The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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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!
corpse
JOK: 1979
Read about corpses described as careless and taciturn, as well as those that go dancing. Find out how wrecked vehicles and ruins of buildings are figurative corpses. Learn to say, “He identified the wreck of the Titanic,” “He looks like a skeleton,” “She cried at the sight of her father's dead body,” and “It took a few hours to clear the mess from the wreck of the truck and several cars.”
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.”
toy
JOK: 1982
Find out about traditional Japanese toys (e.g., limbless kokeshi and wheeled pigeons) and see how they vary regionally. Learn to talk about fiddling with hair, playing with dolls, and keeping pets. Then lose your innocence with terms for toying with people or treating them as playthings. Afterward, redeem yourself by learning to express deep appreciation for things like calligraphy.
seclude
JOK: 1983
Do you know about the kagome pattern or the “bird in the cage” game? Do you know who was called a “caged bird” or how insect cages influenced Kyoto architecture? Do you know how baskets helped when crossing valleys? With this essay you’ll learn all that plus terms for shutting oneself up in one’s study, bottling up discontent, and stammering. Oh, and several words for lanterns!
turtle
JOK: 1985
People universally associate turtles with slowness. The Japanese do, too, but they've taken turtle symbolism quite a bit further. They also see these ponderous animals as representing luck, longevity, wisdom, experience, divisiveness, ugliness, and sexual attractiveness! Ugliness and sexual attractiveness?! Quite a range! As if all that weren't enough, 亀 is also a radical and a new addition to the Joyo set, as of 2010.
city
JOK: 1986
This essay presents everything you always wanted to know about the Kinki region but were afraid to ask! Learn the origin of the name "Kinki," and see how that region compares with Kansai. Find out about a railroad named after the tango, a snack that tastes like deep-fried meat, and old nomenclature for the Kinki area. Also discover what a 都道府県別 approach involves.
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