JOK Notebook

Beyond My Wildest Fantasies

Yesterday, as I was spacing out to avoid the discomfort of a difficult yoga position, our teacher asked us this: "Where are you now? If you're thinking about the past or dreaming about the future, you're not in this room, and you're not in the present moment." At least, I think that's what she said. I was, as I said, spaced out and may have missed some of her comments.

Anyway, I liked her neat algorithm, though I must say that I often drift off into fantasy, which doesn't qualify as either the past or future, so that kind of breaks her formula. Maybe fantasy exists in a fourth dimension! I'll have to contemplate that more when she next subjects us to excruciating pain!

Her words drift into my mind now as I consider the two definitions of this word:

あり方 (ありかた: (1) the way something ought to be; (2) the (current) state of things; how things are)

What?! One term can represent both the way something ought to be (there's the theme of fantasies again!) and the current state of affairs? This word embodies opposites. How cool is that?!

I came across あり方 in the following sentence:

In Japan, the way cram schools currently are may change in the future, but they will never die.

日本* (にほん: Japan); 今後 (こんご: from now on); 塾* (じゅく: cram school); 変化 (へんか: change); 絶える (たえる: to die out)

Though I've marked あり方 in red, the true keyword here is 塾 (じゅく: cram school). A month ago, as I prepared to write an essay on that kanji, I realized that the vocabulary associated with that character is quite limited and dull. How could I make a kanji come to life when it mainly appeared in stolid compounds such as 入塾 (にゅうじゅく: entering a private school)? Eventually, a solution came to mind—probably when I was spacing out during yoga! I would solicit opinions about cram schools from a wide variety of people. And I did that! I was fortunate enough to find opinionated, experienced people on all sides of the issues related to cram schools, and I emerged with a very well-rounded picture of their role in Japan. The responses I received exceeded my wildest fantasies (that word again!).

One of my questionnaires even produced an unexpected bonus. A man who headed a cram school for 35 years wrote entirely in Japanese about his observations, and he had quite a lot to say. It took me six hours to translate his sentences, and I spent four of those working intently on Skype with my language partner Kensuke. What great practice for both of us! I ended up with 14 pages of translated text about cram schools.

The sentence above came from that source, as did many other sentences that introduced me to fascinating words. I'll share one of those terms now, continuing this discussion next week when I publish the 塾 essay.

The former cram school head seems to like this word:

惜しまない (おしまない: without sparing (effort, funds, etc.))

It appeared in various forms in three of his sentences:

Even if the parents weren't wealthy, they spared nothing in investing in their kids' education. That was the tradition and custom.

豊か (ゆたか: wealthy); 両親 (りょうしん: parents); 子供* (こども: child); 教育* (きょういく: education); お金 (おかね: money); 投資 (とうし: investment); 伝統 (でんとう: tradition; convention); 習慣 (しゅうかん: custom)

Japanese parents traditionally cut other costs without sparing any expenses for their kids' education.

親 (おや: parent); 伝統的 (でんとうてき: traditionally); 家計 (かけい: household economy); 他 (ほか: other); 支出* (ししゅつ: expenses); 削る (けずる: to reduce); 費用 (ひよう: expense)

Grandparents spare nothing for their grandchildren's education.

祖父 (そふ: grandfather); 祖母 (そぼ: grandmother); 孫 (まご: grandchild); 出す (だす: to give)

Where has this great term been all my life?! I searched for it in the vocabulary database I've been compiling for eight years, and I saw the kanji in just one word:

惜しい (おしい: (1) regrettable; disappointing; (2) precious; dear; valuable; (3) too good for; deserving better; (4) almost but not quite)

Ah, I've heard that. Whenever I guess at something and am close but not quite right, Kensuke says おしい. And then I have to guess at what that means (usually having forgotten)! With the fourth definition, he says, people write the word in hiragana. No wonder the kanji looks so unfamiliar; it doesn't come into play when he says おしい and then inevitably writes it for me!

And yet the shape is familiar because I've written essay 1481 on 昔 (past), and the characters share a shape. Hmm, 惜 is kanji number 1484 in Henshall's book (and therefore in the Joy o' Kanji system), which tells me that these kanji must share an on-echo (as Henshall has arranged his book by yomi). Indeed, they both have an on-yomi of セキ, though the on-echo pattern is a little more complicated than that. Here's what I wrote in essay 1481:

Don’t confuse 昔 with these look-alikes (where blue marks on-echoes of シャク or セキ in certain kanji containing the 昔 shape):
者 (298: person), (502: to borrow, シャク), 錯 (1302: mixed up), (1484: regret, セキ), 措 (1507: to dispose of), 普 (1754: widespread)
Note: This echoing series includes (1486: register, セキ).

So I've encountered 惜 at least twice without its making any kind of impression on me! Sigh, isn't that the way of kanji? Regrets indeed. And excruciating pain! Which isn't so bad because, as I've realized, pain sends me off into a fantasy state where I dream up things that come out better than my wildest fantasies!

I'll share more sentences from the former cram school head next week. In the meantime, here's a sneak preview of the newest essay:

Have a great weekend!


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