Reader Response
November-December, 2004-January, 2005

Nihongo Journal is ceasing publication!!

I have been a reader and fan of your website since I discovered it several months ago after returning to Japan a year ago. Married to a Japanese, and currently an at home mother to two young children I have enjoyed all aspects of your site, the personal stories, the book reviews, articles etc. As you are no doubt aware, useful and reliable language resources like your site are very few and far between.

As a current contributor to Nihongo Journal, you are presumably aware of its imminent demise, but I was shocked and saddened when a friend alerted me to this fact this morning. Studying Nihongo, especially the JLPT and JETRO test, without this useful resource will surely be a more difficult and less enjoyable task. As we are all aware, it is difficult to find Japanese language resources at a reasonable cost. Especially for students of the language like myself, unable to commit to the time and expense involved in a university or language school (even if one did exist in the immediate area!) this is a severe blow.

I, and several others, have already emailed ALC urging them to reconsider their decision, and have spread the word to various groups we belong to. I hope we can muster enough support to reverse this decision, and I imagine if you were to notify your readers of this fact this would surely garner further support against the closure. The contact details are as follows:

ALC Press Inc., Customer Service Department
Address: 2-54-12 Eifuku Suginami-ku, Tokyo 168-8611
Tel. 0120-120-800

The news of the imminent disappearance of NJ, prompted me to thank you for maintaining your site, and for your continuing inspiration and encouragement. Alas, I have only realized today that if we do not cherish and support the resources we have, they will indeed be gone tomorrow. Many thanks again.

Jill Campbell, an upper-intermediate student of the language
Looking for kanji study partners in Tokyo

Looking for kanji study partners!? I've been in Japan and studying Japanese for over 8 years total, and I still have heaps of trouble remembering kanji. Whether you're like me or just starting out, we can work on it together and motivate each other. I got the Heisig book recommended by Mary recently, and I'm hooked on it, but studying alone is tough. I canvassed the Japanese language schools throughout Tokyo recently, but they have no teachers who've used Heisig's book to teach kanji (and they charge a lot, too). I live in western Tokyo in Fussa City, which is northwest of Tachikawa along the JR Ome line. We could meet in a restaurant or coffee shop around Fussa station or another station closer to Shinjuku, or meet on base.

Contact me at satoshaw1<at>, substituting an at (@) symbol for <at>, if you're interested.

Ted Shaw
Fussa, Tokyo
Learning kanji through license plates

I found your lesson on prefectures, well, elementary. None were any more difficult than the others, and actually since I have never studied Kanji formally, pronunciation concepts meant nothing to me. When I see the Kanji for Nara, I say "Nara" and nothing different comes to mind. What I *did* learn in your column was the meaning of all these prefectures. I knew most of them were geography-based, but others like Gifu and Ehime where a complete mystery to me.

How did I get fascinated by all this? Well, I have always been interested in license plates (you call them number plates) so naturally on my first trip to Japan, the number plates captured my fascination. I was immediately drawn to the Kanji across the top, and naturally I could not read any of them. With a friend who was getting me oriented to Osaka, I quickly learned the Kanji for Osaka, Izumi, Kobe, and even Naniwa, which doesn't use Kanji at all on their plates, as you may know. Shinagawa is an easy one to decipher. Eventually I learned there are over 80 of these, and what's more, some are not even prefectures, because in some cases they represent the city where the plates were issued. Kobe is a good example.

Perhaps in a future column you could expound on the meaning of all 80 of these. I can say the "be" in "Kobe" is the same as "to" in "Mito". To means door, I know that from my Japanese vocabulary. But some others I cannot figure out - Sapporo, Sagami, not sure what those are supposed to mean.

After four trips to Japan, and help translating official Land Transportation Office (Riku un kyoku) material, I have the "code" for Japanese plates pretty much figured out.

To go even further, some prefectures’ plates are no longer issued because they have been replaced with city issues. Aichi is actually an example of that. The last time a plate with the Kanji for Aichi was issued was in 1964, so you would have to see a pretty old car on the road to see one of those. Today you will find plates from Mikawa, Owari-Komaki and Toyohashi, places in Aichi, instead. Owari-Komaki is a real challenge. I only recognize it because it's the only case where FOUR Kanji are used to denote a city in this case. I've also tried collecting Japanese plates, but this is not easy, seems they are tightly controlled, and with my limited Japanese it's not very easy for me to ask for that sort of thing. The only way to get them, it seems, is to know the right people. I have gotten some from those who have the proper connections :-) Obviously an ambitious goal would be to get one from each prefecture.

Here is my website on Japanese license plates:

Tiger Joe
West Virginia, USA

“Crow” kanji are a snap to remember

I loved your most recent column about the Justice Ministry's decision to allow some kanji back into the mix for the sake of jinmei kanji (“Thinking of naming your baby ‘Spiderman’? Think Again!”). Oh, to wield that power!

One of the newly allowed kanji for names is 烏 (crow). Are you familiar with the alternative kanji for crow, that looks like this: 鴉?I LOVE that version so much more, because if you look at the left hand portion of the character and think of the "jya" in 邪魔 (jyama, something in the way), then you get "evil bird". Personally, I love crows and the near mystical, supernatural charisma they carry. Sure, they can make a mess of things in Tokyo but I'll take them over pigeons any day. Nevertheless, crows are often associated with "evil" and darkness, and so the alternate form of the crow kanji is a powerful visualization of the bird itself.

Although I do prefer 鴉, I thought of another device to remember 烏. One reason I don't like this, the more common kanji for crow, is because it is so easily confused with the kanji for “bird,” 鳥. At first glance, it's almost impossible to differentiate between them until you notice that "karasu" 烏has one less stroke than "tori" 鳥. So, although it's a bit of stretch, think of the kanji that looks like "bird" but missing one stroke as a deviant or heathen form of a bird, and then you get that "evil" connotation that crows carry.

George Guida
Nerima-ku, Tokyo

A Japanese teacher's poem: 漢字練習



 漢字のれんしゅうは つかれる。
 先生、でも、あたし ふしぎなの。
 やたらと画数あるせいで、クラスのみんなは だれも書けない。
 百回書かなくても すぐに覚えた。
 先生、 あたし思うの。 漢字が全部あたしの名前だったらいいのにな。
Rubbernecking and other kanji plots

It's because of your high recommendation for Mr. Heisig's books that I am learning the Kanji through "Remembering the Kanji" volumes. I have just finished Part 1 of the first book, all the characters with stories supplied. I am now embarking on the second part of the first book, "Plots." I really don't know how to go about creating my own stories/images.

Let's take road-way(道), the first kanji in “Plots.” Is the text here already a complete story? One component of this kanji is "neck." Should I imagine drivers with long necks? Or Africans with long-necks because of the rings they place around it? How do I go about creating my own stories? What's a good example of a story for this kanji? As a 24 year old, I don't have as many things to draw from as an older person. That's why I appreciate the images/stories that Heisig wrote in the first part of the book "Stories."

I wish kanji learners in the know would give some good examples of stories created from just the plots. It's really not that I see creating my own stories from the plots given as too much work. I believe creating them by oneself is itself helpful in remembering the kanji, but to be sure, if someone comes up with a more vivid image, why keep my dull image and not use that other person's image?

Thanks once again for persuading me to learn kanji in the Heisig way.

Jeff Co
Tosu, Saga Prefecture

Mary’s response:
You may be happy to learn that Mark Donaghue, creator of KanjiCan, has done the work of creating 1,945 stories using Heisig’s components. For details, see a review of KanjiCan here.

My own story for 道, comprised of the components for “road” and “neck,” involves “rubbernecking”: As I travel down the road as a passenger in my parents’ car, I am once again a youngster stretching my neck out to see all the sights on our family vacation. (This is actually how I learned the expression “rubberneck”).

We need graded readers!

I recently found your column on the web and have been reading the archived columns avidly ever since. I am an intermediate Japanese learner and have just decided to try earnestly to learn all of the Joyo Kanji. I have started studying with Heisig's "Remembering The Kanji" and have so far found it to be very helpful. However I disagree with Heisig's suggestion to first memorise all the Joyo Kanji before learning any readings or attempting to read any real Japanese text. I believe that starting to read whilst I am learning the Joyo Kanji will help me remember the kanji that I have already studied. The only trouble is finding readers which only (or mostly) consist of kanji that I have so far memorised (at the moment about the first 400 characters in Heisig's book), so my question is: Do you know of any resources (preferably online) which offer graded introductory kanji readers following the sequence in which the characters are introduced in Heisig's book?

Michael Kazlauskas
Sydney, Australia

Mary’s response:
Unfortunately, I am unaware of any readers, online or off, that have been developed for use with Heisig's system. Graded readers are greatly needed for learners for Japanese, but unfortunately there is very little available, unlike for learners of English as a Second Language, who are blessed with graded readers published by many companies. Please check out Suggestions for pleasure reading, and I hope you get some advice from other site visitors

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