Monday, November 5, 2012


Red Ginger

The Japanese ruled the Northern Marianas from 1914 till 1944.  Thirty years.  Not only that; the Japanese population in Saipan was ten times bigger than the local Chamorro/Carolinian population; over 50,000 Japanese versus 5,000 Chamorros and Carolinians.  The locals were SWAMPED.

Besides Japanese, there were Okinawans and Koreans in the Northern Marianas to boot.

If someone visited these islands in the 1930s, they would think they moved to tropical Japan.  Everything was in Japanese.  Ninety percent of the people you bumped in to on the street were Japanese, Okinawan or Korean.  Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines everywhere.  In Tinian, there was no native Chamorro or Carolinian population.  The few Chamorros and Carolinians who lived on Tinian were originally from either Saipan or Luta and went over there for work.

Chamorro kids went to Japanese schools; limited, of course.  The Japanese didn't want all the Chamorros that educated.  But enough to speak basic Japanese in order to comply with orders.  These Chamorro kids all sang the Japanese national anthem and bowed to the Emperor.  Certain people were selected for advanced education and training; sometimes being sent to Japan or another Japanese-controlled island.

So, Japanese influence on the Chamorro (and Carolinian) culture was tremendous, in more than the food department.


As pictured above, Saipan Chamorros sometimes put red ginger even in kelaguen and other Chamorro foods which we on Guam would never think of doing.

Saipanese Chamorros also eat ampan, a bean-filled bread, and manju..  They make it themselves.

Sushi shows up a lot more in Saipanese parties than on Guam.  Though, I'd say, Guam Chamorros serve sashimi almost just as much as Saipan Chamorros do.


Some Chamorros who lived during Japanese times even had full Japanese names given to them by the government.  But, in Saipan, there were (and some still exist) women with Japanese nicknames like Mariko and Arinko.  These Chamorro and Carolinian women have Christian names, but no one ever calls them anything but their Japanese nicknames.


A whole book could be written on the Japanese words that made it into the Chamorro speech of Saipan and Luta Chamorros, but I'll point out some of the more prominent ones, used frequently.

Nangasi.  Sink, as in where you wash dishes.  In Japanese, nagashi.  But Chamorros have a hard time with the SH sound. In Guam, we retain the Spanish labadot (lavador, from lavar, "to wash.")

Namaiki.  Fresh-mouthed, sassy, cheeky.  Same as in Japanese.  Of course, Chamorros turn it into their own word and say "Namaikeke-mo!

Chirigami.  Toilet paper.  Guam : Påppet etgue (paper for wiping).

Denki.  Light, flashlight.  But Saipan and Luta Chamorros also use kåndet, as on Guam; from the Spanish candil, an instrument of lighting or illumination.

Shoganai.  An expression of resignation meaning, "Well, what can we do?  What can be done? It can't be helped."  From the Japanese shouganai.

Debu'.  Fat.  Chamorros add the glota at the end of the word.

Soko'.   Pantry, food storage.  From the Japanese shoko (library or book storage).  Again, Chamorros change SH to S, and add a glota at the end.  Chamorros on Saipan probably heard Japanese talking about storing books and files in a shoko, and used the word to mean a storage for anything, particularly food.

Kakko'.  Looks, appearance.  Again, Chamorros add a glota.

Omake'.  Extra, freebie, bonus.  Don't forget to add a glota!  When you order 10 apigigi, and the seller throws in an extra one or two, that's omake'.

Hos.  Japanese hosu, which they got from the Dutch word hoos, pronounced hos.  In Guam, when rubber hoses first made an appearance with the Americans, it reminded Guam Chamorros of intestines, so they called a hose tilipas (intestines), which itself is a word borrowed from the Spanish word for intestines, tripas.

Denden.  Snail.  From the Japanese dendemmushi.  In Guam, the Chamorros say akaleha.

Kairu.  Frog.  From Japanese kaeru.  On Guam, we stick to the Spanish word for "frog," råna.

There are many other words, related to modern tools, baseball and automobiles.  Many of these Japanese words are fading away from Saipan speech.  For example, old-timers may still use dengua' (Japanese denwa) for phone, but most Saipanese use tilifon, as we do on Guam.  Other Japanese words used are kori (when a store is packed with customers), gobugari (bald haircut).

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