Monday, August 12, 2013


Unlike Saipan and Luta, the Japanese ruled over Guam for only two and a half years.  But that doesn't mean we had zero Japanese influence except for that brief occupation.  Many years before, more than a dozen Japanese permanently settled on Guam, as early as 1900, most of them marrying Chamorro women.

But, even in the late 1800s, Japanese merchants were becoming a huge source of supplies for Chamorros on Guam.

Take, for example, soy sauce.  Today, so much Chamorro cooking simply could not be done without it.  Yet, prior to the Japanese introduction of soy sauce in our stores through the Japanese merchants, Chamorros knew nothing about soy sauce.  We don't even have a Chamorro name for it.  We on Guam call it "soy sauce" or ketchåp, probably because American ketchup and Japanese soy sauce were both things poured onto food as a flavor enhancer.  In Saipan, where Japanese influence was very ingrained, they call it shoyu, as in Japanese.

Daigo is another Chamorro favorite, but a real oddity because the Japanese don't call it daigo.  They call it takuan, and this is also what Chamorros in Luta and Saipan call it, having had a longer time of enculturation with the Japanese.  Now it is true that daigo is pickled radish, and the radish is called daikon in Japanese, but daigo, in Japanese, means "great enlightenment."  Nothing to do with pickled radish, unless eating daigo somehow makes you see the meaning of life.

We can go on and talk about pickled onions (rakkyo) and sashimi, with its accompanying wasabe and soy dipping sauce, but you get the flavor of what I'm saying.  Japanese influence on Guam's Chamorro culture is mainly in the eating department.

There is FAR MORE Japanese influence on Saipan and Luta, and in many other aspects of life.

If Chamorros are hooked on rice, blame JAPAN

Yes, Japan.  During Spanish times, rice was grown in limited quantities on Guam as it needs low-lying, swampy terrain.  Muddy flats in the south of Guam was where all the rice paddies were; in the north, there were none.  Corn was the big staple on Guam for 200 years under the Spanish.  Prior to Spanish contact, it is unknown whether the Chamorro population on Guam ate rice on a daily basis.  My guess is not.  The population on Guam before the Spanish colonization was actually larger, but the land mass was still the same, growing the same amount of rice for a bigger population.  Taro, yams and breadfruit were probably more available on a daily basis than rice.

It was the Japanese merchants in the 1900s were brought in a big supply of rice to sell to the Chamorros, and that's how we got hooked on it.  The U.S. Navy once limited the importation of Japanese rice, in order to force local farmers to grow more.  But  the move was so unpopular that some locals started a petition to allow the free marketing of Japanese rice on Guam; a petition which proved to be something else, but that's a different story.

Actually, we have no one to blame but ourselves for being addicted to rice!  If we didn't like rice, the stores wouldn't sell it as much as they do.

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