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Kanji: 万歳 or 万才
Japanese: banzai
Simplified Chinese: 万岁
Traditional Chinese: 萬歳
Mandarin Chinese: wansui

Originally an exclamation of jubilation and praise to an emperor or a king, in conjunction with body gestures. In the 16th century Chinese literature Journey to the West, the Monkey King (Son Goku in Japanese translations) is hailed by his obsequious followers with three cheers: "wansui! wansui! wan-wansui!!" with three bows. The Japanese word banzai comes from the Chinese word wansui, literally meaning ten thousand years.

During WWII, a crowd of Japanese would shout banzai three times in unison to celebrate a victory: "Tenno heika (the emperor) banzai! Banzai! Banzai!"

Chairman Mao, who was a Chinese Communist leader of the past, was also praised with shouts of wansui by emotionally charged crowds, where each individuals held onto little red books. Chairman Mao happened to be a big fan of Monkey King, by the way.

In Japan nowadays, a "banzai!" exclamation is usually a celebratory expression of jubilation without any connotation of praise to an authority or higher power. (e.g.: "Banzai! I got into Nerd College!" or "Banzai! I won the lottery.") The act of raising both arms is also called a banzai in Japan, since people raise both hands high up with each shout of "banzai!"
"Banzai" is also a British TV-program, aired on Channel Four. It has a lot of similarities with wacky Japanese TV-shows.

The concept is simple. You are presented with a betting situation. The natarror explains the terms of the bet. It might be something like this: Can granma Dickingson drink a pint of sherry in less than 27 seconds. How long can the shake-hands-man shake a popstar's hand? Which floor was the Princess Di souvenier plate thrown from?

Then, if your're in a pub, you can bet with someone, or bet vodka shots at a pre-party... The answer is presented some thirty seconds after the bet is presented.

The show is quite funny in its own wacky way.

To expand on Nordicfrost's definintion, Banzai is also notable in that it allows live interactivity with the on screen action(on the E4 channel on Sky Digital in the UK, anyway).
Example question.
Which other Doctor Who do you think that Peter Davidson would have bottom sex with in order to save the Earth from Daleks?
1. Tom Baker
2. Jon Pertwee
3. Sylvester McCoy
YOU. DECIDE.
An excessively stupid television show, but very entertaining. Currently being repeated on Channel 4, but without the interactive gubbins, unfortunately.
My favourite bet was the 'Can the old lady drink a pint of sherry before fish out of Marillion can start singing Kayleigh' challenge.



BTW, Peter Davidson opted for Sylvester McCoy.
Banzai was a brand of skateboards available back in the mid-to-late '70s (and possibly early '80s). The company was based in southern California.

Who remembers the '70s? A quick show of hands... three four five...
Well cars, as you may recall, were rather large back then—our family car happened to be a huge yellow Dodge van—but skateboards were rather wee.

The Banzai board was 24″ long, a mere 5½″ wide—why, that's .32 inches skinnier than a dollar bill is long!—and was about as thick as a Tic Tac layed on it's side. With wheels attached it could easily roll under a skateboard of today without touching. The shape of the board recalled a shark. The front and back were tilted up a bit (in what I believe was the first instance of what is referred to as a double kicktail) allowing users to do rather basic tricks. Lest you forget what you were riding, the word BANZAI (written ala the CinemaScope 55 logo) was engraved in the middle of the board.

What made the Banzai so cool? Well, unlike other boards of its time, the Banzais were made not of wood, but entirely out of aluminium. They were thin, light weight, non-ferrous—remember, this was back when we were drinking soda from cans that rusted, so an aluminium skateboard seemed a bit high tech. You could imagine that this would be the skateboard James Bond would own. Also, the word Banzai is a cool name; if it had been named the Nelson I think we all can agree it wouldn't have had quite the same image.

The Banzais came in at least seven colors:

  • naked aluminum (snazzy!),
  • anodized red.
  • anodized gold,
  • anodized forest green,
  • anodized blue,
  • anodized purple, and
  • anodized black.
I had (and still have somewhere) the red version with matching transparent red wheels; a hand-me-down from my brother. Luckily Banzai was spared the Harvest Gold and Avocado color scheme insanity of the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the board had what I called "the high-speed wobbles". That is, as soon as you started going at a pretty good clip downhill, the board would start to wobble back and forth on the trucks forcing you to counter-wobble. I don't care who you are; all coolness goes right out the window when you are counter-wobbling. Usually I'd have to either slow down using the brake or jump off. It brings to mind that X-1 scene from The Right Stuff although perhaps now I'm just being silly.

***

Notes: You can see a great picture of a Banzai at http://users.ev1.net/~peng/skate/add1/banzais.jpg.
A dollar bill is about 6.14 inches long by 2.61 inches wide/tall (and .0043 inches thick, if you're curious).
When I say they were made entirely from aluminum of course that's me, an aluminium layman, talking. I'm couldn't tell you if there were traces of cabrium 90 or anything else in there at the atomic level; throw me a bone, I was nine. Want a Banzai? You can sometimes find them on eBay ranging in price from $25 to $275. I have since heard that Banzai also made wood boards, but have never seen one or any pictures.
My apologies to Nelsons everywhere.

Ban"zai" (?), interj. [Jap. banzai, ten thousand years, forever.]

Lit., May you live ten thousand years; -- used in salutation of the emperor and as a battle cry.

[Japan]

 

© Webster 1913.

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