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Have you eaten any Doo Boo lately?
You might want to check.

Tubu is the Korean name for the exciting and exotic substance Soy Bean Curd.

But why do we call it tofu or 'dofu' and not tubu?

European encounters with NE Asian foodstuffs seem to have come mainly from Japan, as the majority of words we use for these foods originate from Japanese and not Korean or Chinese. Is it because the foods originated in Japan? It should be noted when giving the origins of a food, or food technology, that one would expect ideas to spread from the mainland to offshore islands and not the other way around. Islands by their isolating tendency lose cultural innovations, and instead tend to preserve the archaic. Trade connections reverse these trends.1

There are many possible reasons for our dominant use of Japanese terms, here are some likely and less likely:

  • Over the last several hundred years Korea had closed its boarders and had less contact and trade with the West. Hence it was once referred to as the Hermit kingdom.
  • Japan was an expansionist Empire in the first half of the twentieth century, so in contrast to Korea had greater surface area for cultural osmosis.
  • Eclipse. Between 1903 and the end of WWII Korea had been annexed by Japan with not much reaction from the West, during that period there would have been a great deal of cultural suppression and filtering through Japanese culture
  • Linguistics. there could be greater ease phonetically pronouncing Japanese vs. Korean. (Even if this isn't true it still could be why we haven't assimilated more Chinese words into English).
  • Geography. Japan is bigger and as group of islands has a greater presence as an entity. Most students can find Japan on a map but when looking for Korea, many will point to Kamchatka
  • Higher profile. The earlier success of Japanese electronic and automobile industries in entering English speaking markets kept the Japanese culture rubbing against the Western mindscape.

Many new words entering the collective English language have filtered through from 'American' English, so briefly looking at America-Korean vs the America-Japanese relationships:

  • Japan is closer to America both geographically and seems to have a greater mutual cultural curiosity (compare information pertaining to Japan vs Korea on E2)
  • Direct cultural influence. Immigration into America from Japan might have occured earlier or to a great degree than from Korea.
  • Contact. Japanese people integrated more into American culture while Koreans tended to be more exclusive
  • History.World War II, came before the Korean War

Even with out being able to pinpoint the reason, many of the above work in conjuction so that currently for things NE Asian, the West continues to absorb Japanese words when it encounters them for things it has no other frame of reference for.

Two other outstanding food stuffs equally important in both Korea and Japan cultures, in which we imported the Japanese terms are:

  • nori/kim
  • -the popular seaweed rolling sheets for sushi and kim bap
  • miso paste/dweonjang paste
  • -for making soups and enhancing stews (note there is a slight variation in the taste but most would consider them equivalent) (/msg me if you can think of others, these three are the major ones)

1Due to trade, at different times it could be asked which were/was the island(s) Korea or Japan?

2 One exception I can think of is Kimchi. It might be argued that it's because Kimchi isn't eaten in Japan - actually Japan is the worlds largest importer of Kimchi. It could be because the item has a much larger and integral role in the identity of Korean culture. The Japanese don't have their own name for using the modifed Korean 'kimochi'.

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