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Reader Response
January-February, 2003

A plea: Let us know which electronic dictionary you use!!

Thank you, first of all, for the interesting, illuminating, and well written articles about kanji and Japan that you have posted at kanjiclinic.com. They are eminently readable and sufficiently charming to make even the dreaded study of kanji seem more approachable :).

My question concerns your suggestion to use the four paper dictionaries you mention at Kanji Clinic. While I agree that these *are* good, why not also spend some time reviewing the excellent electronic dictionaries out there? Granted, some of these dictionaries are better for native Japanese speakers since they give the Japanese definitions in only non-phoneticized kanji. Still, others have a jump-search type feature that allow the user to look up a word and get a good definition that they can, in turn, research still further. Others even have furigana.

While I don't intend my letter to be a biased product endorsement, I have been using such a dictionary (the Canon Wordtank IDF3000) for two years now and have been very happy with it. This series of dictionary seems to be a good choice for non-Japanese learners who still want definitions in Japanese that they can decipher without spending an unreasonable amount of time.

One more aspect of these electronic dictionaries that I particularly like is the kanji dictionary part. Mine, for example, can look up kanji not only by on-kun, stroke number, and radical, but also by a component search. For example, to look up "oya"(parent), I could simply type the component parts of this kanji, "tatsu" (stand) and "ki" (tree) and "miru" (see). This seems in-line with the component approach you and Heisig advocate, so I wondered why I hadn't seen an article by you on electronic dictionaries. They are so fast and convenient!

Anyway, just my two cents. Thank you for your time, and please, please, please, keep the columns coming!

Idris Magette
New York City
Answers to a pronunciation puzzle

Prof. Tom Roby provides some answers to the kanji pronunciations puzzle he posed to Kanji Clinic site visitors in the July, 2001 Reader Response:

Give at least three examples of two-character Japanese compounds that can be correctly read either on-on or kun-kun.

The first example I had in mind was the compound "spring day", 春日 which can be read either "shunjitsu" or "harubi" (or even "kasuga"). It has three different readings! There's also "human-leg" 人足 read "ninsoku" (coolie, stevedore) and "hitoashi" (traffic); "human-heart" 人心 read jinshin ("public sentiment") and "hitogokoro" (human nature). "Mountain-way" 山道can be read either "sandou" or "yamamichi" (with the same meaning). "River-willow" 川柳 can be read either "kawayanagi" (purple willow) or "senryuu" (comic haiku poem). There must be a story behind the latter's etymology, but I don't know what it is.

It's also interesting that native English speakers tend to misuse the term "haiku" to apply to *any* expression in 5-7-5, and generally find themselves writing humorous senryuu rather than actual haiku. Maybe I'm too much of a purist, and I should take the stance that the word "haiku" in English is different, just as the Japanese have appropriated plenty of English terms whose meaning is really different, e.g., "hostesu" in Japanese never refers to a woman entertaining friends in her own home.

More examples can be easily found by browsing in kaneijiten, e.g., Nelson. Happy hunting!

Tom Roby
Hayward, California
Stroke order headaches? An aid for helping your children with their kanji homework

In the reader response letters on your site, one university professor of Japanese (native speaker, name witheld) has written an impassioned plea for learning stroke order - a year or so later, Joe Lauer of Hiroshima strongly suggests the reader forget it unless he/she is into calligraphy.

Personally, I fall somewhere between the two views - I hate the bother of trying to learn stroke order and I use a word processor most of the time, so I'm not really up on it, but I would like to be able to read (decipher?) 草書 and may someday take up 書道 (Japanese calligraphy) or ペン字.

For those readers with children in Japanese schools, it seems to me that you must learn stroke order in order to help your children with their school work. この漢字の書き順知っていますか ("Do You Know the Stroke Order of This Kanji?") by 下村昇, published by Playbooks is a book written for the native speaker of Japanese. It details stroke order and unless you attended a Japanese school, you are likely to be shocked at the vast number or irregularities in even simple kanji.

For example 左 ("left") is written with the horizontal stroke first, while 右 ("right") is written with vertical stroke first. The author even tries to explain why this strange state of affairs exists. This is an important addition to a kanji learner's library. Few kanji above elementary school level used. It sells for 850 yen.

On 肉、(See Column #33, "Kanji pronunciations: Made in China? Made in Japan?") the on pronunciationis にく(niku), even though most Japanese think にく is the kun pronunciation. しし (shishi) is the kunpronunciation . An interesting sidelight - the Okinawan word for 肉 is シシ (shishi). No Okinawan I've ever met will believe that this is the Japanese (kun) pronounciation, even after being shown not one, but several kanji dictionaries.

Gary Harper
Light novels led her to a love of reading in Japanese

I've been reading your Kanji Clinic column online, and found it very helpful. I've been studying Japanese for five years and last year spent a year studying at a Japanese university. I have some thoughts on your columns about reading real books and Japanese literature.

A major obstacle to my progress in reading kanji, and Japanese in general, was the difficulty of finding reading materials. Even when I was at a level where I could read most modern novels, slowly and with frequent recourse to a dictionary, I simply didn't want to. My problem wasn't just with the linguistic difficulty of the material, but also with its content. Yoshimoto Banana's "Kitchen," Murakami Haruki's "Norway no mori," Natsume Souseki's "Kokoro"--I couldn't get through a single book without a major character dying on me.

I'm a voracious reader in English, but I was used to lighter fare, and in fact I had been reading a lot of Japanese manga. So, from manga, I wandered over to the novels in the same section of the bookstore. At last I had found my answer! Light reading with romance, adventure, and happy endings. I didn't kid myself that they were great literature, but at least I could read them beginning-to-end in less than three months, and without throwing them against the wall. I was reading an hour or more a day for pleasure, and that's exactly the kind of reading practice I needed to start recognizing the more obscure kanji.

I worried that I'd look silly buying books for middle-school girls when I'm all of 20 years old, and that I should be reading "real" literature--but all I can say is that it worked for me. By all means, those who are interested in them should read Kawabata and Tanizaki, but for those who aren't quite there yet, novels like these are just what I need.

A site visitor
"Check out this kanji card book"

Kanji Clinic site visitors might be interested in a good kanji card book for high school entrance exams (if they don't already know about it). It's on my homepage under Children's Books, Advanced.

Tanoshii L2 Reading for EFL & JSL Learners

Roberta Welch
Tokyo, Japan
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