The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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hinge
JOK: 1464
The bolt called 枢 (くるる) slides into the cavity called 枢 (とぼそ), just as the knob called 枢 (とまら) fits into the hole called 枢 (とぼそ)! This apparent brain teaser actually supplies early meanings of 枢, which came to play a role in words for central things, ranging from the central nervous system to the center of political power. This kanji also pops up in terms for “Axis powers” and “axis of evil”!
cedar
JOK: 1467
Native to Japan, this towering tree lives 500 years - and more than two millennia on one island! Living cedars may be seen as sacred, receiving attention even from the emperor. Meanwhile, felled cedars turn into everything from soy sauce barrels to "magewappa." Discover unexpected relationships between cedar and saké, as well as between postwar reconstruction and pollenosis.
furrow
JOK: 1468
This kanji, which symbolizes the hills that some crop farmers make in fields, belongs squarely in the agricultural realm. However, 畝 also represents ridges in knit items, ribbed fabric, and the like, and therefore has a firm presence in the sphere of shopping! Plus, the Japanese once used 畝 as a measurement of areas. Finally, this kanji pops up in names, notably that of one heroic man.
well
JOK: 1470
Why have the Japanese worshipped well water, shouted down wells, and jokingly called the Edo era the "Ido" era? How do people use the shape of a well in everything from kimono cloth to business slang? How does 井 figure into economic and political discussions? Find out all of this and much more, including the role of wells in folktales, proverbs, and Haruki Murakami's fiction.
equal
JOK: 1473
The equals symbol lies at the heart of 斉, which factors into words about equality, symmetry, and proportion (e.g., "She has a well-proportioned figure."). The most important bit of 斉 vocabulary means "simultaneous." With this word you can say that an audience bursts into laughter together or that birds break into song at the same time. Meanwhile, a negative prefix turns a 斉 compound into a term for "asymmetry," one of the seven principles of wabi-sabi. Also find out when 斉 serves as a radical or component in other characters.
animal sacrifice
JOK: 1474
Parents often make sacrifices to give children a good education. Find out how to say that, and then discover how maternal self-sacrifice may be harmful. See which term for “war victim” is right, depending on what the person experienced. Learn to say, “I must help her at any cost” and “She worked at the expense of her health,” as well as jargon for being a sacrificial lamb in the consumer world.
die
JOK: 1475
Japanese perceptions of death emerge in this essay. The kanji in certain terms imply that a dying person is going far away or will be gone forever. Somehow “early + life” means “early death.” People refer so casually to the “world of the dead” that that phrase ends up in ordinary sentences like “I can’t believe it’s been six years since my dad died.” And one book urges the elderly to die at home alone.
reject
JOK: 1480
Learn to talk about rejecting suggestions and plans, and find out how to say, "They dismissed his criticism as hypocrisy." Read about campaigns against Japanese goods, and study Japanese Wikipedia passages about the North American history of banning Asian immigrants. Discover which sports Japan encouraged and disallowed during wartime. Bonus: study space science!
ancient; old
JOK: 1481
Discover how calling something "old-fashioned" in Japanese can be an insult or a compliment. Learn to say that the recent past feels like ancient history. Also learn to say "I used to be a different person," "Hollywood isn't what it used to be," and "That was then and this is now." Find out how although 昔 can currently mean "decade," it once meant a time span as long as 66 years!
trace
JOK: 1485
Discover why Sun Yat-sen’s handwriting mattered to the Japanese, and find out how they feel about the look of razor stubble and harvested fields. Also see why a Nagoya well contained gold, how ruins relate to one generation, and what “crow footprints” represent. Learn to say, “We found footprints in the sand,” “There is no sign of life on Mars,” and “Each era has left its mark.”
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