Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, March 16, 2009

Speaking of Kanji... about a little shodo (書道 - traditional brush calligraphy)? We're at the tail end of the school year now, and the 8th and 9th grade calligraphy projects are on display in the hallways. Let me share some that caught my eye:

Shodo 1

The one in the upper left (創想) would probably be read "sōsō" if it were a real word. The first kanji, whose ON (japonified Chinese) reading is "sō", means "to create". The second kanji, which also has the ON reading "sō", means "to imagine". I'd say it's a pretty imaginative creation!

The one in the upper middle is a real word. It is "jūjitsu" (充実), which means "completion". I don't know what the student is talking about, but perhaps it's a reference to getting one's assignment done on time!

The one in the upper right is a single kanji, 再. With an added kana, it has the kun (assigned Japanese) reading "futatabi", which means "once again". By itself it usually has the ON reading "sai", which is kind of like the "re-" prefix in English (as in "redo", "remake", etc.). I wonder how many times the student had to do this one to get it right.

The middle right one is the kanji 上, which by itself usually has the kun reading "ue", meaning "up", "over", or "on top". When paired with another kanji it most often takes the ON reading "jō" and usually means "upper" or "upward". Hmm. A bit of subtle bragging, or an invitation to look up?

The lower right one, 幸, has a number of different readings. It's a bit old fashioned for it to appear alone, but when it does it either has the kun reading "sachi", meaning "happiness" (or "delicacy" in reference to food) or the ON reading "kō", meaning "good luck". I'd call that a nice bit of optimism on someone's part.

The lower middle one, 誉, doesn't usually appear alone. It has the ON reading "yo", but it is most commonly used in its kun reading together with kana to form the word "homeru", meaning "to praise". Good job!

Which brings me to the middle one...the one that REALLY caught my eye. It's not kanji at all. It's an example of writing in the katakana phonetic alphabet. What does it spell out? "Hakuna matata." Yes, that's right; it's the line from Disney's "The Lion King". The student's class performed the musical version of "The Lion King" at our school festival last September. They did a damned good job, too. Someone is obviously proud of that. No worries!

Shodo 2

Which brings us to our next example. The upper left one is the kanji 喝, ON reading "katsu", kun reading with added kana "shikaru", both of which mean basically "to scold" or "to cuss out". No comment necessary.

The one on the upper right is written in the hiragana phonetic alphabet, and it says "kejime", which means "difference". It's all the same to me.

The one in the middle has the ON reading "shi" and the kun reading "haji" which, in combination with kana or other kanji, forms words meaning "begin" or "beginning". It's a start.

The one on the middle right is read "shinka", and it means "evolution". Perhaps it's there to balance out the "creation" one on the other panel I showed?

The lower right one is "doryoku", which means "effort". I think it needed a bit more...

The lower middle one has the ON reading "shin" and, using its kun reading plus extra kana, forms the word "nobiru", which means "to grow", "to lengthen", "to extend", or "to become exhausted". It also appears in the word "nosu", a somewhat archaic term meaning "to journey". Yes, life is a journey, and hopefully one grows along the way (but without getting too exhausted).

Which brings us to the one on the lower left. It is a three-kanji word, "kōjōshin", which is a noun meaning "progressiveness" or "aspiration". What a radical idea!

Speaking of which...there's that one on the middle left. I'm not sure if the artist thought s/he was being clever or comedic, but I have to wonder if it's a bit hypocritical. After all, s/he gave up on writing kanji!

And thus concludes our lesson for this...whatever period of time it is.


  • I like the sachi/ko character, which made me laugh as I typed it because I realized that when I was in elementary school I had a friend (Ichiro) whose sister is called Sachiko, which is obviously a good name :)

    Thank you for the little lesson, though don't do a pop quiz next week on it.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 4:03 AM  

  • What an inefficient use of paper, it takes one page just to say one word!

    No, just kidding. Very nice work.

    No doubt that if the art was not practiced, it would vanish the way of cursive writing has with the advent of the computer.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 7:01 AM  

  • Speaking from a purely aesthetic point of view, I like the jujitsu one the best. The strokes look confident yet stylish.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:34 AM  

  • Hehe, the meanings of most Kanji letters are quite easy - and fun! - to guess, as they usually carry the same meaning as their Chinese characters.

    Now, that's a free Japanese lesson for me ain't it?


    (P/S: I cheated.)

    By Blogger ❤ IceGlacial™ ❤, at 9:48 AM  

  • I enjoyed the first one.

    Word Verification: rident - a eriffic asting gum or a all errible missile.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 10:25 AM  

  • Olivia
    Sachiko is a moderately common girl's name here, and yes, it usually uses that kanji (so the literal meaning is "happy child"). Nowadays, in general use, that kanji is usually used with kana to make the word "shiawase" (shee ah wah say), which means "contentment", or "saiwai", which means "good fortune".

    You hit the nail right on the head. That is a serious concern nowadays. The fact that kanji ability is on the decline, particularly among young people, is readily obvious. I've noticed a shocking difference just over the last decade. We have new 7th graders entering our school who are good at math and science but write like the 4th graders of ten years ago. Even these examples of student calligraphy on average pale in comparison with those produced back in the mid 90s.

    The problem is that now, thanks to cell phones, computers, and Nintendo DS (among other things), it's no longer as necessary to memorize or even learn to write kanji as much anymore. All you have to do is enter the phonetic sounds and hit a button, and the computer provides the kanji. It's certainly fast and convenient (and a lifesaver for gaijin like me), but people have become more dependent on the technology and less on their own skill.

    It's not just kids that are losing the ability, either. Adults are starting to admit that their own handwriting skill is declining as a result of dependence on machines to do it for them. That's why more effort is being put into encouraging students to focus on their kanji ability by doing calligraphy or taking the Kanjiken (standardized test of kanji ability).

    That's one of the things about traditional brush calligraphy. You can tell a lot about the personality and mood of the artist just by looking at it.

    I'm sure it must be interesting for Chinese to look at Japanese use of kanji and compare. I know the meanings of some have diverged a bit, but I'm sure they're still largely similar if not the same (which was a help to me when I was in Taiwan!).

    There are still pitfalls, such as "手紙", which means "letter" in Japanese and "toilet paper" in Chinese.

    It is certainly refreshing nowadays to see kids actually using their imagination instead of just spitting out something they've memorized, which is the trend.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:58 AM  

  • I'm at work so I don't have ur email handy (using phone) Did u hear about the Senator that said AIG execs need to follow the Japanese example and resign or suicide? Maybe a good post topic?

    By Anonymous The Intrepid Adventurer, at 2:43 AM  

  • T.I.A.
    I've been hearing a fair amount about the AIG execs, but I hadn't heard that senator's comment. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the heads up!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:56 AM  

  • Some of them are pretty well-written though strange that the ones written well are all positive in meaning, eg., to create, to imagine, beginning and progressiveness. hmm..

    By Anonymous happysurfer, at 6:28 PM  

  • how would I write the words "Rising Dragon" thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:28 AM  

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