I’m reading a (surprisingly good) book by Lucy Herndon Crockett called Popcorn on the Ginza (William Sloane Associates, 1949), about the first few years of the Occupation of Japan (she was there with the Red Cross from 1945 to 1947 and has left no biographical trace online that I can find, apart from a stint as a Bread Loaf fellow in 1949); on p. 144 I ran across a word that has stumped me: “The only death to date of an Occupationer at the hands of our former bitter enemy is that of an Air Force lieutenant who, about to return to his fiancée in the States, was poisoned in a geisha house by his corbito, who then took her own life.” (Italics in original.) “Corbito” gets a few hundred Google hits, but they’re all family names as far as I can tell, and the word is not in any of my dictionaries. It occurred to me that it might be an odd anglicization of some Japanese word based on hito ‘person’ (which can become –bito in compounds), but I haven’t found such a word in my Japanese dictionaries. Any ideas?
In the category of “my, how things change in half a century,” here’s a snippet from a section on weird Japanese food:
Half an hour later the artist’s wife brought in a plate of hot roasted chestnuts in sweet syrup of which no one could complain, then Japanese “sandwiches”—slices of a roll of cold vinegary rice wrapped in what looked like fish skin but was actually seaweed, in the middle of which were bits of fish, pickles, scrambled eggs, and I would hesitate to guess what else.
If you’d told her that Americans would get so addicted to those “sandwiches” in the ’90s that chain restaurants would have special sections devoted to them and well-off New Yorkers would spend $300 a meal for them, she would have thought you were out of your mind.