Radio and namako

At the beginning of Miyamoto Yuriko 宮本百合子's 1933 novel Kokukoku (刻々, "By the hour"), a prison guard complains:

この一二年、めっきり留置場の客種も下ったなア ... もとは、滅多に留置場へなんか入って来る者もなかったが、その代り入って来る位の奴は、どいつも娑婆じゃ相当なことをやって来たもんだ。それがこの頃じゃどうだ! ラジオだ、ナマコ一枚だ、で留置場は満員だものなア。きんたまのあるような奴が一人でもいるかね?!

We really been seeing a lower class of people in the jail here this past year or two... used to be that you'd hardly ever see a new face around, but those who did get locked up, they'd done something real serious on the outside. But now! The place is full of guys locked up for radio, a sheet of sea cucumber... ain't there anyone with any balls?!

Those are some pretty obscure crimes. To the dictionary!

Although, actually, we don't need a dictionary for "radio" (rajio) because the original text includes the explanation "無銭飲食" ("eating/drinking without paying") in parentheses. This is a pun: musen 無銭 meaning "without money", i.e. "without paying", is homophonous with musen 無線 meaning "without wires", i.e. "wireless."

"A sheet of sea cucumber" (namako ichimai) is tougher, at least for me. Umegaki Minoru 楳垣実's 1956 Ingo jiten (隠語辞典, "Dictionary of cant") says that namako "sea cucumber" was code for "cucumber", logically enough. (I use the past tense, but I suppose if people are still stealing cucumbers they might still be using this expression.) Meanwhile, "a sheet" (ichimai) means one standard unit of whatever's under discussion: one "sheet" of rice was 10 koku, one "sheet" of sugar was 100 bags, and so on.

(I think that here "sheet" refers to a sort of IOU-ish/share-ish "bill" or "ticket" to be exchanged for the goods, rather than a physical arrangement of the goods themselves, so "sheet of sea cucumber" is probably a misleading translation. So it goes.)

Popularity factor: 6


What you need, my friend, is Robin D. Gill's "Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!": A Theme from In Praise of Old Haiku, with Many More Poems and Fine Elaboration (Paraverse Press, 2003; ISBN 0974261807). The preface, "holothurian cuture in Japan," is available here:
I call to your attention the following paragraph, which may or may not elucidate anything:

In Japan, one never knows when or where one is going to run into a sea cucumber (namako). There is, of course, our culinary culture, boasting various namako delicacies; but the namako provides us with far more food for our head than for our belly. Holothurians pop up in science fiction under guises such as the “sea-cucumber starman” (namako-hoseijin), in pop music songs such as the recent “sea cucumber who slept-in” (neboke-namako), in midi files (short animation) where they dance, snore and otherwise show off, in web-page names such as “sea cucumber soliloquy” (namako-no-hitorigoto, an exceptionally boring diary) or “sea cucumber shrine” (namako-jingu, a fortune-teller’s web-page), in the martial arts as the “sea cucumber sword-guard” (namako-tsuba) of Miyamoto Musashi or simply the “sea cucumber” (namako) once used to restrain criminals (ed. note: It is vernacular for the sodegarami, or “sleeve-grabber.”), in the marital arts as the “sea cucumber ring”(namako-wa), a tickler, in architecture as raised grout “sea cucumber walls” (namako-kabe), “sea cucumber roof tiles” (namakogawara),“sea cucumber (corrugated) iron sheet” (namako-ita) and swollen rounded “sea cucumber (door) frames”(namakobuchi), in foundries as “sea cucumber (pig) iron” (namakosen), in dress as bumpy “sea cucumber weave” (namako ori) and stylish sea cucumber tie-dye (namako shibori), in pottery as the complex purplish-gray sea cucumber glaze (namakogusuri) for expensive “sea cucumber hand-warming-pots” (namako-hibachi) or “sea cucumber-handled [pots]” (namakode), in folk events, such as occasional reenactments of ancient tribute-bearing delegations or the annual “sea cucumber drag” (namako-hiki), where a sea cucumber doll is dragged around by children on the day the Big New Year gods are sent off, or even as a mascot for a low entropy-creating ecological lifestyle. (ed. note: To get a gut-feeling of why this book uses the scientifically incorrect “slug,” compare the sound of “sea slug starman,” “the sea slug who slept in,” or “sea slug soliloquy” with the cacophonous “cucumber” versions of the same, above!)


Seconding Mr Hat in recommending "Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!"


Surely sea-cucumber itself would be more valuable than cucumbers.


Yeah, but much less likely to be used as an example of a prosaic crime.

LH, LB: Robin Gill's books are awesome (although I don't have that one), but I had to spend like 15 minutes sifting through that stuff as it is! Weird that he didn't include the meaning "(regular) cucumber" in such a comprehensive list.


I think “Rise…” can very possibly be the most disorganized book I've ever read. It’s typeset by the author on MS Word, with plenty of things like underlined capitals and pages taken up almost entirely by footnotes. And it’s a mess! Hundreds of namako-themed haiku collected seemingly at random, good and bad and average, from everyone and everywhere, with multiple attempted translations for each one, interspersed with tiny essays on pretty much everything. It flows like a Mustang with triangle wheels on a rockbed. It’s glorious.


You actually make it seem so easy with your prsitneateon but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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