Get up to 45% OFF With The Breakthrough Sale. Hurry! Ends Soon!
Get up to 45% OFF With The Breakthrough Sale. Hurry! Ends Soon! Blog
Learn Japanese with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Archive for the 'Kanji Curiosity' Category

It’s in the Bag: Part 1

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

Recently I’ve shown you koala and kangaroo pictures, and in the past I’ve posted pictures of dogs, giraffes, and yaks. By this point, you should be an expert in animal identification. Based on the breakdowns below, see if you can figure out which animal each compound represents:

袋熊 (fukuro-guma)     pouch + bear
袋狼 (fukuro-ōkami)     pouch + wolf
袋鼠 (fukuro-nezumi)     pouch + mouse

Words for Discussing Pouched Animals …

To block the answers, I’ll present the vitals on the kanji of the moment:

(TAI, DAI, fukuro: (1) bag; sack, pouch; (2) skin of an orange (and other like fruits); (3) dead end; (4) plot of land surrounded by water)

The Etymology of

So many meanings!

By the way, the first on-yomi of is easy to remember, because we so often tie (タイ) bags!

Once again, here’s the koala sign that has prompted this examination of . You can also revisit the breakdown of the words in the sign.

Read the rest of this post »

Happy Birthday to Whom?

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

What do you think the following word means?

虚誕 (kyotan)

The first kanji, (KYO, KO, muna(shii)), means “empty” or “false,” as we saw long ago. You may recognize from 誕生日 (tanjōbi: birthday, to be born + to be born + day), where means “to be born, birth.” So 虚誕 is a false birth?! No, has other meanings, and the pertinent one in 虚誕 relates to the original definition of .

In , the radical is (words). That’s not entirely obvious, because every component in can serve as a radical!

All Can Be Radicals …

Meanwhile, is “to stretch, extend,” also acting phonetically in to express “big.” With “big, stretched words,” you have bragging or exaggerations. Thus, originally meant “deception” or “false.”

That’s the meaning in our star word, as the breakdown indicates:

虚誕 (kyotan: exaggerated talk)     false + false

More False Talk …

That’s not the whole etymological story, though. The word 降誕 (kōtan: holy birth, royal birth, to descend (from heaven) + birth) originally meant “making a fuss about a holy (or royal) birth.” That makes sense, given the exaggerations inherent in back then. Consequently, “birth” became an extended meaning of , which we can define in an assortment of ways:

(TAN: to be born, nativity, false, to be arbitrary)

“To be born” is now the main meaning, as in 誕生日 and its root: Read the rest of this post »

Locating Your Longings: Part 4

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

When you long for something or someone, do you think of that longing as having a particular location? Do you store it somewhere, such as your heart, mind, soul, or journal? I don’t feel as if my yearnings have specific addresses; they seem all-pervasive. But the following word hints at the idea that desire is actually lodged (宿) somewhere!

宿望 (shukubō: long-cherished desire)     to lodge + desire

This may have something to do with the nuances of 宿 (SHUKU, yado: to lodge), which also appears in two words synonymous with 宿望:

宿志 (shukushi: longstanding desire)     to lodge + purpose

We’ve seen in both 意志 (ishi: will, intention, determination, intention + to intend) and 志望 (shibō: wish, desire, ambition, ambition + to aspire). Working with Halpern’s definitions, I’ve defined this kanji a little differently all three times!

宿願 (shukugan: longstanding desire)     to lodge + desire

You may recognize as the central part of お願い (onegai: wish). GAN is an on-yomi of , and we see this yomi again here:

願望 (ganbō: wish, desire)     desire + wish

Aha! We’ve come full circle, returning to !

If you also want to return to the idea that wishes can be stored somewhere inside a person, check out this word: Read the rest of this post »

Great Expectations: Part 3

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

明けましておめでとうございます!Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu! Happy New Year!). We’ve seen that this 明け means “to open, begin.” What I hadn’t seen until last week was this version of the greeting:

謹賀新年 (Kingashinnen: Happy New Year)
     respectfully + to congratulate + new + year

On 謹賀

A Japanese friend posted this on my Facebook page. Although I guessed the meaning, I was puzzled both by the yomi and by the fact that I’d never heard this expression. That’s because it’s formal and is used only in writing.

Whereas the 明けまして phrase sounds completely Japanese, 謹賀新年 consists of four on-yomi, so it seems more Chinese. However, I will forever associate it with Australia, because that’s where I was last week when I received the greeting. About an hour later, while admiring koalas at a koala conservation site, I realized that the tourists next to me were Japanese. After they’d gazed at the nearest koala and said “Kawai!” several times, I showed them the message on my cell phone and asked for the yomi.

Japanese Highlights of the Trip …


More Koalas! …

Read the rest of this post »

Hoping Against Hope: Part 2

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

Around the holidays, people like to hear old stories again, whether they involve Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Ghost of Christmas Past. This time of year also fills people with hope, so much so that adults temporarily suspend fears of pedophilia and let their children sit on strange men’s laps to spout off consumerist fantasies.

You’ll find both storytelling and hope with . You already know that it often means “hope,” because we learned the following last week:

(BŌ, MŌ, nozo(mu): hope, wish, aspire to, desire, look afar, look forward to)

As for the storytelling, a few sample sentences with form a tale of hope and longing. We start the story with this sentence, which a Tokyo resident named Satoshi-san once emailed me during our very brief language exchange:

2008-nen yori Eikoku no daigakuin e no ryūgaku o kibō shite imasu.
Starting in 2008, I hope to study at a graduate school in England.

Breakdown of the Kanji #1 …

In other words, he had a clearly defined 希望:
Read the rest of this post »

The Wishing Star: Part 1

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

I’d never thought about it before, but I’ve just realized that the English expression “looking forward” has two meanings: “gazing into the distance” and “happily anticipating.” One kanji captures both meanings. We usually interpret (BŌ, MŌ, nozo(mu)) as meaning “hope.” A while back, though, we saw that can also mean “looking afar” or “gazing into the distance.”

This duality helps us find several layers of meaning in the song title 望みの星 (Nozomi no Hoshi: The Wishing Star). If you’re wishing on a star (or on the moon, as per the etymology), you’re both gazing at a distant object and hoping that something will come true.

Novelist Wendy Tokunaga cowrote this enka (演歌: performance + song) song with her friend, Hiro Akashi. We’re only up to the title, and already I’m impressed!

I was even more impressed when I heard Wendy sing the song in Japanese. I know you’ll be blown away, too. Wendy has won televised singing competitions in Japan, so you’re in for a treat, not the ear-shattering output of some karaoke singer.
Read the rest of this post »

Loose Ends

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

Time for the final page of Alberto’s beautiful haiku calendar!


Explanation of the Haiku …

Read the rest of this post »

Wanderlust: Part 4

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

Let’s start with a quick quiz. From past weeks you already know this kanji:

(TO, wata(ru), wata(su): to cross, extend, cover, range, span; to ferry across; build across; hand over, hand in, transfer)

And you might know from 世界 (sekai: world, world + world). Put these two key kanji together, and here’s what you get:

渡世 (tosei: livelihood, subsistence; business)
     to go through (life) + existence

Now, add to produce this:

渡世人 (toseinin)     to go through (life) + existence + person

What do you think it means? A person earning a living? A business owner? Check the link for the answer. I think you’ll be surprised! A big hint: Think of Kenny Rogers (for as long as you can stand to do so).
Read the rest of this post »

Special Delivery: Part 3

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

I’ve discovered two new ways of offending the Japanese:

渡し箸 (watashibashi: resting one’s chopsticks across the top of one’s bowl)     to cross over + chopsticks

渡り箸 (wataribashi: using one’s chopsticks to jump from side dish to side dish without pausing to eat rice in between)
     to cross over + chopsticks

Both actions are considered breaches of etiquette.

Just one hiragana distinguishes one term from the other. (And that hiragana can serve as a memory trick. The somewhat resembles the top of a bowl, whereas the looks like upright chopsticks jumping from side dish to side dish and appalling all the Emirii Posutos of Japan.)

Another Time When One Kana Really Matters …

The first word, watashibashi, is one of those wonderful Japanese terms with internal rhymes.

More Watashi Rhymes …

The watashi (渡し) in this word is a perfectly legitimate yomi, given all the ways of reading :
Read the rest of this post »

Will We Cross That Bridge When We Come to It? Part 2

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

In any society, a bridge is perhaps the most visible symbol of trust. And this kind of trust seldom comes into question. When most of us see a bridge, we assume it can handle the cars, trains, and gale-force winds bearing down on it.

Lately, though, people in my neck of the woods realize that they can’t take bridge safety for granted at all. In September, inspectors found a significant crack on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. (They wouldn’t have done an inspection except for a rare circumstance, so this discovery shook our confidence considerably.) Crews labored to fix the problem, only to have the repair job fail weeks later, sending 5,000 pounds of steel crashing down onto passing cars. Workers have now repaired the repair job, but they say it’s only a temporary solution and that we’ll need another repair in coming months.

On top of that, they’ve recently reconfigured the bridge, introducing a treacherous S-curve. I was nearly in an accident when the car ahead of me lost control there, careering from one side of the bridge to the other at a 90-degree angle to the rest of us. After that, a Safeway truck overturned at the S-curve, tying up traffic for hours. And just days ago, a truck carrying Asian pears plunged off the S-curve to an island below, killing the driver.

The traffic jams clear up eventually, but distrust lingers long after that. Many of us are left wondering whether we can believe the officials who deem our bridges safe. The bridge feels about as creaky as the old Japanese one in the photo.


Wisteria Bridge over the Fujikawa River, c. 1880.
Photo source: Okinawa Soba

About the Wisteria Bridge …

Read the rest of this post »