For many years, I managed a team of internationalization engineers. Teams of this type are often a mix of cultures. This one was no exception. We came to enjoy the many differences in perspective that existed in the group. Going out to eat together was also a great passion, and when there was an occasion for toasting, you would often hear us toast "Chin-chin!".
"Chin-chin" is an italian toast, (actually Cin-Cin) which I believe means the equivalent of "to your health". One of our Japanese engineers had once told us a story about this. Apparently, a Japanese business man goes to a dinner event. During the course of the dinner, an Italian raises his glass and toasts "Chin-chin!" to the Japanese man. At first, the Japanese looks stunned. He looks at the Italian, and apparently detecting that the Italian meant no harm, he raises his glass and sips his drink sharing in the toast. He smiles broadly.
Later in the evening, someone who noticed his facial expressions during the toast, goes to the Japanese man and asks him about his reaction. He smiles and explains:
"I had not heard this particular toast before. In Japanese, the word 'chin' means penis. So when he said 'chin-chin' to me, I thought at first he was insulting me. Then I thought about it, and decided if this man wants to toast my penis, who am I to argue? So I accepted the toast gladly."
Once we heard that story, we rarely missed a chance to toast each other with "Chin-chin". (Or at least most of the men did.)
The words themselves must not be too offensive in Japan. For example, streetcars run from Tennoji and Ebisu-cho in Osaka to Hamadera in Sakai City. The name of this kind of streetcar is "Chin-chin Densha" or "Chin-den" for short. "Densha" means "train" in Japanese, and the sound of the bell which rings at the time of departure is considered to be "Chin-chin".
However, expect quite a few giggles if you refer to "The Three Little Pigs" in Japan, and cite:
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