Column #85 Kanji Clinic, The Japan Times, April 17, 2007
"Kanji for 'new' holds the promise of spring"

During our family’s recent year-long sabbatical in Southern California, many new friends at my sons' school were puzzled as to why the academic year in Japan begins in April instead of September. Early spring, I explained, has long impressed the Japanese as the most fitting time for new beginnings. April’s pastel pink explosion of cherry blossoms, and the delicate green leaves that replace them after they have been scattered by the wind, are powerful symbols of renewal.

Like the Japanese term for new spring leaves, 新緑 (shinryoku, new-green), many compound words related to early spring and the life changes it ushers in contain the kanji representing “new,” (pronounced SHIN or atara-shii).

新 is the first character in the compound 新年度 (shinnendo, new-year-time), meaning “new year.” Like the school year, the fiscal year for government and most companies in Japan begins in April. 新年度 should not be confused with 新年 (shinnen, the New Year, indicating the beginning of a new calendar year).

新学期 (shingakki, new-learn-period, the new school term) kicked off last week at elementary schools, junior and senior high schools and universities throughout the nation. In this age-conscious society, 新入生 (shinnyuusei, new-enter-student, newly enrolled students) go to the bottom of the pecking order and must show proper respect to all older students. During spring break, in the weeks following graduation from their previous schools, these same first-year students basked in the glory of being 新卒者 (shinsotsusha, new-graduate-person, new graduates).

April brings transition and 新生活 (shinseikatsu, new-life-live, lifestyle change), and not only to students. Companies and government agencies customarily take in new employees each year, in one fell swoop, coinciding with the beginning of the fiscal year. 新入社員 (shinnyuushain, new-enter-company-member, newly hired employees) are currently sweating through their first weeks in the workplace. These newbies are known by their senior coworkers as 新米 (shinmai, “new rice”) or 新顔 (shingao, new faces), although the latter kanji compound is rapidly being replaced by its English loanword manifestation, ニュウフェース (nyuufeesu, new face). Companies also typically make employee transfers to other cities in April, requiring many families to move to a 新居 (shinkyo, new residence) in late March.

Advertisers -- who make heavy use of the term 新発売 (shinhatsubai, new-emit-sell, new product) throughout the year -- are especially fond of injecting 新 into their spring campaigns. Current ads by retailers of cellphones, electrical appliances, and apparel often feature the term 新生活 (shinseikatsu, new lifestyle) in attempting to convince consumers that only with the purchase of their products will life transitions be made complete.

新 often serves as a prefix-like element tacked onto the beginning of already existing words. New prefectural governors (知事, chiji) elected in last week’s elections, for example, will be called 新知事 (shinchiji) until they get their feet wet.

Mastering the shape of 新 is a snap if you divide it into its three components -- 立 (stand), 木 (tree), and 斤 (ax) -- and then imagine a stand of trees (i.e. a forest) being whacked down with axes to create a new town. Finally, don’t confuse 新 with the look-alike kanji 親 (oya, parent), which shares the same Chinese-derived pronunciation, SHIN.

April holds promise for a year of new kanji adventures. Go ahead, seize the spirit of the season and make a renewed commitment to mastering Japan’s 1,942 general-use characters.

Fill in the missing kanji from the list below for each of the following 新-compounds. Scroll down for answers.

Example: 1. 新 ( ) shingetsu, new-moon, “crescent moon” Answer: c.

2. 新 ( ) Shinjuku, new-lodgings, place name
3. 新 ( )shinbun, new-hearsay, “newspaper”
4. 新 ( ) shinyaku, new-promise, “the New Testament”
5. 新 ( ) 線 Shinkansen, new-trunk-line, “bullet train”
6. 新 ( ) 旅行 shinkonryokou, new-marriage-trip-go, “honeymoon”
7. 新人 ( ) ジュニアー shinjinruijyuniaa, new-people-category-junior, “the children of shinjinrui," (the generation of Japanese born after 1960)

a.婚 b.類 c.月 d.幹 e.宿 f.約 g.聞

Answers: 1. c 2. e. 3. g 4. f 5. d 6. a 7. b

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