Posts Tagged “kanji”

This one will probably be a little obscure for those of you with no interest in etymology. Or the Japanese language. Or etymology of unusual terms in the Japanese language.

See I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Japanese is a really hard language to learn. F’r instance, there are different counters for all sorts of things. The words for counting bottles, books, large animals, small animals, appliances, cars, people, and pieces of paper are all different, (and there are many more) which brings me to today’s word.

The two kanji there are read “tsuitachi,” which is the word for the first day of the month, and up until now I’ve had a hard time remembering it because it bears no resemblance to any of the other counters I mentioned. In my Japanese lesson this evening, I was fumbling for the word when my Japanese teacher gave me a brief history lesson explaining the root of the word. (It gets a little geeky here…)

The word for “moon” is “tsuki,” and the verb “to stand” is “tachimasu.” (You may already see where I’m going with this.) It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from “tsuki” + “tachi” to “tsuitachi.” Knowing that Japan used to use a lunar calendar will help you draw the logical connection between a “standing moon” and a new month.

If you’re not quite there, it may help to know that the first kanji (朔) by itself means “new moon,” and the second kanji (日) by itself means “day.” Again, “new moon day.”

See, now doesn’t that help? 😛

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SudokuI just learned tonight what sudoku actually means in Japanese. It’s a compound formed from two Japanese kanji.

数字 = すうじ = suuji = figure; number; numeral

独 = どく = doku = alone, single (when used in context) (This kanji also means Germany, for some reason.)

Huh. Who knew?

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I just had a humbling experience at the bank.

As you may or may not know, I’m a rather independent person. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I used to take lots of things apart when I was young, just so I could see how they worked and put them back together. I like not having to rely on other people’s help to fix things, or get stuff done, you know?

In fact, part of my motivation for coming to Japan was that it would force me out of my comfort zone- because I knew I wouldn’t understand Japanese life, I knew I would be “off balance” and have to figure many things out anew. When I first arrived, I quickly discovered that you can’t have pride if you don’t understand your surroundings; you need to be willing to ask for help and rely on the kindness of strangers.

After living here for almost a year and a half though, you get into the routine of daily life, and it’s easy to forget the helplessness that was at first a daily experience.

Anyway, I recently completed the registration process for a GoLloyd’s account. It’s commonly recognized as the cheapest way to send money home, but I’d put off the signup process for a long time because it involves mailing copies of your passport and alien registration card to their headquarters in Tokyo with your application form. With the welcome packet, I received general instructions on how to transfer money using GoLloyd’s, and some pertinent terms in Japanese. Armed with their instructions and list of kanji, I went to my local bank to use an ATM to send some money, and quickly realized I was in over my head.

Japanese ATMs are wondrous pieces of machinery (one of which is pictured above), allowing you to complete all manner of transactions, including the inter-bank transfer I needed to do. Unfortunately, only a few ATMs have English menus, and only for basic functions. I fuddled my way around the menu system for a few minutes and got about halfway through the process while a bank employee stood about eight feet behind me, waiting to see if I needed help. I eventually gave up and tried to ask her, but ended up at a teller window after a brief wait in line. The teller then walked me back to the lobby attendant and asked her to help me do the transfer using the ATM. All semblance of self-reliance now gone, she read in Japanese from the help page GoLloyd’s sent (thank goodness they included Japanese instructions- written specifically to Japanese bank staff to help confused gaijin) and walked me through the process. I tried to follow along, but there were too many menus in kanji I didn’t understand, and knew I wouldn’t be able to repeat the process.

I’d heard that getting a separate ATM card specifically for transfers simplifies the process, so after the transfer was done, I asked her about getting one (so I could hopefully be self-reliant in the future). She kindly walked me back to the ATM and showed me that my ATM card stored the transfer settings for future use, making it even simpler than having a separate card for transfers. I thanked her profusely and left the bank.

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I recently read a sentence in Japanese and fully understood every word.

It was no big deal, just a piece of labeling on a pamphlet accompanying some classy souvenir sweets, but I realized after reading it that it was the first sentence in Japanese (standard kanji and hiragana mix not simplified or intended for learners) that I’d read and understood. It was one of those slow motion realizations that only hits you a minute or two afterward. I was particularly proud of myself because I just learned most of the kanji in the last few weeks running up to the JLPT.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m sitting for a national Japanese test this Sunday. It’s called the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT for short), and it’s the national certification method used to gauge one’s Japanese ability. There are four levels (4-kyu through 1-kyu), and I’m taking the lowest one, level four.

I had my last Japanese lesson before the exam this morning, and it went reasonably well. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking practice exams in my lessons, and steadily improving my scores. I think I’ll pass the test with a decent margin.

In other news, I came to the realization that unless I blog more often than I do interesting things, I’ll never catch up. It’s in that vein that I’m making this post right now. I have a huge backlog of pictures and potentially interesting things to describe, but they’ll have to wait until at least next week.

Hey, just be glad I posted this. 😉

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When I was working for Silver State Helicopters, there was a young woman working as the administrative assistant for the IT department named Kristin. Kristin had (and presumably still has) a tattoo on the back of her neck of two kanji. She requested the kanji because the shop told her they meant “angel.”

Many Americans seem to be fascinated with the idea of getting something ancient tattooed on themselves, adding history and significance by association with indelibly-marked symbols and ideas. Many people get tribal tattoos from tribes they’ve never met (or that never existed), military symbols from armies of which they’ve never been a part, and writing in languages they don’t speak.

The problem with this of course, is that if you’re not actually in the group with which you’re associating yourself, you can’t really be sure of all the baggage that comes with the symbology- or worse, that the symbols you’ve chosen to mark your skin for life mean something wholly different than what your tattoo artist told you they mean.

Kristin thought she was getting a tattoo of the Japanese kanji for “angel,” and I’m happy to report that she basically got what she paid for. I asked my school’s office manager to look at the photo Kristin kindly let me take of her tattoo, and she said that while the kanji certainly says “angel,” it doesn’t look Japanese, but likely a script form of older Chinese kanji. The modern Japanese print form is on the left.

If you’re interested, the first symbol is 天, often pronounced “ten,” and is the symbol for “heaven” and “sky.” It’s also the first part of the word “tempura.” The second symbol is 使, with many different readings, most of which are a derivation of “messenger” or “envoy.” Thus 天使 means “heaven’s messenger,” or “angel.”

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English added for your reading pleasure.

My meishi (name card/business card) has more Japanese than English. How cool is that?
Even better, I can read 90% of the kanji on it. =)

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