Most of the kids at Kansai GaiDai had money sent to them, or new clothes, or tickets to go home for Christmas. I was happier, tho, and cooler. In fact, thanks to my mom, I was the most popular kid there that year. Every week I’d get an envelope with a letter and every one of that week’s Calvin and Hobbes strips, which I would dutifully tape into a spiral which, when I was done reading, would be passed around the dorm, returning in time for the next installment. Not only was my mom wonderful for sending Calvin, but my brother was neat for resembling him. Very few pop culture icons are dearer to me than Calvin and Hobbes. I will own this film.
Almost everyone who has killed time on the internet has, by this point, learned that Japan is the empire of surreal, product-vague, yet interesting commercials, often featuring western (usually American) celebs in need of a quick million. (Go ahead, click that link. See you in an hour, at least.) I was a TV addict while I was there, and the tube taught me a good deal of both the language and the culture. I highly recommend it as an addiction.
About a month ago, while down a YouTube rabbit hole, I was re-acquainted with one of the commercials I saw while living there in the late 80s and early 90s. The joke in the thing is both visual and punny: in Japanese, the word for hands – 手 (“te”) and the word for hair – 毛 (“ke”) – rhyme. (I only just now, while writing this, realized that the pun (for lack of a better word) is linguisti-visual as well, because even the two characters resemble one another, tho I can’t think that this level of wordplay was intentional.) Anyway, take a gander:
Now, my purpose, other than the pleasure to be had from sharing the odd, in posting this here has nothing to do with the new-wave-esque singing, the hair engineering, or even the wordplay. What got me thinking, upon revisiting this children’s song, is the way it is worded in Japanese. It is not a direct translation of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands,” but rather, “If you are happy clap your hands.” My first thought, as a poetic form whore, is that this choice was made so that the translation would scan properly into the melodic line. “Otherwise,” I thought to myself, “it would have to be: “幸せで知ってたら手を叩こう”… My brain heard this translation and was appalled! No one would say that! I tried a number of ways to add “…and you know it…” but none sounded authentic. No, no Japanese person would qualify being happy with also knowing that they were. And, the more I thought about it, the sillier it sounded in English, too.
Jincy pointed out, when I told all this to the Hurt Feelings Book Club, that she had, indeed, once been startled into realizing her own happiness by simply being asked if she were. I can see that, I guess: counted blessings are foremost in the mind, and therefore one feels more blessed when mid-tally. Still, as someone who rarely knows how to answer the “are you happy” question other than with demands for a clear definitions of the term, I don’t know what I’d say if the person asking immediately followed my possible affirmative with, “And, do you know it? I mean, do you really know it?” I think a swift slap would be the first response I’d consider.
That having been said, it was still fun to riff on slightly slanted versions of being happy and knowing it:
- If you think you might be happy but you won’t be sure until your blind date calls… what’s taking him so long? Is it wrong to call first? Dammit… clap your hands.
- If you know you were happy at some point last night but you can’t remember any further back than waking up on the bathroom floor, clap your hands.
- If you’re happy all the time now that your cocktail is all sorted out, clap your hands.
- If you can remember that one time in your childhood – sometime between getting the puppy and coming home to your mother having run off with Uncle Ted – that you were truly happy, clap your hands.
- If you think you might be happy, even just a little bit, clap your hands, because pretending is better than nothing, right?
- What do you mean, “Are you happy?” What are you, my shrink? Clap your own f*cking hands.