The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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busy
JOK: 1806
Busyness is a key part of Japanese life. A wedding invitation may include an apology for having a ceremony at such a busy time. Learn to say that busyness is work-related. Find out how to read 忙しい with two yomi, each with different meanings. Discover terms for being busy versus simply looking busy. And enjoy sayings about finding odd moments of leisure when swamped.
room
JOK: 1809
Because 房 has many disparate definitions, one can't immediately see how they connect. The key is to think of the small spaces you get by dividing a big space several ways. The heart divides into 4 chambers. An orange splits into equal sections. A prison has many small cells. The 房 kanji covers all these meanings and more, including associations with wives and sex.
to brave
JOK: 1812
Could you capture sharks or defuse bombs? You can at least talk about such risk taking after reading this essay. You’ll also learn to say, “They were ready to run the risk of being shot by the enemy,” “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and “She is a born adventurer.” Even if you’re risk-averse, you can still use 冒 to say, “Don’t push your luck” and ”I don’t want to run such a risk."
divide
JOK: 1813
This kanji has to do with dissections, autopsies, and the even gorier practice of vivisection (which the Japanese Army has performed in shocking ways). But 剖 also pops up in tame words, such as the one for “anatomy.” And more abstractly, because 剖 represents a drive to pick things apart until one has answers, people use it in reference to analyzing things such as films and books.
simple; magnolia
JOK: 1819
The 朴 kanji, which looks like a child’s drawing, represents the full range of simplicity, from basic questions, straightforward flavors, and honest villagers to naivete and artlessness. Learn to say, “This may be a silly question, but …,” “It’s an apple pie with a simple flavor,” “The plain and simple style of this cartoon is impressive,” and “He is an unsophisticated man.”
black ink
JOK: 1821
Black ink has left an indelible mark on Japanese culture. People have used it to dye clothes, modify their bodies (e.g., tattoos), and censor information. Find out how the Japanese make solid and liquid ink and how they view brushstrokes as a mirror of the mind. Also learn about sumi-e (ink paintings) and enjoy gorgeous sumi-e from talented artists around the globe.
sink
JOK: 1823
As the abundant sample sentences show, 没 enables you to talk about passing out drunk, dropping a phone in the toilet, having things confiscated or rejected, lacking a personality, and going down with a sinking ship. Nevertheless, 没 strikes me as a happy kanji! It's strongly associated with sunsets, and it appears in words for "immersion" (e.g., losing oneself in blissful pursuits).
ditch
JOK: 1824
Through this photo-rich essay (which includes gorgeous pictures of castle towers alongside moats), you'll learn why the Japanese sometimes created dry moats, how moats with lattice bottoms deterred enemies, how moat layout related to socioeconomic strata, how both moats and canals have left marks on Tokyo and Osaka, what it means to "bridge a moat" figuratively, and more!
bustle
JOK: 1825
Find out how to say, “I was on the go all day,” “He is busy with fundraising,” “thanks to his efforts,” and “He ran down the road frantically.” Learn to read between the lines of this sentence: “He disobeyed his parents and ran away from his hometown.” And see how 奔 enables people to slip free of social mores, acting with wild abandon and even doing some “freewheeling” cooking!
flutter
JOK: 1826
The Japanese associate a fluttering flag with 翻, the kanji that heads off 翻訳 (translation). See what bridges the two concepts, as well as the idea of changing one’s mind, adapting a novel, dodging a tackle, rising in revolt, toying with someone, and doing a somersault! Find out how to say, “Everything has to be considered from another angle” and “This word does not translate well.”
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