kanji

Ancient Chinese characters prove that ninja cats once ruled Asia

Ancient Chinese characters prove that ninja cats once ruled Asia

Despite many of us considering them to be pets, with the immense power they wield over humans and their near total domination of the internet, cats are clearly the ones in charge. They appear with such frequency in ancient Egyptian iconography that many have wondered whether the Egyptians knew something about cats that we don’t, and no matter how many treats we give the felines we share our homes with, they just never seem to accept us as equals, let alone their masters.

And now, a photo of an ancient set of Chinese characters has given internet users in China even more reason to believe that cats were once the true rulers of the world. Behold: kanji characters depicting cats with ninja headbands!

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Foreigners in Japan vote for the best-looking katakana character

Foreigners in Japan vote for the best-looking katakana character

When it comes to Japan’s three writing systems, kanji, hiragana and katakana, it’s the most complex of the lot that usually gets the most attention. The numerous lines and strokes involved in kanji pictographs are so revered that people nominate one at the end of every year to represent the mood of the nation. Even foreigners across the world are taken by their meaning and beauty, with many committing a patch of skin to their favourite (sometimes completely wrong) kanji in tattoo form.

But what about the least utilised member of the group, the katakana characters used for foreign words? Well it looks like they’re finally getting a bit of love, with a recent survey being conducted among foreign residents in Japan to determine the coolest looking symbol in the katakana syllabary. Place your bets now for which one comes out on top!

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“Family name researcher” discovers the most common full name in Japan

“Family name researcher” discovers the most common full name in Japan

What’s in a name? In Japan, those with a strong understanding of kanji, those pesky Chinese characters that are always tripping up language learners, can immediately understand the significance of anyone’s appellation.

Although the most common surname in Japan is “Sato,” it turns out that there’s a far more popular name combination that doesn’t include our quirkiest reporter‘s last name. Let’s take a look at the most common given and family names in Japan and the meanings behind them.

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Japan’s five most common family names

Japan’s five most common family names

If you’re ever looking for the Japanese equivalent to “John Smith,” the go-to name is decidedly “Tarou Yamada.” And yet, if you look at today’s population, neither of those names top the popularity charts! Yamada, though simple to write and stereotypically Japanese, isn’t even in the top five for family names!

Now that we mentioned it, we’re sure you’re all curious to know now, so here’s a list of the five most common family names in Japan, as announcement by the Meiji Life Insurance Company.

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The official kanji of 2013 has been chosen!

The official kanji of 2013 has been chosen!

In Japan, every year is marked with a single kanji character as chosen by a national vote. The kanji is meant to represent situations and global or domestic events that took place during a given year and is announced on December 12 by the head monk at Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple.

Two years ago, 絆 (bonds) was chosen to represent 2011 due to the fraternal and familial bonds that were strengthened in the wake of natural disasters around the world, including the Great East Japan Earthquake and large-scale flooding in Thailand. Last year it was 金 (gold) for the numerous first place finishes Japan achieved in 2012, including winning the gold medal in women’s soccer and possessing the world’s tallest tower upon the completion of Tokyo Skytree.

The kanji for 2013 has just been chosen, but what what does it mean?

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“Good luck with the exam!” US comic depicting Japanese WWII pilot met with chuckles in Japan

“Good luck with the exam!” US comic depicting Japanese WWII pilot met with chuckles in Japan

Although they are sometimes considered to be the pastime of kids and teenagers, modern comics and graphic novels often deal with some incredibly heavy and moving content. Craig Thompson’s Blankets, for example, is a spellbinding journey that will melt any adult’s heart, and despite using mice as protagonists, Art Spiegelman’s retelling of his Holocaust survivor father’s experiences in Maus was so moving that it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The following American comic deals with equally heavy content: the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The comic lost a little credibility amongst Japanese readers earlier today, however, when one netizen noticed that it shows one of the pilots preparing for the attack by donning what appears to be a headband much more likely to be worn by school kids studying for a big exam than someone going on a mission from which they may not return.

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High-tech glasses provide near-instant translation of Japanese text

High-tech glasses provide near-instant translation of Japanese text

Although major cities in Japan have installed signs in both Japanese and English, many foreign travelers still face difficulties reading the text found on things like menus, product packages, and billboards. That may all change thanks to NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile phone operator, and their new glasses that are capable of almost instantly translating Japanese text.

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“Clever weather company!” Japan chuckles at garbled kanji on popular British clothing brand

“Clever weather company!” Japan chuckles at garbled kanji on popular British clothing brand

SuperDry, the hugely popular brand from UK-based clothing company SuperGroup plc, has become the subject of great amusement here in Japan this week as photos showing numerous articles of clothing branded with nonsensical Japanese phrases show that it’s not just garbled English that exists in the world of fashion.

From sweatshirts pairing the words “Track & Field” with the Japanese characters for “Clever Weather Company” to shirts that randomly scream “Do iiit!” there’s plenty to keep Japanese speakers smiling, and for Westerners to beware of.

Welcome to the other side of the coin!

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New wave of “creative” Japanese names read more like riddles

New wave of “creative” Japanese names read more like riddles

As much as politicians try to prevent them and doctors disapprove of them, kirakira Japanese names, the kinds that hold double meanings or are just plain hard to read, are apparently still on the rise. A recent survey of kids in their teens and early twenties showed that now more than 40 percent of students know someone at their school with an obscure reading for their name.

Reading name kanji is already a difficult task. A single symbol can have up to a dozen different readings, and while some are more common than others, there’s always a bit of guesswork that goes into deciphering the pronunciation of someone’s name. It’s bad enough when two people have names with the same symbols and entirely different readings. Imagine the frustration that teachers must face when a new student’s name is pronounced in a way that doesn’t even sound Japanese!

There’s a difference between naming your kid something “international” and making your kid’s name a nuisance. See if you can understand the reason behind the reading of some of these kirakira names.

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What’s in a name? The 10 most common surnames in Japan (and their meanings)

What’s in a name? The 10 most common surnames in Japan (and their meanings)

It’s a little-known fact that until the Meiji era (1868-1912), the ordinary men and women of Japan did not have surnames. Rather, those names were reserved for people in positions of power, nobility, or those of noted artistic ability.

There are an estimated 100,000 family names in Japan — much more than in many Western countries, and vastly more than in neighbouring Korea and China — however what’s curious is that of these surnames 10 are incredibly common, with millions of people sharing the exact same moniker. If you’re on your way to Japan or learning the language, knowing how to read and pronounce at least a few of these will almost certainly get you out of a jam at some point or other, so allow us to introduce Japan’s 10 most common surnames, their meanings, and a few fun facts on top, just because we’re nice like that and we like your face.

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Birds know how to read Japanese, put language learners to shame

Birds know how to read Japanese, put language learners to shame

Can you read kanji? It certainly looks like these birds can!

Wait, do these birds know more kanji than some foreigners who’ve lived in Japan for years and never learned to read??

Well, after all the birds were born in Japan and grew up seeing it all around them. It’s only natural for them to pick it up, so perhaps they have an unfair advantage. Anyway, no bird has passed any level of the tough Kanji Kentei tests. Yet…

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A Tragic (But Kinda Funny) Case of Tattoos Gone Wrong, But Why, Oh Why, Did This Happen?

A Tragic (But Kinda Funny) Case of Tattoos Gone Wrong, But Why, Oh Why, Did This Happen?

We Japanese are no strangers to Chinese characters (or kanji, in Japanese). The ancient letters from China make up a crucial part of our own written language, and we have to say the complex yet elegant form of kanji can seem strikingly cool (except when we had to practice and learn all those letters in grade school), even for those of us who use the letters everyday. So we can certainly understand how these characters could hold a mysterious fascination for people from countries where kanji isn’t used at all. T-shirts featuring kanji are a common enough sight in many parts of the world after all, and for people who prefer to wear their favorite Chinese characters in a more, shall I say, permanent way, I guess tattoos are always an option, right?

Well, at least, that’s the option the person in the picture above apparently went for. But she most likely didn’t know what the letters she was getting tattooed on her back actually meant, the poor girl … Read More

Japanese Politician Takes a Stand Against Parents Naming their Children Pikachu

Japanese Politician Takes a Stand Against Parents Naming their Children Pikachu

It’s not easy being a kid. If you’re fat the other kids make fun of you; if you’re skinny the other kids make fun of you; if you get good grades they make fun of you… Kids don’t need a genuine reason to be tease their peers; they can make one up just as easily.

But when your parents name you after their favourite thing – be it the weather on the day you were born, the place you were conceived or their favourite snack food – things get awkward for poor little Windy Latrine Butterfinger.

Although authorities have been known to intervene when parents try to call their child things like Akuma, meaning devil in Japanese, and @ as once rejected by authorities in China, the vast majority slip through the net. Since kanji, the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system, are based on meaning and can be read in a variety of different ways, parents giving their child a kanji-based name (some choose phonetic kana script, but this is usually just for girls) are able to choose both their child’s name and how it will be written.

For the most part, parents choose names that convey their love or hopes for their offspring, but in the land of otaku nerdism, sometimes parents just can’t help but get carried away.

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