June 7th, 2013


Japanese Diary 4: The Kanji Man Can

Learning the Kanji is certainly a daunting task, and Heisig's approach can mitigate that fact only to a degree. In the early stages of his book he gives mnemonics for each kanji, at least, but there's an American flavour to many of them which means they don't stick in my mind as well as they might, since I don't share the same mental geography. On the other hand I'm free to invent my own, and later in the book I'll be obliged to, so perhaps I ought to get into the habit. I'm about 70 kanji in so far (though many of these are far from securely stored) and while a number are fairly intuitive, such the kanji for morning which rather beautifully juxtaposes those for mist and moon, others appear entirely arbitrary. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing from a Theatre of Memory point of view.

Amongst the Americanisms that slide off me are all the references to baseball, but these are of course doubly justified in that the Japanese have taken to the game in a big way. I've known that for a long time, but keep half forgetting it, feeling instinctively that cricket - with its elaborate laws and rituals and its deep entanglement with notions of civility and respect - would be a better fit, as well as having a track record in being remade in the image of the various cultures where it has taken root. Not for nothing did Ashis Nandy describe it as "an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English". How have the Japanese given baseball their own twist, I wonder?

For the moment I've settled into a routine where each day I study some grammar and vocab from Japanese from Zero, a bit more vocab and pronunciation from memrise.com, and a few kanji from Remembering the Kanji. I've pretty much got hiragana down now, and shall have to turn my attention to katakana shortly, though it does seem like one script too many!

I was thinking the other day about The Water Margin - not the classic Chinese novel but the 1970s Japanese TV series based on it. I don't know whether it was ever a "cult" show, but I watched it keenly at the time, and still have the opening sequence memorized. How I admired the noble Lin Chung (the Robin Hood figure), and the Friar Tuck-ish Lu Ta, amongst many others! There are few shows from that period that haven't seen a nostalgic revival, but off hand I can't remember hearing this one mentioned at any point in the last 30 years. Nor is there much on Youtube, though here's the theme to jog anyone's memory who wants it. Maybe it's still really well known and much discussed, and I've just missed all those conversations?