Episode 1: A Worm Told Me
In Japanese as in other Asian cultures, the stomach has traditionally been considered the centre of one’s being or life, and in that sense this area of the body is fundamentally the equivalent of the mind or heart in a western context.
In Japanese, the abdomen is the source of temper, courage, resolve, generosity, pride, and so on, as well as being the site of an instinctive or telepathic-like ability making it possible for some especially skilled people to read other peoples minds.
This mind-reading ability is known as harage or the art of the belly, or you could also say “using a clever technique to make one’s real intentions understood without verbal interaction. Trust me, this exist here, and is one of the most important human relations skills in Japanese culture.
Interestingly enough, when I would bring up harage into a relevant conversation about the way the Japanese communicate many of the Japanese only a vague idea of what harage actually means.
However, they subconsciously use this all the time when communicating inside this complex society, whether they understand it or not.
Hara No Mushi literally mean “stomach worm” with hara meaning stomach and mushi meaning worm.
But figuratively speaking it refers to a sixth sense, or in more colloquial terms gut feeling, and this is just one of many colloquial expressions in Japanese based upon the meaning of mushi.
Isn’t it interesting to have a worm in your stomach playing an important role in your communication and feelings ?
The Japanese equivalent of a “little birdy told me” is a worm told me, mushi ga shirasemashita.
This is a shorten version of the full expression would be hara no mushi ga shirasemashita, or “my stomach worm told me so”.
The Japanese do like to shorten things up in many cases, for example, the most common greeting in the Japanese language is konnichiwa, or “good afternoon”. The literal means of konnichiwa is “today”, and being an agrarian society the greeting is an abbreviation for konnichiwa yoi otenki desune, or isn’t it fine weather today.
It can be said that mushi ga shirasemashita is often used in reference to a premonition about the future, for example like a job transfer, promotion, or some other event.
As we explore the concept of mushi more deeply, we find out that describing someone as hara ga okii or having a big stomach actually means the person is big hearted, and the description is therefore complementary.
However, and for you, the dear listeners edification, there are two different words for stomach; the one we are discussing now which is “hara” and the other is “onaka“.
Make sure you do not use these interchangeably when trying to compliment one of your Japanese friends or colleagues on their “big heartedness” by using “onaka ga okii” otherwise you have just told them that they are fat, or pregnant. Whoops!
There are many other Japanese expressions using the word “hara”.
For example, anytime one is angry, discontented, disappointed, or when a persons instinctively dislike someone, they immediately bring to mind and attribute this gut feeling to “hara no mushi” or the stomach worm.
A common expression used to explain why someone is disliked is “mushi ga sukanai, or my worm doesn’t like that person.
When someone is upset and cannot do anything about it, the feeling is described as hara no mushi ga osamaranai, or my stomach worm can not calm down.
Being in a bad mood may also be attributed to ones “worm” being in the wrong place: mushi no idokoro ga warui.
There are so many Japanese words and expressions containing the “worm” such as “mushi ga ii”, which means selfish or asking too much, as in “mushi ga yo sugiru” You are taking a lot for granted.
Or, “mushi wo korosu” kill the worm”, which means to control ones temper.
And, “mushi zu ga hashiru”, which means to be disgusted, or to get the creeps.
Due to the exclusivity of the Japanese culture, they always automatically assume that foreigners could never understand things like the delight and nutritiousness Japanese cuisine, Japanese thinking, or indeed the Japanese way of doing things, and they will definitely be surprised and delighted as you use this tale of the stomach worm to bring yourself just a little deeper into the enigmatic mind of the Japanese.