Hungry for kanji? I bet some of you have this urge to be able to understand every single character as soon as possible. To be honest,may be 3 years ago I had the honor to chat with a Japanese boy from Tokyo university’s elite. Our conversations were fun and long. Of course,he didn’t miss to test my Japanese. What I have to share from these conversations are two things that the boy told me with his serious face. Let me quote him,relax,I’ll type it in English.
“English is about speaking. Nowadays,it is your second mother language like. You might be not good at spelling,but you must be good at speaking. But Japanese is about writing. We consider our language as an art. We don’t look at kanji as a bunch of strokes, we find them for a piece of art. Calligraphy.”
Basically,when he told me that, I rolled eyes and joked with ‘what an ego’. He laughed and the conversation turned into teasing different languages until the moment when he told me this second thing I want to share.
“Don’t be afraid to do mistakes. Free your mind of the thought of embarrassment. You will never learn it correctly ,if once in your life you didn’t allow a mistake to occur. Take Japanese as life, walk up the stairs,but don’t be afraid to fall. We, people,have the heart to offer a shoulder. So,do not doubt in yourself and let your mind welcome the art of kanji.”
His name is Yoshiki,a wonderful person that taught me many things. But the things I just told you,if you can’t understand them now, you just need time. Let’s move to the next topic.
I said it so many times,kanji are Chinese characters. I won’t go into historic details,but the original Japanese that people in Japan once knew had no kanji. When Chinese came to do business with Japan, tribes from there started to admire the Chinese nation. They took ideas about many dishes,clothes and traditions from China. Even the kanji. Of course,they wanted to surpass China and taking something from their culture,they changed it a bit,or fully. Let’s talk about kanji though.
Originally kanji have their Chinese readings,obviously. But Japanese put their own reading to each kanji. So,in Japanese you’ll get to bump into Japanese reading called “kun yomi” and Chinese reading called “on yomi”.
People often ask, “Okay,then when I am supposed to use the certain reading between Japanese and Chinese?”
Well,the main rule is that Chinese reading occur in kanji combinations. If the kanji is alone,followed by hiragana,it’s the Japanese reading. But if you have more than one kanji next to another kanji,be sure – at least one of them is with Chinese reading.
And it’s not about,oh gosh how to read this? You’ll know how to read it as your brain knows how to read English. You learn words and vocubulary,supposedly your teacher tells you the readings. No one asks you to be a genius and guess the readings,so relax.
Let’s see a sample to understand the words above.
The verb ‘eat’ is “taberu”. So, this is the Japanese reading.
What you see above is the kanji,but as well followed by hiragana. Well,don’t ask why the ‘beru’ from ‘taberu’ is written in hiragana.The answer won’t be to your likes. I said Japanese wanted to surpass Chinese,so yes,it’s because they wanted to make their language more complicated.
So, you only need to know which part of the reading is written with kanji and which with hiragana,once again,the teacher always informs you. That’s why I said in the first hiragana lesson – hiragana is the Japanese base.
Let’s give you example when the same kanji has a Chinese reading.
See that the kanji is followed by another kanji? Most likely,we call it combination. Our ‘taberu’ now as a Chinese reading “shoku”.
And what I wrote is “shokuji” ,it means ‘meal’.
Not often,but not exception as well,sometimes the Chinese reading can give another meaning to the words. But of course, the teacher has a task to let you know,if such a thing occurs.
Since I mentioned calligraphy,I can’t miss the chance to explain this art.
This is not a thing you have to know how to do as a must. There are different styles and design,depends on one’s handwriting.
Calligraphy is a way to introduce symbols,Japanese symbols and kanji in an unique way. Some even do such a transformation in their calligraphy that the kanji is hardly recognized. But it’s an art and it has traditions as well.
But since it’s a long topic,I might do a special article for Calligraphy.
As an introduction to kanji,I chose to end it with an important rule and may be this will answer an often asked question by people studying Japanese.
Kanji,as well hiragana and katakana,they all have an order of writing. People ask why they should have an order to be written down?
I said, take it as an art. To do it right and written well,you follow the order. Japanese notice when someone knows the right order of a kanji. Keep it in mind.