Kanji Clinic #52 The Japan Times, April 1, 2004
gColorful stories plant tree-kanji in your memoryh

The pink cloud spectacle of Japan's cherry blossoms (sakura) started a bit earlier than usual this year. Sakura normally make their appearance in early April, a period of transition in the lives of many residents of Japan. Students advance a grade as the academic year kicks off, entire families relocate to unfamiliar cities due to job transfers (or Papa braves the move alone), and newly hired employees nationwide sweat through their first days at work.

By the time these folks have begun settling into their new routines, the short-lived sakura petals have formed a soggy pastel carpet on the ground.

The kanji representing the Japanese flowering cherry tree, as well as its delicate blossom, is . Yoshiake Takebe, in his textbook "Kanji Isn't That Hard" (Aruku), offers a vivid story for remembering the shape of : g is tree, is woman, and c is a decoration. Imagine the beautiful image of a cherry tree in bloom as a gaily-dressed woman with a hair decoration.h

A pre-sakura harbinger of spring, the blossom of ume (~, Japanese apricot or plum), makes its debut in late February to early March. Takebe neatly ties up the two components in ~-- "tree" and "every one"--with this memory aid: gUme ~ are small fruits, but every one grows separately on the tree , instead of in a bunch like grapes do.h

For kanji learners who have never laid eyes on mulberry leaves, the culinary delight of Japan's famous silkworms, Takebe explains that they are shaped like human hands, which is why the kanji for gmulberry,h K (kuwa), pictures three hands hanging up in a tree . (Note: is one of several kanji components meaning ghand.h)

Using entertaining kanji tales like these, accompanied by illustrations, Takebe explains the construction of over 400 characters. Takebe sometimes tells what he calls gkanji lies,h which deviate from the true origins of the characters. His aim is to cultivate effective learning techniques, not to teach kanji etymology.

Another master kanji storyteller who takes a component-analysis approach is Joseph R. De Roo, in his "2001 Kanji" (Bonjinsha). For remembering (cedar, sugi), whose pollen is the current seasonal bane of many allergy suffers in Japan, De Roo offers: gCedar trees have long trunks with no lower branches, only foliage like a hairdo c.h (Note: c is a non-general-use kanji meaning glong hairh).

Here is a sampling of De Roofs memory stories for kanji that have the gtreeh component:

t (leaf, ha)
Leaves t are successive generations of vegetation on a tree .

(fruit, result, KA)
The gfruitsh of farming grow in fields c and on trees .

(naked, hadaka)
Fruit becomes bare-skinned after its husk is removed. Similarly, people become bare-skinned (i.e., naked) when they peel off their clothes .

(manipulate, SOU)
The hand of the Imperial Bird Manager manipulates the tethers that keep the songbirds i (look for their three mouths ) tied to their trees .

More than 100 of Japanfs 1,945 general-use kanji contain the component for gtree.h (, ki) In your early Japanese studies, you may have discovered that mastering the shapes of two of these was a snap if you took a component-analysis approach: Three trees make a X mori gforesth and a person under a tree is x yasu-mu gresting.h As your kanji studies lead you to ever more graphically complex characters, I encourage you to continue to develop the ability to masterfully analyze kanji shapes.

Without glancing back at the beginning of todayfs column, see if you can sketch with your finger the kanji for gcherry blossomsh in the palm of your hand. Then go out and impress your companions this hanami (cherry blossom-viewing) season by writing from memory the character representing Japanfs most beloved flower.

Read columns detailing kanji that contain the components for woman, rice, and sun.
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