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27 April 2017
Afternoon Sedition

TORA! TORA! TORA!

DVD Cover for Tora! Tora! Tora!

In chatting about The Gates, I mentioned Kyoto's torii gates and again made my comment, "Torii! Torii! Torii!" (What's the point of coming up with clever things like this if you you can only use them once?) I got a blank look; guess everyone hasn't seen the movie or read my blog entry. (Hard to believe, isn't it?) Anyway, here's the explanation of "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

The official version is that the message indicating a successful attack on Pearl Harbor was a repeated "to ra", this being the Japanese word for "tiger":

7:49 a.m.

Air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida, looking down on Pearl Harbor, sees no aircraft carriers, which the Japanese hoped to destroy and thus thwart U.S. retaliation. He orders his telegraph operator to tap out to, to, to: attack. Then other taps: to ra, to ra, to ra: attack, surprise achieved. Though not meant to have a double meaning, to ra is read by some Japanese pilots as tora — tiger. According to a Japanese saying, "A tiger goes out 1,000 ri (2,000 miles) and returns without fail."

"Pearl Harbor: Plus Sixty Years", Honolulu Advertiser

Nice story and even nicer metaphor, full of animal imagery of the bold tiger hunting its prey. Too bad it was constructed after the fact and isn't at all true:

Most articles and books on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, note that the Japanese codeword for a successful surprise attack radioed back to their carrier was "TORA, TORA, TORA." However, on Dec. 7, 1991, the 50th anniversary of the event, Japanese historians at symposia being held both at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and at CAF Headquarters in Midland, Texas, revealed that the actual codes were individual syllables, not the word "TORA." The first code, "To," indicated that the attack had begun, and the second, "Ra," that success had been achieved.

When these transmissions were heard by the American radio operators in the heat of the attack, they were translated as a single word, the "To, To, To—Ra, Ra, Ra" becoming "TORA, TORA, TORA", the Japanese word for "Tiger."

What's TORA?

So, there you have it. Go forth and impress people with your newfound knowledge. Ok, ok. At least rent the movie and get some cultural literacy.

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