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"Bachchan" is a popular word


Grandma's family in Londrina, 1944 (Bachchan is fourth from the right, and his mother is first)

When I was still little, my mother would show me pictures and tell me about my grandmother, saying, "Laura's grandmother lives far away." Then, when I was 12 years old, I visited my grandmother's house for the first time.

There were my grandparents, four single uncles, two granddaughters who were being looked after by my grandmother, my uncle and aunt and uncle's family and their five children who lived in a house built on the same property, so there were seven cousins ​​alone.

When my mother and I finally arrived after more than 10 hours from Sao Paulo, my grandmother, who had been waiting for us at the entrance, ran up to me and gave me a big hug. "Laura!!" she said with tears in her eyes. I was so nervous, moved and surprised that I yelled out, "Grandma!!"

At that moment, my cousins ​​who had gathered around me burst out laughing. "It's getting late, so go to bed," the adults told us, and we all went inside.

The next day, as I sat around the dinner table, I heard my cousins ​​calling out "Bachchan, Bachchan" and telling grandma that they wanted more bread and that they didn't like milk, and I realized why they had laughed at me the night before.

This is an episode from 60 years ago, but at that time it was common for Japanese people to call him "Bacchan" at home, and I was unaware of this.

At the time, the only Japanese words that non-Japanese people used were "arigato" and "sayonara." I remember that when I was a child, Brazilians would play around by imitating the pronunciation of these two words.

However, as the presence and achievements of Japanese people have recently been recognized in Brazilian society, many non-Japanese people now naturally incorporate Japanese words into their daily conversations. "Bacchan" is a popular word among non-Japanese people, and if there was a ranking of Japanese words, I'm sure it would be number one. Even fourth- and fifth-generation Japanese people who don't know Japanese know "Bacchan." And they use it fluently in conversation.

Not only children, but even adults call their grandmothers "Bachchan." And interestingly, it is also used as a noun, not just as an address. For example, you often hear "A minha Batchan (my Bachchan)."

"Bachchan" is sometimes used as a term of endearment. The other day, a young man who looked like Brad Pitt at the supermarket cash register handed me a shopping bag and said, "Obrigado, Batchan (Thank you, Batchan)." It was a heartwarming greeting.

Meanwhile, in the crowded tents of the morning market, a Japanese woman about my age tapped me on the shoulder and tried to squeeze in front of me. That really didn't make me feel good.

And in this age of speed, "Bachchan" has finally been omitted. My friend's first grandchild, Rafinha, loves "Baa" very much, and when "Baa" comes to play, she greets "Baa" with squints of her eyes.

"Baa"...such a lovely word.

My friend Amelia's first grandchild, Rafinha

© 2023 Laura Honda-Hasegawa

Brazil Japanese language languages Portuguese language vocabulary
About this series

When I was little, I spoke a mixture of Japanese and Portuguese. When I entered elementary school, I naturally began to distinguish between Japanese and Portuguese, and I began to enjoy writing documents in Portuguese. Now, 60 years later, my greatest joy is writing in both Portuguese and Japanese. Through this series, I hope to share stories on a variety of themes. I hope they will reach you like a refreshing morning greeting.

Read Ohayo Bondia (Series 1) >>

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About the Author

Born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1947. Worked in the field of education until 2009. Since then, she has dedicated herself exclusively to literature, writing essays, short stories and novels, all from a Nikkei point of view.

She grew up listening to Japanese children's stories told by her mother. As a teenager, she read the monthly issue of Shojo Kurabu, a youth magazine for girls imported from Japan. She watched almost all of Ozu's films, developing a great admiration for Japanese culture all her life.

Updated May 2023

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