Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | What do you call your grandparents?
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What do you call your grandparents?

An interesting recent AP story raised the issue of what kinds of affectionate nicknames people use for grandparents. In Japanese, the words are “Obaasan” for grandmother and “Ojiisan” for grandfather, and many Japanese Americans still use the terms even if they don’t speak much if any Japanese.

But I have a confession to make. I didn’t have an affectionate nickname for my grandmother.

My grandparents on my father’s side died early, so I never knew them (my grandfather died when I was just an infant). On my mom’s side, her father died before WWII, so I’ve only known one grandparent all my life, my maternal grandmother.

When my brothers and I were kids in Tokyo, my grandmother visited once, and we also visited her in Hokkaido, my mom’s hometown of Nemuro. But whenever I saw her, she was always really mean — or so it seemed to me, as a 3, 4 or 5-year-old child. I recall that even though we lived in an enclosed small development of apartments, and always played and rode our bikes in the parking lot in front of our homes, when she visited she yelled at us and wouldn’t let us ride our bikes.

In retrospect, she was concerned for our safety, of course, even though no cars went trhough the area, or if they did they went very slowly because there was no through street.

But because she was so strict and kept us form doing our everything stuff, we didn’t like her much, and we began calling her “Nemuro Baba” (kind of like witch, right?) instead of “Obaachan.”

I unfortunately still think of that nickname because that’s what we called her. My mom usually just laughed and would mockingly tell us not to be so mean.

She passed away a couple of years ago, and last year I went to Nemuro for her first-year memorial service. I know she mellowed out a lot over the decades, and was very sweet to my nieces, who got to spend time with her in recent years.

What do you call your grandparents?

Thanks to Tadaaki Hiruki, who maintained the Ties-Talk e-mail list and find fascinating facts and articles on the Web to spin off conversations!