Your Mother as a Bag: Part 2

Friday, February 5th, 2010

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We start with Alberto’s haiku calendar for February, another beauty:


Wow, this haiku features some complex kanji! Alberto will tell us about the poem in the comments section. Meanwhile, here’s the scoop on the least familiar characters:

(RYŌ, REI, ne, mine: peak, summit)
(SHO, SHŌ, SO, ka(tsu): also, furthermore, moreover)
(KATSU: brown)
(FUTSU, HEI, HETSU, ō(i), ō(u): to cover)

In this list, the first and last characters are non-Jōyō.

Let’s return to a kanji you’ve seen before. As you know from last week, (TAI, DAI, fukuro) often means “bag, pouch.” With that in mind, try to figure out what the following might represent:

1. 買い物袋 (kaimonobukuro)
2. 紙袋 (kamibukuro)
3. ゴミ袋 (gomi-bukuro)
4. 茶袋 (chabukuro)
5. 寝袋 (nebukuro)
6. 箸袋 (hashibukuro)
7. ビニール袋 (binīru-bukuro)

Answers to the Quick Quiz …

How Many Bags? …

All these bags are pretty conventional. Now we venture into the land of the unexpected:

お袋 (o-fukuro: (one’s) mother)

People sometimes write o-fukuro as お母. Given the usual yomi of (BO, haha: mother), this would be ateji.

What’s going on here? In the land of ultra-respect for family and the elderly, people refer to their mothers as bags? According to one English-English dictionary, “bag” is slang for a “woman considered ugly or unkempt.” We typically hear not just “bag” but “old bag.” If you say “She’s a gossipy old bag,” the meaning of “bag” doesn’t seem to change, but now we’ve heightened the sexism and tossed in ageism, as well.

Not so in Japanese, where お袋 is a term of endearment! As Lonnie Wiig commented on an earlier blog, he once saw a sign in Yamagata Prefecture saying that a restaurant specialized in お袋の味 (o-fukuro no aji: (one’s) mother + flavor). This has nothing to do with what one’s mother tastes like. Rather, it refers to homemade flavors—the individual dishes that each woman might produce.

I can’t find anything about the etymology of お袋, but I’m going to have to assume that it relates to the womb as the primordial bag. Just as koalas are known in the kanji sense for their pouches (e.g., 袋熊, fukuro-guma: koala, pouch + bear), a human mother is also nicknamed for her interior “pouch.”

Here’s what Yahoo Japan’s dictionary has to say about お袋. See how much you can understand before turning to the link for the yomi and breakdown:


Yomi and Breakdown of the Words …

A rough translation:

A word expressing closeness with one’s own mother. A long time ago, people used it as a title of honor, but nowadays a man will mainly use it when talking to others about his mother.

The colloquial word お袋 never appears in formal documents, so use it only in conversation. Even in that context, I can’t imagine calling anyone a bag!

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

9 Responses to “Your Mother as a Bag: Part 2”

  1. avatar Laurence "Lonnie" Wiig Says:

    Hi, Eve,

    I like your “fukuro” essay. Perhaps some of your readers who are native Japanese can explain more about the use of “o-fukuro” and “o-fukuro no aji.” Your blog makes it sound like “o-fukuro” is a fairly charming and positive expression. Just the opposite of “old bag” in English.

    Oh, yes. One more thing. I hope you will write a blog on humorous, custom-made kanji such as one I have never forgotten that my Japanese professor, Dr. David Ashworth, showed to our Japanese linguistics class back in 1970. The custom-made character had “inu” on the top and “ten-ten-ten-ten” on the bottom. Meaning? “Hot dog.” Get it?

    Dr. Ashworth is still teaching at the University of Hawaii — Manoa 40 years later. He has probably collected many such custom-made kanji over the ensuing decades. Perhaps you can contact Professor Ashworth, tell him about his unusual kanji for “hot dog” back in 1970, and then build a blog or two with what he shares with you. (Just a suggestion.)

    Doomo Arigato. Have a good weekend.

    Laurence “Lonnie” Wiig

  2. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    Thanks so much for the comment, Lonnie! Glad to see you make an appearance, since this blog relates to you!

    I like the “hot dog” concoction and the idea of custom-made kanji. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. avatar Alberto Says:



    Although it is Spring already in Japan, according to the traditional lunar calendar, I selected a snow-related haiku by Ishida Hakyo, just because we had snow over here in the last couple of days.

    The nice picture is featuring snowy peaks from Hokkaido and was taken by Tomo Yun san (

    The romaji version of this haiku:

    Yuki no mine
    katsu kasshoku no
    ki o oofu

    When I searched for the verb 蔽ふ, I noticed that Ishida Hakyo used an old form of conjugation that we may find in haiku and old texts. Currently the verb is written 蔽う (oou, to cover).

  4. avatar Charley Garrett Says:

    Why is 11 Feb 2010 in red on the calendar?

  5. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    It appears to be a holiday called “National Foundation Day”:

  6. avatar Alberto Says:

    Thanks Charley for asking. 11th of February is the 建国記念の日 (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi) or National Foundation Day.

    Just in case someone may be interested in a high resolution picture (so as to be saved as desktop picture, for example) you can download it, free of course, from here:

    (Scroll down to see the link).

  7. avatar Hiroshi Says:

    It may sound strange but I was surprised to find out that Feb 11 was not 建国記念日(Kenkoku Kinenbi) but 建国記念の日! Right after I read Alberto’s comment above, I checked two calendars in my house and then the Wiki site. Before the day was established as a national holiday in 1967, there had been a long controversy about it. The holiday-to be was called 建国記念日throughout that period, and once it was established the name was changed. I wonder why. There has to be a long story about that issue too.

  8. avatar Eve Kushner Says:

    It’s nice that a Spaniard is writing in English about Japanese culture and illuminating such matters for us all!

  9. avatar Lina. Says:

    japanese is so cool.
    I love AI.

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