Saturday, July 31, 2010

"How Should I Explain?"

I was seven or eight.

Mother took me to a dentist.

The dentist asked her,

“Which kanji is her Kei?”

In the dictionary, forty five different kanji appear under kei.

Out of those, seven are common in names.

Mother told the dentist it was the kei of haikei.

Haikei 拝啓 means “Dear sir.”

On the way home, Mother put away her receipt and started to giggle.

She said my name turned Haiko.

Japanese would ask,

“Which kanji is your Kei?”

I would reply,

“It’s the Kei of keimoshiso or keiji.”

Keimoshiso 啓蒙思想 means democracy

Keiji 啓示 means apocalypse.

Most Japanese get it.

Americans would ask,

“What does Keiko mean?”

I look into their eyes and reply one word at a time,

“My Kei is the kei of keimoshiso or keiji.

Keimoshiso means democracy

Keiji means apocalypse.”

The shape of their mouths forms O.

I exude energy into my speech.

“We don’t use kei alone, but ko means child.”

Nobody gets it, but I can’t help it.

How should I explain?

Just one more time, I open my digital dictionary.

This time, I type only kei and search for my kanji.

Hit enter.

A window pops open, and

“Open” pops out.


keiko amano said...

Yesterday, I took this poem to the poetry club and explained my lifetime struggle to explain about my name when asked. I told them I want to create one page poem so that I can refer inquisitive people to this blog post.

After I said above, one person suggested to add a line to explain about kanji because she doesn't think most people know what kanji is. Then, another person asked,
"What does Keiko mean, I mean, simply?" It was truly one chance one great meeting. I love poets.

I'd like to hear your thought. I want to improve this poem, and perhaps, I can write a sequel in a poem or a short story.

ashok said...

Keiko Amano then perhaps means The Child of Democracy of the Open Skies

Quite appropriate perhaps because you fly freely by choice across the open skies to live in two countries

keiko amano said...


“Kei啓” means open, and “mo蒙” means dark, or uninformed or unthinking. Those words already existed since the ancient China although I don’t know the exact year.
So, based on above knowledge, keimo 啓蒙 became the translation of enlightenment or illumination, and shiso 思想, thought or ideology. But I’m unsure when they were translated, and I’m also unsure which direction they were translated first: the source language and the target language. Some English words were translated into already existed Chinese words, so Japanese also use the same words in same meaning and characters, and some English words were translated into Japanese created kanji which later on, Chinese imported back.

But it seems obvious to me that keimoshiso was a translated word from the English word “democracy” around 17th or 18th century. I think it was the result of some scholar’s much struggle with the translation. And I recognize and appreciate his effort because I can imagine why he used keimo (啓蒙open darkness) for “democracy” because he lived in an oppressed feudalistic society.

So, anyway, what I wanted to say was that “Kei 啓” itself doesn’t mean democracy. It means “open” although not for a door.

Also, I think most parents don’t think that much to name their daughters especially in my parent generation. And Keiko is like Mary, the most popular girl name. My mother told me that at first, she wanted to name me Atsuko, but Amano Atsuko didn’t sound right. I think my parents simply like Keiko. My mother’s best friend’s name was Keiko although the kanji was different, and the famous movie star before I was born played the role of an intelligent woman whose on screen name was the same as my Keiko. So, probably, my mother had a good feeling with the sound of Keiko and the particular kanji, 啓, and ko was just a convention then. But, ko 子 itself has a long tradition, so there are many usages and meanings, but I’ll stop here for now.

Rebb said...


From reading your poem and response, it sounds as though in a way, you are still exploring what ‘Keiko’ means to you. From your response it sounds as though as you point out, your mother chose ‘Keiko’ for how it sounded and it is also a common name. This seems to be a poem then about, ‘Keiko’ the lover of language and exploration, trying to find the right pieces to show what her name means to her or what it has come to mean to her. It’s very fascinating. I think that if you end the poem with the character combination that suggests what your name means to you, it would help. As it is now, it doesn’t seem that the closure is there.

Because it is complicated, it seems that it would be a challenge to keep your poem to one page. I think you would lose something, but therein lies the challenge of what to keep and what to omit, add, etc. And I know you like a good challenge! :)

keiko amano said...


You're right. I can't stop exploring, and I'm easily amused by listening to what anyone say about it. Closure, I'm sure won't happen since my name is open. hee hee.

keiko amano said...

I couldn't help it, but I made some improvement. If you have time, please take a look. Any suggestions or comments or seemingly trivial observation or anything is all welcome.

Luciana said...

Loved it Keiko! If I were you, I´d stick with 'apocalypse' just for people´s reactions ;-D

keiko amano said...


Thank you! Yes, it's a big deal name, right? My mother's generation was the self-effacing kind, so, she used "Dear sir" for an example. My generation is more daring. Hee hee. But any words with my kei tends to be super good.

I look forward to your new post!

keiko amano said...

I wrote this post in July. I noticed that some people still search for this post. I appreciate your interest. So, I decided to make some improvement.

While I was editing the poem, I smelled something burning. I thought it my small heater. I haven't used it for a long time. I uploaded my final edit and went to the kitchen. My oatmeal was completely burned!

I had put my five-minute oatmeal on the stove before started to edit instead of one-minute kind which I usually throw into my microwave. It's a harzard of editing too much.