"in my language, 'roma' means 'people'"

More insight into the world of CIR (Coolness Is Relative):

Last week Tateishi and I went over the menu for the leaver's party. We went over his notes for last year, I offered my observations from the Welcome Party ("ah, but this is the leaver's party, you see. It is different" was not said, kindly), and then I conferred with a key collegue (thanks Sonya). Tateishi had thoughtfully made about half the menu vegetarian, but when I looked at it, there was actually only one vegetarian item on the list. The rest had fish, fish, fish and bacon in them. It would seem that repeatedly asking me "Do you think this is cruel?" when they bring out the speared-fish sushi platter at enkais has not really taught him, or anybody else, most likely, what it is vegetarianism actually stands for. (unlike CIR, which is obvious).

Now, the Ainu, they know how to think about animals!

The Ainu, "people" in the language, are the original residents of Japan (along with the Okinawans) who provided a very strong influence on Japanese culture and language. They formerly inhabited the northern regions of Japan, including the Kurile Islands and the Sakhalin Islands (that's the part disputed over with Russia). Not surprisingly, the Ainu are now mostly dead or in theme parks, though there are still native speakers and I believe there's some culture there too. They have a pretty rich folklore tradition that has some similarities with Japanese traditions - for example, that the world sits on a fish and earthquakes are caused when the fish moves.

Like all folk tales, you can get insight into a culture from reading them, and here's something interesting about Ainu beliefs. In one story, a man is forewarned by a bear that his brother plans to kill him. The man kills his brother, and in gratitude towards the bear, kills the bear and eats him. Now, why did he do that?

Because in Ainu tradition, all animals are gods that are trapped on earth. The only way they can return to heaven is if they are killed and eaten by humans. Thus, everytime you eat an animal, you're doing it a huge favor. Interesting, no? A bit of a different take on the ol' "I love animals so I'm a vegetarian."

And I realize it's only two examples (ainu and roma) and I can't think of any others right now, but the coincidence of peoples' words for "person/people" becoming how outsiders call them, does that strike you at all?

A Play

Setting: The rich expanse of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. Sunday afternoon rush, on the platform. FA and SA are standing separate when they are approached by FJ who briefly converses and then returns to SJ. All wear suits.

First Ainu: That guy over there just asked what I am. The nerve! I told him, I'm a person, thank you!

Second Ainu: That's pretty rude, so we're slightly hairier, so what?

First Japanese to Second Japanese: They say they're called the Ainu.

lots of Ainu info, including online language lessons