Bragging on my Limited Knowledge


I love kanji (漢字) characters; mostly because they are integral to my study of calligraphy (習字・書道), but also because they convey concise information and have some logical basis to their construction. Recently my studies have come to a crawl and I only know about half of the common use characters (常用漢字). This is sometimes very limiting and I definitely need to redouble my efforts again.

Normally one would assume that the person who knows only half of what most people should know must be stuck at a child’s level. That assumption, in my case, would be false. I have peculiar characteristics that have resulted in my knowing a number of characters that are outside of the common use list. Studying my art includes a lot of older, more complex forms of characters, known as itaiji (異体字). My interest in culture, history, and festivals also turns up a lot of special use characters which are not used a lot in general conversation.

Twice in the past couple days, I was discussing characters with Japanese people and pulled the tough stuff out of my craw, when they were unable. Of course, I made sure not to brag at the time, but stayed as humble as possible. I have found that showing off knowledge of difficult language points can offend a lot of folks. I guess it would be like running into a visitor from Uzbekistan in Sioux City and having him diagram your sentences for you. Or maybe like explaining the etymology of art terms.

One case involved discussion about the old form of eki (駅) which means train station and is drawn like this: 驛. You can see why the new 14 stroke character might replace the 23 stroke character. My counterpart mistook the character for koma (駒), and I was so proud that a description of the character just rolled off my tongue. Koma is a piece in a board game like chess, checkers, or shougi (将棋), but not igo (囲碁). The character is part of the extended characters for use in names (人名用漢字), so a lot of folks don’t bother studying it.

Another case was discussing the word nagi (凪). This one is also in the extended characters. It means ‘calm’ or ‘lull’, like “The lull before the storm.” This is the name of a cultural magazine about the areas around here. The ‘fence’ around the outside comes from ‘wind’ (風) and the inside is ‘stop’ (止). That is, when the wind stops, it is calm. I can’t remember what my colleague wanted to put in the middle, but again I recalled the correct description. I just chatted with a Chinese friend who said they don’t use this character in China. Of course, it is probably rarely used here.

OK, enough bragging. I just think it is funny that I can know really difficult and obscure things, but be missing most of the high school level knowledge. Back to the studies.


4 Responses to “Bragging on my Limited Knowledge”

  1. verbivore Says:

    Good on you, studying Kanji takes so much patience and practice. They are beautiful aren’t they? I love your comment about the logic to kanji – this is something that can get overlooked.
    I’ve been brushing up on my kanji recently, but it will take me quite a while to get anywhere near half of the joyo kanji.

  2. びっくり Says:

    Recently I have been noticing a class of characters where Japanese people usually don’t use the kanji. Instead they write it out in hiragana. My teacher was pointing out a case where it actually is harder to understand the kanji, merely because nobody uses it. It was kureru which expresses the receiving of things or actions. In kanji it would be 呉れる (including the okurigana.) In hiragana it would be くれる. The kanji is in the common use set learned in junior high, but apparently it is only used under special circumstances.

    I am learning that I shouldn’t always try to convert things to kanji. Maybe I’ll have to study Chinese. 🙂

  3. verbivore Says:

    I suspect you would LOVE chinese! It seems overwhelming to me, for some reason I love the pause that hiragana/katakana give a sentence. For one heartbeat something is phonetic. I love the mixture of the alphabets, the rhythm that creates when reading.

  4. びっくり Says:

    Many people suggest that Chinese is a superior language (no plural, no tense, …), but I have to agree with your feelings about the rhythm of Japanese writing.

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