HORSE’S MOUTH: Kotonk vs. Pineapple

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

(Published Aug. 12, 2014)

Those of you who know me know that my wife was born and raised on the island of Maui before she decided to relocate to the Mainland (California).

All of her relatives still live on Maui.

So, this past week, when the news of the hurricane sweeping across the Island State captured the news headlines, she was very concerned about her relatives and tried to reach them by telephone, but couldn’t make the connection. Probably the phone system was knocked out.

I don’t know if the folks on Maui have cell phones. If they do, my wife doesn’t have their cell numbers, so she couldn’t reach them that way.

At any rate, when the storm left the Islands, my wife was able to make contact and to her relief, found everything was okay with her relatives, including her brother and sisters.

I suggested that my wife hop on a plane and fly to Maui to visit her family members.

She chuckled and said, “Maybe they will be coming to Las Vegas and I can visit them then.”

I guess I’m for that.

Chatting about Maui, I guess I haven’t been there for nearly five years. Time sure passes quickly. There was a time when we visited Maui at least six times a year.

Nowadays I go to Las Vegas about six times a year.

I guess sitting in front of a slot machine is more alluring than sitting on a sandy beach on Maui, taking in the Hawaiian sunshine.

Yeah, even my wife says she’d rather go to Vegas than Maui.

She always says if she wants to see her relatives, all she has to do is go to Las Vegas because they all visit there so often.

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Most of us who are Mainland Japanese Americans know what “kotonk” means, but it wasn’t always that way.

Most of us heard the term when we were enlisted in the Army during World War II with JAs from Hawaii. The Island JAs used the term to describe Mainland JAs.

Of course, when we first heard it, we didn’t know what it meant, but over a period of time, we were given the definition of “kotonk,” and it was not flattering.

After we adjusted to hearing it used, we kind of got used to it and it didn’t bother us as much as when we first learned its definition.

How did I learn what “kotonk” meant?

After hearing it being used, I asked one of my fellow GIs, a fellow from Maui, about it.

At first, he laughed and didn’t tell me. However, as I kept asking him he finally said, “Well, it’s kind of an insulting term we from Hawaii use to designate Mainland JAs.”

He then explained. “You guys from the Mainland don’t know because it’s strictly an Island slang.”

He then went on to tell me, “When a coconut falls from a tree and it’s hollow inside, the sound it makes when it hits the ground is ‘kotonk’ because it’s empty. So, ‘kotonk’ means ‘hollow head.’”

In the meanwhile, the Mainland JAs came up with a nickname for their Island counterparts.

It wasn’t degrading like “hollow head.” We Mainlanders referred to our Island counterparts as “pineapples.”

“Pineapples” didn’t have a negative tone to it. Just a plain nickname because Hawaii is known for its pineapple industry.

Of course, I don’t know how the Islanders feel about being referred to as “pineapples.”

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As I mentioned a few times in my column, the neighborhood I live in is now crowded with people renting four houses across the street from my place.

In fact, I guess our house is the only one owned by its tenants, which would be my wife and me.

The renters are, from my observation, all singles and each one owns his own car, which means there is little or no space for parking cars on the street.

So those who don’t park in their driveways park on the street, which means when my sons drop in to visit us, they can’t find a parking space because I own two cars and my driveway is taken up.

I decided to let them park on our front lawn. It doesn’t do our lawn much good, but I’d rather have a shabby-looking lawn and be able to spend time with my kids at least a couple of times a month.

I guess the problem isn’t going to get any better because when one renter moves out, another moves in, and renters are not like buyers. They don’t care too much about the neighborhood or their neighbors.

For example, I waved at one of them the other day and he looked at me as if to say, “Who the heck is he waving at?”

Well, that’s the end of waving.

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I was amazed to see the photo of this year’s Nisei Week queen.

Then I remembered that Nisei Week has started, so seeing a queen selected shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

One thing I did think about: Who were the judges selected to pick this year’s queen?

Usually, the names of the judges are made public, but maybe I missed it because I didn’t see anything about them.

Perhaps it’s only my imagination but it seems to me that in the past, the selection of a queen was a big news activity. Doesn’t seem like it anymore.

Oh well, they only had six candidates, so I guess that is that.

Hey, maybe next year the festival might also select a “king.” Then we could have a king and queen to rule over the yearly festival.

Yeah, I know, some of you will probably say, “Are you out of your mind, Horse?’’

Could be.

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I sure would like to attend the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage set for Aug. 22-23, especially this year since they are honoring the vets who lived in the Wyoming camp before putting on their Army uniform.

I was one of them. Along with a dozen others, I left Heart Mountain to take our basic training in Florida.

All the others who trained with me were sent to Europe to join the 442nd RCT.

I was pulled out and sent to the Pacific because the officer, a Kibei, who tested my Japanese ability said I was “faking” my ability not to speak and read Japanese to avoid going to the Pacific.

I argued that I was completely ignorant of the Japanese language, but he didn’t believe me and assigned me to the Pacific Theater of War.

That alone makes a good story.

At any rate, I ended up in the Pacific and my first assignment was to interview a captured Japanese soldier.

When I told the officer in charge I didn’t speak Japanese, he said, “Then what the hell are you doing here?”

I tried to explain to him, but he didn’t listen.

So he said, “Well, you’re here. So if you don’t speak or understand the Japanese language, you can be my chauffeur.”

So I became a jeep driver for the officer.

When I tell this story to people, they don’t believe me, but that’s what actually happened in my military career.

Hey, maybe I should write a book on my experience.

If nothing else, it would bring a good laugh. And in this day and age, we could all use a good laugh.

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I don’t know how many you follow politics in the State of Hawaii, but in the just-concluded election, it seems like Japanese Americans are starting to regain their foothold in the Island State.

Seems like every major political office was won by a Japanese American.

Stuff like that hasn’t happened in quite a while.

The winners include the mayor of Maui County, who this year is a Nisei.

So, Island politics may begin to resemble the “good old days” when JAs were in command of a lot of offices.

Since the population of Hawaii has dwindled as far as JAs are concerned, the winning political office seekers must have captured the vote of non-JAs to win those offices.

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I guess I’d better jump in my car and drive down to J-Town.

I haven’t been to Little Tokyo for quite a while and I think it’s time I drop in to see how things are going.

Since Editor Gwen picks up my column at my house the day after I write, I don’t even have to concern myself with getting my chatter to the newspaper.

However, to catch up on J-Town happenings, I’d better get down to Little Tokyo,

Who would have ever imagined I would be away from First Street for such a long time?

Hope to see y’all when I get there.

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What is a “lexophile”?

It’s a word used to describe those that have a love for words. They come up with plays on words like “You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish.” A competition to see who can come up with the best puns is held every year in an undisclosed location.

• When fish are in school, they sometimes take debate.

• A thief who stole a calendar got 12 months.

• When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, UCLA.

• The batteries were given out free of charge.

• A will is a dead giveaway.

• With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

• A boiled egg is hard to beat.

• When you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall.

• Police were called to a daycare center where a 3-year-old was resisting a rest.

• Did you hear about the fellow whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.

• A bicycle can’t stand alone; it is two tired.

• When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.

• The guy who fell into an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.

• He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

• When she saw her first strand of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.

• Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.

• The cream of the wretched crop: Those who get too big for their pants will be exposed at the end.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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