The Cool Kid asked, “what is ‘slaughtering cows on Ied Al Adha day’ in Japanese?”

I told him to ask Google[0]. He came back with a remark, “it translates ‘slaughter’ funny…” So I asked a friend who lives in Japan for the term.

‘Lo and behold! she responded with an (almost) essay about the phrase.


Slaughtering is understood as an activity in which someone is killing or butchering birds or cattle such as cows, sheeps, camels, oxen, pigs, et cetera.

It turns out that coming up with a verb in Japanese that directly means slaughter in English is difficult. The difficulty arises because culturally, before and during the Edo periode, the Japanese very rarely, almost never, consumed red meat. Fish and vegetables were the main dish. Chicken was served sometimes.

It was only after the Edo period (1602-1868)[1], after Japan opened up to the world outside including the western world, the Japanese began eating beef, pork, and chicken meat. These meat came from local legal slaughter houses or individuals doing animal slaughtering (although this practise was rare). This was because the butcher was considered a lowly profession, socially and culturally. Butchers went through social discrimination, which was stemmed from the influence of Buddhism.

Into the modern world, circa 1955, butchers still experienced discrimination. Getting a job would be difficult if one was discovered to have been a butcher. Butchers lived in poverty, in shacks in villages, isolated from the general public. Even with such discrimination towards the butcher profession, the Japanese loved meat on their plates. It still persists today, although less hostile. The butchers found unions and organisations to socially strengthen their existence.

Now. Back to “slaughter animal” in Japanese.

O-san (the friend’s husband, a native Japanese) took a sample from the Law regarding rules on animal slaughter, which is 屠殺する — とさつする[2] (tosatsu-suru, killing animal). The word includes the definition of 解体 (kaitai, dismantling) that is dismantling —of the bones, the flesh, organs, skins, etc— after the animal has been slaughtered.

Another verb (not from the draft of Law) is ほふる (hofuru), an old word which means killing animal. However, to describe “slaughtering chicken” is the verb しめる (shimeru), another old word. So rarely used are these words —maybe because the act of slaughtering animals and the butcher profession are considered lowly and dirty— the Japanese struggle to find the right verb to describe “slaughtering”.

Then, if one wants to know, at a halal store, where these halal meat (from cows slaughtered in Japan) come from, how does one ask the shop staff?

The answer is: どこでにくにしたの (doko de niku ni shita no), literally means “where did you turn a (previously alive) cow into (dead) meat?”

There is a legal slaughter house in Chiba prefecture that supplies halal meat in Japan. There is also another one in Kobe. Halal red meat are also imported from Australia while halal chicken meat are usually imported from Brazil and France.

Notes:
[0] For “slaughter” ( the definition mainly states the killing animal for food) Google Translate returns 虐殺 (gyakusatsu) which describes the act of killing people cruelly, savagely, and severely. It is definitely a mismatch.

translating slaughter

a mismatch…

translating slaughter

No, not this…

One needs to use the phrase “animal slaughter” for Google Translate to return the intended word:

translating animal slaughter

the intended word but…

[1] In the Edo period (1602-1868) there were groups of people eating red meat (from cows or horses). However, slaughtering animals was done mainly for leather.

[2] The と (to) in とさつする (tosatsu-suru) uses a kanji character 屠 that is not introduced in schools, thus not included in daily kanji. Not all Japanese know the word (it so happens that O-san is a Law graduate and remembers there is a ruling for “animal slaughter”). Rarely used, the word’s unpopularity is also due to negative and evil image attached to it.


Many thanks to Mr and Mrs O for the explanation and correction.

The Cool Kid and I did not expect such a thorough explanation and background information from a short question that The Cool Kid then commented, “this is why Google is not enough to live with.”

When asked why he wanted to do the essay in Japanese, he remarked, “because doing it in English is too mainstream…”