A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

The Etymology of DOKKOISHO (ドッコイショの語源), a word uttered by the Japanese at the onset or completion of certain acts of EXERTION

By Avi Landau


It is interesting how certain scenes from experience remain strongly emblazoned in our memories, never forgotten and easily recalled,  while most everything else, nearly all the frames of action of our daily lives, are lost irretrievably in the labyrinthine recesses of our brains. The same is true with language learning (or learning anything else , for that matter). Though we spend hours with textbooks, tapes or in conversation, it is usually a matter of – IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER. There ARE certain circumstances, however, and not all of them very dramatic, under which, for some reason, things just STICK with us and remain in the most accessible layers of our minds. It was indeed a mundane episode which left the word DOKKOISHO  branded in my head, and now, years later, reading about mountains ascetics (YAMBUSHI) and pilgrimages to Mt. Fuji, I have discovered its probable etymology, which if not dramatic, is still HIGHLY INTERESTING (well… for me, at least).

This is what happened. I was riding on a bus near Tsukuba Center, sometime in early spring. The only other passenger besides myself was a frail, yet spirited woman, perhaps in her 80`s, who held a cane in her lap and chatted cheerfully the whole while with the bus driver. Listening to their conversation was good Japanese HEARING practice for me , and I was deep in concentration. I could make out the names of the roadside flowers that the old woman was praising, as well as references to the weather. The driver responded rhythmically with AIZUCHI (frequent and well-timed responses such as eeh, or hai, which assure the speaker that he/or is being listened to).

It then came time for the old woman to get off. This was not easily accomplished ,however, though she slowly and painstakingly managed to stand up – with the help of her cane and the railing. For the driver and myself,  time itself seemed to slow down as we watched,  with baited breath, as she negotiated the steps, one by one.

STEP….STEP….STEP….   and then, just as her second foot and full weight successfully came down on the pavement, she let out a breathy- “DOkkoisho” – which seemed to break the bubble of tension that had surrounded the great effort involved in her descent.

Safe on the ground, she called out a THANK YOU (even though neither the driver or I had offered to help her) and the bus closed its doors and pulled away.

I later asked my Japanese friends about what DOKKOSHOI meant and found out that it was an exclamation used  when acts of exertion were started, and especially when they ended. Examples of this could be when someone who has walked a long, hard way and finally has a chance to sit down. While plopping into the seat, one could say- DOkoisho. It could also be said when putting down a heavy load (or picking one up), etc..

Just recently(and years after that bus ride), while doing some research on Tsukuba City`s FUJI MOUND (Fuji-zuka) and various sects which advocated making pilgrimages to Mt Fuji and other sacred mountains, I learned that these pilgrims, while walking, would continuously chant out the phrase – ROKKONSHOJO ROKKONSHOJO (六根清浄) – which translated literally means LET MY SIX SENSES BE PURIFIED. When chanted quickly and repeatedly this can sound like ROKKONJO ROKKONJO and for believers it was a magical incantation which not only purified the spirit, but also helped maintain energy and stamina for the long trek ahead.

It was from this MANTRA that the common everyday utterance DOKKOISHO has evolved. Please remember that though I write ROKKONSHOJO with the Roman letter R, in Japanese this is pronounced as something similar to a D. Keeping that in mind may make this transformation easier to understand.

Anyway, now you have it! And as I type out the last word of this over-wordy essay I let out with a relieved-


One Comment

  • Nora says:

    Communing with the Nature and with our human nature would be the certain act of exertion…
    Dokkoisho & Great Thank to the souls like You TsukuBlog’Writer!
    And when the Sun is close to the zenith and the Lune is plenty on our latitudes is no time and no place to hide our senses…
    ‘Let the sunshine in’ or let express my joy&mind of theses recent articles!))
    And however, I wonder how to unit the mystical and the scientific doubts in the world… everything is creation or not… let’s guess looking at the more experiences and etymologies, please!))