The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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cliff
JOK: 1977
Do you know what it means figuratively when the Japanese refer to being on a cliff's edge? Can you say that a car went off a cliff or that a cliff is vertical? Can you refer to a landslide with a compound containing 崖? Do you know where to find giant Buddhas carved from rock faces? Do you know which cliffs are famous in Japan and why? If you read the essay, you'll soon know all this!
corpse
JOK: 1979
Read about corpses described as careless and taciturn, as well as those that go dancing. Find out how wrecked vehicles and ruins of buildings are figurative corpses. Learn to say, “He identified the wreck of the Titanic,” “He looks like a skeleton,” “She cried at the sight of her father's dead body,” and “It took a few hours to clear the mess from the wreck of the truck and several cars.”
sickle
JOK: 1980
You may not need to talk about sickles, but knowing 鎌 helps you discuss crescent-shaped things; the “hammer and sickle” flag; sickle-wielding weasels; certain weapons; and Kamakura, a city where armies once battled for control of Japan. Kamakura is also associated with a giant Buddha, pigeon-shaped cookies, a painful part of canine history, and a word for “emergency.”
toy
JOK: 1982
Find out about traditional Japanese toys (e.g., limbless kokeshi and wheeled pigeons) and see how they vary regionally. Learn to talk about fiddling with hair, playing with dolls, and keeping pets. Then lose your innocence with terms for toying with people or treating them as playthings. Afterward, redeem yourself by learning to express deep appreciation for things like calligraphy.
seclude
JOK: 1983
Do you know about the kagome pattern or the “bird in the cage” game? Do you know who was called a “caged bird” or how insect cages influenced Kyoto architecture? Do you know how baskets helped when crossing valleys? With this essay you’ll learn all that plus terms for shutting oneself up in one’s study, bottling up discontent, and stammering. Oh, and several words for lanterns!
turtle
JOK: 1985
People universally associate turtles with slowness. The Japanese do, too, but they've taken turtle symbolism quite a bit further. They also see these ponderous animals as representing luck, longevity, wisdom, experience, divisiveness, ugliness, and sexual attractiveness! Ugliness and sexual attractiveness?! Quite a range! As if all that weren't enough, 亀 is also a radical and a new addition to the Joyo set, as of 2010.
city
JOK: 1986
This essay presents everything you always wanted to know about the Kinki region but were afraid to ask! Learn the origin of the name "Kinki," and see how that region compares with Kansai. Find out about a railroad named after the tango, a snack that tastes like deep-fried meat, and old nomenclature for the Kinki area. Also discover what a 都道府県別 approach involves.
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!
sniff
JOK: 1988
See how 嗅 is closely related to dogs and why a literal term for “police dog” often represents a human! Learn to discuss the sense of smell, as in “Hounds use their keen sense of smell to hunt.” Discover a reason to include onomatopoeia in translating “The dog sniffed the ground.” And learn to talk about sniffing things out figuratively, as in “She caught wind of his true intentions.”
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.
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