What better watch word for Boys Day than noboru? Noboru is the verb form of the noun nobori. One of the fascinating and useful aspects of Japanese language is the ability to to “spell” a word many different ways – that is to be able to write a word with many different options of kanji (Chinese characters). For instance, take the word nobori… in English, this is really the only correct way to spell it. However in Japanese it may be written in many different ways, each time changing the meaning or nuance:
幟 This nobori is correctly used to mean the pennants on display for Boys Day. The left part of the character is the symbol used for cloth, and on the right we see the character for weave. So even if you aren’t familiar with the kanji, you can tell that it has something to do with fabric.
上 This nobori means up–as in overhead.
登 This nobori means to climb, or ascend–as in go uptown, or swim upstream, or to come up on an agenda.
昇 And this one means the same as 登 with a slightly more clinging quality.
Can you recognize how they all have the same pronunciation and very similar meanings? You could, however, have a simple sentence and by substituting only the kanji come up with greatly varying tales!
If you write koi-nobori (carp-nobori) it would take on different meanings depending on the kanji used. 鯉幟 means carp windsock. 鯉登 would mean riding a carp up a waterfall, as Kintarou is often depicted. And Kintarou could also be said to 鯉幟を登る, which would tell us that Kintarou is climbing up the carp windsock and getting into trouble again.
Sometimes to avoid confusion, Japanese will double up on a meaning. For instance, when growing up, in our neighborhood we referred to people from Japan as Japanese and Japanese from the US as Japanese-Americans. However, often times Japanese-Americans were simply referred to as Japanese for convenience sake. So in a crowd of Japanese-Americans, say at O-Bon, if a person from Japan showed up (they would usually stick out quite a bit) we would refer to him or her as Japanese-Japanese. Just as India-Indian means people from the Asian sub-continent.
So…..if you want to make sure that the person to whom you are speaking understands that when you say nobori, you mean the banner, you can say noboribata. Hata means flag. So you are basically saying flag-flag. If you say hata by itself, it means flag as in hi-no-maru , or stars-and-stripes .
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