CRAZY FOR KANJI: A Studentfs Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters

By Eve Kushner (
Stone Bridge Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-933330-20-4

Reviewed by Mary Sisk Noguchi

And check out Kushner's Joy o' Kanji (fun, informative photo-filled essays about each Joyo kanji)

Whether you have just embarked on your kanji-learning adventure, are approaching the gkanji guruh stage, or--like most foreign adult kanji learners--find yourself somewhere between the start and finish lines, this entertaining, informative book is bound to provide you with new information about Sino-Japanese characters.

Drawing on her sharp intellect, sense of humor, and tireless ability to ask all the right questions, freelance writer and self-proclaimed gkanji-holich Kushner seduces us from Page 1 into joining her on a quest to learn everything there is to know about kanji. Writing in the first person, she tackles the questions most of us have scratched our heads over and details the answers in language we can understand. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, Kushner covers a surprisingly comprehensive amount of background information in Crazy for Kanjifs 200 pages:

How kanji evolved
The kanji pronunciation system
The building blocks of kanji: components, radicals, phonetic elements
How kanji are joined together in compounds
How kanji reflect everyday life in Japan past and present
How Japanese people feel about kanji
Kanji in art, typed vs. handwritten kanji, word-processing, calligraphy, manga, tattoos
Chinese hanzi and Korean hanja, and how they differ from Japanese kanji
Tips for studying kanji

Some memorable titles of sections in the book include:

Spectacular Shapes: Busy Bodies/Real Lookers
Charmingly Illogical Characters
Kanji Sound Effects in Manga
Donft Use These Kanji!
Hyperbolic Humility (Four-Kanji Compounds)
A Crash Course in Chinese Terminology

Crazy for Kanji is visually appealing and user-friendly. Each chapter begins with a Main Text that gives an overview of the topic, followed by innovative games, kanji-realia in the form of photographs, and a wealth of examples related to the chapter topic. The book is organized so that readers may proceed through it in the order presented or, alternatively, jump around between chapters. Kana/Kanji Level and overall Difficulty Level are thoughtfully provided for each game to head off potential user frustration.

Kushner's refreshing insights into kanji, including the following representative examples, pepper the book:

Kanji are pictures plus sounds. It's as if kanji can stream audio and video, compared with the mere audio function of kana or roman letters. (p. 52)

Kanji continually opens my eyes to the meaning of English wordsc.In a Japanese restaurant I scrutinized the kanji on the menu, especially stumped by . I knew as genterhc and I recognized as gloadhc But I couldnft figure out what word they formed. gNyuuka, or import,h said the server, explaining that the wine on the menu had been imported. Well, that makes sense. An imported load of goods enters the country. But itfs so different from the way English speakers think. Or is it? I realized with a rush of excitement that our word gimporth breaks down the same way: gimh is a form of gin,h and gporth=hto carryh (as in gportableh)! (p.17)

She creatively dubs phonetic components within certain kanji gon-echoes,h gcbecause the on-yomi reverberates through kanji containing a common element,h and compares figuring out correct okurigana-use after transitive/intransitive kanji verb-stems (e.g., ~߂/~܂) to finding the Least Common Denominator in fractions.

Kushnerfs undying passion for kanji, coupled with her writing prowess, make Crazy for Kanji a winner. Anyone who has suffered through humdrum kanji-learning aids will be delighted to discover that page-turners in the genre do in fact exist.

Ordering information is available at Eve Kushnerfs website:

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