HORSE’S MOUTH: Why Do Hakujins Read the Rafu?


(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on May 21, 2011.)


Needless to say, most readers of the Rafu are Japanese Americans. However, every now and then I run into a “hakujin” who says he takes the Rafu. When I am told this, my usual response is, “Oh, and why do you take and read the Rafu?”

The response is always the same. “Because I want to know what’s happening in the Japanese community.”

Of course, I often get a kick out of the response from a “hakujin” reader.

The other day when I was in a shop in Torrance, a “hakujin” fellow came up to me and said, “Say, aren’t you the guy who writes the ‘Horse’s Mouth’ column?

Now this question is always asked of me by fellow JAs but rarely by a “hakujin.”

In this case, I got a chuckle because he referred to our newspaper as the “Rafu Chimpo.” I corrected him by saying, “That’s Shimpo, not Chimpo.”

Needless to say, he didn’t get the humor of his statement.

After this incident I began to realize that there are a lot of Japanese words that can take on a completely different meaning by just changing one letter.

For example, take the surname of Dodger pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. It will probably stir up a chuckle or two, but change the “R” in Kuroda’s name to “S” and you’ll know what I mean.

Of course, the way Kuroda pitches sometimes, you may paint a better picture of his performance with an “S” instead of an “R.”

Heh, heh.

Since her name or photo appears so frequently in the Rafu and other publications, I’ve been asked numerous times if Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga is a relative of mine.

I guess I should do some research to find out the answer because Yoshinaga is not a very common Japanese surname.

On top of that, someone who knows Aiko once told me that her parents were from Kumamoto-ken, where my folks were from. In that case, it might just be a coincidence.

Of course, if someone asked Aiko if she is a relative of mine, she’d probably run to the ladies’ room and throw up at the very thought of such a thing.

As a Republican, I’m glad to hear that Donald Trump isn’t going to run for the presidency in the next election representing the GOP.

Maybe he took a hint from Meg Whitman, who spent millions of dollars seeking the governor’s seat in our state.

Trump is probably richer than Whitman, so he could spend the money and not give it another thought.

I sure hope the GOP can come up with a candidate who might have a chance against Obama, who will be heavily favored to win re-election.

Well, maybe by election time Obama may not be that heavily backed by the voters. The way he’s running the country, he may run himself out of contention.

It was kind of surprising to read in the Honolulu newspaper that tourism from Japan to the Islands has jumped up about 9 percent.

With the disaster of the earthquake and tsunami, it would be assumed that the Japanese wouldn’t even consider leaving their country for a foreign tour.

Perhaps many felt that they just “wanted to get away from it all.”

Needless to say, where is a better place to get away from it all than Hawaii?

Hey, I need to get way from it all. Maybe I’ll go to Hawaii and rub elbows with the Japanese tourists.

Quite a few foreigners have gone to Japan to become sumo wrestlers, but so far no Japanese American has done so.

I guess the Nisei generation didn’t grow heavy enough to qualify as a sumo wrestler.

Well, he’s not a Japanese American, but Ricardo Sugano from Brazil has broken into the makuuchi division (top level) as the first “Nisei” to accomplish this feat.

He was born in Brazil but his father is from Japan, which would make him a Nisei.

His future in sumo looks bright, being the first newcomer to start his career in the makuuchi division with a seven-win, no-loss record.

Many experts predict that the Brazilian Nisei has the talent to reach the top level in sumo. Sumo fans are looking forward to a match with yokozuna (grand champion) Hakuho.

Oh yeah, his “sumo name” is Kaisei.

He says he’s nervous about the thought of meeting Hakuho in the current tournament.

A win over Hakuho will certainly vault him to the top ranks of sumo.

We’ll keep an eye on the “Nisei” in the current tournament.

Oh, before I forget, I want to thank Maggie for her comment on my having a chestnut tree growing in our backyard.

I talked with a nurseryman friend of mine and he didn’t think a chestnut tree would produce any nuts in California’s clime. He volunteered to come over to check the tree when he finds the time.

He’s probably right. I have never heard of anyone in California growing chestnut trees. We have every other kind of fruit and nut trees (walnut, almond, etc.), so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Getting back to baseball for a moment or two, an American playing in the Japanese league by the name of Matt Murton broke Japan’s single-season hit record previously held by Ichiro Suzuki, who now plays in the Major Leagues with the Seattle Mariners.

Morton, a 29-year-old from Georgia, set the single-season record by getting 214 hits in 144 games with the Hanshin Tigers. His 214 hits included 17 homers with a home run in his first at-bat.

Suzuki’s record was 210 hits.

Morton said most Americans who play in Japan are going to hit a lot of home runs but the Japanese just didn’t expect him to play well in all facets of the game. That would be to play good defense, run the bases well and hit for a high average.

In the Major Leagues, Morton played for a number of teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies, before signing with Hanshin.

An interesting part of Morton’s story was his effort to learn Japanese.

We know that Japanese players who sign with U.S. big league teams don’t speak English and don’t seem to make an effort do so. They all use interpreters.

Morton is like all Americans who play in Japan. They make an effort to learn Japanese. He carries a notepad and takes down the Japanese words for different aspects of baseball. He tries to read his notes to learn how to pronounce the baseball phrases his teammates use.

“I knew when I came over here that the language barrier would be one of my problems,” he said. So he makes an effort to learn Japanese.

Can someone tell players like the Dodgers’ Kuroda that they might learn the English language?

Oh well…

Speaking of “Oh well,” I guess I won’t be watching the Preakness next week. That’s because my favorite jockey, Corey Nakatani, won’t be in the race.

Nehro, the horse he finished second with in the Kentucky Derby, has been scratched from the Preakness because his owners feel he has been running too much.

He had four races in eight weeks, according to the report.

Heck, I didn’t think a racehorse could run too much, especially Nehro, who ran such a good race in Kentucky.

Oh well, I guess I’ll just watch Corey ride at Hollywood Park.

Most Americans are becoming acquainted with ramen.

Well, in New York City, they are being introduced to soba, which is another version of Japanese noodles.

Yoshihito Kida, a Japanese from Japan, opened a soba shop called Cocoron on the Lower East Side, and it is becoming one of the popular eateries in the Big Apple.

Like everywhere else in New York City, soba at Cocoron isn’t cheap. A regular bowl costs $8.80 and a larger bowl, $9.80.

Don’t know how many Angelenos would pay that kind of money for a bowl of noodles, but New Yorkers line up at Cocoron.

It has eight stools at the counter and three small tables, and they are all taken.

However, the turnover is pretty quick because soba is the only thing on the menu.

Kida also serves yuba soba for special customers, which costs $13 and $14.

And the noodle shop doesn’t take credit cards.

Pardon me, did I read that right?

A story in the Daily News said that the Los Angeles City Council plans to boost tourism for the city by increasing the hotel bed tax from its current 14 percent to 15.5 percent.

The charge will apply to guests at 187 hotels in Los Angeles with more than 50 beds.

As I said in opening this segment, did I read it right?

How can the City Council hope to lure tourists by charging them more to come to Los Angeles?

Isn’t that like McDonald’s saying they’re going to charge more for their Big Mac so more customers will buy them?

Well, maybe that’s why I’m a newspaper person. I don’t understand the reasoning of our politicians.

A laugher with a “Japanese angle.”

Papa-san is at home watching a football game when his wife interrupts, “Papa-san, could you please fix the rice pot? It’s been flickering for weeks now and will not keep the gohan warm after cooking.”

He looks at her and says angrily, “Fix rice pot now? Does it look like I have ‘Zojirushi Rice Pot Repairman’ written on my forehead? I don’t think so.”

“Fine, then,” the wife says. “Well, then could you fix the rear-view mirror on the Toyota? It will not stay in the position.”

“Fix the mirror on the Toyota? Does it look like I have ‘Toyota Mechanic’ written on my forehead?”

“Fine,” she says. “Then you could at least fix the furo in the back shed? It has a leak and the water from the leak causes the fire to go out.”

“I’m not a furo repairman and I don’t want to fix furos,” he says. “Does it look like I have ‘Furo Corporation’ written on my forehead? I don’t think so. I’ve had enough of you. I’m going to Cherrystone Bar and Grill down the street.”

So he goes to the bar and drinks for a couple of hours. Papa-san begins to feel guilty about how treated his wife and decides to go home.

As he walks toward the house, he notices that the mirror on the Toyota is already repaired. He sees the furo has been repaired and the water is no longer leaking. As he goes to get a beer, he notices the light on the rice cooker is no longer blinking and the rice is still nice and warm.

“Mama-san,” he asks, “how you get all this fixed?”

“Well, when you left, I sat outside and cried. Just then a nice young samurai asked me what was wrong and I told him. He then offered to do all the repairs and all that I had to do was either go to bed with him or make him some sushi.”

Papa-san said, “So what kind of sushi did you make for him?”

Mama-san replied, “Hellooo. Do you see ‘Sakae Sushi’ written on my forehead? I don’t think so.”

After a trial has been going on for three days, Mitsuru, the man accused of committing crimes, stood up and approached the judge’s bench. “Your honor, I would like to change my plea from innocent to guilty of the charges.”

The judge angrily banged his fist on the desk. “If you’re guilty, why didn’t you say so in the first place and save this court a lot of time and inconvenience?” he demanded.

Mitsuru looked up wide-eyed and stated, “Well, when the trial started I thought I was innocent, but that was before I heard all the evidence against me.”


George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.




  1. James Fujita on

    Why shouldn’t white people be interested in the Rafu? Japanese culture has never been more popular in the United States.

    Maybe they’re interested in anime or manga, or in Japanese cooking and restaurants, or in other aspects of Japanese culture which have arrived in the United States.

    The Rafu is also an excellent source of information on Little Tokyo.

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