JOK Notebook


A beautiful restaurant in Berkeley has been driving me crazy. Every time I walk by this izakaya (居酒屋, いざかや: bar, pub), I see three panels filled with gorgeous kanji. I can never make out what they are, and I inevitably fail to have a camera on me.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

That changed this week, thanks to several bits of serendipity.

Things started to happen when I met artist J Muzacz on Twitter. I promptly checked out his first book of Japan-related drawings and felt an urge to incorporate his art into my work. He affably agreed.

I then realized that his forthcoming book of illustrations is entirely about a sugarcane harvest on Ishigaki Island (which is in the same island chain as Okinawa). I was just about to publish essay 1081 on 穫 (to harvest, reap), which in fact came out today. What luck! I've included two of his sugarcane images in that essay, as well as this one from his first book:

Image Credit: J Muzacz

Working from a photo that dates back to the middle of the Meiji era (1868–1912), Muzacz rendered this drawing with a ballpoint pen. Below the image he has provided the following Japanese caption:

A short rest from farm work. In those days, this was how farmers lived.

野良仕事 (のらしごと: farm work); 一服 (いっぷく: short rest);
当時 (とうじ: in those days); 農民たち (のうみんたち: farmers);

生活 (せいかつ: living, livelihood)

I shared this caption with my proofreader, who made a fascinating point. See how the seated man with the conical hat seems to be smoking? The term 一服 can mean “one smoke (of tobacco),” which is likely one cigarette. People often smoke when taking a break, so 一服する came to mean “to take a short rest.”

Ah, 一服. That's the name of the Berkeley restaurant! I knew the time had come; I needed to find out once and for all what those panels said. My proofreader came to the rescue, but even he isn't entirely sure what some of the characters are, as they're so "stylized." That's his word. Mine would be "messy." Anyway, I'll now present the Ippuku panels one by one, along with his skillful translations.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Under 一服 and its romaji rendering we find this written horizontally:

Yakitori & Shochu Bar

焼鳥 (やきとり: chicken pieces grilled on a skewer);
焼酎 (しょうちゅう: Japanese liquor similar to vodka)

What an interesting repetition of 焼! I would not have expected those words to start with the same kanji!

Here's the vertical part:

The ring (or chain) of happiness starts from a happy table.

幸福 (こうふく: happiness); 輪 (わ: ring); 幸せ (しあわせ: happiness);
食卓 (しょくたく: dining table); はじまる (始まる: to start)

There's lots of happiness in that sentence!

Moving to another panel, we find ... a rooster!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Ah, that brings us back to 焼鳥. Somehow I never noticed the rooster till just now, even though I took this picture!

Each column begins with a large 食, which seems like a not-so-subtle command to eat! Here's what the text says:

Cooking connects you and me

食* (しょく: cooking); きみ (you); ぼく (me (for males));
つなぐ* (繋ぐ: to connect)

Cooking unites hearts

心* (こころ: heart)

Cooking colors our lives with blessings

いのち (命: life); めぐみ (恵み: blessing);
いろ (色: color); そめる (染める: to dye, to color)

On the final panel (actually, the middle one), we find the rest of the rooster's tail (!) and more odes to food:

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Here's what the text says:

Cooking brings smiles

笑顔 (えがお: smiling face; smile); もたらす (to bring)

Cooking strengthens people's bonds

ひと (人: people); 絆 (きずな: bonds, a non-Joyo kanji);
深める (ふかめる: to deepen, heighten, intensify)

食は愛をはぐくみ 食は会話をはぐくみ
Cooking nurtures love, cooking nurtures conversations

愛 (あい: love); はぐくむ* (育む: to raise, bring up);
会話 (かいわ: conversation)

食は国と国をつなぎ 食は世界をつないでいく
Cooking unites countries, cooking gradually unites the world

国* (くに: country); 世界 (せかい: world)

The last string of hiragana, つないでいく, corresponds to 繋いで plus -いく (from 行く), a suffix that implies gradual change.

Such passion and optimism! And just imagine—it's about something other than kanji! But clearly this restaurant adores kanji because they're presenting a kanji-covered "face" to the world. Well, that and a big rooster!

Here's a preview of essay 1081 on 穫 (to harvest, reap):

Have a great weekend!


Philip Garden's picture
This made for an interesting read, but I have to wonder wouldn't 食 be better translated as eating rather than cooking? What do you think?
eve's picture
Thanks so much for the comment. When I worked on this piece with my proofreader, I asked him something similar. Here's what he said about 食: "The term is so broad that it can refer collectively to both cooking and eating. 'Meal/food' sounds like it's much more about eating than cooking. 'Cuisine' was the best I came up with, but it might be closer to cooking; there might not be an exact translation in English."

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