The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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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!
key
JOK: 2002
Find out about lock picking made easy! Learn to determine when 鍵 represents the key to a door, a piano key, the key on a computer keyboard, or the key to a problem. Discover how to say, “She locked her jewels in the safe,” “Remember to lock the door,” “The room was locked,” “The door locks automatically,” “the key to success,” and “He's the person who holds the key to this case.”
thigh
JOK: 2004
What does it mean to be born from the crotch of a tree? Why do some monkeys in Japan wear shorts? Why do some Japanese men go to sacred places in their underwear? Why would yakuza walk like ducks? Why does our kanji (as “thigh”) factor into terms about wavering loyalty? The essay provides all these answers, also discussing mittens with just three compartments for fingers.
tiger
JOK: 2005
In the Japanese imagination, the tiger is both a fierce fighter and a drunkard! Through 虎, a new Joyo kanji, we encounter expressions about fighting, danger, courage, risks, and vigilance. We'll see which famous companies, musicians, and sports teams are named after this awe-inspiring animal, also finding out who wears tiger-striped underwear in Japan! Don't miss the fantastic photos of tigers in Thailand!
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