The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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cram school
JOK: 1370
After a full school day, many Japanese kids head to "cram school" for intensive nighttime tutoring. In this essay, a variety of people chime in about why the Japanese do this, how it profoundly helps and hurts students, how it affects public education and society at large, and more. Copious comments from a former cram school head provide insights and a great language immersion.
genius
JOK: 1371
This kanji mainly pops up in male names, such as those of several authors (e.g., a prolific poet who translates Peanuts comic strips!), an astrophysicist, manga characters, and a prime minister. Learn to say, "He was a precocious child when he was little, but he grew up to be an ordinary adult." Also see what the Japanese think of geniuses and find out how one mom produced four.
wink
JOK: 1372
Early on, 瞬 meant “to blink,” later extending to "moment,” the duration of a blink! Thus, the essay examines blinking eyes, twinkling stars, and flickering candles, as well as crucial moments and things that happen in a flash. Learn to say, “The world will change in an instant,” “This moment will be recorded in history,” and “The moment he met Akiko, he fell in love with her.”
season
JOK: 1373
If you always think of a month as having 4 weeks, it'll blow your mind to conceive of it as having 3 parts. Learn how 旬 came to represent not only "10-day period" but also "season (for crab, strawberries, etc.)." See how restaurants use 旬 in coinages to convey that they're serving seasonal foods. Also learn about an innovative collaboration between a chef and a drug company!
abide by
JOK: 1380
Find out about a kanji that means "to obey" but has alcohol at its heart! Learn to say "You should follow school regulations," "The Japanese are a law-abiding people," "Noncompliance will not be permitted," and "I feel no need to abide by the law as long as nobody is watching me." Also see how 遵 relates to 順, and learn terms for "civil disobedience" and "nonconformist."
strap
JOK: 1382
Though 緒 looks simple, its yomi and meanings constantly shift in fascinating ways. It means what you see above, plus “clue,” and is associated with “together” and “secret.” Learn to say all this: “Just between you and me, he is a liar.” “To know someone, travel with him for a week.” “Space science is still in its infancy.” “She told me in confidence.” “I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
confer
JOK: 1384
From autobiographies to mystery novels to epic poems, stories take many forms. But all involve narration and description, and 叙 drives both. Learn to say, "I will describe the incident as it happened.” Find out about inverted descriptions and inverted mysteries, as well as a "Gulf War novel." Also discover two manga artists, including one who created a Fred Flintstone look-alike.
gradually
JOK: 1385
Learn to read signs about slowing down, and discover who the target audience is. Find out how to say, “She gradually became arrogant,” “I was nervous at first but gradually relaxed,” “The city plan is gradually getting under way,” and “The number of people who prefer to marry late is gradually increasing.” Learn a word that can mean both “quickly” and “slowly,” prompting confusion!
measure
JOK: 1386
Find out why the Japanese drink saké out of small wooden boxes. Learn how their role has changed in Japan over time, and see how they have brought out the playfulness in designers. Learn when to interpret 升 as a unit of measurement or as a container, and distinguish 升 from 枡, 斗, 合, and 昇, which have overlapping meanings. Finally, see why 升 is popular in a Chinese context. By the way, the JOK Notebook entry for March 1, 2013, takes a close look at eight of the Japanese sentences that appear in this essay.
artisan
JOK: 1388
See how marketers have coopted 匠, which conveys an impressive mastery of an art or craft. This kanji was originally associated with carpentry, which carries little prestige in the United States. To grasp how it could be the opposite in Japan, I consulted Len Brackett, once a temple carpenter in Kyoto. His comments illuminate this essay, as do photos of his work.
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