Japanese linguistic legacies

by Antonio V. Figueroa

The Japanese, despite its brief colonial rule, also left behind their own imprints, many of them dating to the second decade of the 20th century when abaca plantations in Davao employed Japanese manpower. Many of their linguistic legcies were first introduced in Manila.

The famous halo-halo, for instance, has its origin in the Japanese kakigori, which dates to over 1,000 years. During the Heian period, the Japanese nobles harvested ice during winter and stored them in special ice caves for use the following summer. The Japanese also specialized in preserving beans like mongo (mung beans), garbanzos (chickpeas), and kidney beans in thick syrup, then adding crushed ice, which evolved into the indigenized Filipino halo-halo.

Kiyoshi Osawa, in A Japanese in the Philippines (1981), wrote that before the war Davao had the largest Japanese population outside Japan, mostly from Okinawa, who controlled the business of halo-halo, also known as mongo-ya, from the Tagalog ‘red beans.’ The Japanese were also into refreshment. According to the Bureau of Insular Affairs (BIA), the Japanese, in 1934, controlled 100 percent of the soft drinks market in the city, 80 percent of the refreshment parlors, and 50 percent of ice plants.

The Davao noodle known as odong, on the other hand, was inspired by the Japanese udon, prepared from wheat and processed into thin strips for use in soup and other epicurean preparations. Noodles, though, are Chinese in origin, and their taste, aside from the meat that is added, is dependent on the condiments and spices used. The odong is yellowish in color like the noodles served fresh or packaged as instant food and resembles in size to the graphite of a pencil, which is a long, thin, and spherical stem. Locally, it is prepared with a mixture of oil, spices, soy sauce or toyo (shōyu in Japanese), and canned sardines cooked in a generous serving of broth. In pre-Commonwealth years, the Japanese controlled 60 percent of the odong produced in Davao.

Although the Japanese tofu (soybean curd), known as tokwa, is Chinese in origin (from doufu, or bean), tradition says it was the Japanese traders who first introduced the soya food in Davao. The tokwa, eaten as side dish or used as meat extender, is mixed with onions, pork, vinegar, and spices. It is made from coagulated soymilk produced by soaking, grinding, boiling, and straining the curds. Households use salts and acids as curd coagulants. Soya byproduct is sold as taho.

Another Japanese legacy is the loanword katol, Japanese for ‘mosquito coil,’ from katorisenko. Introduced in the country during the first quarter of the 20th century, the item was a brand name manufactured by Azumi & Co., Ltd. of Osaka, Japan. It was exclusively sold by the Manila-based Osaka Bazar, which had a branch in Davao.

Other Japanese loanwords that have found their way into Visayan and Tagalog vocabularies include kaban (sack of rice, bag, satchel), toto (younger brother, from ototo), karaoke (empty orchestra), jack-en-poy (rock-paper-scissors or janken-pon), dahan-dahan (slowly, dandan), haba (width or breadth, haba), and tamang-tama (coincidentally, tama). The soft drink bottle cap tansan, meanwhile, originated from Tansan, a brand of bottled carbonated water introduced in the country in the early decades of American occupation.