Daily Japanese Study Unit Index

So our Daily Japanese Study Unit series is exclusive to our dontcallmesensei blog, meaning that you’ll have to go there to see it. But over here we’ve taken the liberty of providing links to each unit.

The DJSU units consist of 10 grammar points, taken from JapaneseTest4You, 20 vocabulary words from Routledge’s A Frequency Dictionary of Japanese, and 15 Kanji from the Kyouiku Kanji series in order.

Unit 1 Unit 2 Unit 3 Unit 4 Unit 5

Unit 6 Unit 7 Unit 8 Unit 9 Unit 10

Unit 11 Unit 12 Unit 13 Unit 14 Unit 15

Unit 16 Unit 17 Unit 18 Unit 19 Unit 20

Unit 21 Unit 22 Unit 23 Unit 24 Unit 25

Unit 26 Unit 27 Unit 28 Unit 29 Unit 30

Unit 31 Unit 32 Unit 33 Unit 34 Unit 35

Unit 36 Unit 37 Unit 38 Unit 39 Unit 40

Unit 41 Unit 42 Unit 43 Unit 44 Unit 45

Unit 46 Unit 47 Unit 48 Unit 49 Unit 50

Unit 51 Unit 52 Unit 53 Unit 54 Unit 55

Unit 56 Unit 57 Unit 58 Unit 59 Unit 60

Unit 61 Unit 62 Unit 63 Unit 64 Unit 65

Unit 66 Unit 67 Unit 68

Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (4)

We’ve been MIA for a while! So sorry about that! We still have two models to go through before we decide on which one to go with. Without further ado…

Grammar

1. のがへた (no ga heta)

Parsing: [Verb Phrase] [no (substantivizer)] [ga (nominative particle)][heta (noun-unskillful)]

Meaning: (Someone) is unskillful/bad at [Verb Phrase]

 

2. すぎる (sugiru)

Parsing: [Verb stem] [sugiru (verbal suffix- too much)]

Meaning: to [verb] too much OR to exceed in [verb]-ing

 

3. たい (tai)

Parsing: [Verb stem] [tai (desiderative verbal suffix)]

Meaning: to want to [verb]

Note: -tai as such is normally used for personal desires.

 

4. たことがある (ta koto ga aru)

Parsing: [Verb-past] [koto (noun-thing/experience)] [ga (nominative particle)] [aru (copula verb – to be/to have)]

Meaning: to have the experience of [verb]-ing

 

5. ている (te iru)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [iru (copula verb- to be/to have]

Meaning: Periphrastic progressive aspect: to be [verb]-ing

 

6. てもいい (te mo ii)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [mo (secondary particle-too)] [ii (adjectival verb- good]

Meaning: It is okay to [verb]

 

7. てから (te kara)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [kara (post-position – after)]

Meaning: After [verb]-ing

 

8. てはいけない (te wa ikenai)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [wa (topical particle] [ikenai – (verb-potential negative – to not be able to proceed]

Meaning: One must [verb]

 

9.  (to)

Parsing: [Noun] [to (parallel conjunction] [Noun-2]

Meaning: [Noun] and [Noun-2]

 

10. つもりだ (tsumori da):

Parsing: [Verb Phrase] [tsumori (dependent noun – intention)] [da (copula verb – to be]

Meaning: One intends to [Verb Phrase]

Vocabulary

1. その — (adjective) that (close to the addressee)

2. あの — (adjective) that (close to neither the speaker nor the addressee)

3. どの — (adjective) which?

4. あそこ — (pronoun) over there

5. どこ — (pronoun) where?

6. 誰(だれ)— (pronoun) who?

7. 美味しい(おいしい) — (adjectival verb) delicious

8. 魚(さかな) — (noun) fish

9. 豚カツ(とんかつ) — (noun) Pork cutlet

10. 肉(にく) — (noun) meat

11. メニュー — (noun) menu

12. 野菜(やさい) — (noun) vegetable

13. 鉛筆(えんぴつ) — (noun) pencil

14. 傘(かさ) — (noun) umbrella

15. 鞄(かばん) — (noun) bag

16. 靴(くつ) — (noun) shoes

17. 財布(さいふ) — (noun) wallet; handbag

18. ジーンズ — (noun) jeans

19. 辞書(じしょ) — (noun) dictionary

20. 自転車(じてんしゃ) — (noun) bicycle

Kanji

1. 天

Meaning: Heaven
Chinese Reading: テン
Japanese Reading: あめ・あま

2. 生

Meaning: Life
Chinese Reading: セイ・ショウ
Japanese Reading: い(きる)・う(む)・なま

3. 花

Meaning: Flower
Chinese Reading: カ
Japanese Reading: はな

4. 草

Meaning: Grass
Chinese Reading: ソウ
Japanese Reading: くさ

5. 虫

Meaning: Insect
Chinese Reading: チュウ
Japanese Reading: むし

6. 犬

Meaning: Dog
Chinese Reading: ケン
Japanese Reading: いぬ

7. 人

Meaning: Person
Chinese Reading: ジン・ニン
Japanese Reading: ひと

8. 名

Meaning: Name
Chinese Reading: メイ・ミョウ
Japanese Reading: な

9. 女

Meaning: Female
Chinese Reading: ジョ・ニョ
Japanese Reading: おんな

10. 男

Meaning: Male
Chinese Reading: ダン・ナン
Japanese Reading: おとこ

Hiragana and Katakana

Today, we are finally going to make actual Hiragana and Katakana lessons, i.e. we’ll be telling you what you need to know about them and what’s the best way of going about learning them.

First, Kana come from Kanji; and Kanji comes China. The word “Kanji” itself means “Chinese Characters.”

Kanji was developed to suit the needs of Sinitic languages (the Chinese family); and it does so very well. Japanese is not a Sinitic language and, though it has used Kanji in its writing for centuries, it is not exactly efficient… (I’ve said this a dozen times.)

Second, you don’t need to know the Kanji origins to learn the Kana. It’s something cool to be aware of, but for practical purposes it’s trivia. It starts becoming important if you’re interested in old texts and Man’yougana and things like that.

Third, don’t be fooled into believing that Hiragana is used exclusively for one thing and that Katakana is used exclusively for another. People are often told that Katakana is used for just loanwords and scientific terms, but that’s really not true. You’ll find things often enough in Hiragana and at some other point in Katakana that it’s best to stay away from any premature notions like that.

Fourth, learning Kana is a weekend project. It’s not something that takes months and months to learn or anything like that. So, once you have a free weekend, you can get this under your belt, which is extremely helpful.

Fifth, if you need a good online flashcard/game, realkana is very good and is a no nonsense platform.

Learning the Kana

There are people who spend a big amount of their time creating mnemonic devices for Hiragana, probably more so than Katakana. Our advice is that you give it a shot without the mnemonic devices and see how it goes. We also encourage you to start with Hiragana because it is a fair bit more common.

We assume that by the time you start looking at Kana flashcards, you are not trying to do them all at once.

Instead, you should be starting with a group of 5 (preferably the vowels あ, い, う, え, and お) and adding another 5 once you have the main set mastered.

In other words, you will have 5, 10, 15, 20, 25… all the way to 45.

(Courtesy of realkana, the 45 we’re talking about about are all the Kanji to the left of and including ん.)

Once you have the 45 mastered and you’re comfortable with them, you can start worrying about the 25 that are just Kana you already you know with diacritics.

You’ll see a pattern: /k/ turns into /g/; /s/ turns into /z/, /t/ turns into /d/. That’s simple. Then you just have to keep in mind that the /h/ series plus the ゛(dakuten) is /b/ and plus the ゜(handakuten) is /p/.

Here’s the tricky part: じ is pronounced with an English /j/ sound; and ず and づ sound very much alike. We here romanize づ as “dzu” and ず as “zu” just to make the distinction; and it may help you while you work on flashcards, too, to have them distinguished.

Hard part is over. You’ve done one set. Now you have to do the other. (If you follow our advice, that’ll be Katakana.)

With your second set, you’ll realize that some Kana look similar: か and カ, へ and ヘ, and や and ヤ. These are like freebies.

For Katakana, though, you have 4 very pesky characters you’ll have to look at a few times: シ, ツ, ン, ソ. They’re not the hardest things in the world, but it’d be wise to study these separately. The difference between シ and ン (one set) and ツ and ソ (another set) is that the first set’s lines are written left to right and the second set’s lines are written from top to bottom.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on ヲ, which is a character you don’t get to see much of normally, and you way start to forget it.

Okay, so how long does this really take?

It depends on one’s ability to memorize things, obviously. But each should take one about 3 hours, thereabouts. 90 characters is not a lot by any stretch of the imagination. Your mind is memorizing much more elaborate and complex things every day, so don’t sweat this.

Japanese: Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (3)

And we’re back! This is a third idea. The main thing is the Kanji table (forgive the bad resolution; I can make it as a PNG if we decide to go for the table). The Grammar section also offers no real linguistic explanation besides saying what part of speech it actually is, which I’m not keen on myself, but if you all like it I can live with it.

Let me know what you think at the end of the week!

Grammar

  1. もう (mou): adverb | “already/anymore” | “mou V[past]” – “Already V-ed”| “mou V[neg] – “Does not V anymore”
  2. (na): imperative negative suffix | “do not” | “V[present affirmative]na” – “Do not V.”
  3. ないでください (naide kudasai): verbal expression | “please do not” | “V[present negative]de kudasai – “Please do not V.”
  4. なる (naru): verb | “to become” | “N ni naru” – “to become N” | “Vi[stem]ku naru” – “to become Vi”
  5. (ni): dative particle | “at, for, by” | the dative case marks a location intrinsic to the action or indirect object (mainly).
  6. (he): /locative particle | indicates a destination. NOTE: the dative particle can carry out this same function. NOTE: Pronounced /e/
  7. に行く (ni iku): verbal expression | “to go in order to” | “V[stem] ni iku” – “to go in order to V”
  8. にする (ni suru): verbal expression | “to decide on” | “N ni suru” – “to decide on N”
  9. のがじょうず (no ga jouzu): noun expression | “is skilled at” | “V no ga jouzu” – “is skilled at V-ing.”
  10. のがすき (no ga suki): noun expression | “likes” | “V no ga suki” | “likes Ving”

Vocabulary

  1. 文学  (ぶんがく・bungaku)— (noun) Literature
  2. 歴史 (れきし・rekishi) — (noun) History
  3. 仕事 (しごと・shigoto) — (noun) job; occupation
  4. 医者 (いしゃ・isha) — (noun) medical doctor
  5. 会社員 (かいしゃいん・kaishain) — (noun) office worker
  6. 高校生 (こうこうせい・koukousei) — (noun) high school student
  7. 主婦 (しゅふ・shufu) — (noun) housewife
  8. 大学院生 (だいがくいんせい・daigakuinsei) — (noun) graduate student
  9. 弁護士 (べんごし・bengoshi) — (noun) lawyer
  10. お母さん (おかあさん・okaasan) — (noun) mother
  11. お父さん (おとおさん・otoosan) — (noun) father
  12. お姉さん (おねえさん・oneesan) — (noun) older sister
  13. お兄さん (おにいさん・oniisan) — (noun) older brother
  14. 妹 (いもうと・imouto) — (noun) younger sister
  15. 弟 (おとうと・otouto) — (noun) younger brother
  16. これ (kore) — (pronoun) this (thing)
  17. それ (sore) — (pronoun) that (thing) [close to the addressee]
  18. あれ (are) — (pronoun) that (thing) [close to neither speaker or addressee]
  19. どれ (dore) — (pronoun) what? (thing)
  20. この (kono)  — (adjective) this

Kanji

日、年、早、木、林、山、川、土、空、田

Japanese: Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (2)

And we’re back! Today’s format will be more streamlined – quite different from what we saw before. Let me know which one you like better at the end of the week!

Grammar

  1. (ka): secondary suffix | “X ka Y” – “X or Y” | X and Y can be any noun or verb (or adjective)
  2. から (kara): post-position | “X kara Y” – “From X, Y” | X will be a noun
  3. から (kara): conjunction | “X kara X” – “Because X, Y” | X will be an inflexional phrase
  4. けれども (keredomo): conjunction | “X keredomo Y – “Although X, Y” | X will be an inflexional phrase. (Conjunctions けど (kedo) and けれど (keredo) are functionally the same)
  5. くらい (kurai): suffix | “X (Y) kurai” – “about X (Y) | X will be a number; Y is an optional counter
  6. まだ (mada): adverbial noun | “Mada X” – “Still X” | X is an inflexional phrase; “mada” modifies the verb.
  7. まえに (mae ni): noun and dative particle | “X mae ni” – “Before X” | X will be an inflexional phrase modifying “mae.” If X is a noun phrase, then it will become an inflexional phrase through the additional attributive form of the copula “da,” viz. “no,” at the end. ([Noun phrase] no mae ni)
  8. ませんか (-masen ka): expression | “X[pol. neg. pres.] ka” – “Why don’t we X?” | X is a verb conjugated for the polite, negative, present with the interrogative ending particle. This functions as an invitation to do something.
  9. ましょう (mashou): expression | “X[mashou]” – “Let’s X!” | X is a verb conjugated in this particular way. This functions as soft cohortative.
  10. (mo): secondary particle | “X (Y) mo” – “Even X” or “X, too” | X will tend to be a noun phrase. Y will be the main case particle, which in the case of “ga,” “wo” and “wa” will drop out when they precede “mo.”

Vocabulary

  1. 日本 (nihon/nippon) – (noun) Japan.
  2. 〜年生 (nensei) – (suffix) -year (commonly used for school and college year.) E.g. 2年生 “second year (student)”
  3. はい (hai) – (interjection) Yes.
  4. 半 (han) – (suffix) half-, half past-. E.g. 六時半 “half past six.”
  5. 番号 (bangou) – (noun) number; series of digits.
  6. 留学生 (ryuugakusei) – (noun) international student.
  7. 私 (watashi) – (pronoun) first person singular, “I.”
  8. アメリカ (amerika) – (noun) casual term for the U.S.
  9. イギリス (igirisu) – (noun) casual term for the U.K.
  10. オーストラリア (oosutoraria) – (noun) Australia.
  11. 韓国 (kankoku) – (noun) casual term for the nation of South Korea.
  12. スウェーデン (suweeden) – (noun) Sweden.
  13. 中国 (chuugoku) – (noun) China.
  14. 科学 (kagaku) – (noun) Science.
  15. アジア研究 (ajia kenkyuu) – (noun) Asian Studies.
  16. 国際関係 (kokusai kankei) – (noun) International Relations.
  17. コンピューター (konpyuutaa) – (noun) computer.
  18. 人類学 (jinruigaku) – Anthropology.
  19. 政治 (seiji) – Politics; Government.
  20. ビジネス (bijinesu) – Business.

Kanji

百 — もも ー ヒャク ー Hundred

千 — ち ー セン ー  Thousand

上 — うえ ー ジョウ ー Above

下 — した ー  ー Under

左 — ひだり ー サ ー  Left

右 — みぎ ー ウ・ユウ ー Right

中 — なか ー チュウジュウ ー Inside/Middle

大 — おお ー ダイタイ ー Big

小 — ちい ー ショウ ー Small

月 — つき ー ゲツカツ ー Moon

Japanese Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (1)

  1. (This is a post from dontcallmesensei!)

    This is my beta test of something I’d like to make a daily series sooner than later. What we’ll be doing is looking at grammar points, vocabulary, and Kanji from a linguistic perspective. So let’s try some thing out this week.

    Grammar (from JapaneseTest4You)

    1. だけ (dake)- is a substantivizing suffix, meaning that it is a suffix that, if it attaches to a verb, makes it syntactically a noun. “Dake” means “only.” “N dake” and “V dake” mean “Only N” and “Only V;” but remember that after “V dake” you may need a copula: “V dake da.”
    2. だろう (darou)- is a verbal expression. It functions as the verb of the sentence, but does not conjugate. It replaces copulae, but does not replace other verbs, which will remain the same when the expression is used, making “darou” seem like a verbal suffix of sorts. It mans “It seems that…” “[Inflexional Phrase] darou” means “It seems that [Inflexional Phrase].”
    3. (de)- is a post-position. It’s like a preposition, giving us spatio-temporal information, but coming after the phrase instead of before. “De” indicates location. It tends to be translated as “at,” but it can also be “on” or “in” depending on context. “[Noun Phrase] de” means “at [noun phrase]
    4. でしょう (deshou)- is just the nicer version of “darou.” They mean the same thing.
    5. (ga)- is a conjunction. It connects two inflexional phrases (or sentences); and it conveys as sense of contradiction of dissonance between the two phrases, thus gets translated as “but” or “though.”
    6. [Noun Phrase]がある (ga aru)- is a sentence construction using the copula “aru,” which, unlike “da,” can easily convey an existential property and not just a categorical property. This is the difference between “It is X” and “There is an X.” “[Noun Phrase] ga aru” conveys the latter for non-living things.
    7. [Noun Phrase]がいる (ga iru)- is the same as the previous, except that the copula is “iru,” and it conveys an existential property for living things.
    8. [Verb Phrase]ほうがいい (hou ga ii)- is a verbal construction. In Japanese, nouns are modified by verb phrases preceding them. “Hou” is a noun that means “way” or “manner.” With the verb phrase preceding it, it means “the way that [Verb Phrase]” “ga” is our nominative particle, indicating that “hou” is the subject of the sentence; and “ii” is the adjective (though it really isn’t an adjective) meaning “good.” So what this is expressing is that “the way that [Verb Phrase] is good.” What the expression is implying is that “One should [verb phrase].”
    9. [Verb Phrase [V-neg]]ほうがいい (hou ga ii)- is the same as the previous, except that the verb in the verb phrase is negative. In this case, as logic would dictate, the implication is that “One should not [verb phrase [V-pos]].”
    10. 一番 (いちばんー ichiban)- is a word that is a noun and adverb- and as an adverb it modifies nouns (meaning it behaves like an adjective). In other words, it’s a very versatile word. It means “number 1″ or “the most.” It will go before the noun or verb it wants to modify.

      A construction JapaneseTest4You brings up is: “[Verb Phrase] no ga ichiban [adjectival noun] da.” “No” is a substantivizing suffix. So the whole verb phrase is a noun. “Ga.” is the nominative particle, meaning it’s the subject of the sentence. (One may also have “wa,” the topical particle, where the meaning doesn’t change much.) And then you have the adjectival noun and “ichiban.” What this conveys is that “[Verb Phrase] is the most [adjectival noun].

    Vocabulary (from Genki 1) 

    (We’ll be using Routledge in the near future. For now, Genki will have to do.)

    1. あの (ano)- is an interjection, equivalent to “umm…”
    2. 今 (いま – ima)- is an adverb meaning “now.” It can also be used as a noun.
    3. 英語 (えいご – eigo)- is a noun meaning “the English language.”
    4. 学生 (がくせい – gakusei)- is a noun meaning “student.”
    5. 〜語 (〜ご – ~go)- is a suffix meaning “language.” It’s what you see in “英語.”
    6. 高校 (こうこう – koukou)- is a noun meaning “high school,” referring specifically to the last 3 years of pre-college education.
    7. 午後 (ごご – gogo)- is an adverb that functions adjectivally meaning “p.m.” It will go immediately before the phrase indicating the time in hours and minutes.
    8. 午前 (ごぜん – gozen)- is just like “午後,” except that it means “a.m.”
    9. 〜歳 (〜さい – ~sai)- is a suffix meaning “years old.” It will go after a number. The only exception that comes to mind is 20歳, which is said “hatachi,” which has nothing to do with Kanji.
    10. 〜さん (~san)- is an address suffix. You put it after someone’s name (most commonly their family name.)
    11. 〜時 (~ji)- is a temporal suffix, indicating an amount of hours. Like “〜歳” it comes after a number.
    12. 〜人 (~jin)- is a suffix indicating one’s nationality or ethnicity; but it is used mostly for the former. It comes after the names of countries.
    13. 先生 (sensei)- is a noun and address suffix. As a suffix, it goes after a person’s name. What it indicates is someone who has a didactic or guiding role in one’s life. This is most commonly used for schoolteachers, professors, doctors, and famous authors.
    14. 専門 (senmon)- is a noun meaning “speciality” or “expertise.” It can be used to refer to one’s “major,” but a better term for one’s major is “専攻 (せんこう – senko).”
    15. そうです。(Sou desu.)- is an expression meaning “It is so.” When make a question, “Sou desu ka,” it indicates intrigue.
    16. 大学 (だいがく – daigaku)- is a noun meaning any “post-secondary education institute” so it refers to both college and university.
    17. 電話 (でんわ – denwa)- is a noun meaning “telephone.”
    18. 友達 (ともだち – tomodachi)- is a noun meaning “friend.”
    19. 名前 (なまえ – namae)- is a noun meaning “name.”
    20. 何 (なに/なん – nani/nan)- is an interrogative pronoun meaning “what?”

    Kanji (from the standard Kyouiku Kanji curriculum)

    Kanji Meaning Chinese Reading Japanese Reading

    一   One    いち         ひと

    二   Two    に          ふた

    三   Three   さん         みつ

    四   Four    し          よん

    五   Five    ご          ご

    六   Six    ろく         むつ

    七   Seven   しち         なな

    八   Eight   はち          やつ

    九   Nine   きゅう         ここの

    十   Ten    じゅう         とう

    So that’s one format we can go for. I’ll throw out another idea tomorrow.

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 3)

Let’s Talk About Kanji!

Kanji are logograms of Chinese origin. A logogram is a script character that designates a notion, idea, or a semantic range. This is different from an ideogram, which has a form that in itself reminiscent of the thing it refers to. (The woman on the women’s restroom is an example of an ideogram.)

Kanji, because they are borrowed from Chinese, were not made to work with the Japanese language. Kanji are used for lexemes, fragments of words with external, rather than functional, meaning. Most of the time they’re used for central, or most important, lexeme, and not the prefix or suffixes. (There are exceptions, though; and many prefixes and suffixes have Kanji even if they are not in popular use.)

To add another layer of complexity, Japanese has been very influenced lexically (in terms of borrowing words and terms) from Chinese, meaning that there may be a Chinese lexeme and Japanese lexeme for the same thing. This is similar to how in English there are terms of Germanic origin and terms of Latin origin for the same thing. (Cow and Beef, for example.) Both lexemes, nevertheless, with use the same Kanji. 牛, for example, means “cow.” The Japanese lexeme is “ushi” and the Chinese lexeme is “gyuu.” Both use the same Kanji. So one must learn both the Japanese and Chinese reading. There are sometimes more than those two readings, but these are the most prominent.

All this makes Japanese writing one of the most inefficient writing systems in the world. From kindergarten to the last year of high school, one is learning Kanji one will see in one’s everyday life in Japanese.

The Japanese government decides which are the Kanji that should be considered “standard,” with all other Kanji being annotated with its reading in small script called “furigana.” The Standard Kanji, called the Jouyou Kanji, or regular-use Kanji, are 2,136. We would say that one needs to know a few more than that, however, rounding up to about 3,000.

Learning Kanji

There are two types of people in the world, those who want to avoid Kanji and try to learn Kanji and really don’t succeed, and those who bash their heads into the wall that is Kanji and eventually make some little dent through which knowledge trickles down into their fractured skulls.

We propose a third path, which is to be a bit like the Japanese and just accept them as they come. What do we mean by that? Firstly, we mean that it’s best to accept Japanese where they are with the reading they have instead of just trying to get everything into Kana and associating one Kanji is a specific reading. Secondly, we mean that you should accept that you have to learn many of them, and that you do it bit by bit over an expended period of time.

We are working on a curriculum that will make the process work alongside the regular posts and parsings; until then, here is what we recommend you do.

1) Find a list of the Jouyou Kanji and just write them out. You don’t have to learn them or memorize their meanings, but just write them out. (If you can find it with the stroke order, better; because it helps you write it and realize the differences between fonts.) The amount of components in Kanji are less than the Kanji themselves. Once you know the components, they seems a lot less exotic, so to speak.

2) Our posts include Kanji (we very rarely swap out Kanji for Kana). Look at the Kanji; and look at the reading. There are some Kanji that are so popular that one will naturally just remember its reading.

3) Remember that there are “families” of Kanji that have Chinese readings based on certain components. An example of this is 性, 生, and 姓, which all have the same component on the right pronounced “sei.” This is a small trick, but it will get you out of a few pinches.

4) Download one of the Rikai plug-ins. Rikaichan and Rikaikun are plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome, respectively, that let one hover over a Japanese word and get its reading and a short definition. Take the definitions with a grain of salt, though, because the dictionary Rikai uses is one that is meant to be displayed in small spaces and thus does not provide much context on when a certain definition is used. If you need a more thorough definition, look up a Japanese-English dictionary, which are many and which one is best depends on your taste. Just Google 和英辞典 (“Waei-Jiten” Japanese-English Dictionary) and you’ll find a few.

We tell you the reading of all the Kanji, and we define every word; so you don’t have to worry about that right now. Our stuff are still accessible to you!

So here’s what we mean about Kanji being an overlay and not a writing system in itself.

If you only had Hiragana and Katakana, you could write any Japanese sentence without a problem. If you had Kanji, this wouldn’t be possible. Kanji are optional, inasmuch as one’s goal is to communicate. (Socially one is required to use Kanji, but a Kana-only text is far from illegible.) When one doesn’t know the Kanji, one defaults to Kana; and Kanji are in fact often supplemented with their readings in Kana. So I propose that you think of Kana as a single, fundamental, layer of text and of Kanji as a supplementary set of script that overlays lexemes.

In Part 4, we’re going to talk about Nouns and Adverbs!

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 2)

Hiragana and Katana, together referred to as called Kana, are often called syllabaries, meaning that they’re sets of symbols that describe syllables. That’s not quite right, because they aren’t describing syllables, but morae. A syllable has to do with one’s breath. A mora (singular of morae) has to do with the sound in the syllable. Take any sentence, and say it in a whisper and say it mute, syllable by syllable. The breaths that you’re expelling are the syllables. The sounds, which you aren’t making, are the morae.

In Japanese, we can have a sentence like this: “Kyūshū wa toshi ga chiisai.”  If we do the same exercise and thus divide the sentence by syllables, we’ll get “Kyuu-shuu-wa-to-shi-ga-chii-sai.” (8 syllables) But what the Kana does is divide it by morae: “きゅうーしゅうーはーとーしーがーちいーさい.” (12 Kana) So there are more Kana than syllables.

Hiragana and Katakana have near perfect equivalency, meaning that almost everything you can write with one, you can write with the other (the exceptions are very minor technical things.) Every あ (Hiragana) can be switched out with ア (Katakana), every い with イ, etc. So if you know how to work with one of them, you know how to work with the other.

Hiragana

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Hiragana is the “smooth kana.” It’s the more common of the two (not by a lot, but it is.) Hiragana’s main function in day-to-day business is to serve as “okurigana,” which are the prefixes and suffixes that are attached to lexical stems. Imagine that the word “destined” was Japanese for a second. The /destin/ would be the lexical stem. It’s where the meat and potatoes of the meaning lies; and we see it in a lot of other words, like “destiny” and “destination.” The the /ed/ is just a suffix. This qualifies the word and makes it a specific part of speech. The /destin/ would be written in Kanji and the /ed/ would be written in Hiragana.

When one lengthens vowels in Hiragana, one tends to write the character including the vowel alongside the sole vowel/morae. For example: “ちいさい” begins with “chii,” two /i/ vowels. So you write ち, which we romanize as “chi,” and add い, which is romanized as “i.” The lengthening of the /o/ vowel tends to be written with an /u/; but there are words, especially older words, where the lengthening happens with two /o/’s, which as とお, “too,” meaning “ten.”

Children, or people who are in the process of learning Kanji, write almost everything in Hiragana. A special function of Hiragana is to make things look a bit more effeminate. So one may opt to write something entirely in Hiragana just for that aesthetic.

Katakana

768px-table_katakana

Katakana is the “fragmentary kana,” which refers to how a lot of it is sharp lines and how in writing it’s nice to have some kind of flow (like the curves in Hiragana).

Katakana has a number of functions. It’s most famously used for loanwords and foreign names, which are quite a lot in Japanese. It’s also used in textbooks for readings of Kanji; and, as an extension to that, one finds it as an explanation of the reading of a proper name in Kanji.

Vowel lengthening in Katakana tends to occur with a dash (ー), called a “chounpu” in Japanese. So “chii” in Katakana is not チイ but チー. The dash is sometimes seen in Hiragana for stylistic reasons, particularly if one wants to note the pronunciation of something. For example, there’s an expression in Japanese, “しつれいします,” “shitsurei shimasu,” used when one is entering a superior’s office. Japanese people sustain that last /a/, so it sounds like “shitsurei shimaaaasu.” So someone may decide to write that as しつれいしまーす.”

It’s also used when you want to make things sound more masculine. So in the same way that you might right something entirely in Hiragana to make it sound more feminine, you might write something in Katakana to make it sound more masculine.

Important Notes

Certain kana take a symbol called “dakuten,” or voicing maker (the two lines in が.) These are the kana whose syllable is /k/, /t/, /s/, and /h./ Voicing is a phenomenon in phonetics that makes it so that a consonant whose elocution does not involve the moving of the vocal cords to now use the vocal cords.
/k/ becomes /g/, /t/ becomes /d/, /s/ becomes /z/, and /h/ (the exception to this) becomes /b/. This is because once upon a time /h/ was /p/; and the voiced counterpart to /p/ is /b/.

The /p/ consonant still exists in Japanese, though it is probably the rarest of consonants. To write a mora with the /p/ consonant, one takes the /h/ morae with the same vowel and adds a “handakuten,”  the small circle in  ぱ.

Morae can also be palatalized, which means that they’re pronounced at the palate of the mouth, another phonetic phenomenon; and that involves the writing of a small や、よ、or ゆ next to the mora that can be palatalized. We romanize this as the main consonant plus a /y/ and the vowel. So は (“ha”) is palatalized to ひゃ (“hya”).

The /w/ is slowly disappearing in Japanese. The mora を, “wo,” is now pronounced as a pure “o.”  There are Hiragana and Katakana for “we” and “wi,” (Hiragana: ゑ and ゐ; Katakana: ヱ and ヰ) but they came into disuse only 2 generations ago.

Also, from this you’ve probably gathered that Japanese’s set of sounds is quite small. That is true. There are about 100 different morae in Japanese; and like 50 of them are variations of the basic ones (through voicing and palatalization). There are languages with fewer phonetic sets, like Hawaiian, but this is definitely small, much smaller than English.

Also worth noting: Japanese people, when whispering, divide the sentence into morae. It’s just a habit of theirs; but when they speak normally, the syllables match what we talked about.

So that’s all I have to say right now about Kana. Let’s talk about Kanji!

Kanji: Second Grade (Part 2)

The following is an unedited post created on our Tumblr page. You may find the original here.

I’m presenting this in two parts because the site from which I get the images with the stroke order is acting funny and will not generate the images of the last 20 kanji. So when that’s straightened out, I’ll provide them

So for Second Grade we have 160 Kanji. As I’ve mentioned before, the Ministry of Education groups them by grade according to frequency. So even if they’re intricate to write, a Japanese person will see these so many times they will learn them nevertheless, even at the age of 7.

We’re learning their meaning first, then we’ll deal with the readings. Dividing the learning process this way makes it less overwhelming.

81. Number

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82. Many

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83. Few

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84. Ten Thousand

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85. Half

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86. Shape

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87. Thick

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88. Thin

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89. Wide

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90. Long

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91. Point

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92. Circle

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93. Intersect

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94. Light

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95. Corner

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96. Measure

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97. Straight

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98. Line

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99. Arrow

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100. Weak

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101. Strong

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102. High

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103. Same

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104. Parent

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105. Mother

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106. Father

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107. Older Sister

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108. Older Brother

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109. Younger Brother

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110. Younger Sister

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111. Oneself

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112. Friend

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113. Body

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114. Hair

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115. Head

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116. Face

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117. Neck

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118. Heart

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119. Time

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120. Weekday

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121. Morning

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122. Daytime

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123. Night

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124. Minute

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125. Week

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126. Spring

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127. Summer

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128. Autumn

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129. Winter

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130. Now

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131. New

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132. Old

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133. Interval

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134. Direction

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135. North

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136. South

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137. East

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138. West

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139. Far

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140. Near

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141. Before

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142. After

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143. Inside

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144. Outside

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145. Place

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146. Ground

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147. Country

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148. Garden

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149. Valley

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150. Field

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151. Meadow

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152. Ri (Ri is an old unit of measurement)

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153. City

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154. Capital

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155. Wind

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156. Snow

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157. Cloud

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158. Pond

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159. Sea

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160. Rock

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161. Star

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162. Room

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163. Door

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164. House

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165. Buddhist temple

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166. Pass Through

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167. Gates

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168. Road

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169. Talk

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170. Say

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171. Answer

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172. Voice

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173. Hear

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174. Language

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175. Read

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176. Write

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177. Record

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178. Paper

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179. Brush Stroke

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180. Picture

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181. Drawing

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182. Craft

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183. Teach

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184. Clear

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185. Think

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186. Consider

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187. Know

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188. Ability

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189. Reason

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190. Calculate

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191. Make

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192. Origin

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193. Eat

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194. Meat

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195. Horse

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196. Cow

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197. Fish

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198. Bird

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199. Feather

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200. Chirp

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201. Wheat

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202. Rice

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203. Tea

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204. Color

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205. Yellow

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206. Black

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207. Come

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208. Go

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209. Return

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210. Walk

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212. Run

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213. Stop

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214. Active

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215. Store

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216. Buy

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217. Sell

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218. Noon

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219. Steam

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220. -times

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