Mind Yer Imperatives

Well, I’ve emerged from the Pain Cave just in time to turn 30 and to finally get around to transferring my new domain name howtojapanese.com to Namecheap and setting it redirect to howtojaponese.com. I do hereby return this blog to its original name, How to Japanese! (And the crowd goes wild.)

A couple of weeks ago was Japan Fest over at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. Last year I wrote about the Yakumo Nihon Teien (named for the original Japanophile, Lafcadio Hearn) over at Untapped Cities.

This time, I geared up 祭り-style with my happi to fold some cranes and dress some folks in yukata. Devoted readers might recognize this clothing from the local autumn festival in Nishiaizu.

My participation in the Nishiaizu festival involved helping carry the mikoshi, eating lots of food, and drinking lots of beer. It was a fun time. I was also required to embarrass myself at least once a year by performing the 景気. The mikoshi made the rounds of different neighborhoods, stopping frequently at houses to receive donations and to もむ (lift up and down). Occasionally we parked in front of a house for snacks and a rest. And when we began again, we had to 付ける the 景気 – literally, “apply the good energy.” If you checked out the definition on kotobank, you could say “apply the 元気.”

This meant someone stood up on the mikoshi, shouted 景気を付けて! (which sounded something like けいーきをーつけて: the い and the を were drawn out) and did a little dance while holding a fan. The rhythm was kind of similar to a slow version of a 三本締め party close. Here is what a certain foreigner looked like (his face has been covered to protect the rhythmically challenged):

(Notice the courtesy laughs and the pity smiles.)

The first time I did it, I had no idea what it meant and just followed the instructions of my adopted 祭り family, but I asked in later years and came to have an understanding of what it meant: the person is helping to provide a sense of good spirit for the people who provided snacks. As always, translating this phrase will make you feel like an idiot or a Neo-Confucianist philosopher, so just concentrate on understanding it in Japanese.

I noticed that other people who did the 景気, notably guys, always said 付けろ rather than 付けて. Whenever it was my turn, though, there was a brief debate amongst the townsfolk about whether I should use 付けて or 付けろ, and the former always won. The latter was considered a “bad word” – a curse word, basically.

Until that point, I don’t think I’d ever had a real conception of what the imperatives felt like for Japanese. I used てください and て pretty consistently, and I knew that the ろs and れs were stronger, but I didn’t know exactly how strong. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, as it were.

Check out this video on YouTube to see some もむ action and read the caption to check out how 景気を付ける gets used.

5 thoughts on “Mind Yer Imperatives

  1. Happy Birthday!

    I’ve had similar experiences with the Taiko group I performed with in Japan. They were very enthusiastic about me participating in a front and center kind of way when in public (sometimes if it was because of the novelty of a foreigner doing it, I always wondered) but at the same time being very careful and protective of how I was doing it. I definitely feel like I learned the most about how to behave in a social setting by hanging out with them. ああ 懐かしい。。。

  2. Happy big three-oh!

    And I don’t care if the locals put on their courtesy smiles or not, to me getting up on the mikoshi in front of everyone is totally badass.

  3. Yeah, happy birthday! Also, I didn’t know you knew how to dress other people in yukata. That’s pretty badass.

  4. Matt – I was in charge of the origami, and I had to be taught by one of the visitors to our booth, but now I’m a pro. We were also lucky to have yukata provided by the Nashville Consulate. They brought the easy variety with bows that just hook on to the back. And there is one JET alumna here who is very good at applying obi, so I didn’t have to do much with the yukata…probably for the best.

    Will – They really only told me what to say. I had to make up the dance part by myself. I did it for about four years, and the first year was predictably terrible. Year two was better, and then I think I regressed.

    Daniel – Thanks, man. I’m still working my way through Crime and Punishment. Beginning of Vol. 3 is insane!

  5. Pingback: How to Japanese» Blog Archive » How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 1 景気を付けて