By Tony Ubani, Tokyo
Words often mean different things to different people.
Anywhere in the world, though people speak different languages, you once in a while stumble on familiar words and spellings which however mean different things in your own language or dialect.
In Yoruba for instance, Otami means enemy. Imagine meeting your Yoruba friend and calling him Otami. While he would retrace his steps from you and reconsider his friendship, you’ve definitely lost a good friend without truly knowing the word which means a good thing in your place is distasteful in another place.
The same word Otami means friend in Kogi. To a Kogi person, he would hug you passionately when you call him Otami while a Yoruba man would slap (gba oju ee) you. What a funny world. In the great Urhobo land, when you hear OMO ME DOO(a compliment for a son who has done well). In Yoruba, the compliment of OMO MI DOO can mean so many things depending on the interpretation.
Olayemi is a beautiful Yoruba name. But the moment you call an Igbo man OLAYEMI, the meaning automatically changes. OLABISI is another good Yoruba name that changes meaning once addressed to an Igbo man. It can also mean one who destroys. Examples abound everywhere.
Let’s fast-forward to Tokyo, Japan where I’m covering the ongoing Olympic Games. I’ve been wondering whether our forefathers left their footprints in Tokyo with the type of names boldly written on houses and vehicles. I could not come to terms with this one OTU UKU which means a totally different thing in Igbo.
I noticed a lot of activities with men and women going in and out of the house making me think twice about the inscription. I wanted to go further to investigate as a Journalist but because of the COVID variant in Tokyo, Delta, Journalists have been barred from mingling with the locals.
Suddenly I saw a man come out from the house and was radiant and spritely as he adjusts his face mask and his belt. I walked away not sure of what the words mean in Japan but confused with the meaning in Igbo language. Onochie Anibeze while in Japan for the 2002 World Cup had equally stumbled on another word — TOTO KA NKU. He did a masterpiece trying to decipher the words in Japanese and its meaning in Igbo language.
He ended by saying that Kanku means surplus in Igbo and that “TOTO is better imagined than explained” in that piece. One thing that is certain is that the Japanese have a lot of Nigerian names though with different meanings. Names like Osaka, Chiba, Oku, Toyosu, Shina, Aiya, Aimi, Aika, Akemi, Akira, Aki, Akemi, Akako, Asa, Chika, Chinami, Emiko, Ena, Chizu, Azumi, Amaya. One name that they would not bear is Nwaokeoma. A unique name for Igbo men who are exceptionally handsome. And that’s my name. The gods are wise.
Strange Requests! It’s customary for friends and relatives to make requests once they hear you’ve travelled outside Nigeria. The requests come in different forms. I’ve been inundated with all kinds of requests to buy one thing or the other from the Land of the Rising Sun once the Olympics is over.
My WhatsApp messages have tripled and more messages flood in every day. Friendship request on my Facebook account has equally doubled. Most of them with dubious intentions. Check this out. I received a message from a con man who told me his brother owns a company in Japan. He wants me to give him my account number to send to his brother to credit me with $5000 Dollars. He will settle me with $1000. Another called on my WhatsApp( a strange number not registered on my phone) to talk of a multi-million business from Japan. Anyway, they’re not aware that a hunter can become the hunted. Let’s move to more trivial mundane requests.
I have heard of Brazilian hair, not Japanese hair. Hair wigs, human hair, Synthetic, Toupee, Extensions, etc. A female friend sent words that I should buy Japanese head ( I guess she meant hair). Never heard that Japanese hair is in high demand. I need to find out from our stylish and stunning beauty Editor of ALLURE, Jemi if Japanese female hair is in vogue.
Also, My nephew sent a bogus list that included a laptop, palmtop from Japanese renowned manufacturers.
Apparently, he knows that when you think of technology and innovation, Japan ranks high globally. He’s expecting me to come back with top Japanese brands like Vaio, Fujitsu, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Kohjinsha. Moving down, my friends( I know you know them), want toys. Toys are usually meant for babies but these men don’t have children in primary schools who can play with toys. I’m lost here. Even from an economic point of view, you can see that demand has overshot the runway. And I’m on the run,
Expensive meal! When you know the size of your pocket, you equally know the places to go to. Covering the strange Olympics at this time of economic meltdown is not child’s play. Corporate organizations who usually pick the bills in exchange for value for visibility on the pages of Newspapers are all trying to balance their books.
Great footballers who earn millions per week are accepting pay cuts. All hands must be on deck in this survival race. With all restrictions advertised not to enter public buses or taxis, cinemas, Restaurant, shops, etc, one has been subjected to either staying in the hotel or going to the venue of events masked, observing social distance.
The “apiam” ways( short cuts and finding where they sell Nigerian meal is closed. They(Nigerians)too cannot even come as it were before to entertain their own and allow you to taste local delicacies. I was in a fix in my hotel room the other day. The rumbling sound of my stomach increased.
Borborygmus was at work because my stomach was empty. To a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God. I literally went to seek the face of God. A meal was ordered and I ate voraciously, not savouring the taste. The bill is what is upsetting my stomach. 3,000 Japanese Yen. Calculations have been made breaking it down to N15,000 per meal. How do I explain to Titi, our financial guru that I ate a plate of food with N15,000?
Condoms as souvenirs. The founders of the Olympic Games were more concerned with the coming together of all races to preach love and bond together. Baron Pierre de Coubertin who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1896 that led to the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 said the joy of the Olympics is more in participation. Things have changed as the nations now test their might with the number of medals won and positions on the medals table.
The Olympics, no doubt, remain the greatest spectacle on earth. Athletes who attended the Olympics with or without medals cling to the title ‘Olympian’ jealously. But the fun of the Olympics has been extinguished by the coronavirus pandemic. Ordinarily, athletes who lose in the first round of their events were allowed to stay and have fun till the end of the Games. Not again.
Not at the Tokyo Olympics. Lose and leave the Olympic village in two days. Aware of the fun for athletes and officials, 160,000 condoms were provided but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tokyo organizers also want participants to refrain from any kind of intimate physical activity outside their sport.
That means: Those condoms we gave you? Don’t use them — at least not while you’re inside the Olympic bubble. Organizers say athletes should take the condoms home as souvenirs and use them to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. But under no terms are participants to use them or engage in any one-on-one while they are in Japan for the Games. The condoms are good, some people say. My problem is how to bring them home as souvenirs. They’re both for male and female. Those interested should indicate.