Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Frogs or Flags?

Past April I made my first trip to Shikoku, and found the street name "Hata" in the city of Kochi. "Hata" means, "Flags (are) plenty (here)," and is expressed by two Chinese characters. The faithful pronunciation of the characters would be "Hatata." Two ta's must have been shortened to a single ta.

My last name "Tabata" is expressed by the same two characters as those of Hata put in the reverse order. I say to the overseas friends of mine, "My last name means many flags." The flags of Hata and Tabata are of a vertically long kind (nobori-bata) such as used by samurai in wars. I suppose that many samurai of the Taira clan (Heike) secretly lived in Hata after being beaten by the Minamoto clan (Genji) in 1185 in a naval battle at Dannoura.

Possibly my last name comes from the fact that my father-side ancestors were fishermen, not samurai, in a village facing the Japan Sea. They must have come back from fishing with many flags on the boat when they got much fish.

On hearing the explanation of my last name, some friends of mine ask me which I mean, frogs or flags, because my English pronunciation is poor. I say, "Stars and Stripes is the American flag. That flag!" Once I said this to a British friend of mine. I should have referred to Union Jack.

(Modified from my comment on "Another Typhoon" posted at the website "Obachan's Scribbles")


  1. This is really a funny story: I hope your British friend had as much sense of humour as you have!
    As a side comment I add that I'm always fascinated by your language and by the extra "degrees of freedom" that the use of symbols and ideograms add to it.

  2. To Chiara,

    In fact, I said, "Stars and Stripes ..." to two British friends. Both of them had good sense of humor. One, the former Head of the Radiation Division of London Hospital, who passed away some years ago, guided me to the Westminster Abbey. On the ceilings of a room or a corridor, there were many flags. Pointing those, he said to me, "Tabata!"

    Are you fascinated by the Japanese written language? It uses two kinds of phonetic characters, hiragana and katakana, as well as Chinese characters, so that the degrees of freedom of expression is quite large as you keenly observed.