September 23, 2010

Pacman: Just a Coffee Bean Junky (Junky Will Be On THR 101 TEST)

After 30 years, Japan is ready to admit the truth about Pacman. Those little dots he eats are coffee beans. I held the proof in my hands today at a conbini. Behold the 僕らのコーヒー Pacman packaging.

Quite a nice way to celebrate an anniversary. It includes a QR code to a free game, but as I can't do QR on an iPhone, I'm outta luck. Like a ghost being chased by a giant yellow mouth that just had his morning coffee.

On the subject of coffee in Japan, all Japanese 101 students learn that coffee is pronounced kōhi in Japan (it makes for an easy katakana lesson). I've always found this strange, given coffee's ateji: 珈琲. Now you 101 students are probably scratching your head because your 101 kanji doesn't go up to rarely seen kanji like these. Prompting me to take a
C-c-cc-coffee Breakdown:
珈: ornamental hairpin (never used)
琲: string of many pearls (also never used)
gloss: coffee?!
These are truly ateji being used just for their sound. But that sound seems so off to my American ears in part because 珈 has a 力 in it's elements. Kanji with 力 inside them are usually pronounced ka. Kanji with a 非 in them are usually pronounced hi, so I'm cool with that one. So logically, it should be kahi, right? I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it seems that the spoken word came into Japan from Holland but the ateji seem to have been put together by one Udagawa Yōan, a scholar of the Dutch (Western) world that, in between creating new Japanese words for elements, decided that coffee (dutch: koffie) was 珈琲. There were a few other kanji/katakana tried out back in the day too: 可否, カウヒイ, and 哥非乙. These all suggest a ka sound too! My guess is that at the end of the day, Chinese's 咖啡 had the most influence on the choice of ateji. But even they pronounce it kāfēi. Hey, you may be thinking I just wrote the same kanji I've been ranting again. But look close. It's time... for my first ever
Ch-ch-chinese Breakdown:
咖: coffee
啡: coffee/morphine
gloss: really awesome coffee
So there you have it. Arabic word, Dutch/Japanese pronunciation, Chinese characters, but not the right ones. If you are in Japan, see if you can spot 珈琲 or a ghost on a can or carton of coffee. But if you spot a 啡, don't touch the can.

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  1. That Pacman coffee pack is awesome. I hope the Japanese supermarts in my country stock them. *_*

    Also, I didn't know that 咖啡 could be broken down and still mean something... where did you go to search for breakdowns from? I'm interested in dissecting a couple of words. :D

  2. I just looked up each kanji individually
    I usually just use wwwjdic based rikaichan

  3. 可否 just sounds so negative considering the wonderful, life-giving effects of Coffee.

  4. I always thought Ka-fei was the easiest Chinese word to remember. Now that I'm back in China I'm starting to realize that it's basically the only word I still remember. By the way, now that I'm finally settled in and have some time on my hands I want to wish you a very belated happy birthday. Sorry I have only crappy late wishes to give you!


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