Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Phrase of the Day: 出る杭は打たれる

Today I went on a site visit to a platform in the middle of Tokyo Bay where Haneda Airport is constructing a new runway by driving piles below the surface of the water and positioning "jackets" onto the piles to create platforms onto which the runways will be built. It was amazing to be out there where they're pounding these huge things w/ these gigantic cranes, etc. (definitely not something I thought I'd be doing when I woke up this morning.) I asked the guy in charge how to say "pile driving" and he said "kui-uchi."

I realized that "kui" = "pile" as well as "stake," so I asked him whether on the work site there was a policy of 出る杭は打たれる 【でるくいはうたれる】 (exp) the stake that sticks out gets hammered in; the best policy is to keep your head down.

OK, bad pun 駄酒落(iK) 【だじゃれ】, but he seemed to appreciate it (maybe the connection hadn't occurred to him), and it was gratifying to give him something to laugh about. Plus, when it comes to seizing an opportunity to make a bad pun in another language, well, I can't resist (誘惑に負けてしまった).

On a side note, I think commentators (Westerners and Japanese) make *way* too much of the expression/cliche' about the stake that sticks up getting hammered down. In my view, the expression is used as a *lamentation*, i.e., that it's a shame how there are currents in society that suppress free expression and individualism, a sentiment that is readily recognizable in Western cultures. It's not as though people in Japan currently use the expression to champion the idea of suppressing individuality. So if such an interpretation seems at odds with its actual usage, perhaps the opposite conclusion can be made about an intrinsic Japanese character, if there can be such a thing, given the inherent faultiness in making such a sweeping generalization.

1 comment: