meiji and Taisho periods had finally relaxed some of the more stringent anti-gambling laws; the West, after all, was more likely to be shocked by publicly impaled heads than by widespread betting. But by the beginning of the Showa period, with the rise of fascism, gambling once again became a perilous habit. Just as the cliques of the thirties were ready to surface, the government, in a spirit of wartime frugality, outlawed the manufacture of what it called shashihin (luxury products). Dice and flower cards were high on the list.
Today's betting scene developed from the turmoil of post-war Japan. The gambling cliques stuck together during the difficult war years, and after the war they expanded and opened their doors to thousands of new ethnic Korean and Chinese members. While the rest of Japan filled its speech with dapper American-sounding idioms, the outlawed gambling gangs followed the general underworld trend and sprinkled their language with Chinese and Korean words. By the late sixties, even the most orthodox Japanese gamblers had acquired exotic vocabularies that went well beyond mere gambling jargon. Shoes, for instance, were given Chinese slang names like t, chuira, and teito. A male organ could be secretly referred to with the Chinese toaten, and a female organ with kyari. Suicho came to mean “dead as a doornail,” hairyan, a “good-looking woman,” and ryanshan, “torching a building.” Words like haraboji and chondai, for “old man,” came from Korean, as did taru (water), tsuntsuroku (bar), shuni (chicken), chanpion (money), tarukichan (housewife), and nibutongi (prostitute). By the seventies, gambling slang had become so exotic that even gamblers from different parts of town and with different gang affiliations had difficulty understanding each other's conversation.
• Ano maotsu dare? (Who's that cat's child?)
Ano maotsu no mii! (That eat's child secret!)
Ushi no tsume? (Cow's nails?)
Y, uma no tsume! (No, horse nails!)
This might be decoded as:
Who's that foreign girl there?
That foreign pro!
No, I don't understand.
Ushi no tsume (cow's nails) is standard underworld slang for “understand.” The arcane reasoning behind the idiom is that a cow's nails are slit (wakaru), a verb that in Japanese also means to understand. A horse, on the other hand, does not have split nails, so uma no tsume (horse's nails) means “I do not understand.”
The parlors the dice throwers frequent are in the shoddier parts of town, and are known as semi (the reversal of mise, “shop”). In the fifties and sixties, these gamblers invariably set up shop on the second floor of two-story shanties, a still-common practice. Should the police decide to raid the premises, an event known as kari o k (eating the goose), the gamblers have time to throw their dice out of the window and quickly open a book.
Today many dice-throwing groups organize small illegal clubs in the backrooms of apartments, in a move known as ichibahajime (starting a market). These outfits are run along the same lines as the big Yakuza parlors, known as jbon (permanent platters). These big outfits are stable and well-connected enough not to have to move around. A run-of-the-mill parlor is called ginbari (silver stretch), while a bustling concern that rakes in the cash is kinbari (golden stretch). These names, gangsters explain, were spawned by the word yumihari (stretched bow), an older term for betting parlor. The boss is dmoto (stomach base), and his assistant sukedekata (helping-hand person). The dekata (hand person) collects the money and occasionally does gomidashi (throwing out the garbage), an unkind gambling term for showing unruly players the door. Larger backroom places also have a chban (middle number), who brings tea or sake and helps clean up, a tsubofuri (dice shaker), and a chbon (middle tray), who patrols the game.
• Konna ni katchimatte, kono tsubofuri wa ore ni totteoki da ze!
I just keep on winning; that dice thrower's my favorite!
• Ore wa anmari fukairi shitakun kara, chubon de jbun sa.
I don't get too involved, you know, I just do the odd jobs here.
A lousy referee who has a history of letting games go awry is called bonan (dark tray).
• Ano bonan ama da na! Kin mo kizagoro ga koko de okottan da ze!
That manager's a real half ass! Yesterday there was another blowup!
(Ama is short for amachua, “amateur,” and kizagoro refers to fighting with bits of broken glass.)
An illegal parlor worth its mettle has its stable of watchmen, who are known as uyu or uwa. The dench (electric pole) and bandachi (standing watch) hang out on the street corner; sotoban (outside watch) guards the front door, and hashigoban (stair watch) guards the stairs. In the old-fashioned two-floor clubs, the senior watchman outside the parlor door is nikaiban (second-floor watch). If there is a raid, he and the hashigoban (stair watch) divert the officers long enough to let the gamblers make a getaway.
In the 1990s, the Japanese government launched a series of massive anti-mob campaigns that have forced the large Yakuza clans to curb some of their activities and step back into the shadows. There has subsequently been a trend called naikai (inside openings), with secret clubs being launched on a clan's territory without permission from the local boss and without the customary payola. The new-age gambling chieftain opens a whole line of these shops, leaving the work to assistants and partners. He is the kasuri (percentage maker), who commutes between parlors, collecting his percentages. These new places are called shiki (from yashiki, “premises”), and they operate in a way that dodges both the law and the underworld. This is called shiromukku tekka (banging in a white bridal gown).
9 Japanese Monkspeak
AMONG THE slang, jargon, and criminal lingoes that flourish on Japanese street corners, the boisterous X-rated language of the Buddhist clergy is by far the liveliest and most risqué. When Buddhist priests chatter among themselves, uninitiated eavesdroppers are left completely in the dark. Cryptic religious allusions, tilted metaphors, naughty classical puns, and words lifted from ancient texts leave even the most gifted Japanese slangmasters baffled.
• ” What? You saw our venerable Buddha at the transformed palace?”
“Yes, what a tunnel! It was only noon and he was already stock-still in heaven! He was handing over his eyes to a hell goblin!”
“What? In broad daylight? The fried beans have flowered!”
This might be decoded as:
• “What? You saw our elderly Brother at the massage parlor?”
“Yes, what an idiot! It was only noon, and he was already drunk out of his mind! He was handing over his cash to a masseuse!”
“What? In broad daylight? I don't believe it!
The Japanese man or woman in the street would be scandalized to learn that venerable and ancient sects like the eight hundred-year-old Nichiren would have such a highly developed private slang. The priests maintain that without their lingo modern communication would grind to a halt. Buddhist doctrine insists that priests renounce all worldly habits, eat simple rice dishes, meditate, fervently chant lengthy sutras, and in every way follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. Modern priests, however, are no longer always celibate; some even marry, eat meat, and occasionally enjoy a sinful drink or two. Elderly religious leaders disapprove of modern secular trends, and desperate priests who wish to discuss anything from a simple pork chop to a multiple orgasm are forced to resort to code.
The priestly jargon is the oldest form of slang spoken in Japan today. Some of its words have been bandied about in monasteries since the Nara period (710-794 A.D.), when Buddhism struck firm roots throughout Japan. In the early days, pious priests initiated this slang by inventing pious euphemisms so as not to taint the inner sanctum with jarring worldly words. Whipping came to be called nazu (caressing), tears shiotaru (dropping salt), money moku (eyes), testicles rygyaku (spiritual globes), and restrooms kishisho (place of truth). Death, the ancient priests felt, was a particularly inelegant subject for discussion in a temple. Some of the pre-medieval euphemisms are still used by priests today: agaru (to rise), tonzetsu (abrupt termination), and tsuchi ni naru (becoming earth). The dead were referred to obliquely as naorimono (healed individuals) and geshibutsu (those transposed to Buddhahood), and cemeteries became tsuchimura (villages of earth). Suicide was dubbed hishi (untimely death) and, for the embarrassing occasion when a priest took his own life, his sect brothers would skirt reality with a quick jigefutsu, or “he turned himself into a Buddha.”
As the private jargon took root the priests became more playful. If a priest, for instance, experienced an unexpected erection, his brothers would squeal a taunting kotsuen hokki, “sudden enlightenment” (a zesty pun on kotsuen bokki, “sudden erection”). Diarrhea was jocosely referred to as rosetsu (leaking garbage). A hemorrhoid flareup was called akuhitsu (bad handwriting), since ji ga warui can mean both “my Chinese characters are bad” and “my hemorrhoids are bad.” Kk jakujaku (empty-empty sad-sad) came to mean that the priest had spent all his money on worldly goods and was now flat broke (i.e., his wallet is totally empty and he is totally sad). The secret monastic word for kissing became kuan (mouth relaxation).
• Y, washi wa kirei na anna o mita dake de—kotsuen hokki!
You know, when I see a beautiful woman—sudden enlightenment!
• Ya sore otaberu to, itsumo rosetsu oshichatte dame nan desu yo.
When I eat that stuff, I always get the runs.
• H, mattaku! Ky wa kono akuhitsu no sei de, suwar ya shinai yo.
Man! My handwriting is so bad today, I can barely sit down.
• Kk jakujaku de tabemono mo roku ni nai.
I'm so broke I can't even pay for food.
• Sore de kuan shitan da? Mattaku om to y yatsu!
Then you kissed her? Oh, man!
The priests rejoiced in their secret slang. Even if their lives were fettered by strict ancient rules, their speech could run wild. Geten (non-Buddhist scriptures) came to mean pornography. Sexually attractive young women were referred to as nsha (quick-witted individuals), and sexually attractive young men as nden (“quick-witted fields,” with field being priest slang for layman or non-priest). As tradition dictated that followers of the Buddha shave their heads, the skittish inside word for “priest” or “one of us” became nagakami (long-haired). The equally bald nuns were referred to as menagakami (long-haired females). Delicate novices who dated older priests were known as zennanshi (nice young boys).
As the clerics became more daring their language grew wittier and more blasphemous. The Buddha's name, which the devout dared not even pronounce, was bounced about, creating a barrage of daring new words. If a priest was stark naked he was said to be hotsuro byakubutsu (praying to the white Buddha). A zokubutsu (worldly Buddha) is a priest who is sexually very active. Secret Buddhas, hibutsu, are female organs (secret because they lie hidden behind panties), and nurebotoke (wet Buddhas) are post-coital male organs. Nenju and nenbutsu (intense praying), in which priests chant the Buddha's name in fervent rhythm, became code words for self-stimulation. Bakebotoke (transformed Buddha) is a priest who enjoys wearing women's clothes during off-duty hours.
• Fusuma o aketa totan, kare wa hotsuro byakubutsu de tsutatete, honto ni odorokimashita yo!
When I slid open that partition door, there he was, praying to the white Buddha. Man was I surprised!
• Ano zokubutsu wa tera ni iru yori mo, kanrakugai ni iru jikan no h ga nagai'n ja nai ka ne.
That worldly Buddha spends more time in the red-light district than he does in the temple.
• Heya de nenju shiteru tokoro o mitsuketan desu yo.
I caught him praying intensely in his room.
• Kin nenbutsu no shisugi de asoko ga itakute!
I did so much intense praying yesterday, my thing aches!
Throughout the centuries, one of the toughest challenges facing the priests was the strict clerical ban on all meat, fish, and dairy products. A discreet nibble at a veal cutlet, a quick sip of milk, a tiny morsel of marinated raw fish, and future Buddhahood was in doubt. To avoid disclosing the sinful contents of a meal, faltering priests turned to their slang. One ancient trick was to bestow vegetarian names on even the heartiest meat dishes. Chickens, for instance, came to be known in the monasteries as sanrisai (vegetables that scramble over fences). Red meat was labeled take (mushroom). Mshari (wad of rice) transformed itself into a pork chop, and momiji (maple leaves) became thin, succulent slices of fresh beef. Eel, one of the most prized delicacies, was given the code name yama no imo (mountain potato), and eggs were called shironasu (white eggplants).
Seafood has been traditionally granted loftier religious names. Fish, for instance, is sacrilegiously referred to as butsu (Buddha).
• Kono butsu o nagameteru to, ogamitaku narimasu na!
Seeing the Buddha like this makes me want to kneel in prayer!
• Ya! Kono butsu no kaori wa mattaku subarashii desu yo ne!
Ooh, this smell of Buddha is driving me nuts!
Sashimi, raw slices of marinated fish, are known as tanbutsu (“gasping Buddha,” as in gasping at the sheer deliciousness of the dish). Another irresistible delicacy, the octopus, was named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy senju kannon (Kannon of the Thousand Arms).
• Dka, dka, hitokire de ii desu kara, sono kanbutsu itadakenai mono desh ka?
Please, please, could I just have a teeny piece of gasping Buddha?
• M nandemo ii karat Senju kannon ogamashite kure!
I don't give a damn anymore! I'm going to pray to Kannon of the Thousand Arms!
Another fish that could cost a cleric his Buddhahood is the sumptuous sweetfish, which appears ominously in the priestly slang as kamisori (razor blade). Even more ominous is the sea bream. Priests refer to it as shuza (execution block).
• Yoku minna no miteru mae de kamisori o nometa mon da!
Right in front of everyone, he just swallowed that razorblade!
• Shuza o itadakemasu ka na. Hara ga herimashita na.
Pass the execution block. I'm starving.
The stricter the monastery, the more inspired the words for food became. As the slang's vocabulary snowballed throughout the Middle Ages, even the meatless dishes served in monastic dining rooms were given cloak-and-dagger names. Some priests called tofu shiratori (white bird), others terasakana (temple fish). In temple-school slang the boring but wholesome devil's root paste that is served up day after day after day became known as amidaky (Buddha's sutra, i.e. very long and very repetitive), and scallions are called kannushi (Shinto priests). Even the Buddha's bones (shari) were not spared; up to the late Edo period shari was an exclusively clerical word for rice. As the priests became more emancipated, affably socializing with the gangsters and criminals who hung out in downtown restaurants, shari, along with many other very private Buddhist words, hit the streets and was absorbed into the Yakuza mob's lan-guage.
Women and Wine
As priests fervidly swallowed “horse shoes” (kanagutsu—horse steaks), “dancing girls” (odoriko— eel), or snatched with their chopsticks at “rolled paper” (makigami—dry mackerel-shavings), many capped their sins with large swigs of ten (heaven) or alcohol. Nakamura Rengyo, in his Bukky Dgo Jiten (Lexicon of Buddhist Language) blames a stanza in the eighth century Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan) for sparking in ancient schoolboys the naughty equation of heaven and alcohol.
• Konohanasakuya-hime ga Sanada no ine de ten no tamusake o kamoshita.
Princess Konohanasakuya with rice from Sanada created heaven-licking (extremely tasty) sake.
When a priest is said to be tench (a heaven addict) or tenmei (living for heaven), he is an alcoholic with little or no chance of ever reaching nirvana, the state of perfect blessedness. The only possible salvation would be what clerical slang calls futen (anti-heaven), giving up alcohol altogether. Priests, however, who enjoy their liquor have developed their own string of heavenly words. Tenya, (heavenly shop) is a bar or liquor store; raten (silk heaven) and reiten (cold heaven) both mean “chilled drink.” If a wine has an exquisite bouquet, the word is noten (adept heaven), while if it is no more than a foul grog the verdict is hiuten (negative heaven). If a priest runs out of alcohol, especially at night, and, desperately stalking the, streets, finally manages to replenish his supply, the heavenly elixir obtained at such great personal risk is called onten (blessed heaven). Fudten (stock still in heaven), means “completely inebriated.”
• Anta wa kono hiuten de washi o korosu ki ka ne?
Are you trying to kill me with this foul grog?
• Oi! Chotto, chotto! Konna tokoro de onten nanka motette daijbu kai?
Hey! Wait a sec, wait a sec! D'you think it's OK to bring the blessed heaven in here?
• Mappiruma kara fudten ni naru nante omae-san ni wa akireta yo.
I just can't believe it's only noon and you're already totally stock still in heaven.
As this slang was flooded with “heavens” of every shape and caliber, circumspect monks invented a more esoteric set of alcoholic expressions. Discussing tea was one easy solution. Ocha o itadakimasu ka na, “I think I'll have some tea now,” accompanied by a nudge, served as a clear signal to priests in the know. Kcha (black tea), bancha (green tea), mugicha (barley tea), and kobucha (seaweed tea), are all expedient decoys. Gyokuro, a high-grade green tea made of an expensive blend of leaves, signals that the liquor under discussion is of the highest quality.
• Moshi anta ga ato itteki demo kocha kuchi ni shitara, osh san ni iitsukemasu yo!
If you take one more sip of that black tea, I'm telling the head priest!
• Aa, m tamaran'! Bancha ga dshite mo hitsuy ja!
I can't bear it any more! I need some green tea!
• Kono mugicha chotto nonde goran! Aji wa ikaga ka na?
Take a swig of this barley tea! How's it taste?
• Washi no heya ni kinasai—gyokuro o furumatte agey.
Come to my room—I'll treat you to some top-notch tea.
The early priests categorized the monastic pitfalls into three grades, and titled them sanyoku no (the three kingly desires). The first temptation was jikiniku (meat gobbling), the desire for tasty meat dishes. A close second was the craving for alcoholic beverages. The third and most dangerous of the kingly desires is sokushin jbutsu (bringing one's body to Buddhahood), the secret monastic term for orgasm.
When a worldly priest cannot escape for a ribald night on the town, he might opt for what clerical slang calls shumazuch, “a manual head-rub” (penile head, that is), also known as shumagzu, “a pleasant manual head-rub.”
• Omae naka de shumazucho shiten dar? Toire ni ikitain dakara hayaku dete kure yo!
What are you doing in there, a manual head-rub? Hurry up and come out, I need to use the toilet!
• Saikin kare wa kao iro warui kedo, shumagzu no shisugi no sei ja nai ka na.
He's been kinda pale lately. My guess is he's been doing too much pleasant manual head-rubbing.
Aroused priests trapped by the strict Buddhist demand for celibacy flooded their slang with chaste religious expressions that could double as covert references to self-stimulation. Jiraku, “self pleasure,” is an abbreviation of jijuhraku, “relishing the pleasure which accompanies the realization of the eternal truth.” Kaku sanmai ni iru means “entering the state of enlightenment” (meditating by centering all one's thoughts on one object), and jrakugajo means “eternal bliss.”
• Kiku tokoro ni yoru to, kare wa ichinichi ni nikai mo kaku sanmai ni iru.
From what I hear, he enters the state of enlightenment at least twice a day.
• Jrakugajo ni wa ki o tsuketa h ga ii yo.
Careful of that eternal bliss.
Other popular words for clerical self love are yuiga dokuson (the feeling of supremacy) and daietsu, which modern priests translate to mean “major pleasure.” But Miguchi Sakae in Ingo Ksei no Yshiki (The Structure and Methodology of Clandestine Language) points out that its etymology is much more inspired. According to him, the witty priest who invented daietsu noticed that breaking the character dai (major) in two left the characters “single” and “person.” (That same priest came up with tenetsu “heavenly pleasure,” for sex. Undo the character ten, and you end up with “two” and “persons”).
The largest body of priest-slang words for masturbation have to do with study and prayer. The playful notion is that a priest has two methods for reaching divine ecstasy: one is by focusing himself intensely on incanting verses from a sutra or the name of the Buddha, the other is by focusing himself intensely on his organ. In Nichiren circles this illicit shortcut is known as ryakuhokeiky (abbreviated Lotus Sutra), jirikishugy (“practicing asceticism with one's own power,” as opposed to the power of the Buddha), or jiriki ek (chanting sutras with one's own power).
• Ichinichi sankai ryakuhokeiky suru to wa, chotto yarisugi ja nai desu ka ne.
Doing the abbreviated Lotus Sutra three times in one day is a bit much, don't you think?
• Ken no yatsu wa heya de jirikishugy o surun ja nai ka.
I bet you Ken is in his room practicing asceticism using his own power.
• Y! Mezurashii! Jiriki ek no shita koto ga nain desu ka?
What? You're kidding? You've never chanted sutras with your own power?
Other studious expressions for self-stimulation popular with the priests are otenarai (study), shoshagy (“copying out a sutra by hand,” a long and arduous task), and dokuyugy (solitary pilgrimage). The scholarly joke behind the solitary pilgrimage is that the characters for dokuyugy can also be read “to go and play by oneself.”
When priests stimulate themselves in toilets, their good-natured brethren poke fun at them with benj shganku (perfect enlightenment in the restroom), or benj keraku (divine pleasure and happiness in the restroom).
As a rule, Buddhist priests try to avoid dealing with their organs; some have even been known to commit rasetsu (penile chop), in which fanatic zealots, in an attempt to escape the passions of the flesh, sign up for surgery. The stricter the sect, the wilder the penile words grew. Excited priests invented drinking games that shocked even the most progressive criminal gangs in the pre-World War II bars. In the game jushoku kanch (the responsible post of chief monk), a tipsy priest would leap up, unleash his organ, and bounce it onto his startled neighbor's head.
The bar rocked with laughter.
As the game caught on, it appeared around town as just kanch (head priest), and soon more complicated variations like mach (penile top), became the craze. The trick behind this game was not to just quickly wallop a head, but to rub one's organ back and forth over the victim's scalp for as long as possible. The bar parties grew wilder, and priests sat in rows playing shuju chingan kii shimotsu (penile assortment characteristics), with organs exposed, manipulated, and compared.
Back in the more innocent novice dormitories, romping teenagers played a similar game, cryptically named rippei mashitsu (standing-stick penile-knee). For accuracy during measuring, novices would kneel knee to knee, with the largest “standing stick” graduating into the inter-dormitory playoffs.
As priests struggled with celibacy their slang became more and more charged with words for penis. If they were not allowed to wield their organs, they could at least discuss them. By the mid-twentieth century, mara (devil), the most popular clerical slang term for penis, had spread from the monasteries through restaurants and bars into all areas of the underworld. The priests started using rama (the in-version of mara), but soon even respectable matrons were in the know, and old clerical favorites had to be resuscitated: inmotsu (hidden thing), ymotsu (male thing), haratake (champignon), shumoku (bell hammer), and bokken (wooden sword).
• Karera wa dsei rama no koto shika atama ni wa nai desh!
All those guys think about is devil.
• Kare no koto dakara, fur de haratake demo aratterun desh.
He must be in the bath washing his champignon as usual.
• Hayaku sono shumoku o shimatte! Osh ga kuru zo!
Quick, put your bell hammer away! The chief priest is coming!
• Aitsu no bokken mita kai? Anmari ni dekakute tamagete shimaimashita yo!
Did you see his wooden sword? I couldn't believe how humongous it is!
Once more the Buddha became a major source of linguistic inspiration. An erect penis, for instance, was tagged as a ritsuz, a statue of the standing Buddha. Nikkei, an even more scandalous metaphor, refers to the holy protuberance on the Buddha's brow (one of his thirty-two physical attributes). Nikkei took a twist when novices began using it for “breast.” Semantic confusion ensued, and as the next generation of priests took office the new word shimonikkei (lower holy protuberance) was coined in an attempt to keep chests and penises apart.
During the penile games that novices and priests played, different types of organs were given different names. Stiffness and sexual endurance were important in a winner, and kongo rama (from kongo mara, “indestructible penis”) was the best organ contestants could hope for. Runners-up are ngu, “agile tool,” renkon, “disciplined root,” kiishimotsu, “eccentric and strange thing” (not much to look at but quite potent), and chikuhei, “teakwood stick,” for tough if not large organs. A penis with a slim shaft but large top is zuidai konsh, “head-large root-small.” On the other side of the scale are kunpei, “smelly sticks,” and, at the bottom of the barrel, zroku, “turtle-six.” (Not only is this penis hairless like a turtle, but its “shell” or foreskin is so tight that, pull as one may, the head does not come out.)
• Kare wa zroku to kikimasu kara, mattaku yaku ni tatan' desh.
They say his dick's turtle-six—poor guy.
• Kare no kongo rama wa mattaku rippa desu ne!
Man, his indestructible penis is real ace!
• Watashi wa jibun no renkon ni wa jishin ga arun desu yo.
I know I can rely on my disciplined root.
If a man is young and virile his organ is labeled mugai (uncovered), the argument being that penises in their prime spend more time out of than in their owners' apparel. An elderly organ, on the other hand, is called dongon reki (slow-root feeble-machine).
At the bars and restaurants priests met women from all walks of life. The gsha (powerful individuals), women with bulging muscles and an uncanny ability to hold their liquor; chimisha (individuals who know the taste), active virgins who specialize in fellatio and anal sex; ksha (individuals who like it), women who enjoy one-night stands with priests; ansha (dull individuals), women who are easily tricked; and nsha (able individuals), women of exceptional beauty. In wilder taverns they met “female saints” (onna hijiri), gruff women who like disguising themselves as men; “changed roots” (tenkon), women who had been men until they had had an operation; “double root” (nikon), elegant hermaphrodites; “double-shaped individu-als” (nigysha), men with breasts; and “plover birds” (chidori), men in women's clothes.
The priests also met professional women. Kabosatsu (singing bodhisattvas) were the accomplished geisha who could freshen up any party with sprightly conversation and masterly tunes. They might also encounter tsujisha, “street corner individuals,” and mameuri, “bean sellers” (“bean” as in sexual organ), women who, selling sexual favors, are a guaranteed ticket to hell for a Buddha-fearing priest. Dangerous women working in red-light massage parlors and soapland sex-bathhouses are given hellish titles such as yashanyo, a fearsome Sanskrit demon who eats men, jigokuki (hell goblin), and gokusha (individual from hell).
• Asoko ni namamekashii mameuri ga tatte orimasu zo! Look at those slick bean sellers standing there!
• Shintaro no tsure no anna wa, jitsu o y to gokusha nan desu yo.
That woman with Shintaro, she's an individual from hell.
• Koko wa jigokuki bakkari de kanawan'.
I can't stand it here, it's teeming with hell goblins.
Priests ranked intercourse with a prostitute among the most dangerous of sins, and branded it as dagoku (falling to hell). One way to soften the evil was to practice hishi (no center), where a cleric paid a woman to manipulate him from head to toe, carefully steering clear of his “center.” Priests, however, who yielded to professional intercourse, were accused of passionate entanglement (kyraku), waving their wooden swords (bokken ofuru), mixing lewdly (kojin), and even banging (utsu).
THIS THESAURUS is a representative selection of Japanese slang terms arranged alphabetically under English subject headings. It is designed to give the reader both an overview of some of the words featured in this book, and to introduce topics of a wider scope, such as terms for money, prison, drugs, and alcohol.
Most of the expressions are ingo (hidden language)—the pithiest slang and jargon spoken in underworld cliques throughout Japan. As these ingo words have a tendency to remain firmly encapsulated in the speech of particular groups, urban or regional, foreigners who try them out on the wrong crowd will be met with at best blank stares, at worst with shock and terror.
atapin bad sake (from atama, “head” and pin, “boing”)
awa foam beer
awagisu foam liquor
kiyoiwake (from kiyoi, “clear,” and wake, Ainu word for “water”)
nigagisu bitter liquor
teppen scalp (bad sake)
bakonbakon suru doing bang bang
dandan fuku gradual wipe
dandan suru doing it gradually
rishi o giru ripping the ass (inversion of shiri o giru)
uraguchi nygaku entering school through the back door (college slang)
uramontsuko going through the back gate
akabe (western Japanese dialect origin)
gesu also means “bottom”
gesu no ana
gob no kirikuchi cut burdock
ikimi breathing body (northern Japanese dialect origin)
ishiki (Hiroshima slang)
isuke (southern Japanese dialect origin)
keppo (Hiroshima dialect)
okama iron pot (more popular as a word for “homosexual”)
shigame anus (northern Japanese dialect origin)
unpan (central Japanese dialect origin)
uramon back door
hikkakeru to hook
kanakakeru to put metal on
kuikomu to gnaw into (as a dog does)
nejiru to wrench
neru to sleep
nezumaki citizen's arrest
shimeru to throttle
ARRESTED, to be
anberu to be punched (Nagasaki slang)
bare (Kyushu dialect origin)
barareru from hipparareru
daimaki ni au to meet on the platform (to be arrested at the scene of the crime)
datsumaki ni au
donten (northern Japanese dialect origin)
droku nekari to be arrested at the scene of the crime
jime ni kakaru to be tied up
kakaru to be tied up
kamaru from tsukamaru, “to catch”
kanakakeru to put on metal
karidasu to take out
kokeru to fall
kuzureru to collapse
machiba ni kakaru to be caught at the waiting place (to be arrested in a police net)
nashi o utsu
nukaru to bungle
shibakareru to be arrested on the job
son o suru to get lost
sukatenpura subordinate offering himself up for arrest in place of his boss (from suka, shortened inversion of kawasu, “exchange,” and tenpura)
tana o utsu to hit the shelf
tenpura Japanese deep-fried food (from the image that the arrested criminal feels like he is about to be dropped into a cauldron of boiling fat)
teyao chora (ethnic Chinese origin)
tsuru to fish
aka ga iku the red goes
aka hashiru the red runs
aka neburu the red licks
aka ga iku the red goes
akainki red ink
akainu red dog
akainu o awaseru to make the red dogs meet
akamaru red circle (“fire” in Nagasaki slang)
akamushi red insect
akamushi hau the red insect crawls
akaneko red cat
akaneko barasu to kill the red cat
akaneko o owasu to flay the red cat
akaneko o hawasu to make the red cat crawl
akauma red horse
akauma o keshikakeru to get the red horse going
akauma tobasu to make the red horse fly
akaume red plum
atatameru to warm up
beni o tsukeru to put on lipstick
chitsurar (ethnic Korean origin)
hairyanzu (ethnic Chinese origin)
kobiyaotta (ethnic Korean origin)
ryanshan suru (ethnic Chinese origin)
teka o keru to kick the brightness
tera o kakeru to illuminate
terashi o kameru
aite individual who steals from a burning house (police slang)
akainu red dog
akaneko red cat
akauma red horse
chiyotand (ethnic Korean origin)
starucha (ethnic Korean origin)
staura (ethnic Korean origin)
chichi (general slang)
oppai (general slang)
nonchichi contraction of none and chichi, “breast”
paiotsu inversion of oppai (criminal slang)
pechapai contraction of pecha, “flattened,” and oppai, “breast”
rzunpai raisin pie
akabe also means “anus”
danbe large, prominent bottom (southwestern Japanese dialect origin)
denbo from denbu, “bottom”
denbu bottom (standard word)
deko (Ishikawa dialect)
gesu also means “anus”
hechibetta buttocks (western Japanese origin)
heppe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
hichipeta buttocks (western Japanese origin)
hitabira (Kagoshima slang)
jigo (Nagasaki slang)
ketsu ass (standard word)
ketsumedo (Osaka slang)
kechi dialect version of ketsu, “ass”
kechipeta (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
kikurage edible tree fungus
mappo end tail
momojiri peach bottom (fat, prominent bottom)
rishi inversion of shiri, “bottom”
shippe from shippo, “tail”
shikko (southwestern Japanese dialect origin)
shiri (standard slang)
shiribachi ass pot
shiropo (central Japanese dialect origin)
shitakuchi lower mouth (homosexual jargon)
subo (Wakayama dialect origin)
sunnoko (central Japanese dialect origin)
supetta (northwestern Japanese dialect origin)
tsube (Shikoku island dialect)
usu woman's bottom
zugo (southern Kyushu island slang)
guru short for kuruma, “car”
hayaguru from haya, “fast” and kuruma, “car”
oto short for otomachiku, “automatic”
makuru inversion of kuruma, “car”
rukuma inversion of kuruma, “car”
ahgusa fool's weed
bakota inversion of tabako, “cigarette”
bata short for batako, an inversion of tabako, “cigarette”
batako inversion of tabako, “cigarette”
jikitabako immediate cigarette (cigarette smoked after a meal)
kemu short for kemuri, “fumes”
kenzaki (northern Japanese dialect origin)
kisuri (northern Japanese dialect origin)
makimaya rolled haze
makuma version of maku
ta short for tabaka, “cigarette”
tko short for tabaka, “cigarette”
furenchi ret French letter
kanda-san Mr. Condo(m)
naito kyappu nightcap
nuigurumi stuffed toy
reinkyappu rain cap
rde-sama Lord Ruede, from the German Ruedesack
sayagarama night attire
kinugashi silk through which bean curd is usually strained
pinharu pin hole
junnama pure raw
sumara pure penis
agahara from akahara, “red belly”
hara o sageru dropping the belly
haratasu stomach rush
harahashiri belly run
harakudari belly decent
harakudashi belly purge
harasage belly drop
kudarikusa descending shit
bkubure morphine (Korean origin)
eru the initial L, short for LSD
funmatsu flour (heroin and other white powder drugs)
koka coca (short for cocaine)
matsu powder (heroin, white powder drugs)
merikenko American seed (drugs imported to Japan from the USA)
shabu fromshaburu, “suck up”
shiro white (heroin and other white powder drugs)
sukuri from kusuri (medicine or drugs in general)
yakuneta poisonous seed (bad quality drugs)
yuki snow (heroin or cocaine)
hiropon from its medical name “philopon”
pon short for hiropon
eichi the initial H, short for “heroin”
hero short for “heroin”
kona flour (heroin)
nako inversion of kona, “flour” (heroin)
neta inversion of tane, “seed” (heroin)
mabuneta shining seed (good quality heroin)
nanb yon number four (high quality heroin from Hong Kong)
pe from he, the first syllable of “heroin” (as he means “fart” in Japanese, drug cliques changed he to pe)
rohe inversion of hero, “heroin”
tane seed (heroin)
choko (high school slang)
marifana Japanese pronunciation of “marijuana”
ahen opium (standard Japanese)
chiyakusatsui to smoke opium (Korean origin)
togi (Korean origin, Hoenyong dialect)
tsugaru opium grown in Tsugaru in northern Japan
ypin from the Chinese word yapyan
DRUGS, paint thinner
anpan bean-jam bun
shina the English word “thinner”
batanky wham bang (take a pill and your head hits the pillow)
hai-chan little Mr. High
iipin prescription pills
megumi no piru happy pills
okei-chan little Mr. OK (drug in pill form)
buppanasu to totally let go
deru to come out
dasu to send
iku to go
naku to cry, to howl
nukani to ejaculate twice in
a row (contraction of nukanai, “without taking out” and ni, “two”)
rariru to flip out
uchidome ni suru to bring a show to a close
asadachi morning stand (morning erection)
bin bin boing boing
bokki erection (standard)
kkachin from kka, “stiff” and chin, “penis”
tento o haru to put up a tent
uiri wheelie (high school slang)
ERECTION, loss of
fuyakeru to become sodden
naeru to wither
kesu to extinguish
ojigi suru to bow
shioreru to droop
agaru to rise
akeru to become empty
bakoshi to escape the police by leaving town
barashi to knock off, to violate (escape from the police or from jail)
batarak (pickpocket slang)
buruya suru inversion of yaburu, “to break” (to break out of jail)
chh to drag out one's breath (ethnic Chinese slang)
doromu (criminal jargon)
esu the initial S, short for “escape”
geso o haku to wear shoes (the image is that of putting one's shoes on and running)
geso o hayameru to accelerate the tentacles (geso is street slang for “legs”)
gesozuru to rub the tentacles (geso is street slang for “legs” or “shoes” and implies “to run fast”)
gorokoshi o fukeru
hajiku to bounce up
hako o tsukau to use the box (to escape by train)
itachi suru to do weasel (to escape by dodging police lines)
kama o tsuku to bang the ass (to escape and then hide)
kazurahige to escape from the police (from kazura, an inversion of zurakaru, “to run for it,” and hige, “whiskers,” a slang word for police)
ketsubaru to stretch one's ass
kiirora (ethnic Korean origin)
miruichiya (ethnic Korean origin)
mochizura from mochi, “to hold,” and zurakaru, “to escape” (to escape with the loot)
muguru to escape from the police or from jail
nagashikumu from nagashikomu, “to pour” (to leave town)
nobiru to extend (to leave town)
rhowa to pick flowers (ethnic Chinese origin)
rakan from zurakaru, “to escape”
rakaru from zurakaru, “to escape”
sya sya (ethnic Korean origin)
shunshury to flow with the current (ethnic Chinese origin)
tachikorobi stand and roll (escape after one has been arrested by the police)
takatobi suru to fly high
teirchir (ethnic Chinese origin)
teitsut (ethnic Korean origin)
tsura tsura to escape after a criminal job
tsugumu to hide from the police after a crime
yasa o kaeru to change house (to escape by leaving town)
kku Coke (high school slang idea taken from the Japanese Coca Cola ad campaign “I feel Coke,” meaning “I feel refreshed”)
kuso feces (standard word)
kyj nineteen (the alternative reading of kuso, “feces”)
morimori thick wad
noguso field shit (excreting outdoors)
onkobo (dialect origin)
kii no big one (high school slang)
kii yatsu big guy (high school slang)
musubi the big finish
zume grand finale
toguro coil (student slang)
unchi from the standard word unko, “feces”
unko feces (standard word)
fera short for ferachio, “fellatio”
kokku sakkingu from the “English cock sucking”
ofera from the Japanese fera with an honorific “o”
raru sekkusu oral sex
FELLATIO, with condom
ofera kabuse fellatio with cover
surippu slip (contraction of “skin lip”)
FELLATIO, without condom
nama ens raw performance
namafera raw fellatio (from nama, “raw” and fera, “fellatio”)
namajaku from nama shakuhachi, “raw flute”
nama shakuhachi raw flute
he (standard word)
nigirippe clasped fart (game where one farts into one's hand and holds it up to a friend's face)
sukashipe transparent fart (discreet flatulence)
tsukambe catching the fart (synonym of nigirippegame)
bainara fusion of “bye” and sayonara (high school slang)
baicha swanker version of the childish haichai, “toodle-lao” (high school slang)
barasa inversion of saraba, “farewell” (high school slang)
bayonara fusion of “bye” and sayonara (high school slang)
ibaiba inversion of “bye bye” (high school slang)
buchitani (ethnic Korean origin)
chori (ethnic Chinese origin, from che zhi, “bullet machine”)
haji from hajiki, “spring”
hajiki spring, gun-cock
ho (ethnic Korean origin)
htsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
hoshinhii (ethnic Chinese origin, from hu shen pi, “body-guarding piece”)
hteiyotsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
mutsukai (ethnic Korean origin, Yongwan dialect)
pachinko pinball machine
penra (Chinese origin, from bian le, “at one's side”)
taichiitsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
tai sleep (ethnic Korean origin)
tan from tanj, “revolver”
tjitari pig's leg (ethnic Korean origin)
tobi short for tobidgu, “flying tool”
tobidgu flying tool
toyachitari pig's leg (ethnic Korean origin)
hanamae in front of the nose
kakushi hidden (the police will often allow one to drape a jacket over one's handcuffs)
anko (Yakuza slang)
botsu (Yakuza slang)
bonpu mortal (homosexual slang)
eichi bii the initials HB, short for “homo boy” (student slang)
emu-teki “M-like” the initial M stands for “masculine” (butch-looking, straight-acting homosexual)
gei the English word “gay”
gei bi gay boy (host in a homosexual club)
girimomu (Yakuza slang)
hado gei hard gay (tough-looking homosexual)
hado koa hardcore (tough-looking homosexual)
ichi (Yakuza slang)
isha no musuko doctor's son (they get into university through the “back door”)
musume daughter (prison slang)
nekocat (passive, effeminate homosexual)
nisai older man who prefers young men (homosexual slang)
okama (general slang)
okamahori ass digger
rishi inversion of shiri, “bottom”
tachiyaku actor playing a leading man (tough-acting, masculine homosexual)
tonka adolescent homosexual (Yakuza slang)
ukemi receiving body (passive, effeminate homosexual)
yakko servant (prison slang)
aho (Osaka dialect origin)
ahondara (Osaka dialect origin)
anpontan (Tochigi dialect origin)
ao from aho
atama ga piiman red-pepper head
atama ga supagetti spaghetti head
atama ga uni sea-urchin head
ateuma whipped horse (gambling slang)
attamon from atatakai mono, "warm person"
p contraction of atama,
“head” and p, “softheaded”
baka (standard slang)
bakachin (standard slang)
bakamono (standard slang)
boketan stronger version of boke
dabo from dabohaze, “goby fish”
daburu p conjunction of the English word “double,” and pa, “softheaded”
dara from daradara, “slipshod”
donk slow train (high school slang)
ei eichi the letters AHO which spell aho (high school slang)
momi unhulled kernel of rice (gambling slang)
ntarin from n, “brain,” and tarinai, “is lacking”
noppo tall and gangly (gambling slang)
noroma (dialect origin)
-chan contraction of “oxygen,” and chan, “little Mr. “(student slang)
otankonasu (Tochigi dialect origin)
pbo from p, “idiot”
pkingu fusion of pa, “softheaded,” and “king” (high school slang)
papurin (high school slang)
ppurish (high school slang)
paparapa (onomatopoeic) version of p, “soft headed”
ponke (dialect origin)
rjii short for kurjii, the English word “crazy”
taka (gambling slang)
tari short for tarinai, “lacking”
tawake romper (Nagoya dialect origin)
usunoro from usui, “weak,” and noroi, “slow”
chirasu to scatter
higehachiya (ethnic Korean origin)
honaira (ethnic Korean origin)
honengu (ethnic Korean origin)
mageru to twist
nemurasu to put to sleep
nesaseru to put to sleep
nishi o mukasu to make someone face west (bodies buried according to Buddhist custom, have their heads pointing west)
shimeru to close
shinginta (ethnic Korean origin, “to make cold,” Seoul dialect)
tatamu to fold
tomeru to stop
yaru to do
ai short for aikuchi
aikusu from aikuchi
bade inversion of deba, short for debabch, “kitchen knife”
dosu from odosu, “to threaten”
haku knife that has been used in a robbery or stabbing
kch cooking knife (dialect origin)
koburi small thin-bladed knife
nareteru it becomes familiar (central Japanese dialect origin)
nonbo can also mean “gun” nuki
saka small, sharp knife made in Osaka
ate o tsukau to use a chisel
eri o kiru to cut a collar, to destroy the lock
eri o tsukeru to put on a collar (pun on iri o tsukeru, “using to enter”)
eri o tsuneru to nip a collar
eritsuke with collar
geri o tsukeru to use a jigger
hana o konasu to handle flowers
hana o toru to pick flowers
hanaseburu breaking the front part of the lock
iri o keru to kick the entry
iritsukeru using to enter
iso o tsukeru to use a jigger
koburu to widget (to break the lock)
konasu to grind (to open with a master key)
mushi o toru to take an insect
shiburu to widget (to break the lock)
shimeage screwing on
shimeru to strangle
tanka o hiraku to burst out swearing (to break a lock with force)
tanka tsuru to fish the door
tate o kiru to cut that which stands
tehataki to get rid of by hand
LOCK PICKING, tools
ai short for aikagi, “master key”
aikagi master key
aisu Osaka street slang
akinogassan Mount Akino
kenukimus matchless tweezers
kch cooking knife
makkeita master key (ethnic Korean origin)
pasu pass, as in “pass key”
sanpira master key
sanya master key
emu the initial M, short for masutabshon, “masturbation”
henzuri Osaka dialect version of senzuri, “thousand rubs”
hitori de yaru doing it by oneself
jibun de jaru doing it on one's own
kawatsurumi skin copulation (male masturbation)
kawatsururi skin sliding (male masturbation)
masu “mas” (short for “masturbation”)
masu kagami masturbation in front of a mirror; pun on Sei Shonagen's medieval literary work Masukagami (The Pillow Book)
senzuri thousand rubs (standard slang)
shikoshiko rub rub
suma no ura suma backwards (which spells masu, short for “masturbation”)
zurisen inversion of senzuri, “thousand rubs”
ateire blocking and entering
bobowaru cunt splitting
botantori button grabbing (stimulating the clitoris)
ijirimakurimawasu to finger in, out, and around
ijirimakuru to finger round and round
ijirimawasu to finger all around
irau (Osaka slang origin)
irou (Osaka slang origin)
kaisenzuri shell thousand-rubs
manzuri ten thousand rubs
nigiribobo grab cunt
omankosuri cunt rub
omekosuri Osaka slang version of omankosuri
suichi o ireru flicking the switch (stimulating the clitoris)
temanko hand cunt
temeko hand cunt
ude ningy hand doll
yubi ningy finger doll
yubi zeme finger attack
akamanman red cunt-cunt
akauma red horse
hatabi flag day (the Japanese flag being a red dot on a white background)
emu the initial M, short for “menstruation”
furaw from the English flower (college slang)
honch during the red
jamupan jelly roll (high school slang)
kagome-chan little Miss Kagome (high school slang from “Kagome,” the brand name of a ketchup)
kame from the English “came,” as in “my period has come”
reddo znu red zone (college slang)
tenashi no hands (in the past women were not allowed to cook during menstruation)
ago jaw (the money that a masseuse pays her parlor for food)
akanama red raw (small change)
arumono from aru, "to
have,” and mono, “thing”
ashi leg (cab fare that escort agencies charge clients when prostitutes do out-calls)
bainen 105 years (ethnic Chinese origin)
chibuseki (ethnic Korean gambling slang)
chsi (ethnic Korean origin)
chzenmuri (ethnic Korean origin)
dende (dialect origin)
egoro the name Egoro (traditional actor slang)
emu the initial M, short for “money”
gasehin counterfeit money
gasets counterfeit money
gennama hard cash
hitsuji sheep (paper money, as sheep eat paper)
huan huan joy joy (ethnic Chinese origin)
kan (pickpocket slang)
kuruji (ethnic Korean origin)
kyasshu the English word “cash”
mamono the real thing
man the English word “money”
mii-man one's own money (from the English words “me,” and “money”)
mii-gane one's own money (fusion of the English word “me,” with gane, “money”)
moku eyes (priest slang)
namagen inversion of gennama, “hard cash”
nema inversion of man, the English “money”
n mon from nai mono, “non-existing thing”
oashi the honorific prefix “o” and ashi, “leg”
ochizeni dropped cash (money lost at gambling) (gambling slang)
oshin “o” added to shin (Tokyo criminal slang for “money”)
ppa the English word “paper”
ru Chinese reading of the character nagare, “to flow”
seke (ethnic Korean origin, Cholla Namdo dialect)
shan (ethnic Chinese origin)
shin short for shinta
shinta Tokyo slang version of hinta
sokiyu (ethnic Korean origin)
tarechi paper money (ethnic Korean origin)
tar the name Tar
ts short for tsuka, “currency”
tspin taken from tska, “currency,” and pin, “money”
watari handing over
zeni (standard word)
zenko (Hokkaido slang version of zeni)
zenzen none at all
zeze dialect version of zeni
zezeko (central Japanese dialect origin)
anko bean jam (bundle of fake cash)
dosa from dosha, “soil”
gasehin contraction of gase, “fake,” and hinta, “money”
gaseneta fake seed
gasets contraction of gase, “fake,” and tska, “currency”
neta inversion of tane, “seed”
nyuiri from nyu, “insert” and iri, “enter” (counterfeit bills that are inserted among real yen notes)
satsu bank note
aporo Apollo (college slang)
asoko over there
atama head (glans of the penis)
bidenb (Yakuza slang)
bd (Yakuza slang)
burakujakku black jack (college slang)
chji battery charge (college slang)
chako (western Japanese dialect origin)
chanbe (central Japanese dialect origin)
chimaki rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves
chinboko (northern Japanese dialect origin)
chinchin (standard slang)
chinpo (standard slang)
chinpoko (standard slang)
chinko (standard slang)
chintama from chin, “penis,” and tama, “balls”
chip dialect version of chinpo
dama from tama, “testicles,” also used to mean “penis”
danbira broad sword (Yakuza slang)
dankon male root (standard expression)
danbe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
danbo (Hiroshima slang)
danpe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
dappe (dialect origin)
debi (Yakuza slang)
debibo (Yakuza slang)
dechib from detchib
deretsuku to dally, to dangle
deshi adherent, pupil
detchib apprentice stick
emu the initial M, short for the penile synonym musuko, “son”
etchimotsu dialect version of ichimotsu, “one thing”
ete strong point
etekichi from ete, “strong point” and the nameending kichi
farosu phallus (college slang)
fukubep (Yakuza slang, related to fukube, “vagina”)
furumaru (northern Japanese dialect origin)
gaijin outside person, foreigner
gamo from kamo, “duck”
gamoko from gamo, “duck,” and ko, “child”
gan wild goose
gankubi pipe head
ganshu neck of a wild goose (penile shaft)
gari (central Japanese dialect version of kari, “goose”)
geny (Yakuza slang)
genki lively, healthy
genz (Yakuza slang)
goy no mono useful thing
gyokukei jewel stem
hanamoto nose root
henoko (central Japanese dialect origin)
heppe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
hidenb secret stick
hode (Yakuza slang)
hshin gun barrel
htbzu debauched little boy
ichimatsu from ichimotsu, “one thing”
ichimotsu article, thing
ikebachi living pot
imoko from imo, “potato,” and ko, “child”
ingakotsu karma bone
inkei hidden stem
itsubutsu excellent specimen
jiji (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
jijiko from jiji
jijinb (Niigata dialect origin)
kare he, him
kari wild goose
karikubi goose neck (shaft of the penis)
keppe (northern Japanese
ket hairy foreigner (popular slang in the 40s and 50s)
kihai (criminal jargon)
kokku cock (student slang)
koz small child
kurobe proper name
maeashi front leg
maemon front thing
mara (standard slang)
marage from mara, “penis,” and ge, “hair”
miminashiunagi earless eel
moderugan model gun (student slang)
nabusa dialect word for “snake”
naga ashi long leg (northern Japanese dialect slang)
naka ashi inside leg
nakaore middle crease
nankon male root
nankotsus oft bone
nikubachi meat pot
nikubashira meat pole
nikub meat stick
nobichijimi expansion and contraction
noko short for takenoko, “bamboo”
nukimi drawn sword (also means “naked man”)
nyd urine way
obashira male pole
odogu male tool
ohashi male edge
ohasse from ohashi, “male edge”
ohozo male navel
oninnin (general slang euphemism)
otoka no shinburu man's symbol
otoka no shch man's emblem
otokone man's root
pisuton piston (college slang)
pochi inversion of chinpo
pochin inversion of chinpo
pokochin inversion of chinpoko
reko inversion of kore, “this”
roten from rosen
sabe (from the proper name Sakubei)
sakasaboko upside-down sword
sakubei (proper name)
sakuz (proper name)
shinji (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
shinjiko from shinji
shiromono article, thing
sbakui (ethnic Korean origin)
suboke naked craze
sukury screw (college slang)
suyari naked spear
tama ball (usually used to mean testicles)
tanbe (western Japanese dialect origin)
tengu long-nosed goblin
tere (southwestern Japanese origin)
terekuso (Shikoku island version of tere)
tokobashira bed stick
totchin (Kyushu island dialect origin)
tsuka sword's hilt
tsuri fishing rod
tsurube well bucket
wagamono my thing (used
when refering to one's own penis)
yakkaib troublesome stick
yanchabzu naughty little boy
ybutsu sun thing
ykon sun root
yoshiko (Yakuza slang)
yukei male stem
zun (Yakuza slang)
zundoko (Yakuza slang)
danbe (northwestern Japanese dialect origin)
gandaka goose high
gosun five sun (erect penis of over five inches)
karidaka goose high
kkachin from kka, “stiff,” and chin, “penis”
pinpin-chan little Mr. Boing-boing
rokusunsix sun (erect penis of over six inches)
akadama red ball (archaic)
buraz large, floppy organ
chchin paper lantern
funyamara floppy penis
gifuchchin lantern from Gifu
guzur be from guzur, “slow,” and the nameending be
moderugan from the English “model gun” (looks potent, but does not work)
nankin soft balls
odawarach chin lantern from Odawara
yowaz weak elephant
zno hana elephant's trunk
aodaish blue-green snake
dekachin contraction of deka, “large,” and chinpo, “penis”
dekamara from deka, “large,” and mara, “penis”
itaname board licker (the organ is so large, that when its owner is crouched down on his haunches at the bath the organ bounces down, “licking” the board)
itaneburi board licker (see itaname)
koneb kneading stick
magunamu magnum (student slang)
orochi monster serpent
uma horse (very large organ)
umaname horse lick (very large organ)
uwabami boa constrictor
chinkoro (Osaka dialect origin)
hinedaikon shriveled radish (small, shriveled penis)
hosomi thin body
ikibari lively needle
nikubari meat needle
pk Parker (college slang)
tgarashi red pepper
waribashi wooden chopsticks
PENIS, special traits
guzur be slow and useless (impotent organ)
ibo pimple (organ with a thick torso and small head)
insatsumore printing error (organ without pubic hair)
inyake hidden burn (oversexed organ)
karakasa paper parasol (organ with large glans)
kasa umbrella (organ with large glans)
kibicho small under developed organ (northeastern dialect origin)
rokei uncovered root (organ with short foreskin)
sakibuto tip thick (organ with large glans)
sanpachin organ that leans to the left when it is erect
sanpakei see sanpachin
subo tight (organ with long tight foreskin that does not recede during erection)
subomara tight penis (see subo)
utsubo moray eel (hairy penis)
PENIS, with long tight foreskin
hamo sea eel
hitotsumenyud one-eyed monster
hkamuri see hkaburi
hkei covered root
kawakaburi skin covered
kinukatsugi boiled taro root
menashib eyeless stick
rakon exposed root
rezgan leather gun
suppon mud turtle
aburamushi black beetle
akusoku bad leg
bohi inversion of hibo
dani tick (insect)
gytar from gy, “brotheltout”
hibo Osaka dialect verion of himo
Penisu no Shnin The Merchant of Penis
akapori red police (policewoman)
ahdori stupid bird, albatross
airtsutsuai (ethnic Chinese origin)
aobuta blue pig (officer of the mobile unit)
aokarasu blue crow (officer of the mobile unit)
aokuri traffic policeman
aori stir up (undercover cop)
barikatotsuta (ethnic Korean origin)
barori pig (ethnic Korean origin)
biitenga (ethnic Chinese origin)
biyakutonkaru (ethnic Korean origin, Iksan city dialect)
bfuri stick swinger
bu short for bukei
bukei inversion of keibu, “police inspector”
bukeiho inversion of keibuho, “assistant police inspector”
buho short for keibuho, “assistant police inspector”
chchiiyatsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
chari policeman on a bicycle
chiishuir (ethnic Chinese origin)
chiyanbeku (ethnic Korean origin)
chonbu chiyanbeku (ethnic Korean origin)
chhine middle gnarl (police section chief)
daikon megane radish with glasses (inexperienced, provincial policeman)
deka (standard slang)
dekach chief inspector
enma devil (Emma, king of the underworld)
enma-sama Lord Emma
gabinta barking dog (Korean origin, “no respect for one's superiors)
gokiburi cockroach (policeman on a motorcycle)
hime princess (policewoman)
hoimu (ethnic Korean origin)
horudoki (ethnic Korean origin)
itach chief of police (from itachi no ch, “head of the weasels”)
itsunenanda detective (ethnic Korean origin)
itsuriych detective (ethnic Korean origin)
jikei inversion of keiji, “detective”
kaku detective (from kakusode, “square sleeves,” a pre-World War II word for “policeman in kimono”)
kamaki (ethnic Korean origin)
kamaku (ethnic Korean origin)
kamutai (Korean origin, Seoul dialect)
kanshiyoban (Korean origin)
karabakkari just the hull (ineffective policeman)
karasu crow (until a few years ago, policemen wore black uniforms)
karuchi uniformed officer (ethnic Korean origin)
karujichiyansakomoni (Korean origin)
kataoya shape dad (chief inspector)
kazaemon proper name
k dog (ethnic Korean origin)
keisuke proper name
kejirami pubic louse
kijirushi devil's mark (mobile unit)
komucha (ethnic Korean origin)
koramatta from “Koral Matta!” (Yo! Wait!), the words a policeman might shout out when he notices criminal activity going on (market slang)
ktsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
koyani cat (ethnic Korean origin)
kuchiireya employment agency
kumgi black color (ethnic Korean origin) (until a few years ago, Japanese policemen wore black uniforms)
kuriyama (market slang)
kyonchari from the Korean word for police, kyongch'al
maiki (ethnic Korean origin)
nemus (ethnic Korean origin, Kangwondo Chonwon dialect)
ningoro from bannin, “watchman,” and gorogoro, “all over”
nozarubo field-monkey priest (archaic)
oa (ethnic Chinese origin)
obukei the honorific prefix “o,” and bukei, an inversion of keibu, “police inspector”
bune ocean liner (chief of police)
omak contraction of ornawari-san, “policeman,” and k, “dude”
omoya main building
ossan from oji-san, “uncle”
oyadama daddy bullet
oyahige daddy beard (chief detective)
oyahine daddy gnarl (chief detective)
oyaji old man
peruchiya (ethnic Korean origin)
pii-chan little Mr. P
poriman shorter version of the English term “policewoman”
poruhaisha (ethnic Korean origin, Hamgyong Pukdo dialect)
rinhatsu (ethnic Chinese origin)
rtsutsuai (ethnic Chinese origin)
rokut (ethnic Korean origin)
sakubei proper name
soppei quick fighter
suke bitch (policewoman)
surikogi wooden pestle
taikami (ethnic Korean origin)
taku (ethnic Korean origin)
tamu (ethnic Chinese origin)
tsuai (ethnic Chinese origin)
udonya noodle vendor (bumbling, provincial policeman)
uo no tana fish shell
utori (ethnic Korean origin)
utsumatsujii detective (ethnic Korean origin)
wank woof woof
yaba from yabai, “dangerous”
chitsuyau (ethnic Chinese origin)
chonbo (ethnic Korean origin)
kase from tekase, “handcuffs”
mokuchibu (ethnic Korean origin)
mugita (ethnic Korean origin)
mutsuku (ethnic Korean origin)
nokutsu (ethnic Korean origin)
piibii PB, for “police box”
piiesu PS, for “police station”
asa from yasa, an inversion of saya, “sheath”
anbako dark box (detention center)
bakuan (ethnic Korean origin)
butabako pig box (detention center)
gachabako rattle box (detention center)
gamo short for “Sugamo prison”
honke real house
ikezoko bottom of a pond
kriya (ethnic Chinese origin)
kamari detention ward
kiyachibu (Korean origin)
mushiyoseba insect gathering place
musho short for the standard word for “prison,” keimusho
nyauyau (ethnic Chinese origin)
rychijo detention center
teihakukyo (ethnic Korean origin, Pukchong dialect)
teruho inversion of hoteru
yoseba gathering place
akaura red lining
kanshu custodian (standard word)
oyadoro from oya, “parent,” and doro, “thief”
shukan inversion of kanshu, “custodian”
toanti (ethnic Chinese slang)
imo potato (general slang)
imobda pun on imo, “potato,” and the English word “invader” (high school slang)
imo n-chan potato sister (said of provincial women)
imo yari potato guy
imo zoku potato gang (group of provincials)
imochi from imo chippusu, “potato chips” (high school slang)
korokke croquet (high school slang)
nagak long guy
nakai (criminal slang)
notoshi (criminal slang)
bushu the English word “bush”
chinge male pubic hair (contraction of chinpo, “penis,” and ge, “hair”)
furungi (Okinawa dialect)
ha the English word “hair” (popular slang)
inm hidden hair (standard slang)
insankaku hidden triangle
jinjirage (northwestern Japanese dialect origin)
ke hair (popular slang)
keba hair feathers
kebu (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
kebuka (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
mange female pubic hair (contraction of manko, “vagina,” and ge, “hair”)
otoge (southern Japanese dialect origin)
tsubihige woman's pubic hair (from tsubi, “vagina” and hige, “beard”)
atarigane suave metal
ate also means “blade of a knife”
gamu gum (when you buy a razor, it is wrapped up like gum)
sori short for kamisari, “razorblade”
suri from sori
aikagi awasu fitting the master key in the lock
anmaku tacit permission
bukkomu to drive into
esu the initial S, short for “sex”
etchi suru to doH (which stands for hentai, “perversion”)
hamekomu to plunge in
hameru to put in
heppe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
kanraku merriment, pleasure
kamari slithering in
keai cock fight (pun on ke ai, “pubic hair encounter”)
ken de moru
sum Japanese sumo wrestling
tsubi (northern Japanese dialect origin)
tsuboyaki pot burning
tsukkomu to thrust in
tsukimakkuru to stab again and again
yachi o fuku wiping the cunt
zukon bakon zap bang (onomatopoeic)
bitamin esu vitamin S (high school slang)
esu the initial S, short for “sperm” (also used to mean “sex”)
karupisu from the milky Japanese soft drink “Calpis”
kodanejiru child-seed soup
miruku the English word “milk”
otokojiru male soup
otokonyeki male milky lotion
rabujsu the English word “love juice”
shasei ejaculation (standard word)
seieki semen (standard word)
supanku the British English slang expression “spunk”
spu the English word “soup”
toro from torori, “"thick liquid”
yguruto the English word “yogurt”
zmen from the German word Samen, “seed”
banira vanilla (as in “vanilla-ice cone”)
tii baggu tea bag
wairesumaiku wireless microphone
kurikaramonmon large elaborate tattoo
monmon from kurikaramonmon
sumi from irezumi, “tattoo”
rinrin ring ring
tere short for terefuon, “telephone”
waden inversion of denwa, “telephone”
boru the English word “balls”
chintama from chin, “penis,” and tama, “balls” (also used for “penis”)
danbe (southwestern Japanese dialect origin)
dango rice cake
dara tobacco pouch (Hiroshima dialect origin)
donben (Nagasaki area origin)
fugui (used in southern Japan and Okinawa)
fuguri testicle sack (street slang)
fuinukunga the eggs (kunga) of the penis (fui) (Okinawa slang)
funguri from fuguri, “testicle sack”
funguidani (Okinawa, Yonagunijima dialect origin)
furudani (Okinawa slang)
goro (southern Japanese dialect origin)
heppe (criminal jargon, northern Japanese dialect origin)
hetsuguri (street slang, Niigata dialect origin)
hju precious gem (priest slang)
hma (criminal jargon)
kaite (criminal jargon)
kinkuri (Shizuoka dialect origin)
kinta short for kintama (Amami Oshima dialect in southern Japan)
kintama golden balls (standard slang)
kintare golden dangle (criminal jargon, Hiroshima dialect origin)
kints (street slang expression used in southern Japanese cities, Hiroshima dialect origin)
kma egg (Okinawa dialect slang)
kuga egg (Okinawa dialect slang)
kga from kuga, “egg”
kyappe (Yakuza slang)
kyheki large treasure-balls (priest slang)
ohagi rice dumplings covered with bean jam
oinarisan type of sushi that originated in Osaka
oinaribukuro roundish sack of deep fried tofu into which sushi is stuffed
pugui (Okinawa island. slang)
rygaku spiritual balls (priest slang)
sunbako (northern Japanese dialect origin)
suzuko bell child (northern Japanese dialect origin)
tagu (Kagoshima dialect origin)
taimo (Osaka origin)
tama balls (standard slang)
tane seed (southern Japanese dialect origin)
tani seed (Okinawa dialect origin)
tansu rice cake (Toyama dialect origin)
TESTICLES, special traits
doben pot, large testicles (Southern Japanese dialect origin)
dobenoko large, lowhanging testicles (Nagasaki slang)
dobin from doben, “pot”
donbi large testicles (criminal jargon, central Japanese dialect origin)
katafuri side hang (one testicle hangs lower than the other)
katakin side gold (northern Japanese dialect origin)
kenke pickles (small, tight testicles, central Japanese dialect origin)
ochin small testicles, child's testicles (Osaka dialect origin)
ufufuri large testicles (Ishigaki, Okinawa slang)
unguiteii small testicles (Yonagunijima island slang)
akuba foul place
kasetto the English word “cassette” (pun inspired by the Japanese for “the sound enters” oto ire, which is homophonous to otoire, “toilet”
kenkeya shit house
kusobeya shit room
kusodokoro shit place
kusonba shit place
kusoya shit house
mokukan (ethnic Korean origin)
oura the honorific particle “o,” and ura, “back”
samuchibori (ethnic Korean origin)
shianjo place of reflection
suteba dumping ground
bibi (high school slang)
jroku sixteen (pun on shi shi, which can mean “four fours”)
kozume small press
oshikko pee pee (standard slang)
shiiko (northern dialect version of oshikko)
shishi wee wee
shonbe (Harima dialect version of shben)
shsui small water
tachishben standing piss
tsutsuharai shaking the tube
manshon contraction of man, “cunt,” and shben, “piss”
tepp mizu flash flood
ydachi sudden shower
agura squatting, sitting crosslegged
akagai ark shell
akasubori red squeeze
akamon red gate
akamonmon from akamon
akamunmun from akamon
akebi akebi fruit
amaguri roasted chestnut
amidanyorai Amithaba (priest slang)
anabachi hole pot
asoko over there
baimo shell mother
bakagai surf clam (literally “fool's shell”)
bappe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
bebe (southern Japanese dialect origin)
becho (bech) (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
bekya (northern Japanese dialect origin)
betcho (northeastern Japanese dialect origin)
biku fish trap
bo Kobe slang
bobo standard slang (southern Japanese origin)
bobojo (southern Japanese dialect origin)
bocho (southern Japanese dialect origin)
bokkusu the English word “box” (student slang)
cha from chiya, the inversion of yachi, “bog”
chacha (western Japanese dialect origin)
chako (northern Japanese dialect origin)
chancha (western Japanese dialect origin)
chanko (northern Japanese dialect origin)
chatsubo tea canister
chia from chiya, an inversion of yachi
chibi small thing, tiny gadget
chikin chicken (student slang)
chiya inversion of yachi
cho (northern Japanese dialect origin)
dappe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
deruta chitai delta zone
emeru pun on emu, which means both “smile” and “crack”
fuiku the English word “fig”
fuji-san Mount Fuji
fukubebiri tail end
gamaguchi toad's mouth, wallet
hamehame jab jab
happe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
hehe (northern Japanese dialect origin)
heko (hekko) (northern Japanese dialect origin)
heppe (Hokkaido dialect origin)
hikeshitsubo charcoal extinguisher
hobo (northern dialect version of bobo)
horagai trumpet shell
ichi no tani the first valley
ichi o osu press one
ikimi breathing body
inoshishi wild boar
inr pill box
iwato rock door
kannon Goddess of Mercy
keburo hairy tub
kebuton hairy futon
kegani hairy crab
keman contraction of ke, “hair,” and omanko, “vagina”
kemanj hairy bean-jam bun
kemaru hairy zero
kemomo hair peach
kiiga inversion of gakki, “musical instrument”
kinchaku leather pouch
kippin lucky object
kobako small box
koky native place
kubo hollow, sunken depression
kuma ana bear hole
kurebasu crevice (student slang)
kurta crater (student slang)
kuromono black thing
maeana front hole
maejiri front ass
maku no uchi behind the curtains
mamez from mame, “bean,” and the Japanese name-ending z
manj bean-jam bun (southern Japanese dialect origin)
manko (Shikoku island origin)
mehi inversion of hime, “princess”
meicho (southern Japanese dialect origin)
meiki exquisite article
meko (Shikoku island origin)
meme (southern Japanese dialect origin)
meme-jo (southern Japanese dialect origin)
meme-ko (southern Japanese dialect origin)
meme-san (southern Japanese dialect origin)
menko (western Japanese dialect origin)
miiman one's own vagina (combination of the English “me” and man, “vagina”)
mitto (street slang)
moyamoya no seki hairy barrier
mukimi stripped shellfish
naijin inside person
namagai raw shell
nikuburo meat tub
nikutsubo meat jar
nukabukuro rice-bran bag
ochanko (northern Japanese dialect origin)
ochawan tea bowl
ohachi pot, rice tub
okaigai shell shell
okame Kabuki theater mask
okunoin the holy of holies, the inner sanctum
okuromono black thing (from kuromono)
oma (central Japanese origin)
omanko (standard slang, northern and central Japanese origin)
omanman (student slang)
ome (Kobe slang)
omecha (Hiroshima dialect origin)
omecho (omech) (Hiroshima dialect origin)
omeko (standard slang, central and southern Japanese origin)
omencha (Hiroshima dialect origin)
omencho (omench) (Hiroshima dialect origin)
omenko (western Japanese dialect origin)
omonmon (student slang)
omotemon front gate
omunmun (student slang)
onkoto merciful thing
pi (Okinawa dialect)
pii (ethnic Chinese origin, possibly from mao-pii, “fur”)
reishi litchi fruit
rzu rose (student slang)
ryf mahjong pawn
sato short for furusato, “birthplace”
seribako competitive box
shansu (ethnic Chinese origin)
shijimi corbicula shell
shimegi oil press
shimonoseki lower gate
shitaba lower place
shitakuchi lower mouth
shumon orange gate
soso (standard slang)
suiden rice paddy
sumitsubo ink pot
suribachi earthenware mortar
tachiusu standing vase
tatsuware vertical slit
tsubi from chibi, “small thing”
tsunbi (Shizuoka dialect version of tsubi)
umeboshi pickled plum
waraji straw sandals
wareme-chan little Miss Crack (student slang)
yachi bog, swamp
yagen mortar used to crush drugs
yake short for yakeku
yajibako heckling box
yakihamaguri baked clam
yohamaguri night clam
aoda blue field
ama no iwato heaven's stone door
ashiwara reed field
bokka wooden melon
funadama-sama guardian deity of a ship
hinado princess's door
hoto hearth (Nara period)
horagai trumpet shell
ikigai living shell
keginchaku hair purse
kesetta hairy sandals
kewaraji hairy straw sandals
nada open sea
okinoishi rock in the sea
okbako incense box
shakogai clam shell
tachikizu sword wound
takenoko bamboo shoot
tare woman's head
waraji straw sandals
VAGINA, special traits
akanabe red cookpot (menstruating organ)
ama nun (shaved pubic region; Japanese nuns shave their heads)
anaguma hole bear (hairy pubic region)
donabe mud pot (provincial woman's organ)
cherii furaw cherry flower (virginal organ)
furo bathtub (large organ)
furke bathtub (large organ)
karasukai raven shell (the hairy pubic region of a mature woman)
kegawa hair skin (hairy pubic region)
kawarake unglazed earthen cup (shaved organ)
kinchaku vagina with strong muscle wall
kizumono broken thing (deflowered organ)
nikuburo meat tub (large vagina)
obenko virginal organ (northern Japanese dialect origin)
ochoko sake bowl (small organ)
ohachi rice tub (large organ)
osara narrow dish (tight or shallow organ)
zara platter (large organ)
otoshiana pitfall (large organ)
pinku pink (virginal organ)
saragai new shell (virginal organ)
sekohan secondhand (deflowered organ)
shijimi corbicular shell (small organ)
shiofuki surf clam (small organ)
suika no tanaochi melon that fell off the shelf (sexual organ of an unattractive elderly woman)
todana cupboard (large organ)
yachihakui bog in white
(accomplished organ of a mature woman)
bgara empty wallet
fusai reverse of saifu, “wallet”
gamaguchi frog's mouth
hitsujiire sheep entrance
hza (Korean origin)
iwagara from iwa kara, “the rock is empty” (empty wallet)
kaerudachi frog's friend
mosagara from mosa kara, “the gut is empty” (empty wallet)
miire money inside a wallet
namaire from nama, “raw” or “cash,” and ire, “entry”
nakasuki pull out from within (some cliques use this to refer to wallets, others to pockets)
nakanuki extract from inside
psu from the English word “purse”
roppuku money inside a wallet
sai from saifu, “wallet”
zuda short for zudabukuro, “wallet”