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Word of the week: hibachi

A couple of months ago, in this piece, I wrote about the sitcom “Friends” and its regular place in our family viewing, even though the last episode of the show aired in 2004. As predicted, the weekday broadcasts on Channel 5 reached the last ever episode (the end of Series 10) before February was out. Immediately afterwards they started all over again, from the beginning of Series 1.

In that earlier piece I noted the show’s constant references to sex and porn. We didn’t find these references so noticeable during the show’s original run but they are hard to ignore when watching the re-runs with our 12-year-old daughter. I can report that just about every episode in Series 1 and 2 contains multiple references to sex but nothing about porn. Earlier today, in the classic “Three Years Earlier” episode (Series 3 Episode 6, “The One with the Flashback”) we got our first mention of porn. It is set a year before the start of Series 1. The gang’s local bar is about to close and be converted into a coffee shop. Ross has just discovered that his wife is a lesbian. Phoebe is in the process of moving out of the apartment she has been sharing with Monica. Chandler is looking for a new room-mate. The photographer to whom he offers the room explains that he would probably have lots of models turning up for photo-shoots, and that his sister is “a porn star”.

One word that I heard for the first time, or noticed for the first time, while watching these early series, is “hibachi”. During Season 1, when Joey and Chandler have to buy a new table, we learn that Chandler’s previous room-mate “got to keep the hibachi”. When we watched television in the 1990s we did so without other screens in close proximity. There was no way to look up a word like “hibachi” in the way I did a few weeks ago, on my phone while Chandler and Joey debated what kind of table they should go for.

As this Wikipedia page tells us, the hibachi (or “fire bowl”) is “a traditional Japanese heating device. It consists of a round, cylindrical, or a box-shaped, open-topped container, made from or lined with a heatproof material and designed to hold burning charcoal”. I realize that I know at most a couple of dozen Japanese words, and the derivation of just a handful. I have learnt that the “kara” part of words that have entered into common English usage means “empty”: “karate” means “empty hand” and “karaoke” means “empty orchestra”. “Kamikaze” means “divine wind”. If you ignore words for food and drink the only other Japanese words in my vocabulary come from film titles, like the greetings “Ohayo” and “Sayonara”. These were the names of films released in the 1950s. I saw them both in the 1980s. “Monogatari” means story, as in Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Monogatari”, another 1950s film which I saw in the 1980s and have not seen since. “Ikiru” (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) was translated as “Living” (again, back in the 1980s when I saw it). That’s about it. In my adult life I have acquired knowledge of Japanese words at the rate of about one per year. “Hibachi” can take its place on a very short list.



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