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

Know the Local Lingo- In the Ibaraki-Dialect (茨城弁): HIYASU (冷やす) means both to chill (as it does in Standard Japanese) AND to soak

By Avi Landau

Well, here is another installment in my ongoing ( though infrequently posted) series of articles on IBARAKI-BEN (茨城弁)- the local dialect spoken by the native residents of Tsukuba and the prefecture which surrounds it .Today I want to tell you- both students of the Japanese language (and especially those living in Tsukuba or the rest of Ibaraki), as well as Japanese readers of TsukuBlog who were born and raised in other parts of Japan (including neighboring prefectures) about the unique way in which the word HIYASU  is used in the local dialect here- it can have both the Standard Japanese meaning of : to cool or chill, and but is ALSO used to express the verb: to soak (which in Standard Japanese would be HITASU 浸す, and in fact speakers of Ibaraki would pronounce this character as HIYASU).

In other words, when speakers of Ibaraki-Ben want to say- Please soak the beans, or- You should soak the dishes, or-  You`d better soak that dirty shirt overnight before washing it- those from other parts of Japan understand what is being said as- Please cool the beans- You should cool the dishes- and, you`d better cool that dirty shirt before washing it.

As you can imagine this leads to plenty of puzzled looks and confusion on the part of those who do not speak Ibaraki-Ben.

The exact origin of this usage is not certain but I guess it is only natural that SOAKING in water would be associated with CHILLING in the minds the people ( though it is in fact also used to express soaking things in hot water!- Oyu de hiyashimasho-お湯でひやしましょう).

.The conversation that I had the other day in which the word (in this local usage) came up- and gave me the idea of writing this- was interesting not only for offering this little linguistic tidbit- and it had me and my non-Ibaraki friends puzzled and confused in more ways than one. It could be the basis of a short story, novel -or movie. It is a classic Japanese tale of problems between mother-in law and daughter-in-law. And it also paints a tiny picture of what family relations can be like even today in a traditional Japanese village.

We had been sitting around the table chatting. One member of our party (whom I shall call Mi-Chan) is someone born and bred right here in what is now Tsukuba city- though when she was born it was still a little hamlet in what was called Yatabe Town. She still lives in one of Tsukuba`s most traditional hamlets- though not the one she was born in- but the one she married into!

The rest of us were from other parts of Japan- from metropolitan areas, or New York (me!).

Mi-Chan was talking about her mother-in-law. Already widowed and getting on in years (she is in her mid-eighties), she now lives alone in a separate building within the family`s extensive compound ( the houses in Tsukuba`s old neighborhoods often consist of several buildings within a walled compound). I guess this can be said to be a modern day version of the old custom of sending aged parents off  to some mountain ( a custom called UBA SUTE, 姥捨て) when they got too old to be useful, and Mi-Chan says that in her neighborhood such old women relegated to separate living quarters are referred to  by family members as ACHI-BA-CHAN (Grandma-over-there). It was often the case that the great-grandmother would be sent away from the main house to this state of exile within-the-compound and be called ACHI- BA-CHAN, while her daughter, the grandma still living in the main house would be KOCHI BA-CHAN (Grandma- over-here).

The thing Mi-Chan couldn`t understand about her mother-in-law and the topic of our conversation, was why ten years earlier she had stopped using the washing machine that her son and daughter-in-law had presented to her. Instead of using the perfectly good machine, the old woman does all her laundry BY HAND- and has been doing so for the past ten years!

Whenever Mi-Chan walks over to the building in which her mother-in-lives (which we also found out has no heater or air-conditioner- these were SOLD by the old women without her having consulted anyone else in the family!) she sees several buckets in which the laundry is being CHILLED ( BAKETSU NI SENTAKU MONO O HIYASHITEIRU)!

We, the curious listeners to this story were of course puzzled. Why would the mother-in-law be CHILLING the dirty clothes. When the same expression was repeated (and we realized it was not a slip of the tongue) we ask directly WHY THE LAUNDRY WOULD BE CHILLED?

We then not only learned of the unique Ibaraki-Ben usage of HIYASU but also that native Ibarakians are not even aware that other people (non-Ibaraki speakers) would not understand what was being said (and I have later confirmed this in an informal survey- Ibaraki speakers are not aware of the fact that this is a local and not a nation-wide way of using the word!).

Anyway, let me get back to the story. We continued to talk about the mother-in-law and the washing machine. At first we thought that maybe, having grown up in the countryside before World War II that she was had not been familar with washing machines- but this was not the case and she HAD long used them.

It was not the fact that the new washing machine was too modern and difficult to use either. The machine her son and daughter-in-law had presented to her ten years earlier was in fact a brand  new- but it was the same type, the same model as she had been using.

What could it have been that got her to stop using it. Talking about it, brought back all kinds of memories to Mi-Chan- and then she suddenly remembered the episode which just might have been the reason for reverting to hand-washing.

It was about ten years ago that modern plumbing had finally reached the old hamlet in which they live. Till then, the family had alway used well water-which was free. Now they were hooked up to the city water-pumped all the way up from Lake Kasumigaura. This water is NOT free.

Still this family is not poor. Was it saving money that was the answer to the mystery. Probably not. More likely it was SPITE.

You see, one day the mother-in-law had left the water running all day in the washing machine (which is possible with that model). Mi-Chan saw this and scolded her mother-in-law saying: We don`t use well water anymore! The city water costs money! Please be carefull not to waste water.

After that exchange- ten years ago- the mother-in-law stopped using the washing machine, and alsways makes sure to leave out plenty of buckets full of dirty clothes be CHILLED (HIYASU)- just so her daughter-in-law could see (how hard she was working!).

As a dramatic (and almost unbelievable) footnote to this ongoing passive-aggressive battle between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, one day this year, Mi-Chan was at a new shopping center which was built just near her home. She was there alone- or at least she thought she was! After making a purchase she was told she could try the shop`s lottery. And what do you know- she hit the jackpot! SHe won a large screen television! WHat fantastic luck! A once in a lifetime happening! She was jumping up and down and whooping with joy.

Just then- someone poked her nose throught the small crowd which had gathered round to see what the excitement was all about. It was Mi-Chan`s mother-in-law, who had also, unbeknowedst to Mi-Chan, been at the shop. She looked at the t.v., then looked at how happy her daughter-in-law was, and said: That is nice. I need that television!

She doesn`t need a washing machine and doesn`t need heating ot air-conditioning- but she definitely needs that TV!

Of course, Mi-Chan had to give it up and now big, beautiful set is always kept turned on with the volume turned up- just loud enough so that Mi-Chan is  able to hear it (HER PRIZE)!

Anyway back to the main point of this little article. In Ibaraki-Ben HIYASU can mean to soak, as as itusual meaning of to chill.

Here are some examples:

Tomorrow I`m making SEKIHAN (sticky rice with azuki beans) so I have to soak the beans.

Ashita sekihan tsukuru kara mame hiyasanakereba naranai.

Or this example from a homepage specializing in Ibaraki-Ben  (http://www.ibaraking.com/archives/15 ):

Tabe owatta chawan naze HIYASUN desu ka?


Why would you chill the bowls after eating?

Here are some other articles I have written about Ibaraki-Ben:












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