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            In the Toki-girl and the Sparrow-boy books, Japanese words and expressions are used because they are not only natural to the characters, but often the best and most descriptive words to use. I forget, sometimes, that I have used them. I could say, "socks," but if I say "tabi," I know exactly what kind of socks I am talking about and so will you.  

            While I try to be clear in each book what the words I use mean, it seemed like a good idea to have a specific glossary. I'll keep expanding this as new words come into common use and as I find ones I forgot!

            Let me know what I've missed, please.  




-chan — A friendly or affectionate suffix added to the given name of a child, an older girl, a much younger person of whom one is fond, or, casually, between close women friends.

-denka — Title for a prince or princess appended to the name. Like "royal highness.”  (e.g. Irtysh-denka)
-heika — Title for queen or king; appended to the name. Like “majesty.”  (e.g. Ryuujin-heika)

-hime — A title for a princess, appended to the name. Hike is the male form.  Like "royal highness."  (e.g. Otohime)

-kun — A friendly or affectionate suffix added to a boy’s given name.

-sama — A very polite suffix added to a name to show great respect.

-san — A polite suffix added to anyone’s surname, given name or title.

-sencho — A suffix or title indicating master (of a vessel) or captain.

-sensei — A suffix or title indicating master (of a craft or skill) or teacher.




Agar–Agar — Also called Kanten; a sea vegetable with a jelling effect.

Almond Tofu — Almond milk, sweetened and jelled with agar-agar.

Bonito — Skipjack tuna, usually dried and shaved for use as a condiment or in soup.

Cha — Tea. O-cha is green (unfermented) tea; ko-cha is black (fermented) tea. Oolong-cha is Oolong (partially fermented) tea.  An O-cha-ya is a tea house: a place where tea is served and  meetings are held, parties are given, and often geisha dress and maybe live there.

Chado  — "The way of tea"; the study and practice of the tea ceremony.

Chakras - Places in the body where the chi gathers and is stored.

Chi -  Physical stuff of which the universe is made; sometimes called life force.

Cho — Unit of measurement: about 109 meters or 119 yards.

Chonmage -Classic man's hairstyle. Samurai shaved their heads in front. The remaining hair was

 pulled up into a tail and shaped into a knot on the top of the head. Other men didn't shave the  top of the head, but would tie their hair up and back.

Coppice - Managed forest, usually small.

Daikon — Long white radish, mostly eaten cooked or pickled.

Daimyo — Feudal lord of a large domain, rather like a duke.

Dai-Tengu - Larger form of Tengu, often taking the form of yamabushi to harass religious.

Dango — Balls of mochi (pounded and molded short-grain sticky rice) grilled and served in a  sweet and savory sauce.

Dojo - Practice hall.  Used for martial arts or athletic facilities and Buddhist practice halls.

Edamame  — Soybeans in the pod, boiled in salted water, served as a snack.

Fukusa  — Small scarf used as a wrapping for small items.

Furushiki  — Large decorative fabric square used for forming bundles and carrying things;  sometimes furoshiki.

Futon - Thick mat made of cotton batting, often quilted, used as a mattress.

Gagaku — Ancient Court music also used in Shinto ceremonies.

Geisha or Geiko — Arts person. A highly trained entertainer, not a courtesan; dresses quietly but  very well, her obi ties in back, wears a simple hair style.

Genkan — Designated foyer, just inside the door, considered an extension of the outdoors, and  where one removes one’s shoes.

Geta — Thong-toed shoes with wooden soles set on horizontal risers to protect the feet from wet,  muddy or snowy conditions.

Gi — Trousers and wrapped jacket often used in martial arts practice. Usually made of heavy  white cotton canvas, the belt holding the jacket closed is colored to show the wearer’s rank(s).  Noriko’s belt is black but embroidered with many colors showing the levels of black rank (dan)  she has achieved in her various disciplines. Similar to a samue, but samue can be any color.

Go-chiso-sama-deshita — Literally, "it was a feast," said in thanks at the end of a meal to both  thank the cook and express gratitude generally for the food provided.

Hakama — Long pleated trousers worn as part of a dressy outfit by both men and women, over      one kimono and usually under an outer robe. In Court or very formal clothing, the legs                extended well beyond the wearer’s feet and required a special way of walking, rather like            dancing.

Hangyoku or maiko — Apprentice geisha, with a more elaborate costume and hairstyle; these are  the entertainers normally seen in public and at public performances. True geisha or geiko are    rarely seen in public.  Hangyoku is the Tokyo term; maiko is the Kyoto, and more commonly      used, one.

Hara - In the belly, a central storehouse for chi.

Hijiki — Popular sea vegetable.

Hinin - Non-person, either outcast for criminal behavior or part of an hereditary underclass that  performed certain jobs, or people who worked in the entertainment industry, even if not born      to it.  They could not mix with mainstream society and had limited rights.

Hiragana — Phonetic Japanese writing system used in writing Japanese.

Ika — Small squid, or calamari, eaten by humans (among others.)

Ikebana — Art of decorative flower or plant material (leaves, branches) arranging.

Inryo — Carved box for carrying small things, hung behind or through an obi, held in place by        a netsuke. Similar pouches were also made of cloth, but people also just tuck things into  their obi.

Irori — Floor-level hearth in the center of a room.

Itadakimasu — Literally, "I receive." This is said when one is served something before consuming  it, as thanks.
Izakaya — Drinking establishment like tavern, pub or bar serving a wide menu of snacks from        which one can put together a meal.
Japanese Potato — Round root vegetable of neutral flavor grown in mountains.

Jinbei — Short trousers and a wrapped short-sleeved jacket, worn in hot weather, mostly by            men, or for loungewear; can be used as a uniform if marked with a crest.

Jitte — Poking weapon, with a hook to catch a sword near the handle.

Joseon, Goreyo — Old names for what is now called Korea.

Kami — Though often translated as “god” or “deity”, “spirit” is a better choice. Kami are spirits of  various kinds, of Shinto origin.  The honorific O- is used with particularly important ones.  

Kampai  — Cheers!

Kanji — Chinese characters used in writing Japanese.

Kata —  Formal routine of movements used to practice martial arts.

Katakana — Phonetic Japanese writing system used for foreign words.

Katana — Samurai long sword, worn with a wakizashi, a short sword or dagger.
Karayuki — Sending people overseas to work supporting Japanese colonies abroad.  Usually the    people were women; usually they were set to work in brothels, no matter what they were told        before they left Japan.

Kemari — Game using a small bean or bran-filled bag; rather like hacky-sack.  Cuju is the            Chinese version.  Many different games can be played with this toy.

Kim chee — Fermented cabbage pickle with varying quantities of garlic, red pepper and            sometimes fish, that originated in Korea but is popular in Kyushu.

Kimono — Wrap garment, length adjusted by its belt, worn by men and women, in many formal    and informal styles.  Literally: a thing to wear.

Koku — Unit of Measurement: 40.95 US Dry Gallons; 5.12 US Bushels: customary measure of        payment for petty and other officials.  It was supposed to be the amount of rice consumed by one  person in one year.

Kotatsu — Table that sits over a heat source and is covered with blankets or quilts to provide a warm seating area. 

Kraken — Giant squid, often thought of as sea monsters. This word is northern European.  The  Humbolt Squid is one variety of large squid. The deep-sea Colossal Squid, rarely seen, is the real  Kraken or Umi-bozu.

Kyoju — Professor, specifically, rather than the more general “Sensei.”

Macha — Ground green tea, used as a beverage or a flavor.

Meishi - Business card.  Used in Japan for centuries, but became popular in the Meiji era.

Manju — Steamed buns of wheat flour, stuffed with a variety of tasty savory or sweet things.

Mikan — Small tangerine; also called Satsuma.

Miko — Sometimes called Shrine Maidens.  Young female Shinto priests. If they do not leave the  service of the kami on marriage, they can advance in the Shinto clergy and are either simply  called "priests," or "shamans" if they develop special skills and learning.

Mirin — Sweet wine used in cooking.

Miso — Fermented soybean paste used for soup and seasoning.

Mochi — Cooked sticky rice, pounded into a dough and used in various applications, from savory  crackers to sweet desserts.

Mon — Family crest or emblem.

Naginata — Combat weapon something like a pike, a long pole with a sword blade on the end.  Used by women, men and even children.

Netsuke — Carved toggle, almost always stone, used to hold an inryo (small pouch or purse) to an  obi or belt.  Usually solid, they can be more elaborately carved, like Norirko’s, to hold a blade or  throwing star.

Ninja – Mercenary practitioners of Ninjitsu, or Ninpo, the art of using whatever is handy as a  weapon, and cross-trained in many martial arts skills, known for stealth, skill and quick  reactions. There were two great Ninja families or schools hidden in Mie that were ultimately  destroyed, as they were considered too dangerous by the powers that be. The male remnants  were absorbed into existing forces. There was a separate order of women Ninja that disappeared,  at least officially, at that time. High-ranking women were often guarded and defended  exclusively by women. All Samurai women were trained in various martial arts, but mostly  defended their homes and families rather than fighting on the field, though many did. This  training became less common as women’s rights were suppressed in the Edo period, but the  tradition of women as warriors persists to this day, and many women practice various martial  arts.  Shinobi is another way to pronounce the characters that form the word ninja.  A woman  ninja is called a kunoichi.

Noren — Short curtains used in pairs to partially block an entryway and show a business is open;  usually have a design, direction, or the name of the business dyed in.

Nori — Extremely popular sea vegetable, part of sushi, also breakfast.

O-nigiri  — Filled rice balls wrapped in nori sheets, a light meal or snack.

Obi — Sash or belt of a kimono; of varying widths and complexities depending on the formality of  the kimono.

Ofuro — Hot tub, with the water heated to use for bathing.

Oiron — A courtesan, very expensive, sometimes with some Geisha-like music or dance training.  Wears her obi tied in front, usually flashily dressed; they had public advertising parades,  complex and decorated hair.

Older Sister — Ane, for one's own sister, o-ne-san for someone else's, or in reference, or as a title  of respect. A specific title is often used instead of a name to indicate relationship.  There are also  specific titles for younger sisters (imoto) and older (ani) and younger (little) brothers  (ototo). These are generally used affectionately.

Omakasi — Chef’s choice, usually used in sushi restaurants but can be used elsewhere.

Onagi - This word means "the same".

Onsen — Natural hot spring used for bathing.

Oshibori - Small, damp towels used to clean one’s hands before eating.

Ponzu sauce — Citrus flavored soy sauce compound often used in Kyushu.

Pumpkin — Kabocha pumpkin, a large, round green-skinned, orange-fleshed, winter squash.

Ri — Unit of measurement: about 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles.

Shakuhachi —  Japanese flute.

Shiromuku — Special white wedding kimono, usually lined with lucky red.
Shugendo — Discipline practiced by yamabushi, a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, martial  arts and a very ancient form of mountain worship.
Soke — Formally certified martial arts master who can start a school, teach independently and  award ranks.  

Sake — Rice wine, made in many flavors and strengths.

Sakura — Flowering cherry trees.  There are several kinds that extend over a season, but the  Yoshino variety is often planted in large groves and is the most highly celebrated and feted  with hanami — flower viewing — parties.

Samue — Long trousers and a long-sleeved wrapped jacket, similar to a jinbei, and worn for  heavier work or in colder weather.

Sekitan — Coal.

Senbei — Rice crackers, made of mochi, deep-fried and seasoned in different ways.

Shakujo — Tall staff used as a walking stick and a weapon, usually by warrior monks; similar to a  quarterstaff in use, but shorter. Topped with noisemaking rings to warn off small beings and  bugs so the bearer doesn't step on them. 

Shaolin  — Chinese school of martial arts, founded and maintained by temples. often  called kung-fu in the West.

Shide - braided strips of white paper used for spiritual purposes in Shinto rituals.

Shiso — Also known as perilla; a spicy herb used in cooking.

Shoji screen — Screen or door made of a wood frame covered at least in part with paper to  provide light.

Shuriken — throwing star; an edged weapon that can be hidden in the hand for combat or  thrown to deadly effect.

Sohei — Warrior monks and sometimes nuns specially trained to defend their temples. At some  times, some of them might not be true religious but might be mercenaries hired by different  temples.

Tabi — Split-toed ankle socks that fasten in the back.

Tajitu — Yin-yang symbol associated with martial arts in Chinese philosophy.

Tamagushi — Evergreen branches decorated with shide used in Shinto ceremonies.

Tansu -  Portable set of stairs with drawers in it.  

Taro — Tasty round root vegetable.

Tatami — Thin mats or thick floor tile made of woven reeds or straw.

Tengu - Evil being that turns from a partial human into a crow, kite or small hawk.  Possibly a  form of demon.

Teppanyaki — Restaurant serving charcoal grilled items. 

Toki — Japanese Crested Ibis, nearly extinct, coming back due to intense efforts.

Tokonoma — Display alcove built into most rooms.

Train - Long decorative piece of fabric fastened around the waist over all; very dressy

Tsunokakuchi - Wedding headdress with symbolic meaning; second of two.

Uchikake — Colored kimono worn by the bride after the ceremony; often the background is  lucky red.

Ume — Flowering and fruiting plums. They bloom early, before the sakura.

Umeboshi  — Salt pickled plums or apricots of many varieties, mostly eaten at breakfast.

Umi-Bozu — Japanese word for the Colossal or Giant Squid.  In folklore, the souls of monks who  failed to attain enlightenment, sometimes out to steal the souls of drowning sailors.

Uta bikune — Buddhist nun who preaches and teaches by singing in public places.

Wakame  — Popular sea vegetable.

Wakizashi —  Short sword or long dagger, one of a Samurai's two swords, the other being  the katana.

Wajin - Japanese people of the predominant ethnic group - almost everyone.

Wasabi — Hot and spicy root, grated and served as a seasoning. Not quite horseradish, but similar.

Watabshi - Wedding headdress with symbolic meaning, usually worn during the ceremony.

Yokai — Sometimes yukai.  A catch-all term for a variety of supernatural beings, ghosts or other  denizens of the material or even non-material world.

Yukata — A light kimono provided by inns and used at home or in the neighborhood as    loungewear, also a light kimono worn in hot weather.

Zabuton — Portable small floor cushion, for sitting.

Za-isu — Small, portable floor chair or stool.  Isu is the word for a regular chair.

Zori — Thong-toed shoes for daily wear; flat, usually woven, soles.  See, e.g., geta.

Zukin —  Kerchief used to cover the head or hair, with a band on the front going back into ties  and a triangular center, or a more hoodlike version.  Buddhist nuns wear these sometimes as do  workers. They come in various sizes.