All About Japan

Why Would Buddhas Battle for France?

| Sports , Japanese Commercials

Are you into tennis? Are you into tennis like Japan is into tennis? Tennis has been played in Japan since 1878, and the sport's popularity has been on overdrive since Kei Nishikori defeated Novak Djokovic at the 2014 U.S. Open to become the first male player representing an Asian nation to appear at a Grand Slam singles final. Nishikori lost the final to Marin Čilić, but enthusiasm hasn't waned since!

Satellite network WOWOW's ad for its coverage of the 2017 French Open (May 28-June 11) taps into Japan's tennis fever with a bit of a clever word association. While Japan generally refers to other countries using the katakana approximations of their names (France = フランス・Furansu, Australia = オーストラリア・Osutoraria, etc.), many countries with which Japan has had longstanding relations also have kanji versions of their names. Many of these date back to the Meiji Period (1868-1912) or earlier, a time when writing in katakana wasn't as prevalent as it is today, and it was preferred to have kanji for everything.

The result is that there are kanji for France that phonetically "spell" its name: 仏蘭西. While this is may seem an odd combination of "Buddha," "orchid" and "west," it can be read "Fu-ran-su."

Even today the shorthand for France is the first kanji of this set: 仏, or Buddha, which can also be read futsu or butsu. In fact, the name of the French Open in Japanese is Zenfutsu Open (全仏オープン, literally "All-France Open"). And conceptually and phonetically, Zenfutsu isn't far off from daibutsu (大仏) , the name for the famous Great Buddha statues found around Japan.

In case you missed it, the WOWOW commercial hammers the idea home by dropping the middle characters from 全力大仏 (Zenryoku Daibutsu)—"Full-power Great Buddhas"—to get 全仏 (all-France).

So you can see why a commercial for the French Open might have a pair of powerful Great Buddhas battling it out on the court!