Making and keeping promises is important. In Japan it is a serious matter…of avoiding the terrible things that will happen to you if you don’t.
If you haven’t already come across it by now, Japan has a song for making an informal promise. In English this is a “pinky swear” or “pinky promise” made by interlocking pinky fingers. Japan involves the same fingers, except with a high threat of extreme violence.
Originally, this was a symbolic promise of prostitutes to their customers to show their eternal love for them. If they broke the promise, they would cut off their pinky. Sounds bad enough, but that was history, and history is expected to have a lot of violent traditions.
But let’s go to today and the song little children sing when they make a pinky swear. It goes:
Let’s start with the obvious part that is common knowledge. The middle verse says:
嘘ついたら針千本飲ます: “If you lie, I will make you drink 1000 needles.”
Not bad, not bad.
But the less commonly known part (even to Japanese people) is the meaning of げんまん. As written in kanji, it is easier to figure out.
拳万 or 10,000 fists.
Finally the 指切り and 指切った refer to cutting the pinky finger so blood comes out and you can give your blood seal for this contract.
So to sum up:
For 5 year olds in Japan to keep promises with each other, they must sign blood contracts with violation resulting in 10,000 punches and 1000 needles.
Don’t lie in Japan.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.