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Kanji of the Year: “Kita” the Northern Winner for 2017

In a year of political action at home and uncertainty on the international front, the Japanese public decided that 北 (kita or hoku), meaning “north,” was the kanji best expressing what 2017 meant to them. Read on to learn why and to see the top 10 finishers in this year’s Kanji of the Year competition.
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2017: The Winning Words

This year’s “Words of the Year” have been announced. Winning top honors for 2017 were insuta-bae, meaning everything that makes a photo worthy of posting to Instagram, and sontaku, the “surmising of wishes” that figured largely in the year’s political news. Below we list the 10 finalists and look at the judges’ reasons for choosing the two winners.
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Character Assassination: Successes and Failures of Kanji ReformRichard Medhurst

In 1866, as the Edo period drew to a close, the statesman Maejima Hisoka submitted a proposal suggesting that Japan abolish kanji to the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Maejima, who had both learned and taught English, bemoaned the amount of time students spent memorizing Chinese characters, which could have been used for other study. He was just one of many would-be reformers and abolitionists…
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Harmony and Hygiene: An Environment for ImprovementMokutan Angelo

The essential nature of the tea ceremony can be applied to everyday life. The third of a series introducing the language of Zen through easy-to-understand manga strips examines the phrase和敬清寂 (wakei seijaku).
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Puns, Poetry, and Superstition: Japanese HomophonesRichard Medhurst

Wordplay is not always welcomed openly in Japan. Make a weak, but harmless pun—observing that there is “no ginger” (shōga nai) at the sushi restaurant and saying “it cannot be helped” (shō ga nai), for example—and listeners will greet it with shivers, as if a chill wind has just passed through. The standard retort to a “dad joke” or another attempt at humor that falls flat is samui, “ooh, that’s…
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Books for Studying Japanese

These courses, reference works, and workbooks offer assistance on the journey to Japanese proficiency.
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A Path to Peace: Knowing Enough Is EnoughMokutan Angelo

Accepting life as it is, rather than chasing constantly multiplying desires, is a route to tranquility. The second of a series introducing the language of Zen through easy-to-understand manga strips examines the phrase 知足安分 (chisoku anbun).
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“Blue” for Go? Exploring Japanese ColorsRichard Medhurst

“Blue” traffic lights come as a shock to many students of Japanese. If one learns that midori is “green” and ao is “blue,” it is surprising to find that the clearly green traffic lights at Japanese intersections are described as aoshingō. This demonstrates that even common words may not have simple translations. Japanese traffic lights are not actually blue; they are ao, a word that usually mean…
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Poop-Themed Kanji Study Book a Bestseller in JapanNippon.com Staff

Japan’s latest publishing sensation is a godsend for parents fretting over how to get their children focused on learning kanji. Unko kanji doriru (Poop Kanji Drills) applies a mountain of excrement to the problem with over 3,000 example sentences featuring the word unko (poop). The elementary school student’s fascination with the smelly theme has propelled the six-book series (one for each eleme…
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Japanese Dialects

Japan has a wide variety of distinctive regional dialects. While the spread of standard Japanese, referred to as hyōjungo, has made it easier for people from different areas to communicate, many feel that local vernaculars convey greater warmth and friendliness.
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