Onward

Friday, April 30th, 2010

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Today I have a mix of news: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

The Good

I was on the radio again this week, talking about some unusual Japanese terms. Ever since Patrick Cox interviewed me on “The World in Words” in the fall of 2008, I’ve been sending him amusingly specific Japanese expressions. He likes things like that; in a segment called “Eating Sideways,” he presents expressions from other languages for which there’s no English equivalent.

Anyway, he recently gathered five of the terms I’d sent him, and much to my surprise we did a brief Skype interview on Monday. The podcast ran on Tuesday. My part starts at 19:05 and goes till the end, lasting nearly nine minutes.

When you hear unknown Japanese words, it’s hard to imagine what the kanji might be, so here’s a guide to the expressions I was struggling to say:

病床日誌 (byōshō nisshi: diary written while ill in bed, day-by-day record of a patient’s condition)

病床 (byōshō: sickbed)     sick + bed
日誌 (nisshi: journal, log)      day + records

Since the interview, I’ve now heard definitively that this word refers to the patient’s diary (not the doctor’s log). A native speaker says, “The content may not be limited to the physical condition. It could cover anything that comes to the person’s mind, just as with any other diary.”

三日酔い (mikkayoi: hangover that still lingers two days after drinking)

Here’s the usual term for “hangover”:

二日酔い (futsukayoi: hangover)
     2 + days + drunkenness

From this word, someone has playfully spun off the colloquial coinage 三日酔い.

三日 (mikka: three days)     3 + days
酔い (yoi: drunkenness)

日向水 (hinata mizu: water warmed in the sun)

日向 (hinata: sunny place; in the sun)     sun + facing

This word is common and can be colloquial or literary.

(mizu: water)

日照権 (nisshōken: the right to sunshine)

日照 (nisshō: sunlight)     sun + shine
(ken: authority, power, rights)

日猶同祖論 (nichiyū dōsoron: hypothesis that Jews and Japanese are of common ancestry)
     Japan + to delay + same + ancestor + theory

The second kanji, , means “to delay” but is only contributing the sound of here in a type of ateji. Originally, represented a kind of monkey, probably a fictitious kind, that was skeptical by nature. The character evolved to mean “to hesitate” or “to beat around the bush”!

The book I mentioned to Patrick was The Japanese and the Jews, written (purportedly) by Isaiah Ben-Dasan.

 

The Ugly

For a moment, let’s hold off on the bad and cover the ugly. No one submitted anything for my yojijukugo contest! Not a soul!

Incidentally, here’s a relevant and wonderful word that I found in Jim Breen’s online dictionary:

炎上 (enjō: (1) blazing up; (2) destruction of a large building by fire; (3) flood of comments to a blog, exceeding what the blog’s owner can answer)     flame + up

I say “relevant” because of the third definition. This is precisely what did NOT occur! Consequently, the timeline I laid out (a May 7 list of the best submissions, etc.) no longer exists.

 

The Bad

Perhaps it’s just as well that the contest didn’t amount to anything, because today will be the last Kanji Curiosity blog.

This is sad, hard news for me to convey to you, and if the decision strikes you as coming out of nowhere, I share the sentiment. Last week, I was shocked to realize that this is what has to happen.

I had no deadlines all week, so I was able to concentrate entirely on my new project, Joy o’ Kanji, and I made amazing progress. I wrote two full essays. In the month before that, I hadn’t managed to write any essays at all. It became really clear that the blog is very much getting in the way of Joy o’ Kanji.

As Joy o’ Kanji is an enormous project (I’m writing essays of 10 to 15 pages on each Jōyō kanji), there’s every reason to speed up the process as best I can, cutting the total project time from, say, 40 years to 20 years! By stopping Kanji Curiosity now, I can launch Joy o’ Kanji much sooner. Otherwise, the launch would remain out of reach for far too long.

Now that I have a set agenda with Joy o’ Kanji, the randomness of Kanji Curiosity bothers me a little. Where is it going? And why am I covering the same material twice in these projects?

In the past, I didn’t mind that I was just following my nose from character to character with Kanji Curiosity. In fact, I adored that sense of freedom. I’ve never in my life had so much room to play and play on the page. What fun it’s been! With the blog, I could give free rein to my passion, my thoughts, and my quirky personality. They all connected, and everything clicked. I now realize how frustrated I was for all the years that I didn’t have such a venue. It’s extremely hard for me to let go of a wonderful thing that has afforded me so much self-expression and happiness.

All of you have been at my side to share in the fun. Well, at least I think you’ve been there. Maybe not the whole time. Sometimes I definitely wondered whether I were just talking to myself. But I’d hear from people here and there, and this sometimes touched me deeply, as when I received kind condolence notes about my grandmother. I also enjoyed coming back from trips and posting pictures of everything from Norwegian fjords to kangaroos and koalas. I took such pleasure in showing you the wondrous things I’d seen. Most of all, I shared my infinite love of kanji and my very personal way of exploring the characters. I was thrilled to realize that my investigations could actually help others learn. By taking my solitary love of kanji public, I found a vibrant community of those who feel the same way I do about the characters. What a satisfying way to meet people!

Speaking of people, I’d like to thank the ones who made this possible. Peter Galante invited me to bring Kanji Curiosity to JapanesePod101.com, and Eran Dekel supplied the technical support I needed.

For three years, Hiroshi Mori provided tireless proofreading, sharing his vast knowledge of the culture and language in a most generous way. He brought to the work a keen analytical mind, a delightful sense of humor, and a gentleness with me as I tried to make sense of very confusing territory. He helped me keep a sense of fun about it all while tactfully curbing my excesses. He even assisted others by contributing insightful comments to the blog. Together, he and I created 150 blogs (not counting this one). A nice round number!

I’d like to thank the 45 (!) people who tried their hand at the contest I held in early 2009. That gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet many of you and to grasp the way kanji fanaticism has spread around the world, from Iceland to Vietnam. I’ve developed friendships with several of the contestants, including Corey Linstrom and Devon Bartlett, both of whom I look forward to meeting in Japan in July! (I’m headed there to take lots of photos of kanji! I’ll include these in Joy o’ Kanji essays!)

Through the contest, I also met Alberto Sanz, who is now a friend. It’s been my absolute pleasure to share his gorgeous haiku calendars with you every month since the contest.

Hiroshi and Alberto will stay on board as I shift operations over to Joy o’ Kanji. The website isn’t up yet, so all I can show you right now is a page of information. Please feel free to email me with questions, and particularly let me know if you’d like to be on my Joy o’ Kanji mailing list. You can find my email address through my website, where you’ll also see the latest news.

Please stay in touch. It’s hard for me to pull away from Kanji Curiosity, but it would be nice to think that I don’t have to lose the connections I made. Thank you for all you’ve given me. I poured my whole self into this blog, and you were there to receive me.