Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sulfur Island renamed Sulfur Island

Iwo Jima has official been renamed Iwo To. While both names translate to "Sulfur Island" in English, the change renames the island to what locals had called it before.

The Guardian states the island was "always known" as Iwo To before 1944. The article goes on to say "It only became known as Iwo Jima because Japanese officers who arrived to fortify the island after its residents were evacuated got the name wrong." Research has shown this not true. The Eleventh Edition Encyclopedia Britannica (1910-1911) calls the island "Iwo Jima" in the "Volcano Islands" entry. The 1943 National Geographic Map of the World also identifies the island. As do earlier National Geographic maps.

So the Guardian is wrong. Catholicgauze cannot be for certain but it appears that "To" might be a regional name while "Jima" could be a mainstream/Tokyo word. What we have here seems to be a battle between locals and a dominating national culture. It is surprising to see local culture win in such a conforming country as Japan.

Final note: Do not expect to see information on the Battle of Iwo To; however. Conflicts in places that have changed names such as Leningrad/Saint Petersburg and Stalingrad/Volgograd use the historical name. So rest assured you can still rent movies with names like Letters from Iwo Jima.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I saw this news today and wondered if you were going to 'blog' about it. This is such an interesting site! MMM

Anonymous said...

In Japanese, "tou" and "shima" are the same character, so the official name isn't really changing. Standard Japanese uses both pronounciations depending on the particular case. Another example is the characters for "main street" which are sometimes read "moto-machi" and sometimes "hon-machi," depending on the town. I suspect the "dominant-periphery" theory is reading too much into it. It's easy to imagine some bureaucrat or mapping officer looking at the characters on a map, not knowing which pronouncation is correct, and (wrongly) guessing "shima."


Catholicgauze said...

I take bureaucratic incompetence over regionalism anyday. I hereby adopt your position.

Anonymous said...

another vote for George's hypothesis.

when Chinese charcters were introduced to Japan, (being ideogrammatic rather than phonetic) they were often used to represent 2 pronunciations: the native Japanese word for the idea, and the Japanese attempt to pronounce the classical Chinese word for the idea.

So one character representing one idea can be pronounced 2 ways; as "jima" (or "shima" depending on preceding sound IIRC) as the "native Japanese" word for island, and "tou" for the "classical Chinese" for island.

The usual clue is that the "native Japanese" pronunciation is polysyllabic and the "classical Chinese" pronunciation is often (but not always) monosyllabic.