The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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mortar
JOK: 1987
This kanji gives us an entry point into the earthy world of grinding crops. Through 臼 we learn about the mortar and pestle, the original (and best?) way of making mochi (and the basis for a saying about how men and women need each other). The essay also introduces medical terms, including one for "molar." After all, "mortars" in the mouth grind food!
turban; cloth
JOK: 1989
This versatile character helps you discuss anything from dishrags to the width of a waterfall. It's in {search巾着} (pouch), which has influenced both fashion and food (having lent its pyramidal shape to two dishes that are considered lucky). As a radical, 巾 pops up in scads of kanji, including some of the first ones you learned.
very little
JOK: 1990
Find out about an 11th-hour kanji surprise. Also learn to say, “The Giants won by a narrow margin,” “only a few left in stock,” “He missed the last train by a hair,” “I gave him what little money I had,” “He lost his mother when he was just seven,” “There is little, if any, hope of his being alive,” and “At first only a few people protested, but now they’re all coming out of the woodwork.”
fear
JOK: 1992
Whereas “danger” drives the word “endangered,” fear lies at the heart of Japanese terms about endangered species. This essay is mainly about animals at risk of extinction, but as the book covers and sample sentences show, plants, occupations, and even railways can vanish, too. Learn to discuss all that and to talk about anxiety about matters ranging from real estate to global warming.
skewer
JOK: 1993
Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) is famous, but the Japanese also pierce other foods with rods, including a sweet and one fruit. Discover ways of using 串 figuratively. Learn about skewers shaped like rifles, hairpins, and pine needles. And learn to say, “He ate three yakitori skewers,” “To make shish kebab, they roast lamb skewers,” and “I now have an idea of what’s going on.”
bear
JOK: 1995
See why the Japanese fear bears and how to prevent attacks. Find out why various bear names contain 月 (moon), 赤 (red), 白 (white), 灰色 (gray), 袋 (pouch), and 猫 (cat), while combining 熊 with 洗 (washing) or 穴 (hole) produces names of animals that aren’t even bears. Learn about Ainu rituals with bears, as well as the sacred Kumano region and an ancient people who may be mythical.
go deep
JOK: 1996
See which word one author used when critiquing Abe for treating Obama reverently (i.e., as if the PM were visiting a shrine or seeing a god). Find out how a temple can lie in a lucky direction, and learn about birthplace deities. Discover the most popular pilgrimages and what they involve. See how 詣 and 参 relate to each other. And learn to talk about deep knowledge of a subject.
yearn for
JOK: 1997
Our kanji will fill you with yearning, pining, and adoration. You can use it in a highbrow way when describing deep stirrings of the spirit and the life you long to have, or you can use it to talk about people you idolize or find hot. Learn about a festival featuring bamboo lanterns, illuminated buildings, and a "Path of Yearning." See how much 憬 shares with 憧 and how little sets them apart.
gap
JOK: 1999
Learn to use 隙 to represent everything from physical gaps to mental ones. Find out how drafts can blow through houses and marriages. And discover how to say the following: “Rain was dripping through a leak in the roof,” “Sweets are jam-packed in the box,” “He began to talk before I could state my name,” “He is utterly unguarded,” and “Internet scams catch users off guard.”
column
JOK: 2000
Learn to talk about single-digit temperatures and being "off by an order of magnitude." Discover creative interpretations of "beam," including one in your face; see what distinguishes those born in Showa 1–9; and learn to read warnings on low overpasses before crashing into one! Find out how the abacus, wells, sailboats, and kimono patterns all relate to our kanji!
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