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Reader Response
August, 2003

3rd-generation Japanese-Peruvian learns to read his grandparents' native language

I'm a Peruvian of Japanese ancestry, 3rd generation (日系ペルー人三世). My native language is Spanish. I've always heard Japanese around me since my childhood, but I never cared about learning it seriously until I was in college (about 6 years ago). I think I learned my first 100 Kanji during my first year of my course. It was so exciting to know I was on my way to decipher the "hieroglyphics" written on my grandparents' books!

I came to Japan in the year 2000, and lived in Tokyo during my first year. Then I moved to Yokohama. When I first arrived in Japan I could only handle basic Japanese. By that time I had already memorized about 300 Kanjis, but I kept forgetting them.

How do I study Kanji? Every time a computer with Internet access is within my reach, I check your site as well as 'www.rikai.com'. I find them very instructive. The rest of the time, my electronic dictionary becomes my Kanji teacher. Naturally, living in Japan is helping me a lot learning more and more Japanese and Kanji. Even when I'm not studying, just walking down the street gives me a good lesson and review of Kanji: 寿司、牛丼、焼肉、停留所、一方通行、立入禁止、禁煙、などなど。 Now, I think I can recognize and read about 1000 Kanjis, but I'm not sure if I remember how to write all of them. I have many Japanese friends and acquaintances, and when I hear a new word I often ask them how it's written in Kanji.

I'm still struggling with the general-use Kanji. It seems there's no end. I still can't read all Kanjis with the 'sakana' radical or all those weird Kanji from medical terms. But even the average Japanese doesn't know how to read all existing Kanjis. It's good to know I'm not alone in this race :-)

I like your site very much. I admire you for your efforts to raise your children bilingual.

Good work!! いつも応援します!!

Yokohama, Japan
39-year old Heisig fan says his brain cells are still just fine

I am writing to thank you for your web site and columns. Actually, I am writing to gush shamelessly.

I am a beginner to learning kanji using James Heisig's books. As I am a graduate student, I have had to limit my work to 30 minutes to an hour a day but I am very impressed with the results. The best thing is that I really enjoy the ' study. ' I am on the way to doing something I thought was impossible.

Six years ago, I married a Japanese woman and went to Japan to learn her language. We were there for four years before we returned to the U.S. so I could finish the course work for my degree. One thing that had bothered me in Japan was that my efforts to learn the language were frustrated by my failures at learning kanji the traditional way: I copied and copied my way through ' Basic Kanji I ' and promptly forgot everything, a truly demoralizing experience. It was clear, as well, that if I didn't learn kanji, spoken language text books would soon be too difficult, as the good ones all use kanji.

A longtime American expat recommended Heisig's system and finally, out of curiosity, I picked it up. It has been a revelation (cow...mouth): the other day a student asked me how to say 'only' in Latin and I remembered 'mouth . . . animal legs' BEFORE I remembered 'tantum' !

Although, when I left Japan with my family, I told myself we would be back as soon as I finished my coursework, I was dejected: I felt that, had I done better at Japanese, I might have settled more comfortably into the jobs I had found while there. Some were very promising. In my four years there, I felt more at home in Japan, in spite of the difficulties with the language, than I have anywhere else. I have no doubt that if I had started using Heisig's book before leaving, I would still be in Japan. Now, I am grateful that I've started because it makes the dream of returning to Japan much more real.

Which brings me to your web site: thank you for the excellent columns and reviews. They are really motivating. After reading your column on having a 'kanji dream' I immediately wrote my own. The columns on memorizing readings and learning vocabulary have given me advanced notice of what I will face after finishing Heisig I.

Some of your readers may be in my position: at 39, I didn't think I had much of a chance at learning all the kanji. I have a family, a busy schedule of study and teaching, and a mind (if we are to believe the media) that is twenty years past its prime. Heisig's method has nothing to do with age, however, and everything to do with imagination, something which abounds, thankfully, at every age.

Thanks again.

Peter Parisi
New Jersey, USA
London resident takes charge of his kanji learning

I am just writing to say THANKS for your Kanji-Clinic website. I have been glued to it since I came across it at a time I have decided to re-embark upon improving my Japanese. It is inspirational and the many opinions expressed by you and your readers has been very interesting; it has become a springboard to me taking a much more analytical approach to self-study, rather than ploughing through the usual text-books.

My personal view on seeing Heisig's and similar books echoes the misgivings of some of your other readers (although I know it worked for you and others). Mainly about not wanting to learn the Kanji 'in English', also that I find some of Heisig's 'stories' somewhat meandering and may obstruct the learning process. I also find the use of some of his chosen keywords to also be potentially problematic ie. the keyword for RI/SATO is 'computer', okay the kanji looks like a computer, but then you have to later remember that the real meaning of the 'computer' kanji is a measurement of distance or hometown, and have a further association to recall that. This I know is a personal thing and probably something to do with my being English (nine and baseball doesn't go together for me). Let's say I have a problem with the 'flavour' of such writing, and believe the method could be more direct.

However the whole concept of the analytical component approach that you champion I find has been a revelation, as it has obviously been to thousands of others who read your column and website. What it mainly says to me is that:

1) It IS possible to learn 2000 kanji, and that my aim from the outset should be to learn 2000 kanji. (Not 80 then 160 etc. in the normal school order).
2) That I should learn in a building block approach.
3) To use personal imaginative constructions to learn and remember the Kanji.

My situation is that I am married to a Japanese woman, and although I have spent some time in Japan, we are living in England so the tendency is for us to now mostly communicate in English. Also the lack of environmental Kanji and Japanese language is something of a de-motivator. ie I don't need/see Japanese daily.

My previous half-hearted attempt at learning kanji was a book of 250 kanji. It seems like a good idea to learn the kanji in small chunks, but I realise this produced a kind of mental straight-jacket in that I knew even if I learnt that book, I still couldn't read at all, and so the impetus to learn it and after that to move on to book 2 was very weak. It seems painfully obvious after reading through your columns that the goal should be nothing less than to learn ALL the joyo kanji from the outset. I realised that I didn't really have a 'kanji-dream', or clear goal, thinking I 'should' learn some kanji, in some vague way to compliment my Japanese language learning. I guess this is common, but after reading the experiences on your website, sounds stupid now.

Your site is responsible for kick-starting me into what hopefully will be a serious attempt at learning all the joyo kanji, and now I have some clear kanji goals. A 'Kanji Dream' even. Let's hope I won't be a mik-ka-bouzu. (I've just read your four-kanji proverb column, it's priceless).

To this end I have bought 'Kanji and Kana (Hadamitzky/Span)' as it seems to give a clear building block approach of learning radicals and then grouping kanji in related blocks. I will be chosing my own keywords and stories, and making my own flashcards, but using a methodology based on most of the principles that I have discovered from your website. Although I will have a main keyword for each Kanji, I will also try to learn 'on' and 'kun' readings at the same time; this may be considered counter-productive to the 'divide and conquer' method' by some, but as I already have some Japanese vocabulary this seems a natural thing (for me) to do. I am not going to try to learn more than one or two compounds for each kanji, I can see that if one first retains the kanji (the difficult bit) , learning the compounds later by association of known kanji should be easier.

If this is of any interest I'll let you know how it goes. The main thing I guess I have learned from your column is that we should 'take charge' of our learning and adapt to what suits us. So if this method has problems I will be sure to try to analyse what isn't working, adapt, and report that too. And whenever my studies are flagging I will return to Kanji Clinic for a boost.

Thanks again,
London, UK
A trivia question for kanji learners/Japanese film lovers

This stick is used like a door lock, for blocking the door. What is the Japanese name of this stick?
Clue: The name was used as a title in a famous Japanese movie.

Answer: 用心棒, (youjinbou), which also means "bodyguard." "Yojimbo" was the popular Kurosawa movie starring Mifune Toshiro as the wandering ronin bodyguard during the late Tokugawa period. The term "yojinbo, according to Nawa Sensei (head of the Masaki Ryu school)probably came from a tool known as "hananeji" ("nose twister"), a primitive bit or lead used to control unruly horses. The hananeji also doubled as a club for self defense and "yojimbo" is a slang term meaning a "stick used for defense".The original door bars were square, meaning these would be unwieldy as a weapon. More likely the implement was an encampment weapon like the hananeji.The Edomachikata Jutte taught by Nawa Sensei uses the Jutte and hananeji in unison.

Robert C. Gruzanski
Chicago, Illinois
Learning the kanji for "flush"(the hard way)

This last summer I got the chance to go to Japan. I had 2 semesters of high school Japanese, so basically I could introduce myself and say the occasional "oishii". I was staying with a host family in Hitoyoshi, a fairly rich town on Kyushu island. They had a very nice, neat, clean house that was very traditional. The family slept on the second floor and I had the whole bottom floor to myself. The first night I was there, I had to go to the bathroom really bad. The family was already asleep and I was on my own to first, find the bathroom, and then figure out how to use it. Sure, you think it's easy to use a toilet. Well you see when you're in a rich Japanese home you are most likely going to have a rich Japanese toilet.

After opening several sliding doors I finally found the toilet room. It had just a toilet and a sink and about enough space to move a couple inches. So, I sat down on the toilet and first off noticed it was a warm seat. That was amusing, and also relaxing. I got done with my business and turned around to flush. I did the motion but then soon realized there wasn't a handle. I searched around for something that would slightly resemble a handle but all I saw was an area on the tank that looked like an airplane control panel. It had millions of buttons of various shapes, sizes, and colors. I figured a large red button would do the trick, so I pushed it praying that it would dispose the contents of the bowl. The water didn't move, and instead I heard a low murmured buzz. I touched the seat, it was vibrating. I then decided to turn that off and try another, a smaller yellow button with a complex kanji on it. Pushed it, and again the water was still, I heard air being pumped, of course, the seat was inflating. I quickly turned that off because I could think of how to say the toilet seat popped in Japanese. I then decided to use some sense and try to decipher the Kanjis and maybe get it right. I saw a blue button that had a kanji on it with the water marks on the side of it, and I knew it has to do something with water. I pushed it and the water quickly and painlessly flushed down away from me, refreshed with a clean new bowl of water and quietly waited for its next victim.

Kelly Duncan
Portland, Oregon
How do you pronounce "Mr. Ten's" name?



P.G. O'NEILLのJAPANESE NAMESには日本の名前や名字がたくさん載っていますが、今は絶版ですから、探しにくいはずです。

Gary Harper
Have you read the previous Reader Response?