Grumbling and gambling

In trying to keep in touch with Japan and Japanese, I regularly listen to podcasts from Japanese radio.  Talk shows are best for catching up with news, and for tuning back into the hymns and hums of the Japanese language.  From each show I always learn something new about Japan.

And after concentrating on Japan, I see England and the English a little differently. Both countries look utterly bonkers.

For example, the other day, I heard an odd idiom involving 4 and 5.  The expression 四の五の言う (to speak of 4s and 5s) apparently means to grumble. Why 4 and 5?  Apparently the 4 and 5 refer to numbers on a dice. It was from the grumbling jargon of gamblers in the Edo period, betting on the outcome of dice-rolls.  The atmosphere at dice dens must have been something like this:

According to Japanese Slang Uncensored by Peter Constantine, gambling was banned in Japan at the end of the Edo period. The buying and selling of dice became illegal. Persistent gamblers were even decapitated. This crusade against gambling was part of the fight to compete with western countries threatening Japan’s borders which all had far more sophisticated methods of corruption and theft.

And you can’t build an empire with dice, unless you’re playing Risk.

There are still no private bookmakers in Japan. but gambling has survived.  Now there is pachinko – pinball without the pins, and state-supervised betting on bicycle races. According to my friend, these keirin bicycle races were developed for gambling purposes during the American Occupation in 1948. In other words, the sport was invented just so that people could throw their money at it.  What a barmy idea!

I switch off the radio and then walk to work, passing on one narrow street 4 bookmakers all a stone’s throw from each other.  All were appealing to punters to invest their earnings on 11 strangers kicking a pig’s bladder around. Utterly bonkers.

There must be an innate need for people to throw money about. If only I could catch.

NOTE:  Guchiguchi and gutaguta are other ways of saying grumble in Japanese. I think the words themselves actually sound like a grumble. Or is that just my imagination?

In a similar way, the word mogomogo means something like mumble. When you can’t think of what to say, you just mogomogo mumble.  Mogomogo sounds like a mumble (a goldfish mumbling maybe).

NOTE 2: I spoke to a Japanese friend about “speaking of 4s and 5s”. He said it was an old, dated expression. Then he added that it was typical of an English person to be attracted to the language of grumbling.  I had a right moan at him for that.

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8 Responses to Grumbling and gambling

  1. TonyJ2 says:

    I understand the Japan government is considering awarding a casino licence to an Australian compatriot. It will be downhill from there is that is done.

    • tomointokyo says:

      Allowing casinos seems like desperation. I am sure Japan used to produce things and create things other than cartoons. It seems to be becoming increasingly like Britain. My God, how depressing! . .

  2. Interesting post, I think guchiguchi sounds like someone addicted to handbags! It is funny that we are known as grumblers here in England!

    • tomointokyo says:

      Yes, very ironic, and perhaps not entirely undeserved. Thank you for your kind comment. I had a look at your site. It is amazing, very original. I really liked it. ,

      • Thanks! It’s early days, just a project to help me learn about websites really. I’ve been reading your blog a long time (I left a comment a while back about you returning to it after a long absence, then realised my account had been hacked and it was going to a weird meditation site!) Anyway, the Tokyo Crows gang, which hasn’t appeared yet, is inspired by your story about the crows in the cage in Oji! Love reading about Tokyo in a few blogs, although hope they don’t allow casinos…

      • tomointokyo says:

        Great, really looking forward to the crow story. I am glad you reminded me of it. That was a weird afternoon in Oji. I am going back to Tokyo for a short time in the spring. This has got me keen to do so more exploring and posts. Thank you.

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  4. Rodrigo says:

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