Explaining Doris Day

Brookings County Now & Then

I’ll try to write this so it makes sense.

Problem is, I only have newspaper space for about 600 words in which to explain it all.

We were discussing foreign languages at our weekly curmudgeon breakfast gathering. I told my language story, a convoluted mass about a half-dozen items. 

Watching eyes roll and brows furrow made me realize my foreign language yarn was falling on 14 gravitationally-challenged and somewhat deaf ears. 

So I promised all 14 ears I’d put it all down on paper for their tired eyes.

So here goes. 

Doris Day, the beloved singer and actress, died May 20.  

Doris Day and the Japanese word for “why” have been with me for decades. 

The Japanese custodian who worked in the aerial photography laboratory at Atsugi Naval Air Station near Yokohama assured me that the Japanese word for “why” was what to me sounded like Doris Day. It rolled off his tongue with ease, and my American ears distinctly heard the words Doris Day. 

When I read of Doris Day’s passing a few weeks ago, I asked my grandson, Nick Cecil, what the Japanese word for “why” is, assuming he would tell me it was “Doris Day.” 

Nick knows Japanese. While still in high school he decided as a challenge and as a hobby he would teach himself how to read, write and speak Japanese. 

And that’s just what he’s done, and all the while tending now to his studies at SDSU. 

Nick told me the word “why” in Japanese is “doushite.” When he pronounced it to me, I again heard “Doris Day.”

How in the world we Americans translate “doushite” into something sounding exactly like the words “Doris Day” I’ll never know. 

I do know that the real Doris Day was popular in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. 

In about 1954, my Japanese custodian friend alerted me to a Doris Day movie called “Calamity Jane” that was showing at a theater in Tokyo. 

Much of the film’s footage was shot in Deadwood and the Black Hills.

I’d been in Japan for 18 months by that time, with six more to go. Anything having to do with my state and especially territory near my home in the Black Hills ranked high on my list. 

So I boarded one of those marvelously choreographed and punctual Japanese electric trains and headed for Tokyo to see Doris Day as Calamity Jane, and to see some familiar Black Hills scenery. 

I found a taxi driver in Tokyo who figured out where I wanted to go. He asked me a question and the only word I heard that sounded familiar to me was the words Doris Day. 

I answered “Yes, Doris Day” and gave him a thumbs up.  He seemed a bit confused by my answer, but took me to a Japanese theater far out in a Tokyo suburb somewhere.

I was the only American among the several hundred in the theater. The movie house was far from fancy, as that area was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II. 

Among other theater amenities that were lacking were cushioned seats. We all sat cheek-by-jowl on long wooden benches with no backs.

It was an interesting experience seeing the Japanese reactions and hearing their laughter and the buzzing crowd noises as Doris Day talked and sang, her words appearing as Japanese subtitles along the bottom of the screen.

I also enjoyed seeing a bit of South Dakota.

As I was leaving the theater, a smiling Japanese gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said something in Japanese. The only word I could understand was what to me sounded like “Doris Day.” He was probably asking me why I was at the movie way out there in the Tokyo sticks.

I nodded and replied: “Yes, Doris Day, great, isn’t she?”

He frowned.

I wondered Doris Day.


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