New Words

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In Japan there are three sets of characters used conventionally for writing. Two smaller sets are phonetic, the third set are kanji (漢字) which mostly have their origins in China. In China, thousands of these characters are used; however, Japan limits these to about two thousand.

Officially there are “common use” characters which are considered sufficient for – well, for lack of better words – common use. The list is apparently insufficient, as we often see characters outside of the list appearing in common places like, the newspaper, memos at school, in test instructions, on menus, etc. Naturally, expanding the list would seem appropriate. After all, if something is in common use, perhaps it would make sense for it to be on the common use list.

To that end, the government has once again modified the list. One downside of this is that students were already stressed to learn the characters necessary for their tests, and now it just got a little tougher. I want to write more about this topic when I have time, but for now, one amusing point we noticed at lunch while perusing the list: a lot of food-related characters have been added.

  • Kushi 串 are skewers for little shishkabobs
  • Usu 臼 is a mortar or quern for grinding tea, buckwheat, etc
  • Kama 釜 is a kind of iron pot for making special dishes at the table
  • Kuzu 葛 is a vine which is cooked down into a pudding texture
  • Kaki 柿 is a persimmon, a hard, orange fruit
  • Futa 蓋 is a lid for a pot
  • Sen 煎 refers to a method for making teas
  • Shin 芯 is the heart of a plant, for example, leeks
  • Shiri 尻 is the rump
  • Hashi 箸 are chopsticks
  • Nabe 鍋 is a pot
  • Nashi 梨 is a pear
  • Don 丼 is a bowl of rice with meat or something served on top
  • Men 麺 refers to noodles
  • Mitsu 蜜 is honey or nectar
  • Hoo 頰 is a cheek or jowl
  • Mochi  餅 is special rice which is pounded and turned until it makes a sweet, glutenous, marshmallow like goodness to pop in your mouth. Yes, I like this, if you couldn’t tell.
  • Kago 籠 is a basket

And a few loosely connected, because people here might eat them, but not everyone.

  • Kuma 熊 bear
  • Kame 亀 turtle
  • Shika 鹿 deer

What does this mean? “Food is important in Japan”; or “Japanese people will eat almost anything”; or “Hey, it’s just 10 percent of the new characters, it doesn’t mean anything special”.

I’ll try to digest the entire article and post a little more on the topic.

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