Head Over Heels With Kanji?

kaishaDon’t you just hate it when you sit at a classroom or at your school library and someone approaches you from the front inquiring about the stuff you’re doing? I was the person to ask that nagging question several times when I was still at the pre-intermediate stage with my Japanese.

– Oh, why do you have to read such a long text on Japanese companies [=日本の会社]?

– It’s about Japanese society [=日本の社会], you moron.

– Ah, that’s right. – I turned the book upside down and noticed my mistake.


When learning kanji you have to remember about a ton of things – the readings, the stroke order, the meanings… and a lot of quite funny methods were applied to learning kanji for easy remembering. Various mnemonics, tracing exercises and JLPT examinations… wait, that’s not funny. But how about the usage? Why don’t we stir things a bit and put some kanji upside down? Well, at least their order… let me propose a new way you can pair up the words you learn by a list of 10 such symmetrical kanji relationships (almost like two halves of the same apple, huh?):


会社 (かいしゃ)a company ⇔ 社会 (しゃかい)society

途中 (とちゅう)en route, on the way ⇔ 中途 (ちゅうと)in the middle, half-way

白黒 (しろくろ)monochrome ⇔ 黒白 (こくはく)right and wrong, black and white

五十 (ごじゅう)fifty ⇔ 十五 (じゅうご) fifteen

一万 (いちまん)ten thousand ⇔ 万一 (まんいち)once-in-a-lifetime chance

中年 (ちゅうねん)middle-aged ⇔ 年中 (ねんちゅう)during the year, a whole year

子馬 (こうま)foal ⇔ 馬子 (まご)packhorse driver

生卵 (なまたまご)raw egg, uncooked egg ⇔ 卵生 (らんせい) oviparity

日本 (にほん)Japan ⇔ 本日 (ほんじつ) that (specific) day

理論 (りろん)theory ⇔ 論理 (ろんり)logic, logical


Memorizing Japanese vocab in pairs is a very effective technique – and you’ve probably tried learning antonyms (words with opposite meaning) or synonyms (words with the same meaning). Maybe you’ve even tried learning only half of the material leaving the other half for the friend who will sit beside you on JLPT or any other Japanese test, that’s also your choice. But, honestly, tell me about any other creative ways of pairing up words you personally use or know!


Sickness, E-Book and Medical Japanese

Sorry for this longish hiatus. To be completely honest with you: I am a sickly and puny person. Since I was a little girl I am suffering from type I onset diabetis. Apart from that, there’s always something wrong with me. Last two weeks I spent at either a hospital or doctors’ offices. There’s always a probability that’ll happen now and then and sometimes twitter is my only way to let you know – so follow my twitter – I try to keep it full of useful content and links with some personal updates thrown in-between.

While I was at the hospital though, one fantastic thing happened – just before I had been hospitalized, I finished the translation of Aaron Myers “Sustaining” as a part of I-586 Project. You can find my Polish translation [at the bottom of this page]. It’s immensly fun to work with Aaron and I hope we can get all his guides translated at one point. We’re planning to work on “Getting Started Guide” next and we’ll definitely let you know when it’s up. Please spread the word through any media you find suitable. I would also love to hear from you – any comments, insights, reviews will be more than appreciated!

I also wasn’t SO lazy as to do nothing, but lost count in my linguistic diet process, so I’d probably better start it over. While making all those tests done, I learned some nifty new words in Japanese. All with the theme of hospital in them (I chose 20 for this post):

  • 点滴 (てんてき) – a drip
  • 痣 (あざ) – a bruise
  • 血液検査 (けつえきけんさ) – a blood test
  • 車椅子 (くるまいす) – a wheelchair
  • レントゲン - X-ray
  • 面会時間 (めんかいじかん) – visiting hours
  • 処方箋 (しょほうせん) – a prescribtion
  • 血圧 (けつあつ) - blood pressure
  • 吸入器 (きゅうにゅうき) - an inhaler
  • 失神する (しっしん) - to faint
  • 胃痛 (いつう) - stomach ache
  • 脈拍 (みゃくはく) – pulse
  • 包帯 (ほうたい) (を する) - (to apply) a bandage
  • 診察 (しんさつ) - medical examination
  • 膵臓 (すいぞう) - a pancreas
  • 神経系 (しんけいけい) – the nervous system
  • 黄斑 (おうはん) - macula lutea (macula of retina)
  • 血糖値 (けっとうち) -  blood glucose level
  • 高血糖症 (こうけっとうしょう) - hyperglycemia
  • 外来患者 (がいらいかんじゃ) - an outpatient

Do you strive to learn new words as you come across daily situations?

Why you need to love bushu to learn Japanese?

Bushu (部首) – also known as radicals (and in Polish as radykały, klucze, pierwiastki, elementy składowe etc.) – are the main component of any given kanji. Nowadays we also use it for any sub-component of an ideograph (such as kanji or hanzi).

Top 4 Reasons You Really Need To Study Bushu:

1. Most kanji dictionaries are useless without it.
Japanese dictionaries offer several ways to find specific sign in them: number of strokes (kakusuu), meaning (imi), readings (onyomi and kunyomi) etc. But most often you use kanji dictionaries to find an unknown kanji you came across in a text. You don’t know its meaning, let alone reading and there are plenty of 11-stroke kanji! You’d better get to know your dictionary and which system of classifying bushu it uses. Most commonly, there’s a table of 214 radicals, but there are different systems ranging from approx. 190 over 300.

2. They give you a hint on reading.
Some kanji use the same component to determine the reading.
For example in kanji for a language 語 (ご) with following bushu: 言う  (to speak) and 口 (mouth), those are obvious in a sign for “language”, and 五 (five) which has nothing to do with speaking whatsoever (except the “At-Least-Five-Minutes-A-Day” rules of learning a new language) but is read the same as 語 – yomikata for both is ご!
You need to learn the easier kanji first, as Japanese children learn them, to make use of such hints.

3. They give you a hint on meaning.
Sometimes a lot of us know (or can guess ;D) what a kanji means – the reason for that being the semantic richness each ideograph carries. For example, here’s a kanji for tree 木 (those who learn(t) from Basic Kanji Book or Minna No Nihongo Kanji Book are struck with the similarity of this sign to a real tree!). Now, this component can be found in 595 kanji (according to Wakan) or even 1300 kanji (according to tangorin.com) and those will include (examples given only):
how trees are situated – 森(もり) is a thick forest and 村(むら) is a village (one unit of area surrounded by trees)
parts of a tree – 葉(は) is a leaf and 本 (もと) is a root.
types of trees – 桜(さくら) is a cherry tree and 松(まつ) is a pine tree.
things made of wood – 机(つくえ) is clearly a table, 床(ゆか) is the wood you lay indoors so a floor and 柱(はしら) is a pillar or post.
things that can be done with a tree – so you can rest by a tree 休む(やすむ), you can plant a tree 植える(うえる) or you can gather a lot of wood 集まる(あつまる).

4. They help you create mnemonics.
Well, as Koichi pointed at Tofugu lately (point 6 of this article), you have to be aware that not always a meaning of a certain bushu will be all that helprful if you stick to a literal meaning or its reading. Sometimes you have to be more imaginative, but with radicals – YOU CAN! Nothing stops you. For example – in my early days of learning Japanese I couldn’t remember how to write 悪い(わるい) – “bad” – because I had no idea what it stands for actually. Then my friend came over to me and said “Hey, see that… *he pointed the the upper part of the sign* this is a tank. And the thing below?”. “That’s kokoro, a heart” I replied. “See? It’d BAD when a tank would ride over your heart, wouldn’t it?” – I remember this even today. A lot of kanji books take advantage of this fact and teach you weird or funny mnemonics – just don’t forget the best mnemonics are those you create yourself. Personalized knowledge is the best knowledge.

This is a poor scan of an excerpt from "ストーリーで覚える漢字300"

This article is dedicated to @jpkit (Jasmine-san) who was the first to help me make my mind on which language to write about today :)! I also promise to start adding a blogroll and links to Kantan datta today or tomorrow!