The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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grudge
JOK: 1964
From the Japanese perspective, those who carry grudges into the afterlife (including emperors!) become vengeful, troublemaking ghosts. Find out about that and how to drive nails into an effigy to lay a curse on someone. Also learn to say, “He has a grudge against you,” “The resentment runs deep,” “He seems to have it in for me,” and “The cockroach and centipede are my sworn enemies.”
flourishing
JOK: 1967
If you’re a spirited sort, this essay is for you! It’s about being full of energy, drive, vitality, curiosity, and the like. And it will teach you to say all of this: "This school’s ideal is to help students grow to be full of verve," "He’s not afraid to take on challenging work," and "He is writing prolifically." On the flip side, the essay sheds light on Jabba the Hutt’s less-than-laudable appetites.
hill
JOK: 1968
Find out what role 岡 (primarily 'hill') could possibly play in a bathhouse, on an inkstone, in a wooden carrying box, in unrequited love, and in a 2nd-class red-light district. The essay provides connective thread between uses of 岡 that otherwise seem completely random. See how 岡 relates to 丘, another kanji for "hill." And enjoy a bevy of photos with 岡 in the names of people and places.
me
JOK: 1970
Some sources call 俺 rough, arrogant, vulgar, and disagreeable. Others say it is informal and intimate. It conveys manliness, which could imply control over emotions, but it is also the pronoun men use when they lose their cool. All these contradictory statements are true! The mere idea of adding 俺 to the Joyo list provoked a bitter battle. Find out how and why men use this charged word.
irritation
JOK: 1971
With just one kanji, you can say all of the following: “I get annoyed when I am kept waiting,” “His incompetence began to irritate everyone,” “Even the smallest thing irritated him,” “He committed suicide because he was bullied,” and “He was tormented by a sense of guilt.” Also find out how 苛 connects to prickly plants, how to talk about training hard, and how tyranny can seem brilliant.
tusk
JOK: 1972
Tusks and fangs may seem unrelated to our lives, but without elephant tusks, we wouldn't have ivory carvings, the color ivory white, a country named Ivory Coast, or the horrible song "Ebony and Ivory." Most of that is also true in Japanese, because 牙 appears in all those terms (excluding the song title). In fact, the Japanese rely on 牙 to an even greater extent; they also use it in expressions about showing hostility, preparing for a fight, and acting in evil ways. On top of that, 牙 is a radical in three Joyo kanji, and it's part of the Shin-Joyo set (the group of characters added to the Joyo set in 2010).
tile
JOK: 1973
Architecture buffs: don't miss this one! As the fantastic photos show, old Japanese buildings often feature striking roofs with alternating ridges and valleys of semi-cylindrical tiles, as well as elaborate decorative caps and unusual rooftop figurines. By studying 瓦 (a new Joyo kanji), you'll learn to talk about all this and so much more! You'll find out about the unexpected glamor of bricks in the Meiji era, 瓦 in words about metaphorical collapses, and this shape as a radical in several fascinating kanji.
arrowroot
JOK: 1974
Learn about a vine that has enhanced Japanese life. People use its root to thicken dishes, particularly desserts that turn out to be healthy, and to help cure fevers, hangovers, colds, and more. The fiber of the 葛 vine goes into fusuma screens and scrolls, and a word including 葛 plays a role in a famous folktale. There’s much more to tell you, but doing so would give away three quiz answers!
cliff
JOK: 1977
Do you know what it means figuratively when the Japanese refer to being on a cliff's edge? Can you say that a car went off a cliff or that a cliff is vertical? Can you refer to a landslide with a compound containing 崖? Do you know where to find giant Buddhas carved from rock faces? Do you know which cliffs are famous in Japan and why? If you read the essay, you'll soon know all this!
sickle
JOK: 1980
You may not need to talk about sickles, but knowing 鎌 helps you discuss crescent-shaped things; the “hammer and sickle” flag; sickle-wielding weasels; certain weapons; and Kamakura, a city where armies once battled for control of Japan. Kamakura is also associated with a giant Buddha, pigeon-shaped cookies, a painful part of canine history, and a word for “emergency.”
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