Thursday, February 12, 2009

For Every Grain of Rice You Waste, a Farmer Sheds a Tear

I just read an excellent Japanese-instructional post about もったいない and 申し訳ない. The author then relates what her parents used to say when she would be wasteful (もったいない) and not finish her rice. They would say


That is, they would apologize very politely to the farmer (who had worked so hard to harvest those grains).

This reminded me that, while in Japan, a fellow expat gaijin told me the adage that is the title of this blogpost. Thus, I try never to spill rice when I'm pouring it, and I always try to finish every grain.

(... even though I have no idea if this is an actual saying or not.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Setsubun Setsumei

Today (February 3) was Setsubun in Japan, so we talked about it in class. For a complete description, You'll have to check out the wiki, but here are the parts I like:

  • Setsubun: 節分

    The first kanji is the same "setsu" as in "kisetsu," 季節, which means season.

    The second kanji is 分, which can mean portion, part, or, in this case, division.

    The reasoning goes that this day, in the old lunar Japanese calendar, was the day before the first day of spring. Since the seasons go 春夏秋冬, there is a division between winter and spring. Thus, "season division," 節分".

  • Mamemaki: 豆撒き

    Mamemaki is the scattering (撒き) of beans (豆) that is the funnest tradition ever. As part of the renewal that Spring brings, the idea is "out with the bad (demons), in with the good (luck)." People throw (投げる) soybeans (大豆) outside their doors to drive the bad spirits away, while chanting:

    鬼は外! 福は内!  

    Usually, the only people who throw stuff, at least at the temple celebrations, are the ones who were born in the same year as the new year. That is, if they were born 12 years ago in the year of the 牛, they can throw beans this year.

  • While beans purify the place of demons, they are also eaten, symbolizing taking in good luck. You are supposed to eat roasted soybeans (炒り豆), one for every year you are old, and, in some family traditions, it's your age plus one. The "plus one" might be for the nine months you were in the womb, or it might be for the coming year.
For some videos of Setsubun's events this year, check out this blogpost from Nihongo Notes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kanji Explosion

All right, I couldn't keep up with the four-hours-a-day plan during the break. And my lack of kanji is hurting me hard in my classes.

Which means: lots of content to put up here!

I will be updating as much as I can to keep a record of the kanji compounds and words I'm having trouble with. I'm not sure how good it will be for others to follow along with, though. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome.

New vocabulary to come soon...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Words I Learned Today

奇遇 だ ね - "what a coincidence"

人種差別 - racial discrimination

What Day Is It Today?

I didn't expect to be able to study Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I also didn't expect to get laid up with a sinus infection. The 26th, I could not think, let alone study. I'm a bit dazed, but I was at least able to eke out a little studying time today.

I studied for an hour and a half, reading a random blog entry and doing Anki (flashcards), and then chatting online with a Japanese friend (in romaji). I also spent 2 hours at least watching an anime (Rurouni Kenshin) and then started watching Kagemusha.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Studying Pays Off

I just posted about learning 無視する, and look what I found an hour later: a wacky-Japanese-TV clip about a cat that uses 無視! (You don't have to watch the whole thing; it happens pretty early.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

1st Day: 3 Hours

I studied approx. 3 hours today, copying out sentences, doing a Japanesepod101 lesson, and plugging new and old words into Anki and doing the flashcards.

New words/expressions:

いい気味 - literally, "good feeling," but it's what you say to yourself when someone you don't like gets what was coming to them. Kind of a smug "that's right."

無視する - to ignore

JLPT Failure & Starting Over

Well, my 4-month vacation from studying really took its toll. I was unable to complete any of the sections on the 2級. Out of the questions I answered, I had a good feeling about 20% of them. There is no doubt that I failed.

It's okay. I didn't expect to pass. I did, however, expect to at least finish the sections by guessing. My reading speed was so slow that I could not even do that.

So it's time to start again. I'm taking two Japanese classes in the spring semester at the University of Maryland. They're pretty high-level, so I'm implementing a study regimen starting now. I will document my progress here on this blog (mainly because nobody who reads my other blogs will be that interested). My goal is to do four hours of studying every day until the spring semester starts.

So far today, I've done one hour of review. It's a bit depressing. I'm going through my old JLPT 3級 book and copying out sentences, to get back in the habit of writing kanji. I don't remember how to write nearly as many kanji as I can now read. This is a major block to my fluency.

I'm thinking I will do as the Japanese kids do: copy out kanji ad nauseum. Maybe that can be half an hour every day.

I will also start using again, going through their lessons one by one. They've added a lot more features recently. Video kanji drills, dialogue-only clips, kanji focus, etc. Going to do that now.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

16 Weeks

For about 3 months, I've been moderately lazy. I've broken the cardinal rule: DON'T STOP STUDYING, even for Christmas, even for family, even for your job. I told myself I would study a little bit each day. I didn't. I'm sorry, self. I let me down.

I forgive me.

There are 16 weeks left until the first week of December, which is when I'll be taking the JLPT 2 test. 16 weeks to learn all the kanji, the vocab, and the grammar.

I feel a little better about it, this year. I did study a lot, early this year, and it has paid off: I can read faster, listen a bit better, and recognize more kanji. I feel like the fundaments are laid down, and all I have to do is apply myself.

Today I saw a Japanese tutor. She's a teacher I had at a language school. I'll be meeting with her one-on-one once a week until test-time. She'll also answer questions by email. She's assigned me a lot of homework: 9 pages every week in three textbooks, as well as making sentences for each new vocabulary word. Oy. That's a lot of work.

Ah well. Gambarimashou!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Lang-8 Entry, Corrected: Convenies in Trouble!




大変でしょう! 信じられない。 政府はコンビニを夜に閉めたら、もっと環境にやさしくなると思っている、。



Joined the Lang-8 Bandwagon

Lang-8 seems pretty awesome for anybody who wants to practice writing a foreign language. Not only is it a social network that is exclusively geared to international exchange, its journal entries are designed to make correction easy.

Last night, I posted my first Japanese journal entry, and within a couple of hours a random Japanese dude had corrected all of my sentences. A little later, another Japanese person corrected it a little differently. Sweet!

I've corrected a bunch of English entries as well. It's easy. Click on Latest Posts, and you'll see a bunch of journal entries, a snippet of the beginning text, and how many people have already corrected it. Select one, and you can either go in and correct line-by-line or just leave a general comment.

Here's Tofugu with a more detailed video of how to use Lang-8:

Finally, if you do join, please add me to your friends. My username's "knaak".

Friday, May 23, 2008

寄 - APPROACH the Building by Leaning Towards It

Readings & Meanings:



to approach, to drop in, to gather, contribute, to draw up a chair

Common Usage:











I contributed 300 yen to the red-feather fundraising. (red feathers are used in Japan instead of red ribbons. not necessarily AIDS-related.)

In Meguroku is the world's only parasite museum.

"Don't underestimate me just because I'm old!"

I was approached by a smarmy guy in the coffee shop.


ウ-kammuri, the U-crown, 宀, is the radical.

奇 is the phonetic. It's a combination of 可 and 大, showing a person (大) who bends (可). In other words, a lame person. Somehow, this came to mean "strange, wonderous."

In 寄, 奇 lends its meaning of "lean, bend" to the roof up top to show someone leaning toward (and approaching) a building.



規 - MEASURE the Circles, They're As Big As Your Eyes

Readings & Meanings:

rule, regulation, compass

Common Usage:









Within the school grounds please observe the rules.

I was sold a substandard apple at a discount.

The teacher hit me on the head with a ruler for talking in class.


見 is the radical, on the right.

Next to 見 is a pictograph of an arrow-like thing that was used to draw a straight line. A smaller piece of wood was attached to this to form a kind of compass for drawing circles.


機 - A Very Complicated and Sharp MACHINE

Readings & Meanings:


machine, occasion

Common Usage:











"The Crane's Return of a Favor" is a story about a crane who wove out of its own feathers a handmade cloth on a loom.

We saw an old-fashioned weaver's loom in the museum.

I was saved in the nick of time (by a hair's breadth).

We also call vending machines "自販機" for short.


As in 械, the radical is 木, because the first machines were wooden.

幾 is the phonetic. 幺 is here twice on top; as it means "fine thread," this lends the idea of fine, minute, slight. 戈, a halberd, slices toward a 人. This originally meant "almost," as in the 人 was almost divided. It came to mean "how much" or "some."

In 機, this comes together as a wooden machine that has intricate, "minute" parts that come into repeated contact.

Bonus: 機織り機

If you're having trouble picturing a complicated, intricate wooden machine, take a look at this 機織り機 that I saw in Fukuoka.

The 機織り was very friendly and talkative. He told us that he is one of the few remaining traditionalist weavers in Japan. So rare and so time-consuming are the products of his trade (kimono obi, etc.) that nobody can pay for it in his area. They can only be sold in the expensive stores in Tokyo, or by special order.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

喜 - Oh JOY, a Feast!

Readings & Meanings:


joy, happy

Common Usage:







Because I passed my exam, my family were overjoyed.

She, with a gleeful countenance, went to report to the teacher.


口 is the radical, on the bottom, indicating mouth.

The rest is a pictograph showing a serving pot on a stand with a stack of food.

Combine them and you get the idea of a feast, which indicates joy. At least, that's what I feel at a feast.

The sound mimics what the Japanese thought of as the sound of a happy, joyous person, especially in 喜々, KEE-KEE, a high-pitched squeal of joy.

Bonus: 犬は喜び...

I first learned this word in my winter in Japan. It's part of a folk song that everybody knows:

Yuki ya konko arare ya konko.
Futte mo futte mo mada furi yamanu.
Inu wa yorokobi niwa kake-mawari,
neko wa kotatsu de maruku naru.

You can hear how the song goes here:


季 - The SEASON of the Grain Harvest

Readings & Meanings:

season (of the year)

Common Usage:







I received a seasonal letter from my friends.

In Japan, the changing of the four seasons is truly beautiful.


子 is the radical, meaning of course child/offspring.

禾 is on top, meaning grain or rice.

These combine to indicate a time when the children of the grain plants are harvested.


希 - I DESIRE a RARE Embroidered Cloth

Readings & Meanings:

rare, aspire, desire

Common Usage:









He gives hope to the people in the calamity-stricken area.

It's not bad to have thin human relations.



巾, Haba, is our radical, down there on the bottom. It shows a clothwrapped around a head.

The other stuff is just two sets of intersecting lines. These indicate fine stitching, which was rare in those times.


期 - A Square Lunar Calendar Shows TERMS of the Moon

Readings & Meanings:


Common Usage:









My final exam was the top in my class.

I'm getting in touch with other graduates in the same class as me.

The treatment of the patient with the last stages of cancer was successful.


月 is the radical, and here it is definitely derived from the moon kanji.

其 is the phonetic, and it means "that" now but originally was the pictograph of a square device for winnowing grain, plus a desk.

Square/rectangular and moon leads to the idea of a period or cycle, as in the fixed phases of the moon.


記 - Arise and WRITE DOWN Your Dreams in Your Journal

Readings & Meanings:


write down

Common Usage:









My diary was surreptitiously read by him.

I signed the report.

I don't have a clear memory of whether or not I said that.


言, Gon-ben, is the radical.

己 is the phonetic, which is a pictograph of a pattern found on ancient pottery, originally meaning "arise" but came to mean "oneself."

If Kanji Networks is right about the meaning of 己 in 記, then the idea is "words that help raise clues/signs." An alternative idea would be that the words you write down are self-reflective.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

含 - Now, CONTAIN It!

Readings & Meanings:




contain, include, keep in one's mouth

Common Usage:









These pickled vegetables are made with manmade food coloring products.

"Now I understand" he said with a barely-contained giggle.

This food's salt content amount is 10mg.


口, kuchi, mouth, is the radical.

今 is the phonetic. Of course, we know it means "now," but the pictograph is of a cover over some kind of contents, meaning to conceal an object by covering it totally. (The idea of "now" came from the idea of seizing a moment--to catch prey, that is.)

Combined, they show something contained in the mouth, or otherwise contained.