The Joy o' Kanji Essays

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bribe
JOK: 1952
The Japanese are known for honesty, but there’s still a long history of bribery (especially in the Edo era) and plenty of ways of talking about it. Learn to say, “Did you or did you not accept the bribe?”, “Everybody suspected him of taking a bribe,” and “He is the last man to take a bribe.” Also find out about mnemonics involving Cairo and greasing someone’s palm with mayonnaise!
chair
JOK: 1957
Find out how to say, “The curve of this chair makes it feel luxurious,” “In the center stood a desk with a red leather swivel chair,” and “This easy chair is comfortable.” Learn to use “musical chairs” figuratively and see how 椅子 (chair) connects to “He is a shoo-in to win the presidency.” Read about what it really means when a restaurant worker offers seating in a chair or on the floor.
compile
JOK: 1958
You likely know 単語 (たんご: vocabulary). One can think of 単語 as the equivalent of a single book in the library that 語彙 (ごい: vocabulary; lexicon) represents. The Japanese associate the size of a 語彙 with adulthood (whereas some in the U.S. correlate the size of something very different with manhood!). See how the Japanese use 語彙 and 語彙力 (“word power”) syntactically.
song
JOK: 1962
Find out about 唄, which always plays second fiddle to 歌 but is more likely to represent Eastern songs, whereas 歌 is more for Western music. See why the Japanese prefer to see "Singin' in the Rain" in English. Discover a term that means "song sung by a blind person with the accompaniment of the shamisen, esp. in the Kamigata area of Kansai"! And learn a bit about Okinawa via its music.
grudge
JOK: 1964
From the Japanese perspective, those who carry grudges into the afterlife (including emperors!) become vengeful, troublemaking ghosts. Find out about that and how to drive nails into an effigy to lay a curse on someone. Also learn to say, “He has a grudge against you,” “The resentment runs deep,” “He seems to have it in for me,” and “The cockroach and centipede are my sworn enemies.”
flourishing
JOK: 1967
If you’re a spirited sort, this essay is for you! It’s about being full of energy, drive, vitality, curiosity, and the like. And it will teach you to say all of this: "This school’s ideal is to help students grow to be full of verve," "He’s not afraid to take on challenging work," and "He is writing prolifically." On the flip side, the essay sheds light on Jabba the Hutt’s less-than-laudable appetites.
hill
JOK: 1968
Find out what role 岡 (primarily 'hill') could possibly play in a bathhouse, on an inkstone, in a wooden carrying box, in unrequited love, and in a 2nd-class red-light district. The essay provides connective thread between uses of 岡 that otherwise seem completely random. See how 岡 relates to 丘, another kanji for "hill." And enjoy a bevy of photos with 岡 in the names of people and places.
timid
JOK: 1969
Find out how the wind and the timidity-causing god can cause a loss of nerve. Also learn to say these things: “We looked down on him as cowardly,” “He is much too cowardly to attempt it,” “He audaciously crashed this party,” “She boldly went up to the king,” “You should offer your opinion without hesitating,” and “It's not something I can talk about in public without shame.”
me
JOK: 1970
Some sources call 俺 rough, arrogant, vulgar, and disagreeable. Others say it is informal and intimate. It conveys manliness, which could imply control over emotions, but it is also the pronoun men use when they lose their cool. All these contradictory statements are true! The mere idea of adding 俺 to the Joyo list provoked a bitter battle. Find out how and why men use this charged word.
irritation
JOK: 1971
With just one kanji, you can say all of the following: “I get annoyed when I am kept waiting,” “His incompetence began to irritate everyone,” “Even the smallest thing irritated him,” “He committed suicide because he was bullied,” and “He was tormented by a sense of guilt.” Also find out how 苛 connects to prickly plants, how to talk about training hard, and how tyranny can seem brilliant.
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