Posted by: yoko | February 7, 2006

Words From Childhood 4.2

Today’s word: Banzai!

Banzai literally means “10,000 years.” It is currently used to mean “cheers!” It is often said while flinging the arms upward, just like the football referee’s sign for “touchdown!” except that the palms are facing outward instead of towards each other.

When I was very young, my parents used this word to get me to lift my arms upward so that they could put a shirt on me or take one off. I didn’t understand the meaning of the word as a kid, so the reference was lost on me.

I was reminded of this word recently when I was talking to Lipby the other day about his interest in bonsai (note the kanji for this word). The exchange between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel in the movie The Karate Kid came to mind, in which a drunk Mr. Miyagi, recalling his days in the war, shouts “Banzai!” as a toast, and Daniel, confusing the word with the one associated with Miyagi’s current occupation as a gardener, replies, “To little trees.”

Happy birthday, Dad.



  1. Not to mention our hero Buckaroo Banzai, son of Drs. Sandra and Masado Banzai — and raised by Prof. Toichi Hikita.

    Oh, hey, there’s some kanji on the official Team Banzai headband that I’ve been wanting translated for years: Here’s a photo of it in an eBay auction, and a slightly clearer representation on the Jet Car image at the top of this page at the Starland online catalog. I can take a high-res photo of my own headband later, if that’ll help. Which is to say: Would you tell me what it says?

  2. Oh, Chris, that movie brings back such memories.

    As for the headband: well, the first 2 characters are “seikatsu,” meaning “lifestyle.” The last character is a little difficult to figure out.

    If you do a Google search of “buckaroo banzai seikatsu,” you’ll see a couple people’s transcriptions of the screenplay, in which the headband is transcribed as “seikatsu bei,” and translated as “joy of living.” I think they mean “seikatsu bi,” but this is a made-up word, not in any Japanese dictionary I’ve seen. However, the last character is missing a stroke if that’s the correct translation. When I searched the headband’s kanji by stroke count, the kanji that came up is a rare one meaning “barbarian.”

    Wherever you go, there you are.

  3. The last character (I assume you mean the one on the right) looks, as I recall, to my Western eyes, like a V shape at the top, three horizontal strokes (the middle one slightly less wide?) with a vertical stroke through their middle, and an inverted V at the bottom. I don’t know if that helps. Maybe I need to take a closer look at my headband at home.

  4. Hope you can view the characters referenced in these links.
    Compare this kanji to this one. The second one is the one that’s needed to be anywhere close to the translation given, and as you can see, there is an extra horizontal stroke that’s not on the headband’s character. The first one, although not the same as the headband, has the right number of horizontal strokes.

  5. Yup, the first one looks like the better match, puzzlingly. What would it mean — “barbarian lifestyle”? I’ll scrutinize the headband.

  6. I looked further into the unicode— apparently, the character is the name of one of the barbarian tribes that attacked China. Which leads me to believe that the character is a mistake.

    “Where are we going?” “Planet 10.” “When are we going to get there?” “Real soon!”


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