“Sista-bun” – the origin of a nickname
Updated: Mar 30
When I was a kid, my family lived in Japan and later, on the Japanese island of Okinawa where my Army dad was stationed.
While living in Japan, when my brother, sister and I were little, we were exposed to Japanese language, songs and a few customs from the loving Japanese woman who babysat us occasionally. We called her Nonny. Later, living on Okinawa, we were taught Japanese culture at school. I can still sing one of the Japanese songs I learned back then. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it means anymore.
We had an amazing amount of freedom on Okinawa. Returning home after spending the night with my girlfriend when I was ten, I took a taxi all by myself! I can’t even imagine letting one of my children do that as they were growing up. We could hop on an American bus for free and ride to the capital city of Naha, have lunch and go shopping. I was ten. My sister was nine. No adult with us. Can you imagine? Truly, a different world.
Shopping in downtown Naha, we passed a lot of “vendors” on the streets and clerks in the Okinawan department stores who would call out to us. They wanted us to know they had top-notch merchandise. So they would often call out “Ichiban, number one!” Which means “this is the best scarf, wallet, kimono, etc. you can buy!" Literally, they were saying “number one, number one” – meaning “the best.” “Ichi” means “one” in Japanese. It’s pronounced “EE-chee.” But to our little kid, American ears it sounded like “itchy-bun,” not “ichiban.” Which, of course, we thought was EXTREMELY funny. “Itchy bun,” we would say and giggle endlessly. We went around accusing each other of having an “itchy bun” for months. Or just saying “itchy bun, number one” because it felt so funny in our mouths.
Then one day, joking around with my sister, I said “you are the sista-bun.” We both thought it was high-larious! (Okay, you had to be there.) And, lo, these many decades later, guess what my sister Susan and I still call each other? “Hi, Sista-bun! Hey, Sista-bun! How ya doin’, Sista-bun? Thank you, Sista-bun! Bye Sista-bun!” I need to ask her next time I talk with her how her itchy bun is doing. Heh heh heh.
The picture was taken at our house on Okinawa when I was 10, my sister Susan was 9 and my brother Hugh was 12.
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