JOK Notebook

Eating Oneself

One of my favorite ways to study Japanese is to eavesdrop. My Japanese Facebook friends often chat in Japanese with the people they know, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to read colloquial Japanese in short, manageable bursts, especially if the starting point is easy enough to understand.

That was the case last week when my friend Yuka-san posted a photo that she took in Pismo Beach, California. Although that beach town has an old-timey feeling, things aren't as innocent there as they seem. The chocolate shop has a demented side to it, selling scorpions, crickets, and worms dipped in chocolate. 

Photo Credit: Yuka Minton

When Yuka-san's friend saw this photo on Facebook, she gave the matter serious thought and posted an analysis that examined the topic from every angle. I understood some of what she wrote, but not all, so I turned to my language partner Kensuke-san, and we picked it apart during our Saturday Skype chat.

Before I tell you what I learned, why don't you have a go at it:


食べる (たべる: to eat); さらに (furthermore); かなり (considerably; quite); お手頃価格 (おてごろかかく: reasonable price); カルシウム (calcium); いっぱい (一杯: full of); きゃっ (eek! Yikes!, a word only women use); かゆい (痒い: itchy); サソリ* (scorpion); ぱりぱり (crunchy); 私 (わたし: I); 共食い (ともぐい: cannibalism (in animals); mutual destruction; internecine struggle; eating each other; damaging each other); 芋虫 (いもむし: caterpillar); きつい (intense; difficult); もにょもにょ (mushy)

What's harder—eating chocolate-covered insects or grasping the Japanese here? Well, the second task will become easier in a moment! Here's the initial bit:

Did you eat them? Why? And they’re quite reasonably priced, aren’t they?

食べる (たべる: to eat); さらに: furthermore); かなり (considerably; quite); お手頃価格 (おてごろかかく: reasonable price)

So far so good. Here's the next part:

They’re full of calcium. How are they? Eek! (The thought of it makes my) skin crawl.

カルシウム (calcium); いっぱい (一杯: full of); きゃっ (eek! yikes!, a word only women use); かゆい (痒い: itchy)

The first two sentences here are straightforward, but the third is tough, even for native speakers. After all, most of us don't associate fear with itchiness, and both Yuka-san and Kensuke-san were as puzzled as I. But when I mentioned it to my husband, he immediately figured out that creepy-crawly things make our skin "crawl," partly with fear, partly with disgust. (Of course, the skin isn't actually crawling. But perhaps it feels as if bugs are crawling up and down our skin.)

To continue:

Maybe scorpions are nice and crunchy? But I'm also a scorpion, so it would be cannibalism.

ぱりぱり (crunchy); 私 (わたし: I); 共食い (ともぐい: cannibalism (in animals); mutual destruction; internecine struggle; eating each other; damaging each other)

By this point I was scratching my head, and not out of fear, just confusion. I understood the onomatopoetic use of ぱりぱり for crunchy things, so I was okay with the first sentence. But the second???

Thank goodness for Kensuke-san. He deftly inserted one kanji that made things make sense:


-座 (-ざ: -suffix for constellation names)

"It's her horoscope sign," he told me in Japanese, and somehow I understood. Scorpio the Scorpion! She was born in late October or early November. Hence the reference to cannibalism. For her to eat a scorpion would be like eating herself! Brilliant and very funny! (I also love the compound 共食: "mutual eating"!)

I think her implied use of 座 also explains why she switched from サソリ to さそり. That is, the following Denshi Jisho entry has the yomi of さそりざ in hiragana:

蝎座 (さそりざ: (constellation) Scorpio; the Scorpion)

(Incidentally, 蝎 is non-Joyo.) She used hiragana for さそり because she had さそりざ in mind.

Now for the grand finale:

A caterpillar should be ... tough to eat. Isn’t it mushy?

芋虫 (いもむし: caterpillar); きつい (intense; difficult; tough even to imagine); もにょもにょ (mushy)

I get a kick out of seeing 虫 (むし) and "mushy" in the same place! I'm also intrigued by 芋虫. A caterpillar is a "potato (芋) bug (虫)"? I can guess why ... and yes! I've quickly confirmed it by finding this great sentence: "Caterpillars, the larvae stage of moths and butterflies, are serial potato crop offenders."

If so, I suppose we should be eating chocolate caterpillars to thin out the population, but they don't seem to be available. I guess that kind of むし is too mushy!

Today I've posted essay 1968 on 岡 (hill; higher place; outside; beside). Here's a sneak preview:

Have a great weekend!


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