How is the name TsimTsum written in Japanese?

In the book (and movie) Life of Pi by Yan Martel, the main character “Pi” survives after the Japanese cargo ship (named “TsimTsum”) mysteriously sinks in the ocean.

Is the name TsimTsum wrongly chosen by the author? I can’t imagine how a Japanese person would write that name, in hiragan or katakana (assuming the name is from an alien origin).

My best attempt at writing the name would be:
ツインツン and that would sound something like TSUIN-TSUN


Its author (Martel, 2002), explained the name
he chose to call the Japanese ship whose sinking precedes Pi’s 227-day-long adventure in a
life boat:

I wanted a representative scoop of religions in the book – Hindu, Christian, Islam. I
would have loved to have Pi be a Jew, too, but there are no synagogues in
Pondicherry (where the family was from in India). So I chose Tsimtsum as the name
of the Japanese cargo boat because, although it sounds Japanese, it is a Hebrew
word (Sanders, 2012).

Michael Moor, Tsimtsum in Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”


Apparently they call the ship ツシマ丸 in the Japanese translation.


It seems to be written as ツィムツーム in Japanese, perhaps in the movie version.

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Yeah, that’s how I would have guessed it. The author doesn’t know what they’re talking about when they say it “sounds Japanese” but spelling those sounds using katakana is relatively straightfoward.




How does “TsimTsum” sounds Japanese?


ツィムツーム sounds Japanese but it is not Japanese.

Classic tsundere word.


It’s not even sound like a Japanese word to me even if I try to read it in Katakana way.


A non-speaker of the language saying that some word that clearly does not conform to Japanese phonotactics ‘sounds Japanese’ in a forum filled with Japanese language enthusiasts is just low-hanging fruit, isn’t it? I mean, basically the only part of the word that’s weird is the ‘tsi’, and the nasals are plausible, if not ‘normal’.

It’s kind of akin to saying that Vietnamese or Thai sounds like Chinese or something, lol. Except in that case there’s no friendly crabigator cult there to rip you to shreds over it.


I think it would be different if it’s not from a novel or movie. I’m always making fun of anime, when they have Thai characters and their names are clearly not Thai at all as well.

I just expect the author to do a little more research in their work. I like the movie by the way.

It’s not like the author of Life of Pi “said” that in this thread and is now going to be upset.

I’m sure they’re fine.


I mean, I was kinda joking about that first part, but maybe I phrased it wrongly. Perhaps I should have said ‘the author whose statement had been referred to’ instead.

I was just kinda surprised with the amount of people posting incredulous comments here about how it doesn’t sound Japanese at all when lots of people say the same things about the Slavic languages or the languages of the Indian subcontinent. Then again, it is a Japanese-learning forum.

Anyway, the book was pretty fun to read. The name of the ship isn’t really a major detail anyway.

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The reaction is probably from the gap between the reason for this thread being created (this Japanese ship has a name which can’t possibly be Japanese) and the way in which the author describes it (it sounds Japanese, but you might be surprised that it’s not!). Almost saying it as though everyone would think it sounds Japanese. They probably didn’t mean to imply that, they probably meant “it sounded Japanese to me”, but the fact that the only reason we’re talking about that quote at all is because someone noticed it doesn’t sound Japanese is humorous, to me at least.


Tsimtsum is a Hebrew word, it can be rendered in Japanese as ツィムツーム. Though there isn’t a single word of Japanese origin that uses a ‘tsi’ sound, I wouldn’t expect most people to know this unless they have studied the language.

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