Hey, “cool guy!” Here’s why you should double-check the meaning of your Japanese kanji T-shirt

With its brushstroke-style Japanese text, this T-shirt might look cool, but it’s literally ridiculous.

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Transforming kanji watches not so great for telling time, perfect for being awesome

With the advent of cellphones, wristwatches have become less and less common, meaning makers have had to get more and more creative capture the attention of customers. One perfect example is this Japanese watch company that has started selling watches that use transforming metal kanji characters to tell the time!

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10 badass four-character phrases to add to your Japanese language toolkit

With enough hard work, anyone can learn to speak and read Japanese. But you know you’ve truly made it as a Nihongo master only when you can effortlessly break out a few yojijukugo, or four-kanji idioms. Join us after the jump for 10 of our favourites!

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Japan’s top baby names for 2015: Will Naruto-influenced monikers still reign supreme?

Choosing a name for your newborn son or daughter can be tough. Not only are you responsible for bestowing a name upon another human being—a collection of vowels and consonants that that will stick with them for life and likely have a profound effect on how people initially perceive their owner—but if you live in a country like Japan, then you not only have to choose the baby’s name, but how it will be written in kanji characters as well. Talk about pressure.

But that’s the reason we have baby name lists! For the past two years we’ve been keeping track of the most popular names for baby boys and girls in Japan, and this year we’re keeping up the tradition. Take a peek at what trends are spreading through Japan by seeing which names are in this year and which are out.

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Sweet high-school anime shows how learning kanji can be the key to getting a girlfriend【Videos】

Kanji characters are one of the most fascinating, but also the most troublesome, aspects of the Japanese language—and that goes not just for foreign learners but also for Japanese natives. The Kanji Kentei is a standardized test that you can take to prove your kanji knowledge, but after being drilled on the kanji throughout their school lives Japanese people might not be taken by the idea of sitting for even more exams on the subject.

That’s why the Kanji Kentei administrators, in an effort to encourage people to give up their free time to study kanji and take their exams, has fallen back on the failsafe go-to of Japanese advertising: cute, nostalgic anime.

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Kanji quiz time! Can you identify the characters behind Japan’s creative municipal flags?

Japan’s national flag may be well-known for its simplicity—after all it’s just a big red circle in the middle of a field of white—but did you know that’s not Japan’s only flag? Every single prefecture, city, town and village has its own special flag to represent its history or what it’s famous for.

Even more commonly, many of the municipalities’ flags have stylized versions of the kanji found in their names. And when we say stylized, we mean highly stylized. We have here a selection of some of Japan’s kanji-flags, so you can see the creativity that went into each of them.

If you think you’re a kanji master, then get ready to test your skills and see how many you can guess correctly!

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“Welcome argument?” Mr Sato really, really wants to know where Lily-Rose Depp got her kanji shirt

Clothing with incorrect and funny English (so-called Engrish) is everywhere in Japan, and has given many foreign visitors a chuckle over the years.  So it’s always nice to see the tables turned, and Japan having the opportunity to marvel at clothing with odd Japanese writing on it.

That’s what happened this week when our reporter Mr. Sato got wind that actress and model Lily-Rose Depp had been spotted in New York wearing a particularly nonsensical T-shirt with Japanese kanji characters on it. He had only one question: “Where did she get it?”

…only one question, Mr. Sato? We’ve got a few more questions than that! So let’s take a look at the shirt in question, and crack the code behind its oddball message.

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Students of Japanese despair – you’ve probably been writing some of the simplest kanji wrong

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.

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We test our Japanese staff’s knowledge of kanji by making them take a kanji aptitude test

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?

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Name Game: Finding the origin and prevalence of Japanese surnames just got easier

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!

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“Why, Japanese people!?” American dude has us rolling on the floor laughing with his comedic sketch

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!

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Flipping the kanji for “husband” upside-down reveals slightly worrying double meaning

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…

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“Tax” declared the official kanji of 2014

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.

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Looking for baby names? The most popular ones in Japan this year are…

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.

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Kanji fail – Even Japanese people don’t know the true meaning of this term!

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.

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We’ve just discovered the origin of the kanji for “umbrella”

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.

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How not to choose a kanji tattoo: A guide for World Cup footballers

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.”

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Study kanji while taking a whirlwind tour of Kyoto with this beautiful video and GIFs!

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!

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Kanji fail – Japanese World Cup fans notice Greek player’s strange tattoo

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.

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Kanji fail — Japanese parents shocked to learn their baby girl’s name has inappropriate meaning

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.

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