The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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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!
capture
JOK: 1953
Discover why 勾 means both “hook” and “arrest.” Find out about an ancient bead (one of three sacred treasures) that may symbolize anything from a soul to the moon! Learn how the Japanese discuss steep streets and sloped roofs. Read about an important stone wall curved like a crescent moon, and see how that curve prevents the wall from bulging like a pregnant woman’s belly!
chair
JOK: 1957
Find out how to say, “The curve of this chair makes it feel luxurious,” “In the center stood a desk with a red leather swivel chair,” and “This easy chair is comfortable.” Learn to use “musical chairs” figuratively and see how 椅子 (chair) connects to “He is a shoo-in to win the presidency.” Read about what it really means when a restaurant worker offers seating in a chair or on the floor.
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.
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.”
beautiful woman
JOK: 1965
This essay teaches you to discuss highly regarded women and to say, for instance, “He married the most educated and talented woman in town.” It also whisks you away to Ehime Prefecture, home to famous writers (e.g., Soseki, Shiki, and Oe) and attractions such as Dogo Onsen. One of the oldest hot springs in Japan, this site inspired Soseki’s “Botchan” and Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.”
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.
timid
JOK: 1969
Find out how the wind and the timidity-causing god can cause a loss of nerve. Also learn to say these things: “We looked down on him as cowardly,” “He is much too cowardly to attempt it,” “He audaciously crashed this party,” “She boldly went up to the king,” “You should offer your opinion without hesitating,” and “It's not something I can talk about in public without shame.”
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