"Papa-San Pilots" from Sports Car Illustrated, Dec. 1955
This article appeared in an issue of Sports Cars Illustrated in December 1955:
By Allan R. Bosworth
The red MG at the head of the line, waiting to buzz down the Tokkaido Highway--Japan's Route Number One--bore a stranger device than anybody realized. Painted across the cover of its spare wheel was the word HARE . . .
To you and me, that is a reminder that the race is not always to the swift, a proverb especially applicable to sports car rallies in a land where the speed limit is thirty-five miles per hour, and where chuckholes two feet deep appear without warning. But to the small Japanese girl who sat beside me as the honorable kokai suru person, or navigator--better known as guido--the label was confusing.
This was Richi-san, youngest, prettiest and brightest member of of the informal English class I conducted in the forlorn hope of effecting a fair exchange--English for Japanese. She looked about fifteen, weighed perhaps ninety pounds dripping wet, and just simplu roved Su-sports Car Crub events.
"Papa-san, what meaning 'har-reh,' Engrish su-speaking?"
"Har-reh?" I puzzled, and then, when she pointed to the sign: "Oh, that means rabbit--usagi. That car is usagi, and all the others are inu. Rabbit and dogs--hare and hounds. Understand?"
She shook her head. "I don' sink usagi, Papa-san. I don' understand. Japanese su-speaking, har-reh meaning just a rittle stomachy, and nice wezzer. I don' know."
"I don't know, too," I muttered. The starter was about to give us the flag, but you can't embark on any kind of enterprise with such incongruities as just a rittle stomachy and nice wezzer hanging in the air. I reached for the dictionary.
Sure enough, spelled in Romanji the word hare means "a stomach tumor," and a word spelled exactly the same means "clearing weather."
"You win," I told Richi-san.
"What meaning u-in, Papa-san? Kaze?
"Not wind--win. Why have you people mixed-up the language like this--hare and hare? Japanese is taihen muzukashii--very difficult!"
"Engrish easy, Papa-san?"
"Of course. Hare--we pronounce it hare, hare, not har-reh. Like the hair on your head, only it means usagi."
"Thirty seconds!" yelled the starter. "Twenty--ten--five--GO!"
We went, one of twenty odd sports cars popped at timed intervals into the unending stream of three-wheeled trucks and bleating takushi cabs. We were to watch for lime marks in the pavement, for speed signals indicating that numbered discs of cardboard were hidden somewhere in a hundred foot radius; we were to attempt to overtake the usagi if we could, and to wind up about noon in the vicinity of beautiful Lake Hakone, where neither of us had ever been.
Three blocks farther, and Richi-san made the understatement of the year:
"Engrish anda Japanese, Papa-san, juata rittle different!"
Sports car rallies and motoring in general in Japan are just a rittle different than anywhere else. Driving over there will give you ulcers, if not, indeed, a sizable hare, or tumor. A day when the wheel leaves you weary, dusty, bewildered, and certain of only one thing: Japan is an ancient country whose roads were built long before the invention of the automobile and the same roads and things Japanese will still be there long after the last jidosha has rusted.
Back in 1933, the following English version of "Rules of the Road" was posted in Tokyo's Central Police Station:
1. At the rise of the hand policeman, stop rapidly.
2. Do not pass him by or otherwise disrespect him.
3. When a passenger of the foot heave in site, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him. Melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigor, express by word of mouth the warning “Hi, Hi.”
4. Beware the wandering horse that he shall not take fright as you pass him by. Do not explode the exhaust box at him. Go soothingly by.
5. Give big space to the festive dog that shall sport in the roadway.
6. Go soothingly in the grease mud, as there lurks the skid demon.
7. Avoid tanglement of dog with your wheel spokes.
8. Press the breaking of the foot as you roll round the corner.
The Japanese were ever obedient to the law of the land. They are still tootling, with vigour. Tokyo is, without doubt, the tootlingest town in the whole world, which leads British residents to write indignant letters to the editor of the Nippon Times, asking if “something cannot be done about the excessive honking.” Not only have the Japanese developed tootling into a fine art, but their mechanical skills have not been idle, and horns stamped “Made in Japan” [which once meant as good as “Made in China] can make a Detroit tootle sound like a confidential whisper.
But Japan, with its narrow roads, and teeming traffic, is built for the small car. The MG-Morris agency thrives, the Volkswagen people must be making yen by the million [Tens of thousand?], and Japanese streets at the rush hour present almost every kind of car in the world, with the smaller makes predominating. This cosmopolitan air applies to the sports car club, and especially to its membership card. The latter shows a wheel, to torii gate, emblematic of Japan; it bears English and Japanese text—and at the bottom, with a fine international flair, is printed: “Pour le Grand Sport.”
Come back now with Papa-San, tootling down Tokkaido. We are now beyond Yokohama, and there are stretches of green countryside, colorful villages, rice paddies, ancient shrines, and chuckholes. It is very nice to wezzer, indeed the kind of wezzer that brings the Japanese out for “cherry-viewing,” “moon-viewing,” or just a plain American style pikunikku. It is, in fact, good top-down wezzer . . .
“Don’t put on cover?”
She is asking if I am not going to put the top up. I tell her no, I wouldn’t be caught dead with the top up on a day like this, and ask her if she is cold.
“Not cold, Papa-san. But hair bu-roke.”
I tell her that a wind-blown bob is quite the sutairu in the States, although I really don’t know because I’ve been away quite a while. And everybody knows how women’s sutiaru-s are--like butterfry, all time changee-changee.
“Papa-san, today morning I’m forget somesing, ever’sing. Ba-ad head, don’ you?”
Richi-san never asks “Don’t you think?” but just “Don’ you?” I would be less than a gentleman if I told this small girl I agreed. I insist she has a good head; she is learning English fast.
“No Papa-san—ba-ad head! Today morning I’m forget sun gu-rasses anda camera. Engrish supeaking, Papa-san, ‘hat you say—somebody’s house?”
“Somebody’s house? I don’t get the connection.”
“Maybe anybody’s house. Papa-san don’ understand anybody’s house?”
“No—I mean yes, I don’t understand.”
“Watsmatta you, Papa-san?” and she taps her forehead. “Somebody’s house, anybody’s house! Maybe srand su-peaking!”
“Slang? Oh—you mean nobody home?”
“Yiss, of-a course, Papa-san!”
Papa-san is still chuckling to himself over that Nineties Nifty a couple of kilometers later, and also beginning to worry about the route.
“You think this is right, Richi-san?”
She sticks out her hand. “Right? Migi, Papa-san?”
“No, not that kind of right. You see, we have several words pronounced right. One means migi. One is spelled w-r-i-t-e, like a letter. Another . . .”
“Oh, Papa-san, I’m forget. Day before yesterday come to my house retter. Kyobashi aunt and unc’ su-speaking, ‘Harro, Papa-san, sank you ver-ree much,’ they said.”
“That’s very nice of your Kyobashi aunt and uncle—you tell them hello for me. But I mean is this the right road—the road to Hakone?”
“Papa-san, su-stop, I’m risten.”
“I’m risten.” She cups her hand to her ear. She will ask a question and listen for the answer.
We stop. She hails a woman in a kimono. They bow. The air is filled with greetings and salutations, with smiles and pleasant amenities that extend to the honorable husband, the honorable father, the honorable ancestors. Each chatters at length while the other nods, interjecting occasional “Ah, so’s?” along with “Ha-ha” and “so desu ne?”
The minutes pass. Papa-san fills his pipe. He looks idly into the Japanese dictionary, understanding an occasional word. Now Richi-san thanks the woman. The woman thanks her. They bow three times. Each says “Sumimasen,” which means “I am sorry to have been of such great bother to you.” Each says in Japanese, “It is nothing; it is this side that owes.” They say “Sayonara.”
We get underway again. Richi-san looks at me, her small face aglow with good will.
“Ver-ree kindness, Papa-san! Good heart, don’ you?”
“Yes, I think she is a very kind woman, and has a good heart, Richi-san. But what about the road to Hakone?”
“Oh, Papa-san, Hakone road she don’ know.”
You can lose a large number of Su-ports Car Crub runs like that in the land of the cherry blossoms . . .
-☆-Note: This work is not mine. I have just retyped it here. The original Author is Allan R. Bosworth. Copyright 1955.