The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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purple
JOK: 1320
Purple (紫) has special meaning in Japan. An old name for one of the four major islands contains 紫. The 'Tale of Genji' author chose an alias that included 紫. Kyoto and Edo each had a shade of purple named after them, thanks to a purple plant dye. Purple is associated with various types of elites in Japan. And some Japanese perceive soy sauce and tobacco smoke as purple!
luxuriant
JOK: 1327
Do you associate "nutritious" with "delicious"? The answer may depend on culture! Find out how to talk about both things with the same term, which can also mean "feast for the senses." See how Japanese and European ideas about medicinal cooking have intertwined, discover how Japanese superstars boost their energy, and learn how to help your ears by tending to your kidneys!
axis
JOK: 1330
From Earth’s axis to a penholder, from a car axle to the shaft of a feather, 軸 represents entities that are straight and long. In addition, 軸 has fun figurative uses, enabling people to say, “the core of my thinking,” “innovative plan,” “central role,” and “Language is a vertical axis connecting you to your ancestors.” Our kanji is also in terms for “Axis powers” and “axis of evil.” Learn their back stories!
varnish
JOK: 1334
This richly illustrated essay features photos of rare lacquered works, including a suit of armor with an image of the deity Fudo-Myoo, a cabinet shaped like a monk's backpack, a tiered picnic set, and a large seated Buddha. Find out about Zeshin Shibata's lacquer art and methods of decorating lacquerwork with gold and silver. Also learn about lacquer toxicity and the meaning of "japanning"!
lawn
JOK: 1335
The lawn grass kanji is intimately tied to the theater world. Knowing about 芝 therefore enables you to discuss the pretension and theatrical behavior that can characterize that culture. Learn how to use the word for "theater" to say that someone is faking something (such as illness).
snake
JOK: 1341
I'm the biggest snake-phobe around, and even so I can tell you that there's plenty to enjoy about an examination of 蛇. It whisks us away in fun figurative directions, as with its connection to heavy drinking. On top of that, delving into this character opens a window onto Japanese culture, from its mythology, festivals, and religions to its musical instruments and children's songs.
bartending
JOK: 1343
Learn to say, “I channeled the composer’s intentions,” “I took over my late father’s shop because that’s what he would have wanted,” and “You should take his youth into account.” See what the Japanese infer about you when you pour your own drink, rather than letting another person do it. And find out how, if someone screws up, the Japanese say in a joking way, “Show no mercy!”
lonely
JOK: 1345
Find out how to say everything from “I miss you a lot” and “The land became terribly desolate” to “A scream broke the silence,” “The patina creates a nice ambiance,” and “This temple garden has an elegant simplicity that is indescribable.” See why author Ryu Murakami said that Japan has become lonelier than ever, and learn what Japanese people think about wabi-sabi. Note: This kanji plays an important role in a Thematic Explorations essay called "The Relationship Between 'M' and 'B.'"
pearl
JOK: 1349
Japan invented a way of making pearls! Find out about pearl culturing and where to go in Japan to learn more about the inventor and his method. Read about divers (mostly women) who have risked it all to collect shellfish. Learn how to say "Tahiti is the pearl of the Pacific" in Japanese. And find out about strings of prayer beads, which have inspired a great figurative expression.
Confucius
JOK: 1352
"Even though Japanese ways of thinking are based on Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism, many people think they have no religion." That sample sentence in this essay sheds light on how Confucianism (with its emphasis on hierarchy, filial piety, and education) permeates the culture but how the Japanese don't necessarily recognize the Confucianism underlying their values.
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