Kanji Clinic #80, The Japan Times, June 20, 2006
"Halpern's dictionary zooms in on kanji synonyms"

Even Japanese third-graders can sometimes contract the kanji blues. gBut, Mom, I learned the character for 'garden' ( sono) last month,h my son grumbled recently. gHow come (niwa, garden) means the same thing?h As his quest to master nearly 2,000 general-use characters continues in the years ahead, Lukas, like all serious aspirants to literacy in Japanese, will be required to distinguish the often subtle differences in meaning between an endless array of gkanji synonymsh such as and .

Early in your own Japanese studies, you may have memorized the same general or gcoreh meaning for a number of basic-level kanji synonyms: tokoro / BA (place); naka/OU (middle); [yuu/yoru (night); g tsuka-u/pYOU (use); and G e/GA (picture), for example. As you repeatedly encountered these semantically similar characters in a variety of compound words, perhaps you became curious about their differences in connotation, just as children and adults tackling English wonder what distinguishes, say, gpassionh and glove.h

For kanji learners keen to explore the differences and similarities between kanji with closely related meanings, Jack Halpernfs gNew Japanese-English Character Dictionaryh (Kenkyusa) is the ideal resource. For each of his 3,500 character entries, Halpern takes the unique approach of furnishing a list of synonyms for cross-reference. Then, in an appendix, he collates these lists to create a simple kanji thesaurus.

After examining the wealth of examples of compound words Halpern provides under the entries for and , this gaijin parent was able to explain to her puzzled child that although can mean ggarden,h (e.g., kouen, public-garden, gparkh and | engei, garden-art, ggardeningh), it is also frequently used to mean gpublic premises,h as in doubutsuen, animal-public premises, gzooh and ۈ牀 hoikuen, care for-raise-public premises, gday care center.h

, on the other hand, originally referred to gcourtyardh (look for TEI, gcourth in ) before it came to mean gornamental garden,h presumably because ancient Chinese courtyards had impressive gardens. The garden we enjoyed at our former house in the countryside, I explained to my son, was a (niwa) and not a (sono). And the commonly used compound word ghouseholdh (ƒ, katei), although comprised of both a ghouseh (, KA) and a ggardenh (, TEI), refers to all households, even to our new condo where we make do with potted plants on the veranda.

Delving into Halpern also enables learners to unravel the potentially confusing semantic differences between a trio of kanji meaning ghouseh: (uchi, KA, KE), (ya, OKU), and (TAKU). The original meaning of (look for the components meaning groofh and gpigh) was ghouseh or ghomeh (e.g., Ƌ kagu, house-tools, gfurnitureh and jikka, real-home, gonefs parentsf homeh), but came by extension to mean gfamilyh (e.g., Noguchi-ke, the Noguchi family) as well as gmember of a professionh (e.g., gaka, picture-professional, gartisth).

In contrast, the original meaning of was groofh (e.g., yane, roof-phonetic ne, groofh), but was expanded semantically to encompass both ghouseh (e.g., heya, division-house, groomh) and gsmall shoph (e.g., ԉ hanaya, flower-shop, gfloristh). Finally, the meaning of (TAKU) is gresidence,h and it is a building block in such compounds as jitaku, self-residence, gonefs residenceh and the ubiquitous } takkyuubin, residence-hurry-delivery, ghome delivery service.h

Bringing the intricate relationships of closely related characters like these into sharp focus is key to mastering their meanings. No matter what your kanji level, I encourage you to get your hands on Halpernfs dictionary and spend some time browsing through his thesaurus. In the meantime, herefs a quiz to get you thinking about kanji synonyms.

Find two or three kanji synonyms from the list of elementary school kanji below to match each of the following core meanings.
a. PLACE: 1. 12.

b.PLANS: ___ ___
c.HOT: ___ ___
d.GATHER: ___ ___
e.END: ___ ___ @
f.MAIN: ___ ___ ___
g.BREAK: ___ ___
h.USE :___ ___ @
i.FEE: ___ ___ ___
j.MAKE: ___ ___ ___

1. 2. 3.W 4.I 5.{ 6. 7.g 8. 9. 10. 11.p 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.v 18. 19. 20. 21.M 22. 23.H

Read a review of Halpernfs dictionary.

ANSWERS: b.8, 17 c.2, 21 d.3, 14 e.4, 16 f.5, 10, 18 g.6, 19 h.7, 11 i.9, 13, 20 j.15, 22, 23

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