The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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thrifty
JOK: 1213
Find out why the Japanese have long valued thrift—but less so now. Read about the tyranny of gift exchanges. Learn to say, “He scrimped and saved for many years,” “To make our house payments, we'll have to tighten our belts,” and “Though he is fairly well off, he is frugal. He takes after his father in that respect.” Also see how John Lennon and Yoko Ono connect to this discussion of frugality.
sword
JOK: 1214
This packed-to-the-gills essay teaches everything about the Japanese sword, from its connections to Buddhism and samurai to its metaphorical role. You'll learn how people use 剣 and 刀 quite differently. Fantastic photos provide glimpses of sword-bearing martial arts, supplementing the discussion of kendo. In one quiz, you'll even consider which animals come equipped with swords!
cocoon
JOK: 1223
The Japanese associate 繭 with silkworms, even though other animals make cocoons. Find out how silkworms develop, producing a mile-long silky thread, and how people turn that filament into usable silk. See why the Japanese have been passionate about silk for millennia, and learn how that enthusiasm ties in with religion, architecture, literature, video games, and cosmetics.
illusion
JOK: 1226
This kanji enables us to talk about what isn’t really there: illusory countries on old maps, phantom limbs, an alcoholic’s hallucinations, sorcery, and mythical creatures. Learn about phantom rice and phantom railroad lines, and see what “pursuing phantoms” really means. Find out about magic mushrooms in Japan, as well as mushroom statues created long ago and very far from Japan.
mystery
JOK: 1227
Find out about the shape that figures prominently in the name of a green tea and the word for "brown rice." It's also the "blackness" radical. What a colorful character! Or should I say "What a mysterious character"? It primarily means "mysterious," and it unexpectedly lends that meaning to such common words as 玄関 (げんかん: entranceway).
bowstring
JOK: 1228
Discover the imaginative leaps the Japanese have made by associating 弦 with objects whose shapes suggest curved archery bows and their taut strings. Learn terms for “guitar string” and two categories of stringed instruments, as well as “string quartet” and “orchestra.” Also find out how to speak of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments collectively with a tidy acronym.
alone
JOK: 1229
The 孤 kanji runs the gamut from lonely isolation to enjoyable solitude. This character pops up in terms for orphans, solitary islands, villages cut off by floods, someone fighting alone for a lost cause, and countries that are isolated economically and politically. Learn to say, "She led a solitary life," "To tell the truth, I felt lonely," and "We shouldn’t confuse solitude with isolation."
boast
JOK: 1233
Learn about the positive kind of pride that even dogs (and flowers!) can feel, and see what Japan is proud to show the world. Discover five ways of saying "to take pride in." Also learn to say "I'm proud of you" and "He proudly made an announcement." Read about terms for "ostentation" and "exaggeration," finding out how one of them relates to political propaganda.
hand drum
JOK: 1234
Learn about a wide range of Japanese drums, including the small, ropy type played on the shoulder. See what "taiko" means in Japan versus abroad, and learn how ensemble drumming was created quite recently. Also discover traditional drumming contexts, from the battlefield to the shrine to the theater. Find out which "drums" you can consume and where drums lie in the human body!
give
JOK: 1237
This kanji has no popular meaning! Nevertheless, 呉 pops up in a word about rivalry, the name of a famous theater, the name of a significant city, terms for stores selling kimono fabric, and more. Learn about 呉音, a word on page 1 of every essay. See how the ancient Chinese Kingdom of Wu still influences modern Japan. And find out just how 呉 became connected with くれる (to give).
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