Thursday, April 19, 2012


Kanji are the characters used in Japanese writing (along with hiragana and katakana). A single kanji may have 10 or more meanings, depending on the context. The total number of possible characters is disputed.  Wikipedia says there may be 50,000 -100,000, with approximately 2000-3000 in common use. Japanese school children are expected to learn about 1000 by the time they finish the sixth grade. By the end of the ninth grade, students are expected to know about 2000, which is the number a person needs to know to read a Japanese newspaper.
I’ve accepted that I will never read a Japanese newspaper. I guess I’m not as smart as a Japanese fifth grader.  I’ve mostly figured out hiragana and am just starting to learn katakana. To read most signs or anything else, you need to know all three.

From looking at some signs over and over, I have figured out a few kanji.
The symbol for “yen” looks like an elephant with its trunk down.

“Minutes” looks like a dancing skirt with no upper body.

“Park” (as in outdoor area, not what you do with your car) looks like a three sided tent with an open tarp over it.

“Person” looks like a wishbone.

“Exit” looks like a double trident.

“Entrance” looks like a box.

“Up” looks like a stair master.

“Down” looks like an F slanting down.

“Fire” looks like a person running away.

“Mountain” looks like three skinny mountains.

It’s not easy being illiterate.

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