Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
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?

Long ago (the early '80s?) I read that Japanese businessmen living abroad faced the problem of forgetting many of the kanji they'd learned at school and returning home with their literacy eroded. It seemed to be an amusing small news item at the time, but I wonder if it was ever true...

Never knew that "Water Margin" had been filmed! I must look for that!

I find it very plausible!

Memory says that a "good" secondary education in Japan in the Year Thirteen requires learning something like a quarter of the number of kanji that would've been required before the Pacific War. I wonder how that's affecting Japanese literary styles...

Despite predictions of gloom-and-doom at the time, not much. What happens is, in most publications, when a writer uses a kanji outside the ~2000 daily-use characters learned in elementary+junior high school, it gets glossed with the pronunciation -- unless there's a reasonable expectation that the audience will know it (such as technical terms in scholarly publications). Since generally native-speakers know the words, if not necessarily in every form they can be written, works are still read as intended and writers still write as they want.

(Which is not to say literary style hasn't changed, but that's mostly related to how fewer readers are comfortable with the older grammatical forms that were still used in literary prose a century ago -- what once came across as elevated now sounds stiff, stuffy, and decidedly old-fashioned -- rather than the orthographic changes.)


Thanks! I do appreciate the information. I read Japanese literature in translation only, but I have wondered about whether someone like, say, Kawabata, is easy to read in 21st-c. Japan, and, if not, because of changing styles or because of a changing orthography.

I honestly have no idea how Kawabata reads these days. I'll have to ask. (I've only read him in translation myself.) Akutagawa and his generation are more old-style, I know, in much the same way as Victorian novelists. Kenji Miyazawa, OTOH, wrote in the vernacular and still quite readable to this intermediate language learner.


Edited at 2013-06-11 02:38 pm (UTC)

I must look for Akutagawa, I think.

"In a Grove," which was filmed as Kurosawa's Rashomon, is readily available and a deserved classic. Ditto "Rashomon."


Ah, now--- I'd forgotten that 'Rashomon' had a short-story source! Thanks for the tip!