CAUTION: If you don’t want to know anything about the meaning behind the title of this manga, don’t read ahead.
A few days ago at work, I asked a coworker of mine if the phrase “Gin no Saji” had any special meaning that he knew of. This started an interesting dialog that eventually led to him looking up some information for me (I didn’t actually know he was going to do this). I was surprised when he handed me this long printed page of info that was pretty interesting, so I decided to do some research and share it with everybody.
Here is what my searching has come up with:
1. This is probably the one that most people have already thought of. There is a fairly common saying in the English language that goes “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” This is used to refer to somebody who is wealthy, typically somebody born into a wealthy family. I’ve also heard it used with the added connotation of somebody being snobby because they’ve had a cushioned upbringing. (Apparently the expression “silvertail” is used in Australia and has the same meaning.)
In regards to Arakawa’s manga, this might be reffering to the fact that Hachiken, the main character, was raised in the city and doesn’t know anything about the difficulties of living and working on a farm. He, in a sense, had a ‘spoiled’ upbringing.
2. In many countries, is has been a tradition of godparents to give a silver spoon to a their godchildren at christening ceremonies. It is supposed to bring the child wealth, good fortune, and prosperity. Of course, only those who could afford such a thing could do so. A child born into a rich family did not have to wait, but instead would get it right away, thus ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth.’ This, and the fact that the wealthy ate using silver utensils instead of wooden ones, is probably where the English saying in #1 originated.
In the manga, perhaps it acts kind of like a horseshoe would and is a good luck charm to bring good fortune to the school.
3. One Japanese website I found mentioned an old story about how Celtic soldiers would give a silver spoon to their wife or loved ones before heading to the battlefront. I’m not entirely sure of the specifics (or even if it’s true), but I did find this website which mentions a Celtic tradition of a suitor presented his love a carved wooden spoon to show the girl’s father that he could provide for her.
I don’t think this meaning is being used in the manga.
4. Silver spoons have been used in the past as a method of detecting poison, particularly in the Korean Joseon Dynasty. During this dynasty, kings had multiple wives and they all competed for their sons to inherit the throne. The first-born son was often a target of the other queens who would try and poison him so their own son would be first in line. Silver is very reactive and when it comes into contact with sulfur (present in arsenic sulfides found in arsenic poisons) it would tarnish. Poison testers would use the spoons to detect if food contained poisonous chemicals.
Not sure if this meaning will find it’s way into the manga either, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Good job for making it this far. This last one has a long explanation, but is, in my opinion, the most interesting.
5. There is a Japanese novel of the same name as this manga (Gin no Saji) that was written by a man by the name of Kansuke Naka in 1910. A sequel titled “Tsumujimagari” meaning “perversity” or “eccentric” was published a few years later in 1913. Both of these later ran as serializations in the Asahi newspaper. Kansuke Naka apparently used his own childhood as the basis for the fictional story. It is about a man who, after growing up, is tired of the plainness of his everyday life and has doubts that the future will continue to be a bleak one. He keeps a silver spoon in a small box in a dresser drawer which he found as a child and whenever he is feeling depressed because of the way things currently are, he takes this spoon out and stares at it to remind himself of happier times from his childhood that he spent with his loving aunt.
According to my cowoker, there was a rather famous top-tier highschool in Japan that had a class in which they used only this book as the course material for the entire three years. The class seems to have had a motto: 「すぐに役に立つものはすぐに役に立たなくなる」”Sugu ni yaku ni tatsu mono ha sugu ni yaku ni tatanakunaru.” Directly translated, it means something like “Things that are useful right away will soon become useless.” I think the meaning is similar to saying “Nothing in life that’s worth having comes easy.” (Dr. Kelso – Scrubs season 4 episode 20)
Theodore Roosevelt was also once quoted saying, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led diffcult lives and led them well.”
Highschool in Japan is always three years. At this particular highschool in the manga, everyday seems to be a physical and mental strain on the students. Perhaps the silver spoon is supposed to mean that the greatest rewards come from hard work and perseverence.
One of my coworkers also thinks it may be a message about the current state of Japanese agriculture. In the past, Japan was an isolated country, resisting interaction and trade of any kind with outsiders. This means that all produce and livestock was raised inside the country. Japan’s agriculture used to be very prosperous. However, Japan has turned into a country that is heavily dependent on imported goods. The quality of Japanese farms has dropped. Perhaps the message is that Japan might do well to rethink the way the agricultural market is being run in the country.
So there you go. That is what my research (and some help from two very cool Japanese coworkers of mine) has come up with. If you have any other ideas or comments you would like to add, please do so. I also started a thread in the Silver Spoon section of the fullmetal-alchemist.com forums. Check it out HERE if you’d like to join the discussion.