Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas is Almost Here!

I'm heading back to the US for the holidays. Updates possible but not guaranteed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On the flip side...

We have kanji like this one:


There is no defensible position in any realm of logic past, present, or future why one kanji needs that many meanings in English.

Couldn't they have just split it up a bit?!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005



Today's word - 性行動(seikoudou) basically means "sex." But it beautifully illustrates the power of kanji.

As a beginning Japanese student, I was constantly knocking kanji. I thought it was the most trivial, ancient, worn-out, pathetic excuse for a writing system I had ever studied. One of my very good friends (who is also a professor with a specialty in Chinese poetry - i.e. "dead kanji"), used to shake his head in a sagely yet sorrowful way when I would begin in on a tirade about why kanji is a useless writing form.

I have come to my senses.

Kanji is by far the best writing system ever created - even when compared to languages that nobody knows anymore, where evidence of their existence cannot even be found. Yes, I'm stating that kanji, as a writing system, is better than languages that may not ever have existed.

Take 性行動 for example. This is not a word that Japanese people use in conversation. It may be used in University Physiology class or perhaps a Biology textbook, but this is definitely not a word you use when going on a first date.

"Yeah but what do you mean?!" - Yeah yeah I'm getting there. Chill out.

性 (sei) is the kanji for sex and gender that I talked briefly about last post. When employed at the beginning of a word, you can instantly assume the word has something to do with sexuality.

行動(koudou) means behavior.

Taken together we get: sexual behavior. Easy as right? No - it gets better.

Here's where the power of kanji comes in to play.

What if you have no idea how to read the kanji in Japanese, but you understand the individual meaning of each kanji?

As in - you understand 性 = sex, 行 = go, and 動 = move. But you don't know their 音読み (onyomi - "on" reading) or 訓読み (kunyomi - "kun" reading).

This is frequently the situation with beginning students of kanji. You have memorized a kanji along with a word in your native language, so you understand basically what it means. But you have no clue what to do when you find two or more kanji you know side-by-side(-by-side, as it were).

Well think about it - the answer is already written on this page: sex, go, move.

And the image springs to life inside your mind. Perhaps you see people, perhaps you see animals, but you are sure to conjure the image of two living things in the animal kingdom sex go moving. You can understand purely on intuition that this word very likely means copulation.

If this post struck a cord inside you, then you'll start to "see" images when people speak Japanese to you. Without kanji, no one understands anything in this language, because it's all sounds without meaning! Native Japanese speakers frequently find themselves saying "何のせい?"(nan no sei?) when they don't understand a word because two or more kanji with the reading 'sei' have sprung to mind. They will draw it out on their desk or their hand, their friend will give them a word with the kanji they mean in it, a word which can only have this specific kanji, and they will go "わー!分かった!" (wa-! wakatta!) as if some brief moment of enlightenment has settled upon an otherwise very confused mind. That last line is a personal jab at some of my students and nothing more.

Ok great - so you start to understand that kanji is a writing system not only for static objects, but dynamic objects and actions. The word "go" doesn't not mean the same thing as "going." We need two words for the static idea of "go" and the dynamic action of actually moving from place A to place B. But in kanji - at least in Chinese kanji - the idea of "going" can be expressed in picture form, alongside other kanji for place, person, and adverbs like how a person is moving.

All just in pictures we call kanji.

Now it gets even better - the Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans, and Japanese all use variations of a pictographic writing system - the Korean writing system is derived from more ancient kanji and looks very different from Chinese and Japanese BUT the best thing about kanji is that they don't need to be read to be understood.

And this is the underlying power of kanji. A Chinese or Taiwanese person can show up in Japan, speak not a word of the Japanese language, and get on very well indeed with street signs, food labels, magazines and newspapers, and menus. The kanji writing system was borrowed from the Chinese, and Japanese academics (for lack of a better term) applied their own pronunciations to each kanji, but the meaning didn't change.

Of course there are going to be exceptions. Some Cambridge dual-Chinese/Japanese scholar is going to email me saying "well, actually, no there is this case of..." and I'll have to eat my words. Who am I kidding - this blog isn't that popular.

The vast majority of kanji mean the same thing regardless of what country you find them in. That's the power of a pictographic writing system, and if the Egyptians had lasted a bit longer, we might have some very strange word-processing systems in use today.

Which brings me to leave you with The Alphabet and it's interesting evolutions. I think the original system is very kanjiesque.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Today's expression is inspired by Kanye West and my love of teasing students.

魔性の女(mashou no onna) means "golddigger" in Japanese!

I usually like to write a long post explaining why a word means what it means - but I think the Japanese > English translation that I've given is pretty self-explanatory.

I will take a moment to explain the kanji though:

(ma) is the kanji we have for 悪魔 (akuma), meaning devil, and it contains the kanji for demon (鬼 oni). 悪 (aku, or warui) means "bad" and the 魔 has a "devilish" connotation when standing alone. In some research of my own, I've turned up 魔 as the expression "the devil got into X" where X is usually a person (or perhaps annoying animal), and 魔 meaning "addicted" in the sense that one has a certain obsessive-compulsive disposition towards some activity. The term audiophile might be rendered in kanji as 音楽興味魔 (although this is NOT the dictionary term for it). In my hypothetical example, 魔 gives the word the sense of "freakishness" on the part of the music fan.

性 (shou, or sei) is the kanji for sex and gender. This kanji appears in words like 性別 (seibetsu) which is the word "gender" that appears on application forms et. al. Imagine having a document with a box for male and female and you have to check one of them. Above those boxes is "gender" in English and "性別" in Japanese. I have another really fun post about a word using 性, but I'm saving it for another day.

The kana の makes the preceeding noun into a possessive form - the 's of something (Bob + の = Bob's).

After that we have the kanji for female: 女 (onna)

You might assume that 魔性の女 would therefore mean "A devilish gender of woman" or something like that - and it does kind of mean that in a way - but the way the young generation see it is something more akin to "a woman being devilish towards gender" and we assume that the gender is male, so we get a kind of female devilry towards men which comes across as "golddigger."

Now the best part of this whole blog - and this is a rather obscure place to type it out but it needs be said nonetheless - is that I can certify my translations in real time by asking no less than 100 students per day whom I teach.

I've said that I'm not a professional in the past, and I have to keep stressing the point because a person reading this blog assuming I've taken 6 years of PhD level courses in Japanese literature will be let down to learn this isn't the case, AND there is no greater authority for slang terminology than the youth of any nation who make it up. PhDs - from long experience with many - are unfortunately cut off from this target group because they spend so much time indoors reading books preparing for classes. That kind of work ethic only lends itself to pleasing other stuffy academic-types, and I vowed even with my eyes on a PhD that I would never become such a person.

My point is that my translations have a kind of intrinsic authority from the creators - the kids - while very learned (learn ED - Shakespeare pronunciation) sites like WWWJDIC can give all kinds of references to kanji stroke order and meaning and history and blah blah blah - but they can never get into the dirty terminology that hasn't been sanctified by the academic institutions who write the checks.

So don't cite these translations for a college paper - I write about language that comes out after four or five "big boy" Asahi beers on a Friday night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Slang Expression: 寝起き(neoki)

Today's slang expression comes from my 6-month-old Japanese nephew. He didn't say it personally, but because of his frequent naps, I was fortunate enough to learn it.

I suppose I should point out that kanji makes the Japanese world go round. Some have argued that kanji should be scrapped and katakana with it - Japanese should use hiragana or the roman alphabet only. I was one such person when I was first starting out in my kanji studies. I found some friends at my international university who tended to agree with me (they were Japanese students - not language students, actual Japanese).

Years later I'm compelled to smack myself in the head for being so naive. Kanji clears up the meaning of ANY PHRASE you will ever come across in conversation. One reason this language can be simplified so easily is because of kanji. Without it - no one would understand what anyone else was saying - ever.

So today's slang expression is 寝起き(neoki). Literally it means "sleep wake" as the kanji are 寝る (neru) "to sleep" and 起きる(okiru) "to wake up." However the expression means more like "just woke up" as you would say in the morning to your parents or your roommate. If you were sleeping and the phone woke you, you would have that sluggish voice and say "I just woke up" or "I was asleep (but you woke me up you B@#So today's slang expression is 寝起き(neoki). Literally it means "sleep wake" as the kanji are 寝る (neru) "to sleep" and 起きる(okiru) "to wake up." However the expression means more like "just woke up" as you would say in the morning to your parents or your roommate. If you were sleeping and the phone woke you, you would have that sluggish voice and say "I just woke up" or "I was asleep (but you woke me up you B@#So today's slang expression is 寝起き(neoki). Literally it means "sleep wake" as the kanji are 寝る (neru) "to sleep" and 起きる(okiru) "to wake up." However the expression means more like "just woke up" as you would say in the morning to your parents or your roommate. If you were sleeping and the phone woke you, you would have that sluggish voice and say "I just woke up" or "I was asleep (but you woke me up you B@#So today's slang expression is 寝起き(neoki). Literally it means "sleep wake" as the kanji are 寝る (neru) "to sleep" and 起きる(okiru) "to wake up." However the expression means more like "just woke up" as you would say in the morning to your parents or your roommate. If you were sleeping and the phone woke you, you would have that sluggish voice and say "I just woke up" or "I was asleep (but you woke me up you B@#$&*&*&)." That's the proper use of 寝起き.

My 6-month-old nephew arrived at my house for a visit today in a very "hey what's going on?!" kinda way. He hadn't fully found his bearings after an afternoon nap. I commented that he was kind of low-tension (another frequently encountered Japanese expression I find very strange as we don't use it so much in English), and his mom said "寝起き"

So there you have it! Try to use 寝起き the next time someone barges in on an afternoon nap!

Slang Expression: 智恵遅 (chieoku)

Now today's slang expression may offend. In fact, I guarantee saying this to a Japanese person will offend them. Why would I write about something like that? Well I believe in full-disclosure. As some English-speaking people choose not to use expletives but still understand them when heard, so too, I feel, it's important to understand things you might hear in Japanese even if you would not use such words yourself.

智恵遅 (chieoku) literally means "retarded," as in someone with a mental handicap. Japanese people (young people) use this word in much the same way that American school kids use it to tease others.

You can say "智恵遅のか?" (chieoku no ka?) if you want to say "are you retarded?" in a very demeaning way. I don't recommend it - but should you find yourself around a particularly rambuncious lot of 18-year-old boys on the sports pitch, you might hear something like this. In such a case, I think it's important you understand what is being said.

A larger point comes out with this post. Japanese people are fond of using contractions. Just like English-speakers don't like to say "don't you want to" when "doncha wanna" will suffice, Japanese people don't like to say things in the "book-standard" way.

I feel this point borders on "no duh" as a little sister of mine would say.

However - let me point out that the textbook phrase here is 智恵が遅い (chie ga osoi) which literally translates as "wisdom is slow" from which we get "retarded" or the more politically correct "mentally handicapped."

So use it or don't use it as you see fit. Just another lesson you won't find in 99% of Japanese language books, classes, lessons, etc.

Monday, December 05, 2005


So today in one of my classes, a student says, "先生、あなたはしんどい"

I had never heard the word before (well, ok, maybe I have but I can't recall), so I immediately looked it up in my handy electronic dictionary. I highly recommend buying your own 電子辞書 (denshi jisho).

However, the word しんどい will very likely not appear in any modern electronic dictionary.

しんどい does appear in Jim Breen's online dictionary though.

Asking a reliable Japanese source, I learned that しんどい most closely means きつい (kitsui).

Now, though the dictionary definition linked above sounds as though the adjective can be used to describe a situation, location, or perhaps a feeling, the word きつい is primarily used to mean "tiresome" or "troublesome" as in:

授業がきついだねぇ~ (jyugyou ga kitsui da ne~)
"Class is tough...*unspoken sigh*"

However, I'm told that しんどい is "おばあちゃんの言葉" (obaachan no kotoba = grandmother language i.e. "A word my grandma would use"), so be careful if you're going to use the word - make sure you use it around people who would understand it's heritage as well as appreciate it in the sense that you're making fun of the word even while using it seriously.

I suppose by comparison, you could think of しんどい as being as culturally appropriate in 2005 as "swell" would be (for those less inclined to pick up on sarcasm, I'm laying it on rather heavily at the moment).

The new word of the day then should be "しんどい." Make sure to use it in your next class or when you see a Japanese friend next. I lament I cannot provide sound bites for pronunciation purposes, but if you manage to get the exasperated sigh going, you'll nail the spirit of the word perfectly and hopefully get a laugh.

Laughter is what life is all about anyway - if you don't mind a rare philosophical plug ^_^

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

ていうか (teiuka)

This is a great phrase to learn even if you can't say anything else at all in Japanese. I absolutely love the phrase, and I wonder why my Japanese teacher at Uni never thought to include it in a lesson.

Maybe because it's not Mombusho Japanese (all-Japanese site - consider yourself warned).

ていうか can be translated in a lot of different ways. It's a slang expression for all practical purposes, and, like English slang, is fluid and easy to slip into conversation.

Some possible meanings are:

"you know..."

When I hear the phrase on Japanese television, it feels like "you know..." most of the time. Sometimes "you know..." doesn't work in my head in English, so I think of ていうか as "like..."

A few simple examples are:

ていうか、お風呂に入りたいですけど (teiuka, ofuro ni hairitai desu kedo)
You know, I'd like to hop in the shower but [something is stopping me - probably the person being spoken to]

ね、ね、これ何?(ne, ne, kore nani?)
ていうか、それは。。。え~っと。。。分からん(teiuka, sore ha... e~tto... wakaran)
Hey, hey, what's this?
Like, it's like... umm... I dunno.

ていうか、マックの代わりにモスバーガーに行こうか(teiuka, makku no kawari ni mosu ba-ga- ni ikou ka)
Actually, let's go to Mos Burger instead of McDonald's.

You can see quickly that ていうか is used to introduce a thought or what I like to think of as stalling for time.

The Japanese are famous for this. Go anywhere, meet anyone, and within the first 5 minutes you will hear a "stalling" expression like: え~っと、あのね、あのぉ、さあ、and of course ていうか.

I should point out that ていうか usually flows with whatever follows it - that is to say, it is NOT used in the same way that English speakers use "ummm" to stall for time when collecting thoughts or when lost for words.

So, if you're just starting out with Japanese, try to insert ていうか into your next conversation lesson and maybe score some brownie points with the teacher -- excuse me, 先生.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Viewing Japanese TV Programs

So I finished my last post and wanted to research Japanese television programs online.

Here's some of the stuff I've found: -- streamed Japanese television stations. -- Satellite Feeds for those in New Zealand! -- Satellite company offering free feeds from various companies and pay-per-view feeds from others. Japan's NHK! -- Free To Air Satellite Channels from Japan! -- Japanese Company's homepage for Satellite feed.

Dish Network -- not a lot going on from Dish Network...

Direct TV -- doesn't even offer a Japanese channel in it's South Asian package

Online TV Player -- could this be for real? Don't take my word for it - looks promising though.

A Note about Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji

When I was thinking of what to write for my next post, I settled on the phrase "ていうか" which will be discussed in more detail later.

What I realized is missing from a lot of student's knowledge base is a basic explanation of why and when Japanese people use Hiragana over Katakana and vice versa, and why sometimes obvious, even easy kanji (if such a thing can be said without accusations of clinical insanity thrown in one's face) are not used when they could be used.

The best example of this in my opinion is Japanese television. Anyone who has been made to sit through one of these programs will appreciate my next statement:

The Japanese have a quirky love of subtitles.

With the exception of Japanese Drama's (like "Last Christmas" of 2004, and "電車男" [densha otoko, Train Boy] of early 2005), I'm prepared to state that all Japanese television programs employ Japanese "subtitles" of a sort throughout the show.

It's kind of unfair to call these "subtitles" because in the strictest sense of the term they don't follow a uniform font, size, or color, and they certainly don't appear in locations that do not conflict with the action.

A Japanese pop star will be on some kind of "talk show," for lack of a better term, and she will say something in her local dialect, something humorous, or something out of character, and as the show is pre-recorded, the AV people will print out exactly what she says in various fonts (even as far as changing the font within a sentence goes) in order to emphasize her words. Sometimes the text is animated.

And the quirkiest thing of all is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to why they choose Hiragana, Katakana, or Kanji for their "subtitles."

Now ok the explanation might leave you going "huh?" if you've never seen one of these shows. So let me give you a brief example:

The Show's Host will say something to which the star replies in shock or awe. By far the most common expression of being impressed with something is "すごい (sugoi)" which can be translated as one of a thousand different English expressions. For the purposes of simplicity let's go with "wow" as one possible meaning.

But in Japanese, the word すごい can be changed based on location, demographic, or generation. That's my over-complicated way of saying language takes on a personal twist. Easy example in English is that not everyone says "wow" when something appropriate for that response happens. Some people say "whoa!" or "neat!" or "goodness!" (if we want to go back in time a bit). A professor, which I am not, could argue that "whoa" is an evolution of "wow" but I would only smile and nod to appease him. I personally think they are two distinct words which may be related, but are in no way a mutation one of the other.

However in Japanese, the term すごい doesn't get dismantled and reassembled with new kana like "whoa" gets the 'a' and 'h' and drops a 'w' making it a cousin to "wow."

No no - in Japanese, the word literally morphs in a way based on, well, where you grew up. There are also some gender issues, but that doesn't appear so much in English, and is at best a thing you "have to accept" when learning a European language with gender roots (like "el" and "la" in Spanish - never really could grip it myself - just had to bite the bullet and go "ok sure").

So back to my original point - the word すごい can change to be すげぇ (sugee) - yes that is a little え on purpose if you haven't seen something like it before. Now most Japanese people will tell you that this word makes you sound like a boy (if you are a boy I don't suppose that it's a problem), but let's assume this pop star on the TV show says すげぇぇぇぇ because, most likely, it's something she heard a lot growing up from her siblings (brothers) or it is a popular (read: common) expression where she grew up. Or maybe she's just trying to be cheeky on purpose. Who knows.

The point is that they AV people will print すげぇぇぇぇ on the TV right over her head in some kind of strange orange and black flaming font that adds an ぇ for as long as she holds the sound. But here's the kicker - most Japanese people will tell you that a word like すごい is written in Hiragana. Indeed, you will not find it on your JLPT or other test written in Katakana (at least I hope you haven't because I would be a liar then). However - on the TV show, you can see the word in Katakana! Then it would be スゲェェェェ instead.


I have no clue. I've asked and received laureat-worthy answers from academic and drunken salaryman alike, but honestly, I don't believe there really is a reason. It's one of those feeling situations that a very very long time living in Japan will breed inside a person. This stuff goes beyond classroom learning and into that special area of linguistics that I don't know the name for. I call it "touchy feely lingo," but I'm sure someone much more in the know has coined a far more complicated and less understandable term.

The popular response is that katakana adds emphasis over hiragana, but even that theme doesn't hold across all television shows, nor situations which can be paralelled with the example I've given above. It seems like AV people at studios just do it on a whim.

Of course kanji is used extensively to print what people are saying. And the only evidence I can find to support why the AV staff working on a television show needs to do this is:

  1. It's culture. They've been doing this for years and years (hmm - might be interesting to research that actually - note to self) and it just sticks. Fair enough.
  2. Japanese people are terrible at speaking Japanese. They really are bad! Someone living here 10 years or more who has traveled to remote areas of Japan would swear in court that Japanese skills among Japanese people are very very poor. They need these subtitles at times just to understand the various dialects of these pop stars and other personalities who appear on TV.
Quirky. Funny. Something probably interesting only to people currently living in Japan or those receiving Japanese satellite feeds in other countries. Imagine if a show like the old Jerry Springer stuff had the English printed on the screen every time a guest became a bit passionate, shall we say? What would they do in the spots with the expletives? Smiley faces?

Imagine that - that's how strange it can be at times.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Let's Talk About 羅

I was prodded in the direction to make my blog more about the things I find interesting. I suppose that was always the original intent of this blog, but as of this moment I'm taking a renewed interest in writing in my own "voice" so to speak, rather than trying to appease the ghost of many a lit professor of the past looking over my shoulder and constantly grading for sense and sensibility. Here we go.

You might notice in the navigation bar to the left that my name is listed as 帝羅. I can promise you, whether you are Japanese or Chinese, you probably cannot read this kanji as I intend it to be read the first time.

I don't particularly want to discuss the first kanji, because it's very easy. It is the kanji used for Emperor in the Japanese sense. Soothill's Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (login with the UserID "guest" for full access) can be quickly consulted to show the meaning of 帝 and it's list of pronunciations. If you're not of the mental persuasion to visit such a site at this time, I can tell you for naught that there are ten listed pronunciations two of which - だい (dai) and たい (tai) - are used in Japanese.

So - 帝 means Emperor - sorted.

羅 on the other hand is a very mixed bag. Keeping in mind that I'm not a professional please accept my explanation on faith alone that, yes, I was told these things about this kanji when I first chose it as one of the characters to represent my name. Opps - that was a bit of private information thrown in there accidentally.

Of course I consulted a few online sites for help with understanding the history of this kanji. First I found Kiki's Kanji Dictionary which returned the results as:

gauze, thin silk, Rome

This kanji has 19 strokes: 6 in the "net crown" radical (あみがしら) and 13 other strokes. (I copied the stroke count information just for those wishing the full range of mental anguish per new kanji).

Look at that, the kanji 羅 can mean gauze and Rome (depending on context!).

This is where kanji always does my head in. It's fine if the kanji is used to mean gauze or thin silk because it does, in deed, have the kanji for thread (糸 いと) right inside it! Hint: You can use the Edict Kanji Dictionary to verify that if you'd like. Just type in いと (ito) in the search engine and use your browser's Search or Find On Page function to seek out the text "thread" quickly. When you find 糸 on it's own you can come back and say "ok now I believe you."

But "Rome"? How does a kanji get to share the meaning for one of the greatest civilizations ever with the rather drab word "thread"?

I didn't buy it either - so I moved on in my search to:

category: 常用漢字
nb of strokes: 19
translation: net, put in a row (conf.)

あみ: net
つら.ねる: put in a row
うすもの: light stuff

Which comes from the English-Japanese Dictionary of Kanji Character #136.

So "net" can be made of something like "thread" and I can go with it linking the meanings "gauze" and "thin silk" because we're discovering a kind of clothy theme with this kanji. I still don't buy "Rome."

So I continued in my search towards a point that I felt was more accurate. Here is where my personal story enters.

This kanji was chosen for me by some of my favorite students. They chose it because it is "cool." Which doesn't mean something is "cool" at all by traditional definitions. However, I confirmed with independent sources that 羅 is cool because a lot of YAKUZA MEMBERS like to use this kanji for their nicknames.

Perhaps the beloved students I thought were looking out for me were trying to get me into trouble with the Japanese mafia?

Anyway - I liked the look of it, and it was a far sight better than alternative kanji with the same reading like 平 (たいら taira "flat, smooth surface" /yawn /cough /lame), so I stuck with it. One of my professor friends with degrees and awards and other pieces of paper besides relating to Chinese Poetry and Buddhism told me that 羅 was the kanji used representing one of the Buddhist "realms" of reality outside our own. This 羅 represents the Realm of the Titans where there are, presumably of course, some rather large beings of titanic size doing rather large things with themselves. I immediately imagined Cyclops from Roman tales (Greek?) and "got" the connection with Rome. It's also far more cool to us 羅 just for the sound effect. 羅 should be said "ra~" with a kind of trail one uses when opening one's mouth to let a doctor look at the back of the throat. Better than "net" anyway.

Still I am not satisfied with this explanation. My electronic dictionary also confirms that 羅 can be used as a noun for "net" or as a verb for "put things in a straight line" which I suppose is what a net is like when it's constructed. I am not a maker of nets, nor do I plan to try anytime in the forseeable future (read: never).

I turned up at a site by Soothill and Hodous which gave me this interesting defintion that I've linked and copied for you:

多羅 tārā, in the sense of starry, or scintillation; Tāla, for the fan-palm; Tara, from 'to pass over', a ferry, etc. Tārā, starry, piercing, the eye, the pupil; the last two are both Sanskrit and Chinese definitions; it is a term applied to certain female deities and has been adopted especially by Tibetan Buddhism for certain devīs of the Tantric school. The origin of the term is also ascribed to tar meaning 'to cross', i. e. she who aids to cross the sea of mortality. Getty, 19-27. The Chinese derivation is the eye; the tara devīs; either as śakti or independent, are little known outside Lamaism. Tāla is the palmyra, or fan-palm, whose leaves are used for writing and known as 具多 Pei-to, pattra. The tree is described as 70 or 80 feet high, with fruit like yellow rice-seeds; the borassus eabelliformis; a measure of 70 feet. Taras, from to cross over, also means a ferry, and a bank, or the other shore. Also 呾囉.

Now the first kanji listed there is "た (ta)" and means
【多い】 [おおい] (adj) many/numerous/(P) by itself. So you'll immediately think "right, a large number of nets." But instead, almost cruelly, you get the meaning "in the sense of starry" which may refer to the skies where these other realms of Buddhism are thought to exist. So perhaps we have a connection to the Realm of the Titans meaning by virtue of "a lot of RA" being starry or scintillating. I remain unconvinced.

I wanted a definition of just this one kanji, so I refined my search and came up with:

A net (for catching birds), gauze, open work; sieve; to arrange in order; translit. la and ra南羅 S. Lāra; Lāḍa; Lāṭa, in Gujarāt; 北羅 N. Lāra, Valabhī, on the western coast of Gujarāt. sounds, e.g.

Now we're back to the gauze meaning. Although we have gained "sieve" which could be a good thing, time has yet to tell.

The interesting point of all this information is that I was shown a site very soon after I started using this kanji with the listed defintions:

1. Realm of the Titans
2. Penis

I'm not big on making my discussions anything more than PG-13 at worst, so I'll let you re-read it to avoid re-typing. I have been unable to find this definition again through the websites I used today, but I will persevere and find out how "net," "Rome," and "XXXXX" all came to use the same kanji (probably 1 kanji among many for the latter of the three words).

Moral of the story: choose your kanji wisely. Like all elements of language (any language) one definition does not satisfy the range of possibly interpretations (which is like saying "green" is in the eye of the beholder).

Friday, July 22, 2005

The History of Kanji

In trying to decide how best to begin my assault on explaining kanji, I've been searching the internet for information about the history of kanji. I found an interesting website that I would like to share, and while I will continue to read it and round-out my own understanding of this system of writing, I invite others to check it out and do the same.

The Kanji History

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Your First Encounter with Katakana

Keeping in mind that I'm only sharing methods that worked for me, let's take a look at Katakana.

Googling for "katakana" instantly turns up more results that you could ever need. The same 47 important characters in Hiragana have their Katakana counterparts. The image section on google alone turned up 6,500 images for "katakana." You should be pretty well off with one of those charts (^_^).

Of course, using flashcards like the one over at is helpful when beginning to drill for katakana.

In fact, I have basically the same advice for learning katakana as I had for learning hiragana.

Some of the pitfalls that you want to be careful of when studying katakana are:

サ (sa) - looks a lot like hiragana せ (se) only backwards.

ヌ (nu) and タ (ta) are one stroke short (or long) of each other. The good news is that not too many words are written with katakana "nu" - words like "new" are written ニュ (nyu).

ケ (ke) and ク (ku) can throw you as well, so make sure you have them straight in your head!

No one I know really likes ソ (so) and ノ (no) and ン (n) - you get used to them after awhile. The best advice I can offer is that you'll probably pick up ン the fastest as you'll use it often. Once you get ン clear, it's easy to differetiate the other two.

The other pairing is ツ (tsu) and シ (shi). Again, focus on ツ because you use it frequently for doubling up the following consonant sound like キッチン (kicchin or kitchen). Once you have the one, the other is easy to remember.

It's 47 characters, and I'm sure you can do it in a day or two if you're really focused. Try some writing exercises. I recommend writing practice books like those on