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Kanji for July 27, 2006 - Animal Kanji Series #3 [Jul. 27th, 2006|02:12 pm]
Kanji of the Day


ロウ、 おおかみ

ROU; ookami


Some examples:
餓狼 = garou - hungry wolf
前虎後狼 = zenko-kourou - equivalent to "Out of the frying pan and into the fire" (lit., tiger in front, wolf at the back)
落花狼藉 = rakka-rouzeki - disorder, tumult, running amuck

Not to be confused with:
= RYO; yo(i) - good

狼 is another one of the animal words that you still see written in kanji quite often, whereas most other animal names get relegated to katakana. This doesn't make it incorrect to write オオカミ, but it's good to be able to recognize the kanji as well.

I've included two 四字熟語 yoji-jukugo (four-kanji idioms) up there because I think they're both kind of cool. You might never need to use them, but they're fun to know.

The PS2 video game Ōkami, in which you play as a wolf who is the embodiment of the Shinto goddess Amaterasu (天照), is a play on words: the same reading of the kanji 狼 can also be applied to the kanji set 大神, which can be roughly translated as 'great deity.'
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Allons, enfants de la patrie... [Jul. 15th, 2005|12:18 am]
Kanji of the Day
Yeah, so technically it's not Bastille Day anymore, but in honor of our French friends, here's:


This character can refer either to Buddhism (and the Buddha Sakyamuni himself) or to... France. Obviously, the latter meaning is much more recent, and it comes from the on'yomi of FUTSU, which sounds sort of like the fu in furansu. There are other kanji like this with a bonus country meaning based on phonetics, like 独 (DOKU; "alone/independent") for doitsu (Germany / Deutschland) and 伊 (I, no real intrinsic meaning) for itaria (Italy). These are examples of ateji, a mostly defunct system of writing the names of foreign people, places, and (oddly enough) fruits and vegetables in kanji instead of katakana. It's too late at night for me to go on about ateji, but here's one teaser example: 鳳梨 ("phoenix pear") looks like a perfectly normal compound that should be read with the on'yomi of houri, but its official reading is actually パイナップル (painappuru, "pineapple" in katakana.) There's nothing quite like trying every possible exotic on'yomi reading you can think of to look up an unfamiliar kanji compound, only to realize that you were way off and the answer was actually freakin' "pineapple".

Anyway, you'll usually see 仏 in the Buddhist sense as part of a compound, and it's almost always read BUTSU. (The BUTSU and FUTSU readings themselves are approximations of the sound of the word "Buddha"; the original Chinese character predates Buddhism.) There's a famous huge Buddha statue in Nara called the daibutsu (大仏, "big Buddha"). Buddhism itself is 仏教 (bukkyou, "Buddha teachings"). Less commonly, 仏 stands alone with its kun'yomi of hotoke, and it can mean a Buddha or a kind-hearted and gentle Buddha-like person. France is written as 仏 only in formal-sounding compounds; if you want to talk about France in general, say furansu and write it in katakana, but if you want to talk about a French-German-Italian-Japanese Pineapple Treaty, say 仏独伊日鳳梨盟約 (futsu-doku-i-nichi-painappuru-meiyaku). And don't actually write pineapple with the defunct ateji unless you want people to think you're a huge dork (which is probably not a concern if you're already writing about fictional multinational pineapple treaties.) Got that?

In summary, the meaning of France associated with this character is a phonetic approximation based on a previous phonetic approximation that has nothing to do with the meaning of the original Chinese character, and the Japanese character is even written differently from the Chinese one. Mon dieu!

Bonus four-character compound, lest you thought I was going to post something without demons or devils in it: 鬼面仏心 (kimenbusshin), which literally means "devil face, Buddha heart" and refers to someone who looks fierce but is really a good-natured softy. Note that the butsu contracts to bus- before the shin sound.
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Kanji for July 14, 2005 - Animal Kanji Series #2 [Jul. 14th, 2005|04:02 pm]
Kanji of the Day


コ、 とら

KO; tora


Some examples:
虎穴 = koketsu - tiger's den
虎猫 = toraneko - tabby cat
虎毛 = torage - tiger-striped fur (or hair)

Not to be confused with:
= RYO; omonbaka(ru) - to consider

This is a popular character for white guys who like to get Chinese tattoos. It's also one of the animal kanji that you probably want to be able to recognize. It isn't one of the jōyō kanji, but it comes up often enough that it's a good one to know.

An interesting point of note is that the Eastern Zodiac sign, Tiger, is written as 寅; the kun'yomi for this character is tora as well, but the on'yomi is IN.
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Kanji for June 14, 2005 - Animal Kanji Series #1 [Jun. 14th, 2005|04:11 pm]
Kanji of the Day


コ、 きつね

KO; kitsune


Some examples:
狐憑き = kitsune-tsuki - fox (spirit) possession
狐の嫁入り = kitsune no yomeiri - sunshower (lit. fox's wedding)
狐疑逡巡 = kogishunjun - hesitation and indecision

Not to be confused with:
= KO; hito(ri) - alone
= SO; nera(u) - to aim

A great many animal kanji are not on the jōyō kanji (everyday use) list, but they can be fun and useful to know. Very common animals, like 'dog' and 'cat' and 'fish' are on there, but even something as non-exotic as a fox becomes one of those kanji that you need to track down on your own.

I'm not sure where this kanji comes from. The two parts are kemono-hen (the 'dog' radical on the left), and 瓜, which means melon. I don't think that the 'melon' part if phoenetic, either, because in Chinese the two characters aren't pronounced very similarly (if someone who speaks Chinese could confirm that). However, both 孤 and 狐 are pronounced KO in Japanese, so there may be some link after all. Edit: according to brownkuma, the 'melon' portion is phonetic, based in ancient Chinese pronunciations.

One thing about this kanji that I've noted is that it's really hard to write it and make it look nice. Since this character is in my own (fake) name, I write it quite a bit, and even still, a lot of the time, it comes out looking rather crap. As a result, though, when it's written well, with nice calligraphy, it tends to look quite nice indeed.

There's not much to say about the character itself. As with a lot of animal kanji, the meaning of the character isn't too hard to grasp, and so any compounds will be pretty self-explanatory.
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Kanji for June 9, 2005 - First Person Pronoun Series #4 [Jun. 9th, 2005|09:53 am]
Kanji of the Day


ガ われ わ

GA; ware; wa

I; ego

Some examples:
我々 = wareware - we (nation/group/etc.)
我慢 = gaman - patience, perseverence
我意 = gai - self-will, obstinacy
我家 = wagaya - my/our home (family)
我社 = wagasha - my/our firm (company)

Not to be confused with:
= SEI; na(ru) - become
= BU; MU - martial

Ware is a very old-fashioned way of saying 'I' that is still used today under certain contexts. It's not something that you'd use as your everyday pronoun, but rather, something that certain occasions call for. Exactly when to use it is hard to explain; suffice it to say that it's easier to pick up from context, and something that students of Japanese likely won't have to worry about using themselves.

One of the most recognizable uses is in the form wareware, listed above for 'we.' This is used in the sense of sentences like, "We (the people of this country) must stand against terrorism" and such. You couldn't use a simple 'we' like watashi-tachi in this sense, because that refers to a more immediate, exclusive use of 'we' like we'd say in English. If you were having a discussion about politics over dinner, and used watashi-tachi in the sentence above, you'd be saying, "We (folks here) must stand against terrorism."

If you know much about modern Japanese literature, you may have heard of Natsume Soseki's 「我輩は猫である」 Wagahai wa neko de aru ("I am a Cat"). The wagahai here is an archaic use of first-persoun pronoun that carries a bit of an arrogant nuance to it (in some translations, the title is translated as "We are a Cat," immitating the Royal We).
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Kanji for 7 June, 2005 - First Person Pronoun Series #3 [Jun. 7th, 2005|11:36 pm]
Kanji of the Day


エン おれ

EN; ore

I (masculine)

Some examples:
俺様 = ore-sama - I (arrogant)

Not to be confused with:
= ROU; taki - waterfall

Ore is a very common masculine first-person pronoun. It is strictly informal, however, and it's considered very rude and improper to use in something like a business setting or the like (and sometimes, even in public or in mixed company). It makes a person sound manlier and tougher than boku, which retains more formality and boyishness. Essentially, this is a word that is only to be used when among friends or are otherwise in a casual environment (which, in Japan, is not always equatable with the Western world).

Ore-sama, noted above, is a highly pompous form of self-address, made by adding the honorific suffix -sama, which is typically used as an extremely polite form of addressing someone else. Calling oneself ore-sama tells the other person that you think that you're all that and a bag of chips, that you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that you're the cock of the walk. What is all boils down to is: never actually say this.

Non-native speakers of Japanese will probably never actually have to use ore for themselves, with the possible exceptions of ex-pats and the like. You'll hear it used quite a lot, though, so you still need to know what it means.

Also, I should point out that while dictionaries list EN as the on'yomi for this kanji, I've never actually come across any words where the on'yomi was used. I actually specifically went and looked some up for the purposes of this entry, and didn't find any. Suffice it to say that not remembering the on'yomi for this kanji won't land you in Kanji Prison.
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Kanji for June 6, 2005 - First Person Pronoun Series #2 [Jun. 6th, 2005|09:42 am]
Kanji of the Day


ボク しもべ

BOKU; shimobe

I (masculine); manservant

Some examples:
家僕 = kaboku - houseboy
忠僕 = chuuboku - faithful servant
(also 下部) = shimobe - manservant

Not to be confused with:
= BOKU - to strike
= GYOU - business

Boku is a semi-formal first-person pronoun that's typically used by males. For the most part, it's used by younger boys before they grow up and get all manly, at which point they usually switch over to ore (tomorrow's kanji). Girls also use this, on rare occasion, if they want to seem tomboyish. However, it's also used by men in situations where watashi would feel too formal and stuffy (and where ore would be too crass). This tends to be the pronoun I use for myself in about 98% of situations (perhaps I just don't feel overly manly).

In reality, this pronoun isn't used all that commonly, appearing in manga and anime far more often than it does in real life (just another point of note for people to not take Japanese entertainment as gospel). Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't use it, and if you're a foreigner, it could actually improve your image (not using watashi might suggest that you don't just parrot your Japanese out of a dictionary). If you can speak the language at at least an intermediate or proficient level, and you think you have a good grasp of politeness levels inherent in Japanese speech and social situations, you can probably safely use this to refer to yourself (although again, beginners are strongly advised to just stick with watashi).

Another interesting note is that, despite the masculine (or at least boyish) tone of boku, it is actually used very frequently in songs sung by female Japanese vocalists; it's actually used more often than watashi and atashi, which are the most typical female pronouns (crack open your Hamasaki Ayumi and Yaida Hitomi CDs and give a listen).

As you can see from the compounds above, the original meaning of this kanji was 'manservant,' and is still used in some compounds today (I believe that this is the Chinese usage of the character, but if someone could confirm/deny that, that would be helpful). There's sort of a trend in Japanese language in culture to always find some new way to berate oneself in the name of propriety, and so a term like 'humble servant' was seen as a natural choice for a self-referential namesake (for you Japanese history buffs, boku entered common use as a first-person pronoun during the Bakumatsu).
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Kanji for June 2, 2005 - First Person Pronoun Series #1 [Jun. 2nd, 2005|01:16 pm]
Kanji of the Day


シ わたくし わたし*

SHI; watakushi; watashi*

private, I

Some examples:
私立 = shiritsu - private (as in the opposite of 'public')
私学 = shigaku - private college/university (short for 私立学校)
私事 = shiji/watakushigoto - personal affairs

Not to be confused with:
= RI, ki(ku) - advantage, benefit
= WA - peace, harmony; Japan

If you've studied Chinese, you're probably used to 我 being used for "I." There are many, many, many, many different first-person pronouns in Japanese. I'll be going over the most common ones over the next few entries (so please don't try to overload people with different pronoun choices in the comments!), and so I figured I'd start with the big and the basic: watashi.

Any beginning Japanese textbook will list watashi for "I," with the exception of some older books which might list it as watakushi. The latter is the 'official' kun-yomi of the character, though this pronunciation is largely outdated, and rarely used in common speech today outside of some compounds (like watakushigoto above) or if you're trying to be exceedingly formal.

For the most part, watashi is somewhat formal-sounding, but not overly stiff. It's used more by women than by men, but if you're a traveling gaijin in Japan, you don't need to feel gender conscious about using it. Beginners of the language are strongly advised to stick with watashi for their first-person pronoun, regardless of gender, and especially regardless of what they may have leared of other common pronouns through anime and the like.
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Fun Kanji to Know [May. 27th, 2005|09:49 am]
Kanji of the Day


ゆうわく yuuwaku


I like this word as an example of how two kanji come together to form a word that's something like the sum of their parts. It's also a fun word to know and use in context (whichever context you'd like that to be). First, let's take these kanji individually:

ユウ; さそ.う; いざな.う
YUU; saso(u); izana(u)

This character means to invite, and also by extention, to entice. As a verb you can use it in sentences such as:
Kiyoshi wa Kimiko wo paati ni sasoimashita.
Kiyoshi invited Kimiko to the party.

ワク; まど.う
WAKU; mado(u)

This chacter means perplexing or beguiling. And example using this as a verb in a sentence could be:
Hajimete sain'in shita toki wa, shoshinsha ga kekkou madotte imashita.
The first time he logged in, the newbie was quite at a loss.

Combining these two characters gives us 誘惑, or temptation. As explained above, this can refer to multiple types of temptation, just as it can in English. Feel free to be as creative as you like with it, really. It's not like Americans have the market cornerned on innuendo and thinly-veiled word usage.

Here are some good examples as how the word can be used.

Boku wa keeki nado no amai mono no yuuwaku ni yowai.
I'm unable to resist the temptation of sweet things likes cake.

Gakusei wa obasan no yuuwaki ni maketa n'da.
The student succumbed to the older woman's temptations.

Congratulations! You are now one word richer in your Japanese vocabulary (and perhaps one step closer to writing your first bilingual trashy romance novel).
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Kanji for May 23, 2005 [May. 23rd, 2005|05:38 pm]
Kanji of the Day

Here is today's Kanji:

(EN / maru(i))
English definition - yen, round

Stroke order
Information courtesy of The Kanji Site.

Some examples:
円い = marui - circular
= en - the yen
30円 = sanjuuen - thirty yen

Today's kanji means circular or money. From what I know, "maru" means circle, which is exactly what you call the mark you place next to the "ha, hi, fu, he, ho" letters to change them to "pa, pi, pu, pe, po." Also, I'm not sure if the information is correct here about the meaning of the kanji when referring to monetary value. Is it "en" or "yen?" A kanji book I have at home lists it as "yen" and not "en" while The Kanji Site lists it the other way around. Any proficients care to elaborate?
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