Remember when you decided to study Japanese because kanji characters are just so much fun to learn? No, me neither. While it’s true that kanji can be fascinating, and they do get easier to learn and make more sense as you progress, sometimes you’ll come across something that makes you feel like you’ve been sent all the way back to the beginning again.
Anyone who’s serious about studying the Japanese language will soon encounter that seemingly insurmountable wall known as kanji. Many of those people will inevitably think, “Just how many of them do I have to learn to be able to read Japanese?” Well, to put it simply, it depends on to what degree you want to be able to read like a native speaker.
Of course, the meaning of “to read like a native speaker” is also up for debate. In search of this answer, we had four adult members of our Japanese staff take three different levels of a kanji aptitude test. How do you think they fared?
I love business cards, because I’ll admit it, I am not good with names. First names, last names, if you tell me, I will probably forget it. (Kirakira names are usually easier to remember though!) The good thing about living in Japan, however, is that despite there being over 100,000 different surnames, a really high percentage of people use only a few really common names.
To make it even easier for me, different areas of Japan often have higher densities of certain names. For instance, there are about 4,700 people in Japan with surname Maru (丸), but more than 50 percent of them live in southern Chiba. So, if you forget someone’s name in southern Chiba, Maru might be a safe guess.
A website and smartphone application called Myoji-Yurai Net allows you to find out the prevalence, origin and other fun information about the top 3,000 surnames in Japan. It’s actually quite fun!
He’s lived in Japan for four years but has only been an entertainer for two months. Even so, this guy already has Japanese celebrities roaring with laughter.
Meet Atsugiri Jason (厚切りジェイソン), whose stage name translates to something like “Thickly-sliced Jason.” This up-and-coming comedic genius was recently featured on a Japanese TV New Year’s special, where he performed a short sketch entirely in Japanese which proved to be so popular that the internet is already buzzing about him making his big break this year.
Anyone who has ever struggled with learning kanji is sure to appreciate this video. Check out his comedy sketch after the jump!
The common stereotype about women among sexually frustrated, mostly parents’ basement-dwelling, men is that girls only go for attractive, rich guys, and never the nice, tender guys with warm hearts and chic fedoras.
Well, when it comes to one of those observations, anyway, there appears to be at least one cultural precedent of a diabolical hidden message that seemingly proves the stereotype right in one of the very words that defines men and women’s relationship in Japan…
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but in Japan every year people try to distill an entire year’s worth of words into a single picture…or logograph if you want to get technical about it.
Last year, after tens of thousands of votes were counted, 輪 pronounced rin or wa and meaning “ring” was selected to represent the nations various achievements of 2013 such as winning the bid for the Olympic games and having Mt. Fuji designated as a World Heritage Site.
And today, after the Buddhist monk approached the canvas of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, this kanji above is what he painted under a fittingly gloomy and cloud-filled sky.
You may think choosing a name for your kid is hard, but in the West, we have it easy. All we have to choose is the name. Here in Japan, parents-to-be also have to choose what characters they want to write it with, a decision that has to take into account the relative auspiciousness of the number of strokes it takes to write, how well-known a particular reading is, and even if the government will accept the name they finally settle on!
Like trends for particular names, there are trends in the use of particular kanji or Chinese characters, too. Insurer Meiji Yasuda has just published the most common names this year and the kanji used for them, so read on to see what the hippest babies are sporting.
In Japan, the start of the calendar year for schools and jobs is around April 1, so right now is an extremely important time for soon-to-be graduates to get out in the world and present their skill set to the multitude of companies. Students are scouring the “For Hire” magazines and attending as many job fairs as they can. For many job hunters, it is extremely important to do their research into the companies they want to work for. They will analyze every detail for the companies such as working hours, number of vacation days, and days off in a week.
Much to the surprise of these job hunters, they’ve been interpreting a set of kanji for “days off in a week” completely incorrectly. If it wasn’t for a train advertisement from a job website, some fresh new workers would have been in for a nasty surprise.
Kanji is the biggest pain in the behind when it comes to learning Japanese. Sure, the grammar structure is a challenge and figuring out how and when to use the honorific form is a headache-inducing task, but deciphering those little scribbles scrawled across the nation of Japan is downright upsetting for new students of the Japanese language. Sometimes, you get lucky and the kanji characters sort of look like their meaning if you squint and turn your head to the left.
山 : Ok, we can see how that looks like a mountain.
目 : One of those squinty-left-tilty kanji, but sure, it looks like an eye.
凹 : Yup, that’s definitely concave (and a kanji that always makes us chuckle).
But most of the other two thousand or so kanji in daily use require learners to have a lot more imagination if you really want to find a meaningful picture amongst the numerous strokes. For many of them, a related image is just not going to happen (we’re looking at you 鬱). However, to our surprise, one Twitter user just recently uploaded a photo that makes the somewhat strange character for umbrella (傘) a little easier to understand.
Are you a professional footballer? Are you thinking about getting an exotic-looking tattoo in Japanese or Chinese script? With this year’s World Cup players the most inked in history, it’s no wonder the players keep taking their shirts off to show off their skin. Today, we bring you a guide to getting inked as a World Cup footballer – or to be more accurate, a guide to what not to do.
Greek footballer Theofanis “Fanis” Gekas, who has been attracting online attention in Japan recently for his unusual Chinese(ish) tattoo, isn’t the only World Cup player with some not-entirely-accurate ink on his arms. Join us after the jump for photographic evidence of what your mother (should’ve) told you: “If you can’t read it, don’t get it permanently etched onto your skin.”
We recently brought to you a collection of GIFs inspired by the thrilling city of Tokyo, designed by artists from around the globe. Now it’s Kyōto’s turn! A company called COG has created a highly stylized, four-minute animated film by dynamically fusing the original imperial city with kanji characters, and some scenes are now available as GIFs.
So get ready to hop aboard the city’s famous electric trolley and zoom though quintessential Kyōto sights like the Sagano Bamboo Forest and Daimonji bonfire. Along with two other GIFs making waves online, you’ll find yourself immersed in Japanese motifs that are anything but quotidian, and if you’re learning the language, see if you can name all 18 of the kanji characters used!
It must be tough playing in the World Cup. Not only are you representing your entire country, but every mistake you make is seen by millions of people all over the world. Poor Igor Akinfeev, the Russian goalkeeper who let a straightforward shot from Korea’s Lee Keun-ho roll up and over his head and into the goal. It was enough to make anyone want to curl up into a ball and die, and Igor’s mortified face was painful to watch, inspiring thousands of Tweets proclaiming, “Yikes!”
Japanese netizens have taken notice of another footballer faux paus, this time in the form of an unfortunate tattoo. We’ve seen it before – misinformed fans of body modification adding “Chicken Noodle Soup“ or “casket maker” in exotic scrawl, and Team Greece representative, Theofanis “Fanis” Gekas, has added to the list of tattoos that have piqued the interest of Japanese netizens.
What’s in a name? New parents often look for a name that they hope will embody the spirit of their child or be something that their son or daughter can wear with pride throughout their life, but even the most heartfelt monicker can prove awkward when taken out of context, and can be more funny than beautiful when heard by speakers of other languages.
For Japanese parents, the meaning of kanji characters used for a child’s name are just as important as how it sounds. Recently, however, one young couple had the name they chose for their new baby daughter rejected when they attempted to register it at their local town hall. It was probably a good thing, though, since the characters they had chosen had an altogether different, rather unpleasant, meaning that the couple were completely unaware of.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.