J-WOTD: 鰻登り

うなぎ登り Unaginoboriうなぎのぼり (unagi nobori)

* “J-WOTD” = “Japanese Word of the Day”

The eel, or “unagi”, not only has pride of place on the Japanese menu but, in the term unagi nobori, it also adds some rich flavour to the Japanese lexicon. Literally meaning “eel climb“, this delightfully descriptive term refers to something that is constantly growing or rising.

There seems to be two theories about how this word came about. Firstly, that no matter how steep the rapids are or how little water there is, an eel will still manage to swim further upstream. The second refers to the way the slimy body of the eel will slip through your hands when you grab it – not just slip through and drop, but actually slip upwards, and as you continue to grab hold of it, the further up it goes!

In the workplace there should be plenty of opportunities to use unagi nobori. A friend of mine used it recently to describe his growing stock problem. Unagi nobori could be used to describe America’s war dead in Iraq or New Zealand’s bourgeoning budget surplus, and for all those rugby league fans from down under, I suppose that it could also be used to describe the Parramatta Eels’ impressive climb off the bottom of the NRL table with 10 consecutive wins in the second half of the season this year. Not to mention the usage in the sense of a person who is climbing the ranks in a company in a less than honourable way. The applications seem endless.

3 thoughts on “J-WOTD: 鰻登り”

  1. With the slippery connotation that an eel brings to mind, I’m surprised that this one doesn’t have a more negative meaning.

    Also, can anyone tell me the history behind 丑の日 (Ushi-no-hi) when everyone is supposed to eat eel? I mean great sales event, but once a year isn’t gonna do much good is it?

  2. It’s to combat 夏ばて (natsubate, the phenomenon of being tired because of the summer (?) ). Apparently unagi has a lot of nutrients and gives people the energy to beat the heat.

    On a side note, I used to live in China near a dog restaurant, and one day the square below my apartment was filled with tables and people – they had a similar day when everyone eats dog meat, for the same purpose of beating the summer heat.

  3. Chris, Last summer my wife was trying to convince me to eat Unagi-pai for that reason!! I think she’s been watching too much Mino on TV…

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