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Thursday, 20th December 2012
In General Japan News,

Fish waving and what it means to Japan

A large part of Japan's appeal to western travellers is the clear sense you get from travelling there that this really is a completely different corner of the world. Although you may see examples of Western influence in Japanese culture and vice-versa, the country has a rich and proud heritage - as such, it also has plenty of unique traditions.

While most travelers will quickly get in pace with the ebb and flow of life in the big neon cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, it is often the customs of the old world that will make outsiders stop and pause for thought.

This is perhaps nowhere truer than with the practice of marking a celebration by waving a large fish, a practice that keen observers will have seen undertaken by one of the victorious candidates in Japan's elections at the weekend.

Shinjiro Koisumi marked his re-election for the Liberal Democrat Party by waving a tai or sea bream in English, in front of his supporters.

Looking at the history of this custom following the global coverage that the country's elections drew in, the BBC explained that it is not just politicians who wave the fish when celebrating. In fact, it is more common among sumo wrestlers when they wish to mark a victory, but it is also enjoyed as a meal by many when they have cause to celebrate.

The reason for this, explains Dr Ulrich Heinze of the University of East Anglia, is that it is something of a visual "pun", as the word for the fish, tai is very similar to the word o-medetai which means "auspicious" or "worthy of celebration".

Speaking to the BBC News Magazine, Professor Ian Neary of Oxford University added that for sumo wrestlers, "the bigger the fish the better, it shows how tough they are". Going on the basis of the pun, it would also stand to reason that a larger tai would represent a larger reason to celebrate.

So it's not surprising to learnthat if you happen to attend a wedding or New Year parties and other such happy occasions, tai will often be on the menu. Luckily, it goes particularly well with sake!


Written by Susan Ballion

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