Tanakura Bazaar.

Alex Shams at Ajam Media Collective writes about a fascinating bit of cultural history:

In markets across Iran, Tanakura Bazaars can be found dedicated to second-hand clothes, knock-off brand name shoes, and Iranian-made shirts at cut-rate prices. They attract a constant stream of bargain hunters looking for vintage clothes, which are referred to in Persian generally as Tanakura.

If you’re looking for a Persian (or Azeri or Kurdish…) etymology for Tanakura, you’ll come up empty handed. Despite its ubiquity in Iran, Tanakura is originally Japanese. But in Japan, the word is a relatively uncommon family name and the Persian meaning of second-hand clothes is nowhere to be found. So how and why did Tanakura become common in Iran?

The answer lies in a popular Japanese TV show broadcast on Iranian state TV in the 1980s. Oshin tells the story of a girl from rural Japan named Shin Tanokura whose life spans the Meiji period, Japan’s imperial expansion and military defeat during World War II, and the reconstruction and eventual prosperity that followed. The series offers an unflinching depiction of the tragedies and struggles of a working-class woman in Japan. Its harsh realism almost led to the show being passed up before it was broadcast by Japan Broadcasting Corporation in Japan in 1984. […]

The show became a massive hit, and it is estimated that it was watched by at least 98% of Japanese TV viewers. It was soon being rebroadcast around the world – attracting fans in countries as diverse as India, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand, Iraq, Peru, and many more. The outbreak of “Oshindrome” worldwide even led to a 1991, international symposium in Japan entitled, “The World’s View of Japan Through Oshin.” To date, Oshin has been shown in at least 73 countries worldwide, in the process becoming a shared cultural memory that connects people around the globe.

In Iran, Oshin was aired every Saturday night at 9 pm. Its official title in Persian was Salhaye Dour az Khaneh [سال‌های دور از خانه], “Years away from home.” The streets emptied out as Iranians ran home to catch the latest episode, and it is estimated that the show attracted 89% of all Iranian TV viewers. […] Oshin was first broadcast in Iran in 1986. It was one of the first foreign programs shown on Iranian state TV after the Revolution at a time when few others were acceptable to the new religious standards. The show found a large and welcoming audience: despite hardship, television ownership had skyrocketed since the Revolution. Among the half of Iranians living in cities, TV ownership went from 22% in 1977 to 79% in 1986, and among rural households from 3% to 26%. By the time Oshin was broadcast in 1986, watching TV was a truly mass phenomenon involving the majority of Iranians, a stark contrast from a decade prior. The show quickly developed a devoted following who tuned in weekly to follow the twists and turns of Oshin’s difficult journey. […]

The show depicts Oshin eventually moving to Tokyo and opening up her own stall selling clothing in a night market. With the income from her own clothing stall, she is finally able to make a good living and find a better life, slowly but surely.

Oshin’s success at opening her own clothing stall is what inspired the meaning of “Tanakura” in Iran today. Beginning in the 1980s in Mahabad, in Iranian Kurdistan, a market opened that specialized in clothing smuggled by kulbars over the border by the crate load. These clothes had often been sold several times over by the time they reached Mahabad’s bazaar; it was not uncommon to find brands like Nike or Adidas but also the jerseys of American high school basketball teams or 1980 Los Angeles Olympics-branded gear. Inspired by Oshin’s success with her clothing stall – and Japan’s success rebuilding its economy – the merchants of Mahabad’s second-hand clothing markets named themselves Tanakura Bazaar.

Soon, Tanakura Bazaars could be found in many cities across Iran, starting with cities close by like Urmia, Khoy, and Sanandaj, but soon spreading to Qazvin, Mashhad, and elsewhere. In Tehran, Gomrok Square is famous as a hub for Tanakura. Tanakura has become the common word for second-hand clothes across the country – both imported vintage and domestic second-hand – and in almost every city across Iran, Tanakura shops and bazaars can now be found.

There’s much more at the link about the history of Iran-Japan relations dating back to “at least the 1500s”:

Japan’s constitutional model and victory over Russia in the 1904-5 war would come to inspire many across Asia as the first non-European state to achieve modern economic, diplomatic, and military strength. This contributed to a wave of Asian revolutions demanding parliamentary government, including in Iran (1906), the Ottoman Empire (1908), and China (1911).

And if you’re wondering about the name Oshin, Wikipedia sez:

The 297 15-minute episodes follow the life of Shin Tanokura (田倉しん, Tanokura Shin) during the Meiji period up to the early 1980s. In the work, Shin is called Oshin, an archaic Japanese cognomen.

Thanks, Xerîb!


  1. Charles Perry says

    1980 Los Angeles Olympics? The real ones were in 1984.
    I remember sitting in a crowd while athletes were changing into street clothes to receive their prizes and the stadium band decided to play “Ghostbusters.” Five thousand people rose to their feet to shout “Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters!”

  2. Yeah, that was an odd slip — I wonder if it’s a typo or a mistake by the author. In any case, I love the “Ghostbusters” story!

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    an archaic Japanese cognomen

    That’s not a “cognomen”: it’s a personal given name with a (slightly) honorific prefix. I get the impression it’s as much hypocoristic as honorific (a bit like adding -ie to a name in English) but there are Hatters who will know much more about it than I do.

    (Not that “archaic”, either: the maid in Tanizaki’s 1948 細雪 Sasameyuki is referred to as お春 O-Haru, for example, and in fact refers to herself that way at one point, IIRC.)

  4. The influence of Oshin is apparently reflected in Vietnamese vocabulary as well.

  5. Neat!

    By the way, any thoughts on why Tanokura wound up as Tanakura?

  6. any thoughts on why Tanokura wound up as Tanakura?

    I was wondering that too. The spelling used in edited texts online in relation to the series Oshin itself is the more expected تانوکورا.

    I just now asked two guys from Tehran at the gym, a prof of civil engineer and a student of his who is bilingual in Azeri Turkish and Persian—not philologists or linguists at all. They said that the word just sounded better that way. Sigh…

    I suggested that it might be a folk-etymology (reminding them of the principle with the often repeated Persian example of چسفیل ‘popcorn’; see the possible etymology in the Wiktionary), but they couldn’t immediately come up with anything it might have been folk-etymologized to.

    I floated the desperate idea that perhaps many of the people opening tanakura shops would have been working-class Azeri speakers, and that Azeri speakers would have had an aversion to the o-vowel in a non-initial syllable (cf. here on GB, I hope visible) in their shop talk. The two guys really liked the idea, but I fear that was because the idea came from a person whom they knew to be a linguist. I don’t like it myself.

    I will continue asking around, especially about folk-etymological possibilities.

  7. Thanks! Sorry to burden you with yet another etymological quest…

  8. David Marjanović says

    and that Azeri speakers would have had an aversion to the o-vowel in a non-initial syllable (cf. here on GB, I hope visible)

    It says this has happened (outside the written standard) to “chocolate”, so the idea seems quite plausible to me.

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