The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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gulf; inlet
JOK: 1944
Find out which Japanese bays are famous for mirages, a devastating typhoon, and pearls. Learn about 湾 versus 江 (bay). Discover how to say, “Our house overlooks the bay” and “We were granted the special privilege of fishing in this bay.” See why たられば conveys “what if” (as in, what if Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened). And learn how ginger, vegetarianism, and Portugal connect to Taiwan.
persimmon
JOK: 1946
Learn to say, “Some boys made off with all the ripe fruit on my persimmon tree.” Find out why a persimmon was named after a writing brush, which animal adores persimmons, and what a “persimmon house” might be! See what people go through to make persimmons edible, and discover how this fruit connects to a spicy snack, sushi, mochi, alcohol, tea, and skewers.
raise
JOK: 1947
Let Japanese teach you about English! That is, Japanese terms for "lactation" and "mammal" are closely related. This is also true of "mammary" and "mammal," but English speakers rarely perceive such a link. Similarly, one Japanese word can mean "bringing up" and "breastfeeding." In English, "suckling" covers both meanings, but we miss this until we study Japanese!
model
JOK: 1948
To understand Japanese writing fully, one needs to know about the three main scripts in which kanji and kana appear. Those styles affect stroke order, stroke count, and above all legibility! This essay contrasts the three main scripts and introduces three more, then focuses on the standard, square style, explaining how it looks and showing where one is most likely to encounter that style.
intimate
JOK: 1949
This spiky character may not look the part, but it is the kanji of reconciliations, cease-fires, and peace treaties, as well as harmonious marriages and lovers' talk. The Japanese use 睦 most when referring to friendships, particularly those that are deepening. Practice reading 睦 terms with a description of the TV show 'Friends' and a summary of the British film '45 Years."
iron pot; kettle
JOK: 1950
Pots look lifeless, but 釜 is full of fun. It plays a great role in a folktale and has connections to necessities in life, plus car crashes, cross-dressing, and demons who boil people in cauldrons. It pops up in colorful place names. And of course this kanji has a culinary side, appearing in terms for "rice cooker," the names of rice and udon dishes, a salty fish dish, a way of making tea, and more.
tie
JOK: 1951
Take a walk on the dark side with 錮! Find out how to discuss the length and severity of prison sentences (possibly including hard labor) and punishments in the past that involved exile to remote islands. Along the way, learn several words for "imprisonment" and "judicial sentence," and read about spiral shells, tinkering with molten metal, and political unrest in ancient China.
bribe
JOK: 1952
The Japanese are known for honesty, but there’s still a long history of bribery (especially in the Edo era) and plenty of ways of talking about it. Learn to say, “Did you or did you not accept the bribe?”, “Everybody suspected him of taking a bribe,” and “He is the last man to take a bribe.” Also find out about mnemonics involving Cairo and greasing someone’s palm with mayonnaise!
compile
JOK: 1958
You likely know 単語 (たんご: vocabulary). One can think of 単語 as the equivalent of a single book in the library that 語彙 (ごい: vocabulary; lexicon) represents. The Japanese associate the size of a 語彙 with adulthood (whereas some in the U.S. correlate the size of something very different with manhood!). See how the Japanese use 語彙 and 語彙力 (“word power”) syntactically.
song
JOK: 1962
Find out about 唄, which always plays second fiddle to 歌 but is more likely to represent Eastern songs, whereas 歌 is more for Western music. See why the Japanese prefer to see "Singin' in the Rain" in English. Discover a term that means "song sung by a blind person with the accompaniment of the shamisen, esp. in the Kamigata area of Kansai"! And learn a bit about Okinawa via its music.
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