Written by Lorna Shapiro
Ginkgo leaves mean Japan to me, so I was very pleased when I discovered some fallen Ginkgo leaves on the grounds of one of the temples Chisato and I visited. I pointed them out to her with excitement… Look, I said, Ginkgo leaves. No, she said… Ginnan… and then she paused and laughed. The week before she had watched a documentary about the Ginnan tree on TV at her parents’ home. In it, she had learned for the first time that this tree, known as the Ginnan tree, was also occasionally referred to as the Gin Kyo tree. And apparently westerners visiting Japan many years ago heard the latter name, mispronounced it as Ginkgo, and Ginkgo it has been for westerners ever since! When I returned home and was sharing this story with the other young Japanese women who live with us, they pointed out a Japanese misunderstanding of English pronunciation that has stuck. When I hit my funnybone on the counter and complained about it, they were startled at what I called it. In Japan, it is known as the “Honeybone” due to just such a miscommunication at some point in the past.